How to Read Literature Like a Professor


Thomas C. Foster

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How to Read Literature Like a Professor Themes

Themes and Colors
Surface Reading vs. Deeper Reading Theme Icon
Symbol and Metaphor Theme Icon
Archetype and Pattern Recognition Theme Icon
Intertextuality Theme Icon
Literature, Life, and Society Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in How to Read Literature Like a Professor, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Surface Reading vs. Deeper Reading

Foster explains that he wrote How to Read Literature Like a Professor in order to address a particular problem: the fact that untrained readers tend to read literature in a surface-level way. This kind of reading is akin to the way one “reads” real-life situations, such as taking people at their word when they speak, or assuming there is no symbolic significance to the fact that someone has developed a disease. Foster includes examples of…

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Symbol and Metaphor

Of all the literary devices examined within the book, symbol and metaphor are arguably the most important. Although they have similar meanings, there is an important distinction between them. A symbol is something that, within the context of a literary work, has a different meaning or meanings from its literal or primary one. A metaphor, meanwhile, is a figure of speech in which an idea is conveyed in an indirect, non-literal way. For example, in…

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Archetype and Pattern Recognition

Archetypes are figures which are imprinted on readers’ minds through repetition in myth and other cultural narratives, and which are imitated, modified, and subverted within works of literature. The archetype of the hero, for example, began in ancient myths, and was defined by certain qualities such as strength, courage, and physical beauty. Nowadays, a hero figure may appear in literature who shares some of these qualities but not others, and yet is still recognizable as…

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Interextuality is a relatively simple concept; it simply refers to the connection between all texts (especially works of literature) across history. Throughout the book, Foster encourages the reader not to think of literary texts as existing in an isolated vacuum, but as having connections to particular cultural and religious traditions (Greek myth, the Bible), genres (vampire stories, fairy tales), and authors (Shakespeare, the Brothers Grimm). By describing these links as intertextual, Foster…

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Literature, Life, and Society

The overall aim of the book is not simply to help high school students pass their English classes or to introduce college students to the world of literary scholarship. Rather, it is clear that the skill of “reading literature like a professor” serves a purpose beyond the confines of the classroom. On one level, literature can help us understand our own minds and lives by a version of the “one story” to which…

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