Is There a Single Right Interpretation for Cryptic Texts?

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My essay argues for the proposition that there are uniquely correct interpretations for cryptic texts. By cryptic text I mean a narrative that is designed to pose perplexing problems, the answers to which constitute hidden meanings or secrets. As a test case, I choose Henry James's much interpreted and intensely debated story "The Figure in the Carpet." I identify the story as cryptic, single out three problems it raises, and go on to work out solutions. I use my results to develop an interpretation that can lay claim to being a single right interpretation, that is, one that accords with the understanding the author wished his reader to arrive at. The question of how that is determined hinges on the principle that cryptic puzzles have as a rule only one correct solution, which in turn may be assumed to be authorially intended, as is the case with the solution to the riddle of the Sphinx, which is right, single, and intended. I also consider various interpretations produced by other critics and show why they are not acceptable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)519-562
Number of pages44
JournalPoetics Today
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2013


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