How to Read Literature

In Thomas C. Foster’s How To Read Literature Like a Professor, Foster shows us how to attack or understand text that we read. As we read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein we notice concepts she uses that we learned from How to Read literature. A few concepts Mary Shelley uses is violence, imperfections, and symbols.

In Foster’s, How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Foster discusses violence in literature and how it usually will mean something else. Violence is personal, intimate, cultural, and societal. Violence is meant to be a symbolic act and to propel characters and actions forward throughout the text. Violent acts that are considered accidents usually do not happen in literature. Foster mentioned how making actions happen, causing plot complications, ending plot complications, and putting other characters under stress are four reasons authors will involve violence in their text.

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Foster also noted that specific violent acts is from character to character and is always intentional.
In Shelley’s Frankenstein, the monster created by Victor performed multiple violent acts. One violent act the monster did in the story happens in chapter 23 of Frankenstein. In this chapter Victor had a feeling that something bad was going to happen when the monster arrived. While he was looking for the monster around the house, his wife was killed. Shelley uses violence in this chapter to make actions happen and to cause stress for Victor. Later in the book Victor spends a lot of time searching for the monster, which shows how one violent act led to other actions happening throughout the story.

In chapter 21 of Fosters How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Foster discusses how in literature physical marks, imperfections, or deficiencies have a symbolic meaning. Authors make characters with imperfections so they can stand out and be different from the rest of society. Other reasons for physical markings could be to represent a characteristic, to show a mental state, or to describe someone’s past experience. Each individual marking tells its own story and to point out character differentiation.

Further, Shelley depicts the monster to be frightening and to not have any type of emotions. Victor’s creation was described as having watery eyes, shriveled complexion, and straight black lips. (Shelley, ch. 5) The physical appearance is not the only thing about the monster that is frightening, in the novel the idea of the scientist creating an alliance with a dark unknown monster is what scares the people in their society and the readers. Mary Shelley uses the individual marking or imperfections to show how during the enlightenment everyone relied on science and to make the character or the monster different from everyone else.

Foster also mentions the concept of using symbols in literature in his book, How to Read Literature Like a Professor. There is two types of symbols in literature, which are a private symbol and a more straightforward symbol. Symbols in literature can sometimes be very specific to the author. Author’s will use symbols repetitively so the reader is able to understand what author means by the symbol by the end of the story. As readers we can start to see and understand all the possible meanings of a symbol in a story.

The symbol in Mary Shelley’s, Frankenstein, is all the deaths that happened throughout the book. She involves multiple people dying in the book because there was a lot of deaths surrounding her own life. Mary Shelley was very young when she wrote Frankenstein but she was always haunted by the events or deaths that happened throughout her whole life. For example, she was haunted by people like her mother dying after she gave birth to Mary, her husband drowning, and all of her children didn’t make it past their childhood but one.

In conclusion, the significance of learning these concepts in Thomas C. Foster’s How to Read Literature Like a Professor is to be able to recognize concepts like violence, imperfections, and symbols in literature in other books we read. Understanding all the concepts mentioned by Foster helps readers make connections and interpret a two hundred year old novel like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein more easily.

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