My husband is not an avid reader, and he used to get very frustrated in college when teachers would insist discussing symbolism in a literary work when there didn’t seem to him to be any. He felt that writers often just wrote the story for the story’s sake and other people read symbolism into it.
It does seem like modern fiction just “tells the story” without much symbolism. Is symbolism an older literary device, like excessive description, that is not used much any more? Do you think there was as much symbolism as English teachers seemed to think? What are some examples of symbolism from your reading?
I sympathize with Barbara H’s husband: Sometimes, I just want to enjoy the reading, and not think overlong or hard about what it is that I am reading. At times, the constant need to analyze literature has frustrated me and left me screaming, “IT’S JUST A F*CKING BOOK!” (This often has happened in Women’s Studies classes; I am nothing if not contrary and pugnacious.)
However, not only do I not think that close reading is outmoded, I also feel that it has its place. I’m currently re-reading The Secret History, one of my all-time favorites for reasons I am sure I will soon discuss here. But just one of those many reasons is the intricate layering of allusion–classical and modern–and symbolism in the tale and the telling. As much as I enjoy simply reading TSH, my enjoyment of it is enhanced and increased by close reading and critique.
That is not to say that I don’t speed merrily along through my novels; I don’t hunch over annotated copies–though I do assiduously read every endnote–and rack my brain for meaning. But in the times when I cannot read, or in quiet moments, when I put the book down for a moment and reflect, I will consider every layer of meaning I can identify, to increase my comprehension, for I believe that a greater understanding of a novel will lead to greater enjoyment.