A few weeks ago, I wrote how it is a common misconception to think that there is no meaning to be found in a novel other than the author’s (here). I ended with a question: Is the author’s intent even relevant?
First off, I wish to share an article on six book that were interpreted by the public in a way that totally differed from the author’s intent. For example, Fahrenheit 451 is actually about TVs spelling the end of reading and Alice in Wonderland is a commentary on Imaginary numbers and such ruining math.
I believe that literature, like any form of art, is both the expression of the reader and the writer. The writer expressing his/her thoughts and emotions is what gives novels life initially, the next stage is all up to the reader who then interprets the novel in his/her own unique way. When the author leaves things vague such as mentioning a flower without describing variety or colour, each person forms a different picture in their head. Themes are also very subjective as depending on someone’s experiences, one will understand the novel’s messages differently to someone with different experiences. However, the main message, or topic, should be made clear. All the details and minor themes can be left to the readers imagination – the central idea of the novel should not, for that is the essence of the novel. The same goes for songs, paintings, sculptures and poetry. If this central idea is misunderstood by just about everyone, than it is the author’s fault for not making it clear. In other words, how much the author’s intent is relevant depends on the author and how much they choose to spell out to the reader. If they want readers to read their novel a specific way, they better make it clear in the black and white of the text. If not, they can’t get mad at readers for misinterpreting their novel.
On a side note… In school, when writing a paper on a novel, you are taught to write ‘the author conveys’ or some such variation. However, unless you are talking directly about the simple meaning of the novel, you are not really talking about what the author is conveying, rather, how you interpreted the novel. There really needs to be a better way to write literary essay and such.
What do you think about the importance of the author’s intent? I’d love to hear from you!