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.)
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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.)