Over Their Heads

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Foster has, throughout How to Read Literature Like a Professor, given his readers tips to interpret literature, understand and identify symbols and irony, and even create their own literature. Foster's devotion, however, of two entire chapters to the use of sex to represent something other than sex or the use of something else to represent sex was both off-putting and disappointing. Foster, who obviously recognizes how uncomfortable the discussion of sex in literature makes students, comments that "Thirty-five others look like the ceiling is about to fall" (Foster 140); yet, he still decides to dedicate two chapters, 16 pages, to this discussion. His comments, however, are relevant to The Time Traveler's Wife, the novel which we are currently discussing, because sex plays a large role in the relationship between Henry and Clare throughout the novel. His points are valid, but unnecessary. If readers are not mature enough to pick up on the "waves breaking on a beach" (Foster 137) or "the train entering a tunnel" (Foster 138) as representing sex, it really should not be explained to them. Also, the idea of sex as representing something else on an emotional level should be intuitive to most readers. Sex, when described in literature, "can be attacked from almost every angle on the psychological and sexual-political compasses" (Foster 150). Again, if readers are not mature or worldly enough to understand these inferences or suggestions made by sexual encounters in literature, it really shouldn't be explained to them.


I think sex, like any other device Foster mentions throughout the book, can be a pretty important element in literature. Let's face it, it's been around since the dawn of time and is something every human must deal with in one way or another. I think the students Foster refers to may not necessarily be uncomfortable with sex; it's just that they don't realize it's possible that some dusty old work of literature from the 1800's could possibly refer to it. We always assume that because people weren't as open in talking about sex as they are now, that it isn't present in books of the past. That's why Foster feels the need to point it out, I think. I think a lot of people also assume that something as intellectual and sophisticated as literature wouldn't concern itself with sex and that only pornography or MTV or blatantly raunchy movies and TV shows deal with sex. I believe it's important to acknowledge how sex operates as a storytelling device; people who don't pick up on it are going to miss a lot about a work of literature that uses it as a metaphor for to get at something deeper about the characters or the situation.

Christopher Dufalla said:

Foster brings up very many valid points, but not everyone goes into close reading when picking up a novel, and not everyone in the movie theater is looking for symbolism in the film. Sometimes things escape the mind and the audience could use a friendly nudge.

Case and point, since I'm a music major, when you sit down and listen to a song or a piece of music, do you listen to it for enjoyment, do your try to figure out everything that the composer meant when writing lyrics or phrases, do you analyze the form of the music and its structure, or do you a combination of all of these elements? Chances are, if you're at a concert, you're there to enjoy it, not break it down into pieces. Literature and film can be the same way.

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