How to Read Literature like a Professor A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines
Every Trip is a Quest (Except when it’s Not) • Quests consist of five things: • A quester • A place to go • A stated reason to go there • Challenges and trials en route • A real reason to go there
The Goonies • Questers – “The Goonies” – group of outcast/mistfit kids • Place to go – seeking the pirate ship of One Eyed Willy • Stated reason to go –hoping to find enough treasure so they will be able to save their homes from being destroyed • Trials/challenges – booby traps, being chased by convicts • Real reason to go – to learn about friendship, acceptance of each other, sticking together etc…
Examples of a Quest?? • Movies • Books • Television shows Come up with your own examples…
Every Trip is a Quest (cont.) • The real reason for a quest is always self-knowledge. • The quester often fails at the stated task. • They don’t know enough about the subject that really matters: themselves. • This is why questers are young, inexperienced, immature, sheltered.
Nice to Eat with You: Acts of Communion • Whenever people eat or drink together, it’s communion. • Communion: • The act or an instance of sharing, as of thoughts or feelings. • Religious or spiritual fellowship. • There are all kinds of communions; it’s not solely religious. • Communion doesn’t have to be holy or even decent.
Communion (cont.) • Thing to remember about all communions: In the real world, breaking bread together is an act of sharing and peace, since “if you’re breaking bread, you’re not breaking heads.” • We’re very particular about those with whom we break bread. *Think about the people you eat lunch with. Why do you spend time with them instead of other people?
Communion (cont.) • Mob boss may invite enemies to lunch and then have them killed. Such behavior is considered very bad form. • Has to be a compelling reason to include a meal scene (as they’re difficult to write and inherently uninteresting). • Clip: Pieces of April – watch the face of each character – his or her gestures, expressions, overall attitude.
Nice to Eat You: Acts of Vampires • Vampirism = selfishness, exploitation, a refusal to accept the autonomy of others • Look for ghosts and doppelgangers (evil twin) • Ghosts and vampires are never only about ghosts and vampires • Look for a character who grows in strength by weakening someone else. -Interview with a Vampire -Hotel Rwanda
Now Where Have I Seen Her Before? • There is no such thing as a wholly original work of literature. • For instance, when a character falls in a hole, think Alice in Wonderland. • There’s only one story. And that story is about ourselves, about what it means to be human. • Clip: O Brother, Where Art Thou?
When In Doubt It’s from Shakespeare… • If you’re reading a work, and something sounds too good to be true, you know where it’s from. • Shakespeare coined ‘em: • To thine own self be true • We few, we happy few, we band of brothers • Double, double, toil and trouble • O brave new world / that has such people in it
It’s More than Just Rain or Snow • It’s never just rain. • Rain can be cleansing or restorative. • Rain is the principal element of spring. • Fog almost always signals some sort of confusion. • Snow is clean, stark, severe, warm, inhospitable, inviting, playful, suffocating, filthy [note paradoxes!]
Weather (cont.) • Clips: • Rain: Garden State, Tsotsi • Fog: Hotel Rwanda How is each weather element utilized in these scenes? What do you think the elements represent?
Is that a Symbol? • Sure it is. • Not all symbols are objects or images; action can also be symbolic. • Symbols rarely have one specific interpretation.
Is that a Symbol? (cont.) • Ask: what is the writer doing with this image, this object, this act? What possibilities are suggested by the movement of the narrative or the lyric? And most important, what does it feel like it’s doing? • Use your instinct as well as your knowledge, literary background, education, etc. • Clips: Schindler’s List, Of Mice and Men
Flights of Fancy • If it flies, it isn’t human. • Scripturally, flight is one of the temptations of Christ: Satan asks him to demonstrate his divinity by launching him from the precipice. • Flying is freedom from not only specifics burdens but from those more general burdens that tie us down. • Flying is escape, the flight of the imagination. • Clip: E.T.
It’s all about Sex… • Holy grail and lance – fertility • Lock and key • Curtains blowing in the wind • Wrestling • Clip: Tom Jones
…Except Sex • When authors write about sex, they’re really writing about something else. • Sex can be pleasure, sacrifice, submission, rebellion, resignation, supplication, domination, enlightenment, the whole works.
If She Comes Up, It’s Baptism • If a character gets wet, pay attention. • Baptism is symbolically the death of the old self and the rebirth of a new self. • Drowning serves its own purpose: character revelation; thematic development of violence or failure or guilt; plot complication or denouement
Baptism (cont.) • So when a character goes underwater, figure out why. • Clip: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Geography Matters… • Geography – rivers, hills, valleys, buttes, glaciers, swamps, seas, islands – you get the picture! • In fiction and poetry, geography may be mostly people. Literary geography is typically about humans inhabiting spaces, and at the same time, the spaces that inhabit humans. • Geography is setting, but it’s also (or can be) psychology, attitude, finance, industry – anything that place can forge in the people who live there.
Geography (cont.) • Geography can also define or even develop character. • When writers send a character south, it’s so they can run amok.
…So Does Season • Seasons have stood for the same set of meanings for about as long as anyone’s been writing anything. Since you know this pattern, start looking for variation and nuance in this use. • For example: Spring = renewal
Marked for Greatness • Physical markings (scars, deformities, handicaps, missing limbs, etc.) 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. • Clips: Finding Nemo, Forrest Gump
Don’t Read with Your Eyes • Don’t read only from your own fixed position in the year 2008. • Try to find a reading perspective that allows for sympathy with the historical moment of the story, that understands the text as having been written against its own social, historical, cultural, and personal background.