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Does every story need a deeper meaning or message?

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Tue Aug 25, 2020 8:16 pm
Alkimia says...

Now that I've started a new school year, It's time to pick a new book to write a book report on. My literature teacher lets us choose any book we like for our book report. This sounds great on the surface but then there's the book report. You see, my literature teacher says every story has a deeper meaning or message and we have to find that message and explain it across 10 pages for our book report. I'm no expert on stories or writing, but I'm pretty sure not every story out there has a deeper meaning or message. I think I only read one book last year that had a deeper message, which was Just Cause by John Katzenbach. Am I being dumb for not realizing deeper messages in books? Also, does every story really need a deeper message?

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Tue Aug 25, 2020 9:34 pm
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IamI says...

While dumb might be a strong word I would definitely say that all stories have themes and viewpoints that a perceptive reader should notice consciously (I should note that I rarely notice these myself), while these aren’t the same as a deeper meaning they’re in the same ballpark.

Now that I ranted randomly about something I’ll try and answer your question.

You are correct that not every story has a deeper meaning, but most literary stories do. However, I think its important to differentiate meaning, theme and purpose. (Just thought I’d remind you that I have only the vaguest idea of what I’m talking about.) Meaning and theme are similar: they are what the book is saying. Meaning is generally left up to speculation unless the author comes right out and says what the story means, but authors almost never do this. Theme is similar in that it is generally not defined clearly by the author through his own words. Themes are like elements on the periodic table, you can find the same ones over different works combined with others to form something different. Purpose, I think, is why the author wrote the book. 1984, for example was meant to warn of overreaching, restricting governments, and Heart of Darkness was meant to expose the horrors of colonization in Africa.

In short: meaning is made up of various parts, while some books have deeper meaning, others do not, and the ones that do rarely spell it out. Every book, however, has a meaning, a theme (or multiple), and a purpose.

Not sure if this is helpful. But there it is.

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Fri Sep 25, 2020 3:40 pm
BluesClues says...

So as a person with an English degree, I would argue that every story does have a deeper meaning! That's not to say every author intentionally writes a deeper meaning - but if you look, you can surely find one, whether or not the author intended one.

(This is a reason we use "death of the author" as a method of interpretation - we don't really know the author's intention, so we have to base interpretation off textual evidence and our own worldview and reading! But as a writer, you don't have to worry about intentionally including a deeper message; many readers will find one even if you didn't mean for them to do so.)

I don't at all think it means you're dumb if you don't notice deeper messages! It just means you haven't been looking for them. Because we don't always look for them! Sometimes we're just reading a good book to read a good book, or to escape for a little bit, or whatever. But books do send a message, through what happens in the plot, through which things are approved of and which things are considered bad, through which characters are heroes and which are villains. So if you start looking, I bet you can find deeper messages in things you've never noticed them in before!

What are some books you're considering for your report? If there's anything on your list that I've read before, I might be able to help a bit!

EDIT: If this assignment wasn't already due haha. I don't spend a ton of time in the forums and I didn't realize your question was a month old!

Lice on rats on a horse corpse on fire.
— John Oliver