Is it possible to read TOO MUCH into a book? | Discussion

We’ve all been there: sitting through a high school English class as the teacher goes on about the symbolism of the yellow car and Doctor T. J. Eckleburg’s ever-watching eyes in The Great Gatsby, wondering whether or not F. Scott Fitzgerald really intended for us to dissect every move of his pen. Is it possible to read too much into a text? It feels as though this question has plagued readers, English majors, and literary scholars alike for ages without ever having come to an agreed upon conclusion. Up until recently, I was mostly of the opinion that it was not possible to read too much into a text. I thought that since books are largely for the readers, it was up to us to take away what we could and wanted to from a text. However, I began to second guess this perspective when I started reading Watership Down by Richard Adams and came across this statement in the author’s introduction:

“I wanted to emphasize that Watership Down was never intended to be some sort of allegory or parable. It is simply the story about rabbits made up and told in the car.” 

Richard Adams

What was I to do with this? Somehow it felt strange to look for allegories, symbolism, and allusions in a text after reading that the author didn’t intend for any of that to exist in the story. If the author didn’t want it to be there, then surely that meant that it wasn’t there at all? Yet wasn’t that the whole point of reading? To look for deeper meaning? Isn’t that why I loved it so much?

Stumped, I nevertheless continued on into the story of Watership Down, captivated by these rabbits with their lingo and customs and the intricacies of their warrens. I tried viewing the story just as a story, Adams’ earlier statement lingering in the back of my mind. Yet doing so filled me with a strange sense of missing something. Surely there was more to it? Surely there could be more to it? Surely Richard Adams hadn’t written a 474 page novel about rabbits just for the heck of it?

The more I read, the more this idea bothered me. And the more it bothered me, the more I asked myself why it bothered me. By the time I had finished the novel, I had the closest thing to a conclusion that I could muster.

I think stories are inherently purposeful.

Now, I don’t just mean a purpose to entertain, which is what Richard Adams seems to be suggesting here; rather, I think that stories are inherently built on archetypes, allegories, parables, and symbolism because we as humans are metaphorical beings. We like comparing things, referencing other things, and basing new things on old things. It’s how we make sense of the world, how we categorize things around us. We are always communicating something, even if we don’t intend to. And here is where I would like to point something out about Adams’ statement

Just because the author didn’t intend for meaning to be there doesn’t mean that you can’t find it. 

Don’t get me wrong: there’s a huge difference between twisting an author’s words to make them say something they didn’t mean and finding meaning for yourself in their work. But I can’t see the harm in finding lessons of loyalty, trust, and bravery in Watership Down, regardless of whether or not the author intended any lessons to be taught. Can you read too much into a book? Maybe. Yet part of me also thinks that we could do a little more reading into books sometimes, too.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you think you can read too much into a book? Let me know in the comments section below!



17 thoughts on “Is it possible to read TOO MUCH into a book? | Discussion

  1. This is an excellent discussion! During my higher level lit classes, I always wondered how people could find certain symbols and other literary things in the stories we read, as I usually never found anything of the sort. I feel that finding a deeper meaning in a story can be different for everyone, but it is also fun to find something in a story that really means something to you and your beliefs or way of life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I definitely agree! Part of the joy of reading for me is finding that deeper meaning on a personal level, and not just taking into consideration what the author may or may not have intended.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a fantastic and intriguing post! I agree with all the points you’ve made – I think it’s inevitable to read into books, much as it is inevitable for the author to “transfer” some of their ideas, beliefs, even the time period they live in into a book. Whether or not Watership Down was intended to be just for entertainment is in my opinion besides the point. I think all books end up being more, whether they become more during the reading or the writing process.

    I think books are essentially meaningful, and so I don’t really think you can read too much into a book. Whatever was the author’s purpose, they project something into a book (whether or not they intend to) and meaning is created somewhere in the space between the text itself, the author and the readers.

    Anyways, I really loved this post and it definitely made me reflect!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much!! I’m glad you liked this post! I absolutely agree with you, and I love your point about authors projecting their own beliefs into a book whether or not they intend to do so.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve seen a meme on social media and it somewhat is about this topic. Basically you have a teacher going on about how the blue walls of the house are symbolic of the sadness and loneliness of the main character’s life, and then the next line is the author perspective saying, no I meant that the walls were blue.

    I think it’s nice if a reader can find meaning in something that an author wrote, even if the author didn’t write with the intention of a line or phrase or character or whatever meaning something deeper. But I think that it’s also fine to just read for nothing more than enjoyment without trying to read into characters or descriptions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely! Sometimes you just want to read a book to read it, and thinking about its connections to other things may not fit that description.


      1. But I have an easier time reading deeper into stories; I really disliked trying to nitpick the meanings of poetry. My preference is to simply enjoy the rhythm and feelings evoked while reading poetry.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. This is such an interesting post and I can completely understand what you’re saying and I do agree! Whether you’re heavily into analysing or not, I think we all do analyse to some extent, some people may analyse a book deeply and while another might just analyse certain parts very lightly without realising we’re doing it. I think sometimes the smallest of details can actually help the stories and their themes! I’m hoping that makes sense, since I don’t know a huge deal about all this as I never studied it further than secondary school, but I definitely enjoyed this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That definitely makes sense!! I agree! I think at some level we are constantly trying to connect the dots between small details when we read, and one way we do this is often to create larger themes out of them.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I love your thoughts on this, Holly. I believe that with our different experiences and perspectives what we take back from a book is never the same. As a writer I thought on this particular topic. Would my readers appreciate my metaphors? Would they understand what I’m trying to convey? But inevitably when a book is out there, how it is perceived is out of the author’s hands.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s