Friday, October 28, 2016

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

I have two books at home that tangle with the concept of intertextuality in children's literature. It's not supposed to be a tangle, but I can't understand most of the scholarly writing. Thomas Foster simplifies some complex literary theories, such as intertextuality and Northrop Frye's discussion of literary archetypes. The conversational tone, humor, and manageable chapters make this an excellent book at showing what students or reading enthusiasts should be looking for in literature to get a deeper understanding and analysis of texts. He shows what elements make a book distinguished and while he acknowledges that he can't discuss them all, he does give some universal ones that readers can look for while reading. This is a terrific read for developing critical thinking skills in literature.

Twenty-seven chapters give bite-sized advice as to how to get more meaning out of texts. He shows how to look for common metaphors, themes, historical settings, literary forms, symbols, history of literature, pop culture, and more. If an author keeps mentioning a Greek myth, the pattern should reveal a larger truth about the overall message of the text. If certain images keep coming up, what is the author saying about the character or theme? He brings the elements and theory all together at the end in a wonderful analysis of a short story. He shows a reader's response that is based on a surface reading, then another student's that is more in-depth. Last, he analysizes the story using theory and elements with the aplomb and mastery of one who loves his topic and has studied it his whole life. A must for your library.

5 Smileys

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

It's hard writing about classics, especially if you don't particularly like the story. Even with its elegant phrasing and kooky characters, Pride and Prejudice is mostly dialogue, romantic, and full of irony - which was amusing at times, but I got bored with the lack of action and just felt bad that the only prospects for women during the ninteenth century were marriage or spinsterhood. But in all fairness, I had to stop listening to this audiotape with modern sensibilities and employ some empathy for its historical time period. The limited choices of Victorian women made for an interesting glimpse into the past and much of the protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet's, dialogue is ironically against the Romantic notions and trend of her times; her female protagonist is an intellect instead of a highly emotional being with great natural beauty. Jane Austen is admirable in that she pushed against prevailing winds creating unique characters. Once I focused on the irony I was able to enjoy the humor and extremeness in the characters and able to finish listening to the audiobook.

Twenty-year-old Elizabeth is second child of the Bennet's five daughters. She has the choice of being married to a man she doesn't love or refusing him. She is witty, judgmental, and independent. Elizabeth can't get a job and if she doesn't marry she is dependent on other relatives to take care of her. Because her father only has daughters his estate will be passed onto his nephew and his daughters' futures are uncertain unless they marry for financial stability. Elizabeth's mother sees marriage as the only solution, and when the unappealing Mr. Collins makes her an offer that will keep their home in the family, Elizabeth forcefully turns him down; she wants to marry for love. Prospects for women during this time period were to marry, manage a household, and education was not a priority. Elizabeth has educated herself from her father's library and has enough impertinence to show her intellectual wit but not be offensive.

Elizabeth prides herself in her ability to judge other characters but is quick to reach conclusions based on gossip and heresay. The result is a prejudiced character that shows a lack of moral wisdom in an otherwise bright person. She's not exactly likable but she also mirrors how people can judge others quickly with first impressions and how class divisions can lead to prejudices. The object of her prejudice is Mr. Darcy, an upper class wealthy man that acts too good for others when she first meets him. She is of a lower class with her less rich family and money is a strong theme that streams throughout the story. Mr. Darcy's pride at his wealth causing him to snub one of Elizabeth's sisters at a dance and later he is gossiped about negatively by most people Elizabeth knows in her social circle. The gossip is extreme and turned me off until I realized Austen was being ironic.

Elizabeth changes by the end and addresses her pride and prejudices as does Mr. Darcy. Their character arcs show irony in their foolish behavior and hypocrisy. The supporting characters are almost allegorical in their support of Elizabeth's prejudice and Mr. Darcy's pride. From the first time we meet Mrs. Bennet she reveals prejudices in her preconceived opinions of others that are not based on reason. She's a buffoon and adds humor with her obtuse behavior. Lydia, Mrs. Bennet's favorite daughter is just like her mother. She runs off with a man of questionable intentions and doesn't even realize the risk she incurred by living with a man for two weeks. A woman with a ruined reputation can be disowned leading to financial and social ruin. Lydia doesn't even realize the precipice she was on when she gallivanted off with Wickham. Lady Catherine is prejudiced against Elizabeth's lower class and self-absorbed.

Mr. Bennet, on the other hand, detaches himself from his wife's mission of marrying off his daughters. He represents pride and is satisfied with his own achievements not worrying about his daughters' future. Mr. Collins represents pride in himself and his money to the point that he plans on "buying" his bride whether she loves him or not. Elizabeth refuses his marriage proposal and he is so full of himself he thinks she's playing hard-to-get. These are just a few of the many characters that embody the moral implications of displaying pride and prejudice; except Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are the two that actually change their ways. A richly layered book, great study of irony, foils, and easy to see why it is a classic.

5 Smileys