When coming upon a new book, watching a movie, or hearing a new song, a person is exposed to many components of the literary theory list without even knowing it. Through the traits of this list, a piece of literature can leave a reader astounded. Without it, the literature may be unremarkable or confusing. Literature is defined by the reader and how they are affected; if literary theory is not present, no one will want to read, see, or hear it. The literature must be able to keep the audience’s attention and have them walking away satisfied, rather than exhausted, in order to become a great work. The song “Drops of Jupiter,” the book “The Book Thief” and the movie “The Pianist” are three examples of how each component of the literary theory list is critical to obtaining a reader connection and producing a memorable piece.
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The Book Thief, written by Markus Zusak, is a story of Liesel Meminger, a German living with a foster family during WWII. In this novel death itself is the narrator and documents everything it sees. Liesel loses and sacrifices many things in her life all at a very young age. Both of her parents are taken away and her younger brother dies on the train to their hiding place, which significantly affects Liesel’s life. At her brother’s gravesite she finds The Grave Digger’s Handbook, and takes it, although she cannot read. The Hubermann’s also agree to house their late Jewish friend’s son, Max. This makes the household very dangerous to live in, for consequences of hiding Jews were deadly. Soon Liesel’s foster father, Hans, finds the book that she stole and is inspired to teach her how to read. Liesel soon discovers that Hitler is behind her parents’ and brother’s death, which entices her to steal multiple books from a book-burning pile in town and the mayor’s library. The story continues to where Hans sends Max away in fear of the Gestapo searching his house and Hans is drafted into the German army. Eventually Ilsa Hermann, the mayor’s wife, grants Liesel a blank book in which she writes her autobiography. This book is found by Death after Liesel’s entire family die from a Himmel Street bombing. Death returns the book to her as he takes her soul in her old age. The literary theory used in this book is vast. Most importantly, the vicarious experience in The Book Thief is the most significant literary theory trait used. Because a book is usually narrated by a human character, having it narrated by Death exposes the reader to the trauma and pure inhumanity of Nazi Germany. Factual and historical information are obtained many times throughout reading, for example when Death says “Picture yourself walking down Himmel Street…the sirens begin to howl…in Molching the warnings came with bombs…a few minutes, everything is gone” (pgs. 529-530), the reader can encounter firsthand this experience that was very common in Nazi Germany. Throughout the novel, the reader feels many emotions and an understanding of the other side of World War II. Therefore the reader, compelled by vicariousness, empathizes with Liesel and her family. Zusak makes the audience feel like they are a part of Liesel’s family and that is what makes it a fantastic piece of literature.
Another very symbolic and moving piece is the song “Drops of Jupiter” by Train. Written in 2001 by Patrick Monahan, it is a song that reveals a hidden pain. Due to its unique and enigmatic lyrics, the meaning of the song has been the subject of speculation since its release. However Monahan himself stated that the hurt exposed by the song is that of his mother’s death, who was suddenly struck with cancer and could not live to fight it. Monahan states that the lyrics of the song came to him in a dream, and when he woke up the words “back in the atmosphere” were in his head. This inspired him to write the Grammy winning song “Drops of Jupiter”. The literary theory presented in this rock ballad helps the listener to connect their own lives to that of Monahan. Although some may not know what the song is precisely about, it is widely relatable to an audience that has lost a loved one. This improves the “connection” between the singer and their audience. What makes this song truly beautiful is the many metaphors used to enhance the promotion of thinking and enjoyment for the audience. The line “And tell me, did Venus blow your mind? Was it everything you wanted to find? And did you miss me while you were looking for yourself out there?”(Train) are alluding to the idea that Monahan’s mother is traveling through space, soul searching. He is happy for her but also wants to know if she is thinking about him. Another strong line, “Tell me, did you sail across the sun? Did you make it to the Milky Way to see the lights all faded, and that heaven is overrated?”(Train) is so powerful because it challenges the idea that heaven is the epitome of afterlife. Overall, Monahan wrote the song to help remind him that no one is really ever gone. This song makes the audience question afterlife, allows them to comfort grievances, and encourages them to reflect on their own existence. Without literary theory these traits would be meaningless and “Drops of Jupiter” would not be the legendary song it is today.
The Pianist is a drama directed and produced by Roman Polanski. The movie is based on the memoir of the same name by the real-life Wladyslaw Szpilman. The story begins with a Polish Jewish piano player, Wladyslaw Szpilman, who lives in a large flat with his wealthy family. They believe that the Nazis are a mere nuisance and do not worry much about them. Soon however, during one of Szpilman’s recitals the radio station he is at is bombed. During the early stages of Nazism, he plays piano at an upscale restaurant for Germans and seems to go about with hardly any worries. Not long after, his family is ordered to be deported to a concentration camp. Luckily a German friend of his pulls him out of the line to the train, saving his life but also separating him from his family. He is told to go into hiding immediately. Szpilman hides for years in isolation, ravaged by hunger and painstakingly silent. Eventually there is a German attack on the building he is staying in and he moves to another building, where a German soldier finds him trying to open a can of food. Surprisingly the officer asks Szpilman to play piano for him and it brings him to tears. The soldier brings food to Szpilman and eventually his coat to keep him warm. When the Russians take over Germany, he is wearing the coat and is shot but only wounded, being mistaken for a German. At the film’s end, he has gone on to succeed as a pianist. What is great about this film is that the viewer gets to see the point of view from someone left behind rather than taken to a concentration camp. This promotes thinking in reminding the audience that the Holocaust did not only affect those who were at camps. In the movie, a woman is rocking her baby and wailing, “Why did I do it?” over and over again, because she had to smother her baby to stop it from crying. The raw reality of WWII in The Pianist is shockingly bewildering, to the point where the audience is brought to tears in compassion with the characters However, Roman Polanski presents the film in such a fashion that the viewer cannot help but be drawn in, and thus feels more involved with the themes inherent than they otherwise would have been. This film falls under the literary theory trait “entertainment”, for a viewer is entertained by the drama and action in the movie while subconsciously appreciating the biographical ties. The Pianist can open someone’s mind by giving them a good insight into human nature and the desire to survive, which often transcends all other desires.
The Book Thief, “Drops of Jupiter,” and The Pianist are all exceptional works of literature. Each is unique; however they would not have been successful if they did not encompass the traits of literary theory. Literary theory helps the audience better understand the literature through analysis in order to gain the knowledge that the writer is trying to get across. It is literary theory that opens up the author to the audience, a mind to new ideas, and enhances understanding. It makes literature memorable and can impact someone’s life by helping them better understand the world around them. As best said by a famous author, “Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become” (C.S. Lewis).
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