Textual Support for Interpretation
Interpretive essays are essays in which the writer is interpreting another author’s work. In order to do this, the writer must identify, evaluate, and analyze the methods used by the author. These can be the plot, characters, setting, etc. It is important when writing an interpretive essay to try to answer all of the questions a reader of your work might have. This can be done by allowing another to read your work and ask questions about it, or by trying to separate yourself from your work and analyze it objectively. A great way to support your interpretation is to add textual evidence. If you can add textual evidence it gives your interpretation more credibility and it allows the reader to see the specific passage you are referring to when describing your interpretation.
Whenever you are going to interpret a work, you are going to identify the author’s methods, their tone, their use of language, their plot, major characters, setting, etc., then you’re going to decide on one of those aspects of the writing and evaluate and analyze that one aspect. You want to give your opinion on what the author was trying to do with the use of this character or with the use of a certain tone. What was their purpose in doing that? However, you want to make it stronger.
One way that you can make your evaluation, your interpretation, of this work stronger is to root your interpretation in the text. That means you go through and find specific examples in the text that support what your interpretation is. The examples from the text support your ideas, so it doesn’t look like it’s just things that you’re coming up with out of your head. It’s things that you came up with because of something specific in the story that made you think.
One thing you can look at is quotes. Look at what characters say. This could be something that affects the tone, it could be something that reflects on a character, or it could be something specific letting you know what’s happening in the plot. Look at details from the story. It could be how someone looks (physical characteristics),it could be specific things that happened in the plot, it could have to do with the tone, or it could have to do with specific language that the author used. Find those details and then put them into your evaluation. Find these quotes and put them into your interpretation. So, if you’re trying to describe how a character acts, or how you felt about a character, go back and find something specific about that character in the story and put it into your interpretation, so that your essay now has roots in the text and is going to be stronger.
Another thing you can do, which isn’t going to pull information directly from the text to read, but is going to make your work stronger, is to find statistics or facts relating to your topic. If you’re writing about cell phones, you might say, “A lot of people use cell phones.” Instead of using that general phrase, you could give an actual number of people who use cell phones. If it’s people using cell phones while driving, while at home, while at work, under or over a certain age, etc., you could look up that statistic and put it into your paper. It’s going to help because it makes things more precise. It shows you did your research. It shows you weren’t just making things up from your head; you were actually going out and finding this information somewhere the same way that you giving your opinion of a character or a theme of a work is based on the quotes that you find or details that you find in the writing.
So, whenever you’re giving an interpretive essay, you want to find textual support for that interpretation. Identifying the author’s method, finding one aspect to focus on in evaluating, and analyzing that is all important, but to make it even stronger, you want to root your interpretation in the text.