Reading literature can be a rewarding and enriching experience, but it can also be challenging, especially when trying to discern the deeper meaning behind the words. Fortunately, there are strategies that can help readers better understand and appreciate literature, including learning how to read literature like a professor.
This approach, as outlined by Thomas C. Foster in his book “How to Read Literature Like a Professor,” encourages readers to think critically about what they are reading, paying attention to the techniques and devices authors use to convey meaning.
One of the first things to keep in mind when reading literature like a professor is that authors rarely include details or descriptions that are not important to the story. Every element of a work of literature, from the characters to the setting to the symbolism, has a purpose and is meant to convey something to the reader. As such, readers should pay close attention to even the smallest details, such as the color of a character’s clothing or the name of a street where a scene takes place. These details can often provide clues to the author’s intended meaning.
Reading literature – symbolism
Another important aspect of reading literature like a professor is recognizing and analyzing the use of symbolism. Symbolism refers to the use of objects, characters, or actions to represent something else, often an abstract idea or concept. For example, a dove might represent peace or a snake might represent evil. Symbols can be subtle or overt, and it is important for readers to identify them in order to understand the deeper meaning of a work. Additionally, understanding the historical or cultural context of a symbol can provide insight into why the author chose to use it.
Reading literature – Abstract concepts
In addition to symbolism, literary works often contain themes that explore larger, more abstract concepts. Themes are recurring ideas or messages that are conveyed throughout a work of literature. For example, a theme in a novel might be the nature of love or the dangers of greed. Recognizing and analyzing themes can help readers understand the author’s message and the purpose of the work. It is important to note, however, that not all works of literature have a clear or singular theme, and that themes can be subjective and open to interpretation.
Reading literature – Structure and form of work
Another key aspect of reading literature like a professor is paying attention to the structure and form of a work. The way a piece of literature is structured and presented can greatly impact its meaning and message. For example, a novel with multiple narrators might be meant to show different perspectives on a particular event, while a poem with a specific rhyme scheme might be used to emphasize certain words or phrases. Understanding the structure and form of a work can also help readers identify patterns and recurring motifs.
Reading literature – Intertextuality
Another useful tool for analyzing literature is the concept of intertextuality. Intertextuality refers to the way in which a work of literature is influenced by and references other works of literature. Many authors draw on literary traditions and use allusions to other works to enhance their own meaning. Recognizing these references can help readers understand the context of a work and its place within a larger literary tradition.
Reading literature -Historical and cultural context
Finally, it is important for readers to consider the historical and cultural context of a work of literature. Understanding the time period and cultural climate in which a work was written can provide valuable insight into the author’s message and intentions. For example, a work of literature written during a time of war might be influenced by the author’s experiences or beliefs about the conflict. Additionally, understanding the social and political climate of a time period can shed light on the themes and motifs of a work.