Q5) What knowledge of literature can be gained by focusing attention on the author? … Are an author’s intentions relevant to assessing the work? Can a work of art contain or convey meaning of which the artist is oblivious?
When people analyze works of art or literature, I always have a feeling that those works are overanalyzed, which goes further than the artist’s or writer’s intentions. For example, in the “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller, the writer couldn’t have possibly thought about the meanings of all the motifs and placed them deliberately into different parts of the play. For example, machines and cars signify the transient objects that represent the materialistic society, stocking represents the household and Willy’s guilt, and the woman represents Willy’s aspiration to become well-liked in society and family, and his self-dignity. But did Arthur Miller intend the audience to perceive all these meanings? I believe that whether he intended or not, his play successfully shows the theme of Materialism, American Dream, naturalistic ideals and distorted society which judges a person through his or her material wealth. Even though he was oblivious of the meanings of all the details in his play, by the audience who imbues significance into the details the play is made more meaningful and in a way conveys the playwright’s intention more strongly. Furthermore, the author’s background is also an important mean of understanding his or her work. Arthur Miller, for an instance, was an American essayist and playwright (1915~2005). By looking at the country and the period of time he’s been through, we can surmise that he was influenced by the ethos of American Dream, WW II, the Great Depression and many other social/political issues. Through Willy’s character, we can see that he is a salesman who gave up his naturalistic ideal to pursue the society’s ‘well-liked’ qualities and became confused about unclear future of his and his sons’ lives. This links to the American Dream and the Great Depression, and the audience can know that the playwright’s experience is implanted in the lives of his characters in the play. Hence, a work can contain meaning that the maker is oblivious of but can still delineate the maker’s intention well, and knowing the social and cultural background of the maker also helps to understand his or her works in depth.