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How to Read Literature Like a Professor - Ch. 12 - Is It a Symbol?
Transcript of How to Read Literature Like a Professor - Ch. 12 - Is It a Symbol?
Symbolism and Allegory It can most likely stand for what you think it stands for, since it can have so many meanings.
Many readers expect symbols to mean one thing in particular: it doesn’t. It’s meaning can go through a farther range of more meanings than just one.
It can’t be reduced to standing for only one thing. If it is, it’s an allegory.
symbols don’t work as neatly as allegories. The thing it’s referring to is most likely not able to be trimmed to one sentence of explanation: it will involve more of a large range of possible meanings and interpretations Symbolism Things stand for other things on a one-for-one basis: allegories should only mean one thing.
Example: The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) by John Bunyan
Main character - Christian, venturing to Celestial City, but encounters distractions like the Slough of Despond, the Primrose Path, Vanity Fair, and the Valley of the Shadow of Death. The names for each obstacle stand for their meaning.
Secondary Characters - Faithful, Evangelist, and the Giant Despair. Their names indicate their qualities.
The only mission Allegories need to accomplish is to convey a certain message (in this case, Christian’s quest to reach the city) Allegory Tools needed to figure out
what the symbol can mean Questions
Preexisting Knowledge Example: A Passage to India (1924) by E. M. Forster
Main character - Adela Quested is interested in Marabar Caves so she brings along others to visit them. Adela’s mother-in-law-to-be becomes very uncomfortable with the caves. Adela notices that all sound is reduced to a hollow booming noise. Adela stumbles into a cave where something alarms her and forces her to flee the scene. She falls down to the hillside to collapse into the arms of the racist English community she criticized before. She is in shock and convinced that she was assaulted in the cave and that Aziz must have been her assailant.
Secondary Characters - Dr. Aziz, Mrs. Moore What else is Forster doing with caves? What are other outcomes in the text, or uses of caves in general that we can recall? What else can we bring to bear on this cave that might yield up meaning? Questions to ask... Caves in general. First, consider our past. Our earliest ancestors, or those who had weather issues, lived in caves. The cave may suggests a connection to the most basic and primitive elements in our natures. Breaking it down... Now, Forster’s use of the caves. The locals cannot explain or describe the caves. Another character, Professor Godbole, has seen the caves and gets across the message that the caves must be experienced before they can be understood or that every person’s caves are different. So what does Adela’s cave stand for? The cave may bring on or point up a variety of experiences (Adela is confronted by the hypocrisy of her life). Or it may represent a breach of the truth or a confrontation with terrors she has denied and can only get rid of them by facing them.The only thing we are sure of about the cave as symbol is that it keeps its secrets.What the cave symbolizes will be determined to a large extent by how the individual reader engages the text. Different Meanings for
different people All reader’s level of understanding differ: reading literature is a highly intellectual activity, but it also involves a large piece of instinct; all readers have different ways of instinctively understanding text. There are two main different types of readers, figurative and literal. Literal readers tend to look towards the moral characters make within the text, or C-A-M (character action moral). George Dillon explains in “Styles of Reading” that literal readers feel as though the text is an extension or part of the real world and the characters as real people, and think the experiences the characters are facing as being their own experiences. Symbols in Literature The problem with symbols is that many people believe they are only objects and images rather than actions or events as well. Robert Frost uses it so well in his writings, that many literal readers can miss almost all of them.
Example: poem “Mowing” (1913)
the activity of mowing a field with a scythe is first and foremost just what it is, a description of sweeping a field clean of standing hay one stroke at a time. It is also recognized that mowing carries weight beyond its first context, seeming to stand in for labor or for the business of living one’s life. Actions can be symbolic College of Du, COD. "Symbols, Allegory, Archetype." Symbols, Allegory, Archetype. Communications/Liberal Arts, n.d. Web. 24 Sept. 2012. <http://www.cod.edu/people/faculty/fitchf/readlit/symbol1.htm>.
Foster, Thomas C. How to read literature like a professor: a lively and entertaining guide to reading between the lines. New York: Quill, 2003. Print. Bibliography