Literary critics spend countless hours dissecting written texts in an effort to establish a connection between the author and their words. While it has long been known that writers interject certain elements of their personal lives into their fiction, we as readers need to learn when to disengage from the writer’s life and delve more deeply into the tale being told.
When an author sits down to pen the “Great American Novel,” they have only one thought in mind – telling a good story. however, when readers and/or critics take over, they focus immediately on finding parallels, sometimes non-existent, between the writer and his or her characters. While some of these parallels may be evident, as well as intentional, knowing when to disassociate a text from its creator becomes imperative. Failure to do so only results in the unnecessary attempt to create a biographical sketch of the author.
William Shakespeare wrote one hundred and fifty-four sonnets, some of which he addressed to an anonymous “young man.” Although he’s been dead for nearly four hundred years, scholars have been desperate to uncover the truth about Shakespeare’s sexuality based on these poetic lines. While we tediously try to unearth a part of his private life that has been taken to the grave, we lose sight of the poetry left behind.
Willa Cather serves as yet another example of what happens when we bridge together an author with their characters. In the novel My Antonia, Cather’s use of a male protagonist as the narrator has once again left critics pondering the author’s sexuality. Since Cather obviously felt compelled to tell the narrative from a male perspective, critics somehow deduce that she identified more with the opposite gender. Numerous books and scholarly articles have been written in hopes of discovering a link between fact and fiction, yet none can be found. Cather fought endlessly to have her private life remain under lock and key. It becomes doubtful, then, that she would have welcomed any distinctions betwixt herself and the characters she created.
In reading poetry or prose, we need only be concerned with the words of the speaker or characters, rather than the person doing the writing. Emphasis should be placed on the reader’s interpretation of the unfolding circumstances within the story; a reader must become fully engrossed with the characters of a novel while dismissing any correlation between the author and their work. Anything to the contrary would be a dissolution of fiction.
-Tara Lynn Marta