Climbing the ladder to literary Heaven
A case study of allegorical interpretation of fiction
This study examined university students’ interpretations of a passage from the novel “The Anthologist” that notably described a poet’s career as his clinging onto an infinitely tall ladder leading up into the blinding blue. Understanding this excerpt requires readers to engage in “metaphor processing” where one applies a metaphoric reading to some instance of language or a situation to obtain allegorical meaning, as opposed to “processing metaphor” in which individual words and phrases are given metaphoric meaning. Students’ interpretations of both the individual segments and the entire text revealed significant allegorical abilities, many of which we centered on their elaboration of the common metaphorical theme LIFE IS A JOURNEY. But participants also clearly created textured, personal readings of fictional texts that gave each interpretive act it own unique, creative flavor. Although this study focused on the “products” of people’s interpretation for allegory, we speculate on the cognitive “processes” required for readers to produce their rich, detailed understandings of allegory in fiction.
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