My husband is not an avid reader, and he used to get very frustrated in college when teachers would insist discussing symbolism in a literary work when there didn’t seem to him to be any. He felt that writers often just wrote the story for the story’s sake and other people read symbolism into it.
It does seem like modern fiction just “tells the story” without much symbolism. Is symbolism an older literary device, like excessive description, that is not used much any more? Do you think there was as much symbolism as English teachers seemed to think? What are some examples of symbolism from your reading?
When I was in college, everyone asked me this question. Symbolism is alive and well in modern literary fiction and the authors aren’t subtle about it either. I got symbolism out of Stephen King in high school and my teacher complimented me on seeing stuff that no one else saw. I used It and Carrie and all I remember is that it had something to do with circles. The Remains of the Day is practically dripping with symbolism, right down to the title of the book. The great thing about studying literature is that you can find things that the author didn’t intend that imbues the work with meaning for you and for other people. It can have a wider meaning that the author never saw, or maybe one they intended only specific people to see. It’s a little like how everyone’s experience of a book is different. The author puts the book out, but everyone comes to it with different life experiences and interprets it in ways relevant to themselves. Obviously, we’re going to pick it apart in ways the author didn’t intend.
Let’s take an example of this. I’m sure the author of Firefly Lane didn’t intend for me to develop a burning hatred towards it because one of the characters got cancer and it hit a little too close to home for me (yes, other things bugged me about it, but I was very unhappy with the author’s plot development). On the other hand, she probably did intend for women who are older than me to relate to Tully and Kate as they grew up over the decades, and from the reviews, they did. Women who could relate tended to love the book. The author just wanted to tell a story, but how we feel about it is always going to be our own experience. Similarly, the way we interpret literature in an academic sense is always going to be more than the author intended, unless it’s one of those ultra-literary books that you practically need a class in to dig out all of the meaning.
Or we could go with Twilight. There are all sorts of alarming messages screaming out from the relationships in that book, but women still love Edward. Did Stephenie Meyer intend for us to interpret the relationship between Bella and Edward as harmful and abusive? Probably not, especially given how often she describes Edward as “perfect”.
See my point? The author’s intentions don’t carry as much weight as you might think. As a result, I’m not sure we can say that because the author didn’t intend it, an interpretation isn’t valid. In fact, I outright don’t think we can. I love to know what an author intended and I think it’s very important, but I still feel the way I feel.
In fact, I know a few authors out there who read this blog, so if you’re reading, what do you think?
What about readers? Am I wrong, is the author all-important and my opinion falls to the wayside once I know theirs? Or is every interpretation (with supporting evidence of course) valid?