How to Read Literature like a Professor

How to Read Literature like a Professor Writing Assignments


Introduction: How'd He Do That?

You don’t have to write a big essay. Just think about it…and give me a few paragraphs. 

How do memory, symbol, and pattern affect the reading of literature? How does the recognition of patterns make it easier to read complicated literature? Has there ever been a time when your appreciation of a literary work was enhanced by understanding

symbol or pattern?


Chapter 1: Every Trip Is a Quest (Except When It's Not) 

Consider the five aspects of a QUEST and then apply them to something you have read (or viewed…this works for movies, too). Use the list on p. 4-5 to structure your response. 


Chapter 2: Nice to Eat with You: Acts of Communion 

Choose a meal scene from a literary work (or film) and apply the ideas of Chapter 2.

Chapter 3: Nice to Eat You: Acts of Vampires

What are the essentials of the Vampire story? Apply this to a literary work you have read or a film you have viewed.


Chapter 4: If It's Square, It's a Sonnet

Select three sonnets and show which form they are. Discuss how their content reflects the form. (Submit copies of the sonnets, marked to show your analysis).


 Chapter 5: Now, Where Have I Seen Her Before?

Define intertextuality. Discuss 2-3 examples that have helped you in reading specific works.


Chapter 6: When in Doubt, It's from Shakespeare

Discuss a work that you are familiar with that alludes to or reflects Shakespeare. Show how the author uses this connection thematically. Read pages 44-46 carefully. In these pages, Foster shows how Fugard reflects Shakespeare through both plot and theme.

In your discussion, focus on theme.


Chapter 7: ...Or the Bible

Read "Araby" (available online). Discuss Biblical allusions that Foster does not mention. Look at the example of the "two great jars."

Be creative and imaginative in these connections.


Chapter 8: Hanseldee and Greteldum

Think of a work of literature that reflects a fairy tale. Discuss the parallels. Does it create irony or deepen appreciation?


Chapter 9: It's Greek to Me

Write a free verse poem derived or inspired by characters or situations from Greek mythology. Be prepared to share your poem with the class. Note that there are extensive links to classical mythology on my myths page.


Chapter 10: It's More Than Just Rain or Snow

Discuss the importance of weather in a specific literary work, not in terms of plot.


Chapter 11: ...More Than It's Gonna Hurt You: Concerning Violence

Present examples of the two kinds of violence found in literature. Show how the effects are different.


Chapter 12: Is That a Symbol?

Use the process described on page 106 and investigate a symbolic object in something you’ve read or watched. Be creative, but don’t  go overboard.


Chapter 13: It's All Political

Assume that Foster is right and "it is all political." Use his criteria to show that one of the major works assigned to you this year is political.


Chapter 14: Yes, She's a Christ Figure, Too

Apply the criteria on page 119 to a major character in a significant literary work. Try to choose a character that will have many matches. This is a particularly apt tool for analyzing film --for example, Star Wars, Cool Hand Luke, Excalibur, Malcolm X, Braveheart, Spartacus, Gladiator and Ben-Hur.


Chapter 15: Flights of Fancy

Select a literary work in which flight signifies escape or freedom. Explain in detail.


Chapter 16: It's All About Sex... and Chapter 17: ...Except the Sex

OK...the sex chapters. The key idea from these chapters is that "scenes in which sex is coded rather than explicit can work at multiple levels and sometimes be more intense that literal depictions" (141). In other words, sex is often suggested with much more art and effort than it is described, and, if the author is doing his job, it reflects and creates theme or character. Choose a novel or movie in which sex is suggested, but not described, and discuss how the relationship is suggested and how this implication affects the theme or develops characterization.


Chapter 18: If She Comes Up, It's Baptism

Think of a "baptism scene" from a significant literary work. How was the character different after the experience? Discuss.


Chapter 19: Geography Matters…

Discuss at least two different aspects of a specific literary work that Foster would classify under "geography."


Chapter 20: ...So Does Season

Find a poem that mentions a specific season. Then, discuss how the poet uses the season in a meaningful, traditional, or unusual way. (Attach a copy of the poem)


Interlude -- One Story

Write your own definition for archetype. Then identify an archetypal story and apply it to a literary work with which you are familiar.


Chapter 21: Marked for Greatness

Figure out Harry Potter's scar. If you aren't familiar with Harry Potter, select another character with a physical imperfection and analyze

its implications for characterization.


Chapter 22: He's Blind for a Reason, You Know

Find a story or film that prominently features a blind character. Based on your example, do you find Foster’s statements true or false? Explain.


Chapter 23: It's Never Just Heart Disease...

Read “The Story of an Hour.” Some of you may have read this before, but read it again (it’s short). Keeping in mind what Foster says in this chapter, what is the narrator really saying about Mrs. Mallard?


Chapter 24: ...And Rarely Just Illness

Recall two characters that died of any kind of disease in a literary work. Consider how these deaths reflect the "principles governing the use of disease in literature" (215-217). Discuss the effectiveness of the death as related to plot, theme, or symbolism.


Chapter 25: Don't Read with Your Eyes

After reading Chapter 25, choose a scene or episode from a novel, play or epic written before the twentieth century. Contrast how it could be viewed by a reader from the twenty-first century with how it might be viewed by a contemporary reader. Focus on specific assumptions that the author makes, assumptions that would not make it in this century.


Chapter 26: Is He Serious? And Other Ironies

Find an ironic literary work (long or short – poetry is always good for a quick dose of irony) or film (anything by Tim Burton – Edward Scissorhands, Nightmare Before Christmas, etc. – would be chock full of irony). Explain the “multivocal nature” of the

irony in the work.


Chapter 27: A Test Case

This one will need to be about 2 pages (at least) and must be done AT THE END of your reading!!!!

Read “The Garden Party” by Katherine Mansfield, the short story starting on page 245. Complete the exercise on pages 265-266, following the directions exactly. Then compare your writing with the three examples. How did you do? Write a brief reflection on what you missed and why. After reading the essay comparing Laura with Persephone, do you understand the story better? Are you confused? What (if anything) does it add to your appreciation of Mansfield's story?