Why Leave Geography in the History Classroom?

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Foster has again left his audience with helpful insights that somehow seem both obvious and yet extremely insightful. When Foster tackles the idea of the importance of geography in literature, for example, his statements seem like common sense, but I have never considered them before. "Literary geography is typically about human inhabiting spaces, and at the same time the spaces that inhabit humans...Geography is setting, but it's also (or can be) psychology, attitude, finance, industry - anything that place can forge in the people who live there" (Foster 166). Mentally reviewing past literature in both high school and college level classes, I am surprised that this was neither pointed out nor simply occurred to me. The same idea holds true for Foster's statements about baptism. A fictional character's submersion in water, according to Foster, "may...signify birth, a new start"...usually associated with baptism (Foster 159). It may be the casual tone with which Foster writes or his never-ending lists of examples, but his statements rarely lead to further confusion or frustration. It seems as if he's slowly giving his readers the keys to unlock the "real meaning" behind literature.

As I read Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, Foster's ideas of literary geography seemed an obvious connection, one I would not have previously made. If nothing it else, it is the geography of the American Dust Bowl, influencing the changes that must be made economically and socially. The dry weather, the failure of crops, and the unrelenting heat have created the situation in which banks, landowners, and tenant farmers are all losers. It seems as if the few people to survive without fear or frustration are those who drive the tractors; even then, they are treated like traitors. It is also the geography of the west that draws the mass migration of impoverished farmers; they dream of orange trees and grape vines. Mostly, they dream of the work and wages that are result of such an environment. Literary geography in Steinbeck's novel acts as an invisible hand creating adversity and opportunity simultaneously.

 

http://jerz.setonhill.edu/EL267/2009/02/foster_how_to_read_literature_3/ 

1 Comments

Christopher Dufalla said:

I had not given this much thought, but now that you mention it, yes, the characters and the geography/setting do indeed feed off of one another (or in the case of Steinbeck, it almost seems like leeching off of one another). The devastated lands reap devastated people and the people can do nothing to help the land in return. This idea is true in other literary works. How many times have writers used deserts to put characters through struggles, and tropical climates to place characters in a paradise of plenty? The surroundings can make and/or destroy the character and the characters can alter the surroundings, as well. Thus, the two play off of one another very nicely

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