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How Much Freedom Does/Should a Reader Have in Determining the Meaning of a Text? Essay Sample

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How Much Freedom Does/Should a Reader Have in Determining the Meaning of a Text? Essay Sample

Writers try to communicate their ideas to their readers. The style they choose to do it in and the ambiguity they want to leave for the reader to figure out depends on him/her. It can also be the case that the reader himself is reading too much into a text as the writer might have just thought of a story just by chance or the writer is sometimes obliged to invent stories in order to make books as selling books is their livelihood. What people see in a text might have nothing to do with what was in the mind of the writer.

The way a text is interpreted by readers depends on who is reading it. The writer might e communicating feelings and ideas about a particular subject without intending to so. Also the style the book is written will effect how much freedom the reader has to interpret a text, for example in the Charlotte Bronte’s book Jane Eyre narrates the book herself and hers and Mr Rochester’s relationship and the reasons why she left can be somewhat confusing for the reader as she does not go in great lengths as she probably finds it too painful. Some people may interpret Jane’s character as a dominant an generally a strong character. On the other hand some readers might find her character a weak one as she lets her pride get in the way of her telling the full story. in some ways Jane Eyre challenges and reinforces the stereotypes of women. However this book could have been read differently in Victorian times. Therefore it is important to note that reader himself ultimately decides the interpretation of a text.

Fiction is a genre where readers are required to interpret. The difficulties that readers find when reading fiction are characteristics that are found in other genres as for example poetry. Reading fiction and understanding it’s meaning requires a great deal of interpretive thinking on the reader’s part. Looking at how much freedom the reader the reader has to interpret the text it has been argued that the purpose of fiction is to create a dream world for the reader where they can escape and be look upon the characters lives within the piece of fiction in a form of voyeurism. That would mean that the meaning the reader interprets from a fiction book will depends upon the reader’s understanding and perception of the book. A work of fiction does not have a correct interpretation therefore each individual will come to different interpretations of a book thereby making every interpretation important one and every readers opinion a valid one.

The idea that every reader’s interpretation counts means that the author’s intended meaning is very much discounted. Having said that many authors encourage people to make their interpretations of the texts by complicating the narrative and characters within them. If on the other hand there was a correct meaning of a text the reader will need to have a sufficient mastery in language and be able to understand the complex of language used by the author in order to fully appreciate and interpret the text. For example interpreting Jane Eyre would be more challenging for the reader that it would be if they were reading Vernon god little.

This is due the different style and type of language used within these texts. Jane Eyre is more complex in its character description and language comparing it to Vernon god little. Another reason why Jane Eyre would be more difficult to read compared to Vernon god little is the time when it is set. Vernon god little is set t presents time so the reader will identify with the characters and settings that have been talked about in the book so therefore interpreting this book will be easier for the reader to do compared to Jane Eyre which is a Victorian novel. For this the reader will need to have some knowledge on the Victorian times and the way society functioned then in order to understand the characters within it and whether or not Jane Eyre would be a positive or negative character judging her through the Victorian society.

Having a high degree of knowledge about language and history does not mean that the readers will come up with the same meaning of a text. Two people with same educational background will come up with different interpretations of a given text. This is the case with many scholars who disagree with each other about different text meanings. This would mean that only subjective reading of a text is possible. That would mean that whomever the reader is regardless of their educational background or their knowledge on language or history and any other aspect which is seen necessary to interpret a piece of fiction will be held as important as that person who has study and analyse text as part of their career.

So the conclusions of the above statements leads to one answer that the way texts are interpreting and the way it’s meaning is constructed depends upon the reader’s own experiences and background. Therefore since meaning comes from the reader and the text people should be allowed to express their own interpretations and meanings freely. It is argues that a major value of literature is to give the reader the ability to construct words, metaphors, images and plots to understand the story of the text in addition adding to their imagination and educating them.

In conclusion no matter how gifted the author there will always be some difference between what he wants to say and what the reader will understand of the text. The validity of the readers understanding can not really be judged against what the author intended to say because the reader as argued above is reading the text according to their own experiences and ideas in other words they are reading the text subjectively. Also the reader can only judge the text by what has been written down. It is important to note that the most important advantage the reader has when reading a text is the freedom they have to interpret the text. This will also add to the enjoyment of the books they read. The author’s intention is quite often to invoke an emotional response from the reader so therefore the writer himself encourages freedom of interpretation by the reader.


Rosenblatt, L. Literature as Exploration

Northrop,F., The Educated Imagination (published in 1968)



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