Unexpected endings rarely surprise today’s readers. There is a reason why people say we have lost the ability to feel empathy or remorse over certain situations. Blood and violence are insufficient when telling a horror or crime story, because we’ve seen enough deaths in the real world to feel conflicted by the death of a character. Subjects like drugs, sex, or suicide are no longer addressed by the writers to instigate reflection in their readers. On the contrary, these themes are used to sell books.
Readers demand unexpected endings and original stories; at the same time, they don’t want to read something that could leave them confused and perplexed. Even if they succeed at understanding the majority of the books they consume, there are always going to be stories difficult to process. Their complex narrative, or the intricate prose of the writer make these books a challenge to read. The reader has to fill in the gaps or consciously change the situations described by the author so they fit with their own experiences.
Despite the fact that the following books where often misunderstood, they still managed to become classics in the world of literature.
11. Lolita — Vladimir Nabokov
This masterpiece has often been described as vulgar. However, Nabokov never intended to create a mischievous girl who tries to seduce a grown up man. Nabokov’s nymphet leading character is the result of the perversions that surround her, and what we assume to understand that her personality is only what the character of Humbert lets us see. Many consider Humbert to be a victim of Lolita’s seductiveness, when in fact, Nabokov described him as a vain and cruel wretch.
10. A Clockwork Orange — Anthony Burgess
This book has been overshadowed by its film adaptation. Despite the fact Kubrick’s work was outstanding, Burgess considered it to be a misinterpretation of his work. The novel originally had twenty one chapters, representing the age when a person enters adulthood. Nevertheless, the author allowed the book to be published in the US without the final chapter. Kubrick’s film was based on the American edition. “The film made it easy for readers of the book to misunderstand what it was all about, and this misunderstanding will pursue me till I die,” Burgess stated.
The final chapter meant to explain that the reason why Alex abandoned his chaotic and violent lifestyle was not the result of the therapy. “Is it better for a man to have chosen evil than to have good imposed upon him?” Burgess asked. Alex was simply bored by violence, so he chose to invest his time in other recreational activities.
9. Sherlock Holmes — Arthur Conan Doyle
Sherlock Holmes is the embodiment of intelligence, deductive reasoning, and audacity. Conan Doyle immortalized this character in his books. However, Holmes is often seen as an insufferable character by those who affirm he is a man with Asperger syndrome, incapable of socializing with the rest of the world.
This conclusion comes from a misreading of the book. Experts like Daniel Tabau explain that Holmes is far from being obnoxious. In order to be a good detective, Holmes has to be able to be empathetic with the people he socializes with; on the other hand, he has to be sensitive to find clues hidden away in the little things.
8. Fahrenheit 451 — Ray Bradbury
This book speaks of the importance of literature to preserve culture and knowledge. But Bradbury is criticizing television as a promoter of consumerism. If a person abandons books, their criteria, and capacity to analyze the world is limited and the fault lies on TV and not governmental censorship. Farenheit 451 is a criticism against the media.
7. Alice in Wonderland — Lewis Carroll
Walking through the mirror meant for Carroll the possibility of entering a world where the abstract concepts of mathematics could shift into corporeal forms. It was never about a psychedelic journey. Carroll only wanted to write about his feelings towards complex mathematics.
6. On the Road — Jack Kerouac
People often quote On the Road to discuss the freedom of jumping into adventure, to see new horizons and find answers to the complicated questions of life. Nevertheless, Kerouac admitted that this bohemian perspective is not functional. The author said that he never found the answers to his questions and that the journey was an unpleasant experience.
5. Thus Spoke Zarahustra — Friedrich Nitzsche
Nietzsche’s philosophy was used to promote the ideologies of the superhuman by dictators like Mussolini and Hitler during the Second World War. The concept used to justify the mass murder of thousands of people is a misinterpretation of Nietzsche’s work. The superhuman or Übermensch spoke of the people who were trying to find their own moral values in a complex world.
4. Steppenwolf — Herman Hesse
Many young people have felt identified with the lonely protagonist of the novel, who fights against any adversity. But that loneliness is intentional, rather than the consequence of a mental illness or a life crisis. To the author, being alone was a self-imposed gift, representing freedom for the leading character.
3. The Prince — Machiavelli
Machiavelli wanted to fully comprehend human nature in general. He never meant to write The Prince to instruct the monarchy. He wanted to explain how the circumstances a person experiments can force them to become cruel and selfish.
2. Frankenstein — Mary Shelly
The moral lessons Shelly wanted to address in her novel were not related to science. She never meant to explain how men shouldn’t consider themselves Gods. The monster was not the result of science, but of magic and alchemy. The intentions of Shelly were to make a stand regarding the responsibility of parents to their offspring and the importance of forgiveness. She also wanted to show that vengeance is not the solution to conflicts.
1. The Selfish Gene — Richard Darwkins
Even scientific publications can be misinterpreted. In the case of Dawkins, his publication meant to explain human nature under the paradigm of genetics. Political issues have influenced the reader to misread Dawkins’ work as an opposition to the development of biology.
The beauty of literature resides in its ability to adapt itself to readers and so reach their hearts. There is no correct form to understand a book. The context surrounding the reader influences the way they interpret the text. However, being able to understand a book differs from being able to learn from it. Many writers agree that their readers should be free to have their own opinions and conclusions regarding their work. Nevertheless, they often feel the need to explain their books, especially when they become the subject of too many discussions.