Wayne State University

Interdisciplinary Studies Program

GIS 3510: English Online

Interpretations of Class Readings

The art of reading well can only be developed by reading much. This course may help a little, but the only real way of becoming a good reader and writer is reading. I could fill pages showing that this is so, but I have, in fact, done so already. If you need convincing, you can obtain all the proof you may need at the following link:


The most important thing about literature is assimilation--the way it impacts and changes you. Second most important thing is interpretation. A good reader must learn to read between the lines. And this, like being a good electrician of dentist, takes experience. Experience in this case means: reading. I don't have time now to support my interpretations with examples from the text (that’s what I asked you to do), but it may be helpful to try to capture, in each case, my views of what the real point of the reading is. So here we go:

Ballad: Poor people and African-Americans counted for nothing in the USA in Hughes’ days. The system—especially its lackeys in the police and the media—automatically took the side of rich and white people.

Shep: Both animals and humans have something which is extremely valuable and constitutes their very essence. That inner core should be cherished and guarded, and, even if we disapprove of it, and as long as it harms no one, should never, ever, be taken away.

Astyages: Absolute freedom absolutely corrupts, and therefore it should not be given to anyone.

This tale could be called: "A Hymn to Freedom." Many of you went only so far as thinking that it was a horrible story. Well, first, it’s not a story, but embellished history. Second, it is horrible, but we must know history, else we shall be condemned to relive it. Third, it was written for free Greeks, some 2,500 years ago, about the unfree Persians. Once you know the background (available in such online resources as the encyclopedias which are linked to the class welcome page), this interpretation is fairly obvious.

"The Selfish Giant" presented no problems: You all saw it for what it is: a sermon against the emptiness and hollowness of being selfish.

Past and Present. Many of you failed to realize that here a summary should focus on what’s really going on: A comparison between the narrator’s present wretchedness, as an adult, and his carefree delight in being alive when he was a boy. But what’s the interpretation here? The answer: This is far too ambiguous, and should not be chosen when given a 2 out of 5 choice. But what is it? Well, it could be:

But all these are just guesses. Poetry gives you more leeway to inject your own interpretations and to see in it what you want to see. The important thing is to be touched, not to get the point.

Lottery: Human beings are often cruel, callous, closed-minded, sheepish, and selfish.

Many of you sensed this obvious message, yet hesitated, perhaps because it’s so unsettling.

Dangerous Game. Some of you clearly got the point, or points:

  1. Killing animals for "sport" is immoral.
  2. We are so built that we can really understand the suffering of fellow human beings only after, as one of you put it, walking a mile in their shoes.

Now, about point 2. I must emphasize that we are not talking about them, but about you and I. Rainsford’s indifference is ours—this is why reading serious literature is so very important. It makes it possible for us to learn from the experiences, and insights, of others.

Rainsford is you and I. By now the U.S. indirectly killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children (not Saddam—you better believe this Astyages is living well), and we, you and I, support this massacre. I mean, you and I either think it’s right, or do nothing, or, certainly, pay the taxes which make it possible. We shall only understand what’s going on if we suffer as they do, if OUR children starve, or die for lack of antibiotics, or don’t even know what a computer is. Similarly, many of us will needlessly die of cancer, or MS, or a host of other environmentally-induced diseases, and we do nothing. Half of our children are not as bright as they could be, according to our government, because they have too much lead in their brain, and yet we think that a choice between a Bush and Clinton is a real choice, and laugh at Jesse Jackson or Jerry Brown or Ralph Nader when they do want to do something about these issues.

You need not agree with ANY author, of course—that’s the point of critical evaluation. But it’s important to try to grasp their message.

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