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Chapter 7 - Interpreting narrative

H. Porter Abbott
Affiliation:
University of California, Santa Barbara
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Summary

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

the plums

that were in

the icebox

and which

you were probably

saving

for breakfast

Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

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.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2008

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  • Interpreting narrative
  • H. Porter Abbott, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Book: The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative
  • Online publication: 05 June 2014
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511816932.009
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  • Interpreting narrative
  • H. Porter Abbott, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Book: The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative
  • Online publication: 05 June 2014
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511816932.009
Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Interpreting narrative
  • H. Porter Abbott, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Book: The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative
  • Online publication: 05 June 2014
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511816932.009
Available formats
×