Yesterday I posted a review of one of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories called The Cask of Amontillado. At the end of my review I commented that the story has been analyzed to death regarding the “meaning” of the story and what the story may signify or represent. My final comment was to wonder what Poe would say if we were able to ask him directly. My thought is that he would say it was just a story!
Today I saw an article about a poet that couldn’t answer standardized test questions about her own poems! The article is interesting to say the least, particularly considering the poet also raised the same issue back in 2017! The link to the 2019 article is at the bottom of this post as well at the link to her 2017 diatribe on the same topic.
So, it makes me wonder – are we attributing too much to the things we read? Are we crediting or discrediting authors with things they didn’t intend? I understand that people read books through their own lens – allowing their life and experiences to interact with the story (so to speak) – which ultimately affects how we individually perceive a story. My tag line for my blog is “No one ever reads the same book” for exactly this reason. However, perhaps we should be careful about definitively attributing something to a piece of work without confirming with the author or at least qualifying the attribution as a personal theory.
The author from this particular article and situation, Sara Holbrook, summarizes her thoughts about the ridiculous assertions about her work this way:
Any test that questions the motivations of the author without asking the author is a big baloney sandwich. Mostly test makers do this to dead people who can’t protest. But I’m not dead.
I know this particular situation is relative to test questions on standardized exams, but more generically, what do you think about analyses of other’s work, particularly when we can no longer ask the author themselves what they really meant? I enjoy reading analyses of older works, mainly because the writing styles can sometimes be difficult to understand and I’m curious if I have “missed something” in the narrative. But, maybe I didn’t actually miss a thing and the analyses I read are way off base.
Maybe sometimes it is just a story!
Read the articles. I’d love to know what you think.