“Now class, I want you to think about the colors in this story, and what they symbolize. The fact that the sheets were white represents purity and cleanliness. Meanwhile, red, which was the color of her shoes, represents not only love, but promiscuity. What does that say about her character, that she makes her bed white but treads in red?”
This kind of class, this kind of “close reading,” as they call it, drives me up a wall. Nothing can be assumed that the author put it into the story as a coincidence. Maybe the character was wearing red shoes because she’d happened to see them while shopping for a pair of modest sneakers and went, “You know, I don’t buy fancy shoes that often, but these are quite striking, and I have a dress at home they’d go well with, so I think I’ll buy them.” Maybe she made the bed with white sheets because her floral-print ones were in the wash. Maybe the writer didn’t think anyone would bother to ask “oh, well, why not green sheets?” when they were writing the story. “No, no, impossible,” my literature teachers cry, “everything has a meaning, the authors know what they’re writing and there is a purpose for why they are writing them!” Do you know how many people can represent Christ in stories if you think about it too hard? Do you know how many characters’ actions can be attributed to “the author critiquing the world around them, their social situation, etc etc etc” if you dedicate hours to the cause?
While I think it would be really cool to have my work read in schools, I hope to God my work is never considered “literature.” I want my work to be able to be read mainly for enjoyment, and it’s hard to do that when you’re busy looking for themes and motifs and character archetypes and whatever else. The thought of some poor soul having to read over my words a minimum of three times in order to write a paper on a major theme or critique in the story makes me want to meet the teacher who gave the assignment and politely tell them “No, sir or madam, I had no ulterior intentions while writing this. His uniform is grey because in my mind it didn’t look good in any other color. The house is Gothic style because I thought my character would appreciate the style of it. She cuts her hair short because she thinks it’s getting in the way long.” I would then ask to grade the papers myself and give the students As along with an apology that they had to do an analytical paper on my story in the first place.
Because at it’s core, I believe creative, fiction writing is meant for people to enjoy. It’s not for people to pick apart and be told “this is what this means, this is what that means.” It’s for escape, it’s to help the reader expand their imagination, and at times it can be used as a tool to teach people that reading is really great, or how to form opinions and write about them, themselves. (Book reports, ‘finish the story’ or ‘write a different ending’ assignments, things like that.)
And I swear to God, if my work ever somehow gets the attention of literary scholars and somehow gets nominated to be put in the canon, I will take every action to prevent it. I’ll even set aside money for a lawyer to do that job after I’m dead.
And seriously, who wants a teacher preaching in front of a class about what means what in a story you wrote when you don’t even know if they’re butchering the intentions of the characters or not?