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

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Memory, symbol and pattern heavily affect the reading of literature through many ways. Memory is a key part in reading literature because it helps us make connections to real life and other literary works. Without memory, we would not be able to make connections between different literary pieces which would not enable us to find patterns and symbols within separate works. Symbols are used in almost every literary piece and it helps to give the reader a deeper understanding of the novel. In general, symbols give the literary pieces more depth and add hidden details and meanings to a basic objects or beliefs. Patterns affect the reading of literature because it helps us to understand where the story will most likely go. If a movie follows the same storyline as a book that you have previously read, it is easy to infer that the movie will most likely have the same broad storyline. Patterns help us to recognise how the story will play out and why.

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Recognition of patterns makes it easier to read complicated literature because you can get a feel for what the plot has in store. Once a reader has read a book with a similar storyline, the reader will be able to recognise the pattern and infer how the story will go. This is important while reading complicated literature because if you can connect the difficult literature to a basic piece of literature which you’ve previously read, the process of reading will become much easier as you will know the basics for what is happening in the story.

While reading Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, I found an appreciation for symbols as it enhanced my understanding of the literary work. The novel itself is full of symbolism and without a proper understanding of the symbols, the book would have made no sense. The symbols were intricate and added depth and more meaning to the novel which made the book more interesting and enhanced the overall reading experience.


A quest consists of five key ideas. One, a quester who is the individual who goes on a quest, usually unknowingly. Next, there is a place to go and additionally there is a stated reason to go there. The hero needs to go somewhere for something which is why the quester starts their journey. Fourthly, there are challenges and trials on the journey and route. These setbacks help the quester to understand and grow as a person which ultimately leads them to the last stage of the quest, which is the real reason for the journey. This last stage brings enlightenment to the quester about the real reason for their quest which is almost never the stated reason. The real reason for a quest is self-discovery and self-knowledge. The quest in the novel Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison:

The quester: Macon (Milkman) Dead III, a young, selfish and unmotivated individual who is on the passage into adulthood. He is unsatisfied with himself and tries to find his own identity away from his parents.

A place to go: His desire for a better life leads Milkman to travel to Danville where he experiences self discovery which leads him to Virginia. He then returns back home to his family and then on his final trip he goes to Shalimar where he flies away.

A stated reason to go there: Milkman’s father, calls upon Milkman to steal gold from Pilate. This gold would benefit his father, his friend Guitar and himself as the gold would help him escape his current life.

Challenges and Trials: Throughout Milkman’s journey he faces several trials and challenges. His first setback is when his car breaks down which delays his trip. Later, Milkman gets into a fight with a civilian who injures and cuts him with a knife. Additionally, he also fails to find the gold which was the main purpose of his journey. His biggest trial is when Guitar continuously tries to kill him and almost succeeds while hunting.

The real reason to go: During the course of his quest, Milkman goes through a phase of self-discovery and self-knowledge. He reconnects with his African heritage which helps him escape his unsatisfying life. The quest enabled him to learn about his roots and transformed the way he viewed life as he finally learned not to value materialistic items. Eventually, Milkman achieves freedom through flight because of his quest.


Acts of communion are very popular in literature since they display the relationship between the people seated at the table. The Shatter Me series is a great example of both a good and bad communion. When Juliette has her first communion with Warner, the believed to be antagonist, the mood is noticeably negative as she denies the luxurious food. Her want to not share food with him shows that she is not willing to stand with him, like him or form a community with him. This behaviour continues but slowly fades away as their relationship builds.

Later on in the series, the uncomfortable communions transform. As Warrens and Juliette’s relationship build, their communions turn into a display for their love. Instead of sitting across the table from each other, they dine closer. They dress in nice clothes to show the importance of the communion. This change in eating manners and behaviour shows Juliettes new willingness to stand with Warren, to like him and to become a community with him. Acts of communion are an essential part to showing the relationships between people.


The essentials of a Vampire story are quite predictable. These essentials include an older figure who has corrupt and outworn values; a young, morally innocent female; youth, virtue and energy being stripped away from the woman; the life of the man continues; the destruction or end of life ot the young woman. These five essentials make up a typical Vampire story.

This pattern is followed in the book series and film series Vampire Diaries. In the series, Damon, an older vampire turns his teen girlfriend, Elena, into a vampire. Her turn changes her life as she drops out of highschool, encounters struggles with relationships, feeding and accepting herself. Her exposure to vampirism strips away her innocence and shows her how corrupt the real world is. Her turn led her to be a part of many fights and struggles which eventually leaves her in an eternal sleep while her boyfriend lives on. It is very apparent that The Vampire Diaries has the 5 essentials for being a typical Vampire story.


Intertextuality creates a deeper meaning and understanding in a text because it adds features from other previous texts into it. The inspired text shapes another text through interconnections and resemblances which then mirror the influences of the original writer. This literary device aids the readers in understanding and interpreting the text in a certain way.

A literary work which used intertextuality was The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The intertextuality between Fitzgerald’s novel and T.S. Eliot’s poem “ The Waste Land” aided me in understanding the meaning behind certain settings. Both writers present a setting which is desolate and infertile which represents a “spiritually dead” environment. In Fitzgerald’s novel, the dreary environment of the valley of ashes resembles Eliot’s waste land.

A text which aided me while reading All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven was The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. In Chbosky’s novel, the story follows a teenage boy, Charlie, combating a mental illness which helped me understand Theodore Finch’s character in Nivens story as the two characters faced similar mental problems.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green helped me to understand the difficulty of love in Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. The two books face the common issues of separation between lovers. Both of the novels end with the lovers being separated from one another. Green’s novel aided me in understanding that although lovers may be apart, death in Greens case or States in Rowells, that the love between characters will never fade.


The movie The Hunger Games reflects the fairy tale “Jack and the Beanstalk” in several ways. Katniss is a young teen who lives with her widowed mother and her beloved little sister. Jack is a young boy who lives with his widowed mother and several beloved cows. Both of their families run low on money and food so Jack sacrifices his cows for magical beans while Katniss sacrifices herself to fight in the Hunger Games. Jack ends up becoming a murderer and thief but his wrongdoings don’t affect him as he lived happily ever after. Katniss becomes a huntress and murderer whos wrongdoings haunt her but ends up living a happy life. Both characters had such a profound impact that they received nicknames of “The Giant Slayer” and “The Mockingjay”. Both stories have noticeable similarities regarding the plot line.

The parallelism of the stories create a deepened appreciation because it adds more interest. The different characters, setting, etc. add uniqueness while the reflection of the fairy tale gives a sense of familiarity. The book/movie was very unique at the time but the fairytale like storyline made it easier to make sense of the story. The harmony which the familiarity and uniqueness create form a a sense of solidity, depth and resonance.


In the film Series Dark, weather plays a large role in setting the tone. When young children start to go missing in a small town in Germany, the weather dramatically changes. In every episode, there is heavy rainfall which rarely seems to cease. This constant heavy rainfall furthers the mood of the characters, natural world and the overall story.

The rainstorm displays all characters disorientation and heartache after several of their towns children disappear without a trace. The rain also represents the mystery behind the story as there are no clues to where the children went. Rain also adds to the mystery of the paradox of time travel which is discovered by the main character Jonas. Overall, the rain acts as a blanket of mystery and misery envelops the whole small town.


In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the main purpose of the novella is to criticize the 1917 Russian Revolution in which Joseph Stalin came to power. The farm animals overthrow their human owner and take over the farm which represents the Bolshevik Revolution. Over time Napoleon, a pig, becomes the boss and begins to rule the farm. He shows traits which embody Joseph Stalin. The story continues to follow the events which occurred during the Russian Revolution and exhibits the effects of totalitarianism.

This story exemplifies Orwell’s opinions and views regarding the political circumstances within Russia during the revolution. He displays that totalitarianism did not improve Russia as a whole but rather worsened the conditions for the people in Russia or the animals of the farm. Through the publication of this novella, many people became exposed to Orwell’s belief that power can lead to exploitation and despotism.


In Song of Solomon, flight as a method of escape is a major theme. Milkman wants to escape from racism, prejudice and everything that is holding him back. However, in order to fly, you must let go of everything inessential. This was hard for Milkman to learn and took him a while to grasp. He eventually achieved flight after his hero’s journey which was all about self discovery.

Although those who fly escape from constricting situations, the ones who are left behind are scarred. When Solomon took flight, he escaped the slavery of Virginia’s cotton fields but also left Ryna, his wife, and their twenty-one children behind. Milkman’s flight frees him from Michigan’s Not Doctor Street and his unsatisfying life, but also causes Hagar to pass away because of heartbreak. Flight in Song of Solomon is connected to heartache as to achieve flight, you must leave everything behind. Although it seems that only men can take flight in the novel, Pilate is able to fly without abandoning anyone. As Milkman explains, she is able to fly without ever lifting her feet off the ground. She has broken the connection between flight and abandonment.


An archetype can also be called a universal symbol. In literature, an archetype may be a character, theme, symbol or setting which represents universal human patterns. Archetypes also have common and reappearing representations in a human culture or the entire world. Many believe that archetypes form and design a literary work.

One of many archetypal stories is the hero story. This is when the protagonist has an objective and encounters trials and challenges while trying to achieve their goal. Their ability to stay true to themselves while achieving their goal is what makes them a hero. An example of this archetype is Harry Potter in the series Harry Potter. He takes on a large responsibility which would keep the world safe from evil. He remains brave all throughout his journey even when faced with difficult trials. Harry overcomes his many trials and completes his mission while never losing his true identity.


When a character in a literary work has a physical imperfection, it always means something. It could just be a mark to make the plot work better or it could mean something more deep which makes the story more interesting. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is an example of a character whose physical imperfection had implications on characterization. The protagonist, Quasimodo, has several physical imperfection including his hunched back and facial deformations. In the end, he overcomes his physical appearance to do something positive.

Quasimodo was abandoned as a baby purely for being deformed and considered ugly. This backstory gives the reader an outlook for what his life has consisted of. Because of his physical deformities, he is ordered to stay in a bell tower so no one could see him. He has no friends except his beloved step-father. Regardless of his outer appearance, Quasimodo still managed to be the hero at the end of the story. His hunched back added to the characterization, plot and moral of the story. Quasimodo’s characterization shows that one does not need to be a model to be a hero and that his physical imperfections did not hold him back from being a hero.


F. Scott Fitzgerald employs irony throughout his entire novel, The Great Gatsby. The first page of the book depicts irony when Nick, the narrator, explains himself to hold back all judgements. However, several sentences later, he proceeds to judge a group of men for expressing their stories of success or failure. Nick’s narration will proceed to be judgemental throughout the novel.

The love triangle between Tom, Daisy, and Gatsby becomes apparently ironic through various scenes in the book. One of the most ironic being the post car accident scene. Gatsby waits outside of the Buchanan’s house all night to make sure that Daisy is okay and that Tom doesn’t hurt her. In the meantime, Daisy is inside reconciling with Tom. This scene leaves readers feeling empathy and pity for Gatsby as it reveals his constant ironic struggle for approval from Daisy which he will never be able to reach.


In the book, a motif that was not discussed is colour. Colour is used in many books as a motif including The Great Gatsby, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Of Mice and Men. In these literature works, colour helps the story to develop and creates deeper meanings.

Colour is possibly one of the strongest motifs in literature as colours often represent the same theme or emotions throughout different genres. It is easy to identify that white is purity, black is evil, red is love or anger, etc. Colour is an important part of literature as it adds depth and deeper meaning when though out. Without colour, literature would be plain and dull. Colour is a consistent motif across literature which is why many focus on learning the true meanings behind them.

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