How to Read literature

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Last updated: May 3, 2019

Chapter 1 – A Quest
A Quest:1. A dangerous road2. A “dragon” 3. An evil knight (nemesis)4. A prince or princess

Chapter 1 – A QuestWhat to think about when deciding on the quest:
1.

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The Main Character2. The place and why he/she goes to this place3. Challenges to get there4. What is the “real” reason for the journey

Chapter 1 – A QuestReal Resason not equal to state reason
“Stated” reason fadesjourney = growth of character

Chapter 2 – Acts of Communion
Whenever people eat or drink together – it is an act of communion

Chapter 2 – Acts of CommunionWhat is Communion
Definition of Communion:1. sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level.2. the service of Christian worship at which bread and wine are consecrated and shared.

Chapter 2 – Acts of CommunionWhat to think about:
1. How are characters getting along?2. The way the characters eat – sexual?3. “What” are they consuming? Food, drink, drugs?4. Is a soldier or other character sharing their rations in a war?5. Is the meal a social ritual?6. Is there a social breakdown at meal time?

Chapter 3 – Vampires
Literal meaning:1. Selfish2.

Exploitation3. Refusal to respect others4. Looking for eternal youth

Chapter 3 – Vampires
1. Older figure corrupts youth2. Strips away youth or innocence.

Chapter 3 – VampiresWho are they?
There can be “vampires” on Wall Street or a college campus.They strip others of their innocence – think of Bible stories and Shakespeare.

Chapter 4 – Is it a Sonnet
A sonnet is the most popular poem.Eight lines carry 1 ideaSix carry another

Chapter 5 – Have I seen this before?
Probably – There is not such thing as a wholly original work of literature.

Chapter 5 – Do I know this story?
If you are well read, you will find more similarities than if you are not an avid reader. But if you watch TV or movies – what stories do you see?

Chapter 5 – Can you see the story line?
Alice in WonderlandRomeo and JulietCinderella

Chapter 6 – Is it Shakespeare?
Many stories are based on Shakespeare – do you know the stories?

Chapter 6 – Is it Shakespeare?
TAMING OF THE SHREWTwo men long to wed the same woman, but before her father will let her wed, her mean tempered sister much find a mate.Ten Things I Hate about You.

Chapter 6 – Is it Shakespeare?
MIDSUMMER’S NIGHT DREAMA man long to wed a woman, but she is in love with another.

Chapter 6 – Is it Shakespeare?
THE TEMPESTAnother story based on forbidden love!The Forbidden Planet

Chapter 6 – Is it Shakespeare?
ROMEO AND JULIETWe all know this one – another forbidden love between feuding families.

West Side Story

Chapter 6 – Is it Shakespeare?
HAMLETA father’s death, the broken heart of a son, the son’s revenge, the son’s return.The Lion King

Chapter 6 – Is it Shakespeare?
MACBETHRevenge, guilt, and prophesies – one of the most popular of the tragedies.No actual film to connect, but think about the topic of play and connect it to the above theme.

Chapter 6 – Is it Shakespeare?
Quoting Shakespeare makes people feel smart:”To Be or Not to Be, that is the question””To thine own self be true””Double, double, toil and trouble””O brave new world, that has such people in it””Out damned spot”

Chapter 7 – The Bible
How many stories are based on these ideas?Garden, Serpent, plague, floods, part of water, loaves and fish, betrayal, denial, slavery and escape, milk and honey.

Chapter 7 – The Bible
Titles of films with Biblical References:East of EdenParadise LostThe Lion, The Witch, and the WardrobeHarry Potter and the Deathly HallowsAvatar

Chapter 7 – The Bible
Loss of Innocence (Adam and Eve)Betrayal (Judas)Names: Jonas, Noah, Adam, Mary, Joseph, Jacob…

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Chapter 7 – The Bible
Cain and Abel theme – two brothers against each other.What about Stephen Kings stories? Supernatural TV SeriesApocalyptic stories?Good vs. evilYou don’t have to be a bible scholar to recognize the story.

Chapter 8 – Hansel and Gretel
Is the story about finding your way home?

Chapter 8 – Hansel and Gretel
How about the witch?Lures them with candy? Something they want?Ends up doing something bad.

Chapter 8 – Hansel and Gretel
Following the bread crumbs – watch for the details of how we often try to go home, only to lose our way again

Chapter 9 – It’s Greek to Me
Many famous stories are based on Greek Gods and Tales.Think about it….Achilles – what is the weak spot of the main protagonist or antagonist?Penelope – the desire to stay faithfulHector: The need to protect family

Chapter 9 – It’s Greek to Me
And how about Odysseus:4 Great struggles of being human: 1. Man vs.

Nature2. Man vs. Divine (God)3. Man vs. Man4.

Man vs. himself

Chapter 9 – It’s Greek to Me
Think about a Greek God and you can probably connect a story line and a plot:http://www.ancientgreece.co.uk/gods/explore/exp_set.html

Chapter 10 – Just more Rain and Snow
When a story starts: It is a dark and stormy night…

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Chapter 10 Just more than Rain and Snow
Rain – symbolize: sadness, depression, flood or disastersRain can also be positive: Water flowers = spring = growth, alive, cleansed, Rainbow – promise or richesThunder = trouble

Chapter 10 – What does the author mean
Looking for meaning or turning point

Chapter 11 – Violence
What most people think people violence is: Using physical acts toward another person – acts of aggression. Violence in literature is often something else: In the Help – treating servants with prejudice.Mental abuse – another type of abuse or violence.

Chapter 12 – Is it a symbol?
Symbol can represent good – pie in the Help – Hilly favorite!Revenge = maid made it with excrement.

In the final published book: it was kept Hilly from admitting it was her town the book was about.Symbols are often tangible.

Chapter 12 – Is it a symbol?
Symbols can also be actions.

Such as smashing something, run away, – symbol of the character change.

Chapter 12 – Is it a symbol?
For symbols to make sense, track how you feel about them while reading.

Chapter 13 – It is all Political
Does the story have a Political backdrop? If you have to ask, it probably does.

Chapter 13 – It is all Political
Was “A Christmas Carol” a political statement? Think about it – Scrooge represented a large population’s thought process that if we feed the poor we create more poor.

Chapter 13 – It is all Political
Think about books like “Gone with the Wind”, “Animal Farm”, “Fahrenheit 451”, “Rip Van Winkle” to name a few

Chapter 13 – It is all Political
Even if the story isn’t making a political statement, the setting of the story takes place during a political time. So, is it during the depression or the reign of King George? The political climate of the era will effect the story line.

Chapter 14 – Yes, She’s a Christ Figure, Too
Although there are many different religions, we live in a Christian culture. People settled in the Colonies for religious reasons and these religions were Christian based.

Chapter 14 – Yes, She’s a Christ Figure, Too
Do stories contain Christian references? 1. Crucified? Wounds on hands and feet?2. Self-sacrificing?3. Portrayed with out stretched arms or performed miracles?4. forgiving? Has followers?

Chapter 15 – Flights of Fancy
Flying – something a human cannot do by themselves – but what if they could?Are they a superhero, or a sky diver? Are they crazy or an angel?

Chapter 15 – Flights of Fancy
Flying can be escaping the chains of bondage.

Flying means freedomIs the soul released?Is a crash then failure?Be mindful of flight both realistically and fictionally, as it may indicate the character’s escape from bondage in some way.

Chapter 16 – It’s All About Sex
It is about the wanting and desires of humans to connect. It may simple be the act of the first time, or the hint that two characters connected.In older literature, it was never obviously stated, but watch for the clues that lead you to believe there has been sexual undertones, be it the act, or the thought of the act.

Chapter 17 – Except Sex
When writers write about other things, they are writing about sex, but when they write about sex, they really mean something else (144)

Chapter 17 – Except Sex
What is the motive for sex?To gain favor, to gain secrets, to gain revenge?

Chapter 18 – If She Comes Up, It’s Baptism
Tossing characters into the river can mean:a. Wish fulfillmentb. ExorcismC. Exploration of the possibled.

A handy solution to a messy plot (153)

Chapter 18 – If She Comes Up, It’s Baptism
So, did the character die? Or were they reborn – find a new self with dance with death?Remember: Submersion in water is baptism, the washing away of original sin.

Chapter 19 – Geography Matters..

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The geography places the story in a location – where events happen that can only happen in that spot. You can’t die in the desert if there is not desert. You can’t drown in a river if there is not water around.

Chapter 19 – Geography Matters….
So ask yourself – “Why did the author choose this location or this particular state, or this particular country?”Are there mountains to climb? (A difficult journey)Are there endless fields? (No end in sight?)Is the ground hard and dry? (no food)Are the rains perpetual?

Chapter 19 – Geography Matters….

Does the geography of the story want to make you read a map? It should….it might give you an idea of where the author is going with the plot of the story.

Chapter 20 – So the does season…

Just like the weather and the geography, the season matters.Seasons stand for Birth (spring), Youth and freedom (Summer), Coming of Age (Fall) and end of times (winter).

Chapter 21 – Marked for Greatness
Watch for the character that is different: either by personality, looks, character flaws – are they marked for greatness? Remember, Harry Potter’s Scar?

Chapter 22 – He’s Blind for a Reason, You Know
Is he really blind? Or just blind to a situation?When blindness pops up in a story, something important must be at stake (202).

Chapter 23 – It is Never Just Heart Disease…

The heart is the pump to life in our body, but it is also symbolically the center of our emotions.We cannot really have a broken heart emotionally, but we can have heart disease.

Chapter 23 – It is Never Just Heart Disease.

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A heart attack lands you in the hospital – but it also makes you reassess your life, your attitude, your behavior

Chapter 23 – It is Never Just Heart Disease…
Does the character have a loyal heart or a heart of stone. Heart problems are usually easily deciphered as to what it means for the main character.

Chapter 24 – And Rarely Just Illness
Was illness thrust upon someone as punishment?Child gets sick/bad parents?Syphilis/immoral life?AIDS/gay disease?Fever – any disease?

Chapter 25 – Don’t read with your eyes
Read with the eyes of the narrator or storyteller.

If you are in 16th Century England, don’t read with 21st century ideas.

Chapter 25 – Don’t read with your eyes
If you are reading historical fiction, say from the Civil War, then read with your background knowledge of history – try and transcend yourself to get a fuller meaning of the author’s purpose.

Chapter 25 – Don’t read with your eyes
If the author is writing from the bigotry from his/her time period, it does not mean you have to agree with it, but you should keep an open mind to why it was being said at that time.This does not mean you have to agree with piece. If the work is depicting other races, religions or sexes in a negative way, you don’t have to agree and sometimes you want to stop reading. This is okay – just don’t read with your viewpoint alone.

Chapter 26 – Is He Serious? And Other Ironies
IRONY TRUMPS EVERYTHING!So you have followed along all the above tips on how to read literature like a professor.

You followed the signs of the quest, found the vampire, saw the cleansing rain and a rainbow of promise. All signs let you believe the story was unfolding in a certain way, and then…..nothing goes that way.

Irony trumps it all.

Chapter 26 – Is He Serious? And Other Ironies
Example:Main character crashes in his car, but is wearing his seatbelt, so he lives! (Seat belts save lives!) But, while undoing his seatbelt to get out of the car, a billboard falls on the car and kills him anyway (238).Irony trumps all.

Chapter 27 – A test case
Want to practice all of the above, read this chapter..

…and happy reading

Notes based on Thomas C.

Foster’sHow to Read Literature Like A Professor

Interpretation and examples by Natalie A. Kulig

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