How to Read Literature Like a Professor

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What does it mean when a fictional hero takes a journey?. Shares a meal? Gets drenched in a sudden rain shower? Often, there is much more going on in a novel or poem than is readily visible on the surface—a symbol, maybe, that remains elusive, or an unexpected twist on a character—and there's that sneaking suspicion that the deeper meaning of a literary text keeps escaping you.

In this practical and amusing guide to literature, Thomas C. Foster shows how easy and gratifying it is to unlock those hidden truths, and to discover a world where a road leads to a quest; a shared meal may signify a communion; and rain, whether cleansing or destructive, is never just rain. Ranging from major themes to literary models, narrative devices, and form, How to Read Literature Like a Professor is the perfect companion for making your reading experience more enriching, satisfying, and fun.

Curriculet Details
68 Questions
67 Annotations
3 Quizzes

Designed for students in 11th and 12th grade, this free digital curriculum contains annotations explaining irony, symbolism, and structure. It also contains interactive videos that support comprehension, such as videos about literal vs. figurative language and examples of textual connections to art and film. Over the course of the book, students will answer Common Core questions and quizzes related to the subjects of reading closely, uncovering meaning in complex texts, and learning to establish patterns in the larger cannon of literature. This free online unit will increase student engagement while building reading comprehension.

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Have you ever experienced a moment like this in a class, with a teacher, or in a conversation with someone who already reads like a professor? (Maybe you just had this moment after you read through all of these examples of some Faust and the whole "selling-your-soul-to-the-devil" motif.) How does Thomas Foster, our author, use this moment to transition into what this book is going to be about? 
Through which set of glasses does Foster suggest a reader view a text?  
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of a book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on movie devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently... Is there a word on this page you need to look up? 
What are the three things Foster says you will need to be able to do or recognize if you are going to read literature like a professor?  

Chapter 1

Watch the video below to learn more about the hero's journey- a common motif in literature. The hero's journey follows a similar structure to the basic quest mentioned here.  (This annotation contains a video)
What quest tales have you read before? Choose one and briefly explain how the story addresses the major points in the quest structure. 

Chapter 2

You can view the film version of this scene here. What do you think of the author's assessment of the role of eating as communion in this scene? (This annotation contains a video)
What strategy is Foster using to emphasize the main idea of this chapter?  
What does Joyce use in the highlighted excerpt to "create a military effect"?  
Now that you've read a couple of chapters of this book, how would you characterize Foster's style? What are you learning? How does he succeed in helping you to see those things?  

Chapter 3

Which of the following lines is used to transition from the previous chapter to this chapter? 
Although this probably goes without saying, be sure to note the bold statements in each chapter. This is Foster's way of pointing out important concepts and main ideas for each chapter. Maybe they are worth making into a list? 
Which of the following best characterizes Foster's tone? 

Chapter 4

The author here departs from prose and takes a look at poetry. Are you familiar with the forms he mentions here? Don't forget about the define feature! It works on poetry too.  
London, 1802BY WILLIAM WORDSWORTHMilton! thou shouldst be living at this hour:England hath need of thee: she is a fenOf stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,Have forfeited their ancient English dowerOf inward happiness. We are selfish men;Oh! raise us up, return to us again;And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart:Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,So didst thou travel on life's common way,In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heartThe lowliest duties on herself did lay.Which kind of poem is the one above?  
Does this also apply to reading novels, articles, short stories, textbooks, or any other piece of writing? Does shape or structure always have something to tell us?  

Chapter 5

What is the purpose of this rhetorical question?  
What is your reaction to this simile? What is it trying to point out? Is it effective?  
How does Foster support the idea that "there's only one story"? Use evidence from the text as you evaluate his argument. 

Chapter 6

Have you ever seen the movie 10 Things I Hate About You? This too is a spin off of Shakespeare's play The Taming of the Shrew. (This annotation contains a video)
What is Foster's tone in the highlighted section?  
Notice how Foster appeals to your sense of logic here to support his argument that Shakespeare is almost sacred. Did the list of quotations sound familiar to you? Have you read a Shakespearean play each year of high school? Ever been to one of his plays? Does the way Foster presents this information to you give Shakespeare's prominence any more weight?  
Foster claims that "Shakespeare also provides a figure against whom writers can struggle, a source of texts against which other texts can bounce ideas." Which of the following of the examples from Foster's examination of T.S. Eliot's poem "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock" supports this statement? 

Chapter 7

Vesuvius is a volcano in Italy famous for having destroyed (and ironically also preserving the remains in) Pompeii. This reference or allusion requires that you understand what Vesuvius is and why it is historically significant. You may be getting the bigger picture, but Foster is almost constantly suggesting that the more knowledgeable you are, the more practice you have at reading, and the more you can take away in your memory, the better you'll be able to understand what you read.  (This annotation contains an image)
Use the define feature to look up the word nonsectarian. Which of the following would be a good antonym for nonsectarian?  
You need not read everything in the article from The Guardian that is posted in the link below, but it may be worth scrolling through to look at the pictures or to read one of the sections to learn more about Salman Rushdie and the effect his book The Satanic Verses had on his life. Why does Foster include this example in a chapter about the Bible? (This annotation contains a link)
Which of the following sequences accurately shows how Foster explains that one not need be an expert to understand when allusions are being used in literature?  

Chapter 8

What is Foster building an argument for in the highlighted section?  
Virginia Woolf was a prominent British writer in the early part of the 1900's. She may have made it into this so-called canon early on because she was hailed for her unique free form, non-linear style of writing.  (This annotation contains an image)
Watch the video below to learn more about metonymy and synecdoche.  (This annotation contains a video)
What does Foster mean here? What is ironic and how so? 
This is important. After all of this instruction about who to borrow from and how, what Foster has really been trying to give you is a glimpse into the writer's mind that you can use as you read.  

Chapter 9

Provide a comprehensive definition of myth as if you were Thomas Foster.  
Compose a response in which you compare the tone, style, and form of Auden's and Williams's poems. Be sure to use evidence form both texts in your response. Feel free to comment on Foster's own analysis of the two poems as you conduct your own.  
Visit the website in the link below. You will be able to read both of the poems (read them twice) that Foster mentions as well as view the painting by Brueghel. As you read, consider Foster's comments about the two poems.  (This annotation contains a link)
This myth has made its way into film and popular culture over and over again. This clip from the recent film Troy shows the famous fight between Achilles and Hector.  (This annotation contains a video)
The literary term for the struggles of the human being that Foster names is __________. 

Chapter 10

Notice how Foster alternates between 1st and 2nd person narration. When he addresses "you," he is using 2nd person point of view. 2nd person is the rarest of narrative types in literature. How does the style, structure, and purpose of this book make the use of 2nd person narration appropriate or powerful?  
Use the define feature to look up the word hapless. Which of the following would be an appropriate synonym for hapless as it is used in the sentence?  
Foster writes about irony a lot in this section. You may have an understanding of what irony is, or you may have received conflicting definitions of the term. Watch the video in the link to below to learn more about irony. What do you think: are Foster's uses of the term appropriate?  (This annotation contains a link)
Read the poem by Theodore Roethke in the link below. As you read, take with you the new lens of the importance of weather features. Consider what you have read in this chapter and then compose a response in which you choose at least two images of weather and describe their role in the poem. 
Section One Quiz 

Does he Mean that?

These two authors were popular during a time of literary criticism called New Criticism. This style of criticism focused on "close reading," or reading with a specific task and a sense that meaning is to be found in the text, not in a reader's own interpretation of a text. It is important that Foster uses writers from this movement to support his claim that writers work so intentionally.  
What is the purpose of the highlighted sentence? 

Homework #14

How may a punch in the nose be a metaphor? What other metaphors of violence are you familiar with? 
Read the poem "Out, Out-" in the link below. Then, go back and read Foster's analysis again. Are you getting better at reading like a professor? (This annotation contains a link)
Which of the following would be a plausible inference to make from the highlighted section? 
What exactly is symbolism? Watch the video below to learn more.  (This annotation contains a video)
These questions are important ones to keep in your mind as you read and especially when you encounter violence. Foster leaves the reader with these questions as if they are tools. Which pieces of literature that you have read include violence worth analyzing? 

Homework #15

Using the define feature, previous knowledge, the internet, or context clues, describe the difference between symbolism and allegory. 
What does this sound like that you just read? Are the caves doubly symbolic? Is Foster utilizing this part of the book for his own symbolic purpose?  
The highlighted sentence includes  _________. 
Foster here provides his reader with a bit of self-doubt. What is he suggesting by including this section? If you are interested in reading "The Wasteland", or even a part of it, it is available in the link below. (This annotation contains a link)
Why does Foster include the highlighted comment? What exactly is it and what effect does it have on this section?  

Homework #16

Thomas Malthus was an English economist in the late 1700's and early 1800's. His theories about population growth were the butt of much criticism. Visit the website below to learn more.  (This annotation contains a link)
Foster has given the reader two entirely different views on political writing. Describe the chief differences between the two types.  
Which statement best supports the notion that Washington Irving was very likely writing politically? 
Hemlock is the name of a poisonous plant that is native to Europe and the Mediterranean region.  (This annotation contains an image)

Homework #17

Why do you think Foster provides this list of recognizable features? What effect does the list have on you as a reader?  
Use the define feature to look up the word glib. Which of the following is an antonym for glib.  
Much like the other sections of this book, Foster is walking the line between instruction and encouragement for imagination. Like a previous metaphor he used, a professor can just lead a reader to the "mushrooms" so that a reader knows how to begin seeing them for himself.  

Homework #18

Which of the following does Foster employ to create a sense of familiarity with the reader?  
Would this make Carter's book inherently political too? The kind of political Foster likes or doesn't? 
What is Foster likely to discuss next? 
How have your thoughts about flight changed after reading this chapter? Can you think back to a story in which the character took flight, fell or flew in some other symbolic way? What do you see differently now? 

Homework #19

What inference can you draw from the highlighted statement? 
D.H. Lawrence was an English novelist and poet who was purported to have held some controversial religious, political, and philosophical beliefs (among them, misogyny and fascism). Born in England, Lawrence experienced a sort of self-imposed exile after WWI and lived the remainder of his life traveling, staying in Australia, the US and France (where he died in 1930).  (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following statements expresses a tone of sarcasm? 

Homework #20

In what other ways has writing, art, self-expression been limited by societal constraints? Can you think of any current topics or practices that are disguised in literature, film, popular culture? 
Use the define feature to look up the word anathema. Which of the following synonyms would best replace anathema in the sentence?  
You do not need to watch the entire video of Beyonce's "Pretty Hurts;" you may already be familiar with the song. But considering the message against the backdrop of the video (as well as the knowledge that Beyonce's image has always been one of a scantily-clad, voluptuous woman), do you see any contradiction? Do powerful women who appear to use sexuality to their advantage actually wield that power? Are they using sex as liberation (as Foster suggests O'Brien does)? Or is it something else?  (This annotation contains a video)
How can sexuality be subversive? Consider popular culture and powerful women. Can women use sexuality to "upset the patriarchal apple cart"? Think about the video you just watched as well as this example as you compose your answer. 

Homework #21

In case you have not read Ordinary People or seen the film, here is the trailer:  (This annotation contains a video)
What else, that you have recently read in this book, does this rebirth remind you of? 
The Ohio River forms the partial borders of many states. This example Foster has chosen shows quite a transformation, from slavery to freedom.  (This annotation contains an image)
To which of the following has Foster not connected water?  

Homework #22

Location is often the first aspect of a setting that readers notice. Readers might also seek answers to other questions, but "where?" is always significant. As you read, consider other layers to the question of "where?" that Foster adds to your understanding.  
Which literary device does Foster employ in the highlighted sentence? 
Can you think of another text or film in which the place could almost be another character? What seems significant about this aspect of location to the text or film you are thinking of?  
You have now read a few examples of texts in which geography is important as both a plot element and as a sort of character. Think of your own example from either a text or a film and write an explanation of how geography functions as either a character or a necessary plot element.  
Do you think this could apply to North and South as well?  
Use the define feature to look up the word hoary. Which of the following is an antonym for hoary? 

Homework #23

Watch the video below to hear the iconic "California Dreamin'". (This annotation contains a video)
Why does Foster include Auden's poem as an example in this section? 
Foster gives his readers the Greek myth of Persephone, but then goes on to establish the same sort of pattern in religious texts and mythology that he has previously tried to establish: that there is only really one story. How are you beginning to see the patterns that Foster is pointing out? 
Explain why Foster claims that T.S. Eliot's use of the seasons will bring his readers "up short." 
Section Two Quiz 

One Story

Do you agree with this idea? Do you think this applies to other artistic genres? (Think about movies, music, visual art.) 
Summarize what Foster is explaining about the inability of a writer to ever create something that is truly unique. 
Watch the video below for another definition of archetype. (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following best summarizes what Foster is proposing as the "one story"? 

Homework #25

All of these references are to characters with deformities. What can you guess this chapter will be about after you read the title again? 
Think of a hero from a book or film (aside from Harry Potter, since he's already mentioned here). Does this hero have a challenge or a deformity? Why is this obstacle important for the character?  
How does Foster use examples to shift and transition to different topics? Here, he is shifting from deformity as symbolism for personal struggle and conflict to deformity as representation of socio-cultural changes and commentary. Is this an effective strategy? 
Which of the following does Foster not discuss as a use of the monstrous as symbolic?  

Homework #26

This seems like such an important statement. Remember what Foster wrote about recognizing patterns and seeing everything as part of the same story? The hard part isn't finding the answers, but learning how to ask the right questions. Which questions will you ask yourself when you read now?  
Use the define feature to look up the word tawdry. Which of the following is a synonym for tawdry? 

Homework #27

How does Foster reveal his tone throughout this book? What do you see on this very page that expresses his attitude?  (This annotation contains a video)
How does Foster use language to express the difference between the symbolic use of heart disease and the other instances of symbolism he has discussed thus far in the book? How does this metaphor seem different from the others?  
Stanley Kubrick's 1962 film version of Lolita highlights this particular form of "heart disease" that Foster writes about here. Watch the following scene between the young teenage Lolita and Humbert.  (This annotation contains a video)
The author makes the structural choice to begin and end this chapter with the story of Florence and Edward. How does this choice affect the tone of this chapter? 

Homework #28

Much like the chapter on heart disease, this section is describing not what illness symbolizes, but just how actions or inabilities can symbolize illness (whether it is mental, spiritual, emotional, etc.).  
Why does Foster include a brief explanation of the science behind and human understanding of diseases?  
Existentialism is a philosophy of the late 19th century that emphasizes the idea that existence precedes essence. Philosophers such as Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche and Jean-Paul Sartre (as well as many of the authors Foster has mentioned here) were considered existentialists because of their focus on the existence of the individual in an apparently meaningless and absurd world. How does this philosophy fit in with the discussion of disease in this chapter?  
What is the chief reason Foster gives that certain diseases needed to be disguised in nineteenth century literature? 
The Hours was also made into a film. You can watch the trailer below.  (This annotation contains a video)
Why does Foster claim that the most "effective illness is the one the writer makes up" or that it's "too bad the modern writer lost the generic 'fever'"? How does this notion illustrate the main idea of the chapter? 

Homework #29

Watch the following video on point of view and perspective. What is the difference between the two? Which is Foster writing about here?  (This annotation contains a video)
Through which lens does Foster suggest we must try to understand Sonny's Blues? 
Read "The Applicant" by Sylvia Plath. What perspective does the narrator seem to take in this poem? How do you know? Next, visit the poet page on the left hand side under "About the Poet." How does understanding Plath's life impact your reading of the poem?  (This annotation contains a link)
How do you have to shift your own perspective in order to understand or appreciate Plath's poem "The Applicant"?  

Homework #30

Watch the following video on irony. Is the example from Waiting For Godot verbal, situational, or dramatic irony? (This annotation contains a video)
What is necessary for one to understand the structural or dramatic ironies present in literature?  
Being able to determine when situational or dramatic irony is occurring requires a bit more contextual knowledge than detecting verbal irony does. Foster is reinforcing his premise that good readers must come to recognize when the patterns of literature are or are not being followed. 
The examples in the highlighted paragraph are instances of __________. 
Foster is reiterating here the importance of perspective. What are the consequences if irony goes unnoticed? Can you think back on anything you've read in which you may have missed much of the irony?  
What does Foster mean by this?: "How do you know if it's irony? Listen." 

Homework #31

What kinds of things would Foster have you notice about Laura? How does she move? What does she seem to represent or dignify? 
Which of the following best captures the setting of this story? 
Notice Mansfield's imagery here: warmth, stems, wide open petals, moans, lips, breasts. What do these images remind you of?  
Which of the following best characterizes Jose? 
So far, there has been a lot of talk of food and eating. Why is this significant? What would Foster want you to think about all of this eating?  
Which of the following statements would Foster most likely emphasize as significant regarding the man who has died? 
Why might Foster have his readers pause here? What seems significant about Laura's self-assessment? About the hat? Does she remind you of anything?  
How do you interpret the significance of the setting? Consider the following line from the highlighted section:"They were like bright birds that had alighted in the Sheridans' garden for this one afternoon, on their way to--where?"Consider what you have learned as you've read this book and be sure to include evidence from the text to support your answer.  
Notice the imagery in this section. What seems important about the time of day, the things Laura encounters on her way to the cottage, the thoughts that go through her mind. What causes her to stop for a minute? What might all of this mean?  
Which of the following selections reveals Laura's current feelings?  
Why does Laura seek forgiveness for her hat? What does it symbolize?  
Foster now transitions into his own analysis of the story. He will ask you to consider your own thoughts and analysis first, and you should! Pause to think about the meaning of this story. Where can you use the tools that Foster has given you throughout this book in your own analysis?  
Is this an effective technique for this kind of book? How do Foster's addresses to you as a reader make you feel? Did you actually pause to think about or write down your own analysis of the story?  
To what is the student referring when he or she mentions the velvet ribbons?  
This student reader is reporting that she noticed an extended metaphor relating Laura to a bird. Notice how she includes, and then explains the meaning of, so many of the references to birds or flight. Now that you have read this, do you feel differently about the story? Does this analysis sound similar to your own thoughts?  
Foster employs which of the following literary devices in the highlighted section?  
You can read a quick version of the myth of Persephone and Demeter in the link below (Foster has already given the reader an overview of the story). How did Foster's explanation of his arrival at this interpretation help you to see the thought process behind reading like a professor? After reading this myth, do you see the connections and similarities?  (This annotation contains a link)
Which of the following ideas from this book is not mentioned in Foster's analysis of Mansfield's story? 
What does Pound's quote mean? Is this an effective way to assure the reader that it is OK if you did not come to the same conclusions about the story? How does this change your approach to texts you will read in the future?  


Use the define feature to look up the word trepidation. Which of the following is an antonym for trepidation?  
Section Three Quiz