The interpretation of a book is highly subjective. Any number of personal factors including gender, age, and ethnicity can affect how a reader sees a book's themes.
Despite these factors, most books have a theme that is agreed upon by most of its readers. For example, many view To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee as a critique of racism in 20th century America and The Pearl by John Steinbeck as an examination of greed's affect on human nature.
However, sometimes an author's view of their book does not match the "accepted" theme. A prominent example is Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, which depicts a world where books are outlawed and burned. Many readers see it as an examination of censorship and its consequences. In contrast, Bradbury wrote the book as a warning against vapid media, which he believed would cause shallowness and apathy in society. Another example is Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Sinclair wrote it as a criticism of a cut-throat capitalist society and the effects it can have on wage laborers, but many readers (including President Theodore Roosevelt) saw it as an exploration of the unsanitary conditions of the meat packing industry.
John Green, author of books including The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska, is known for saying "Books belong to their readers", meaning that what the author believes shouldn't change how the readers view the books. But it seems helpful to know the author's intentions when deciphering a book's meaning, especially if said meaning is hidden in nebulous language.
So what do you think? Should an author's intentions affect interpretations of their books, or should books completely speak for themselves, even if readers see it differently?
Written by Jenna M, Homework Assistant