How to Read Literature Like A Professor Leigh Ann Freeman
Introduction- “How’d He Do That?” • Figures, such as the devil, or any person for that matter, can be disguised in literature. • For example, Mr. Linder in A Raisin in the Sun (1959) • Mr. Linder offers Walter Lee an ultimatum in the play: the money problem that Walter has brought upon the family will be solved if he admits that he is not equal to the white man • It’s like a bargain with the devil, only in disguise
Cont. Introduction • Look for patterns in history • Bargains with the devil have been made during the Elizabethan period • Make the connection between the past and the present • Walter Lee resists the temptation and in turn gains “heroic stature” (xii)
Cont. Introduction • By resisting the bargain with Mr. Linder, he conquers the internal as well as external conflicts in his life • While reading, look for the effect of internal vs. external struggles • Also, relate minor topics/events to the main topic/event for a connection • Key to reading literature is practice. Don’t be afraid to become emotionally involved in the work that is being read
Cont. Introduction • Use a literary lens at all times • There are 3 important things that separate the professional reader from everyone else • 1)Memory • Connect what you are reading now with what you have read before. • 2) Symbol • Assume everything is a symbol “unless it is proven otherwise’ • 3) Pattern • Look for patterns in history, society, & individuals
Ch. 11: Concerning Violence • Again, relate events for understanding • Ex: A slave’s escape to a free state is like the Israelites’ escape from Egypt • Understand the metaphorical meaning of violence • Ex: Robert Frost’s poem “Out, Out—” (1916) • A farm boy becomes distracted while using a buzz saw, thus sawing his hand off • The buzz saw basically had a “mind of its own” ( Foster 88) • The point is not to be careful with machinery. The point is to magnify a human’s status as a helpless and frightened individual in the world
Cont. Ch. 11 • There are two categories of violence in literature • 1)Specific Injury that characters cause themselves (stabbing, shooting, fighting, etc.) • 2) Narrative Violence that causes general harm to a character. In this case, the violence advances the plot or in some way adds to the theme of the story
Cont. Ch. 11 • Literary Density in Mystery vs. Poems • A mystery is all about the surface. What you see is what you get. • A poem consists of “layers” full of literary density that often confuse the reader
Cont. Ch. 11 • Look for biblical parallels • “When accidents happen in literature, they are not really accidents” (Foster 95) • Accidents are placed for a reason. Whether to cause conflict, advance plot, etc. • Ask yourself questions while you read. Try to generalize the reason for the violence
Ch. 25: Don’t Read with Your Eyes • To understand the what the characters are experiencing and to make the reading more enjoyable, read through the character’s eyes. Not your own. • Ex: In James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” tension between two brothers, one an uptight math teacher and the other a recovering addict and jazz player, bring them to the “last chance for change”
Cont. Ch. 25 • If one were to read with their own eyes, it would be thought that the main point of the short story was that addiction is very harmful. • On the contrary, if one were to read through the character’s eyes, it would be seen that the story was meant “as a study of relations between two brothers” (Foster 228) • Allow yourself to have sympathy while reading. Understand the historical background.
Cont. Ch. 25 • When reading, look for the bigger problem. • Like in Baldwin’s short story, the problem was not the addiction. The problem was the math teacher’s “emotional turmoil” (Foster 229) • Create your own opinion when reading. • You don’t have to agree with the values of the characters and/or author. Do what you please.
Ch. 26: Irony • “irony trumps everything” (Foster 235) • There are “roads in literature” that give characters the opportunity to use their free will • Ex: in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, two characters are placed in front of a road in which they never travel upon. They have the ability to travel on the road, but lack the initiative to actually take it. • The irony of this situation is that the reader witnesses these characters search for what the road can bring to them, instead of initiating the change in their own life
Cont. Ch. 26 • Use the process of association to understand irony • Know background information on the time period and author for deeper understanding • Forget about expectations. Most of the time, it means the total opposite of what you think. • Pay attention to customs. • Ex: Physicians are related with healing. It would be ironic that a physician murdered someone.
Reading like a Writer • Chapter One: Close Reading • Can creative writing be taught? • “Creativity can’t be transmitted from teacher to student” (Prose 1) • One learns to write by seeing examples…READING. • Writing is done one word at a time • The more you read, the more able you are to comprehend higher levels of work
Cont. Close Reading • Trace patterns in writings and make connections • “Each word of these novels was a yellow brick in the road to Oz” (Prose 6) • Every step counts. Pay attention to detail.
Ch. 10: Learning from Chekhov • Anton Chekhov is a short story writer who recognizes what he doesn’t know rather than recognizing what he does. • He writes “involving” stories. Making the reader feel as if they had actually experienced what the characters had. • When reading, keep your eyes open. Continue to ask yourself “what does this mean?”
Cont. Ch. 10 • Shifts. Shifts in point of view change constantly throughout his writing. • Ask “whose story is it?” (Prose 238) • Chekhov humbled himself through his writings • Chekhov makes it clear that “most is not all” (Prose 241) • “Chekhov was teaching me how to teach” (Prose 241)
Cont. Ch. 10 • Chekov relates his stories to problems in the real world. • “If you cut a rich woman, she bleeds just like a poor one” (Prose 243) • People who are poor have deeper cuts than those who are rich, most of the time. • Again, “most” is not “all” • Chekov wrote letters that gave insight on what a writer should know • The importance of seeing clearly, avoiding judgment and prejudgment
Cont. Ch. 10 • Chekov wrote in one of his letters “It is time for writers to admit that nothing in this world makes sense” • “Forget about life. Read Chekhov, read the stories straight through. Admit that you understand nothing of life, nothing of what you see. The go out and look at the world.” (Prose 248)
Ch. 11: Reading for Courage • “Literature is an endless source of courage and conformation” (Prose 250) • Literature makes us realize there are no rules. • The key to holding the attention of a reader is the precision of language. • Don’t just indentify the characters, care for the characters.
Cont. Ch. 11 • Reading gives you courage to do one of two things. • 1) Resist the pressures of modern day society • 2) Follow them • Details provide “jolts of inspiration” for the reader and exemplifies the growing courage inside