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Does There Always Have to Be a Meaning?

November 19, 2009

It seems as though every piece of literature always has a meaning. There is always something to look for, always some far reaching idea that the story supposedly represents. Or is there? Why does every piece of writing have something completely different to say then what it actually says? Say you think that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland means, oh say, childhood innocence (just an example).

Then why doesn’t Carroll just go out and write a book about that? Maybe we are looking for meanings just for the sake of looking for meanings. Maybe we are ruining the story for ourselves by working on it, not playing with it and enjoying it. As they say, all work and no play is not a good thing.

Does literature need to be deep and philosophical with hidden themes and meanings to be good? Well it seems so. All of the “classics” that we read in school have other meanings. Well at least, according to our teachers. Why are there no famous “simple” books? Because for whatever reason, we seem to have a need to complicate things. We don’t analyze most children’s books and pick them apart, so why do the same for more mature books? Does there have to be a meaning of a story for it to be considered “good” literature?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Rachel L. permalink
    December 1, 2009 11:37 pm

    Honestly, I don’t really care if Carroll’s third cousin once removed’s cousin’s uncle’s friend’s cat was the colour orange so Carroll made the freckle on the Mad Hatter’s face orange. I don’t want to know the random, useless facts that “the Annotated Alice” gives us. I don’t know why we insist on simply driving ourselves crazy trying to figure the meaning of this story out. Perhaps not everything has a meaning.

    When I grow up I have decided that I am going to write a book. This book is going to become very famous. Everyone everywhere will have read this book. Here’s the kicker- it is going to be about nothing. And I am going to sit back and laugh as people everywhere try desperately to figure out the “meaning” of the story. Muahahaha(evil laugh).

    Now I know, I know, it isn’t a very probable plan, but I can dream.

  2. Kathy B. permalink
    November 27, 2009 4:33 pm

    Good point. It does get kind of tedious to always have to analyze every book we read in class. To me, it feels like we are always starting with the answer and trying to figure out how we got there, like Scholasticism in history class.

    We begin with the assumption that since we are reading a classic novel in English Literature class, there must be some deep hidden meaning behind the plot. Sometimes we hear of some possibilities of the “deeper meaning” before we actually read the book, or can make an educated guess on what it may be based on what we know of the story, and then we search the book for proof of our assumption. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? If every book had a deeper meaning, shouldn’t we be seeing a pattern of metaphorical things that scream at us that it is really saying this, instead of thinking of a possible meaning and then searching for any little thing that could support it? Granted, some stories are like that, such as Lord of the Flies. It would be hard to argue that there is not a deeper, philosophical message within that novel; Golding practically holds up giant neon arrows pointing us in the direction he wants us to go at some points of the book.

    However, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland? Not so much. We can find the meaning if we search for it, but it is not openly presented to us in a way that proves its undoubtable existence. So, we’re back to the question we all started with. Should we analyze “Alice”?

    Should we analyze literature at all? Why?

    As for your question on whether there must be a deeper meaning of a story in order for it to be considered “good literature,” in my opinion no. To me, a good book is a good book. What keeps me enthralled by a book is the story, the plot. That being said, can an author be considered great, or timeless, if all they do is relate imaginative stories? I’m not so sure. Would students still be reading Lord of the Flies if it was just about a bunch of boys stranded on an island? I doubt it. That has been done before. Golding, however, took it to a new level. He related it to humanity and society and its flaws, and that’s what makes it interesting to continue to read, because we can now toy with his idea of good vs evil and civilized vs savage. The story made him a good author, the symbolism made him a great one.

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