While truth isn't relative, art usually is.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I had a teacher who told me my interpretation of a certain poem was “wrong.”  Back then it confused me.

These days it just irritates me. “Wrong” interpretation of a poem you say? Impossible.

And sometimes prose is just as nebulous.

Read “The Scarlet Ibis” and answer me this:  Who is the protagonist, the narrator or Doodle?


About Brian Phillips

Brian lives in Spain with Kassie and their kids.
This entry was posted in Art, Communication, Poetry. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to While truth isn't relative, art usually is.

  1. Kassie says:

    Doodle. The narrator is more like a sympathetic villain.

    What a sad story.

  2. Brian says:

    It is a sad story.

    I wonder who the story is more about – who is really central – the narrator (with his honest selfishness) or Doodle.

    Not that I disagree with you; I just don’t know.

  3. Danielle says:

    Such a sad story. I’m mad at you for making me read it again (just kidding).

    I think the narrator is the protagonist. He’s the principle character; the story is about his selfishness (and how he comes to realize his selfishness) more than it is about Doodle, I think. We don’t really get any insight into Doodle’s mind or feelings (other than what you can see from the outside) at all.

  4. John Lumgair says:

    The “The Scarlet Ibis” link seems to be dead but can be viewed here:


    I have to disagree, a poem has an author, and the author writes with intent. The intent is rarely straight forward, and in some cases may not be known or understood by the author, but it does exist. Otherwise the creation of art is merely a meaningless act.

    In most cases the author who has the definitive correct interpretation. The rest of us have to grapple with what we read and make sense of it. If we the reader, bring so many presupposition to the poem that differ great from the authors we are unlikely to truly understand it.

    The thing that makes this tricky is what it means to be a human is complex. We are a bundle of contradictions and often don’t know why we do the things we do. Which means the authors objectivity can be clouded.

    To deny that there can be a wrong interpretation, is often repeated without thought to how crazy it is. For instance if we claim a Shakespeare sonnet is actually about Bin laden we have interpreted it wrongly!

  5. Brian Phillips says:

    But authors don’t have objectivity. Poetry is nothing if not subjective. That’s one of the beauties of it. I agree that they have intent, but if the meaning isn’t explicit it’s fine to make subjective judgments.

    And no one in their right mind would claim a Shakespeare sonnet was about a twentieth-century terrorist.

    John, thanks for stopping by and adding to the discussion. It’s not that I totally disagree with what you’re saying, it’s just that, generally, poetry -of all expressive art- isn’t absolute.

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