How To Interpret a Piece of Literature When You Don’t Get the Meaning

Ah, it’s that time of year again. February has begun, and with it comes our first big assignments of the term. But fear not! For those of you who are taking literature classes, I have a few literary criticism tips. I understand the despair that comes out of reading a piece and not getting a single message out of it, or the fear of getting the incorrect interpretation.

I’ll start by saying that no story has a single, lone interpretation. Most modern literary critics (and university professors) believe that a story’s meaning is compounded by many factors. The first one has to do with the author: what they’re actually saying, and which words they’re using to tell their story. The second has to do with society: in which period the story was written and how this reflects on it. And finally, the third one has to do with you: your own experiences and how you apply them to what you read.

Pride and Prejudice Photo by Rawkkim from Unsplash

When analyzing a story, you should take your time. If you don’t take the time to dive into what’s presented to you, then you won’t be able to connect the points. So, take a cup of tea or coffee and, for your grade’s sake, forget about that reading being an assignment and enjoy it. You should take some notes; write down whatever comments come to your mind. This can be done while reading or after; whatever works best for you. Then, based on your overall opinion of the story (if you don’t have one, then I’m sorry to tell you that you didn’t properly read) you should choose a specific topic within the story to analyze. You can’t possibly deconstruct every aspect of it, at least not for the scope of a college essay.

When you choose your topic, you should look at your notes, the story’s wording, and the period’s main traits. Also, find out how the story resonates with you as a reader. Out of these three main points, you should get enough information to write a regular length college essay or analysis. Oh, and a bonus tip: when writing an essay, write your introduction last. Believe me, after you have already explained your main points throughout three or even five paragraphs, it will be so much easier to introduce the paper. I mean, how could you introduce something that you haven’t developed yet, right?

In the end, modern literary criticism has more to do with the readers themselves than what we were taught in school. Remember what I told you: a story can’t possibly have a sole meaning, and interpretation is not limited to what the author specifically wrote. The truth is that a story’s meaning varies from person to person, and it’s very subjective. There’s a critic in all of us. I know it sounds too romantic for an essay, but trust me, it works. Good luck with your literature papers, y’all!