How to Read Literature Like a Professorby Thomas C. Foster A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines Review Chapters 21-26
Interlude“One Story” • “I’ve mentioned it before and have employed it throughout, so it’s no very great secret. Moreover, it’s not my personal invention or discovery, so I’m not looking for credit here, but it needs saying again, so here it is: there’s only one story” (193).
Yes…”there’s only one story” according to Foster. • He answers the question, “What’s it about?” • “It’s not about anything. It’s about everything. I suppose the one story…is about ourselves, about what it means to be human. I mean, what else is there?” (194).
“On one level, everyone who writes anything knows that pure originality is impossible. Everywhere you look, the ground is already camped on.” • “Think of it this way: can you use a word no one else has ever used?” • “Can you put together a combination of words that is absolutely unique? Maybe, occasionally, but you can’t be sure. So too with stories” (195)
Intertextuality & Archetype “Those stories—myth, archetype, religious narrative, the great body of literature—are always with us. Always in us” “We—as readers or writers, tellers or listeners—understand each other … because we have access to the same swirl of story (200).
“Marked for Greatness”Chapter 21 • Quasimodo, Frankenstein, Grendel, Oedipus • “All characters who are as famous for their shape as for their behavior. Their shapes tell us something, and probably very different somethings, about them or other people in the story” (201).
“Marked for Greatness”Chapter 21 • “…physical markings by their very nature call attention to themselves and signify some psychological or thematic point the writer wants to make. […] So if a writer brings up a physical problem or handicap or deficiency, he probably means something by it” (208).
“He’s Blind for a Reason, You Know”Chapter 22 • “…when a writer introduces a blind character into a story...” • “Every move, every statement by or about that character has to accommodate the lack of sight; every other character has to notice, to behave differently…” • “Clearly the author wants to emphasize other levels of sight and blindness beyond the physical” (210).
“He’s Blind for a Reason, You Know”Chapter 22 • “…if you want your audience to know something important about your character (or the work at large), introduce it early, before you need it” (213).
“It’s Never Just Heart Disease…and Rarely Just Illness”Chapter 23 • “In literature, there is no better, no more lyrical, no more perfectly metaphorical illness than heart disease.” • “…the heart is…the symbolic repository of emotion” (216).
“It’s Never Just Heart Disease…and Rarely Just Illness”Chapter 23 “As a practical matter, then, we readers can play this two ways. If heart trouble shows up in a novel or play, we start looking for its significance, and we usually don’t have to hunt too hard. The other way around: if we see that characters have difficulties of the heart, we won’t be too surprised when emotional trouble becomes the physical ailment and the cardiac episode begins” (220).
“It’s Never Just Heart Disease…and Rarely Just Illness”Chapter 23 There are certain principles governing the use of disease in works of literature: • 1) Not all diseases are created equal. • 2) It should be picturesque. • 3) It should be mysterious in origin. • 4) It should have strong symbolic or metaphorical possibilities. (222-224)
“It’s Never Just Heart Disease…and Rarely Just Illness”Chapter 23 • “Real illnesses come with baggage, which can be useful or at least overcome in a novel. A made-up illness, though, can say whatever its maker wants it to say” (225).
“Don’t Read with Your Eyes”Chapter 24 • “Don’t read only from your own fixed position” • “…try to find a reading perspective that allows for sympathy with the historical moment of the story” (234)
“Don’t Read with Your Eyes”Chapter 24 • “If we read [a] story [that is set in a different time/culture] through the filter of daytime talk shows and social work classes, we not only miss the focus of the story, we misunderstand it at its most basic level” (237)
“It’s My Symbol and I’ll Cry if I Want To”Chapter 25 • “One of the things we’ve been talking about … is how we can build a sort of literary database of imagery and its uses … What that database relies upon, naturally, is repetition” (242)
“It’s My Symbol and I’ll Cry if I Want To”Chapter 25 But… “…what about those figurative elements that are not part of the common share?”
“It’s My Symbol and I’ll Cry if I Want To”Chapter 25 • Use the context (245) • Use what you know (248) • Remember that every work teaches us to read it as we go along (248) • And… • Remember that you know more than you think you do
Chapter 26“Is He Serious? And Other Ironies” Irony. Trumps. Everything.
Chapter 26“Is He Serious? And Other Ironies” • “What irony chiefly involves … is a deflection from expectation.” (257) • “…the dislocation between our expectations and the reality constitutes a dual awareness, a kind of double-hearing that is the hallmark of irony” (259)
Summer Read Assignment Find and describe one ironic scene, symbol, or turn of phrase in your summer reading novel. Briefly describe this element, and then write a paragraph on how the irony functions, and how it serves the author’s overall purpose. Due next class.