Authorial intent is without a doubt one of the most important parts of any analytical essay in VCE English because talking about it is what offers the deepest level of analysis and shows the examiners that you have thought deeply about the text at hand. If you can discuss authorial intent effectively, you’ll be able to show that you have a solid understanding of what you are talking about and that you’re not working exclusively with surface-level ideas.
What Is Authorial Intent?
When we talk about authorial intent, what is really being referenced is the author’s reason for writing their piece in the way that they have and what messages they are trying to convey. Essentially, it’s what your teacher wants you to think about when they ask you things like “why is the door red?”. More generally speaking, why has the author made a point of telling us as readers the weather at that time? Why has that character been given that particular line of dialogue? Why have they brought in that specific tone for this part of the text? These are all the kinds of questions that you should be asking yourself when you’re reading through material that you have to analyse.
You might also hear authorial intent talked about as the writer’s ‘views and values’. If you’re unsure what views and values actually mean, you can kind of think of it as though the ‘views’ are how the author sees something and the ‘values’ are how the author thinks about something. Essentially, their opinions and perspectives are their views, whereas their morals and principles are their values. These two elements will often be central to the overall intention behind writing their text.
Why Is Authorial Intent Important?
Authorial intent plays a major role in your interpretation of the text; if you can’t figure out what the intent is, you will often miss out on key points and messages throughout the text. If you are lucky, the author will make it really clear to you as a reader what their intent is; however, this often is not the case. That being said, whether their intent is stated or implied doesn’t matter - there will always be something there for you to talk about.
How To ‘Find’ Authorial Intent in the Text: Key Identifiers To Look Out For
If you come across a text that makes it a little bit more difficult to discern what the author is actually trying to say, a good place to start is to look at the context behind the piece of writing.
The time period the novel/movie/play is set in is often a good indicator of what the author is saying. The author will often be using their text as a means by which they can comment on or critique one or more elements of that society, or perhaps as a metaphor for events that are occurring at the time the text is/was written. Alternatively, they may be portraying their view about the events that actually occurred during that time. For example, if you have a text that is set in the Georgian era, it is likely that the author’s message has something to do with colonialism or imperialist mindsets (zeitgeists) because this was a very dominant theme in that society.
Some other reasons you might consider an author having could include:
- to highlight the importance of something
- to criticise a behaviour or mindset
- to ridicule certain actions
- to warn against something
- to discourage people from doing something
- to convey certain political messages or controversial opinions
Realistically there is a broad range of things that the author could be saying, it's your job to pinpoint what that really is.
Once you’ve determined what it is the author is generally talking about, you then need to start thinking about the way that this has been represented. This is where you start to bring in the characters, the events, the dialogue, the inner monologues. Basically, you start looking for the elements that the author has added, not necessarily for a story-telling purpose but, more so, to convey their views and values through the text. This isn’t always going to jump right out at you so there may be a bit of deeper thinking involved.
Another good place to start is to try to identify the central themes of a text. This might be something like ‘Judgement’, ‘Redemption’, ‘Guilt’, etc. The author wouldn't have made these themes so relevant if they didn't have anything to say about them. Once again, this is where you look at the quotes, the setting, the characters and other features (as mentioned before) just with a more theme-focused approach.
Useful Vocabulary & Sentence Examples
When you come to actually putting together a paragraph, it is really important that you don’t forget to include authorial intent at some stage (at least once per paragraph). If you work with a TEEL structure (watch from 05:10) as the baseline, these kinds of comments about the author’s intent would usually be located within the ‘explanation’ section. A good way to double-check that you’ve incorporated authorial intent is to go back through your paragraph and make sure that the author’s name is in there somewhere. If you’ve talked about authorial intent you likely will have said something like:
‘In doing so, (Author) condones the (whatever it is they condone).’
Below are some sample sentence structures that you might think about using throughout your essays. Obviously, the particular vocabulary will vary depending on what your text is and which message you are talking about, but these are good as a guide.
- Through (example from text) AUTHOR (offers, provides, asserts) a (condemnation, evaluation…) of (idea, theme, concept, action…)
E.g. Through emphasising the internal struggle faced by Rooke during the floggings, Grenville offers a condemnation of the Empire’s heinous approach to loyalty, as the threat of ‘wirling at the end of the rope’ essentially forces individuals to value duty over conscience. (The Lieutenant)
- In doing so, AUTHOR (establishes, condemns, reveals…)
E.g. In doing so, Miller reveals the self-destructive nature of religious extremism in breeding instability and conflict. (The Crucible)
- (scene, event…) allows AUTHOR to (suggest, convey, assert,…) that
E.g. Her sorrowful pleas that ‘she beg me to make charm’, fraught with grammatical errors, allow Miller to saliently illustrate the gulf that exists between the vulnerable outcasts such as Tituba and more privileged individuals within a community, in this case, Reverend Parris. (The Crucible)
- AUTHOR’s depiction of (character) as (courageous, morally conscious, selfish…) emphasises their belief that…
E.g. Ham’s depiction of Teddy as a morally conscious and genuine individual emphasises her belief that it is possible to transcend the social codes enforced by one’s community. (The Dressmaker)
- AUTHOR’s suggestion that… (serves as a reminder, highlights, emphasises the importance of…)
E.g. Euripides’ blatant suggestion that the fate of most of these women is in servitude and sexual slavery is a damning reminder that the victims of war are not just those killed during the conflict. (Women of Troy)
- (Hence, thus, as a result…) AUTHOR asserts that…
E.g. Thus, Euripides asserts that victory in war ultimately proves futile as loss will inevitably be suffered somewhat equally by both sides. (Women of Troy)
- Evident through AUTHOR’s (characters’ actions/dialogue/section of text…) is the idea that…
E.g. Evident through Miller’s depiction of the struggles faced by Goody Osburn and Goody Good is the idea that where geographical isolation and strict moral codes render a community intolerant, the marginalisation and ostracisation of those who do not fit the societal mould is inevitable. (The Crucible)
- Through (action, quote, scene…) AUTHOR seeks to…
E.g. Through highlighting the harm which can result from individuals utilising their power to manipulate situations, Ham seeks to expose the damages caused by ignoring the truth, particularly when done so for personal benefit. (The Dressmaker)
If you’ve gotten to this point then hopefully that means that you are starting to get a better understanding of what authorial intent actually is, the thought processes that go into finding it and why it is such a useful and important element to analyse. Most importantly, I hope that you can at least start recognising the way that the author’s voice comes through in the particular texts that you are studying, and that you can start looking at including some of those observations and ideas when you're writing your responses.