A mini-manifesto for readers

by Kevin Birnbaum

An English professor once wrote to Flannery O’Connor to tell her about a rather absurd interpretation of her classic story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” that he and his students had come up with. The following excerpt from O’Connor’s reply should warm the heart of anyone who’s ever suffered through a bad English class:

The meaning of a story should go on expanding for the reader the more he thinks about it, but meaning cannot be captured in an interpretation. If teachers are in the habit of approaching a story as if it were a research problem for which any answer is believable so long as it is not obvious, then I think students will never learn to enjoy fiction. Too much interpretation is certainly worse than too little, and where feeling for a story is absent, theory will not supply it.

My tone is not meant to be obnoxious. I am in a state of shock. (Flannery O’Connor: Collected Works, p. 1149)

Photo by Kevin Birnbaum.