Life in America: The Reagan Years, A Webography

How Do We Talk about Literature?:  Questions for Consideration

1.  What point is the author trying to make about people, human nature, and/or society?  How does a reader know what point the author is trying to make?  Is this point valid and/or justified?  Does there always have to be a point in discussing literature?

2.  Who is the narrator?  Is the narrator also an “active” character within the story?  Or is the narrator an “outside observer”?  Why do you think the author made this choice?  And do we trust the narrator?  Why or why not?  And what impact does that sense of trust (or lack thereof) have on our relationship to the story being told and our understanding of it?

3.  Is this text a “great piece of literature”?  How are such determinations made and on what basis?  And is there some value in making such determinations?  (This question also begs a consideration of the issue of “canonicity” vis-à-vis the text under study and the value of maintaining a “canon.”)

4.  Does the author use any figurative language—symbolism, similes, metaphors, etc.?  If so, then what figurative language is used, how is it used, and what purpose does it serve within the text?  What does that figurative language reveal about the text (e.g., its purpose, the approach that readers should take when reading it, etc.)? 

5.  What themes emerge in the text?  And what does the author have to say about those themes?  What are the “take home” points, in other words?

6.  What do you think the author’s motivation/purpose was in writing this text?  Was the text perhaps inspired by historical events/happenings at the time of its writing?  Is the text satirizing something?  Does the text serve as a warning?  Is it intended to inform readers about something?  Or entertain?  Or some sort of combination of these purposes?  And how do you know this is the purpose?

7.  What is the relationship between the author and the text?  Between the author and the narrator?  The author and the reader?  The text and the reader?  The text and the narrator?  The reader and the narrator?  The reader and the text?  The text and the “real world”?  And why do such relationships matter in the study of literature?  What kinds of valuable information do they provide us about the text?  About ourselves as readers?  About the author?  The historical circumstances within which we live and/or the text was created? 

8.  What kinds of archetypes emerge in the text?  Are there recognizable characters?  Themes?  Situations/events?  And what does the presence of these archetypes tell you about the text that you are reading?

9.  How do (Do?) the characters change throughout the text?  If the characters do change, then in what ways and what kinds of events/circumstances influence these changes?  If the characters do not change in any discernible manner, then what do you make of that fact?  What might the author be saying about human nature? about the concepts of “progression” and change?  Etc.

10.  What can we learn from reading this piece of literature?  And what makes that information valuable to us as readers?

11.  In what format did the author choose to write this story—you can think about “format” as both genre and in terms of organizational structure?  What does the choice of format (in this case, genre) tell you about what the author wants you to take away from reading this piece, as well as how the author wants you to interact with and navigate this piece?  How are the events of the story organized?  Are they ordered chronologically?  Or does the author break with chronology?  If so, then how and for what reason?  Furthermore, what is the significance of that break with chronology?

12.  What point of view does the author adopt in the narrating of the story?  And what impact does that choice of point of view have on the way that the story is told?  The meanings that we derive from the story?  Our relationship (as readers) to the narrator?  The text? 

13.  What is the relationship (if any) between literature and history?  Are they distinct “genres” (as has traditionally been believed)?  Or are there important points of overlap between the two genres? 

14.  Where is the story set and is there any significance in this location vis-à-vis character development?  Theme?  Etc.