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How to Read Literature Like a Professor

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Tara Clare

on 4 August 2014

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Transcript of How to Read Literature Like a Professor

Author: Thomas Foster
English Professors
When an English professor reads, he/she will accept this emotional response, but a lot of his/her attention will be engaged by other elements:

Where did that effect come from?
Whom does this character resemble?
Where have I seen this situation before?

If YOU learn to see literary texts in this way, you will read and understand literature in a new light, and it will become more rewarding and fun.

Lit Like a Prof Ch: 1/2/5
For purposes of this epic poem we will focus on the following chapters:

Every Trip is a Quest (Except When it's Not) - Ch 1

Nice to Eat with You: Acts of Communion - Ch 2

Now, Where Have I Seen Her Before? - Ch 5
Clare 2014
How to Read Literature Like a Professor
When most people read a fictive text:
They focus (as they should) on characters – who they are, what they are doing, what is happening to them

They respond first (and sometimes only) on an emotional level – the way a work affects them, producing joy or revulsion, laughter or tears, anxiety or elation.

A quest consists of 5 things:

1) A quester – may or may not know it’s a quest (and usually does not)

2) A place to go

3) A stated reason to go there - our hero, the protagonist (who is not necessarily heroic), must go somewhere and do something – it may be noble or not – he/she may
to or

4) Challenges and trials en route

5) A REAL reason to go there -
The real reason NEVER (almost) involves the stated reason
The quester usually fails at the stated reason – WHAT???

The point is…

The real quest is
– the protagonist
just does not know enough about him/herself
to recognize it


Examples: Star Wars/Shrek/Huck Finn/Lord of the Rings
So Is Every Journey a Quest???

Sometimes there are no adventures or quests; a character simply has to go from home to work, but…

When a character hits the road, you should start to pay attention, just to figure out if something is going on there.

Once you figure out quests, the rest is easy.

Ch 2: More Than Just Eating...

Sometimes a meal is just eating with others; more often than not, though, it is NOT

Whenever people eat or drink together, it is communion

Communion has more than just the religious meaning – it’s
not only holy

In the real world, breaking bread together is an act of

We invite friends to dinner

We invite enemies and employers to meals to get on their good sides

We’re particular with whom we break bread

A Personal Experience...

Eating is so personal, we only want to do it with people we’re comfortable with – Who do you eat with at school? Where do you often go on dates? Anniversaries? Prom?

Eating with another is a way of saying, “I’m with you, I like you, we form a community.” THAT is communion.

And in Literature???
Meals are difficult to write – they are uninteresting, so there must be a reason to include them

How can a meal (or drinking) function?
Show how are characters getting along
Display of emotion / hidden desires

Good Meal/Bad Meal

A good meal could portend good things
Soldiers share rations, boy shares sandwich with dog – see the loyalty, kinship, generosity, values?

A bad meal could be a bad sign
A visitor shows up and they stop eating/lose appetite – bad, right?
Plotting/killing over dinner is breaking faith
Ch 5 - Now, Where Have I Seen Her Before?

Each literary work can't be independent, but instead grows off of other literary works.

In other words - In ALL of Literature there is only ONE story. Yeah - you've been reading the same story over and over again - Ha! Sucka!!

Seriously - the point is ideas are just borrowed to make more stories. Here are 3 examples:

- In the movie
Jake Sully falls in love with Neytiri.

Pocahontas, who is Native American, falls in love with John Smith, who is an American. In these movies, the women both fall in love with men who are of different race or species. Pocahontas' father and Neytiri's brother both disapprove of their relationships.
High School Musical
: These movies both involve high school students who sing and dance. They are also similar because the different cliques learn to become friends. The main characters, Gabriella and Troy and Sandy and Danny, both fall in love with each other.

Fahrenheit 451
: These are both futuristic books with the government reigning supreme. The government hides information and creates a dystopia. Then one man realizes what's going on and tries to take the government down.
There is a Term for This...

“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.
How can we connect these?????
Curly's Wife (
Of Mice and Men
) and Jasmine (
Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen?????
Crooks (
Of Mice and Men
) and Shrek?
Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde and The Hulk??
Composed by an unknown poet in approximately 725 A.D. about events taking place in the 3rd or 4th century


A champion of freedom and justice
superhuman strength
unfailing loyalty
devotion to duty

Beowulf is a hero who embodies the Anglo Saxon IDEALS

HEROIC IDEAL was stressed due to lack of Christianity- no belief in afterlife; thus, fame and
glory in battle replace any hope in afterlife


Written in English but the setting is Scandinavian
(Beowulf is a Geat from Sweden, sails to help King Hrothgar in Denmark) Tells of the noble deeds of a brave warrior leader
who tries to save people from peril
The hero strove to do better than anyone else.
Skill and courage were the primary qualities
Society was dominated by males (warriors) always preparing to test their courage against fate.
Duty to king- defend him in battle even at the cost of their own lives


Many gods
WYRD (fate)
Reward of death = fame and reputation

Pagan Vs. Christian Beliefs

One God
Providence – Free will
Reward of death = Salvation
Anti- Materialistic

The only way to be able to begin to see these deeper meanings is to practice.

-Memory, Symbol and Pattern are all things that an advanced reader can see in all aspects of literature.

Every time you read you should be checking your memory to see if this relates back to anything you have read before.

The ability to recognize symbols is useful because often seemingly simple actions can actually have a much deeper symbolic meaning.

Patterns emerge often within a number of literary works
Example - romance novels/films - what type of pattern do they follow??
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