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How To Read Literature Like a Professor

A lively and entertaing guide to reading between the lines

Susan Shank

on 22 September 2011

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Transcript of How To Read Literature Like a Professor

Every trip is a quest
(except when it's not) Nice to eat with you:
Acts of Communion Nice to eat you:
Acts of vampires If it's square, it's a sonnet Now, where have I seen her before? When in doubt, it's from Shakespeare Or the Bible Hanseldee and Greteldum It's Greek to me It's more than rain or snow More than it's gonna hurt you:
concerning violence Is that a symbol? A. Characteristics of a quest
1. Knight
2. Dangerous road
3. Holy Grail
4. Dragon
5. Evil knight
6. Princess B. Structure of a quest
1. Questor
2. Place to go
3. Stated reason to go there (believe it
is the real mission, but it's not
4. Challenges and trials on route
5. Real reason to go there (never
involves the stated reason) C. Reasons for a quest
1. Education
2. Self-knowledge D. Characteristics of a questor
1. Young
2. Inexperienced
3. Immature
4. Sheltered A. Act of Communion
1. Not all communions are holy
2. Breaking bread together is an act of peace and sharing
3. Eating is personal and only want to eat with those whom
we are comfortable
4. Helps people develop a bond B. Failed meal is a bad sign
1. Refuse to eat or "lose their appetite
2. Enemies having dinner; secretly
plotting aagainst each other
3. Tension and conflict A. Vampires are not the only type, but
they are easy to recognize
B. Characteristics of vampires
1. Nasty old man, attractive, but evil
2. Violation of young woman
3. Leaves a mark on them
4. Steals their innocence and "usefulness"
5. Leaves them helpless followers in his sin C. Principles of vampires
1. Usually has something to do with sex
a. Serpent in Garden of Eden
b. Body shame
c. Unwholesome lust
d. Seduction
e. Temptation
2. Selfishness
3. Exploitation D. Ghosts and Dopplegangers
1. Always about more than just a
simple haunting
2. Do not have to appear in visible form
3. May be a psychological state
E. Basically, society consumes its victimes
F. Law of the jungle and survival of the fittest
G. Someone grows in strentgh by weakening
someone else A. Fourteen lines
B. Iambic pentameter (ten syllables)
C. Shift
D. Shakespearean sonnet - three
stanzas of four lines with a
couplet at end
E. Petrarchan sonnet has 8 lines +
6 lines
F. Basic unit of meaning is the
sentence A. No such thing as a wholly original work of literature --
stories grow out of other stories
B. There's only one story -- of humanity and human
nature, endlessly repeated
C. Intertexuality -- recognizing connections between stories
1. Deepens our appreciation and experience
2. Brings multiple layers of meaning to text
3. Makes text come alive A. Many writers use what is common
in culture as a kind of shorthand
B. Shakespeare is pervasive, so he is
frequently echoed
C. Even if haven't read Shakespeare,
many of his lines are familiar sayings
1. Hamlet -- heroic character,
revenge, indecision, melancholy
2. Henry IV -- young man must grow up
to become king, accept responsibilities
3. Othello -- jealousy
4. Merchant of Venice -- justice vs. mercy
5. King Lear -- aging parent, greedy
children, a wise fool A. Before the mid 20th century, writers
could count on people being very familiar
with Biblical stories, a common touchstone
a writer can use B. Common Biblical allusions
1. Gardens, serpents, forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve
2. Apocalypse -- four horsemen
3. Cain and Abel -- sibling rivalry
4. David and Goliath -- overcoming overwhelming
5. Job -- keeping faith even while suffering during
hard times
6. Jonah and the Whale -- refusing a task but it overcomes
you regardless
7. Noah and the Great Flood -- rain as destruction;
rainbow as restoration
8. Prodigal Son (or daughter) -- child who left and took
share of wealth returns home, is welcomed and quickly
9. Even Biblical names draw a connection between literary
character and Biblical character C. Allusions to the Bible make stories become
timeless and archetypal, speaking of
difficulties that exist always and everywhere;
the story never grows old A. Encounters with fairy tales and children's literature
1. Hansel and Gretel -- universal appeal -- children
lost and far from home
2. Cinderella -- fairy godmother vs. evil stepmother;
orphan girl saved by prince
3. Snow White -- evil stepmother jealous of
daughter, poison apple; seven short guys
4. Peter Pan -- refusing to grow up; lost boys; girl-
5. Little Red Riding Hood -- see vampires (big bad wolf)
6. Sleeping beauty -- girl becoming a woman, pricks her
finger with spinning needle, long sleep of
avoideance, prince saves her
7. Rumpelstiltskin -- first child given to short guy;
trick must be played or test passed
8. Prince Charming -- hero who rescues women B. Entering a world that does not work rationally or
operates under different rules
1. Alice in Wonderland
a. Queen of Hearts
b. Cheshire Cat
c. White Rabbit
d. Mad Hatter and Tea Party
e. Tweedledee and Tweedledum
2. Wizard of Oz
a. Wicked Witch
b. Yellow brick road
c. Twister
d. Fradulent wizard
e. Flying monkeys C. Use details and patterns
1. Add depth and texture
2. Bring out a theme
3. Lend irony to a statement
4. Play with reader's ingrained knowledge
of fairy tales
D. Gives strangeness yet familiarity to a story A. Myth is body of story that matters
B. Patterns run deeply in human psyche
C. Writers echo myths because there's only one story (V.) D. The Iliad and The Odyssey
1. Not just the story of Trojan War
2. Men in epic struggle over a woman
a. Menelaus's wife, Helen, was abducted by
Paris, prince of Troy
b. Wrath of Achilles when his concubine,
Briseis is stolen by Agamemnon
3. Consequences of Achilles' refulas to fight
result in the death of his best friend (cousin)
4. Achilles has a small weakness in a strong man;
need to maintain dignity
5. Hector has the need to protect his family
6. Penelope, Odysseus' wife, has determination
to remain faithful
7. Odysseus has the struggle to return home and
preserve his kingdom
8. Man struggles with nature, the divine, other
humans, and ourselves
9. Yet, epitomizes ideals of heroism and loyalty;
sacrifice and loss E. First person to steal this story was Virgil
1. His hero was a survivor of Troy, Aeneas
2. Homer had already defined what it means to be a hero
F. Underworld is the ultimate challenge, facing darkest side
of human nature or dealing with death
G. Metamorphosis by Ovid -- transformation by Kafka
H. Contains the original dysfunctional family in Oedipus
and Antigone
1. Family triangle
2. Blinded
I. Cassandra -- refusing to hear the truth
J. Jason/Medea or Aeneas/Dido -- a wronged woman gone violent
in her grief and madness
K. Demeter and Persephone -- mother's love A. Every story needs a setting and weather is part of setting
B. Rain
1. Fertility and life
2. Noah and the flood
3. Drowning -- one of our deepest fears
C. Reason for rain
1. Atmosphere and mood -- mysterious
2. Plot device -- forced together in uncomfortable circumstances
3. Misery factor -- challenge characters
4. Democratic element -- rain falls on everyone equally D. Symbolism of rain
1. Clean -- purification, baptism, remove sin/stain
2. Restorative -- bring a dying earth back to life
3. Destructive -- causes pneumonia, colds, ruins clothing
and hairstyles, etc.; hurricanes and tornadoes
4. Principal element of spring -- renewal, new awakenings
but can also be ironic
5. Rainbows -- divine promise; hope
6. Fog -- confusion; may be mental and ethical as well as
physical; cannot see clearly
E. Snow
1. Negatively = cold, stark, inhospitable, inhuman, nothingness, death
2. Positively = clean, warm (blanket), inviting, playful A. Violence is personal and intimate act
1. Cultural and societal
2. Symbolic, thematic, biblical, Shakespearean,
Romantic, allegorical, transcendent
3. It just is
4. May be a metaphor for something else
B. Violence is everywhere in literature
1. Specific injury characters cause each other
Shootings, stabbings, garrotings, drownings, poisonings,
bombings, hit-and-run accidents, starvation
2. Narrative violence that causes characters harm
Death and suffering for which characters are not responsible
C. Violence is symbolic action, but hard to generalize meaning
D. In literature, accidents are not really accidents E. Mystery novels
1. Scarcely notice deaths
2. Victim is unpleasant and we do not regret his/her passing
3. Devotion to solving, answering questions, punishing
murderer, and avenging victim
F. Questions to ask
1. What does this type of misfortune represent thematically?
2. What famous or mythic death does this one resemble?
3. Why this sort of violence and not some other?
G. Some reasons for violence
1. Psychological dilemmas
2. Spiritual crises
3. Historical or political concerns A. Interpreting symbols
1. Some have limited range of meanings (white flag)
2. Most cannot be reduced to only one thing
3. Must bring something of ourselves to the encounter
4. Must also consider historical context and biographical context
B. Allegory (Animal Farm or Pilgrim's Progress)
1. One-for-one basis
2. Convey a certain message C. Actions, as well as objects and images, can be symbolic
D. Symbolism involves emotions and creative intelligence
E. Questions to ask
1. What's the writer doing with this image, object, or act?
2. What possibilities are suggested by the movement of the narrative?
3. What does it feel like it's doing? How to Read Literature Like a Professor
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