"Every reader’s experience of every work is unique, largely because each person will emphasize various elements to differing degrees, and those differences will cause certain features of the text to become more or less pronounced."
This quote takes place in "Chapter 12: Is That a Symbol?" after Foster has discussed the various possible interpretations for the caves in E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India. Here, Foster emphasizes that no two readers will read a work of literature in the exact same way because each reader brings their individual lens to the text. This influences how a reader will interpret a symbol, what character traits will stand out, and how they interpret and respond to the plot. Because of this, there is no single answer to the significance of a text or even a single answer to what one symbol means. Depending on one’s personal experiences, the caves in A Passage to India may represent consciousness, racial fear, fear of the unknown, the dangers of being a woman in a foreign land, the primal violence of man, or a myriad of other interpretations.
"We bring an individual history to our reading, a mix of previous readings, to be sure, but also a history that includes, but is not limited to, educational attainment, gender, race, class, faith, social involvement, and philosophical inclination. These factors will inevitably influence what we understand in our reading, and nowhere is this individuality clearer than in the matter of symbolism."
This quote takes place in "Chapter 12: Is That a Symbol?" after Foster has discussed the various possible interpretations for the caves in E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India. Foster further delves into the individual nature of reading, outlining the different experiences that might impact the way a reader interprets a text. Because interpreting symbolism is such a tricky art, Foster notes that symbolism is perhaps the most individualistic aspect of interacting with a work of literature. Just as the meaning of a symbol in a dream is highly personal and dependent on individual experiences, the meaning of a symbol in a text is similarly fluid. For example, someone from India will likely have a different interpretation of the tourists’ experience in the caves in A Passage to India than someone who has never been to India. The beauty of individual interpretations is that the meaning of a work can be as multifaceted as the readers themselves.
"Don’t cede control of your opinions to critics, teachers, famous writers, or know-it-all professors. Listen to them, but read confidently and assertively, and don’t be ashamed or apologetic about your reading. You and I both know you’re capable and intelligent, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Trust the text and trust your instincts. You’ll rarely go far wrong."
This quote takes place in the Postlude, one of the final paragraphs of the book, after Foster has discussed the death of the author. Here, Foster encourages readers to own the individual nature of their own reading and to push themselves to trust their own perspective as much, if not more, than they trust that of critics and teachers. Because reading is an individual art, it’s an arena in which the goal is less to find the right answer and more to find the answer that is true for each individual reader. While Foster has spent the book sharing his insight into common patterns, traditional symbolic interpretations, and the nature of analysis itself, he encourages his readers to break free from the teachings of people like him and to strike out on their own. Reading, in the end, is immensely personal, and each reader must discover for themselves how best to interact with each work of literature.