How to Read Literature Like a Professor Quotes

How to read literature like a professor quotes

Reading literature is not simply about enjoying a good story. It is about delving deeper into the text and uncovering its hidden meaning. In his book “How to Read Literature Like a Professor,” Thomas C. Foster explores the various symbols, themes, and motifs that can be found in literature. Through his insightful analysis, Foster provides readers with the tools they need to become active and engaged readers.

“How to Read Literature Like a Professor” emphasizes the importance of recognizing patterns and recurring themes in literature. According to Foster, many novels, plays, and poems draw inspiration from classic works of literature. By being familiar with these literary traditions, readers can better understand and appreciate the current work they are reading.

One of the key ideas in the book is the concept of intertextuality. Foster argues that all literature is interconnected and that authors frequently reference and allude to other works in their writing. By recognizing these references, readers can gain a deeper understanding of the text. Foster encourages readers to analyze these intertextual connections and to ask themselves why authors choose to reference certain works.

“The real reason for a quest is always self-knowledge.”

– Thomas C. Foster

In addition to intertextuality, Foster also discusses the importance of symbols and allegory in literature. He believes that authors use symbols to convey deeper meanings and messages. Through careful analysis, readers can uncover the symbolism within a text and gain a greater appreciation for the author’s intentions.

“How to Read Literature Like a Professor” is a valuable resource for anyone interested in delving deeper into the world of literature. Foster’s engaging style and insightful analysis make this book a must-read for both aspiring and experienced readers.

Chapter 1: Symbols and Themes

In the first chapter of “How to Read Literature Like a Professor,” author Thomas C. Foster explores the concept of symbols and themes in literature. He emphasizes the importance of recognizing and interpreting these literary devices to gain a deeper understanding of the text.


  • Foster explains that symbols are objects, actions, or characters that represent something beyond their literal meaning. They can be found throughout literature and carry deeper significance.
  • Symbols can be universal, such as a dove representing peace, or they can be specific to a particular work, created by the author to convey a specific message.
  • Recognizing symbols allows readers to delve into the layers of meaning in a text and uncover hidden themes and messages.


  • Foster argues that literature is filled with recurring themes that reflect the human experience and address fundamental questions about life.
  • Themes can be broad, such as love, death, or power, and they can also be more specific, focusing on political or social issues.
  • Understanding the themes in a work of literature helps readers connect with the text on a deeper level and grasp the author’s intended messages and ideas.

Interpreting Symbols and Themes

  • Foster advises readers to approach symbols and themes with an open mind, as different interpretations are possible.
  • He suggests looking for patterns and recurring elements in the text that may indicate underlying symbols or themes.
  • Context is crucial in interpreting symbols and themes, as they often rely on the historical, cultural, and social context of the work.
  • Engaging in discussions and seeking out different perspectives can help gain a richer understanding of the symbols and themes present in a literary work.

The exploration of symbols and themes is just the beginning of the journey to becoming a more adept reader of literature. By closely examining these elements, readers can uncover the hidden layers of meaning that make literature more than just words on a page.

Chapter 2: The Importance of Weather

Chapter 2: The Importance of Weather

In “How to Read Literature Like a Professor,” the author explains the importance of weather in literature. Weather often serves as a symbol or a metaphor, conveying deeper meaning and enhancing the overall literary experience. Here are some key quotes from chapter 2:

  • “Weather is never just weather. It’s never just rain. And that goes for snow, sunshine, warmth, cold, and probably hurricanes, too.”
  • “Rain is never just rain. And that’s not just because showers are inseparable from the plot (though they are) or because rain is never, in fact, just reassuringly wet (though it is that sometimes).”
  • “Weather is never neutral, never just backdrop for the plot. In fact, weather is never just weather. It’s never just snow.”
  • “Bad weather has an uncanny ability to make an unsympathetic character slightly more sympathetic, if only because we recognize that we, ourselves, hate to be out in a storm.”

The author emphasizes that weather is used by authors to create a specific atmosphere, reflect the characters’ emotions, or highlight important moments in the story. Weather can create tension or calmness, and it often mirrors the characters’ internal struggles or external conflicts.

By paying attention to weather descriptions in literature, readers can gain a deeper understanding of the underlying themes and messages conveyed by the author. Weather serves as a powerful tool that enriches the reading experience and allows for a more nuanced interpretation of the text.

Chapter 3: The Role of Irony

In “How to Read Literature Like a Professor,” the author explains the importance of irony in literature and how it enhances our understanding and appreciation of a text. Irony is a literary device that involves contradictions or incongruities between what is expected and what actually happens.

Irony adds depth: Irony allows authors to convey multiple layers of meaning and create a richer reading experience. It can highlight the discrepancies between appearance and reality, forcing readers to question their assumptions and look beyond the surface level of a story.

Irony creates tension: Irony often introduces tension into a narrative by creating a contrast between what the reader expects and what actually occurs. This tension engages the reader and keeps them invested in the story, as they eagerly anticipate the resolution of the ironic situation.

Irony reveals themes: The use of irony can often reveal deeper themes and messages within a story. By juxtaposing contradictory elements, authors can shed light on societal issues, challenge common beliefs, or expose hypocrisy.

Types of irony: There are several different types of irony that authors may employ in their works:

  • Verbal irony: This occurs when a character says the opposite of what they really mean, often using sarcasm or satire.
  • Situational irony: Situational irony arises when there is a discrepancy between what is expected to happen and what actually occurs.
  • Dramatic irony: Dramatic irony is when the audience or reader knows something that the characters do not, creating a sense of tension and anticipation.

Irony as a form of symbolism: Irony can also function as a form of symbolism in literature. It can represent larger ideas or comment on societal issues without explicitly stating them. By using irony as symbolism, authors can make their stories more thought-provoking and encourage readers to analyze the text more deeply.

In conclusion, irony plays a crucial role in literature by adding depth, creating tension, revealing themes, and functioning as a form of symbolism. By understanding and recognizing irony in literature, readers can enhance their appreciation and engagement with the text.

Chapter 4: The Use of Mythology

Chapter 4: The Use of Mythology

Chapter 4 of “How to Read Literature Like a Professor” explores the use of mythology in literature. Mythology is a powerful tool that authors use to enhance their storytelling and add depth to their characters and themes.

In this chapter, Foster emphasizes that mythology is not limited to ancient stories and gods. It is an integral part of our culture and is still relevant in contemporary literature. By referencing or alluding to myths, authors can tap into a collective cultural knowledge and evoke certain emotions and associations in readers.

One key lesson from this chapter is that recognizing mythological references allows readers to gain a deeper understanding of the text. By understanding the mythological context, readers can better interpret the characters and their motivations. They can also discern the underlying themes and symbolism in the story.

Foster provides several examples of how mythology is used in literature. One example is “The Odyssey” by Homer, which serves as a foundation for countless literary works. Foster explains how references to the Odyssey can be found in various texts, even in contemporary ones such as “Ulysses” by James Joyce.

The chapter also discusses the archetype of the hero’s quest, a common mythological motif. Foster explains that the hero’s journey follows a typical pattern, where the protagonist embarks on a quest, faces challenges and trials, and ultimately undergoes a transformation. This archetype can be seen in many classic and modern works, such as “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Foster also highlights the importance of recognizing subtle mythological references. Even small details, such as character names or symbols, can have deeper mythological meanings. By paying attention to these details, readers can uncover hidden layers of meaning in a text.

In conclusion, chapter 4 of “How to Read Literature Like a Professor” explores the use of mythology in literature and emphasizes the importance of recognizing mythological references. By understanding these references, readers can gain a deeper understanding of the text and appreciate the rich layers of meaning that mythology adds to literature.

Chapter 5: The Significance of Names

In How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Thomas C. Foster explores the importance of names in literature. He explains that names are not randomly chosen by authors, but are instead carefully selected to convey meaning and contribute to the overall themes and symbols of a given work. Foster argues that recognizing the significance of names can help readers to better understand and interpret a piece of literature.

Here are some key quotes from Chapter 5:

  1. “…names in literature can carry an enormous amount of meaning.”
  2. “…characters often have names that are descriptive, symbolic, or ironic.”
  3. “Names can convey associations without overtly saying anything.”
  4. “Hurting someone’s name is one way to hurt the person.”
  5. “…names and naming in literature occur so frequently and so intentionally that they must mean something.”

Foster provides numerous examples from various works of literature to illustrate his points on the significance of names. He explores how names can reflect a character’s personality, history, or role within the story. Additionally, names can be used to create irony or build connections between characters.

Overall, the chapter emphasizes the idea that names are not arbitrary in literature, but instead serve as powerful tools for authors to develop their themes, characters, and narratives. By paying attention to names, readers can uncover deeper layers of meaning and enhance their appreciation of the text.

Chapter 6: The Power of Allusions

Allusions are references to other literary works, historical events, or cultural symbols that authors use to enrich their own writing and to add depth and meaning to their stories. These references can occur within the text or be subtly implied, and they often require the reader to have some background knowledge to fully understand their significance.

In “How to Read Literature Like a Professor,” the author explores the power of allusions and how they can enhance our understanding and interpretation of literature. Here are some key quotes from Chapter 6:

  1. “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes it’s a penis.”

    This quote highlights the idea that authors often use allusions to add multiple layers of meaning to their writing. What may appear to be a simple and straightforward reference can actually symbolize something deeper and more significant.

  2. “Allusions, then, become a kind of shorthand for writers – brief references to well-known texts or cultural symbols that resonate with readers.”

    Authors often use allusions as a way to connect their work to a larger cultural context. By referencing well-known texts or symbols, they can evoke certain emotions, themes, or ideas that readers are already familiar with.

  3. “They’re not to be taken literally; they’re meant to trigger a response in readers, to make them think about the work in a different way, to consider the implications of the intertextuality.”

    Allusions are not meant to be taken at face value. Instead, they serve as a catalyst for deeper analysis and interpretation. They encourage readers to engage with the text on a more critical level and to explore the connections between different works and ideas.

  4. “Allusions can also serve as a way for authors to pay homage to their literary predecessors or to comment on the work of others.”

    Authors often use allusions as a way to acknowledge and pay tribute to the writers who have influenced them. By referencing other works, they can participate in a larger literary conversation and contribute to the ongoing dialogue of literature.

  5. “The use of allusions can also create a sense of unity and resonance within a work, as well as provide a sense of universality and familiarity to readers.”

    Allusions can create a sense of cohesion and coherence within a piece of writing. By drawing on familiar references, authors can establish a connection with readers and create a shared understanding of the themes and ideas present in the text.

In summary, allusions are powerful tools that authors use to enhance their writing and to add layers of meaning to their stories. By referencing other works, historical events, or cultural symbols, authors can engage readers in a deeper exploration and interpretation of their literature.

Chapter 7: The Influence of Fairy Tales

In Chapter 7 of “How to Read Literature Like a Professor,” the author explores the influence of fairy tales on literature. Fairy tales, with their timeless and universal themes and motifs, have had a significant impact on the way authors write and readers interpret stories.

Fairy tales often contain archetypal characters and symbols that have become deeply ingrained in our cultural consciousness. These archetypes, such as the hero, the villain, and the damsel in distress, are repeatedly used in literature as a way to explore fundamental human experiences and emotions.

Fairy tales also provide a framework for understanding and analyzing literature. By recognizing the patterns and symbolism present in fairy tales, readers can gain a deeper understanding of the meaning and themes behind a story.

One of the key aspects of fairy tales is their ability to address complex issues and moral dilemmas in a simple and accessible way. They often use allegory to convey deeper truths about the human condition. By employing fantastical elements and metaphorical storytelling, fairy tales allow authors to explore sensitive or controversial topics without being explicitly explicit.

The influence of fairy tales extends beyond their immediate presence in literature. They have also shaped our cultural understanding of storytelling. Many of the narrative techniques and plot structures commonly used in storytelling today can be traced back to fairy tales.

Furthermore, the lessons and morals imparted by fairy tales have become deeply embedded in society. They teach us valuable life lessons about the consequences of our actions, the importance of kindness and empathy, and the triumph of good over evil.

Overall, fairy tales have had a profound impact on literature and storytelling. Through their archetypal characters, symbolism, and allegorical nature, they continue to provide a rich source of inspiration for authors and a framework for readers to engage with literature on a deeper level.

Chapter 8: Exploring Sex and Gender

In Chapter 8 of “How to Read Literature Like a Professor,” the author explores the themes of sex and gender as they are portrayed in literature. By examining various examples from classic and contemporary works, the author helps readers understand the deeper meanings and symbolism associated with these themes.

One of the main points the author makes is that sex and gender in literature are rarely straightforward. They are often depicted symbolically or metaphorically, representing larger ideas and themes. For example, the author discusses how power dynamics are often portrayed through sexual encounters or relationships.

The author also emphasizes that gender roles and expectations can greatly influence the characters and their actions in a story. These expectations can sometimes be limiting or oppressive, leading to conflicts and character development. By questioning and challenging these gender norms, authors can provide social commentary and create more complex and realistic characters.

Furthermore, the author states that the exploration of sex and gender in literature can often lead to a deeper understanding of human nature and relationships. By examining how characters navigate their own identities and relationships, readers can gain insights into their own experiences and the world around them.

Overall, Chapter 8 of “How to Read Literature Like a Professor” encourages readers to critically analyze how sex and gender are portrayed in literature. By understanding the symbolic and metaphorical representations of these themes, readers can gain a deeper appreciation for the complexity and depth of literary works.

Question and answer:

Why should I read “How to Read Literature Like a Professor”?

“How to Read Literature Like a Professor” is a valuable book that offers readers a new perspective on literature. It helps readers understand the deeper meaning in literature and teaches them how to analyze and interpret texts effectively. It’s a great resource for anyone who wants to enhance their reading experience and gain a deeper appreciation for literature.

What are some key takeaways from “How to Read Literature Like a Professor”?

“How to Read Literature Like a Professor” provides readers with several key takeaways. One of the main lessons is that literature is often filled with symbols, themes, and motifs that can be analyzed to uncover deeper meaning. The book also emphasizes the importance of considering the historical and cultural context in which a piece of literature was written. Additionally, it teaches readers to pay attention to patterns, archetypes, and intertextuality within literature.

Can “How to Read Literature Like a Professor” help improve my writing skills?

Yes, “How to Read Literature Like a Professor” can definitely help improve your writing skills. By teaching you how to analyze and interpret literature effectively, the book can help you develop a deeper understanding of storytelling techniques, symbolism, and thematic elements. This can in turn enhance your ability to craft compelling narratives and communicate your ideas more effectively in your own writing.

Is “How to Read Literature Like a Professor” suitable for beginners?

Yes, “How to Read Literature Like a Professor” is suitable for beginners. The book is written in a clear and accessible manner, making it easy for readers with little to no prior knowledge of literary analysis to understand. The author provides numerous examples and explanations throughout the book, which further aids understanding. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced reader, you will find value in this book.


The First Page with Thomas C. Foster: THE CRYING OF LOT 49 by Thomas Pynchon

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