Question of Audience

When reading Roxana, the reader is immediately aware of the significance of audience. We are immediately, sparked pose the question, “Who is the author’s audience? And what purpose is the author writing?” This audience awareness is definitely a tool used by Defoe, when telling his story of Roxana. As seen in the fact that Roxana is told from a first-person point of view. When Roxana seems to recount her life she implores the idea of playing with “words and their referents” so termed by Ian Watts. She does so to justify and prove the reasons she has engaged in the actions she has done to her readers. Roxana is able to intentionally phrase, her words in a way to her advantage. These phrasings and terms may not necessarily refer to the objects as they really are. She does so when referring to her Landlord as her gentleman (37), her wealth (140), and her morality (38, 64, 118) all these seem to be the gist of Roxana’s attempt to convince her audience.
After doing some reading, I came across an article written by David Bartholomae entitled, “Inventing the University.” It is here that we learn the features of a skilled writing versus a basic writer. In this article, Bartholomae explores the significance of audience awareness as being a key characteristic that distinguishes a skilled writer from a basic writer. For example, Bartholomae writes when discussing the challenges of composition writers and their challenge of writing to their audience, “One of the common assumptions of both composition research and composition teaching is that at some “stage” in the process of composing an essay a writer’s ideas or his motives must be tailored to the needs and expectations of his audience. A writer has to “build bridges” between his point of view and his readers. He has to anticipate and acknowledge his readers’ assumptions and biases. He must begin with “common points of departure” before introducing new or controversial arguments” Bartholomae adds, “Writers who can successfully manipulate an audience (or to use a less pointed language, writers who can accommodate their motives to their readers/ expectation) are writers who can both imagine and write from a position of privilege” (9). He indicates that this writing from a position of privilege is a key to a good writer. He notes, good writers must “see themselves with in a privileged discourse,…They must be either equal to or more powerful than those they would address. The writing, then, must somehow transform the political and social relationships between basic writing students and their teachers” (9). The author notes this is key to great writers. I am sure Defoe used these factors of audience awareness when seeking to do this “new form of writing,” or the genre of the novel. It is this same idea of audience awareness that Roxana employs and she uses it to her advantage.

In my opinion to answer the question of audience, Roxana is seeking to appeal to the new emergent middle class, or the common society, who may have some religious background. She does so to gain the approval of her audience, and to justify her actions, one that hides her attempts to “prey upon others.”

3 thoughts on “Question of Audience

  1. I agree that the narrator, Roxana, is writing to make herself appear in the best possible light (literally and figuratively). While I accept what you say Bartholomae is saying, most authors are in fact trying to sway their reader in some direction, I do wonder where your evidence is textually? I think your argument would be better served if you provided evidence from Roxana rather than quoting Bartholomae so much. I say this because I agree, and I can think of instances were Roxana is attempting to sway readers to her perspective (when she does not want her grown children to know she’s been a whore, thus she should not come out as their mother; when she loses everything and is forced to pawn her children off to relatives, despite not wanting to, it evokes a sense of pity from the audience; and the final example I can think of is when she turns Amy out of her life for suggesting they murder Roxana’s daughter).

  2. Nice use of the Bartholomae! I also really like the way you bring in the idea of referentiality–I would love to hear more about how we see this emerging in the text, and how from that we can discuss the idea of audience here. What are the “familiar” things Defoe may be starting with, and what might he be building from that?

    • When Defoe discusses his plot and characters within the novel to his audience, he does so at particular times and draws from their past experiences, in order to create a sense of wholeness to the text (Watt, 24). He does this in the fact that when the Merchant repeatedly asks Roxana to marry him, Roxana makes excuses as to the husband gaining full control of a wealthy females wealth and possibly leaving her in misery with little of her wealth left. As from our readings and discussion, this was a debated topic within society at the time (the idea of inheritance).

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