the secret

The Secret to Reading Literature

Some books may try to teach you to ‘read literature like a professor.’ Some websites may offer you glimpses into tropes or themes that run throughout Western media. While these websites might be helpful, one becomes reliant upon them instead of the ultimate goal of being a professorial reader: developing your own questions about a text based on concepts you’ve learned from many different classes.

I’m here to offer you five possible critical perspectives to examine literature that will help you become an expert reader. The key to being a good reader is asking questions, but sometimes it’s hard to know what questions one ought to ask. Here are some helpful examples that should guide you in the reading of a text through a critical perspective. These questions are staged so that the first question requires very little critical depth, but the following questions require you to follow through with your examination of the text.

Class

  • How many different classes (lower, middle, upper) are there in the story?
  • How are different classes represented?
  • Why might the classes be represented this way?

Race

  • How many different races are there in the story?
  • How are the races represented? If there are not multiple races in the story, how is the single race represented?
  • Why might the races be represented this way (or not at all)?

Feminism

  • How important are women to the story?
  • How are women represented?
  • Why might women be represented this way?

Psychoanalysis 

  • Are there characters that are representative of the id, ego, or superego?
  • Are there characters that are representative of the reality/pleasure principles?
  • Are there characters that are driven by aggressive/repetitive (Thanatos) behaviors or self-preserving/pleasure-seeking [not necessarily hedonistic or unethical pleasure-seeking] (Eros) behavior?

Ethics

  • How are people socially pressured into behaving in the story?
  • What are some instances of behavior/lines of thought that you think could be problematic from the story’s/the time period’s perspective?
  • What are some instances of behavior/lines of thought that you think could be problematic from our culture’s perspective?
  • Is the narrative attempting to show characters as “good” or “bad” or neither? Do characters have strong traits like virtues or vices?