Presentation on theme: "A lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines By Thomas C. Foster."— Presentation transcript:
A lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines By Thomas C. Foster
Grammar of Literature A set of rules to govern usage and meaning A set of conventions and patterns(ie darkness, seasons, sleep, sky, water, new life, animals) Codes (symbols, archetypes, allusions) Rules (connections to other works – cultures- cycles) Stories and Novels =Types of characters, plots, rhythms chapter structures, point of view Poetry = Structure, rhythm, form, rhythm, rhyme
Going beyond emotion: engaging the other elements in the novel!! Questions to consider while reading: (The literary world is best understood in symbolic terms) Where did that effect come from? Whom does this character resemble? Where have I seen this situation before? What memory, symbol, or pattern does this evoke? What metaphors or analogies do I notice? (Read with a symbolic mind, pattern observation and powerful memory)
The Quest THE REAL REASON FOR A QUEST IS SELF KNOWLEDGE. Parts of a Quest: A “Quester” A place to go A stated reason to go there Challenges and Trials The REAL reason to go there (Note – Huck Finn – Lord of the Rings- Star Wars)
Acts of Communion Whenever people eat or drink together it is communion! Breaking bread together is an act of sharing and peace- in a story there must be a compelling reason to include it: Finding commonalities –and creating bonds- breaking social barriers- finding greater trust- to draw the reader in (universal language of food) Food is a communion of life.
Vampires, and ghosts andCreeps – Oh MY!! Vampirism can be literal (sexual) or figurative (selfishness, exploitation, a refusal to respect the autonomy of others) Ghosts have to do with things beyond themselves (they point out drastic wrongs …Hamlet; they give moral lessons…Scrooge; the dual nature of humans …Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) Scary things of the night can be subliminal and symbolize various aspects of our more common reality-using other people to get what we want.
Old Friends: no such thing as a wholly original work of literature! Fairy tales!! (Alice in Wonderland, Hansel and Gretel, …Warner Brothers) Legends (Sacajawea…Pocahontas) History (Shakespearean tragedies) Stories (Dante - The Simpsons) Noticing the correspondences deepens the understanding and the meaning becomes more complex. Writers depend upon our knowledge of older works to see the implications of the newer works….. (The Bible, mythology, legends and most of all SHAKESPEARE!!!)
Biblical Allusions Garden, serpent, plagues, flood, parting of waters, loaves, fishes, forty days, betrayal,denial, slavery and escape, fatted calves, mild and honey etc. Parables – prodigal son Names – Mary, Joseph, Jacob, Rebecca – etc. Stories – Revelations – the 4 horsemen=Beloved Tribulations- most of what humans are subjected to are in scripture (also mythology)
Speaking of Mythology… Greek and Roman myth is a part of the fabric of our consciousness (Spartans, Trojans, Athens, Pandora…) The Odyssey…the trip, the names, the monsters, the islands, the perils, the going home, the tricks, the gods…all of it) Ironized, this journey= O Brother, Where Art Thou? Jason and the Argonauts, Jason and Medea, Demeter and Persephone (Hades) and much more– the correspondences in modern literature are often distorted and make ironic parallels if recognized.
How ‘bout that weather? It’s never JUST rain (or snow, sun, warmth, cold, etc.) Rain = flood (remember Noah?), mystery, cleansing (of illusions …good and bad), drowning, revealing, restorative (Cry the Beloved Country), the principal element of spring, Rainbow = covenant, hope, OZ (somewhere over the rainbow) Fog= confusion – emotional, mental, physical, spiritual Snow= a paradoxical blanket – death – ultimate white symbol in Native Son, nothingness, abstract thought – or even clean and playful.
Do Authors do all this on purpose? Consider: …any aspiring writer is probably also a hungry, aggressive reader as well and will have absorbed a tremendous amount of literary history and literary culture. By the time she writes her books, she has access to that tradition in ways that need not be conscious. Nevertheless, whatever parts have infiltrated her consciousness are always available to her (85). It also takes time to write…Hemingway rewrote many pages in Old Man and the Sea as many as 22 times. Deliberate – Heck yeah!!!!
Violence= one of the most personal and intimate acts between human beings with cultural and societal implications. 2 types of violence –but literature has WEIGHT (under the surface meaning) 1. The specific injury that authors cause characters to visit on one another or themselves (Beloved … speaks of the horrific nature of slavery and Medea…woman scorned Old Man …Christ-like crucifixion) 2.The narrative violence that causes characters harm in general. This violence is the cause of the author for plot advancement and thematic development. Hints - All violence does not equal the same meaning – ASK YOURSELF: What does this misfortune represent thematically? What famous mythic death does this resemble? Why this sort of violence and not some other? Answers= psychological dilemmas, spiritual crises, historical, social or political concerns.
Allegory = a one to one correspondence- things stand for other things on a one for one basis. Their purpose is to convey a certain message (Animal Farm – a very clear purpose to teach about the failure of revolution). Symbol= are not usually reducible to a single statement but will probably involve a range of possible meanings – ie the cave in The Odyssey. A network of meanings and significations permits a nearly limitless range of possible interpretations. Reading further and deeper while questioning possible interpretations brings about levels of understanding (the river in Huck Finn). Symbols can be objects, images, actions- Pay attention to your instincts… “a reader’s imagination is the act of one creative intelligence engaging another” (107) Thus we have the definition of literature – as opposed to beach books! Allegory vs. Symbol
Politics as Usual This writing engages the realities of its world – thinks about human problems, and addresses the rights of persons and the wrongs of those in power in the social and political realm. Scrooge = representative of a part of society that needs to learn social responsibility The Fall of the House of Usher= criticism of the European class system Rip Van Winkle = freedom of speech is better than tyranny Antigone= the law is not above the humans who create it
Christ figures everywhere… Features that make the connection: Crucified – wounds in the hands, feet, side, and head= arms outstretched In agony Self-sacrificing Good with children, loaves, fishes, water, wind Thirty –three years when last seen Employed as a carpenter Preferred humble means of transportation (donkeys) Known to have spent time in the wilderness Believed to have had a confrontation with the devil, possibly tempted Consorted with thieves, prostitutes, Samaritans (outsiders) and general sinners Creator of many aphorisms and parables Buried but arose the third day Had 12 disciples at first – all not equally devoted Very forgiving Came to redeem an unworthy world Example = Santiago in Old Man and the Sea = triumph over adversity, value of hope and faith, the attainment of grace –a fisherman story complete with cross boat masts = arms outstretched in the greatest loss of his life etc.
Flight is Freedom Flight represents freedom, escape, return home, largeness of spirit, love Exception – remember – irony trumps everything – so flying could be the opposite of everything stated above!! Basically, flight frees the imagination – think of all the Disney movies that involve fanciful flying – Peter Pan? Think again – how ironic is this fanciful flight! We can soar into interpretation and speculations!! Buckle up!
Sex??? Unlikely that sexual issues will present themselves in terms of sexual organs and acts in literature Coded sex can work at multiple levels and be more intense that literal depictions (just protecting the innocent…and in Shakepeare’s case delighting the masses!) Examples in literature - keys and locks, lances and swords and guns, chalices and grails, and bowls – flowering trees and bees…the list goes on. What about when it is explicit? You can bet more is going on here – Sherlock…. Try pleasure, sacrifice, submission, rebellion, resignation, supplication, domination, enlightenment… sometimes sex is about something else!!!
All of a sudden – it’s BAPTISM Simply put baptism = rebirth Death – rebirth – new identity Caveat – rebirths and baptisms have a lot in common – drowning serves its own purpose = character revelation, thematic development of violence or failure or guilt, plot complication or denouement. Example – Beloved Paul D escapes from prison diving under water and emerging into new life; Beloved the ghost emerges reborn from water; Sethe gives birth to Denver in a canoe in the middle of a river that separates the North and the South…
Where to, ma’am? Geography matters… Countries, landscapes – rivers, hills, valleys, glaciers, swamps, mountains, prairies, chasms, sea, islands. Literary landscapes = about humans inhabiting spaces and at the same time – those spaces inhabit humans…(remember the war between the North and South?) Landscapes can be bleak - Wuthering Heights – and creepy- The Fall of the House of Usher – and they can define or develop character – The Bean Trees as the main character travels from rural Kentucky and travels west!! (symbolism, anyone?) Speaking of direction – when characters go south- they run amok!! Think of things associated with certain geography – snow, fog, heat, purity, clear views, isolation, etc.
And Seasons – “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” Every mythology has stories to explain the seasons – Demeter and Persephone and Hades myth. Late September in Rod Stewart’s song “Maggie Mae” – he had hung around too long and wasted his youth…(fall is right before the death of winter!) Frost had miles to go before he slept(yeah – dies) – stopping by the wood on a SNOWY evening! Enchanted childhood in Fern Hill in the Spring stanza! The symbols work – don’t forget to notice them!
Consider this: “There is only one story” Intertextuality – all stories are related – think of westerns- then think of Indiana Jones - same elements. Archetype= pattern or for the mythic original on which a pattern is based. This is a component of a story that rings familiar – a quest – a sacrifice – a plunge into water, etc. The Great Stories – myth, archetype religious narrative, the great body of literature – is always with us! ****We comprehend the logic of symbols because we have access to the same swirl of story****
Physical marks The Hero Physical imperfection is marked in symbolic terms How many stories do you know where the hero is marked in some significant way How about that lightening scar on Harry Potter Or the blindness of Oedipus Or the scratches on Beloved The absence of vital organs for Jake in The Sun Also Rises The Beast in Beauty and the Beast The Hunchback of Notre Dame The Villain The helmet of Darth Vader who cannot breathe without it Monster like qualities in vampires, etc.
Blindness to oh so much!! Oedipus is blind to the fact that he marries his mother – and then blinds himself Blindness in Invisible Man – Reverend Barbee is blind – but also blindly furthering the white man’s desire to keep the black man in his place. In Native Son – Mrs. Dalton, whose blindness literally and figuratively to her husband’s hand in her daughter’s murder because of being a slumlord. Teiresias is the blind prophet and “sees” all for Odysseus in The Odyssey. Notice – in works where authors want us to notice it – it is introduced early or certainly in an obvious manner.
Heart Disease Heart = the symbolic repository of emotion Being stabbed in the heart = literally or figuratively = a broken heart “The Story of An Hour” by Kate Chopin =a woman has heart trouble because of a stifling relationship and dies of the “joy that kills” … Types of hearts = the heart of stone – strength of heart- a fragile heart - a bad heart…all have interesting possibilities When characters have difficulties of the heart = we won’t be too surprised when emotional trouble becomes the physical ailment.
…and more disease Ponder these thoughts: 1. Not all diseases are created equal – TB (consumption) is on the literary frequency list rather than cholera- even though cholera was more frequent among the Victorians – but and ugly horrible smelly violent death. Except for Ibsen in A Doll’s House (AHEM) - Syphilis was not used (because of its association with prostitutes). 2. It is usually picturesque or mysterious = and =surprise= it has metaphorical or symbolic opportunities. TB is a wasting disease - so the suffers were delicate and fragile. 3. Plagues can make a statement about a whole city or country -as in Oedipus or Henry James’ Daisy Miller who dies of Roman fever – a true illness – but also indicative of the bad air she created with gossip. Aids is the mother lode of symbol and metaphor since it lies dormant and also because unknowing or knowing characters can infect others. 4. Post traumatic stress – especially in war stories – is a disease of the mind – and has resonance especially now. The Things They Carried and Sorrow of War address this in many ways.
Back to the Future Read with a perspective that allows for sympathy with the historical moment of the story – social, historical, cultural, and personal background of the author need to be taken into consideration. Understand that perspective is different in other times and places…when we make that leap – we understand the true nature of the work.
IRONY-sometimes tragic, wry or perplexing – it trumps EVERYTHING! Nearly all writers employ it – BUT for the modern and postmodern writers, irony is a full-time business Verbal Dramatic Structural Situational Because of our ingrained expectations – irony works! Irony is multivocal – we hear multiple voices simultaneously. It provides the richness that compels us to dig through layers of possible meaning and competing signification-so dig, baby, dig!!!!
The End – no wait… This is only the beginning of your journey into the land of literature… (you’re not in Kansas anymore!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
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