Tag Archives: analysis

Not Math


English is not math. When reading literature there is not one way of looking at things, analyzing characters, situations, or entire texts. If there was a definitive answer to all things literary, then  most scholars would be out of business. And our papers would not have an argument, but rather regurgitate the same thing as every other paper ever written on any one subject. Why write a paper at all then? Just photocopy a research article and be done with it.

When I tell you of all the ways something could be read, don’t ask me what the right answer is. I am not trying to give you the right answer but offer you opinions so you can come up with your own. Yes, there are “wrong” ways of reading texts. But don’t worry about that right now. As long as you are not trying to tell me the Canterbury Tales were unfinished because Chaucer was abducted by aliens, you will be fine.

And let’s not even mention the times authors intentionally leave things ambiguous, demanding multiple interpretations. Oh yes, this is not some sort of invention scholars came up with simply because they had nothing better to do.  And as long as you are using the text, there are probably dozens of arguments you can make about every line. Some more far fetched than others, and some more easily accepted, while others totally improbable. But don’t worry about that right now.

I wish I could tell you that if you read line 3 and line 93 you will find the absolute meaning of the text. Or that if you read the fifth stanza you will know the character’s motives, and the seventh stanza will reveal the author’s intentions. But English is not like math – there are no formulas, precise equations, or absolutes.