How to Interpret Literature like a Pro: Uncovering Deeper Meanings

Video how to read literature like a professor chapter summaries

Do you ever feel like there’s more to a story than what meets the eye? Well, you’re not alone. In literature, there’s often a hidden layer of meaning waiting to be discovered. In this article, we’ll explore how to read literature like a professor and uncover the deeper messages behind the words.

It’s More Than Just Rain or Snow

Weather in literature is more than just a backdrop. It holds significant symbolic resonances that add depth to the narrative. Take rain, for example. Beyond its practical implications, rain often evokes primal fears of drowning, drawing parallel to the story of Noah. It sets the atmosphere and mood, creating an aura of mystery, murkiness, and loneliness.

But rain is not limited to ambiance; it can also serve as a plot device. In Tony Morrison’s “Song of Solomon,” rain cleanses Hagar of her illusions and false ideas about beauty, symbolizing her emotional transformation. Rain can also be restorative, symbolizing renewal and rebirth, as we see in Joyce’s “The Dead” when a young boy dies from standing in the rain for love, ironically subverting the typical associations between rain, spring, and life.

Moreover, rainbows, formed by the marriage of rain and sun, evoke hope and new beginnings. Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “The Fish” utilizes rainbows to emphasize the divine pact between humans, nature, and God. Other weather phenomena, such as fog and snow, also carry symbolic undertones, representing confusion and cleanliness or playfulness and suffocation, respectively.

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Never Stand Next to the Hero

In literature, it often seems that characters close to the main protagonist meet unfortunate ends. These deaths serve a purpose – they either drive the plot forward or reveal emotional truths. While this may seem unfair, it’s crucial to understand that the logic of literature differs from real life.

Characters are not simply people; they are products of the writer and reader’s imaginations. Writers create characters through a mix of memory, observation, and invention, while readers interpret them through their own lens. This mutual creative process explains why readers care deeply about characters.

Lessons in literature are often learned vicariously through the treacherous actions of those close to the main character. Films like “Top Gun,” “Rebel Without a Cause,” and “Saturday Night Fever” exemplify this idea, where the main characters grow and mature through the impulsive and fatal actions of their closest friends.

Not all characters are created equal in literature. There are round characters, three-dimensional and complex, which feel real. On the other hand, flat characters lack full development and exist to serve the plot or the main character’s arc. Having only round characters in a story would pull attention away from the central narrative, be labor-intensive for the writer, confuse the purpose of the story, and result in excessively long pieces.

However, in the postmodern era, writers have begun exploring the inner lives of flat or minor characters. For instance, Tom Stoppard’s play “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” offers an alternative perspective on “Hamlet” through the eyes of two doomed minor characters.

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To understand why some characters hold more significance than others, we need to remember Aristotle’s concept that “plot is character in action.” This idea highlights the inseparable link between character and plot, with each influencing the other in a circular manner. The variety of characters, round or flat, major or minor, is crucial for literature to create meaning.

Analysis: Going Beyond the Surface

In his book, “How to Read Literature Like a Professor,” Foster constantly reminds readers that there’s more to a text than what appears on the surface. He urges us to look deeper and uncover the hidden layers of meaning. Foster emphasizes that weather, like rain, snow, and other elements, carries profound symbolism, guiding readers to interpret their significance in each context.

Furthermore, Foster corrects common misconceptions about characters. He clarifies that characters are not people but creations of the writer and the reader’s imaginations. This understanding allows us to engage with characters analytically, exploring their symbolic and thematic significance without becoming overly attached to their individual outcomes.

Foster also explores the distinction between round and flat characters, highlighting their role in creating coherent narratives. While round characters feel fully alive, flat characters serve specific purposes, supporting the plot or the development of the main character. Recognizing this spectrum helps readers better comprehend the interplay between different characters and appreciate their contributions.

By referencing Aristotle and his insights on character and plot, Foster underscores the enduring significance of character analysis throughout history. This ongoing exploration speaks to the importance of delving into the complexities of characters and highlights the intriguing process of analyzing literature.

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In conclusion, reading literature is not only about following the plot and character interactions. It’s an opportunity to uncover hidden meanings, symbolic resonances, and thematic nuances. By delving deeper into the weather symbolism and understanding the dynamics between characters, readers can interpret literature with a keen eye and unveil the rich tapestry of ideas and messages woven within the text.


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