Tiny Code

Tiny Code

Friday, April 11, 2008

I knew it!

Here's an interesting article about Ernest Hemingway. The part I find most interesting occurs on page 4 where Hemingway that the symbolism which English teachers so often attribute to stories is not premeditated. He states "No good book has ever been written that has in it symbols arrived at beforehand and stuck in".

This quote supports my long held belief that the symbolism English teachers claim to find in books was usually not intended by the author and as such is entirely subjective. In school I always hated being criticized by an English teacher for not seeing the symbolism they claim is the "only" valid interpretation. Frequently these teachers would speak as if they had some sort of notebook from the author containing their secret thoughts about hidden subtext they had woven into their novel. What a crock!

1 comment:

Laura E. Goodin said...

I hesitate to be so definitive about symbolism. If you read, for example, To Kill a Mockingbird, the unspoken resonances of this or that character or item or type of event tend to be so consistent and placed so precisely that I, for one, would suspect they were a conscious thing.

However, I do agree with Hemingway that the best resonances, the ones that act with power and grace, are the ones that grow out of the surface story almost of themselves. If I set out to be all symbolic and everything, then yes, that ends up being crap. But if I tell a story that moves me, inspires me, even appalls me, I will want to make sure those deeper meanings are hinted at. It's a question of which came first: the symbols (which results in clumsy storytelling), or the story (which results in powerful symbols)?

All good symbolism is, really, is the reader recognizing that this or that story, like all good stories, is a metaphor for some sort of universal human reality. "Truer than true," as Hemingway was quoted in the article as saying (if I remember correctly).

I was thrilled when someone who's performing one of my poems got a completely different idea out of it from the one I'd had in mind when I wrote it. "Yee-hah," I exulted: "My poem is complex enough for several interpretations!"