How to Read Literature Like a Professor

Christianity in American and British Literature

In chapter 14 from the book how to read literature like a professor

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In chapter 14 Foster analyzes the Christian trope found in works of European and American literature. The dominance of cultural influences brought by early European settlers has meant that Christian values have been deeply woven in our social fabric, the consequent of which is that we live in a Christian culture. This influence can be ascertained in works of literature as well, in fact, texts draw so heavily upon this religious tradition that knowledge of the Old and New Testaments is quite essential. It is important to note that the values that appear in a text, while technically “Christian,” need not take on a religious role but are more significant in revealing something about the character, plot, or theme of the story.

One of the more frequent Biblical archetypes used in literature is the figure of Christ, and Frost recommends familiarizing oneself with certain features of his character that appear in various guises in literary texts. These include qualities such as self-sacrificing, closeness with children, loaves, fish, water and wine, thirty-three years of age, crucifixion, and so forth. While some literary figures closely resemble Christ (Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is replete with Christian imagery) others are more ambiguous, and indeed do not even have to embody the characteristic features of being male, Christian, or even good (in the latter’s case, the parallel to Christ figure becomes an irony). Allusions to Christ can have various effects, from emphasizing the character’s sacrifice by relating it to Divine sacrifice, ushering notions or hope/redemption/miracle or even portraying the character as much smaller by highlight the discrepancy between him/her and the figure of Christ.