Monday, May 9, 2011

Interpreting Literary Works

I have read a lot of literary analysis of poems, short stories, and novels over the past year. Each analysis finds some deep meaning to the literary piece; this can relate to some form of allusion, metaphor, archetype, or symbolism. What is not certain is whether the authors meant for those meanings to be there. If it is intentional, how well can their writing be if the purpose is so clear?

I have in the past written literary works that have a deeper or hidden meaning; either there is a hidden code, or a hidden allusion to a deeper truth can be found. This is especially true with the poems I have written, but that is not always the case. In terms of poetry, most of my poems are about imagery and narrative. There is exceptions, one of which being the poem "Am Lucky."

The clue to a deeper meaning should be found within the title and there is even more than one clue. Lucky or Luck is associated with a lot of things from horseshoes to pennies to rabbits' feet. However, since there is no mention of these things within the poem, it can be safe to assume that is not what the poem's hidden meaning is. When you delve into numerology, you will find that the number seven has a much deeper meaning than just another number; it also helps that seven is typically held as a lucky number. So in counting the number of letters in the title, you will come up with seven. The poem itself is seven lines long, and each line has seven syllables. So adding these elements, you will come up with a title that is seven letters long (7) with seven lines (7) and seven syllables (7), or 7+7+7=21. Blackjack.

The poem is not about the human condition or anything like that; it is simply about unexpectedly meeting a girl who ends up being a perfect match. Set within these sevens, or elements of luck, it can hold a deeper meaning. Out of the people who will read the poem (assuming they do not read this blog), how many will find this meaning?

In a previous post, I provided readers with a look into how I wrote a villanelle poem. It was written for a particular subject, but when I presented it to a class of students, they interrupted it differently. Much like a lot of the poems we read in class, we did not know the history of the poets. On its face value, we could interrupt a poem differently based on our own personal views. Furthermore, different views can be found when analyzing a poem from a certain school of thought or criticism. So even though the villanelle, using a variety of allusions and metaphor, was about the first thunderstorm after a long, quiet winter, one student read the poem and thought it was about construction.

Which brings me to the point of writing in general. In researching literary agencies for publishing, many of the agents were looking for fiction that had some meaning behind it. But as I have proven, even if I write something that has a certain meaning behind it, the reader may never find the meaning, or find their own meaning behind it. It could then be said that if I do not include a hidden meaning behind a literary work, the reader, through his own personal experiences, find meaning in it. This assumes that I have not unconsciously through my experiences written hidden meanings in what I write.

Using one of the ideas I have for a novel, Two Lives, the story is about a guy who runs away from a life of obligation to a life of freedom on the ocean. There he meets a girl, and their relationship grows. Eventually he will have to come to grips with the obligations he had and the lies he has constructed to make this second life. Within this synopsis, there can be found a lot of themes: love, truthfulness, personal responsibility. In reality, when I write this, I am not thinking about these themes, or including any hidden meanings. I am simply telling a story about a guy who has an adventure on a boat and meets new people both on the boat and around the world.

The purpose of my writing is to tell a story. I typically create deep characters; whether they change or not is a different story. It usually depends on what happens within the story in whether or not the character changes or not. Even characters who have a small part have certain quirks that make them stand out from any faceless stranger in the crowd. The point is to make the character memorable. Above all, I want readers to enjoy what I write based on the experience; I am not looking to bestow some meaning in it all unless I purposefully put it there, which is usually not the case.

A good example of this is my novelette "Survival Tautology." The meaning of the story is in the title. But for the example of characters is in the character Ben. He is described as:
Ben was there who was usually caring for the horses. He had been a cattle rancher in Texas before the sickness. He made his way north, came across our base, and has called it home ever since.

He says very little, and is never seen again in the story but the interaction between the protagonist and him tells more about his personality than the above narrative.
"Hey Ben, I need a ride."
"Sorry, but my back's killing me today."

There is a philosophical meaning behind the story, but each character is unique even if all they do is take care of the horses. So for agents looking to get my work published may depend on whether they look for meaning in a story, and whether they find the meaning I put there, the meaning I unknowingly put there, or the meaning they find on their own even if it is not there.

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