Saturday, June 10, 2017

Multiple Interpretations

Mr. Meggs thought he was smiling the sad, tender smile of a man who, knowing himself to be on the brink of the tomb, bids farewell to a faithful employee. Miss Pillenger’s view was that he was smiling like an abandoned old rip who ought to have been ashamed of himself.

 P. G. Wodehouse ~ A Sea of Troubles

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse is a master of multiple interpretations. They are the basis of most of the trouble Bertie Wooster encounters in Wodehouse’s Wooster and Jeeves novels. They can also be found in many of his short stories. In a few sentences, Wodehouse can show us more about his characters than several pages of telling us would. He uses the technique of multiple interpretations to perfection.

I think what makes this technique so effective is that we recognize it; many of us probably experienced it at one time or another. Have you, like me, ever been asked why you are angry or upset when you are not? C. S. Lewis wrote that at school he was often accused of having a “look” that invited trouble.

I recently considered the idea of multiple interpretations when Donald Trump, in an interview, said James Comey was a “showboat” and a “grandstander.” Now I have seen James Comey on television giving press conferences, making speeches, and testifying before Congress. I never would have interpreted anything about him as showboating or grandstanding. The multiple ways that people interpret the same thing is a source of amazement and amusement to me.

Donald Trump hinted in a tweet that there might be secret tapes of his conversations with James Comey. I am hoping there are videos. In the interactions between the two men, I have a picture in my mind of who would be Mr. Meggs and who would be Mrs. Pillenger. I would love to see if my particular interpretation is true.

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