Christian Themes (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
On one level, The Name of the Rose is a murder mystery solved by a clever detective. However, like the clues that William and Adso find, there are many layers of meaning. Before publishing the novel, Umberto Eco earned the distinction of being a leading literary theorist, best known for his work in semiotics. Semiotics, the study of signs, is a way of understanding how meaning is created or understood, whether in a work of literature or in life. A sign can be any unit of information that conveys meaning—a word, an article of clothing, a drop of blood at a murder scene. Eco theorized both that signs have multiple meanings and that a methodical approach is the best way of comprehending a series of signs. Many aspects of Eco’s semiotic theory are evident in the novel. Eco theorized that meaning is created in literature in part through reference to other works of literature. In the novel, William’s and Adso’s method of solving the crimes owes an obvious debt to Sherlock Holmes and his friend Dr. Watson.
The church history and theological debates of the Middle Ages are important factors of the novel’s setting in a medieval abbey. The monks are caught in a political conflict between the pope and the king of France and engaged in power struggles between groups of clergy. They also face the issue of how or whether to remain celibate, and, if they do not, must choose between women, seen as sources of evil and temptation, and fellow monks....
(The entire section is 561 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of The Name of the Rose Themes. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: World Fiction Series)
Such ambiguity is fitting for a book about uncertainty. In the typical mystery, detective and reader must interpret a series of signs to find the identity and motive of the criminal. The signs in such works may have several possible meanings, but only one is correct, and only the right reading will lead to the truth. The Name of the Rose shuns these conventions. Clues may be understood in various ways, and a false hypothesis nevertheless leads to the solution. As William tells Adso at the end of the book:I arrived at Jorge through an apocalyptic pattern that seemed to underlie all the crimes, and yet it was accidental. I arrived at Jorge seeking one criminal for all the crimes and we discovered that each crime was committed by a different person, or by no one. I arrived at Jorge pursuing the plan of a perverse and rational mind, and there was no plan.
William believes that signs “are the only things man has with which to orient himself in the world,” but he knows that one can never be certain about the relation among signs. The uncertainty begins with the book’s title, which Eco says he chose because it “rightly disoriented the reader, who was unable to choose just one interpretation.” The opening paragraph of Adso’s memoir further warns of the impossibility of certainty. Adso begins by quoting the first verse of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In this world one...
(The entire section is 517 words.)
Many of the concerns in The Name of The Rose are united by a single theme, perhaps the most important in all great literature: appearance and reality. Through his astute observation of events, William of Baskerville attempts to discover the reality which informs appearances. In turn, this leads to extended discussions about the applicability and usefulness of logic, the limitations of the human mind, and the methods of detection. Although these discussions are set in a medieval context, they are obviously and ironically relevant to the present age.
Given Eco's theoretical writings on semiotics, the concepts of logic, reality, and appearance are frequently presented in terms of signs that must be decoded, interpreted, and understood by the individual. The Name of The Rose is, to use Eco's own phrase, an "open work" in that it demands interpretation but insists upon no single interpretation. The work's ambiguity is deliberate and even thematic. One scholar who has collaborated with Eco describes The Name of The Rose as "a completely semiotic book." Like the library, this novel is a labyrinth whose ways and meanings are not easily discovered.
As the conclusion to Postscript to "The Name of the Rose," Eco writes: "Moral: there exist obsessive ideas, they are never personal; books talk among themselves, and any true direction should prove that we are the guilty party." Every reader invariably interprets and understands...
(The entire section is 364 words.)
Semiotics is Eco’s academic field of study, and greatly influences the ideas on which he builds his novel. Semiotics refers to the study of signs, sign systems and the way meaning is derived. Signs can be nearly anything in a given culture that conveys information. Signs are generally conventional; that is, signs are meaningful to those who understand the unwritten codes that underpin them. A good example of this might be the way that people greet each other from culture to culture. In American culture, kissing someone on arrival is a sign designating a close and intimate relationship between the two people. Men, however, rarely kiss each other, although they might hug and slap each other on the back. In France, however, the sign is subtly different, and strangers meeting for the first time might kiss each other on each cheek. For those who understand such signs, the communication is clear.
The Name of the Rose is nothing if not a story of signs, including religious, political, and social signs, among many others. William prides himself as a savvy reader of signs; yet his mistake—in assuming that the system underpinning the series of murders was following the pattern of the Apocalypse—demonstrates how a faulty initial assumption can lead to a complete misunderstanding of a situation. In such a case, while the signs are still there, they have no meaning because there is no underpinning system. Likewise, the...
(The entire section is 488 words.)