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Interpreting Literary Meaning: How to Use Text to Guide Your Interpretation

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  • 0:49 How to Use the Text
  • 1:19 Key Elements
  • 3:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Katie Surber

Katie has a Master's degree in English and has taught college level classes for ten years.

In this lesson, we will discuss how to find and interpret literary meaning in writings. The lesson will focus on using the text to find key elements to guide your interpretation.

What Did the Author Mean?

Have you ever finished reading a novel or short story and thought: 'What did the author mean?' Or maybe you asked yourself: 'Why did the author write this?' It is natural for us to ask these questions when we read. Part of the reading process is to make connections to the writing, which means you spend time interpreting it.

What does it mean to interpret literature? When you interpret literature, you are trying to find the meaning and significance of the story. You are asking yourself both what the text means and why it is important.

One of the best ways to interpret a writing is to use the text as a guide. When you use the text as a guide, you are examining the main elements of the story and seeing how they relate to each other to find the meaning and importance of the story.

How to Use the Text

To begin to find the meaning of the text, you must first start to analyze it. Analyzing begins before you start to read. You should spend time asking yourself what you already know about the author, looking through any introductory notes, and then skimming the material for a first impression. This first step will help you begin to feel connected to the literature because you will learn about the author and make connections to what you may already know about the topic.

Key Elements

After you preview the writing, you are now ready to start to use the text to find its meaning. When you use the text to find the meaning, you look at the elements and details that the author includes. There are many elements to literature, but some key ones to use as part of the analysis are:

  • Plot - the main events of the story. When you analyze the plot, you should look at how the main events are presented. How does the author share the story? In what order are the details presented? Does the author include foreshadowing, suspense, or flashbacks? What conflicts do the characters endure?

  • Characters - the people in the story. What are the characters like? How do they relate to each other? Do they change or stay the same? What traits do they have? What role do the minor characters play?

  • Setting - where the story takes place. Where does the story take place? What historical era or location? What important details does the author share about the setting? What mood is introduced through the setting?

  • Symbols - objects that hold other meanings. What symbols or images are used in the text? Is there an image that is repeated throughout? What do the symbols and images represent?

  • Point of view - who is telling the story. Who is the narrator? What do we learn through this point of view? What do we not know? How are we limited?

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