In the Intro and Chapter 1 of How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Foster shares the thought process of an educated reader and the types of questions all readers should ask themselves, such as:
Everything is a symbol of something, it seems, until proven otherwise. We ask, Is this a metaphor? Is that an analogy? What does the thing over there signify?
In Chekhov’s The Proposal, a lengthy conversation occurs about who owns the property of the Oxen Meadows. Lomov, a man who came to ask Natalya to marry him, believes his family owns the meadows. Natalya, on the other hand, adamantly believes that her family owns the meadows and the two begin to intensely fight. However, the conversation changes once Natalya learns that Lomov wanted to marry her and she immediately gives up her argument. As a advanced reader, it is vital to focus on the changes of a story, and see what they signify. In this situation, the meadows represent Natalya’s vehement beliefs and ultimately, her individualism. She is willing to fight and insult Lomov based on principle and because she knows she is right. However, when she learns that she is wanted for marriage, she is willing to give up her argument and say that he is right even though she does not believe it. In that moment, her change of attitude shows that she values a hand in marriage more than she values her individual ideas. However, the story ends with Natayla still arguing with Lomov over a new issue, whose dog is better. This shows that despite Natayla’s desire to become submissive and married, her individualistic ideas will still come out and she still has a need to win a fight based on principle. While the arguments about land and dogs may seem silly, they both represent the clash of personalities within the engaged couple. Perhaps Chekhov is trying to show that even marriage cannot fix a relationship if the two people are not willing to submit their individual ideas for the sake of the relationship. Through applying Foster’s search for the significance of each action in a story, the reader is able to discover and focus on the symbols and significance of the overarching story.
Source: Foster (Intro