How to Read Literature Like a Professor

What does Foster say about political inferences?

In chapter 13 from the book how to read literature like a professor

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Often when a story or its characters or plot resonate with us, it is because some element of the text is representative of conditions or individuals in our society and world. More often than not such representativeness carries political implications as well - leading Foster to highlight the importance of understanding the political undertones of a literary piece. Foster distinguishes between overtly political writing which includes literature whose main intent is to influence the prevailing political thought/ideology and “political” writing that is more subtle and perhaps more effective. Political writing offers a perspective into the realities of the world and in doing so touches upon themes and problems that are collectively shared and thus relatable. Edgar Allen Poe for instance provides a criticism of the European class system and its elitism in his poems “The Masque of the Red Death” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Both poems look at the conditions and practices of the nobility, and emerge as commentary upon the systems of monarchy and aristocracy.

Political undertones can also be found in seemingly apolitical texts such as Rip Van Winkle. Because political considerations are closely entwined with social, economic, historic and cultural issues, it is unsurprising that many texts can be said to be political in nature. Consequently, Foster argues that knowing something about the political and social context in which the writer was writing is significant for it can add a dimension to the text which readers, in their own unique political settings, might not have realized.