A Historical Lens

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In his novel, How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Foster suggests to his readers, themselves studiers of literature, that reading must be done from a "perspective that allows for sympathy with the historical moment of the story, that understands the text as having been written against its own social, historical, cultural, and personal background" (Foster 228-29). This understanding enables the reader to appreciate the literature more fully and connect with it on a deeper level. While reading The Great Gatsby, one could only understand and appreciate Daisy's actions and struggles looking through the appropriate historical lens. The same is true about Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. The Joad family's decision to leave everything behind to search for the possibility of a better life in California is not easily understood by a middle-class college student in the twenty-first century. Culturally, historically, and socially, their choice is understandable at the time in which the novel takes place. Without this ability to connect to the expectations of the time in which the novel takes place or even time in which it was written, readers will, more often than not, view the actions of the characters' as irrational and unbelievable. Even though I read both The Grapes and Wrath and The Great Gatsby weeks ago, reading Foster's advice enables me to draw even more meaning from those novels.




Georgia Speer said:

Alyssa, after reading you blog I totally agree that we all can miss very important messages in reading literature because we are only naturally associating with our world today, versus going back to that time and experiencing, at least the best that we can from our own knowledge of history. We all can really appreciate, only if you put that effort forth, how would people have really felt, and what type of reactions could have come from these pieces of literature if we step back into that time and try to grasp what they would have experienced instead of our judgment on how we would react to something in today’s society. We can only speculate on our knowledge of how things were in that time era for the people based on what the writer is focusing on. If we pick up on the obvious and non-obvious messages through the characters whom are affected by so much more than the plot, as we have been learning, we may see the culture, and how society would have interpreted the work than. Writers were basing their messages, of course, for that time and the historical events that they knew, as we would do today in writing. As you mention about how it is easier to think of Daisy and her actions, if done through the historical lens. But how difficult is it for many of us to check our POV at the door and read without it continuing to creep back into how we are viewing that literature? It can be difficult to view it in a different perspective due to we habitually want to react to emotional and current preconceived notions. But as Foster says on page 228, “Instead try to find a reading perspective that allows for sympathy with the historical moment of the story, that understands the text as having been written against its own social, historical, cultural, and personal background.” This is a really difficult task, I know that in learning to close read and how to analyze by still considering your own emotions, but not only your own emotions but also asking the right questions that Foster has taught us as well. Through this it helps the reader to open their eyes up to a much wider perspective and probably different perspective as well of what was the writer trying to convey in their messages in their literature during these times.

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