Document 171722

Silver State
AP Summer Institute
Marilee Eyre
Beaver High School
Ideas Taken from How to Read Literature Like a Professor
by Thomas C. Foster
Introduction: Grammar of Literature: a set of conventions and patterns,
codes and rules used in analyzing a piece of writing.
Part of reading is knowing the conventions, recognizing them, and
anticipating the results.
Spring has a constellation of associates: sky, youth, promise, new life,
young lambs, children skipping. More abstract concepts such as Rebilih,
fertility, renewal.
Practice can help us recognize these.
1st level is emotional.
Memory, symbol, pattern.
Questions, where have I seen this face?
Don't I know this theme?
Professors read and think symbolically. Everything is a symbol of
something, unless proven otherwise. Is this a metaphor? Is that an analogy?
What does the thing over there signify?
Good readers look for patterns of recognition, just like mechanics use
pattem recognition to diagnose engine problems. Good readers will learn to
notice the routines, the archetypes at work in the background.
Like Sigmund Freud noted patterns of behavior when identifying the
Oedipus Complex.
Goal: Show our students these patterns and have them find them without us.
Chapter 1: "EvelY Trip Is a Quest (Except When It's Not)"
Quest: a knight, a dangerous road, a Holy Grail, at least one dragon, one
evil knight, one princess.
(1) a quester (2) place to go (3) a stated reason to go there (4) challenges and
trials en route, and (5) a real reason to go there. Go there do that. The real
reason never equals the stated reason. More often than not, the quester fails.
The real reason for a quest is always self-knowledge.
Marilee Eyre
Beaver High School
Silver State
AP Summer Institute
stripping away of her youth, energy, virtue; a continuance of the life force of
the old male; the death destruction of the young woman. (Louisa in Hard
Ghosts and vampires are never only about ghosts and vampires. Hamlet
Ghosts was there to point out something drastically wrong in Denmark's
royal household. Marley's ghost in A Christmas Carol is really a walking
clanking moaning lesson in ethics for Scrooge. Victorians could not write
about sex, so they had to put those ideas into other fmills. They were masters
of sublimation.
Chapter 4: "lfIt's Square, It's a Sonnet"
Ten syllables of English are about as long as 14 lines are high: square.
When you start to read a poem, look at the shape. SOlmets are ShOlt poems
that take far more time, because everything has to be perfect. Blaise Pascal,
an old French philosopher, apologized for writing a long letter saying, "I had
not time to write a shmt one."
Chapter 5: "Now, Where I-lave I Seen Her Before?"
If you read enough, you begin to see patterns, archetypes and recurrences.
"There's no such thing as a wholly original work of literature."
Hansel and Grettel and Alice in Wonderland are in most novels.
"There's only one story."
If you start to pick up on these, the novel becomes more meaningful and
more complex. Once you begin seeing morsels, you can't stop.
Professors simply tell students when they are near these pattems, and soon
they find them.
Chapter 6: "When in Doubt, It's from Shakespeare ..."
Quoting Shakespeare gives what you're saying a kind of authority. At some
very deep level, he is ingrained in our psyches. There is a kind of authority
Marilee Eyre
Beaver High School
Silver State
AP Summer Institute
for allusions to older and bigger texts. That text usually ends up being the
Bible. Most of the great tribulations to which human beings are subject are
detailed in Scripture.
Realizing these biblical allusions makes it resonate with the richness of
distant antecedents with the power of accumulated myth. The story becomes
timeless and archetypal speaking of the tensions and difficulties that exist
always and everywhere between brothers, with all their caring and pain and
guilt and pride and love. And that story never grows old.
Chapter 8: "Hanseldee and Greteldum"
All literature grows out of other literature. So you want to borrow some
stories to give your writing a bit of t1esh? \Vho ya goin to call? (This would
work now, but how many people will recognize that film in the next
century?) Litermy bOlTowing.
Should you quote Shakespeare? His quotes are like eligible persons of the
other sex: all the good ones are taken. Does evelyone remember Homer?
T.S. Eliot? (He's all quotes from elsewhere to begin with.)
Most of the readers willlmow Kiddie lit. Alice in Wonderland, Treasure
Island, the Namia novels The Wind in the Willows and The Cat in the Hat.
People know the Disney stories. We like the idea of Prince Charming or the
healing power of tears. In the late 20th century Hansel and Gretel has more
drawing power than any other. The story of children lost and far from home
has a universal appeal. You don't need the story because you have already
internalized it.
Elements: which feature of the plight of these young people 1110st resonates
for you? The sense of lostness? Children too far from home, in a crisis not
of their own making? Maybe the temptation: one child's gingerbread is
another's drugs. Maybe ifs having to fend for themselves, without their
customary support network.
You don't have to use the whole story. Sure, it has X,Y,and B, but not A,e,
and Z. We are not trying to recreate the fairy tale but trying to make use of
details or patterns from some prior text. (Everything is a text.) Why?
Marilee Eyre
Beaver High School
Silver State
AP Summer Institute
Virgil 19 BC patterned his Aeneas on the Homeric heroes. If Achilles did it
or Odysseus went there, so does Aeneas because that is what heroes do.
Hector: the need to protect one's family
Achilles: The need to maintain one's dignity
Penelope: The detennination to remain faithful and to have faith.
Odysseus: The struggle to return home.
Homer gives us four great struggles of the human being: with nature, with
the divine, with other humans, and with ourselves.
What else is there in which we need to prove ourselves?
There is no fonn of dysfunctional family or no personal disintegration of
character for which there is not a Greek or Roman mode1.
That recognition makes our experience of literature richer, deeper, more
meaningful, so that our own modern stories also matter, also share in the
power of myth.
Chapter lO: "It's More Than Just Rain or Snow"
Weather is never just weather. It's never just rain. And that goes for snow,
sun, warmth, cold and probably sleet.
Rain prompts ancestral memories of the most profound SOlt. Noah's flood,
the big eraser that destroys but also allows a brand-new start.
Rain can be more mysterious, murkier, more isolating than most other
weather conditions. Rain has a higher wretchedness quotient than almost
any other element of our enviromnent.
Rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. Condemned man and hangman
are thrown into a bond of sorts because rain has forced each of them to seek
Paradox: Rain is clean coming down but makes much mud when it lands. A
character cannot be cleansed symbolically by walking through the rain to get
somewhere. He can be less angry, less confused, more repentant, whatever
you what. His stain--figuratively-can be removed. However, ifhe falls
down, he'll be covered in mud and therefore more stained than before.
Rain is associated with spring, so rain can bring the world back to life, once
associated with Noah.
Marilee Eyre
Beaver High School
Silver State
AP Summer Institute
Chapter 11: "... More Than It's Gonna Hmi You: Concerning Violence"
Violence is one of the most personal and even intimate acts between human
beings, but it can also be cultural and societal in its implications. It can be
symbolic, thematic, biblical, Shakespearean, Romantic, allegorical,
transcendent. Violence in real life just is. Violence in literature, though,
while it is literal, is usually also something else. That same punch in the
nose may be a metaphor.
(Discussing "Out, Out") Our lives and deaths are as nothing to the universe,
of which the best that can be said is that it is indifferent, though it may be
actively interested in our demise, suggesting the brevity not merely of a
teenager's life but of any human existence, particularly in cosmic terms.
'fhe smallness and fragility of our lives is met with the cold indifference not
only of the distant stars and planets, which we can rightly think of as
virtually eternal in contrast to ourselves, but of the more immediate "outer"
world of the farm itself, of the inhumanity of machinery which wounds or
Two categories of violence in literature
(1) the specific injury that authors cause characters to visit on one another or
on themselves: such as shootings, stabbings, gan'otings, drownings,
poisonings, bludgeonings, bombings, hit-and-run accidents, starvations.
(2) the nanative violence that causes characters harm in general: authorial
violence, death and suffering authors introduce in the interest of plot
advancement or thematic development and for which they, not their
characters, are responsible.
Writers kill off characters to make action happen, cause plot complications,
end plot complications, and to put other characters under stress.
Mysteries generally lack density. What they otTer in terms of emotional
satisfaction-the problem solved, the question answered, the guilty
punished, the victim avenged-they lack in weightiness.
Marilee Eyre
Beaver High School
Silver State
AP Summer Institute
What does it mean? What does it stand for? As a teacher, I usually ask,
"Well, what do you think?" Because what you do think it stands for is
probably what it does. At least for you.
The problem with symbols is that people expect them to mean something.
Not just any something, but one something in particular. It doesn't work
like that.
In general, a symbol can't be reduced to stand for one thing.
If it can, it's not symbolism, it's allegory.
We would like a symbol to mean one thing for all of us and for all time.
That would be easy, convenient, manageable. But that handiness would
result in a net loss: the novel would cease to be what it is, a network of
meanings and significations. The meaning is deeper, and it requires us to
bring something of ourselves to the encounter. We have to use a variety of
tools: questions, experience, preexisting knowledge.
Caves in general. Consider our past. A cave can suggest a connection to the
most basic and primitive elements in our natures. Plato gives an image of
the cave as consciousness and perception in "Parable of the Cave." Could
people find the deepest levels of consciousness and be fi'ightened by what
they find?
Existentialists 1950s to 1960s, the middle of being and nothingness.
Cave: may represent a breach of the truth or a confrontation with ten'ors she
has denied and can only exorcise by facing them. Or something else.
Maybe Adela panics in the face of Nothingness, only to recover by taking
responsibility, may be nothing more than her own self doubt.
Only sure thing, the cave is a symbol that keeps its secrets.
Because of how the individual reader engages in the text.
People bring education, gender, race, class, faith, social involvement, and
philosophical inclination with them to their reading of symbolism.
Then the writers emphasize their distinct elements for a given symbol.
Marilee Eyre
Beaver High School
Silver State
AP Summer Institute
Ezra Pound is this way in anti-Semitism and authoritarianism and serves
only as cultural anthropology.
Good political writing engages the realities of its works-thinks about
human problems and addresses the rights of persons and the wrongs of those
Nearly all writing is political on some level.
Edgar Allan Poe in "'The House of Usher" believes that Europe is degraded
and decaying. His story shows Europe as a corrupt social organization.
Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle: Lazy, does not provide well for his
family, goes hunting and drinking with friends, and falls asleep for 20 years.
Retul11s home and his wife is dead, and evelything has changed, even the
signs at the hotel.
During those 20 years the American Revolution happened. The picture of
British King George has been transfonned to George Washington. The town
and people are more ragged than they were before the war. But there is a
kind of energy about them because they feel like their lives are their own.
They speak their minds and do what they want. They're defining what it
means to be free Americans.
Political: power structures, relations among classes, issues ofjustice and
rights, interactions between the sexes and among various racial and ethnic
Oedipus at Colonus: Oedipus receives the protection of the Athenian king,
Theseus. Fifth century Be was the end of Athenian greatness. The city­
state is threatened from the outside by Spartan aggression and from the
inside by leaderswho were not like Theseus. Sophocles was telling his
audience we sure could use a leader like Theseus again, then outsiders
(Creon representing the Spartans) would not be trying to ovelTUn us.
Important we understand the time peliods, so we realize what is going on at
the time the writer writes.
Marilee Eyre
Beaver High School
Silver State
AP Summer Institute
That would only be our imagination and not connecting with the author.
That's not reading, that's writing.
The Christ figures are where you find them, and as you find them. If the
indicators are there, then there is some basis for drawing the conclusion.
Christ figures are used to make certain points. Perhaps the parallel
deepens the sense of the character's sacrifice ifit is some how similar to
the greatest sacrifice we know of. Maybe it has to do with redemption or
hope or miracle. Or maybe it is all being treated ironically, to make the
character look smaller rather than greater.
Chapter 15: "Flights of Fancy"
Ifit flies, it isn't human. Humans fall at a speed of32 feet per second
squared, same as bowling balls.
When we see a person suspended in the air, even briefly, he is one or
more of the following:
a superhero
a ski jumper
crazy (redundant if also number 2)
a circus act, departing a cannon
suspended on wires
an angel
heavily symbolic
Flying is freedom not only from specific circumstances but trom those
more general burdens that tie us down. It's escape, the flight of the
Irony trumps everything.
But irony typically depends on an established pattern on which it can
work its inversions. Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus (1984) heroine,
Fevvers, whose name paradoxically suggests both "feathers and "tethers"
is a flying trapeze woman. However, her flights are contained indoors,
Marilee Eyre
Beaver High School
Silver State
AP Summer Institute
emblem of pure, if untested, maleness in search of a chalice, the Holy
Grail, which can be a symbol of female sexuality as understood once
upon a time: the empty vessel, waiting to be filled. The reason for
seeking to bring together the lance and the chalice? Fertility. (Fertility
myths, mythic thinking, and archetypes.)
Same with keys and locks.
Chapter 17: " ... Except Sex"
Sex can be pleasure, sacrifice, submission, rebellion, resignation,
supplication, domination, enlightenment, the whole works.
Chapter 18: "If She Comes Up. It's Baptism"
Many authors died in water. Virginia Woolf, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ann
Quin, Theodore Roethke, John Berryman, and Hart Crane. Samuel
Clemens had to be fetched out of the Mississippi many times.
Maybe on some level tossing characters into the river is (] ) wish
th1till ment, (b) exorcism of primal fear, (c) exploration of the possible,
and not just (d) a handy solution to messy plot difficulties.
Rescue might suggest passivity, good fortune, indebtedness. Grabbing a
piece of driftwood could raise issues ofluck and coincidence, serendipity
rather than planning.
Heraclitus-who lived around 500 BC-composed several adages called
his "apothegms of change," all of which tell us that everything is
changing at every moment, that the movement of time causes ceaseless
change in the cosmos. One of these sayings is that one cannot step into
the same river twice.
Baptism: death and rebirth through the medium of water. Being born is
painful. And that goes whether you're born or reborn.
Rain can be restorative and cleansing, so there's a certain overlap, but it
generally lacks the specific baptismal association of submersion. But if
characters refonned every time they got wet, no book would ever have
The thing about baptism is, you have to be ready to receive it.
Marilee Eyre
Beaver High School
Silver State
AP Summer Institute
Only by leaving "home" and traveling to his real home can he find his
real self.
Geography can be character.
Geography can playa specific plot role in a literary work.
DH Lawrence uses Geography as a metaphor for the psyche-when his
characters go south, they are really digging deep into their subconscious,
delving into that region of darkest fears and desires.
Conrad sends his characters into hearts of darkness to discover the
darkness in their o\V11 hemis. Marlow observes the near-total
disintegration of the European psyche in KUliZ, who has been in-country
so long that he has become unrecognizable.
Generally, when writers send characters south, it's so they can run amok.
They run amok because they are having direct, raw encounters with the
Conrad's visionaries, Lawrence's searchers, Hemingway's hunters,
Kerouac's hipsters, Paul Bowles's down-and-outers and seekers, and
Forster's tourists, Durrell's libeliines-all head south in more senses than
Types of places are impOliant as well.
There are impOliant ups and downs in literature.
Low: swamps, crowds, fog, darkness, fields, heat, unpleasantness,
people, life, death.
High: snow, ice, purity, thin air, clear views, isolation, life death.
High or low, near or far, nOlih or south, east or west, the places of poems
and fiction really matter. It's place and space and shape that bring us to
ideas and psychology and history and dynamism.
Marilee Eyre
Beaver High School
Silver State
AP Summer Institute
For about as long s anyone's been writing anything, the seasons have stood
for the same set of meanings.
Spring has to do with childhood and youth, summer with adulthood and
romance and fulfillment and passion, autumn with decline and middle age
and tiredness but also harvest, winter with old age and resentment and death.
Frost's "After Apple Picking" doesn't come right out and say a date, but we
know it is October if the apples are picked. Frost expands on the seasonal
implications with time of day (late evening), mood (very tired), tone (almost
elegiac), and point of view (backward looking). Thus harvest can refer to
personal harvests, whether over the course of a growing season or a life.
The ancient Romans named the first month of our calendar after Janus, the
god of two faces, the month of January looking back into the year gone by
and forward into the one to come. Frost uses this same duality for autunm
and the harvest season.
All writers made modifications in their use of the seasons, which keeps
seasonal symbolism fresh and interesting. \Vill she play it straight or use
spring ironically? Will summer be warm and rich and liberating or hot and
dusty and stif1ing? Will autumn find us tottering up our accomplishments or
winding down, arriving at wisdom and peace or being shaken by those
November winds? The seasons are always the same in literature and yet
always different.
The story of Demeter emphasizes these ideas. The Greeks held their
dramatic festivals, which featured almost entirely tragedy, at the beginning
of spring to purge all the built-up bad feelings of winter and to instruct them
in right conduct toward the gods so that no negativity would attach to the
growing season and thereby endanger the harvest. Comedy was performed
in the fall, once the harvest was in, and celebrations and laughter were
Christianity has the same ideas with Christmas on the shortest and, therefore,
most dismal day of the year and Easter in spring. Both holidays derive much
of their power from their proximity in the calendar year to moments on
which we humans place great emphases.
Marilee Eyre
Beaver High School
Silver State
AP Summer Institute
These stories-myth, archetype, religious narrative, the great body of
literature--are always with us. We can draw upon them, tap into them, add
to them whenever we want.
Chapter 21: "Marked for Greatness"
Vladimir Propp, in his landmark study of folktales in the 1920s, NJorphology
ofthe Folktale, separates the story of the fold quester into 30 or so separate
steps. One of the initial steps is that the hero is marked in some way. He
may be scarred or lamed or wounded or painted or bom with a short leg, but
he bears some mark that sets him apm1. They resemble the Gennanic,
Celtic, French, and Italian folktales better known in the West. Many of
those tales continue to inform our understanding of how stories are told.
Oedipus: swollen foot.
Scars represent personal history.
Wounds can be personal, historical, cultural and mythical.
Every time there is an advance in the state of knowledge, a movement into a
brave new world, some commentator or other informs us that we're closer to
meeting a Frankenstein (meaning, of course, the monster).
Romanticism gave us the notion that in each of us, no matter how well made
or socially groomed, a monstrous Other exists. The Prince and the Pauper,
The NJaster ofBallantrae, The Picture ofDorian Gray, and Dr. Jekyll and
/1111'. Hyde.
More often than not physical markings by their very nature call attention to
themselves and signifY some psychological or thematic point the writer
wants to make.
Chapter 22: "He's Blind for a Reason, You Know"
Blind chm'acters can't see a thing in the world. But they are able to see
things in the spirit and divine world, the truth of what's actually happened.
When wTiting a play with a blind character, every move, statement by or
about that character has to accommodate the lack of sight. In Oedipus Rex,
Marilee Eyre
Beaver High School
Silver State
AP Summer Institute
4. It should have strong symbolic or metaphorical possibilities.
The metaphorical possibilities usually override all others.
The Romantics and Victorians had consumption; we have AIDS, and AIDS
is the mother lode of metaphor and symbol. Its tendency to lie dormant for
so long, then to tum every victim into an unknowing carrier, its virtual 100
percent mortality rates over the first decade or so of its history. It mainly
involves young people, hit the gay community very hard, devastated many
people in the developing world, and has been a scourge in artistic circles­
the tragedy and despair, but also the courage and resilience and compassion.
It even has a strong political angle.
Fever can represent the randomness of fate, the harshness oflife, the
unknowability of the mind of God, the playwright's lack of imagination, or a
wide array of possibilities.
Real illnesses come with baggage, which can be useful or at least overcome
in a novel.
Chapter 25: "Don't Read with Your Eyes"
Don't read only from your own fixed position in 2007. Find a reading
perspective that allows for sympathy with the historical moment of the story
that understands the text as having been written against its own social,
historical, cultural, and personal background.
Chapter 26: "Is He Serious And Other Ironies"
Irony trumps everything.
Irony chiefly involves a deflection from expectation. Oscar Wilde, the
master of comic irony both verbal and dramatic succeeds because he pays
attention to expectations. In The Importance ofBeing Earnest, a recent
widow's "hair has gone quite gold from grief."
However, irony doesn't work for everyone. But, Irony-sometimes comic,
sometimes tragic, sometimes wry or perplexing-provides richness to
literature, and it keeps us readers on our toes, inviting us, compelling us, to
dig through layers of possible meaning and competing signification.
Marilee Eyre
Beaver High School
Silver State
AP Summer Institute
The questers are always young, inexperienced, immature, sheltered. Not 45
year old men.
Always and never are two words that do not have much meaning in literary
study. Eavan Boland will upend things just to remind readers and writers of
the falseness of our established assumptions.
Chapter 2: "Nice to Eat with You: Acts of Communion"
Cigars are sometimes phallic symbols and sometimes not.
Sometimes meals are just meals, but more than not, they are more.
Whenever people eat or drink together, it is communion.
Nearly every religion has some kind of conling together of the faithful to
share sustenance.
Breaking bread together is an act of sharing and peace because if you're
breaking bread you're not breaking heads. Usually we invite our friends to
dilmer. The act of eating is so personal that we usually only want to do it
with people we're very comfortable with. It is another way of saying I like
you; we form a community together.
We use it in literature to show how characters are getting along or not
getting along.
The alcohol at supper and the marijuana after combine to relax the nalTator
so he can receive the full force of his insight, so he can share in the drawing
of a cathedral, which is a place of communion.
The failed meal stands as a bad sign.
Chapter 3: "Nice to Eat You: Acts of Vampires"
Not all eating in literature is friendly. What a difference a preposition
Dracula. A nasty old man, attractive but evil, violates young Vlomen, leaves
his mark on them, steals their innocence and leaves them helpless followers
in his sin. Evil has had to do with sex since the serpent seduced Eve. A
Marilee Eyre
Beaver High School
Silver State
AP Summer Institute
lent by something being almost universally known, where one has only to
utter certain lines and people nod their heads in recognition.
"The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock" (1917) says he was never cut out to be
a Prince Hamlet. This is not an age of tragic grandeur, Prufrock suggests, but
an age of hapless ditherers. Yes, but we know Hamlet himself is a hapless
ditherer, and it's only circumstance that saves him from his own haplessness
and confers on him something noble and tragic.
If we understand Shakespeare, our understanding of both works becomes
richer and deeper as we hear this dialogue playing out; we see the
implications for the new work, \vhile at the same time \ve reconfigure our
thinking, if only slightly about the earlier one.
Chapter 7: "... Or the Bible"
Garden, serpent, plagues, flood, parting of waters, loaves, fishes, forty days,
betrayal, denial, slavery and escape, tatted calves, milk and honey.
The Fall is another way of saying the loss of innocence.
Bible is useful for titles: East ojEden, Tongues (~r Flame, Absalom,
Absolam! And God Down, Moses. The Sun Also Rises. based on a passage
from Ecclesiastes, reminds us that every night is followed by a new day, that
life is an endless cycle oflife, death, and renewal in which one generation
succeeds another until the end of time.
More common than titles are situations and quotations. Poetry is absolutely
full of Scripture. John Milton's Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained. Samson
Agonistes. Bemvuljis largely about the coming of Christianity into the old
paganism of northem Germanic society after being about a hero overcoming
a villain, Grendel, who descended fi'om the line of Cain.
John Donne was an Anglican minister and Jonathan Swift the Dean of the
Church of Ireland. Edward Taylor and Anne Bradstreet were American
Puritans. Ralph Waldo Emerson was a Unitarian minister and Gerard
Manley Hopkins was a Catholic priest. Every writer prior to sometime in
the middle of the twentieth century was solidly instructed in religion.
If something going on in a text seems to be beyond the scope of the story's
or poem's immediate dimensions, if it resonates outside itself, start looking
Marilee Eyre
Beaver High School
Silver State
AP Summer Institute
Because fairy tales, like Shakespeare, the Bible, mythology, and all other
writing and telling belong to the one big story, and because, since we were
old enough to be read to or propped up in front of a television, we've been
living on that story and on its fairy variants. Once you've seen Bugs Bunny
or Daffy Duck in a version of one of the classics, you pretty much own it as
part of your consciousness. In fact, it would be hard to read the Grimm
Brothers and not think of Warner Brothers.
Readers will start looking for glimpses of the familiar.
Chapter 9: "It's Greek to Me"
Shakespeare, biblical, and folk-fairy tales are mythologies that work as
sources of depth for the modem writer. Biblical covers the greatest range of
human situations, encompassing all ages of life including the next life, all
relationships whether personal or govemmental, and all phases of the
individual's experience, physical, sexual, psychological, and spiritual.
Myth is story, the ability of story to explain ourselves to ourselves in ways
that physics, philosophy, mathematics, and chemistry can't. Stories are
deeply ingrained in our group memory that shape our culture and are in tum
shaped by it that constitutes a way of seeing by which we read the world and
ultimately ourselves. Myth is a body of story that matters.
Every community has its own body or story that matters.
Whenever flying or falling is invoked, we think ofIcarus. His father
Daedalus crafted his wings and knew how to get off Crete and safely reach
the mainland and flew to safety. Icarus, the kid, the daredevil, failed to
follow his father's advice and plunged to his death. His fall remains a
source of endming fascination for us and our literature and art. We see the
parental attempt to save the child and the grief at having failed, the cure that
proves as deadly as the ailment, the youthful exuberance that leads to self-­
destruction and clash between sober, adult wisdom and adolescent
recklessness and the terror involved in the headlong descent into the sea.
W.H. Auden's "Musee des Beaux Alis" and Vlilliam Carlos Williams's
"Landscape with Fall of Icarus" are very different from each other in tone,
style, and form but in essential agreement about how the world goes on even
in the face of our private tragedies.
Marilee Eyre
Beaver High School
Silver State
AP Summer Institute
Ironic: T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land begins "April is the cruellest month."
He plays off our cultural expectations of spring and rain and fertility.
Rain mixes with sun to create rainbows. A rainbow symbolizes divine
promise, peace between heaven and earth.
Fog is almost always a signal for some sort of confusion.
Fog is mental and ethical as well as physical.
Authors use fog to suggest that people can't see clearly, that matters under
consideration are murky.
Snow? Is clean, stark, severe, warm (as an insulating blanket, paradoxically)
inhospitable, inviting, playful, suffocating, filth (after enough time has
* "Does He Mean That?"
Can anyone really have this all going on at one time? Yes
How do we know? We make guesses. Since proofis nearly impossible,
discussions of the writer's intentions are not especially profitable. \\That did
the writer do? Wbat can we as readers discover about the work? We have
to work with hints and allegations, really evidence is sometimes only a trace
that points to something lying behind the text.
Any aspiring writer is probably also a hungry aggressive reader as well and
will have absorbed a tremendous amount ofliterary history and literary
culture. Sometimes we forget how long literary composition can take and
how very much lateral thinking can go on in that amount oftime.
Writers frequently bring in biblical parallels, classical or Shakespearean
allusions, bits of REM songs, fairy tale fragments, anything you can think
of. We would not claim them to be geniuses. It is something that starts
happening when a reader/writer and a sheet of paper get locked in a room
together. And it's a great deal of what makes reading the work interesting
and fun.
Marilee Eyre
Beaver High School
Silver State
AP Summer Institute
We sense greater weight or depth in works when there is something
happening beyond the surface. ("'To Paint a Water Lilly")
Literary fiction and drama and poetry are chiefly about those other layers.
Violence is a symbolic action. Ifwe only understand Beloved on the surface
level, Sethe's act of killing her daughter becomes so repugnant that
sympathy for her is nearly impossible. This action speaks for the experience
of a race at a certain hOlTific moment in history. A Joacasta, a Dido, a
Medea. Sethe isn't a mere woman next door, but a mythic creature, one of
the great tragic heroines.
Clashes can automatically follow mythic patterns. The young soldier comes
striding onto the makeshift farm as a fertility god, fairly screaming virility.
William Faulkner's violence contains rape, three cases of incest, a stabbing,
two shootings, and a suicide by drowning, all in two thousand words. But
his violence is historically conditioned. Class warfare, racism, and the
inheritance of slavery, the impotent rage at having lost the Civil War.
Slavery allows its victims no decision-making power over any aspect of their
lives, including the decision to live. The lone exception, the only power
they have is that they may choose to die.
His violence often expresses historical conditions at the same time that it
draws on mythic or biblical parallels.
Accidents do happen in real life of course. So do illnesses. But when they
happen in literature, they're not really accidents. They're accidents only on
the inside of the novel---Dn the outside they're planned, plotted, and
executed by somebody, with malice aforethought.
Authors rarely introduce violence straightforwardly, to perfonll only its one
appointed task, so \ve ask questions. Vi/hat does this type of misfortune
represent thematically? What famous or mythic death does this one
resemble? Why this sort of violence and not some other?
We just neet to accept it and figure out what it means.
Chapter 12: "Is That a Svmbol?"
Sure it is.
Marilee Eyre
Beaver High School
Silver State
AP Summer Institute
One problem with symbols is that many readers expect them to be objects
and images rather than events or actions. Action can be symbolic. Thus
you cannot say it means x or y. You can say it could mean this, or this, or
River: Brainstonn any past use of rivers. Categorize these into reject ideas
those that may apply.
Questions? What is the writer doing with this image? This object? This act?
What possibilities are suggested by the movement of the nalTative or the
lyric? (Most important) What does it feel like it's doing?
Reading literature involves affect and instinct.
Much of \vhat we think about literature, we feel first.
The more you exercise the symbolic imagination, the better and quicker it
Reading is an event of the imagination; our creativity, our inventiveness,
encounters that of the writer, and in that meeting we puzzle out what she
means, what we understand her to mean, what uses we can put to her
writing. A reader's imagination is the act of one creative intelligence
engaging another.
Chapter 13: "It's All Political"
A Christmas Carol is politically based on Thomas MaIthus's philosophy that
came from Puritanism two centuries earlier that in helping the poor or in
increasing food production to feed more people, we would encourage an
increase in the number of the impoverished, who would, among other things,
simply procreate faster to take advantage of all that surplus gruel.
Dickens shows this idea in Scrooge when he wants nothing to do with the
destitute and said, ifthey would rather starve than live in the poorhouse or in
debtors' prison, then they had best hurry up and do it and decrease the
excess population.
Dickens chose Scrooge to represent what is in us and society_
The story is meant to change us.
Ovelily political writing can be one-dimensional, simplistic, reductionist,
preachy, and dull.
Marilee Eyre
Beaver High School
Silver State
AP Summer Institute
Chapter 14: "Yes, She's a Christ Figure, Too"
Values: How are they connected to the individual's role in society? Or
humankind's relation to nature? Or the involvement of one in public life?
Christlike Features:
crucified, wounds in the hands, feet, side, and head
in agony
good with children
good with loaves, fishes, water, wine
33 years old when last seen
employed as carpenter
known to use humble modes oftransp0l1ation: feet or donkeys
9) believed to have walked on water
10)often pOlirayed with arms outstretched
11 )known to have spent time alone in the wilderness
12)believcd to have had a confrontation with the devil, possibly tempted
13)last seen in the company ofthieves
14)creator of many aphorisms and parables
15)buried, but arose on the third day
l6)had disciples, 12 at first, although not all equally devoted
17)very forgiving
18)came to redeem an unwOlihy world
Religious knowledge is helpful, although religious beliet~ if too tightly
held, can be a problem. We just want to be analytical.
Jesus is often associated with fish.
A Christ figure doesn't need to resemble Christ in every way; otherwise,
he wouldn't be a Christ figure: he'd be Christ.
Thus, he is Clu'istlike because he did X and Y . No literary Christ figure
can ever be as pure, as perfect, or as divine as Jesus Christ.
*Vle cannot have the story mean anything we want to.
Marilee Eyre
Beaver High Schoo!
Silver State
AP Summer Institute
her world is a stage where even the fourth wall is a barrier, since she is so
different from her audience that she cannot freely join them.
She's trapped by the ability most symbolic offreedom. And her fioeedom
is paradoxical because her act frees her to express her sexuality in ways
not available to other women in the novel's highly restricted late­
Victorian society.
Characters who don't quite fly or whose flights are interrupted are
generally a bad thing, even though not all crashes end disastrollsly. As
thrilled as we are by the prospect of flying, we are also frightened at the
prospect of falling, and anything that seems to defy the inevitabil ity of a
plummeting demise sets our imaginations working overtime.
What does it mean to survive celtain death?
How does such survival alter one's relationship to the world?
Do the characters' responsibilities to themselves, to life itself, change?
Is the survivor even the same person any longer?
The flights of fancy allow us, as readers, to take off, to let our
imaginations take t1ight. We can sail off with characters, freed ofthe
limitations of our tuition payments and mortgage rates; we can soar into
interpretation and speculation.
Chapter 16 "It's All Abollt Sex ... "6
Freud put much of the sex in literature when he published The
Intelpretation ofDreams in 1900. He unlocked the sexual potential of
the subconscious. Tall buildings? Male sexuality. Rolling landscapes?
Female sexuality. Stairs? Sexual intercourse. Falling down stairs? Oh
Sex doesn't have to look like sex: other objects and activities can stand in
for sexual organs and sex acts, which is good, since those organs and acts
can only be arranged in so many ways and are not inevitably decorous.
Grail Legends
A knight usually very young rallies forth bearing his lance, which will
certainly do until a phallic symbol comes along. The knight becomes the
Marilee Eyre
Beaver High School
Silver State
AP Summer Institute
When writers baptize a character, they generally mean death, rebirth, new
Maybe baptism is somewhat like the cultural memory of Noah's flood of
the whole world drowning and then this small remnant being set down on
dry land to restore life to earth, cleansed of the sin and pollution that had
marked human life right before the flood. Seen this way, baptism is a
sort of reenactment on a very small scale of that drowning and restoration
of life.
The rebirths/baptisms have a lot of common threads, but every drowning
is serving its own purpose: character revelation, thematic development
of violence or failure or guilt, plot complication or denouement.
Chapter 19: "Geographv Matters ..."
In a sense, every story or poem is a vacation, and every writer has to ask,
every time, Where is this one taking place?
Foster usually thinks of hills, creeks, deserts, beaches, degrees latitude.
Stuff like that.
Geography: hills, etc, Stuff: economics, politics, history.
Why didn't Napoleon conquer Russia? Geography. He ran into two
forces he couldn't overcome: a ferocious Russian winter and a people
whose touglmess and tenacity in defending their homeland matched the
merciless elements.
Literary geography is typically about humans inhabiting spaces, and at
the same time the spaces that inhabit humans.
Geography is setting, but it can also be psychology, attitude, finance,
industry-anything that place can forge in the people who live there.
Geography can be theme, symbol, and plot.
Geography can define or develop a character.
Silver State
AP Summer Institute
Marilee Eyre
Beaver High School
Chapter 20: " ... So Does Season"
Shakespeare's Sonnet 73
That Time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold:
Bare, ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
November in the bones; it makes my joints ache just to think about it.
The speaker is standing on the edge of old age.
When King Lear is raging in his old man's madness, he's doing it in a winter
storm. When young lovers escape to the enchanted woods, it is a
midsummer night.
Happiness and dissatisfaction have their seasons. Summer is passion and
love; winter is anger and hatred. The Book of Ecclesiastes tells us that to
everything there is a seascn.
Henry VI, Pali II
Sometimes hath the brightest day a cloud,
And after summer evermore succeeds
Ban-en winter, with his wrathful nipping cold;
So cares and joys abound, as seasons fleet.
Even his titles tell us seasons matter with him: A Winter's Tale, Tvvelfth
Night, A l\!fidsummer Night's Dream.
Henry James's characters Daisy Miller and Frederic Winterbourne and her
hometown Schenectady.
The Mamas & Papas express dissatisfaction with winter, gray skies, and
brown leaves do some "California Dreamin'" Simon & Garfunkel cover
much the same unhappy ground in "A Hazy Shade of Winter." The Beach
Boys made a very lucrative career out of happy-summer-land with all those
surfing and cruising songs.
Marilee Eyre
Beaver High School
Silver State
AP Summer Institute
So it is with books and poems. We read the seasons in them almost without
being conscious of the many associations we bring to that reading.
Interlude "One Story
The one story is about ourselves, about what it means to be human. We want
to know about space and time and this world. We are interested in ourselves,
in space, in time, and in the world.
Story tellers and poets explain us and the world or us in the world.
Pure originality is impossible.
John Barth discusses an Egyptian papyrus complaining LhaL aJ] the stories
have been told and, therefore, nothing remains for the contemporary writer
but to retell them. That papyrus describing the postmodem condition is
4,500 years old. However, if the writer is good, the work actually acquires
depth and resonance from the echoes and chimes it sets up with prior texts,
weight from the accumulated use of celtain basic patterns and tendencies.
Moreover, works are actually more comforting because we recognize
elements in them from our prior reading.
Everything's connected. Anything you write is connected to other written
things, just like every Western movie has a little bit of other westerns in it,
whether it knows it or not.
"Archetype" is a five-dollar word for "pattern," or for the mythic original on
which a pattern is based. Somewhere back in myth, something-a story
component-comes into being. It works so well that it catches on, hangs
around, and keeps popping up in subsequent stories. The component could
be anything: a quest, a form of sacrifice, flight, a plunge into the water,
whatever resonates and catches our imaginations, setting off vibrations deep
in our collective consciousness, calling to us, alal111ing us, inspiring us to
dream or nightmare, making us want to hear it again. And again and again
and again. You'd think that these components, these archetypes would wear
out with use the way cliche wears out, but they achlally work the other way:
they take on power with repetition, finding strength in numbers. Frye calls
these displacement of the myth.
Marilee Eyre
Beaver High School
Silver State
AP Summer Institute
blind and sight are thematic components throughout the work with related
images and phrases in the text.
If you want your audience to know something important about our character
(or the work at large), introduce it early, before you need it. Introduce your
blind character right in the begilming.
Chapter 23: "It's Never Just Heart Disease ..."
In literature there is no better, no more lyrical, no more perfectly
metaphorical illness than heart disease.
The heart is the symbolic repository of emotion. Sophocles llses the heart to
mean the center of emotion, just like Dante, Shakespeal"e, Donne, Marvell
and many more. Valentine cards? When we lose a love, we feel
The writer can use heart ailments as a social metaphor: bad love, loneliness,
cruelty, pederasty, disloyalty, cowardice, lack of determination. It may
show something is seriously amiss at the heart of things.
Nathaniel Hawthorne's main character in "The Man of Adamant" lives in a
cave to avoid sinners, and his heart turns to stone.
Conrad's Lord Jim is all about heart, and Jim was shot in the heart, and
Marlow, the nalTator, said Jim was "inscrutable at heart."
If characters have difficulties of the heart, they usually have emotional
trouble that becomes the physical ailment.
Chapter 24: ... "And Rarely Just Illness"
lllness is a big palt of life and a big part of literature.
1. Not all diseases are created equal.
2. A prime literar)' disease should be picturesque
3. A prime disease should be mysteriolls in origin.
Marilee Eyre
Beaver High School
Silver State
AP Summer Institute
"Every chapter in this book goes out the window when irony comes in the