Monday, September 22, 2008

Literature: The Depth of Our Sympathy vs. Understanding

"Many scholars forget, it seems to me, that our enjoyment of the great works of literature depends more upon the depth of our sympathy than upon our understanding. The trouble is that very few of their laborious explanations stick in the memory. The mind drops them as a branch drops its overripe fruit. ... Again and again I ask impatiently, "Why concern myself with these explanations and hypotheses?" They fly hither and thither in my thought like blind birds beating the air with ineffectual wings. I do not mean to object to a thorough knowledge of the famous works we read. I object only to the interminable comments and bewildering criticisms that teach but one thing: there are as many opinions as there are men."

Hellen Keller

A little nugget offered here and there outlasts endless analysis.


  1. I couldn't agree more.

    My daughter is a literature major in college and we frequently talk about the frivolous analysis that accompanies much of her study. I can't remember what book it was that she was reading but her professor made a huge deal about the main character wearing a red dress. Amanda decided that sometimes there is no significant reason for everything that happens in a story. Perhaps in this case the author just meant that the girl was wearing a red dress and there was no underlying meaning. Too much analysis sucks the life out of a good book in my opinion.

    We are enjoying our reading and narration and subsequent discussion among ourselves.

    Thanks Lindafay,
    Barb-Harmony Art Mom

  2. As a former English major, myself, I agree! There are so many more works we could have read, instead of overanalyzing the ones we did read...lately I've been catching up on some "missed" books, and I think--"Wow, how could they NOT have assigned THAT?"

  3. Thanks for sharing your experiences with this, Barb and lori.