This weekend, I'm grading a heap of poetry mini-papers from Brit Lit II. These are mercifully short, but incredibly labor-intensive, because it's a gen ed course and some of the students have no experience doing literary analysis. And, as is often the case in gen ed, I'm running into more than a few papers that seem to be based on fundamental misreadings of the text. Like, say, a paper about When We Two Parted written by a student who is under the impression that the speaker's ex-lover is dead rather than unfaithful. Or one about My Last Duchess where the student thinks the Duke is a really great guy who was deeply in love with his late wife.
Usually, these students are unfamiliar with figurative language and inexperienced at reading for detail and nuance; sometimes the problem is compounded by unfamiliar vocabulary and cultural references (one woman who was in my class a few years ago thought that Blake's The Chimney Sweeper was about a bat, because apparently it's a dialect term for a bat in these parts and she'd never, understandably, encountered an actual chimney sweeper). And I'm never sure what to do about it -- because I do want my gen ed students to recognize that literature lends itself to multiple interpretations, and I want them to have the courage of their own convictions instead of looking to me or SparkNotes.com for The One Right Answer, and swooping in to say "No, this interpretation is just plain wrong" doesn't seem to be the right way to go about it. And yet, some interpretations are just plain wrong.
Sigh. Back to grading.