Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," a Short Story About Eskimos

   Yes, it's possible.  Under the all-encompassing control of Fish's radical "communities of interpretation," our interpretations of texts are so susceptible to rules, both consciously and unconsciously followed, that it might be possible for "A Rose for Emily" to be interpreted to be "about Eskimos" by wide-spread agreement.  Looney?  I don't think so.  Having lived through the "Sixties," and having seen that era's significance completely inverted by interpretations popular among the "New Right" neoconservatives of the late 1990s and 2000s, I'm ready for that first freshman paper acknowledging the importance of walrus meat in Southern literature. 

    For a similar experience involving a work of literature you probably think you know pretty well, look up scholarship on the "Wife of Bath's Tale," especially D.W. Robertson, Jr.'s Preface to Chaucer.  From English 211, you probably think you know Alison of Bath as a free-thinking, brash, hedonistic woman who just might be thinking like a modern American feminist.  Because of the influence of America's community of interpretation, to which you belong, your mind probably has completely forgotten that I warned you she has been read otherwise.   Robertson's book convinced a significant number of ranking Chaucer scholars that she is an allegorical representation of Revelations' Whore of Babylon, and that Chaucer would have expected any competent reader in the fourteenth-century to interpret her so.   For the record, Robertson was writing in 1962, well before the earliest scholars who considered themselves, "Reader-Response" critics, but he was writing specifically against the New Critics' attempts to read Chaucer without reference to medieval values and without reference to Chaucer's life.  His logic was governed by his training as a "Patristic" critic, one schooled in reading the "Fathers" (L. patri) of the Christian church in Latin sermons and biblical commentaries, which he took to be the common belief structure of the English people to whom Chaucer spoke. 

    "Robertsonian" Chaucerians still can be found in academia today, and nobody discounts the possibility that the clergy in Chaucer's audience may have been meant to read Alison that way.  However, one of the great things about the Canterbury Tales is that they are so enormously open to varieties of readers and teller-intentions, with both inscribed readers and inscribed authors to complicate things, that they don't balk at almost any coherent interpretation of their content.  Making the case for one "best" reading has now largely been abandoned as critics pursue their own "Chaucers" and "texts" and "readers."