Literary Interpretation is of prime importance in the field of literature studies. By contrast, literary interpretation is almost ignored in the field of English language education in Japan. This paper aims to fill the gap between the two fields. The research questions are as follows:
RQ 1: What effects can literary interpretation by a teacher have on learners’ attitudes towards reading?
RQ 2: What effects can literary interpretation by a teacher have on learners’ reading activities?
To answer these questions, we conducted a survey in which 29 university students participated. We asked them to answer an identical questionnaire before and after they were provided with their teacher’s literary interpretation of “A Family Supper,” a short story by Kazuo Ishiguro. The questionnaire was made up of two parts: the first part, consisting of 10 items with a 6-point scale, tried to measure learners’ attitudes towards reading; in the second part, learners were asked to write freely about how they felt towards “A Family Supper.” The first and second parts were meant to be quantitative and qualitative research respectively.
In the quantitative research, learners’ attitudes towards reading improved in 8 out of 10 items after their teacher interpreted the text. We conducted a paired t-test and found that in 7 out of those 8 items the improvement was statistically significant. In one of the 2 items in which their attitudes changed in a negative way, the change was statistically significant. The item asked the learners “whether they felt like reading forward or not.” So, the change might have been natural and could be explained like this: they had already grasped the storyline before they were given literary interpretation; in other words, by the time they answered the questionnaire for the second time, they had already lost interest in the plot. Our answer to RQ 1 is that literary interpretation contributes to enhancing learners’ attitudes towards reading.
In the qualitative research, we first analyzed the comments the learners had written before they were given literary interpretation. Common to the comments were the following four points: (1) English used in “A Family Supper” is simple and easy to read; (2) Due to its linguistic simplicity, the text is not worth reading; (3) The story is not dramatic enough; (4) The text contains something mysterious but inexplicable. The effects of literary interpretation on these comments are as follows: (1) Comments on the content of the work took the place of those on linguistic simplicity; (2) Some learners noticed that, even if vocabulary and grammar were simple, English could be difficult to read; (3) Most of the learners came to recognize a deeper meaning hidden under the undramatic-looking story; (4) Intuitive insights into the mystery were acknowledged as reasonable. These four findings are our answer to RQ 2.