Reader Identity: A Case Study of Korean ESL Graduate Students' Meaning Construction of a Literary Text
Shin, Chang Ok
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Grounded in the theoretical framework of Kintsch's (1998, 2004) construction-integration model of reading, Rosenblatt's (1978, 1994) reader-response theory, and Fairclough's (1989, 2001) discourse model, this case study investigates how L2 readers construct meaning of a literary text through the lens of their identities. The participants are three Korean ESL male graduate students who were asked to read the novel The Catcher in the Rye . Data were collected through interviews, think alouds, and written responses from the participants. The data analysis and interpretation followed Merriam's (1988) guidelines for category creation and focused on the L2 readers' relationships with the main character, Holden Caulfield. The data analysis revealed that the participants' identities mediated meaning construction of the literary text. More specifically, it was found that the participants' occupations, academic fields, religious and cultural affiliations, language backgrounds as well as personalities affected their understanding of the novel and their interpretations of the novel's main characters. For example, Chulsoo's social activist, Marxist, political science student, Christian, Korean cultural, and personal identities were evident when he disapproved of Holden's lack of strong will power, implausible narrative, culturally unexpected acts, and pessimism. In the case of Junho, his military officer, masculine, realist, and Korean cultural identities were reflected in his dismissal of Holden for his scorn at Army, irresponsibility, improvisational acts, the hide of his real name, and inappropriate acts under age. Although Youngwoo was fascinated with the writing style of the novel based on his proficient language user and detail-oriented identities, his law student, Christian, and Korean cultural identities were evident when he perceived Holden as dishonest, hypocritical, and self-concerned trouble-maker. Furthermore, a cross-case and a context analysis disclose that the participants' criticism of Holden is based upon their shared Korean culture, emphasis on higher education and age in human relationships. Based on the findings, L2 reading is discussed in terms of the L2 reader's culture and identity. I argue that the L2 reader's culture and identity played a role in L2 reader's meaning construction. The present study highlights the importance of social dimensions in L2 reading model and the learners' identities in L2 reading instruction. It concludes that L2 reader identity may represent cultural membership as well as individual traits in meaning construction of the text.