From How to Read Literature Like a Professor
Thomas C. Foster
Notes by Marti Nelson
Every Trip is a Quest (except when it’s not):
A place to go
A stated reason to go there
Challenges and trials
The real reason to go—always self-knowledge
Nice to Eat With You: Acts of Communion
Whenever people eat or drink together, it’s communion
Not usually religious
An act of sharing and peace
A failed meal carries negative connotations
Nice to Eat You: Acts of Vampires
Literal Vampirism: Nasty old man, attractive but evil, violates a young woman, leaves his mark, takes her innocence b.
Sexual implications—a trait of 19th 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
Now, Where Have I Seen Her Before?
There is no such thing as a wholly original work of literature—stories grow out of other stories, poems out of other poems. b.
There is only one story—of 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…
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 IV—a young man who must grow up to become king, take on his responsibilities iii.
Merchant of Venice—justice vs. mercy
King Lear—aging parent, greedy children, a wise fool
…Or the Bible
Before the mid 20th 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
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 Goliath—overcoming overwhelming odds
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 vi.
Christ figures (a later chapter): in 20th century, often used ironically vii.
The Apocalypse—Four 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
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
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 innocent—again, 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...
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