Death of A Symbol

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I can’t count the number of times I have sat in an english class discussing a book and the symbols it contains. What never changes about these conversations, is that there always seems to be a “correct” interpretation of the symbols. Unless the opinions of the students directly coincide with what the teachers think the symbols mean, the students are often told they are wrong.

Thomas C. Foster argues that symbols mean different things to different people. The meanings are never wrong because they are an interpretation made based on the individual’s beliefs, religions, and personal experiences. Your interpretation of symbols is uniquely yours. Assigning one specific meaning takes the life away from a symbol, and turns it into an allegory. In my experience, the death of a symbol is an all to common occurrence.

Teachers who pose leading questions to a class, thereby guiding the discussion to a prescribed symbolic meaning, are the ones that transform these symbols into allegories. This happened quite often while I was being taught The Great Gatsby.  Books like Gatsby that are well known and widely analyzed seem to have the literary community all in agreement of one or two meanings to each individual symbols. Does that mean anyone else’s opinion is wrong? Does this widespread agreement on their meanings transform them into allegories? I don’t know the answer to these questions, and I hope that they will be addressed in a later chapter. From Foster’s point of view, finding the meaning of symbols is a personal quest and whatever your discovery turns out to be is yours and yours alone. I’d have to say I agree with him.