Deconstructionist Interpretation In-Class Essay

A Guide to Interpretation

While Deconstruction utilizes the elements of analysis employed by New Criticism and Structuralism (among other approaches) to explore various narratives of meaning, it does not prioritize any one narrative of meaning. Deconstructionist interpretation is frequently misunderstood as resulting in an absence of meaning when in fact it should result in a multiplicity of meanings. This type of reading is about identifying the assumed/naturalized/essentialist significations in a text and then reading against those assumptions etc., to discover their instability. Deconstructionist theory asserts that texts are already and always deconstructed as the relationship between signifier and signified is unstable and fluid. While Deconstruction in theory might involve an endless exploration of differences (differances) in a text, practically speaking it is used in contemporary readings to expose false binaries and challenge essentialist thinking. For this essay you should produce two readings: the default and contrary reading which addresses the instability of the default reading.


Using your Literary Theory Key Terminology sheet, your Elements of Analysis sheet, and your Poetry Terminology sheet, you will read the poem provided and write a 500-750 word analysis which accomplishes the following:

  • Perform an initial New Criticist/Structuralist reading using basic elements of analysis.
  • Identify a central binary (or binaries) that governs the text by explaining the counterpoint definitions being used (e.g. light is good and darkness is bad). This can often be identified by looking at patterns in the text; a poet will utilize symbolism with common themes, common associations, or common imagery to reinforce their central arguments. This central binary will also be reinforced with rhetorical and literary devices.
  • Challenge depictions of people, objects, and elements throughout. You will note that the characteristics ascribed to these things will reinforce the central argument of the poem. Discuss how the relationship between signifier and signified is constructed in the poem and is built upon certain assumptions.
  • Provide an alternative interpretation of the central signifier/binary and support new reading by addressing other elements in the text (i.e. do another close reading with new narrative of meaning).

Make sure you are referring to/citing the relevant parts of the text by quoting and indicating the line number in parentheses. You should consider using terminology such as difference, naturalization, essentialism, signifier, signified, instability. You will have one full class period to complete the essay.

Fire and Ice 


Some say the world will end in fire,                                                                      1                             

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,                                                                                 5

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

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