Literary Interpretation Part 1


Terms to Know and Use for Discussing

Author’s Purpose, Theme, and Characterization


In literary interpretation, knowing the following terms can be of help in discussing a particular author’s purpose and theme, as well as in discussing characterization. An author has a predominant attitude toward life, as we all do, and he/she reveals that attitude through the characters. If the major character in a novel or short story ( or the persona in a poem), reacts to conflict in a certain way and, consequently, fails or succeeds, it is an extension the author’s theme.

As the reader, you are interpreting what that theme, or the author’s attitude, is. Others may not see it in the same way as you, but the point of interpretation is to explain and illustrate why or how you arrive at your interpretation. In using the following terms, we usually say that an author (or the character) shows a predominant attitude. Most will have secondary tendencies, but one attitude will be dominant. It is that dominant attitude that controls the theme.

In deciding which term best describes a particular character or author, trust yourself. It is a matter of interpretation. In some stories, a fine line separates naturalism and determinism. One person may say a character is simply realistic; another person may consider the character naturalistic. You may see strong qualities of romanticism; whereas, another person may see transcendentalism.  It is opinion. Your opinion is as valid as anyone else’s opinion–if you can effectively explain it and support it.

A thesis statement for a literary analysis focusing on a world view (-ism) may look like this:

Although the poem, “-Out –Out” by Robert Frost, resonates with romantic images of the  beauty of Nature, the persona reveals a naturalistic attitude.

deism, influenced by rationalism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Deists acknowledge that the regularity of nature (natural laws) reflects the benevolence of a divine providence. They base their belief in god entirely on reason, without any reference to faith, revelation, or institutional religion. Therefore, deists reject “miracles” such as virgin birth and resurrection of the dead. They ackowledge Jesus as a historical leader and teacher and the Bible as an important historical document, but do not accept the supernatural, i.e. irrational, attributes of either. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, and many other leaders of the American revolution were deists.

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