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Missing the Point

December 16, 2009

by Colm Tóibín
from The London Review of Books

From an early age, I have missed the point of things. I noticed this first when the entire class at school seemed to understand that Animal Farm was about something other than animals. I alone sat there believing otherwise. I simply couldn’t see who or what the book was about if not about farm animals. I had enjoyed it for that. Now, the teacher and every other boy seemed to think it was really about Stalin or Communism or something. I looked at it again, but I still couldn’t quite work it out.

So, too, with a lot of poetry. I couldn’t see that things were like other things when they were not like them. Maybe they were slightly like them, or somewhat like them, but usually they were not like them at all.

And allegory. I never got the point of allegory. If it was a choice between algebra and allegory, I knew whose side I was on. When I picked up Moby Dick, I liked it because it was about hunting whales. And oh dear I just couldn’t concentrate when everyone began to explain, all at the one time, that the whale was a symbol or something, that it stood for…  I cannot remember what. more

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