How to Read Literature Like a Professor | Thomas C. Foster

Summary of: How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines
By: Thomas C. Foster


Embark on a transformative journey to unlock the hidden depths of literature with the insightful book ‘How to Read Literature Like a Professor’ by Thomas C. Foster. By exploring the intricate world of memory, symbols, and patterns, readers will discover the subtle elements that differentiate an average reader from an expert connoisseur of literature. Not only will this book guide you through universal literary structures such as the quest, but it will also unveil the secrets of intertextuality, symbolism, and the significant impact of setting. Foster’s engaging and instructive style will captivate readers and elevate their understanding of the world of literature.

Reading Between the Lines

Are you a basic or experienced reader? There’s more to a book than just a plotline and likable characters. By tuning into the emotional level, we can uncover the codes and patterns of literature. Memory, symbols, and patterns play a crucial role in understanding the elements of a book. Skilled readers make connections between the book they’re reading now and others they’ve read before to explore memory. They identify symbols and what they represent in the story. Finally, they look for patterns that may speak volumes about the main character. Stay tuned for a deeper exploration of these elements in the next part.

The Quest Structure in Literature

Novels often use the quest structure, with a quester, challenge and revelation. The structure appears altered in Thomas Pynchon’s 1965 novel, The Crying of Lot 49, where a young woman drives between San Francisco and Southern California to carry out the will of her deceased and wealthy lover. She encounters strange characters, bizarre outsiders and gets tangled up in a dark conspiracy. While the truth behind the conspiracy is never resolved, the character discovers that she’s capable of independence and self-reliance.

The Art of Adaptation

None of the literary works entirely original. Authors borrow from each other, intentionally or unintentionally, a phenomenon called intertextuality. It is a literary element that can enhance the reading experience and convey universal messages about the human condition. For instance, D.H. Lawrence’s novel, The Virgin and the Gypsy, presents a flood that mirrors Noah’s flood in the Bible, emphasizing the purifying qualities of destruction. Shakespeare’s works are regarded as a fundamental source of these messages, and many authors reference his plays in their works. Reading a wide range of literature allows for an understanding of the human condition’s different depictions and enables readers to extract the universal message within each story.

The Power of Symbols

Symbols carry hidden meanings that aid in communicating banned topics and enhancing literary works.

From waves to fleas, symbols play a crucial role in literary works. They help to communicate powerful messages with depth and subtlety, carrying hidden meanings that can enhance a reader’s understanding of a text. A symbol is not just a mere movement of the hand, but a gesture that signifies recognition, greeting, and awareness. For instance, the Mississippi River in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a symbol representing both danger and safety. At the beginning of the novel, the river causes destruction and death, but for Jim, the slave, it represents a passage to freedom.

Symbols have also aided authors in communicating taboo subjects while avoiding censorship. For instance, in John Donne’s The Flea, the titular symbol serves as a representation of the speakers’ sexual longing and their relationship’s consummation. It allowed Donne to explore a banned topic in a way that censorship laws wouldn’t intercept.

In conclusion, the use of symbols in literary works provides authors a window to subtly explore themes, ideas, and events without overtly addressing them. For readers, recognizing symbolic messages can provide a deeper understanding of a text and unlock layers of complexity that would otherwise remain undiscovered.

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