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How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines By THOMAS C. FOSTER Contents INTRODUCTION: How’d He Do That?1. Every Trip Is a Quest (Except When It’s Not)2. Nice to Eat with You: Acts of Communion3. Nice to Eat You: Acts of Vampires4. If It’s Square, It’s a Sonnet5. Now, Where Have I Seen Her Before?6. When in Doubt, It’s from Shakespeare...7. ...Or the Bible8. Hanseldee and Greteldum9. It’s Greek to Me10. It’s More Than Just Rain or SnowINTERLUDE Does He Mean That?11. ...More Than It’s Gonna Hurt You: Concerning Violence12. Is That a Symbol?13. It’s All Political14. Yes, She’s a Christ Figure, Too15. Flights of Fancy16. It’s All About Sex...17. ...Except Sex18. If She Comes Up, It’s Baptism19. Geography Matters...20. ...So Does SeasonINTERLUDE One Story21. Marked for Greatness22. He’s Blind for a Reason, You Know23. It’s Never Just Heart Disease...24. ...And Rarely Just Illness25. Don’t Read with Your Eyes26. Is He Serious? And Other Ironies27. A Test CaseENVOIAPPENDIX Reading List
Introduction: How’d He Do That? MR. LINDNER? THAT MILQUETOAST? Right. Mr. Lindner the milquetoast. So what did you think the devil would look like? If he were red with a tail, horns, and cloven hooves, any fool could say no. The class and I are discussing Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun (1959), one of the great plays of the American theater. The incredulous questions have come, as they often do, in response to my innocent suggestion that Mr. Lindner is the devil. The Youngers, an African American family in Chicago, have made a down payment on a house in an all-white neighborhood. Mr. Lindner, a meekly apologetic little man, has been dispatched from the neighborhood association, check in hand, to buy out the family’s claim on the house. At first, Walter Lee Younger, the protagonist, confidently turns down the offer, believing that the family’s money (in the form of a life insurance payment after his father’s recent death) is secure. Shortly afterward, however, he discovers that two-thirds of that money has been stolen. All of a sudden the previously insulting offer comes to look like his financial salvation. Bargains with the devil go back a long way in Western culture. In all the versions of the Faust legend, which is the dominant form of this type of story, the hero is offered something he desperately wants – power or knowledge or a fastball that will beat the Yankees – and all he has to give up is his soul. This pattern holds from the Elizabethan Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus through the nineteenth-century Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust to the twentieth century’s Stephen Vincent Benét’s “The Devil and Daniel Webster”and Damn Yankees. In Hansberry’s version, when Mr. Lindner makes his offer, he doesn’t demand Walter Lee’s soul; in fact, he doesn’t even know that he’s demanding it. He is, though. Walter Lee can be rescued from the monetary crisis he has brought upon the family; all he has