In English 203, I learned about interpretation. Coming from a previous STEM major, there were often many ways to find a solution, but it was important that all students arrive at the same conclusion. When I first entered this class I expected that it too would be like most other English classes I have taken. The class reads a novel, we discuss the novel, and we all come to a similar conclusion. Going back to my junior year in high school, I decided that I wanted to push myself and take AP English Literature and Composition. In this class we read the novel As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. This novel was an interesting read but it was hard to understand. I remember numerous times in class when I would raise my hand to speak about what we had read and I would explain my interpretation of the text. On many occasions my teacher told me, ‘No, that is not what the author is trying to convey’. This made me lose confidence in my ability to interpret a text as I would worry my interpretation and ideas were wrong. Over time I learned when students read a book for the first time they often read the passage from a lens that reflects past life experiences, as we try to use previous life experiences to try and relate and understand.
Before I arrived at SUNY Geneseo, I attended SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF), where I previously was a Biology major. One of the major differences between SUNY Geneseo and ESF is how we arrive at a conclusion. At ESF, when we were doing an assignment it was a more linear track, there was some movement but it was especially pivotal as all students arrived at the same conclusion. Science is both predictable and unpredictable. When I look back at my time as a STEM major I look at experiment’s which I saw as hands-on ways to prove the science that we study. An experiment has three variables, a control, manipulated, and responding variable. In order for an experiment to be valid, these variables must be able to be identified.
In my eyes, I view science as simple when I compare it to English. With science your goal is to measure and observe your results. Versus English, it cannot be measured, and when you break it down to its very core it is just a bunch of lines.When these lines are combined together they take shapes of letters which form words, which form sentences, which form paragraphs. Any paragraph someone writes can be interpreted a million different ways but for it’s interesting how most of are minds are wired so similarly that we come to the same conclusions. English doesn’t have a single result, it as an infinite number of possibilities.
The idea of a sentence ever being understood comes from a Percival Everett quote which states “It’s incredible that a sentence is ever understood. Mere sounds strung together by some agent attempting to mean something, but the meaning need not and does not confine itself to that intention” . This statement was brought up many times by my professor and other students but it would go right over my head. When I now look at this quote I think about interpretation.
English 203 has taught me that if you can support your reason on why you view something a certain way then it’s impossible to say your interpretation is wrong. This realization hit me when I was writing my first essay titled Irony which discussed my interpretation of The Bacchae by Euripides. In the essay I wrote how the ruler of Thebes, Pentheus, could be viewed as an leader who only wanted what was best for his people. I argued that “Pentheus did not like the idea of a strange man (Dionysus) entering his domain and claiming to be a God. Think about it, a random man wanders into town and people begin to blindly praise and follow him. “ Even further, I would argue that Dionysus had some sort of mind control over the citizens of Thebes. Looking back at my essay it definitely had some personality to it, it needed more evidence but my statements had validity to them as it was my interpretation of the Bacchae .
After I finished my essay, we would discuss the Bacchae in the following class. When I spoke about my interpretation, I felt like an outcast, no one had arrived at the same conclusion I had, and instead my group had very similar interpretations. The student from high school felt embarrassed as my ideas was so far off from everyone else’s, and part of me wanted to not submit my essay, but after some conversations with my Professor, Beth McCoy, she reassured me that my essay wasn’t wrong, it couldn’t be, those were my thoughts and although they were different that how I interpreted the Bacchae. From that day onward I realized the power of interpretation.
Right now, I’m caught at a crossroads. As an education major at SUNY Geneseo, I need to pick a concentration to pursue along with my degree. I’m torn between a natural sciences concentration or an English Concentration. The creative freedom that comes with being in an English class was something that had never clicked with me until this year. The countless areas of study, and the idea of going wherever your brain takes you as long as it can be supported with evidence. This is a passion that I didn’t know that I had a passion for. I can either follow a passion, or continue to follow the path I have already invested in.