LA III Honors
16 August 2018
How to Read Literature Like a Professor Outline
“Every Trip Is A Quest (Except When It’s Not)”
Authors often signify trips as quests that consist of five main parts: a quester, a place to go, a stated reason to go there, challenges and trials en route, and a real reason to go there.
Trips can be defined as quests when they have a quester who is usually asked to go somewhere and complete a certain task. However, the real reason for a quest never involves the stated reason.
The real reason for a quest is always self-knowledge, which is why questers are usually young and inexperienced. Quests are educational, and the challenges and trials throughout the journey help the quester develop.
The stated mission is ultimately faded as the real mission becomes clear. Additionally, not all trips are quests, but readers should pay close attention to be able to differentiate between a normal trip and a quest.
In the book To Kill a Mockingbird the character Jem Finch is the quester who goes to the Radley’s house with his sister, Scout to see Boo Radley, however on the trip they encounter challenges as they hear gunshots firing from the house and Jem gets his pants caught on a fence. Although it is viewed as a trip at the surface, their real mission at the end is revealed to show the real Boo Radley isn’t who society portrays him as.
“Nice to Eat With You: Acts of Communion”
When authors write about people gathering together to eat or drink, it usually represents a communion as they come together to share something in conjunction.
As a meal often represents a communion, there are many different kinds of communions. Generally people join together with others they feel comfortable with and form a community. Meal scenes are often times uninteresting, so when it is included, usually the reason is to show how the characters are or aren’t getting along. The differences between people are only surface details.
Communion does not always have to be holy or decent, it can be about consuming desire or where individuals share a moment together where they have something in common. Additionally, the author could be trying to draw the reader into the moment or the author could be signifying conflict and tension.
In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Huck takes out bacon, coffee, a coffee-pot, a frying pan, sugar, and a fish he caught for breakfast to eat with Jim. They are both very hungry and eat the meal quickly. This is a communion as they both share the fact that they ran away from civilization and even though Jim is black, Huck disregards that and befriends him through their shared meal.
“Nice to Eat You: Acts of Vampires”
Vampires symbolize more than what they literally are- they represent selfishness, exploitation, the refusal to respect the autonomy of other people, and are used to convey the various aspects of our more common reality.
Writers use scary creatures such as ghosts, vampires, and werewolves to indirectly represent certain aspects of life. These monstrous creatures are more than just monstrous creatures, they may appear in many different forms to represent aspects of life and the world.
The classic vampire story tends to follow the same pattern: an older figure who depicts corrupt and outdated values who strips away the youth and virtue of a young innocent female where the male continues to live while the female deteriorates or dies.Writers employ vampires to show how certain individuals are consumed as victims as others destroy them- where someone grows in strength by weakening someone else.
In the movie Rampage, scientists create a genetic experiment to add certain features to an organism, but their project turns to evil when animals are exposed to the dangerous pathogen and they are mutated into monsters who destroy everything they come across with. These monsters represent the greed that the corporation had to attain power.
“Now, Where Have I Seen Her Before?”
There is no piece of literature that is original in its entirety- similar patterns archetypes, and recurrences are evident as stories grow into other stories to bring multiple layers of meaning to the text.
It is important to reconsider characters, situations, and events throughout a novel because authors borrow certain ideas from other pieces of literature and incorporate them into their own. For example, in O’brien’s Going After Cacciato a character falls through a hole in the road, which is much like Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland as Alice falls through a hole, as well.
There is only one story, meaning that all stories are part of one big story where sometimes influence is direct and obvious while other times its less direct and more subtle. Once a reference is spotted, begin drawing conclusions and parallels. The intertextuality between texts deepens and adds multiple layers of meaning, allowing readers to distinguish similarities and correspondences.
D. In The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway views Jay Gatsby in a very god-like way, in a way that resembles Christ. As a historical model is found in this fiction, it adds a deeper meaning to the character of Gatsby. Even Gatsby’s death is similar to Christ’s crucifixion.
“When in Doubt, It’s from Shakespeare…”
Often times, authors reference and borrow pieces from Shakespeare into their literature to create recognizable elements and convey a dialogue between their new work and that of Shakespeare’s.
Pieces of literature that incorporate Shakespeare are very easy to identify as he is almost universally known. Also, authors can say more with fewer direct statements because readers can quickly identify elements from Shakespeare’s writings quickly.
Author’s may be refining a message, investigating changes and continuities in different eras, recollecting parts of earlier works, or drawing associations between their work and Shakespeare’s work in regards to something new, ironic, or original.
It is also important to note the intertextuality in pieces of literature and reconsider their elements as they create a new meaning. Also, in a new work readers reconfigure their thinking about the earlier work, even if it is in the slightest way.
In the film Gnomeo and Juliet, elements from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet are added to create another version of the tragic story. As this story is almost universally known, the film used a very similar story line and added other portions to it in a new way. This allows the viewer to reconfigure their thinking and compare and contrast the new work with the old work.
“… Or the Bible”
Many authors incorporate Biblical language, themes, and imagery into their works to convey metaphorical and symbolic situations or to include experiences that allude to the Bible that have a deeper meaning.
Authors who use Biblical references in their writings do not always use them for religious purposes. Just like Shakespeare, the Bible contains many elements that can be utilized to convey their message.
Prominent Biblical themes can be used in titles, situations, or quotations. Many times authors desire to make a point clear, and as certain topics from the Bible are nearly universally known, they tend to reference it. Also, using Biblical references creates the same sense of authority as when Shakespeare is used because of how well-known the Bible is.
Biblical accounts can be used in metaphorical ways to relate to situations or to create a symbolic meaning, such as the temptations from the serpent that Adam and Eve give into. Additionally, they can be used to illustrate a disparity or disruption, which is essentially ironic.
In The Great Gatsby the eyes of T.J. Eckleburg are symbolic for the eyes of God. Just as God watches over everyone as said in the Bible, T.J. Eckleburg’s eyes watch down over everyone, as well. In Animal Farm the Ten Commandments are used when the animals overthrow the humans, which is a reference to the Ten Commandments in the Bible.
“Hanseldee and Greteldum”
Authors commonly borrow from children’s literature to use analogies, plot structures, and references that the reader will know and build upon fairy tales and stories to challenge the reader’s previous knowledge of the texts.
Hansel and Gretel has a universal appeal and the fears of becoming lost and vulnerable like Hansel and Gretel parallels with real life. As readers are very familiar with fairy tales and children’s stories, authors can use such literature to convey their message in a more clear and concise way. Using familiarity in literature helps the reader make sense of it.
Authors can also turn the stories that readers have always known upside down and present their aspects of the narratives. Authors make use of details, patterns, and portions of previous stories to add texture and depth to their own. They can further bring out a theme or convey irony and make the reader contemplate their ingrained knowledge of those stories.
D. In Cinder by Marissa Meyer, the book alludes to the children’s story about Cinderella. It highlights important parts like how the main character is named Linh Cinder who has a stepmother and stepsisters who treat her badly. However the story is altered as it is based in a futuristic city with scientific advancements and cyborgs. The author takes a well-known piece of literature and changes it to present her aspect of the story.
“It’s Greek to Me”
Authors use myths in their writings because they are bodies of stories that are of significance and allow for parallels, patterns, and symbolic reenactments that ultimately make a piece of literature richer.
Myths are stories that are deeply ingrained in our heads that shape the way certain aspects of life are perceived and our culture. This especially applies for Greek and Roman myths, as they are apart of our conscious and unconscious minds and we automatically consider them.
Many writers use myths to draw parallels and patterns between situations that match up very closely. Myths are recognizable and therefore make it easier for readers to connect the dots when analyzing elements of literature.
Authors may be using myths to ironize parallels to provide a different perspective on a commonly known story. It is important to recognize myths in modern stories because it becomes much more meaningful.
In the movie The Little Mermaid, Ariel’s father, King Triton closely resembles Poseidon, the Greek god. The allusion to Poseidon is to bring the familiarity of the Greek myths to the audience’s mind so they will be able to draw connections between the character and the greek gods.
“It’s More Than Just Rain or Snow”
Weather is never just weather, it has many symbolic meanings and can also be strategically used as a plot device or setting the mood to enhance a story.
Symbolic meaning of weather depends on the type for example:
Rain can bring the misery factor and bring people together in very uncomfortable circumstances into a story, but it could also represent a cleansing, renewal and restoration.
Rain mixing with sun creates rainbows, which represents divine promise and peace.
Fog always signals confusion or indicates that people cannot see clearly in certain situations. It also symbolizes danger and mystery.
Snow has a variety of meanings like rain, it could represent joyfulness, sadness, death, or internal consciousness.
In The Great Gatsby when Gatsby is about to meet Daisy after years, rain starts to pour outside, conveying the tension and sadness of the situation. After they converse for some time, the sun starts to come out, conveying happiness as they are joyful to be together once again.
“Never Stand Next to the Hero”
It is important to differentiate the protagonist from the surrogate/sidekick in a story as some characters lives matter more than others to advance the plot and help the protagonist grow.
In literature, the surrogate is the one who usually dies first because although they have needs, they cannot fulfill those requirements and must be sacrificed for the story to continue.
The surrogate is used as a plot device to further advance the story. The main character cannot die well before the end, the character must learn and develop. Characters are not real people, they are created from a writer’s imagination in the making of a story.
In fiction, there are two types of characters: round and flat (or dynamic and static). Round characters are main characters who have strengths, weaknesses, and grow while flat characters lack development in the full story. These types of characters are important to convey a purpose and place the focus on the protagonist.
In the book Fahrenheit 451, the character Clarisse dies in a car accident. She was a great friend to the hero of the book, Guy Montag, but her death was necessary for the plot to open Montag’s eyes about the society they live in. It is also a necessary event for Montag to take action and keep books despite their censorship.
“…More Than It’s Gonna Hurt You: Concerning Violence”
While violence in real life can just simply mean aggression, in literature it usually has a greater meaning that can be symbolic, thematic, allegorical or plot advancing.
In literature, there are two categories of violence. The first is the specific injury that authors cause characters to visit on one another or on themselves, like shootings or hit-and-runs or starvations. The second is the narrative violence that causes characters harm in general- authorial violence that is planned.
Characters are killed off for a variety of reasons such as for the purpose of causing or ending plot complications or to create action or stress in the story. Violence can also be heavily symbolic and could resemble famous or mythic deaths, a thematic misfortune, or convey political/social concerns.
In A Streetcar Named Desire the character, Stanley is repeatedly violent towards his wife, Blanche. Stanley’s abusive behavior towards Blanche causes plot complications and creates stress in the story as she is unable to survive from the old south to a new modern industrialized world.
“Is That a Symbol?”
Symbols cannot be reduced to stand for only one thing as there are limitless interpretations and significations of what something can represent.
Symbols have a wide variety of meanings and significations. What something symbolizes is determined by an individual reader and how a person engages the text. Many have conflicting interpretations, as well, so understanding the huge range of possibilities is notable.
Each reader emphasizes different elements to different extents and thus allowing for limitless symbolic interpretations. It is important to note symbols are not only just objects and images, they can also be actions and events.
In The Great Gatsby, Daisy’s “low, thrilling voice” is symbolic for a number of reasons. One interpretation is that her voice is full of promises as it is so compelling to listen to. Another perspective is that Daisy speaks with excitement in her voice because she is attempting to mask her unhappiness as she is trapped in her life. Also, it shows that the quality of life is not measured by wealth because she still lonely and sad.
“It’s All Political”
Literary works are almost always political in some way as authors engage the realities of the world and incorporate political or social considerations.
All literary works are political as authors include human problems and address peoples’ rights and the wrongful actions of those in power in their work to make it more compelling while reflecting it from the reality.
It is significant to have some knowledge in regards to the time frame a writer creates their work to better understand it on a political and social level. For example power structures, class relations, justices, and interactions between sexes and other races or ethnic groups.
In the book titled The House on Mango Street, a Latina girl named Esperanza lives in a poor area of Chicago where the minority lives apart from white people, conveying the political issue of racism. Also sexism is prominent throughout the story, one example being how the boys in Esperanza’s house are taught to ignore girls in public, which further highlights societal problems.
“Yes, She’s a Christ Figure, Too”
Religious allusions are often times present in literary works even if an author does not adhere to them as culture is very much influenced by the dominant religious beliefs and practices in a society.
A person can be a Christ figure if they have these characterizations:
Crucified, wounds on hands/feet, thirty-three years of age, believed to have walked on water, had disciples, resurrected, in agony, spent time in the wilderness, came to redeem an unworthy world, forgiving, possibly tempted by the devil, portrayed with outstretched arms, and is good with children, water, fishes, loaves, and wine.
Christ figures resemble Jesus in some way, but do not have be exactly like him. If there are some indications that a character could symbolically represent Christ, it is the reader’s job to draw the conclusion.
In Lord of the Rings, Frodo Baggins is a Christ figure as he must resist the temptations f putting on the evil ring much like how Christ had to resist the temptations of the devil. In addition, Frodo had to carry the burden of the ring to Mount Doom while Jesus had to carry the cross on his back.
“Flights of Fancy”
In literature, when someone who is physically earthbound is able to fly it symbolically represents freedom.
A character who can take flight in literature can be set free, escaping, returning home, or can have a large spirit and love. The restraints that are holding a character back are gone and they are no longer shackled down by such limitations.
The survival of characters who fly is also important to note because there is also, the aspect of falling that can defy the sense of freedom to their demise. Characters may attempt to fly, but the limitations still ultimately hold them back.
In Hatchet Brian goes on a plane to visit his father, however the plane ends up crashing into a lake in the wilderness. Before the flight, Brian was burdened due to his parents’ divorce, however the flight that ended up in him having to become self-sufficient in the forest allowed him to be free from those problems back at his home.
“It’s All About Sex…”
Authors often encode sexuality into their writings and use symbolism rather than an explicit depiction, which can be more intense and have multiple levels of meaning.
As sex was always considered taboo, authors chose rather to symbolically represent it in their writings, similar to how film directors use waves or curtains to represent sex. For example, tall buildings could represent male sexuality while rolling landscapes are female sexuality.
Sex usually never appears in its own guise but is represented in other ways that the creator sees it fit. This allows for the symbol to have more meaning than the literal depiction.
In A Streetcar Named Desire the author encoded sexuality into the text by using abstract ways such the color of butterfly wings. Blanche’s sexuality is represented by soft colors like those of butterfly wings because she feels like she needs to be loved, to be seductive she wears soft colors.
When literature does include a sex scene, it usually symbolizes something else and has layers of meaning that are beyond sex itself.
A sex scene in a literary work is never just a sex scene, it is rich with possibilities of meanings. It could be pleasure, sacrifice, submission, rebellion, supplication, domination, or even enlightenment.
Sex scenes can also have political implications as characters are rejecting the restrictions of a conservative and repressed society in a liberating way. In addition, it could indicate that a person can now have control over their life, especially women in a male-dominated society.
In The Princess Bride, the sex scene between Buttercup and Wesley represents the liberation of the two and allows them to have control of their lives. Buttercup is finally free from Prince Humperdinck, who forces her to marry him. Wesley is is free from the torture machine he had to undergo as the prince tried killing him so he could marry Buttercup.
“If She Comes Up, It’s Baptism”
In literature, when a character is submerged in water and resurfaces, it signifies a symbolic baptism as it represents rebirth, a new start, or it can be spiritual.
Drowning has significant plot implications, as well as whether or not a character drowns. If a character survives after being submerged in water, his/her life has changed and the character is reborn. This pattern is similar to that of baptism- a person is put into water where his/her old identity dies and reemerges with a new one.
Every drowning serves its own purpose, it could be to advance the plot or to remove a character to resolve plot complications, character revelation, or thematic development of failure, violence or guilt.
In Titanic Rose almost drowns when the sink hits an iceberg and sinks, but she manages to stay afloat while Jack dies. Prior to meeting Jack on the ship, she wanted to commit suicide as she was forced to marry Cal, however after almost drowning she had a new identity and continued to live a completely different life with others.
The geographic location in literature is very significant as geography can define or develop a character and can even be a theme, symbol, or plot.
Geography isn’t just the setting in literature, it is a place that shapes characters, supports a plot, and has history and dynamism that bring a story together. Landscape, architecture, and weather all work together to set a story in motion along with creating mood and tone.
Geography can even be a character that has a specific plot role in a literary work. For example, when characters go south it usually so they can behave disruptively which means they are having raw encounters with the subconscious. So environment really matters whether it’s high or low, east or west, and so on.
In The Crucible geography is significant to the story as it is based on the witch-hunts and trials in Salem, Massachusetts. The geography and history behind the witch trials in Salem is a key plot role that sets the story in motion. Also in The Great Gatsby the East Egg represented the old money class while the West Egg was new money.
“… So does Season”
Seasons are very significant in literature as they can advance the plot, set the mood and tone, and have symbolic meanings that are ingrained in our culture.
Spring is associated with childhood and youth; summer with passion, love, adulthood, and fulfillment; fall with decline, middle age, and harvest; and winter with old age, anger, and death.
Writers often times make modifications to their use of seasons- they are always the same set of patterns, but they can be used straightforwardly, ironically, or subversive. For example, summer can either be warm and liberating or hot and stifling.
In The Great Gatsby when tensions were rising between Gatsby, Daisy, and Tom during the summer, Daisy would complain about the stifling hot weather. The hotness of the season allowed tensions to continually rise while they tried cooling off.
“Marked for Greatness”
In literature, physical marks or imperfections on a character can mean much more thematically, metaphorically, and symbolically as it creates a difference that sets the character apart from the others.
Physical marks allow for character differentiation, like a scar on the cheek or being born with a short leg. Differences allow for a wide variety of metaphorical possibilities as people do not go through life without being marked by an experience. Also, it is easier to introduce a character without physical markings, so it usually has a deeper meaning.
A physical imperfection or marking signifies some psychological or themartic point the author is making as the character has a deformity that is an important factor in the development of a story.
In Frozen, Anna has a strip of white hair as Elsa accidentally struck her with her power. Although it is just a strip of white hair, it means much more thematically, as it shows that Elsa’s true powers and marks Anna from the experience, while also advancing the plot in bringing the two sisters together.
He’s Blind for a Reason, You Know”
Authors who introduce literal blindness, sight, darkness, and light into their works aim to emphasize other levels of sight and blindness that is figurative.
Authors use blind characters to place the emphasis of sight that is beyond the physical and further bring together thematic components. There is more going on in a story, figurative seeing and blindness is at work to add a sense of richness and resonance.
Authors who want their readers to notice an important factor regarding a character introduce it early in their work before the reader may need it. So when blindness is brought up in the beginning of a story it must be significant thematically.
In If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late, the main character is blind, however he uses a bird to fly and see for him. This brings about other levels of sight to the man who cannot physically see but is able to make it a reality for him which is a major thematic point.
“It’s Never Just Heart Disease… And Rarely Just Illness”
Diseases do not just mean a person is sick, characters can get a certain illness based on their characteristics so they get their appropriate symbolic death.
Heart disease is the most common illness in literature because of its association with emotions. Bad love, loneliness, cruelty, or disloyalty can cause heart disease in a story. Emotional trouble usually becomes the physical ailment for its symbolic purpose.
It is significant to note that in literature not all diseases are created equal- usually for the imagery of it. A person who has tuberculosis has dark eye sockets and translucent skin while consumption brings about a coughing fit, so authors prefer to use diseases that are picturesque.
Diseases should also be mysterious in its origin, usually for ironic purposes and they should also have strong symbolic and metaphorical possibilities.
In Ethan Frome, Zeena’s illness is significant to the book as it stops Ethan and Mattie from being together and holds him back from running away. Her illness takes away a lot of money from Ethan and causes emotional troubles for them all.
“Don’t Read With Your Eyes”
Readers should not read from their own fixed position and judgement, but in a worldview perspective to meet the literature at its level.
It is important for readers not to read with their eyes so they can take a literary work’s historical, social, cultural, and personal background into consideration. This will allow the reader to understand how the work is affected or controlled by the values and prejudices during that specific place and time.
Once a work is deconstructed, a reader should take into account whether or not the work is independent of the bigotry that may lie behind it or if the bigotry of it has a functional purpose. Readers have to decide for themselves without bringing their own personal bias rather than rejected it as a whole.
In The Crucible it is important to not judge Abigail based on a personal perspective, but to take into account that in that society women had little to no power, so her accusing others of witchcraft gave her some power for once.
“It’s My Symbol And I’ll Cry If I Want To”
Authors often use symbols that are uncommon or private that readers can decode based on their knowledge and past reading experiences to figure out the symbol’s layers of meaning.
Readers should not dismiss the primary meaning of a text, or the surface discussion, as they often tend to shift their focus completely to the secondary meaning of a text to figure out its meaning and depth.
Symbols allow readers to discover possibilities in a text that is beyond the literal. One can decode what a symbol is by paying attention to the context of it and comprehending how and why the author is utilizing it. Also, readers should note that not every symbol is idiosyncratic.
Every work teaches individuals how to read it- page three assists with page sixteen. So using the wide variety of experiences of reading other texts can assist a reader to crack the code of the many layers a symbol may have.
In The Great Gatsby, the green light in the beginning of the book is not a common symbol that means go, it is a private symbol that represents the promise of hope in achieving Daisy. Gatsby’s American Dream is signified by that green light at the end of Daisy’s dock, and the fact that is is mentioned in the beginning means it will be important throughout the book.
“Is He Serious? And Other Ironies”
Irony depends on the layers of meaning a text in a literary work has, but subverts those layers of meaning as it is deflected in an ironic way.
The phrase “irony trumps everything” means that although readers are able to comprehend the significance of the intertextuality and metaphorical, symbolic, or archetypal meaning behind a text, when irony comes into the picture all of that is diverted to what it means ironically.
The expected meaning of a text is hanging around because it is anticipated, and it echoes the dominant, ironic meaning that sets it off. Taking into account the expectations and the reality of a situation allows the reader to have a dual awareness of what is actually happening.
Irony brings additional depth and richness to literature and makes a story more compelling, so being able to understand the multivocal nature of irony is very important.
In The Great Gatsby Myrtle wants a police dog but gets an Airedale which is ironic because the dog she gets off of the street represents herself – just nice to have around the house. Also dogs are loyal and Myrtle is not, so the fact that she wants a dog itself is very ironic.