Why do people read so much into stories? I've been wondering this since reading a few feminist blogs on Prometheus. If you haven't seen this film, by the way, do so! Go with friends. There will be plenty of theory and conjectures you'll need to discuss after seeing the visually inspiring film. If you haven't seen it, don't read on, there be spoilers ahead.

 

Not symbolism but plot: you won't understand the first scene of the film until you go home and discuss it with others.


  

In the middle of the film Noomi Rapace's character's boyfriend is infected with alien genetic material, they have sex, and surprise, she's preggers. David, the robot on the ship, prevents her from aborting it. She has to outwit him and go into a surgical pod designed for men. She calibrates it for a foreign body in the stomach, it gets removed, and thrashes around like the squid from hell.

Now, here's how people viewed it:

Horror Fans, Movie Buffs & Sci-Fi Fans: Duuuuuude, awesome! Bloody as hell!

Writers & Doctors: Uhhh, that wouldn't work. Sawing through the uterus is ten times as hard as cutting skin. The machine would have to be calibrated for women to do that.

Post-Modern Feminists: Oh my goddess! It's a metaphor for abortion rights! How dare a man keep her down and try to control her body!

Wait, what? I'm seeing this everywhere. As a writer I know what the writers were thinking (major spoilers): this is about evolution. The DNA to create the aliens in Alien has to evolve, dependent on mitochondrial DNA which comes from your mother. The best way to interject mitichondrial DNA is through pregnancy, ergo, she can't abort until the organism is strong enough to survive on it's own. Then it just needs one more infusion to make an alien.

Suddenly I feel like I'm back in a high school English class. What I loved about those classes was all the reading and paper writing. What I hated was the long, laborious discussion with teenaged cretins that over-analyzed everything, twisting it to their personal perspectives. As an atheist reading & discussing with them Bertrand Russell damn near gave me PTSD.



They forgot to include what other students think: the blue symbolizes isolation, like that cod war thing I just learned about in my last class.


  
 

Just because an author states something in a room is blue does not mean it symbolizes depression. Sometimes we just like the color. The fact is, for authors, if we try to force a metaphor, simile, or allegory, it comes out clumsy and hamfisted. Write to tell a story, the actions, the emotions, to show how characters grow and change. It's in the editing portion when you read your first draft that the allegories and such come out and can be polished.

It's human nature to twist things to suit our points of view. If you're a feminist and the loud drums of the pro-life nutjobs in America worry you, of course you'll read into the movie that way. If you're a doctor or a writer and hung up on getting things correct, of course you'll be irritated when plot overrides fact. 

At the end of the day only an author knows what it all means. Last night I was discussing this with 2 friends who are avid readers of fantasy fiction, and a fellow reader/author of it, discussing how accurate one needs to be, balanced with narrative style. We all agreed an author has to creator an entire world, that landscape I wrote about earlier. As an example you can trace the lineage of all the elder gods in H.P. Lovecraft from just the things mentioned in his stories. It's never written in one place. J.K. Rowling knew Dumbledore was gay, but since it didn't affect the plot she didn't feel the need to make it explicit.



In the real world symbols are used as badges. In fiction...they just happen    Credit


  
 

Most of us have sat through one of those English classes with an eye towards expanding our minds in the liberal arts tradition, only to read a few good books and get a master class in bullshit. For example, in The Great Gatsby we have the all-seeing eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleberg. Google it and you'll get a thousand different assertions over their meaning. Did it symbolize the loss of the American dream? (Nope, because of the geniuses proposing that had any education what they would assert instead was the shift of manifest destiny into the American dream). Does it symbolize us, the readers, dispassionately watching the story unfold? Is there any solid connection to the man with owlish glasses in Gatsby's library? The real answer is...who the fuck knows?

For the love of every god every worshiped, it's ridiculous. People allege in the story of Snow White the symbolism is Christian. Really? Coulda fucking fooled me. In The Scarlet Letter when Hester Prynne is in jail and sees a single rose outside, does that symbolize her true beauty in a harsh world through owning her sexuality? Does it mean her own personal unattainable goal? Does it mean women should be more concerned with appearances than function? Until they invent time-travel and we can ask Hawthorne...don't over-think it.

The point at which you believe well and true something in a story is a symbol with meaning, present it to someone else, and they respond with "Huh? No, it means _____________" is the point at which you should shut your yap.



Although most fights can be stopped if you only discuss symbolism with people who read the book, didn't just see the shitty film


  
 
 

Remember the important thing from stories is to travel to another world, lose yourself in the narrative, and experience emotions and consequences and questions of another as if they were your own. Lighthearted discussing of themes and motifs is great, but the point at which you assert there is only one possible meaning to something is the point you become a silly twit.

Oh, and seriously, go see Prometheus.