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Author Topic: Do people put words in authors mouths/pages?
TrapperKeeper
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Oftentimes in high school english classes when the teachers would be discussing the literary piece that we had recently read, they would seem to ascribe intentions to the author's writing that I thought just weren't there. It has been along time, so I do not have any specific examples but I can make a couple up.

A critic or a review or even the teacher would say something like the author is in chapter two alluding to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ because the main character sacrificed himself for his community. I thought at times that it was hogwash. Just because you can make the comparison does not mean the author intended to reference it.

Now I remembered doing this myself recently. I am in the process of rereading Xenocide and there was a chapter wherein Ender, Miro and Jane were discussing the nature of the universe and I thought for an instant that it was a bit like the holy trinity that was discussed earlier in the book. You had Ender, who was in some ways like Miro's Father. You had Miro, the Son, and Jane was like the holy ghost. My gut tells me that OSC had no such intention to compare the 3 characters to the holy trinity even though the comparison is fairly straight forward and easy to make. A high school english teacher might give you an A+++ for finding it, but most likely it is just a coincidence (Right?). But I also see it as possible many years from now when the author of a book has passed away that readers and reviewers could make the comparison and believe that it was the authors intention all along to say something deeper.

I know there have been authors throughout history who are masters of allegory and allusion who no doubt include them quite purposefully. However, I think that many times they are simply coincidence and people are ascribing intentions to the author that were never there.

I post this here to get your opinions on whether or not this happens. I think that unless you have actually had books published and are known on a fairly large scale your answer will be mostly opinion, but OSC could speak from first hand experience.

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neo-dragon
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I'm fairly certain that it's not uncommon for teachers/critics/scholars to attribute meaning that the author didn't specifically intend to that author's literary genius. Of course, the author can always cover his/her butt by saying that it was meant for the reader to find his/her own meaning, or somthing like that.

That's an insightful interpretation of that scene between Ender, Miro, and Jane, but whether or not that's what Card was going for is probably something that only he knows.

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Johivin
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My only issue when teachers/professors instill their own literary beliefs onto the students, you are telling those students with different beliefs on the topic that their issues are wrong. Literature has always been a focal point of discussions and open to interpretation. If one can back up their opinion with logical reasoning, then one can make their point more understandable.

However, sometimes a story is just a story. There does not have to be messages on any basis, and though neo-dragon says that they may use it to 'cover his/her butt', I would say that many stories & authors are writing with the intention of opening the minds to other possibilities rather than saying that something refers to one specific event.

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forensicgeek
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Most high school papers are based on the idea of drawing something out of a story that wasn't necessarily obvious. Sometimes ideas are stretched for the purpose of a good paper. But I believe that other than being entertaining, a good book should challenge the reader.

It should allow the reader to come to his/her own conclusions and learn something. Every person has lived a different life and learned different lessons, and it is these experiances that lead some to one understanding and others to another.

So, of course, when people state what they learned from a book, it is, in a way, putting words into the author's mouth. Or perhaps a better term would be that they pulled meaning out of an author's words.

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Luet13
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I had a teacher in high school who was so against the idea of symbolism that he refused to accept it as a valid idea. If something was obviously 'symbolic' to the point where he couldn't ignore it, he called it an 'echo'. That drove me crazy.

I do believe that teachers often project their own interpretations onto works of literature. However, anyone who reads also interprets. The way I read a book and the way you read a book, and what each of us gets out of it is completely different. Maybe the author would agree, maybe not.

I remember OSC saying something in one of his intros to the effect of: when you read a book, you are having a conversation with the author, so that doesn't mean that only what the author says is true. It is about the story you create together.

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neo-dragon
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In my experience, writing english papers isn't so much about whether or not you touch on what the author was actually trying to say, but more a matter of how well you can support your interpretation of the work. There's no right or wrong so long as you can logically support what you're saying. All you're doing is helping you reader to see what you see. That's why I find english papers more fun to write than science papers. With science there's only so much room for interpretation, speculation, and imagination. At the end of the day, what you write has to match up what is true (as far as we understand that particular area of science), and you can't bend or shape the facts to suit what you want to say.
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King of Men
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And this is supposed to be a bad thing?
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DPerry
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I wouldn't call it putting words in their mouths. If a reader interprets a work a certain way, and can support it, it doesn't matter if the author intended it or not. Once the author puts the work out there, it's out there. Readers have as much to do with creating the meaning as the author does.
For example: a girl in one of my poetry classes thought she had written a poem about flowers. She really did. She had no notion of any interpretation other than face value. However, she used lots of traditional sexual symbols. No matter how much she argued with us, the fact remained that she had written a sexually charged poem. Her intentions were irrelevant to what we read on the page.

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Pinky
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Yup. When you change your perspective, or rather, your approach, the text seems to change, too. I love that. What's the term for this attribute of literature again? I think it's called ambiguity, isn't it?

It's always fun to come up with an approach that's as different as possible from the one most people choose, which is usually the most obvious, the thing that first comes to your mind.

Right now, I write a term paper about "Nora" from Henrik Ibsen (in Skandinavian Studies). This drama used to be a scandal in 1879, because Nora dares to leave her husband. I'm not that interested in Newer Skandinavian Literatures, so
I try to entertain myself by thinking of an interpretation that does NOT concentrate on the feministic aspect, but rather on major events, inventions and ideas that strongly influenced the European/Norwegian society in the 19th century, such as the Industrial revolution, Darwinism and Gregor Mendel. (We discussed the relevance of the feministic aspects in that drama much too often in the lecture.)
Fortunately, this term paper doesn't have to be any longer than 2500 to 3500 words, so I don't have to become an EXPERT of the 19th century. [Wink]

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Icarus
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10 to 14 pages? That's all? [Eek!]
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Pinky
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It's enough. It's only a FOUNDATION COURSE that every student of Skandinavian studies must attend whether he is interested in that topic, or not. And it's completely different from the kind of essays we wrote at school, we are still learning how to write research or term papers. It's a matter of getting some practice before the main course.
This semester, the prof has to read 63 term papers, most of them probably very badly written. I don't envy her! The lecture was pretty overcrowded. She would probably have asked for more pages if it was a seminar with only 20 to 25 five students. I don't know.
Instead, every student in that lecture had to present a certain topic in addition to the term paper. I can assure you, there is still enough to do. This is only one of five lectures I went to this semester.
I'll be glad when I'm finally through with all of those basic courses and can choose more freely what I want to learn. THEN we have to write longer research papers, too. [Smile]

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RunningBear
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Glad I have so much to look forward to in college...

I am in 11th grade english class and my teacher happens to love symbolism in literature. When we read and acted Macbeth, we all had to write a five to ten page paper on a certain type of symbology in Macbeth. I chose bird symbols and found that there are a thousand and one ways to ascribe symbology to a literary work. Our class had twenty different topics that were between 3 and 14 pages long on seperate types of symbology and I think that illustrates that symbols are where you want them to be.

The teacher also trys to make us believe that her view is the right view, and that the symbology she sees is the only symbology. She will test us on topics that could be true or false but she will mark us down if we disagree with her opinion, even if it is factually correct.

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Icarus
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Pinky, I was saying that doesn't seem short to me at all.

-o-

RunningBear, I'm sorry you have a decoder for a teacher. [Dont Know]

I think it's worth talking about symbolism in literature . . . I really do. And I think there can be symbolism that the author did not intend, caused by images and associations that are so pervasive and subtle that we don't even think about them when we use them. But I don't think the teaching of literature should be reduced to learning to read secret codes and see symbolism in everything. What about the stuff that's consciously there? What about story elements? Irony? Imagery? It's so sad when literature gets turned into a course in symbol interpretation, and I think it only happens because it gives some (second-rate) literature teachers a way to have control--to have knowledge only they can have and thus exert their authority over the kids.

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Jimbo the Clown
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*grin*
In my writing class at my high school, the teacher has advised us, "If anyone ever asks you if their interpretation of the story is correct, just nod your head and allow them to relate the story to themselves as much as possible.

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opiejudy
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I do this myself all the time. I look for or ascribe meanings to things that may or may not be there and that may or may not have been the authors intention. I do it to Christopher Pike and OSC most, I am always reading them looking for something more than I am seeing. But then again I do it to TV shows as well. I watch buffy and it is my contention that what we see on the screen is a brought to life working of Buffy's inner psyche, in other words I believe that we see Buffy slaying demons, but that in all reality runnign concurrently with what we see there is a girl jsut trying to work through life as normally as we all do, and we see her fight her inner demons, onscreen. I do it all the time, to all sorts of things. I probably shouldnt, but I do.
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Icarus
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That's cool! [Smile]

(I believe there's nothing wrong in finding other meanings beneath the surface of a work, and to hell with whether the author intended them or not. But you ought to be able to logically defend your contention, reasonably acknowledge when someone pokes holes in it, and not assert your interpretation as dogma. Oh, and not use it as justification to open fire in a Wal-Mart, of course. [Smile] )

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opiejudy
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None of my beliefs or interpretations or any other ramblings I may have or post should ever be construed as something I think you or anyone else should think, they are only what I think. I dont want you (meaning it in the vast sense of everyone) to think like me. Great Minds Think For Themselves.
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Leslin
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I went to see Mr. Card at his Shadow of the Giant sighing in Winston-Salem, one of the best parts was when a teacher had asked about some symbolism in Enders Game. It seemed to be a stretch anyway but it made my day when he told the teacher who had brought some of his students, that no there was no symbolism in that book " or I think that was the short of it".
But better than that was looking around the room to most of the younger people sitting around who I had marked as his students just grin.
Thank you Mr. Card you da man!

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Leslin
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Oppps sorry it was Shadow Puppets
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Leslin
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Oppps sorry it was Shadow Puppets
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Jimbo the Clown
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lol. Double posting.
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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by Icarus:
That's cool! [Smile]

(I believe there's nothing wrong in finding other meanings beneath the surface of a work, and to hell with whether the author intended them or not. But you ought to be able to logically defend your contention, reasonably acknowledge when someone pokes holes in it, and not assert your interpretation as dogma. Oh, and not use it as justification to open fire in a Wal-Mart, of course. [Smile] )

Hehe. I think it is useful to ask which comes first- the chicken or the author?

What I mean is: "The wholy trinity," and its appeal to the imagination is based on something which supercedes the Bible. The idea of trinity and perfection in the number three is very old indeed, so your connecting a situation with 3 people in it to the trinity is natural, but I think as often as not the author simply obeys the laws of good drama.

Three characters are useful in telling a story with a beginning, middle and end. If you have three characters you can tell a well balanced story: ie, the bible is an appealing story partly because it deals with the three incarnations of "God" as christianity sees it.

I took an American lit class recently where we discussed nothing but this phenomenon: readers can only draw from personal experience, so it feels like every time you read something with a familiar feel or theme, you draw on the other story, whether it is the source of the inspiration or not.

Its rather like when I wrote a song based on a Poe poem recently, and someone commented that I was ripping off some band that had done that... as if it hadn't been done a thousand times (I hadn't even heard of it). What I've learned anyway, is that you can identify with a certain aspect of a story and be right about the intent of the author, even if you are wrong about the specific source of the idea. I think people believe the world is much smaller than it really is, as if we all contain the world inside our heads, so anything we don't recognize is new, and anything we recognize MUST have come from the same place.

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oolung
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I think once a literary work (or a painting, or a movie) has been published, it starts to exist on it's own, no matter what was the author's intention. If a reader finds a certain analogy the author didn't want to be there, then there's nothing the author can do about it. But there's also nothing the reader can do about and for them the analogy is simply THERE, and they will continue to see it there no matter what. Someone said that interpretation doesn't reveal the author's thoughts as much as the reader's. As far as an interpretation is based on the actual content of the work, it's valid, and that's what makes changing opinions on books so fascinating.
I was blessed with a teacher who encouraged us to think of our own interpretations and it was amazing what interpretations we could find.
So I think the worst kind of question a teacher can ask is: what did the author mean by that? Because it means that there is only one truthful interpretation, and all the others are wrong. Interpreting changes into a kind of contest, in which the teacher choses his the right answer. But then how can we know what the author meant? that's the point: we can NEVER know it.

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Flaming Toad on a Stick
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quote:
Originally posted by oolung:


So I think the worst kind of question a teacher can ask is: what did the author mean by that? Because it means that there is only one truthful interpretation, and all the others are wrong. Interpreting changes into a kind of contest, in which the teacher choses his the right answer.

True. On the other hand, it's always a good idea to share personal interpretations throughout the class. Sometimes, my teacher will do that, and it's amazing how many different interpretations that surface in the classroom. I think that it enriches me, as a reader.
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Flaming Toad on a Stick
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Right now, we're finishing "Lives of the Saints", which has many, MANY symbols
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Icarus
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quote:
Originally posted by Orincoro:
Hehe. I think it is useful to ask which comes first- the chicken or the author?

What I mean is: "The wholy trinity," and its appeal to the imagination is based on something which supercedes the Bible. The idea of trinity and perfection in the number three is very old indeed, so your connecting a situation with 3 people in it to the trinity is natural, but I think as often as not the author simply obeys the laws of good drama.

Three characters are useful in telling a story with a beginning, middle and end. If you have three characters you can tell a well balanced story: ie, the bible is an appealing story partly because it deals with the three incarnations of "God" as christianity sees it.

*nod*

The thing is, the author's intent is only important if you approach text as code to be deciphered. If you're looking at why does it work, how does it resonate with people, etc., then all of these connections are certainly worth exploring. The problem is that the word "symbolism" implies intent and cryptography and all of that.

An author may create an apparent trinity for wholly unsymbolic reasons, as you note, but I as a reader may still be affected in my reading by the unconsciously picking up on this Christian echo.

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Icarus
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quote:
Originally posted by Leslin:
I went to see Mr. Card at his Shadow of the Giant sighing in Winston-Salem, one of the best parts was when a teacher had asked about some symbolism in Enders Game. It seemed to be a stretch anyway but it made my day when he told the teacher who had brought some of his students, that no there was no symbolism in that book " or I think that was the short of it".
But better than that was looking around the room to most of the younger people sitting around who I had marked as his students just grin.
Thank you Mr. Card you da man!

:-\

I'm going to sort of practice what I preach and respond to this not as an actual event, which I did not witness--and I don't have OSC's accunt of it either--but as a story told by Leslin, and I'm going to focus on my reaction:

People love stories of authority figures being taken down a notch. Lots of people have had negative experiences with teachers; it's an incrediby complex role to be in, and there are so many ways to mess it up, or to fail to meet one student's needs while managing to meet those of dozens of others. But I read this story, by Sterling, and I think about a teacher trying to instill a love of reading in his students, by choosing an accessible work of fiction that is current and popular, and in a genre such as science fiction, and by giving the the opportunity to have personal contact with the author. I see a teacher, incidentally, who has caused dozens of copies of the author's book to be bought--whether by the students or by the school--and literally put money in his pocket. And because he made the miscalculation of hitting on one of the author's pet peeves, a dislike of academic pedantry, he gets taken down a notch publicly in front of his students. Of course, insofar as he has anything (other) of value to ever teach those kids this year, his effectiveness has been subverted by being made to look like an idiot in front of his kids. So, unlike, apparently, some people, I don't see this as a happy or funny story. The teacher is not the hero of the story to me, but neither is the author. This is a sad story with no heroes.

There are ways to say, "nope, that's not how I write," without scoring points, without making the questioner sound like an idiot. I don't think scoring points off of admirers is cool.

Again, I'm not responding to the actual event, but to the story I read.

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DPerry
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quote:
Originally posted by RunningBear:
The teacher also trys to make us believe that her view is the right view, and that the symbology she sees is the only symbology. She will test us on topics that could be true or false but she will mark us down if we disagree with her opinion, even if it is factually correct.

This is a mistake by the teacher. It's important for high school students to learn that there are mutliple viewpoints on these things. Obviously, no one can teach every view, but it's easy enough to state the fact that they exist.
Though I try to avoid testing students on my opinion, when I do, I make a point of saying that I am doing exactly that. I put a disclaimer on the exam along the lines of "On this exam, you are expected to demonstrate your understanding of the point of view represented in my lectures. Cross whatever you have two of while you answer, if necessary."

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hatrkr81
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I've noticed alot of symbolism in Mr. Card's works as well. I'm not saying that this was his objective, but it definitely pops into readers minds. But that's the great thing about great writing is that there are so many individual interpretations. Everyone can read the same book and take their own meaning out of it whether that meaning is on the surface or buried in symbology. When I read the Alvin Maker books, I see religious symbology coming out like crazy. Alvin is persecuted so many times for helping others unselfishly and using gifts that he has been given. sound familiar? Heartfire was flooded with symbology of Alvin being equated with Moses and Jesus himself. There's a certain passage that I can't remember right now that I thought was just genius symbolism of Alvin representing Jesus. Like I said before, this may not have been Mr. Card's intent, but that's what I took out of it. And you don't have to be a religious person in order to see this symbolism. I don't consider myself religious, though I do consider myself spiritual. Regardless of where you stand on this topic, great writing is just great writing meant for everyone to enjoy and possibly take even a little more from it.
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