In defining interpretive meaning as a compound of ideas and judgment, we need to be careful – especially with the word “judgment,” since for some this word can conjure up the image of a judge making blistering judgments. But judgment, in the broad sense that we are using it, is an attunement of feeling to its object. These feelings come in all shades and strengths. If narrative is no stranger to the ferocity of Old Testament judgments, its judgments can also be extraordinarily subtle:
THIS IS JUST TO SAY
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold
William Carlos Williams's short narrative poem about a theft of fruit says something far from earth-shaking about simple pleasures. It tells us of their importance, how hard it is to resist them sometimes, and (more deeply layered in the poem) the value of a relationship that has found ways to honor such understandable weakness. It renders a judgment, but one that is delicately nuanced. Perhaps “evaluation” is a better word.
For longer works, most of the terms we have been discussing so far in this book describe elements that greatly help when it comes to bringing out ideas and judgments in narrative. In this chapter, we will take up a few more concepts that are central to a general understanding of what is involved in the interpretation of narrative. Again, I will restrict attention to the most useful of these.