I recently watched an interview with one of my favorite authors, Dennis Lehane, where he explained that Shutter Island was his attempt to examine the McCarthy era in the US and how people were made to be quiet, and to forget. That the entire journey in that book is an analogy.
Most people, myself included, saw Shutter Island as a kind of trippy mystery. A 180 type story with dead ends and misdirection.
But some, I'm sure, would have seen this darker tone to the work. Which sends me back to the struggles I had as a University student when I ended up in classes with professors who leaned heavily on the Reader Response theory.
This theory is basically that the reader's interpretation is as important, if not more important, than the author's intent. That what the author meant to say is actually of little importance. As a writer, I always found this difficult. I often thought that those who truly believed in this theory were failed writers who wanted their opinion of a work to be a kind of piece of art all itself. Or, they could just never figure out what an author was trying to say and, therefore, decided to make their own stuff up.
I managed some pretty grim grades in these classes because I would not bend in my belief that a writer's intent is extremely important. That, in the end, it is what is most important. Or, why bother reading? Not that we're digging for clues, but if you decide your ideas are as good as the person who actually had the ideas and put those down on paper in a story format, then what is literature but an avenue for you to examine your own deep seeded beliefs?
It's akin to what I once had an acquaintance say to me after we'd been talking about writing for awhile. I was making a point of some description when she laughed and said, 'It's just funny to hear you say how you intended to do this or that when, in the end, all writing, music, art is just god speaking through you.'
My point here is that, yes, what you see in a work is valid. Extremely valid. I've had people totally misconstrue my basic ideas in stories and books; and that's fine. But the work was created with an intent, with an idea, and if you are truly reading well, and the author has truly done his or her job well, then you should, if you look, be able to find what is actually being said.
So, back to Shutter Island. I didn't get the McCarthy ideas. The thought never crossed my mind. I assumed it was about a guy who'd lost his mind and some people were trying to see just how far out he'd gone. Which, in the end, is a lot of the story. But if someone were to dig deeper, to truly look at this work and see the links, wouldn't their reading be more valuable because it was closer to what the author intended?