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How to Read Literature

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Ravi Panwar

on 13 September 2018

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Transcript of How to Read Literature

How to Read Literature
A Quick Guide to Decoding Narrative Fiction
Every Trip is a Quest
Call to Adventure (Journey)
Hero Partners
Mentor (Wize Old Wizard)
Threshold Guardians
Ultimate test vs Nemesis
Get Something, Destroy Something & Learn Something
Return World to Order
Except when it's not
Nice to Eat with You
Acts of Communion
When ever people eat or drink in literature it is communion
It shows how characters are getting along (or not)
How people eat or drink reveals character - greedy, cautious, nervous, aroused...
Acts of Vampires
Nice to Eat You
Attractive, but dangerous, older man, violates younger woman. Leaves his mark on her and steals her innocence.
It is a story of seduction and corruption
It is a story of sexual tension
Fangs, Bats & Capes not necessary
The Collective vs The Individual
Zombie Apocalypse
Now Where Have I Seen That Before?
Prometheus = Jesus = Neo
When in doubt it's from Shakespeare
Shakespeare's Plays are the most widely read body of literature in the English speaking world.
...Or the Bible
Parting of Waters
Loaves of Bread
40 Days
Slavery & Esacpe
Milk & Honey
Magic Beans
Unlike Shakespeare and the Bible,
Allusions to Fairy Tales (and other children's stories) are more explicit - There is less ambiguity of what the allusion means.
Bread crumbs = A trail of clues
Gingerbread House = Temptation
Talking mirror = Oracle
Stepmother = Unjust Authority
Magic Beans = Big Gamble
All Roads lead back to Greece
Myth is a collection of stories that matter
It's more than just Rain (Or Snow)
It's not a coincidence that it is raining when Andy escapes prison.

The rain is washing him clean of the last 14 years of his life in prison.
This may hurt a little
Acts of Violence
Is that a Symbol?
A colour, an object, a person, an element or an action can all potentially be symbolic
Bloody Politics
No story is written in a vacuum. Inevitably the social and political context of the era trickles into the story in the form of direct or indirect allegory
Yes, he's a Christ figure too
33 years old
unmarried, preferably celibate
wounded with some sort of scar/mark
sacrifices self for others
spent time alone in wilderness
tempted by the devil (evil)
humble & forgiving
can build things (carpenter)
Come Fly With Me
The symbol of flight always means freedom
It's all about sex
and other phallic symbols
... Except when it's actual sex
In literature, the actual act of sex is often a representation of a bigger issue in the novel
Power relationships
Personal Sacrifice
Threshold of development
Psychological Neediness
If you don't drown it's a Baptism
A Baptism is a ritual wherein the Protagonist sheds an old identity and adopts a new identity, persona or perspective through the act of cleansing. Usually this means some sort of washing, bathing or submersion into water.
Like the Phoenix symbol it's a type of rebirth, except with water.
Geography Matters
Where something happens goes a long to explain what happened and why:
Rivers, hills, valleys, glaciers, swamps, fields, mountains, chasms, seas, islands, climate, jungles, deserts, cities and the people that live there.
Spring: Youth, Newness, Birth, Starting Fresh

Summer: Harmony, Perfection, Content, Hope

Autumn: Harvest, Middle Age, Ripeness, Knowledge

Winter: Death, Barren, Discontent, Elapsed Time
T'is the Season to be Symbolic
Marked for Meaning
A Sight for Blind Eyes
In Literature, eyes and sight can deceive
Heart Disease & Other Illnesses
The Heart is symbolic for all emotional states
It's the opposite of what we expect
In this example,Tony Stark AKA Iron Man has a weak heart due to an accident. However this also explains his insensitivity and as a result his relationships suffer
Rules for Literary Transmitted Diseases
They should have a double meaning
Be visual, but not ugly
Mysterious in origin
Need to provide possibilities for metaphoric expansion
Blind characters are able to "see" the truth because they don't have eyes to impair their judgement.
Which is why they make excellent oracles, sages, teachers and guides
For example, a character may be blinded by love or pride even though their vision is perfectly good
The real
reason of any quest is self knowledge
, in the absence of this discovery the trip serves a different function... usually comedy
The is no such thing as a wholly original work of literature

Allusions, References and Parallels are almost always intentional

If it reminds you of something it is that something.
There is vast collection of characters and plot lines that explore different ideas of life, living and existence.
Henry V
Romeo & Juliet
Wrath of Gods & Goddesses
Demi-Gods & Saviours
Parent - Child relationships
Explanations for natural phenomena
Epic Journeys
Great Wars that define a society
Rain can mean (Depending on the type):
Cleansing or Restoration
Trouble or Grief
Joy or Hope
Signal a transition or change in luck
Violence can be just a plot device, but more often the type of violence has greater symbolic meaning
Sometimes a punch in the face is just a punch in the face, but in literature it ussually means something more.
In this example, Luke Skywalker fights Darth Vader in the space
colony of
City on Bespin. During the duel, Luke is
of his lightsaber when Vader chops off his hand. Then a truth is revealed!
Consequently, as situation symbolizes, Luke
digs up
the truth only when he is
and falls back to earth from the
of his ignorance. So much for Skywalking
Russian Revolution
Reality TV
The Cold War
It's great when we can fly
It's not great when we can't
Always hoping to protect it
Sex doesn't have to look like sex; objects and activities can stand in for sexual organs or acts
Hmmm... Zombies are:
Slow moving, but relentless
Great in numbers and move in packs
Unthinking, but insatiable
Want to assimilate non-zombies
They like to eat brains
Individuals are:
Unique & diverse
Adaptive & creative
Compromise & collaborate
Thoughtful & free
In this example the violence is an act of kindness
For example, when writers send characters south, they are sending them there to meet trouble
The big secret to literature is that:
There is only one story...
What does it mean to be human?
Barclay, Susanne, Judith Coghill, and Peter Weeks. Oxford Canadian Students' Guide to Language, Literature and Media. Oxford University Press, 2001. Print.

Jonathan Culler. Literary Theory A Very Short Introduction Very Short Introductions. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2013.

Foster, Thomas C. How to Read Literature Like a Professor: a lively and entertaining guide to reading between the lines. New York: Harper, 2003. Print.

But not all Baptisms use water...
But the device that protects his heart
also gives him his superpower, therefore he has a symbolically strong heart!
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