White flag? I'd prefer a black one.

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"Here's the problem with symbols: people expect them to mean something. Not just any something, but one something in particular. Exactly. Maximum. You know what? It doesn't work like that. Oh, sure, there are some symbols that work straightforwardly: a white flag means, I give up, don't shoot. Or it means we come in peace. See? Even in a fairly clear-cut case we can't pin down a single meaning, although they're pretty close." (Foster 97-8)

This quote not only helps me see how abstract symbols can be with a small example, but it also ties into Dr. Jerz comments about how people think English teachers have the book with all of the one, correct interpretation to every work of literature. There isn't one, of course, because there isn't a one, correct interpretation for everything. If you're enough of a creative thinker and strong on arguments, you could make any interpretation work.

http://jerz.setonhill.edu/EL150/2008/foster_69_1114.php

2 Comments

Erica Gearhart said:

Really great point Jessie. In high school, I also believed in the Book of Symbols until one of my teachers actually encouraged us to think for ourselves. She still expected us to understand certain major symbols and ideas; however she helped us to be free thinkers by teaching us to use the text to validate our opinions. You definitly can make any interpretation work as long as you can find evidence to support it in the text.

Erica added the variation I was going to add -- that it may be fun to think up any number of possible interpretations, but that it's the job of the literary critic to be open to any number of possible interpretations, but to learn how to settle on those interpretations that are best supported by the text, by the conventions of the author's chosen genre, by knowledge of the outside world that the work may be responding to, by how the author's original audience interpreted the work, and -- when all else fails -- by considering the author's personal intentions (to the extent that it is even possible to do that).

So... yes, think outside the box, but the text is your lifeline that keeps you from sliding down the slippery slope to chaos and randomness.

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