Interpretation requires preemptive thinking

By Sarah Morris


Over the past few months of writing for The Bucknellian I have realized something very important about humans: they will take anything you say and change it in order to understand it better, even if that makes their understanding inaccurate. I am actually a bit dumbfounded that it isn’t something that I noticed before this year. I guess we all recognize it subconsciously, but to have it thrown in your face is a completely different situation.

The funny thing is, this happens to writers all the time. Most people have probably mistaken a phrase or quote from a famous passage as meaning something completely opposite from the original meaning. This is where we English majors get to have a good laugh at the rest of you. Being an English major allows me the beautiful opportunity of being told that I’ll never get a job, that my major is pointless and that there’s nothing that I can really do with my major. The people who say this are not only wrong, but they are also usually the ones who make these literary faux pas in the first place.

Now I know you’re thinking that there is not really one scenario in which we could actually feel so great about correcting someone about their knowledge in the field of literary excellence (which we love to do, by the way, at every opportunity), but there is one specific instance that always makes me laugh: tattoos. I absolutely love it when I see someone with a very well-known quote etched onto his or her body, with a seemingly important and valuable meaning in mind, and they are completely wrong. My absolute favorite is the quote “This above all: to thine own self be true” from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” The line is a quote from Polonius, a wretched old man who is telling his son not to be original and unique as those with the tattoos might say, but rather is telling his son to always perform in his best interests before those of others. The fact alone that so many people have this tattoo contradicts the very reason they are probably getting it to begin with.

My second favorite quote is from Emerson’s poem “Hamatreya” and the line I speak of is quoted as: “The earth laughs in flowers.” Most people see this and think it would be cute to get this tattooed around their ankle or on their shoulder next to a small flower, but the actual message of the line describes the earth laughing at all of the people who die to create the flowers that come out of the earth. The earth isn’t having some happy-go-lucky time in the open air; the earth is making fun of those who use her and then are used themselves once they die.

I suppose there are two main points to my rant. The first is that you really should look deeper into the ideas that you tattoo your body with permanently so that you do not look like a jerk to everyone who is educated. The second is to read all literature, newspaper articles, magazine clippings and all other writings much more closely. If you want to consider yourself an educated and logical person, you must take into account that a writer might have meant something that you do not realize the first time through.

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