Thursday, August 16, 2012

Follow That Link: Flannery O'Connor on literary interpretation

Some time ago, Chari found this excellent blog called Letters of Note.   It's subtitled "Correspondence deserving of a wider audience" and is basically letters, often written by literary men and women, but also by  statesmen, movie stars and other notables.   

(ETA:  As Chari says in the comment box, some of the letters can be risque, so use discretion in sharing with your kids)

Today my longtime interests in Catholic author Flannery O'Connor and the pitfalls of literary analysis come together in a letter to O'Connor from a college English class about her short story A Good Man is Hard to Find, and her reply.

Read:  I am in a state of shock

If you have read and been puzzled or distressed by A Good Man is Hard to Find,  Flannery's letter provides a few hints on her intentions, and on her view of what literature in general is about.  I especially like this bit:

The meaning of a story should go on expanding for the reader the more he thinks about it, but meaning cannot be captured in an interpretation.

 If teachers are in the habit of approaching a story as if it were a research problem for which any answer is believable so long as it is not obvious, then I think students will never learn to enjoy fiction.

Too much interpretation is certainly worse than too little, and where feeling for a story is absent, theory will not supply it.


  1. I LOVE reading this blog in my email!

    I am constantly forwarding them to my kids. :) Or, just following them around, reading the letters aloud. They love hearing from their favorite writers, poets and old actors.

    Occasionally a letter may be risque......just a heads up for using with kids.

  2. This reminds me of all the good literature that was spoilt by one of my teachers. He always seemed to have a different viewpoint and a personal interpretation was never valid. My essays were summaries of the teacher's taste and philosophy:-/ Years later, I understood the reason for some of his different opinions, when I realised that some of his teachings were anti-Christian.

    Thanks for the link, Willa. It's always so interesting having a peek at other people's correspondence, isn't it?!

    God bless:-)

  3. Willa,

    Thank you for the link. I spent a delightful half hour on the site, reading letters while waiting outside a singing lesson this morning. So interesting!

    God bless!


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