How to Read Literature Like a Professor

By James Wilson,2014-08-21 04:07
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How to Read Literature Like a Professor

    From How to Read Literature Like a Professor

    Thomas C. Foster

    1. Every Trip is a Quest (except when it’s not):

    a. A quester

    b. A place to go

    c. A stated reason to go there

    d. Challenges and trials

    e. The real reason to goalways self-knowledge

    2. Nice to Eat With You: Acts of Communion

    a. Whenever people eat or drink together, it’s communion

    b. Not usually religious

    c. An act of sharing and peace

    d. A failed meal carries negative connotations

    3. Nice to Eat You: Acts of Vampires

    a. Literal Vampirism: Nasty old man, attractive but evil, violates a young

    woman, leaves his mark, takes her innocence thb. Sexual implicationsa trait of 19 century literature to address sex indirectly

    c. Symbolic Vampirism: selfishness, exploitation, refusal to respect the

    autonomy of other people, using people to get what we want, placing our

    desires, particularly ugly ones, above the needs of another.

    4. If It’s Square, It’s a Sonnet

    5. Now, Where Have I Seen Her Before?

    a. There is no such thing as a wholly original work of literaturestories grow

    out of other stories, poems out of other poems.

    b. There is only one storyof humanity and human nature, endlessly repeated

    c. “Intertexuality”—recognizing the connections between one story and another

    deepens our appreciation and experience, brings multiple layers of meaning to

    the text, which we may not be conscious of. The more consciously aware we

    are, the more alive the text becomes to us.

    d. If you don’t recognize the correspondences, it’s ok. If a story is no good,

    being based on Hamlet won’t save it.

    6. When in Doubt, It’s from Shakespeare…

    a. Writers use what is common in a culture as a kind of shorthand. Shakespeare

    is pervasive, so he is frequently echoed.

    b. See plays as a pattern, either in plot or theme or both. Examples:

    i. Hamlet: heroic character, revenge, indecision, melancholy nature

    ii. Henry IVa young man who must grow up to become king, take on

    his responsibilities

    iii. Othellojealousy

    iv. Merchant of Venicejustice vs. mercy

    v. King Learaging parent, greedy children, a wise fool

    7. …Or the Bible tha. Before the mid 20 century, writers could count on people being very familiar

    with Biblical stories, a common touchstone a writer can tap

b. Common Biblical stories with symbolic implications

    i. Garden of Eden: women tempting men and causing their fall, the apple

    as symbolic of an object of temptation, a serpent who tempts men to

    do evil, and a fall from innocence

    ii. David and Goliathovercoming overwhelming odds

    iii. Jonah and the Whale—refusing to face a task and being “eaten” or

    overwhelmed by it anyway.

    iv. Job: facing disasters not of the character’s making and not the

    character’s fault, suffers as a result, but remains steadfast

    v. The Flood: rain as a form of destruction; rainbow as a promise of

    restoration th century, often used ironically vi. Christ figures (a later chapter): in 20

    vii. The ApocalypseFour Horseman of the Apocalypse usher in the end

    of the world.

    viii. Biblical names often draw a connection between literary character and

    Biblical charcter.

    8. Hanseldee and Greteldum--using fairy tales and kid lit

    a. Hansel and Gretel: lost children trying to find their way home b. Peter Pan: refusing to grow up, lost boys, a girl-nurturer/ c. Little Red Riding Hood: See Vampires

    d. Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz: entering a world that doesn’t work

    rationally or operates under different rules, the Red Queen, the White Rabbit,

    the Cheshire Cat, the Wicked Witch of the West, the Wizard, who is a fraud e. Cinderella: orphaned girl abused by adopted family saved through

    supernatural intervention and by marrying a prince

    f. Snow White: Evil woman who brings death to an innocentagain, saved by

    heroic/princely character

    g. Sleeping Beauty: a girl becoming a woman, symbolically, the needle,

    blood=womanhood, the long sleep an avoidance of growing up and becoming

    a married woman, saved by, guess who, a prince who fights evil on her behalf. h. Evil Stepmothers, Queens, Rumpelstilskin thi. Prince Charming heroes who rescue women. (20 c. frequently switchedthe

    women save the menor used highly ironically)

    9. It’s Greek to Me

    a. Myth is a body of story that mattersthe patterns present in mythology run

    deeply in the human psyche

    b. Why writers echo myth—because there’s only one story (see #4)

    c. Odyssey and Iliad

    i. Men in an epic struggle over a woman

    ii. Achillesa small weakness in a strong man; the need to maintain

    one’s dignity

    iii. Penelope (Odysseus’s wife)—the determination to remain faithful and

    to have faith

    iv. Hector: The need to protect one’s family

    d. The Underworldan ultimate challenge, facing the darkest parts of human

    nature or dealing with death

e. Metamorphoses by Ovidtransformation (Kafka)

    f. Oedipus: family triangles, being blinded, dysfunctional family g. Cassandra: refusing to hear the truth

    h. A wronged woman gone violent in her grief and madnessAeneas and Dido

    or Jason and Medea

    i. Mother loveDemeter and Persephone

    10. It’s more than just rain or snow

    a. Rain

    i. fertility and life

    ii. Noah and the flood

    iii. Drowningone of our deepest fears

    b. Why?

    i. plot device

    ii. atmospherics

    iii. misery factorchallenge characters

    iv. democratic elementthe rain falls on the just and the unjust alike c. Symbolically

    i. rain is cleana form of purification, baptism, removing sin or a stain

    ii. rain is restorativecan bring a dying earth back to life

    iii. destructive as wellcauses pneumonia, colds, etc.; hurricanes, etc.

    iv. Ironic useApril is the cruelest month (T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland)

    v. Rainbow—God’s promise never to destroy the world again; hope; a

    promise of peace between heaven and earth

    vi. fogalmost always signals some sort of confusion; mental, ethical,

    physical “fog”; people can’t see clearly

    d. Snow

    i. negativelycold, stark, inhospitable, inhuman, nothingness, death

    ii. positivelyclean, pure, playful

    11. …More Than It’s Gonna Hurt You: Concerning Violence

    a. Violence can be symbolic, thematic, biblical, Shakespearean, Romantic,

    allegorical, transcendent.

    b. Two categories of violence in literature

    i. Character causedshootings, stabbings, drownings, poisonings,

    bombings, hit and run, etc

    ii. Death and suffering for which the characters are not responsible.

    Accidents are not really accidents.

    c. Violence is symbolic action, but hard to generalize meaning d. Questions to ask:

    i. What does this type of misfortune represent thematically?

    ii. What famous or mythic death does this one resemble?

    iii. Why this sort of violence and not some other?

    12. Is That a Symbol?

    a. Yes. But figuring out what is tricky. Can only discuss possible meanings and


b. There is no one definite meaning unless it’s an allegory, where characters,

    events, places have a one-on-one correspondence symbolically to other things.

    (Animal Farm)

    c. Actions, as well as objects and images, can be symbolic. i.e. “The Road Not

    Taken” by Robert Frost

    d. How to figure it out? Symbols are built on associations readers have, but also

    on emotional reactions. Pay attention to how you feel about a text.

    13. It’s All Political

    a. Literature tends to be written by people interested in the problems of the

    world, so most works have a political element in them

    b. Issues:

    i. Individualism and self-determination against the needs of society for

    conformity and stability.

    ii. Power structures

    iii. Relations among classes

    iv. issues of justice and rights

    v. interactions between the sexes and among various racial and ethnic


    14. Yes, She’s a Christ Figure, Too

    a. Characteristics of a Christ Figure:

    i. crucified, wounds in hands, feet, side, and head, often portrayed with

    arms outstretched

    ii. in agony

    iii. self-sacrificing

    iv. good with children

    v. good with loaves, fishes, water, wine

    vi. thirty-three years of age when last seen

    vii. employed as a carpenter

    viii. known to use humble modes of transportation, feet or donkeys


    ix. believed to have walked on water

    x. known to have spent time alone in the wilderness

    xi. believed to have had a confrontation with the devil, possibly tempted

    xii. last seen in the company of thieves

    xiii. creator of many aphorisms and parables

    xiv. buried, but arose on the third day

    xv. had disciples, twelve at first, although not all equally devoted

    xvi. very forgiving

    xvii. came to redeem an unworthy world

    b. As a reader, put aside belief system.

    c. Why use Christ figures? Deepens our sense of a character’s sacrifice,

    thematically has to do with redemption, hope, or miracles. d. If used ironically, makes the character look smaller rather than greater

    15. Flights of Fancy

    a. Daedalus and Icarus

    b. Flying was one of the temptations of Christ

    c. Symbolically: freedom, escape, the flight of the imagination, spirituality,

    return home, largeness of spirit, love

    d. Interrupted flight generally a bad thing

    e. Usually not literal flying, but might use images of flying, birds, etc. f. Irony trumps everything

    16. It’s All About Sex…

    a. Female symbols: chalice, Holy Grail, bowls, rolling landscape, empty vessels

    waiting to be filled, tunnels, images of fertility

    b. Male symbols: blade, tall buildings

    c. Why? th c., coded sex avoided censorship i. Before mid 20

    ii. Can function on multiple levels

    iii. Can be more intense than literal descriptions

    17. …Except Sex. When authors write directly about sex, they’re writing about

    something else, such as sacrifice, submission, rebellion, supplication, domination,

    enlightenment, etc.

    18. If She Comes Up, It’s Baptism

    a. Baptism is symbolic death and rebirth as a new individual

    b. Drowning is symbolic baptism, IF the character comes back up, symbolically

    reborn. But drowning on purpose can also represent a form of rebirth, a

    choosing to enter a new, different life, leaving an old one behind. c. Traveling on waterrivers, oceanscan symbolically represent baptism. i.e.

    young man sails away from a known world, dies out of one existence, and

    comes back a new person, hence reborn. Rivers can also represent the River

    Styx, the mythological river separating the world from the Underworld,

    another form of transformation, passing from life into death. d. Rain can by symbolic baptism as wellcleanses, washes

    e. Sometimes the water is symbolic toothe prairie has been compared to an

    ocean, walking in a blizzard across snow like walking on water, crossing a

    river from one existence to another (Beloved)

    f. There’s also rebirth/baptism implied when a character is renamed.

    19. Geography Matters…

    a. What represents home, family, love, security?

    b. What represents wilderness, danger, confusion? i.e. tunnels, labyrinths,


    c. Geography can represent the human psyche (Heart of Darkness) d. Going south=running amok and running amok means having a direct, raw

    encounter with the subconscious.

    e. Low places: swamps, crowds, fog, darkness, fields, heat, unpleasantness,

    people, life, death

    f. High places: snow, ice, purity, thin air, clear views, isolation, life, death

    20. …So Does Season

    a. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter=youth, adulthood, middle age, old age/death. b. Spring=fertility, life, happiness, growth, resurrection (Easter) c. Fall=harvest, reaping what we sow, both rewards and punishments d. Winter=hibernation, lack of growth, death, punishment

e. Christmas=childhood, birth, hope, family

    f. Irony trumps all “April is the cruelest month” from The Wasteland

    21. Marked for Greatness

    a. Physical marks or imperfections symbolically mirror moral, emotional, or

    psychological scars or imperfections.

    b. Landscapes can be marked as wellThe Wasteland by T.S. Eliot

    c. Physical imperfection, when caused by social imperfection, often reflects not

    only the damage inside the individual, but what is wrong with the culture that

    causes such damage

    d. Monsters

    i. Frankensteinmonsters created through no fault of their own; the real

    monster is the maker

    ii. Faust—bargains with the devil in exchange for one’s soul

    iii. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hydethe dual nature of humanity, that in each of

    us, no matter how well-made or socially groomed, a monstrous Other


    iv. Quasimodo, Beauty and the Beastugly on the outside, beautiful on

    the inside. The physical deformity reflects the opposite of the truth.

    22. He’s Blind for a Reason, You Know

    a. Physical blindness mirrors psychological, moral, intellectual (etc.) blindness b. Sometimes ironic; the blind see and sighted are blind

    c. Many times blindness is metaphorical, a failure to seereality, love, truth, etc.

    d. darkness=blindness; light=sight

    23. It’s Never Just Heart Disease...

    a. Heart disease=bad love, loneliness, cruelty, disloyalty, cowardice, lack of


    b. Socially, something on a larger scale or something seriously amiss at the heart

    of things (Heart of Darkness)

    24. …And Rarely Just Illness

    a. Not all illnesses are created equal. Tuberculosis occurs frequently; cholera

    does not because of the reasons below

    b. It should be picturesque

    c. It should be mysterious in origin

    d. It should have strong symbolic or metaphorical possibilities

    i. Tuberculosisa wasting disease

    ii. Physical paralysis can mirror moral, social, spiritual, intellectual,

    political paralysis

    iii. Plague: divine wrath; the communal aspect and philosophical

    possibilities of suffering on a large scale; the isolation an despair

    created by wholesale destruction; the puniness of humanity in the face

    of an indifferent natural world

    iv. Malaria: means literally “bad air” with the attendant metaphorical


    v. Venereal disease: reflects immorality OR innocence, when the

    innocent suffer because of another’s immorality; passed on to a spouse

    or baby, men’s exploitation of women

    vi. AIDS: the modern plague. Tendency to lie dormant for years, victims

    unknowing carriers of death, disproportionately hits young people,

    poor, etc. An opportunity to show courage and resilience and

    compassion (or lack of); political and religious angles

    vii. The generic fever that carries off a child

    25. Don’t Read with Your Eyes

    a. You must enter the reality of the book; don’t read from your own fixed

    position in 2005. Find a reading perspective that allows for sympathy with the

    historical movement of the story, that understands the text as having been

    written against its own social, historical, cultural, and personal background.

    b. We don’t have to accept the values of another culture to sympathetically step

    into a story and recognize the universal qualities present there. 26. Is He Serious? And Other Ironies

    a. Irony trumps everything. Look for it.

    b. Example: Waiting for Godotjourneys, quests, self-knowledge turned on its

    head. Two men by the side of a road they never take and which never brings

    anything interesting their way.

    c. Irony doesn’t work for everyone. Difficult to warm to, hard for some to

    recognize which causes all sorts of problems. Satanic Verses

    27. Test Case: A Reading of “The Garden Party” by Katherine Mansfield

    Works referenced in How to Read Literature Like a Professor

    Chapter Title Genre Author

    1. Quest The Crying of Lot 49 novel Thomas Pynchon

     Adventures of Huckleberry Finn novel Mark Twain

     Lord of the Rings novel J.R.R. Tolkein

     Star Wars movie George Lucus

     North by Northwest movie Alfred Hitchcock

    2. Food as Communion Tom Jones (excerpt) novel Henry Fielding

     Cathedral SS Raymond Carver

     Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant Anne Tyler

     The Dead SS James Joyce

    3. Vampires and Ghosts Dracula novel Bram Stoker

     Hamlet play William Shakespeare

     A Christmas Carol novel Charles Dickens

     Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde novel Robert Louis Stevenson

     The Turn of the Screw novella Henry James

     Daisy Miller novel Henry James

     Tess of the Dubervilles novel Thomas Hardy

     Metamorphosis and Hunger Artist novel Franz Kafka

     A Severed Head, The Unicorn novels Iris Murdoch

    4. Sonnets 5. Intertextuality Going After Cacciato novel Tim O’Brien

     Alice in Wonderland novel Lewis Carroll

     The Overcoat SS Nikolai Gogal

     The Overcoat II” SS T. Coraghessan Boyle

     Two Gallants SS James Joyce

     Two More Gallants SS William Trevor

     Beowulf poem

     Grendel novel John Gardner

     Wise Children novel Angela Carter

     Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing play William Shakespeare 6. Shakespeare Allusions Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead play Tom Stoppard

     A Thousand Acres novel Jane Smiley

     The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock poem T.S. Eliot

     Master Harold…and the boys play Athol Fugard

     numerous TV shows and movies

    7. Biblical Allusions Araby SS James Joyce

     Beloved novel Toni Morrison

     The Sun Also Rises novel Hemingway

     Canterbury Tales poem Geoffrey Chaucer

     Holy Sonnets poems John Donne

     The Wasteland poem T.S. Eliot

     Why I Live at the P.O. SS Eudora Welty

     Sonny’s Blues, Go Tell It on the Mountain SS James Baldwin

     Pulp Fiction movie Quentin Tarantino

     East of Eden novel John Steinbeck 8. Fairy Tales Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, Snow Angela Carter

    white, Cinderella, Prince Charming, Hansel

    and Gretel,

     The Gingerbread House SS Robert Coover

     The Bloody Chamber (collection of stories) SS Angela Carter 9. Greek Mythology Song of Solomon novel Toni Morrison

     Musee des Beaux Arts poem W. H. Auden

     Landscape with Fall of Icarus poem William Carlos Williams

     Omeros (based on Homer) novel Derek Walcott

     O Brother, Where Art Thou movie Joel and Ethan Coen

     Ulysses novel James Joyce 10. Weather The Three Strangers SS Thomas Hardy

     Song of Solomon novel Toni Morrison

     A Farewell to Arms novel Earnest Hemingway

     The Dead SS James Joyce

     The Wasteland poem T.S. Eliot

     The Fish poem Elizabeth Bishop

     The Snow Man poem Wallace Stevens 11. Violence Out, Out… poem Robert Frost

     Beloved novel Toni Morrison

     Women in Love novel D.H. Lawrence

     The Fox novella D. H. Lawrence

     Barn Burning SS William Faulkner

     Beloved novel Toni Morrison 12. Symbolism Pilgrim’s Progress allegory John Bunyan

     Passage to India novel E.M. Forster

     Parable of the Cave (The Republic) Plato

     The Bridge (poem sequence) poem Hart Crane

     The Wasteland poem T.S. Eliot

     Mowing, After Apple Picking, The Road Not poems Robert Frost

    Taken, Birches

    13. Political Writing A Christmas Carol novel Charles Dickens

     Masque of the Red Death, The Fall of the SS Edgar Allen Poe

    House of Usher

     Rip Van Winkle SS Washington Irving

     Oedipus at Colonus play Sophocles

     A Room of One’s Own NF Virginia Woolf

     Mrs. Dalloway novel Virginia Woolf 14. Christ Figures Old Man and the Sea novella Earnest Hemingway 15. Flight Song of Solomon novel Toni Morrison

     Nights at the Circus ? Angela Carter

     A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings SS Gabriel Garcia Marquez

     Satanic Verses novel Salmon Rushdie

     Portrait of and Artist as a Young Man novel James Joyce

     Wild Swans at Coole poem William Butler Yeats

     Birches poem Robert Frost 16. All About Sex North by Northwest movie Alfred Hitchcock

     Janus SS Ann Beattie

     Lady Chatterly’s Lover, Women in Love, The novel D.H. Lawrence

    Rocking-Horse Winner (SS)

    17. Except Sex French Lieutenant’s Woman novel John Fowles

     A Clockwork Orange novel Anthony Burgess

     Lolita novel Vladimir Nabokov

     Wise Children novel Angela Carter 18. Baptism Ordinary People novel Judith Guest

     Love Medicine novel Louise Erdrich

     Song of Solomon, Beloved novel Toni Morrison

     The Horse Dealer’s Daughter SS D.H. Lawrence

     The Unicorn novel Iris Murdoch 19. Geography The Old Man and the Sea novel Earnest Hemingway

     The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn novel Mark Twain

     The Fall of the House of Usher SS Edgar Allen Poe

     Bean Trees novel Barbara Kingsolver

     Song of Solomon novel Toni Morrison

     A Room with a View, A Passage to India novel E.M. Forster

     Heart of Darkness novel Joseph Conrad

     In Praise of Prairie poem Theodore Roethke

     Bogland poem Seamus Heaney

     In Praise of Limestone poem W.H. Auden

     The Snows of Kilimanjaro novel Earnest Hemingway 20. Seasons Sonnet 73, Richard III opening, etc. poem William Shakespeare

     In Memory of W.B. Yeats poem W.H. Auden

     After Apple Picking poem Robert Frost

     The Wasteland poem T.S. Eliot 21. Physical Marks Richard III play William Shakespeare

     Song of Solomon, Beloved novel Toni Morrison

     Oedipus Rex play Sophocles

     The Sun Also Rises novel Earnest Hemingway

     The Wasteland poem T.S. Eliot

     Frankenstein novel Mary Shelley

     versions of Faust, Dr. Faustus, The Devil and novel, Goethe, Marlowe,

    Daniel Webster, Bedazzled (movie), Star play Stephen Vincent Benet


     The Hunchback of Notre Dame novel Victor Hugo

     Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde novel Robert Louis Stevenson 22. Blindness Oedipus Rex play Sophocles

     Araby SS James Joyce

     Waiting for Godot play Samuel Beckett 23. Heart Disease The Good Soldier novel Ford Madox Ford

     The Man of Adamant SS Nathaniel Hawthorne

     Lord Jim novel Joseph Conrad

     Lolita novel Vladimir Nabokov 24. Illiness The Sisters (Dubliners) SS James Joyce

     Illness as Metaphor (literary criticsm) NF Susan Sontag

     The Plague novel Albert Camus

     A Doll’s House play Henrik Ibsen

     The Hours novel Michael Cunningham

     The Masque of the Red Death SS Edgar Allen Poe 25. Don’t Read with The Dead SS James Joyce Your Eyes

     Sonny’s Blues SS James Baldwin

     The Merchant of Venice play William Shakespeare 26. Irony Waiting for Godot play Samuel Beckett

     A Farewell to Arms novel Earnest Hemingway

     The Importance of Being Earnest play Oscar Wilde

     Howard’s End novel E.M. Forster

     A Clockwork Orange novel Anthony Burgess

     Writers who frequently take ironic stance: Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett, James Joyce,

    Vladimir Nabokov, Angela Carter, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Salman Rushdie 27. A Test Case Uses “The Garden Party” by Katherine

    Mansfield as an application of the concepts

    found in this book.

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