Meaning Is Created By Interpretive Strategies English Language Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Finding a meaning or having a meaningful understanding of a text can be more difficult than what appears on pages of a text. If it's true that beauty lies in the eyes of beholder, then the notion of meaning, text and interpretation may be far beyond the author's idea or control, even though the text is his/her creative impulse. It's a matter of action and reaction or in musical repertoire- "call and response". The author as a creator only conceived an idea, with personal perspective and the meaning may be hidden or obvious in a text or work of art, but that still leaves the author with a kind of mono-perspective which may restrict the creative interpretation of the text. It is imperative that every art is born with its own critics; therefore the overall meaning of a text sometimes lies with the readers of that text or the viewers in a work of art. Meaning could be an explanation or conceptualization by a critic of a work of literature, painting, music, or other art form or an exegesis, in case of any liturgical interpretation. Meaning is something that happens not on the pages of a text, but a creative interaction and negotiation between the author and the readers

There are several methods of looking at this argument and in order to get a better view of where meaning lies; it's worth considering the followings:

meaning as what is encoded in the text by the author

meaning is created by the text itself

meaning is created by the strategic interpretation of readers


As mentioned at the beginning of this essay, the author serves as chief organiser of a creative idea or conceived a plan that is scribed in a text. In a way, a text cannot produce itself, but needs the creative ability of an author. And in finding meaning or meaningful understanding of a text, it may be informative to look at the background of the author and also reading other texts by the same author, as well as criticism levelled against the author's intention. Given this authorial background, it's imperative that the author must work around certain repertoire, particular tradition and most importantly, a writer must be associated with a particular genre.

Saint Jerome (c. 347), the ancient Rome liturgical commentator, suggests few ways of reviewing the life of an author in order to arrive at a successful meaning in a text. According to him, among many of the author's books, one of them must be inferior compared to others, such work must provide different insight to author's worldview. Also some of the author's work may depict different doctrine compared to what the author is known for. And the style of the author must be critically reviewed as some of his/her work may portray different style which may reveal meaning in that text. And finally, in case of a dead author, reviews, critique and statements made about the author can also act as interpretative tools.

Furthermore, authorial intention may be obvious or complicated as noticed in some difficult writers, but brief study on the cultural values and symbols of the time can supply meaning in a text. Signs and symbols are very important in finding the original intention of the author as noted in the likes of Samuel Beckett, most especially his En Attendant Godot.

Surprisingly, text says more than what appears on a paper and far beyond the intention and original interpretation of its author. A writer's work may drive him or her towards a completely different direction not intended by the author; therefore it may be right to state that meaning completely lies in the hands of the readers or critics. As Beckett confessed in one of the interviews during the stage production of his En Attendant Godot in New York:

"I don't know who Godot is. I don't even know if he exists. And

I don't know if they believe in him or not- those two who are

waiting for him…All that I knew I showed. It's not much but it's

enough for me, by a wide margin…Estragon, Vladimir, Pozzo,

Lucky, their time and their space, I was able to know them a little

but far from the need to understand. Maybe they owe you (the reader)

explanations, let them supply it. Without me. They and I are

through with each other [1] "

In another words, the task of an author starts and ends on the pages of a text. The interpretation and intention are personally known to him or her, but the meaning lies somewhere far away from the author's intent. Meanings are usually buried in the schematic power of the readers; therefore, it may be argued that the author may not be an authority on the meaning of his or her own text.

Both Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault, two of the most prominent post-structuralists, have critically examined the role of an author in the overall interpretation of a text. Barthes argues that the authorial intent does not supersede or override the readers' interpretation of a text. And no single person should claim to have the successful or attach a single meaning to a text. Meaning should be a collective power and creative understanding of individuals. Authorial intent should not be the only voice that holds the meaning of a text and no text should have universal meaning.

Roland Barthes' "The Death of the Author" encourages readers to distance themselves from the authorial meaning as we experience in Brechtian experimental theory that relies on the audience's reflective detachment rather than the production's atmosphere and action which should provide different perspective in terms of interpretation. Expanding upon Barthes' argument, Michel Foucault explained in his essay "What is an Author?"

"…the author provides the basis for explaining not only the presence

of certain events in a work, but also their transformations, distortions and diverse modifications (through his biography, the determination of his individual perspective, the analysis of his social position and the revelation of his basic design [2] ".

Foucault postulates that the major and perhaps only task of the author is to provide the basic sketch of the text, brief explanation may point to authorial intention, but overall meaning must not be determined. An author is said to be any individual who produces particular text, but have no total control or absolute control on its meaning and interpretation.


According to Peter Barry's "Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory", a text contains its own meaning and the best way to understand or find meaning in a text, is to study the words without any pre-determined meaning. The text would reveal universal truth about human nature and could speak to the invisible voice of its readers [3] .

The text is a creative masterpiece that carries its own meaning and explanation which are completely outside the understanding of its author. It is a pure craftwork that expresses itself with language, signs and symbols and can convey both hidden and obvious meaning, but refuses an ultimate meaning or solely authorial intentions. One single meaning cannot be attributed to a text; no fixed definition, meaning or interpretation can be attributed to a text. No supreme meaning and above all no "message of Author-God". But multiple meaning can be deciphered according to the cultural codes, references and biases of its readers. Text can be said to exist in its own form and context which sometimes disrupt the authorial intention and as result of this, the author might be forced towards different direction. In the interactive process between the author and readers, text could be seen as the struggling realm where the voice of the author meets that of the readers and several stages of meaning could emerge. This might be the stage where the death of the author occurs.

Text as literary product has its own codes and practices. The more they are revealed or spotted, the more the readers can decode the text as Derrida argued "we only have the author's text, not the context" therefore, language is endlessly reinterpretable and there is always a multiplicity of interpretations or meaning in a text. It's almost impossible for an author to determine the absolute meaning of his/her text as there would always be a context outside of the text that is part of the meaning which will be completely different from the authorial intention as Derrida said, a text is a "fabric of traces referring endlessly to something other than itself, to other differential traces" (Derrida, Of Grammatology)

It is also worth checking whether meaning exists or is encoded in the text. There is an argument that the author's diction- the grammar, language , use of imagery and flexibility of an author make the text very accessible and therefore readers can extract meaning based on authorial diction, but not intention. According to Foucault, these signs are well known and can be easily spotted by grammarians

In different time and period, research works based on the psychology of objectivism may allow readers to find meaning in a text, following the cultural and worldview of the author. On the other hands, meaning can be negotiated between the reader and the text. This is based on the theory of constructivism. According to the constructivists' school, readers can completely abandon or reject the argument or intention of an author, but try to negotiate their ways in order to arrive at a meaning in a particular text as stressed by Daniel Chandler:

Those who stress negotiated meaning argue that the meanings of texts

are either completely predetermined or completely open, but subject

to certain constraints [4] 

In such case, readers may completely impose or modify meaning into a text, but based on the nature of information supplied by the text.


It may be important to state that readers are individuals who are shaped by respective life experiences, senses of perception and most importantly cultural codes and biases. The readers are consciously or unconsciously influenced by the "social fact", regularities of social life that appear to have an independent existence, acting to determine or constrain human behaviour, which can hardly be influenced by the authorial intent. The world of readers is totally different from that of the author or writer. He/she can only have a particular intention encoded in the text and meaning and interpretation may be best known to the author, but once the work is published or available to the public, then the absolute interpretation lies in the diversified and experienced world of the readers or critics. Considering the difference and unique experiences of the readers, a text will never have the same meaning to its readers. What readers read in a text is not mere understanding of the author's feelings, goals, belief and physical environment. Readers read in the context of his or her own cosmology and meaning can only emerge through the successful interaction between the world of the reader and the text. And the fact that readers are blessed with different cultural background or worldview, interaction with a text would definitely supply different meaning to different readers based on the personal and individual reader's cultural references.

Furthermore, the behavioural reactions of readers may have further explanation in human psychology. Our behavioural reactions can influence what we look for in a text. They have a tendency to remain unchanged as noted in the works of Sir Frederic Bartlett, a leading exponent on the theory of schema. Schema is a psychological experience which involved the replacement of unfamiliar information with something more similar. In another words, through the process of unconsciousness, readers unknowingly replace the intention of the author with something similar, but strictly based on individual understanding and worldview. The British psychologist explained extensively how the past experiences of a reader can affect his/her judgement of a text. According to Bartlett, this is identified as "personal schemata". He experiments this theory while carrying out series of researches on Native American folktales [5] . He gathered that the information recalled are not accurate, but supplied something similar to the original information. Given this "personal schemata", meaning could not be what an author encoded in his/her text, but it's determined by creative interpretation of the reader.

The same "personal schemata" have been noted in the interpretation of art works. Looking at Leonardo's The Last Supper (1494-98), one of the most famous Christian paintings from the renaissance Italy, portrays the scene of Christ's last meal with his apostles as set forth in the New Testament Gospels. The painting shows Jesus with his apostles seated at a dinner table. A wine cup or chalice and a loaf of bread are always prominent in the scene. However, this scenario has been interpreted in so many ways by various art critics and literary scholars; prominent among them was Dan Brown in Da Vinci Code. Dan Brown believes that Leonardo's painting was not just an ordinary mural as we see it. He argued that there are some coded messages that are related to the man-wife relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene due to the way Leonard portrayed Jesus and the figure next to him in the painting, which many now see as Mary Magdalene. Brown refused to accept the information supplied by the painting; instead, he replaced it with his own personal schemata based on the historical background of the figures in the painting. In Brown's worldview, the information supplied by Leonardo is not clear enough to draw a straight forward conclusion on this renaissance painting.

Reader-response as a literary theory has a significant role in the interpretative process by which a reader can derive meaning in a text. This theory was developed in the 60s and 70s, but was popularized by Stanley Eugene Fish, the American literary theorist and medievalist. According to Fish, interpretation of a text is dependent upon readers' subjective experience and that a text cannot be interpreted successfully outside the reader's cultural codes. This explains why Fish developed the idea of "interpretive communities [6] ". He further claims each reader creates his/her own meaning based on his/her cultural references. Although, Fish advocates the only possible meaning could be the authorial intent, but in most cases this intent is not accessible, especially in the case of a difficult author and as result of this, readers can only rely on his/her cultural codes to find meaning in such text.

Roland Barthes in his essay "The Death of the Author" argued that words or texts may be invented by an author, but the creative ability of readers' brain can produce endless meaning beyond the control of the author. The existence of language and linguistic codes in the text, the social customs in the readers' cosmology allow the readers to widen their interpretative power beyond authorial intent. Thus Barthes writes:

"….there is, however, someone who understands each word in its

duplicity and who, in addition, hears the very deafness of the characters

speaking in front of him - this someone is being precisely the reader

thus is revealed the total existence of writing: a text is made of

multiple writings, drawn from many cultures and entering into mutual

relations of dialogue, parody, contestation, but there is one place where

this multiplicity is focused and that place is the reader, not as was

hitherto said, the author [7] "

Meaning in a text could depend majorly on the readers' freedom and cultural expression. Successful interaction between the reader and the text could create some surplus or multiple meanings that completely negate authorial intention. Modern readers are blessed with ability to access some background information about the author. This background information may reflect the authorial intention in a text, but this does not automatically attach meaning to the text. Meaning is developed by the readers' accessibility, creativity and cultural codes and biases. Thus Barthes warns "…we know that to give writing its future, it is necessary to overthrow the myth: the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author [8] "