Explain the essay "The Death of the Author" by Roland Barthes. 

Expert Answers
carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When evaluating a selection of literature, Roland Barthes in his 1967 essay, “Death of the Author” felt that the author should be set aside. His argument emphasizes that the author is the vehicle through which the literature is related.  The author does not create but rather transmits the story which already exists.

In addition, Barthes adds that the normal practice is to give the credit to the author for the success of a piece of literature.  Barthles believes this idea often causes the failure of a work of literature because it is ascribed to the author and his weaknesses.

If the analysis of literature includes both the work and the author, then the evaluation would be considered limited in scope.  When reading a text and keeping in mind the author and his importance to the work,  the reader acquires nothing original. He is just taking in a predetermined explanation provided by the author.  Barthles felt it was important to ignore the background of the work

Barthles decided to use the word writing instead of literature. He said that there should not be any ultimate meaning of a work.  This further frees the writing for the reader.  Without the author, the writing becomes universal, and it can mean what the reader interprets it to mean based on his personal reading and contemplation.

The explanation of a work is always sought in the man or woman who produced it, through the more or less transparent allegory of the fiction…, the voice of a single person, the author ‘confiding’ in us.

The originality of the work comes from the reader.  His reading and attempt to understand the meaning brings new value to the literature.  The reader can interject his own experiences and knowledge.  This opens up the literature with many potential interpretations because each reader brings new ideas, vocabulary, and responses. The reader then does not have to worry about the intent of the author.  Without the limitation of the author, the text can have enumerable interpretations. 

Barthes bases his entire principle on this idea claiming that it is only the status of the reader not the author that should be elevated. This point ultimately leads to Barthes main point: the reader holds more responsibility to the text than the author.  His final conclusion states: The birth of the reader must be at the cost of the author.