Hidden Meanings

1984 animal farm

Today I was discussing the novel Animal Farm with a colleague.  Yes, teachers sometimes have these intellectual conversations….it doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.  She’s reading it with her 8th grade English class, and they were learning about the meaning behind it and about the historical context of totalitarianism and Hitler’s reign in Germany.  I asked her if it was difficult to help younger students understand about hidden meanings and metaphors in books, and she said most of them pretty much got it.  There were a few that were still having trouble equating pigs, horses and dogs to World War II.  “How sad for them,” I thought, and then “how sad for us,” I thought.  How sad for us that we have to be exposed to so many things with hidden meanings throughout our lives.  It seems that virtually every novel, short story, song or movie has some kind of hidden meaning.  It comes down to even the stupidest of things.  Did you know Cyndi Lauper’s song She Bop is about masturbation?!?!  What the…?

she bopWhy can’t people just make music without having to insert a hidden meaning?  I understand if the song is supposed to have a meaning, a lot of good music has been written for a reason, but why do there have to be hidden meanings in songs?  Virtually every artist out there has one or more songs where the subject of the song isn’t the whole thing.  There are hidden meanings and “undertones” that need to be explored before you “get it!”  I do understand that songs are modern poetry, and that poetry has meaning, but even that…..why do poems not really mean what they say?  “And miles to go before I sleep….”  Did you know he means death!?!?!  Why not just say that!?!?!  Or what about “do not go gentle into that good night?”  Death again!!!  I like Robert Frost and Dylan Thomas, but their poetry is riddled with undertones and hidden meaning.  Why can’t they just say what they mean?  I have a job where I have to think all day, I don’t want to have to think about the song I’m listening to.

lucy in the skyOne of my favorite bands is The Beatles.  I love their music….wait, let me rephrase that….I love their music BEFORE the drugs kicked in.  Songs like Hard Days Night, She Loves You and All My Loving held no hidden meaning.  They were fun songs from a group of young men from Liverpool.  After they got all trippy and psychedelic, their music all of a sudden had hidden meaning.  Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds is about tripping on LSD (look at the initials of the song) and Strawberry Fields Forever is about how nothing is real, and we shouldn’t take anything at face value…..duh!  This whole post is about that.  For more about Strawberry Fields, see this great blog: http://i-am-walrus.blogspot.sg/2005/07/meaning-of-strawberry-fields-forever.html.

It’s not only music and poetry that have tried to instill hidden meaning and metaphor into their genres.  Novels have been written with only the hidden meaning in mind.  The face-value story line is not what the novel was ever truly about, and the author could have written any story to match his hidden meaning.  This is true for Animal Farm and 1984, both by George Orwell.  I think Orwell was a little obsessed with dictatorial leaders and totalitarian society.  He needed to calm down.  Another one has to do with the drug induced undertones of any of Lewis Carroll’s works.  Alice in Wonderland is the most popular, but read a few lines of Jabberwocky or The Hunting of the Snark and you know he was on something.  I have also heard that people believe he was a pedophile as well.  That’s just peachy!

mad hatterdistrict 9

bugsEven cartoons are not immune from hidden meanings.  I have always contended that Looney Tunes have been written for adults.  The adult themes and storylines of cartoons make them more apropos for an older audience than for the children that normally watch them.  Check out a few shorts of Bugs Bunny or Coyote/Roadrunner, you’ll notice that they don’t play as goofy and stupid when you’re an adult than they did when you were a kid.  I actually did a paper when I was in university about the images of science and scientists in cartoons.  There’s a lot to be said about Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry, The Flintstones and Woody Woodpecker (to name just a few).  It’s not just about science and scientists, but historical and political references abound as well.

I’m tired of having to constantly find the hidden meaning in entertainment!  They call it entertainment for a reason…..because it should entertain us.  We shouldn’t have to think about the meaning behind it or how it fits into societal conventions and politics.  Just watch, read, listen or view something because it’s funny, sad, happy, sweet or scary.  We don’t need to continually be getting hit in the face by political, historical and sociological commentary.  This rhetoric is actually ruining a lot of, otherwise, good novels, movies and songs for me.  We should just be able to enjoy the entertainment because it’s entertaining…..and people should just make some great entertainment that doesn’t need explanation and analysis!!

I didn’t get to art, fashion or photography in this post….be thankful….the post would have been 3 times the size.  I have saved those topics for a later post.  Keep checking.



  1. “It’s not only music and poetry that have tried to instill hidden meaning and metaphor into their genres. Novels have been written with only the hidden meaning in mind.” I agree. And Henry Holiday’s illustrations with hidden allusions have been accompanying Lewis Carroll’s Snark hunt ballad with hidden allusions – and the Snark readers didn’t get it for almost 140 years! http://www.snrk.de perhaps can help to turn kids into curious and observant art detectives.

  2. “We shouldn’t have to think about the meaning behind it or how it fits into societal conventions and politics.” That depends on where “we” live. For some time I lived in China. There sometimes you have to hide meaning just in order to survive. Also in my own country (Germany) there had been times, where you better hid your thoughts very well.

    On the other hand, hidden meanings also can make sense in free and open societies: as conundrums! In that case, searching the hidden meaning (which doesn’t necessarily to be political) in is entertainment in its own right. When I accidentally stumbled into Henry Holiday’s hidden allusions, I first asked myself, why he did that. There may be a simple answer: Just for fun!

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