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How Relevant is Understanding Context in Understanding a Piece of Writing?

Have we, as the 21st century audience, begun to read into literature through a pattern we’ve created ourselves? It seems as though we are often taught that there is a set pattern of symbols that we often apply to teaching and learning any piece without considering whether it is of any relevance, stating that the author "may be saying…" Should context, thus, still be considered crucial in reading into a piece of somebody’s work since it is our only valuable piece of information; the only one given to us for certain about the author’s thoughts through their background? Is it the only way of veritably analysing somebody’s work or should there, rather, be left some thought to the reader’s imagination?

  • Interesting topic. You could also address the Death of the Author concept (which might relate more to authorial intent but you could easily tie that into context). – Sadie Britton 5 years ago
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  • I would argue context is still valuable and that often, you can't take a story completely out of context and expect it to be completely understood. For example, could you set a Holocaust story in the 1990s? You could certainly imitate *elements*, but without the background of Nazi Germany, Hitler's rise to power, and so on, is it really a Holocaust story? Is a story promoting feminism in the 1960s really the same if you take it out of the '60s and put it in 2017, when feminism is much more familiar and accepted? Then again, Jane Austen and other authors have had their work retooled for almost any time period and location you could name, so who knows? – Stephanie M. 5 years ago
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  • It's impossible to take a story completely out of its context, but at the same time you can't always get the entire context. I think we should at least be attempting to understand context. For example, I read Pride and Prejudice without looking into Austen's time at all. Later, I read the book as part of a class whose sole focus was to understand the novel in context and i found it to be a much richer experience. I understood the plights of the characters better and picked up on subtleties that I hadn't noticed before. Part of the fun of reading is analyzing what the author might have meant, so I do think there is plenty of room for imagination. However, context is key. – itsverity 5 years ago
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