How To Read Literature Like A Professor By Thomas C. Foster: Archetype Symbols

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In Chapter 9 of How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Thomas C. Foster discusses an archetype theme of “It’s More Than Just Rain or Snow”. Foster describes the symbolism of snow as clean, stark, severe, warm, inhospitable, inviting, playful, suffocating, and filthy. The meaning behind snow is never just snow, according to Foster, authors can use the element of snow however they want.

In the novel, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, Kim Edwards opens the very first paragraph with a setting of snow closely described as stark, clean, and severe. The mood of the snow starts off quite serene, with only a few flakes and a dull gray sky, similar to the calm and inviting hours before Norah had gone into labor. Similar to Foster’s description of snow as warm and inviting, this scene is nothing short of that — David feels a heart full of love and admiration of his wife as they are warmed by a blanket, away from the cold outdoors. The author then uses the snow for a different symbol, a clean slate for David. “It was a moment when all the disparate shards of his life seemed to knit themselves together, every past sadness and disappointment, every anxious secret and uncertainty hidden now beneath the soft white layers”, the steadiness of the flakes presented a sense of peace for David. In the same scene, David is reminiscent of his childhood, for he knows the next day will bring noise to the silence with playful attitudes. The snow was truly more than snow, it meant new beginnings, a blank sheet of fresh snow transformed the world for a few hours.

Another archetype symbol in How to Read Literature Like a Professor that converged with my novel was the theme of “It’s Never Just Heart Disease…And Rarely Just Illness”, chapter 23. Foster states, “In Literature there is no better, no more lyrical, no more perfectly metaphorical illness than heart disease”. Heart disease can symbolize bad love, loneliness, cruelty, pederasty, disloyalty, cowardice, and lack of determination.

In The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, June, David’s sister, had died young of a heart defect in which affected all of David’s childhood. Coming from a very poor family, medical care could never be provided to help June. This was the driving force of David’s commitment to healing others. Consequently, David was able to recognize the early signs of Down’s Syndrome in his baby girl. “A classic case…flaccid muscle tone, delayed growth and mental development, possible heart complications, early death”. Though the heart disease was not afflicted upon David himself, his close proximity and relation to heart disease portrayed his cowardly actions and loneliness that stem from his childhood scars.

Lastly, another archetypal theme in How to Read Literature Like a Professor is found in chapter 11, “More Than It’s Gonna Hurt You: Concerning Violence”. Foster describes violence as one of the most personal and intimate acts between human beings that can be symbolic, thematic, biblical, Shakespearean, Romantic, allegorical, or transcendent. David’s decision of secrecy in telling Norah that his baby girl had died during birth caused a great deal of stress among the family in years to come. Division among the family left Paul, the twin to the baby girl Phoebe, alone, feeling very isolated and unloved. He is eventually introduced to drugs and ends up running away, stealing his neighbor’s car, and ending up in jail. When Norah goes to pick him up from jail, the true symbolic meaning of violence is revealed. “So. I guess I’m lucky he didn’t bother to come. David, he meant. Such pain in his voice. Such anger”. For so long, a strain was put on Paul’s relationship with his father. Violence was symbolic of a broken home and a secret with grave consequences.

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