Dec 10, 2015

Can Readers Interpret Literature Differently?

This question has been bothering me tons since the day I first saw my test results from my Literature exam a few weeks back. As you can see, I love to read books all the time. (Obviously?!) And last quarter, my Lit class's main focus was short stories and nonfictional biographies.

Over a month ago, I took my Literature exam at school, and we were required to read this very vague and cliffhangy short story about a man and a woman who loved each other despite their unstable marriage. Suddenly, the man was said to be killed by a passing train (which was officially confirmed by a friend and an official), which left the woman shaky and depressed. There was a knock on the door; the woman answered. And so the story ended with the woman dying from some sort of heart attack after seeing her husband on the front step.

I wrote my own personal interpretation of the story's conclusion and said that the woman must've died because her husband's corpse was brought home. Long story short, my teacher deducted 3 points from me because my interpretation was wrong. Apparently, the right answer was that the husband "survived the train and was never killed in the first place." So apparently, he was ALIVE.

That day, I was practically all:

I was a little disappointed because Literature was one of the subjects I struggled in the most in the 9th grade, despite it being my favorite. Which is VERY IRONIC because I really love books. I read a lot. Yet I'm struggling in Lit the most. So this got me thinking:

Can readers really interpret literature differently?

Here are some reasons as to why I'm continuously struggling in Lit:
  1. I interpret stories as to how I MYSELF see it. Not how I think others would see it.
  2. Poor analytical skills aside, I also analyze stories in a different light. 
  3. I just see things differently in a way that my teacher would like to reject all the time, let's face it.
  4. And due to how I interpret my stories the way I see them, my teacher would often deduct those points. Sad.

I sort of did a research on this in the Internet from this website and found out that narrative texts don't only have ONE MEANING. Referencing the words I read -- "While we can’t make words and images mean whatever we like, the meanings of words and images are not fixed." So in a way, this website is saying that all symbolic events and figures we read in stories all differ depending on how we interpret them. (So I prove you wrong, teacher. Ha.)

Something else bothered me from reading that one sentence.

"... the meanings of words and images are not fixed."

If meanings of words and images are "not fixed," could there still be stories that have fixed symbolisms planned out by an author?

To rephrase my question -- What if an author wrote a symbolic figure or event that has a fixed meaning to it? If readers were to interpret that symbolic figure that has a fixed meaning to it, does that make the reader wrong in his/her part?

Now I've confused myself. What do you think?

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