Friday, April 29

Symbolism: Planned or Chance?

Wuthering Heights: Catherine's symbolic choice between Heathcliff and Edgar - Heathcliff representing youth, freedom, and the call of the wild; while Edgar represented wealth, status, and convention.

Great Expectations: Miss Havisham's dead garden and decaying mansion, which represent wealth and the decay of upper society of the time.

The list could go on and on, but my question is: How did we come to these decisions about what things represent? Was it popular opinion? Was there a vote? Did some big-britches, know-it-all step up and say, "This is how it is."? I mean let's face it, most of us know about the symbolism we do thanks to our teachers in school telling us what things meant, which is information they got from their teachers, and so on and so forth. Now, yes, there are some books where the symbolism is intended and obvious. For instance titles like 'Lord of the Flies' and 'Catcher in the Rye'. These books are modern classics, but make basically no sense at all when taken literally.

Does it seem like I am going nowhere with this? Allow me to explain...

My first book was read by a book club/crit group during the revision proses. This is not the book that is currently being represented, but a retelling of 'Tarzan of the Apes' for women. 'Tarzan of the Apes' is a fabulous book, but no one knows that, because when someone says 'Tarzan' everyone automatically thinks o the horrendous movies from the 1930s, not realizing that the actual story is far different and much better. My book is very accurate to the original story(as much as possible anyway) and told via Jane. In my story, Jane travels to the jungle with her father because she has a love of flowers and the science of botany. The whole 'flower' thing was really nothing more than a believable vessel for me to use to get someone like Jane to the middle of the jungle. When I got the critiques back, I was shocked when so many people (like 4 out of the 11 who read it) made comments about they loved that I used the flower theme to represent Jane's repressed sexuality, and shed light on the oppression of women in the Victorian era.

Umm... what? If all flowers represent repressed sexuality, then there are a few people I need to apologize to... "Hey, about that delivery you got on your birthday..."  :)

Needless to say, the whole repressed sex thing never once crossed my mind, and I started to wonder how often that happens. Now I do realize that when you read something, you bring your own life lessons and person knowledge with you, which will cause you to have a unique experience. No two people will read a book the same way, just as no two people will ever see a work of art with the same eyes. That being said, you have to admit that there are accepted 'symbols' for almost any book. The classics in particular, and in most of those cases the author could never have possibly been consulted about their meaning, so how to we know? Moreover, if we all experience books differently, does it matter? Looks like I'm in a philosophical mood today... go figure...

Do you deliberately put symbolism in your writing? Has it ever happened totally by chance?

And on a completely unrelated note...

How gorgeous was Kate this morning?! Congratulations to the couple!

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