Developing Interpretations of texts
Hello everyone, and welcome to another week in the lead-up to VCE exams! I hope all is well, and I know that you are likely being inundated with work and exam prep! However, we are here to make it at easy as possible on you and so today I will be sharing my tips on something I found incredibly useful for English – establishing your own interpretations of the texts!
What is an interpretation and why is it important?
An interpretation is the set of your personal opinion on what the meaning of the text is. Your interpretation can be informed by a lot of different things – your personal life experiences, the belief systems that are important to you and socio-political events. Your interpretation can be influenced by whether you like certain characters, whether you agree with their decisions and how much you relate to the story!
The importance of an interpretation is that it allows you to show the examiner that you have thought critically about the ideas and meanings they have put forward in their texts. It forms the basis of your analysis, and allows you to position yourself as the interpreter of the text and show the examiner your original ideas.
How can you develop your interpretation?
For me, I found that making a list of all the key events in the texts and the tensions that arise from them was extremely useful.
I would start with the ending of the text. For example, in The Crucible, John Proctor sacrifices himself for the truth – which is an absolutely massive event, in terms of morality and in terms of the consequences that it has for this character! It puts forward the questions:
Was this the right thing to do?
Is John Proctor truly an honest man, or does he die a guilty martyr?
Do I agree with Arthur Miller’s decision to have John Proctor die?
Why did Arthur Miller do this? What was his reasoning in creating this event in the play?
Then, I would go onto considering a controversial character decision/event in the text. For example, in The Crucible, the character of Abigail Williams is very difficult to reconcile due to her abrasive nature, but there is also the consideration of her tragic past that may contribute to her actions within the play. I would pose the question:
‘Is Abigail Williams truly to blame for the events in Salem?’
Then, I would attempt to rationalise this presenting all the possible arguments I can think of:
Abigail is exploited by Danforth and the theocratic autocracy of Salem
Abigail is representative of the demonisation of female sexuality and the desire to break free from societal constraints being punished
Abigail makes morally heinous decisions within the play that lead to the deaths of many other characters
Abigail’s youth and inexperienced nature leads her to be exploited by many characters within the play, including John Proctor
These seem to be a lot of somewhat contradictory ideas that can be hard to reconcile in one neat way. However, I would use this train of thought to form a line of reasoning that you can base a body paragraph in an essay on. I would explore all the contradictions present in this character and then reconcile it by linking it to what the author is saying about the event/character, and hence what they are saying about a big idea in the text.
To organise your interpretations, I created a table that looked like this:
This sequence of questioning that I would ask myself applies for any text and any character! This can be a really useful approach to practice writing full paragraphs without the pressure of an essay topic, by just focusing on your own ideas and opinions.