How to Read Literature Like a Professor: Intellectual Curiosity in Literary Analysis

how to read literature like a professor
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Reading literature is a deeply enriching experience that allows us to explore different worlds, perspectives, and human emotions. However, delving into the world of literature can be intimidating for many, as the layers of meaning and symbolism may not always be immediately apparent. In his acclaimed book, “How to Read Literature Like a Professor,” Thomas C. Foster provides readers with valuable insights and tools to enhance their understanding of literature. In this article, we’ll explore fundamental concepts from Foster’s book and offer practical tips on how to read literature like a professor.

How to Read Literature Like A Professor

#1. Pay Attention to Patterns and Recurrences:

One of the central themes in Foster’s book is the importance of recognizing patterns and recurrences within a literary work. Professors often analyze literature by identifying symbols, themes, and motifs that repeat throughout a text. As a reader, you can adopt this approach by being attentive to recurring elements, whether logos, phrases, or character types. Recognizing patterns can unlock deeper meanings and provide a richer understanding of the text.

#2. Understand the Importance of Titles:

In his book, Foster emphasizes the significance of titles, highlighting that they are not arbitrarily but carefully chosen to convey meaning. When reading literature, take a moment to analyze the title. Consider how it relates to the work’s content, characters, or themes. Titles often offer valuable clues about the author’s intentions and can guide your interpretation of the text.

#3. Identify and Analyze Symbols:

Symbols are powerful tools in literature, representing abstract ideas and adding layers of meaning to a story. Foster encourages readers to be on the lookout for symbols and to question their potential significance. Ask yourself what a particular symbol might represent and how it contributes to the work’s overall message. Symbols can range from objects and colors to weather patterns and even character names.

#4. Consider the Role of Weather:

Weather is a recurring motif in literature, and Foster suggests that paying attention to it can provide valuable insights. Different weather conditions often correlate with a story’s emotional or thematic trajectory. For instance, a storm may symbolize conflict or turmoil, while a sunny day could represent clarity or resolution. By examining the role of weather, readers can deepen their understanding of the narrative.

#5. Explore Intertextuality:

Intertextuality refers to how one text refers to or incorporates elements from another. Foster encourages readers to be aware of intertextual references, whether they are explicit or subtle. Familiarizing yourself with other works, genres, or cultural references can enhance your ability to spot intertextuality, allowing you to uncover hidden layers of meaning and connections within a literary work.

#6. Consider the Journey of Characters:

In literature, characters often undergo transformation and growth. Foster emphasizes the importance of recognizing and analyzing a character’s journey. Consider how characters evolve throughout the narrative, how they respond to challenges, and what their experiences may symbolize. Characters are not just individuals; they can represent broader themes and ideas within the story’s context.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does it mean to read literature like a professor? 

Reading literature like a professor involves adopting a critical and analytical approach to uncover hidden meanings, symbols, and patterns within a text, ultimately enhancing one’s understanding and appreciation of literature.

Why is paying attention to titles important in literary analysis? 

Titles are carefully chosen and hold significance, offering insights into the author’s intentions and guiding readers on the work’s themes, characters, or central ideas.

How can symbols contribute to a deeper understanding of literature? 

Symbols in literature represent abstract concepts, adding layers of meaning to a story. Identifying and analyzing symbols can provide valuable insights into the themes and messages conveyed by the author.

Why is weather considered a meaningful element in literary analysis? 

Weather often serves as a symbolic motif in literature, reflecting a narrative’s emotional or thematic trajectory. Recognizing the role of weather can contribute to a more nuanced interpretation of the story.

What is intertextuality, and how does it enhance literary analysis?

 Intertextuality refers to the incorporation of elements from one text into another. Being aware of intertextual references, whether explicit or subtle, allows readers to uncover connections, themes, and hidden meanings within a literary work, expanding the depth of their understanding.


Reading literature like a professor involves developing a keen awareness of patterns, symbols, and intertextual references. Thomas C. Foster’s insights provide readers with valuable tools to unlock the deeper layers of meaning within literary works.

By approaching literature with a critical eye and an understanding of these key concepts, readers can enhance their appreciation of the art form and engage with texts more profoundly and insightfully. So, the next time you pick up a piece of literature, channel your inner professor and embark on a journey of discovery within the pages of a book.



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