January 30, 2007

I Say Potato, You Say Potato - Lets Call The Whole Thing Off!

Every reader's experience of every work is unique, largely because each person will emphasize various elements to differing degrees, and those differences will cause certain features of the text to become more or less pronounced.
Thomas C. Foster (How to Read Literature Like a Professor)

Symbolism is expected in literature - and if we don't get it right away, there is always SparkNotes.
Well, while on the one hand SparkNotes does find symbols for you; it also takes away the value of those very symbols. As Foster pointed out - symbols only work for the reader if the reader gets them. In the same manner that no one can write exactly the same thing as someone else by accident, (similar yes, the same, no) no one can read exactly the same way as someone else. So by using SparkNotes to find a text's symbols, a lot of those very symbols might be overlooked. (After all, who writing for SparkNotes knew that your grandmother's cousin once fell out of an apple tree and broke her leg - and hearing that memory repeated over and over again by your grandmother gave you insight to a character's over-eager neighbor?)
As Foster put it, symbolic? I think so.

Posted by Diana Geleskie at January 30, 2007 10:56 AM | TrackBack

I can't say I agree with this. I don't often use Sparknotes, but once in a while when caught with a difficult assignment I too will (gasp!) resort to sparknotes. I've never noticed it taking anything away from my reading, in fact it usually enhances it with the ideas and opinions of others who have studied the text. Finding one symbol on Sparknotes can't take away any symbolism I might find in the text myself.
Here's the tricky point. A lot of students seem to think that reading sparknotes means they don't have to find symbols or symbolism themselves. When a teacher asks for an essay on what a particular symbol meant "Sparknotes said it meant this," is not going to be an A paper. Sparknotes can point a troubled reader in the right direction, but the responsibility eventually always falls to the reader to find the symbolism for themselves.

Posted by: HallieGeary at January 30, 2007 5:59 PM

Here's a great article that focuses on what you miss when you rely on summaries instead of actually encountering the work of literature itself.


In what she described as "the most emotional moment" of her academic life, University of Virginia sophomore communications major Grace Weaver sobbed openly upon concluding Steinbeck's seminal work of American fiction Of Mice And Men's Cliffs Notes early last week.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at January 30, 2007 9:23 PM

I am being totally honest when I say I have never even so much as glanced at SparkNotes, for anything. I have always viewed it as evil. As extreme as that may be, I really think it defeats the purpose of reading in the first place (and I hated it in high school when my peers would replace reading the text with reading the SparkNotes..GRRR!) Here's my big problem with it, to me it is about the process of reading that has meaning. If you just try to get all the "answers" out of something like SparkNotes, you aren't really learning or growing or engaging yourself intellectually. I know what it is like to desperately wish you could figure out a work (trust me, I am reading The Sound and the Fury...you have no idea how tempting an aid is...the book seriously ought to come with a translation dictionary!) But, I find the best thing to do if you are confused about just the basic plot (which really is the only reason to even think of resorting to an aid, picking up the literary devices will come with practice, donít worry) like you can't figure out what is going on, the best thing you can do is talk with others about it. You will be surprise how much you actually know.

Posted by: Lorin Schumacher at January 31, 2007 12:57 AM

I read this blog originally because I thought your title was very clever, but I agree with what you're saying here. I have never used Sparknotes because I also agree that it defeats the purpose of reading the actual text. Symbolism isn't any fun when you can't discover it for yourself. Well done!

Posted by: Bethany Bouchard at January 31, 2007 9:38 AM

I had never heard of sparknotes until this blog, I am guessing that are similar to cliff notes-thats how old I am. But that woulod be cheating both you as the reader, and it is also cheating the writer.

Posted by: Mitchell Steele at February 1, 2007 4:01 PM
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