BTT~ Kurt Vonnegut Would Fail a Course on Vonnegut

Question suggested by Barbara H:

My husband is not an avid reader, and he used to get very frustrated in college when teachers would insist discussing symbolism in a literary work when there didn’t seem to him to be any. He felt that writers often just wrote the story for the story’s sake and other people read symbolism into it.

It does seem like modern fiction just “tells the story” without much symbolism. Is symbolism an older literary device, like excessive description, that is not used much any more? Do you think there was as much symbolism as English teachers seemed to think? What are some examples of symbolism from your reading?

Honestly, I was a lot like your husband (and still am to a degree) when it came to symbolism. For me, though, I just wanted to read “the story” and not get bogged down by interpretation. I think it’s a device that is used as much today as in olden times. Some writers use it more than others, and some just “tell a story”.

As a writer myself, though, I can tell you I do use symbolism, on purpose even. Because I know the whole arc of the story, I may drop in something in chapter two that points to something in chapter ten. Also, I may use a scene at a restaurant, and the conversation at the table, as a symbol of society at large.

As for whether English Teachers driving students mad and to bibliophobia, I think they are just excited about the book, and years of teaching and re-reading the book with each class, each semester, has given them an insight. Maybe the symbolism wasn’t intended by the author, originally, but maybe it’s like dream interpretation. The author said it and meant it, but maybe unconciously.

Hmm… that begs the question: Do you think an author could learn a lot about him or herself by sitting in on a Lit class teaching his or her books?

Perfect video clip to answer this question (WARNING: there are 2 F-bombs right at the end, at 1:18 and 1:21)


7 Responses

  1. And I make use of symbolism in my poetry. Lots of it.

    Loved the video!


  2. I really liked your answer! I agree that symbolism is alive and well.

  3. That’s a riot about the author sitting in on the class and learning. I recently finished a book (the name of which escapes me at the moment) about Moses coming in and sitting in on a religious class and wondering what the heck everyone was talking about!

  4. Great post! I loved the use of the clip.

  5. I find many authors to be sensitive souls. I don’t know if they would do well sitting in a class hearing all of the comments about their writting. LOL Happy BTT. I loved your post.

  6. I agree with you in that I think symbolism is still alive and well in writing today.

    I remember one high school English class in particular where the student teacher made us keep journals where we had to chart the symbols and analogies we came across in the books we were reading along with their meanings. Oh, how I hated that. It was not something I was very good at, especially when it was forced.

    Sometimes I do pick up on it in my reading today, but I imagine I miss more than I catch since I’m not actively looking for it.

  7. I agree that symbolism is still going strong! I don’t know if authors could learn about themselves by sitting in a lit class, but they could learn a lot about their book. I think there are definitely parts of literature which are probably not intended by the author but which readers can draw out anyway. I don’t think it’s wrong just because the author didn’t mean for it to be there.

    Great clip!

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