The Death of a Story

23Feb10

I watched the death of a book today, and through no fault of the story, the author or the publisher.

I was talking with a young teen and her mother in my office . . . they’d picked up one of the books we leave scattered around and were giggling about a story. I don’t recall the author’s name, but the story was written in the late 1930’s, and it was about a homeless child traveling across the country trying to find relatives in California.

The mother asked me, “Is there another meaning for the word, ‘tramp’?”

“You mean, besides sexually promiscuous woman?” I had to explain that it was a synonym for bum or hobo.

She is a college graduate and had a book on the chair next to her, so she’s a reader, but the language itself has changed enough in the past seventy years that she didn’t understand the story at all. She knew she was missing some point or other, but couldn’t put it together. I was surprised and a little saddened. But sometimes I wonder what I miss in Shakespeare, Milton . . . or even translations of my favorite poets. Cultural context is part and parcel of the understanding of language and story.

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One Response to “The Death of a Story”

  1. 1 Karen

    I think you’re stretching here. I know both meanings of tramp, as does my husband. We’re college educated readers, but I could have told you both meanings when I was in middle school. Perhaps there is a gap to type of education or childhood reading (I read the Boxcar Children). I don’t know, but the book isn’t dead yet. Certainly we miss moments in the works of Shakespeare and Milton, and I’m not sure I could pick up the nuances of poets from even your generation (old man), but give us some credit.


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