How to Read Literature
Fiction enables us to explore the recesses of man’s head and heart with a torch; history allows us only the natural light of day, which does not usually shine into such places. Literature is man’s exploration of man by artificial light, which is better than natural light because we can direct it where we want.[i]
It is through literature that a student learns to examine thought and action compassionately. When a reader is able to identify with a character and his conflict or problem in a story and see life through the eyes of this character, that reader has begun to share an author’s insight and has thus begun to read with appreciation. Reading in this way is to respond both emotionally and intellectually. As you read this powerfully-written novel by Paule Marshall, we hope that it delights, enlightens, humanizes, and sensitizes you as members of our uniquely diverse community here in Prince George’s County.
The way you approach reading a novel is very important. While reading you must be able to see relationships, perceive the development of character, theme, symbols, and be able to detect multiple meanings. You can reject or accept, like or dislike the literary work, depending on the effect it has on you. It is okay to do so. You shouldn’t jump to a final judgment too soon, whether it is about the character, the theme, or other elements. Remember: People and situations are not always as they appear at first. Be objective because your emotional reaction can sometimes cause unsound perception and interpretation. Keep this question in mind — “Can I justify my judgments based on evidence from the work itself?”
To get the most out of literature, you must be aware of several elements in fiction and know how to make inferences. Below are a few guidelines to help you understand..
Characters — people and animals in a story. Examine each character for his or her own unique qualities, behavior, needs, and values.
As you read the novel and ultimately complete it, go back and review the elements listed. See if you can identify each element by citing specifics from the novel. Write down that information.
David Daisches, A Study of Literature for Reading and Critics (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1948)24.
Prepared by: Beverly Reed