Tuesday, 23 October 2007

A Chat with my Wife on the Meaning of a Story

While I contemplate the great comments to my Genesis 22 and my "according to scripture" posts (deeply appreciated), something more lighthearted to tie us over till tomorrow:

Recently my wife told me the following story:

An American slave owner who is cruel to his slaves marries a girl of unknown parentage. They have a baby. The baby turns out to be of black ancestry, due to the girl's mother. He kicks her out. While burning everything she owned he discovers that his mother too was of black ancestry.

What is the meaning of this story? My wife automatically replied that it's about female oppression. I immediately thought it was about the absurdity of considering race an important factor in evaluating a human being. I also thought that from a Christian view point it's a brilliant illustration of the shock all humans should go through when realizing that they too are responsible for Jesus' crucifixion (imagine someone versed in the liturgical use of the Psalms being told that Paul's catena of quotations in Romans 3 applies to him/her?!).

The interesting question is how do we determine which interpretation is right? My wife confessed that her interpretation was biased as she had read a biography of the author, so she knew what was intended. But is that the meaning of the text?

James McGrath links to a more interesting debate on J. K. Rowling's intervention concerning the details of the latest Harry Potter film. Can she tell us what her texts' mean if she didn't make that clear in the book in the first place?

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