This thesis contends that ambiguity in meaning performs an essential role in the reader’s response to literature. Ambiguity is not simply an incidental or marginal feature of literary texts but relates in basic ways to the reader’s experience of literature. It is the still point around which a literary text revolves. In examining the function of ambiguity in literary texts, I will show how ambiguity both defines a text as literary and allows it to live and grow through time. The notion of a text is meaningless apart from the reading of it, and, ambiguity, in the unchanging presence of the words, allows for the meaning of the text to evolve with every reading of it. Discussions of Aristotle, Saint Augustine, and Wolfgang Iser bring together the historical and modern understanding of literary texts. Through the examples of Sophocles’s drama, Oedipus the King, T. S. Eliot’s poem, Burnt Norton in Four Quartets and Henry James’s short novella, The Turn of the Screw, I demonstrate how the reading of a text allows literature to become an evolving experience into which the reader breathes life, so that literature can unfold as an unending history of meanings.


English & Comparative Literature Department

Degree Name

MA in English & Comparative Literature

Graduation Date


Submission Date

June 2013

First Advisor

Melaney, William

Committee Member 1

Shoukri, Doris

Committee Member 2

sser, Tahia Abdel


60p||60 p.

Document Type

Master's Thesis

Library of Congress Subject Heading 1

Ambiguity in literature.

Library of Congress Subject Heading 2

English literature.


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