Words are stoic, inanimate objects - they are written down on a sheet of paper where they stay and do exactly as the author intended from the very beginning. Not hardly. Once written down and let loose into the world on their own, words can mold and shape into different forms and meanings. They can never keep the story straight – to one person they can be damning and to another redeeming. But how? How can words just up and decide to mean something different than the author meant? The author created them in a certain line of thought so surely they have to stay that way...
Woolf’s “Craftsmanship” reminds me of “The Death of the Author” by Roland Barthes in a more sarcastic tone. In his essay, Barthes states that “the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author.” I believe that this is exactly what Woolf is saying in this essay – that when an author releases his or her writings upon readers, they no longer have a say in what those writings mean. It doesn’t matter if they meant to say one thing and the reader believes another – they let the writings go and now they speak for themselves.
Each individual possesses their own unique set of experiences that shape how they view the world. Why should reading be any different? For some, the feelings and emotions brought about by the word “marriage” are bitter and heartbreaking while for others it can elicit wonderful memories and undying love. This example does not even come close to describing all of the various feelings that this one word has the power to draw out of people- imagine how many different feelings can be generated by an entire paragraph full of words! It would be impossible to string together a bunch of words that would mean the exact same thing to every imaginable reader.
With this in mind, it is not hard to understand how words can seem to take on a life of their own. Woolf talks of how phrases even as short as the ones on small signs can transform into something complete different; like a sign warning against leaning out of windows can actually encourage a reader to lean out of the window. Perhaps the idea of leaning out of a window would never have crosses the reader’s mind had there been no sign. However, once the sign spoke against leaning out of windows, the idea was in the reader’s head. It bounced around inside her consciousness until the words jumbled and realigned in a whole new way. Now she wants nothing more than to lean out the window and experience this adventure that the sign is trying to prevent her from having.
Words cannot be controlled, that much is clear, but why should they be? Why should they have the exact same message for every person? They shouldn’t. English would be a very boring subject if that were the case. That is the beauty of novels or any other form of writing. A reader can pick a work up, read it, and get a message – some time later that same person may revisit that work and get a totally different meaning out of it. Words linking together in such a fashion that they can reveal different ideas depending on the frame of mind the reader is currently in. This is why teachers and professors have been assigning the same books to students every few years – to make them understand that what was once true may no longer be true, that a person’s view of people and the world will not always be the same, and that a book can be read and enjoyed more than once.