Intertextuality Definition

Intertexuality is a sophisticated literary device used in writing. In fact, it is a textual reference within some text that reflects the text used as a reference. Instead of employing referential phrases from different literary works, intertextuality draws upon the concept, rhetoric or ideology from other texts to be merged in the new text. It may be the retelling of an old story, or you may rewrite the popular stories in modern context for instance, James Joyce retells The Odyssey in his very famous novel Ulysses.

Difference between Intertextuality and Allusion

Although both these terms seem similar to each other, they are slightly different in their meanings, because an allusion is a brief and concise reference that a writer uses in another narrative without affecting the storyline. Intertextuality, on the other hand, uses the reference of the full story in another text or story as its backbone.

Intertexuality Examples from Literature

Example 1

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

In his novel, Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys gathers some events occurred in the famous novel the novel, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. The purpose is to tell the readers an alternative tale. Rhys presents the wife of Mr. Rochester, who played the role of a secondary character in Jane Eyre. Also, the setting of this novel is Jamaica not England, and author develops the back-story for his major character. While spinning the novel, Jane Eyre, she gives her interpretation amid the narrative by addressing issues such as roles of women, colonization and racism that Bronte did not point out in her novel otherwise.

Example 2

A Tempest by Aime Cesaire

Aime Cesaire’s play, A Tempest is an adaptation of The Tempest by William Shakespeare. The author parodies Shakespeare’s play from post-colonial point of view. Cesaire also changes the occupations and races of his characters. For example, he transforms the occupation of Prospero, who was a magician, and changes him into a slave-owner, and also changes Ariel in Mulatto, though he was a spirit. Cesaire, like Rhys, makes use of a famous work of literature, and put a spin on it in order to express the themes of power, slavery and colonialism.

Example 3

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

William Golding in his novel, Lord of the Flies, takes the story implicitly from Treasure Island already written by Robert Louis Stevenson. However, Golding has utilized the concept of adventures, which young boys love to use on the isolated island they were stranded on. He, however, changes the narrative into a cautious tale, rejecting glorified stories of Stevenson concerning exploration and swash buckling. Instead, Golding grounds this novel in bitter realism by demonstrating negative implications of savagery and fighting that could take control of human hearts, because characters have lost the idea of civilization.

Example 4

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

In this case, C.S. Lewis adapts the Christ’s crucifixion in his fantasy novel, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. He, very shrewdly, weaves together the religious and entertainment themes for a children book. Lewis uses an important event from The New Testament and transforms into a story about redemption. In doing so, he uses Edmund, a character that betrays his savior, Aslan, to suffer. Generally, the motive of this theme is to introduce other themes such as evil actions, losing innocence and redemption.

Example 5

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Earnest Hemingway

In the following example, Hemingway uses intertextuality for the title of his novel. He takes the title of a poem, Meditation XVII written by John Donne. The excerpt of this poem reads: “No man is an island…and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Hemingway not only uses this excerpt for the title of his novel, he also makes use of the idea in the novel, as he clarifies and elaborates the abstract philosophy of Donne by using the concept of Spanish Civil War. By the end, the novel expands other themes such as loyalty, love and camaraderie.

Function of Intertexuality

Majority of the writers borrow ideas from the previous works to give a layer of meanings to their works. In fact, when readers read the new text with reflection of another literary work, all related assumptions, effects and ideas of other text provide them a different meaning and changes the technique of interpretation of the original piece. Since readers take influence from other texts, and while reading new texts they sift through archives, this device gives them relevance and clarifies their understanding of the new texts. For writers, intertextuality allows them to open new perspectives and possibilities to construct their story. Thus, writers may explore a particular ideology in their narrative by discussing recent rhetoric in the original text.

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