How will I know if my interpretation of a text is right or wrong?

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Many teachers will tell their students that there is no such thing as a ‘wrong’ answer in English Literature. This is true, on one level, but can be quite misleading. For the sake of simplicity, this statement sacrifices clarity, and needs some expanding on.

The beauty of English Literature is that it is defined by its subjectivity. It sits in a realm all on its own, away from objectivity and solid fact, where one hundred people can read the same text and have infinite ideas about what it might mean. So yes, in one sense, it is impossible to be wrong in English Literature.

But… if you can’t construct a clear argument, with reasonable evidence to support your interpretation of a text, then you may as well be wrong. The key to English Literature and analysis is making your reader understand your interpretation.

For example:

‘The curtains are blue’ is the first line of the first chapter of a book you are analysing in an essay.

If, in your essay, you were to state that the curtains are blue because the character is depressed… this is not technically incorrect. It is an interpretation, and so it cannot be entirely wrong. However, without reasonable evidence, your reader will find themselves frowning and scratching their heads. They will think to themselves, ‘Why can’t the curtains just be blue? Why does the colour have to mean something?’

That’s where you come in. Your role as the essay writer, as the analyst, is to convince your reader that your interpretation is feasible. You could begin by outlining the obvious evidence; for instance, the curtains being blue is likely to be of great significance, because they feature at the very start of the text. You could expand on this by examining the connotations of the colour blue, and its association with sadness.

With enough evidence, you will have succeeded in convincing your reader that your interpretation of the text is viable.

So, don’t be fooled into thinking that just because an analysis can’t technically be incorrect, it doesn’t require evidence and explanation. 

Mary-Anne F. GCSE English tutor, GCSE English Literature tutor, A Lev...

About the author

is an online GCSE English Literature tutor who tutored with MyTutor studying at Cardiff University

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