Response should be at least 75 words in length and address two or more of the following points:Do you agree with your classmates’ perspectives? Why, or why not? Be specific.Ask a specific question to encourage further discussion on the topic.Challenge your classmates’ interpretation of literature and/or point of view.Do a small amount of research and share what you learn with your peers about the topic discussed in this post.The power of literature offers recreation, sill it’s primary purpose is to expand the mind of the reader. Whether your reading a book, poem, novel or short story you can travel a thousands miles without moving an inch. Reading literature allows a person to get into the feelings of the character and the subject matter. By the novel’s climax, the reader should be able to identify with the lead…Some words, convey lightness, humor or passion.I agree with Clugston’s quote regarding the perceptions and values of literature. The emotional connection is not all there today. Now a days I rarely hear anyone talking about crawling up on the coach and getting comfortable with a good book. Reading a book and reading on the internet has changed literacy. Sometimes a writers primary purpose is hidden in clue words or symbols. You may have to carefully break down certain ares to understand the story and the authors intent. It requires mental engagement. When reading online you may be dealing with the everyday distractions of email, Facebook, Twitter etc…pop ups. Life in general has it’s complexities and the internet can cause you to lose focus.Beginning Our Literary Journey
© VideoBlocks
Learning Objectives
After reading this chapter, you should be able to do the following:
• Identify the different ways in which you connect to literature.
• Recognize and utilize explanatory notes to enhance your reading experience.
• Discuss the characters and activities presented in the poem “The Red Hat.”
• Discuss the characters and activities presented in the short story “A & P.”
• Discuss the characters and activities presented in the poem “Oranges.”
“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”
—Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
Connecting: Entering Into a Literary Experience
Chapter 1
Reading literature that tells a story introduces you to an imaginary world. You are pulled away
from a living, breathing world into one that was created in the mind of the author. Its situations
and experiences may resemble ones you are familiar with; many of them may even be based in
part on real situations, but they are imaginary—shaped by the imagination of the person who
created them.
To experience literature, you must make an intentional decision to turn yourself over to an imaginary realm. How many times have you heard someone say, “I’m having a hard time getting into
this story”? Maybe you’ve said that yourself. Although such a comment often suggests that the
reader is encountering a difficult writing style, it may also mean that the reader has not made an
intentional connection to the imaginary world of literature.
As adults, we are grounded by the demands of our everyday lives, preoccupied with responsibilities and endless schedules—not to mention university course assignments! So, opting for a full
connection to a literary world is demanding: It requires letting go of things at hand and engaging
in imaginary things. It actually requires us to believe that an imaginary world is possible and to
engage in what Coleridge (1817) so famously called “the willing suspension of disbelief for the
moment.” But once we connect, we find ourselves escaping from the routine of our ordinary lives,
caught up in adventure and entertained.
 1.1 Connecting: Entering Into a Literary Experience
When you allow reading to unlock your imagination, your connection also sets the stage for
intellectual engagement. It allows the experience of reading literature to include the pursuit of
ideas and knowledge. Your literary experience—as the title of this book suggests—can become a
personal journey, a quest for meaning. But connections to literature don’t have to begin with deep
intellectual quests. The stories themselves, those that strike a human chord, provide the greatest
opportunity for connection.
From ancient times, in every culture, humans have told stories to explain their world, to honor
people, to celebrate achievements, and to communicate human values. Stories are still essential
in our lives: We share them with our children, look to them for entertainment, and read them
because at the core of our being there’s a powerful curiosity about human relationships and how
to cope in the world in which we find ourselves.
This means you are already wired to explore literature. And the most immediate connection is
through story. Allowing yourself to be drawn into a story—whether it’s told by someone, printed
in a book, or performed—unlocks your innate abilities to empathize, to laugh, to inquire, to learn,
to wonder. Connecting with literature also allows you to reflect on the significance of common
human experiences in your life.
For example, if you know what it’s like to send your child off to school for the first time and
remember how you felt when this happened, your connection to the emotions that Rachel Hadas,
poet and former professor at Rutgers University, packs into “The Red Hat” will be instantaneous.
Her poem captures the anxiety and disequilibrium parents feel when watching their young children drawn away from them to enter school and a world away from home. When the watching
parent is described in the poem as one whose “heart stretches, elastic in its love and fear,” you can
feel those emotions because you have experienced them. And no one has to explain what “wavering in the eddies of change” means—you’ve lived through that uncomfortable experience when
Connecting: Entering Into a Literary Experience
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home seems strangely empty, routine is broken, and you are forced to accept that your child will
not always be with you.
The Red Hat
Rachel Hadas (1994)
It started before Christmas. Now our son
officially walks to school alone.
Semi-alone, it’s accurate to say:
I or his father track him on the way.
He walks up on the east side of West End,
we on the west side. Glances can extend
(and do) across the street; not eye contact.
Already ties are feelings and not fact.
Straus Park is where these parallel paths part;
he goes alone from there. The watcher’s heart
stretches, elastic in its love and fear,
toward him as we see him disappear,
striding briskly. Where two weeks ago,
holding a hand, he’d dawdle, dreamy, slow,
he now is hustled forward by the pull
of something far more powerful than school.
The mornings we turn back to are no more
than forty minutes longer than before,
but they feel vastly different—flimsy, strange,
wavering in the eddies of this change,
empty, unanchored, perilously light
since the red hat vanished from our sight.
Rachel Hadas, “The Red Hat” from Halfway Down the Hall: New and Selected Poems
© 1998 by Rachel Hadas. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
So, this introduction to literature begins by asking you simply to read a short story and a poem.
Each represents a separate literary genre, or category, but both present an experience that is likely
familiar to you. Each feeds human feelings and emotions. Your task is to read both selections for
pleasure and enjoyment. You do not need to consider depth of meaning or think about delving
into complex criticism. These challenges will come in later chapters. You are asked just to observe
the people and life activities that these pieces of literature present. Such a perspective for reading,
as writer Anne Lamott (1995) argues, can be both a source of delight and renewal:
When writers . . . make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are
given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of
being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm
at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the
people who are together on that ship. (p. 237)
As you read these selections, imagine you are meeting the people presented in them; observe
their behavior; be aware of your feelings. Then, think about how each person’s behavior is different from what you expected, or from what it should be. When you do this, you will see discrepancies. Some of them will delight you, some may be exaggerated, and some may remind you of a
personal experience. Especially, be aware of the subtle humor that unusual or unexpected human
behavior creates. The authors featured in this chapter present people in this gentle manner—not
attempting to analyze their behavior in a formal way, but to observe it with a smile.
Connecting: Entering Into a Literary Experience
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A Story
• “A & P”: This short narrative by John Updike is a coming-of-age story in which a 19-yearold boy working in a grocery store faces a situation that produces significant personal
insight and growth. Its dramatic moments are typical of those we associate with a young
person’s shift in perspective from innocence to experience, from idealism to realism, or
from ignorance to knowledge.
A Poem
• “Oranges”: Gary Soto’s poem is built around a universal human dilemma that can take you
by surprise time and time again. It occurs in those circumstances where you realize that
you will fail (or appear naïve) unless through sheer personal resourcefulness you can find a
way out. No doubt you’ve had this experience, and hopefully your response was as effective
as this young boy’s.
Our Use of Explanatory Notes
Throughout the book, literary selections will often be accompanied by explanatory notes and
comments printed in the margins. These annotations are not intended to interfere with your
interpretation of the selection involved; rather, they are included to emphasize and illuminate
specific literary concepts and techniques that make the particular selection effective. In many
cases, the notes will assist you in understanding content as well.
John Updike (1932–2009)
In his growing-up years in small-town Pennsylvania, John Updike developed a keen awareness of the ways religious faith (as a coalescing element)
was being replaced by materialistic culture in America. Through his novels,
essays, and poems, Updike elegantly explored reasons for this cultural shift,
always probing with unrestrained curiosity. He once said, “I want to write
books that unlock the traffic jam in everybody’s head.” His short stories and
novels often reflect life and changing relationships in communities where he
lived in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize
twice for the last two novels in his famous Rabbit series, which included
Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit Is Rich; and Rabbit at Rest.
fter you finish reading “A & P,” watch a video featuring John
Updike discussing his famous story at
© Francine Fleischer/Corbis
A & P 1
John Updike (1962)
In walks these three girls in nothing but bathing suits. I’m in the
third check-out slot, with my back to the door, so I don’t see them
until they’re over by the bread. The one that caught my eye first
was the one in the plaid green two-piece. She was a chunky kid,
with a good tan and a sweet broad soft-looking can with those
“A & P,” The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, was a supermarket widely known for most of the last century, especially
in the eastern United States. At the height of its success, it was the country’s largest food retailer.
Connecting: Entering Into a Literary Experience
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two crescents of white just under it, where the sun never seems to
hit, at the top of the backs of her legs. I stood there with my hand
on a box of HiHo crackers trying to remember if I rang it up or not.
I ring it up again and the customer starts giving me hell. She’s one
of these cash-register-watchers, a witch about fifty with rouge
on her cheekbones and no eyebrows, and I know it made her day
to trip me up. She’d been watching cash registers forty years and
probably never seen a mistake before.
By the time I got her feathers smoothed and her goodies into a
bag—she gives me a little snort in passing, if she’d been born at
the right time they would have burned her over in Salem—by the
time I get her on her way the girls had circled around the bread
and were coming back, without a pushcart, back my way along
the counters, in the aisle between the check-outs and the Special
bins. They didn’t even have shoes on. There was this chunky one,
with the two-piece—it was bright green and the seams on the bra
were still sharp and her belly was still pretty pale so I guessed she
just got it (the suit)—there was this one, with one of those chubby
berry-faces, the lips all bunched together under her nose, this
one, and a tall one, with black hair that hadn’t quite frizzed right,
and one of these sunburns right across under the eyes, and a chin
that was too long—you know, the kind of girl other girls think is
very “striking” and “attractive” but never quite makes it, as they
very well know, which is why they like her so much—and then
the third one, that wasn’t quite so tall. She was the queen. She
kind of led them, the other two peeking around and making their
shoulders round. She didn’t look around, not this queen, she just
walked straight on slowly, on these long white prima donna legs.
She came down a little hard on her heels, as if she didn’t walk in
her bare feet that much, putting down her heels and then letting
the weight move along to her toes as if she was testing the floor
with every step, putting a little deliberate extra action into it. You
never know for sure how girls’ minds work (do you really think it’s
a mind in there or just a little buzz like a bee in a glass jar?) but
you got the idea she had talked the other two into coming in here
with her, and now she was showing them how to do it, walk slow
and hold yourself straight.
She had on a kind of dirty-pink-beige maybe, I don’t know—
bathing suit with a little nubble all over it and, what got me,
the straps were down. They were off her shoulders looped loose
around the cool tops of her arms, and I guess as a result the suit
had slipped a little on her, so all around the top of the cloth there
was this shining rim. If it hadn’t been there you wouldn’t have
known there could have been anything whiter than those shoulders. With the straps pushed off, there was nothing between the
top of the suit and the top of her head except just her, this clean
bare plane of the top of her chest down from the shoulder bones
like a dented sheet of metal tilted in the light. I mean, it was more
than pretty.
She had sort of oaky hair that the sun and salt had bleached, done
up in a bun that was unravelling, and a kind of prim face. Walking
into the A & P with your straps down, I suppose it’s the only kind
of face you can have. She held her head so high her neck, coming
Connecting: Entering Into a Literary Experience
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up out of those white shoulders, looked kind of stretched, but I
didn’t mind. The longer her neck was, the more of her there was.
She must have felt in the corner of her eye me and over my
shoulder Stokesie in the second slot watching, but she didn’t tip.
Not this queen. She kept her eyes moving across the racks, and
stopped, and turned so slow it made my stomach rub the inside
of my apron, and buzzed to the other two, who kind of huddled
against her for relief, and they all three of them went up the catand-dog-food-breakfast-cereal-macaroni-rice-raisins-seasoningsspreads-spaghetti-soft drinks-crackers-and-cookies aisle. From
the third slot I look straight up this aisle to the meat counter,
and I watched them all the way. The fat one with the tan sort of
fumbled with the cookies, but on second thought she put the
packages back. The sheep pushing their carts down the aisle—the
girls were walking against the usual traffic (not that we have oneway signs or anything)—were pretty hilarious. You could see them,
when Queenie’s white shoulders dawned on them, kind of jerk, or
hop, or hiccup, but their eyes snapped back to their own baskets
and on they pushed. I bet you could set off dynamite in an A &
P and the people would by and large keep reaching and checking oatmeal off their lists and muttering “Let me see, there was
a third thing, began with A, asparagus, no, ah, yes, applesauce!”
or whatever it is they do mutter. But there was no doubt, this
jiggled them. A few house-slaves in pin curlers even looked around
after pushing their carts past to make sure what they had seen
was correct.
You know, it’s one thing to have a girl in a bathing suit down on
the beach, where what with the glare nobody can look at each
other much anyway, and another thing in the cool of the A & P,
under the fluorescent lights, against all those stacked packages,
with her feet paddling along naked over our checkerboard greenand-cream rubber-tile floor.
“Oh Daddy,” Stokesie said beside me. “I feel so faint.”
“Darling,” I said. “Hold me tight.” Stokesie’s married, with two
babies chalked up on his fuselage already, but as far as I can tell
that’s the only difference. He’s twenty-two, and I was nineteen
this April.
“Is it done?” he asks, the responsible married man finding his
voice. I forgot to say he thinks he’s going to be manager some
sunny day, maybe in 1990 when it’s called the Great Alexandrov
and Petrooshki Tea Company or something.
What he meant was, our town is five miles from a beach, with a
big summer colony out on the Point, but we’re right in the middle
of town, and the women generally put on a shirt or shorts or
something before they get out of the car into the street. And anyway these are usually women with six children and varicose veins
mapping their legs and nobody, including them, could care less.
As I say, we’re right in the middle of town, and if you stand at our
front doors you can see two banks and the Congregational church
and the newspaper store and three real-estate offices and about
Connecting: Entering Into a Literary Experience
Chapter 1
twenty-seven old free-loaders tearing up Central Street because
the sewer broke again. It’s not as if we’re on the Cape; we’re north
of Boston and there’s people in this town haven’t seen the ocean
for twenty years.
The girls had reached the meat counter and were asking McMahon
something. He pointed, they pointed, and they shuffled out of
sight behind a pyramid of Diet Delight peaches. All that was left
for us to see was old McMahon patting his mouth and looking
after them sizing up their joints. Poor kids, I began to feel sorry for
them, they couldn’t help it.
A cashier in an A & P grocery store is telling this
story, describing something
unusual that is happening, providing vivid details.
Notice, though, how much
we have learned about him
in the process—by his language, his attitude toward
the regular customers, his
fascination with the girls,
and his description of the
town and its way of life.
Now here comes the sad part of the story, at least my family says
it’s sad but I don’t think it’s sad myself. The store’s pretty empty,
it being Thursday afternoon, so there was nothing much to do
except lean on the register and wait for the girls to show up again.
The whole store was like a pinball machine and I didn’t know
which tunnel they’d come out of. After a while they come around
out of the far aisle, around the light bulbs, records at discount of
the Caribbean Six or Tony Martin Sings or some such gunk you
wonder they waste the wax on, six packs of candy bars, and plastic toys done up in cellophane that fall apart when a kid looks at
them anyway. Around they come, Queenie still leading the way,
and holding a little gray jar in her hand. Slots Three through Seven
are unmanned and I could see her wondering between Stokes and
me, but Stokesie with his usual luck draws an old party in baggy
gray pants who stumbles up with four giant cans of pineapple
juice (what do these bums do with all that pineapple juice? I’ve
often asked myself) so the girls come to me. Queenie puts down
the jar and I take it into my fingers icy cold. Kingfish Fancy Herring
Snacks in Pure Sour Cream: 49¢. Now her hands are empty, not a
ring or a bracelet, bare as God made them, and I wonder where
the money’s coming from. Still with that prim look she lifts a
folded dollar bill out of the hollow at the center of her nubbled
pink top. The jar went heavy in my hand. Really, I thought that was
so cute.
Then everybody’s luck begins to run out. Lengel comes in from
haggling with a truck full of cabbages on the lot and is about to
scuttle into that door marked MANAGER behind which he hides
all day when the girls touch his eye. Lengel’s pretty dreary, teaches
Sunday school and the rest, but he doesn’t miss that much. He
comes over and says, “Girls, this isn’t the beach.”
Queenie blushes, though maybe it’s just a brush of sunburn I was
noticing for the first time, now that she was so close. “My mother
asked me to pick up a jar of herring snacks.”
Here the storyteller moves
beyond his actual observations of the girls to imaginative speculation about
what their lifestyle must
be like—based on their
purchase of Kingfish Fancy
Herring Snacks.
Her voice kind of startled me, the way voices do when you see
the people first, coming out so flat and dumb yet kind of tony,
too, the way it ticked over “pick up” and “snacks.” All of a sudden
I slid right down her voice into her living room. Her father and
the other men were standing around in ice-cream coats and bow
ties and the women were in sandals picking up herring snacks on
toothpicks off a big plate and they were all holding drinks the
color of water with olives and sprigs of mint in them. When my
Connecting: Entering Into a Literary Experience
Chapter 1
parents have somebody over they get lemonade and if it’s a real
racy affair Schlitz in tall glasses with “They’ll Do It Every Time” cartoons stencilled on.
“That’s all right,” Lengel said. “But this isn’t the beach.” His
repeating this struck me as funny, as if it had just occurred to him,
and he had been thinking all these years the A & P was a great big
dune and he was the head lifeguard. He didn’t like my smiling—as
I say he doesn’t miss much—but he concentrates on giving the girls
that sad Sunday-school-superintendent stare.
Queenie’s blush is no sunburn now, and the plump one in plaid,
that I liked better from the back—a really sweet can—pipes up,
“We weren’t doing any shopping. We just came in for the one
“That makes no difference,” Lengel tells her, and I could see from
the way his eyes went that he hadn’t noticed she was wearing a
two-piece before. “We want you decently dressed when you come
in here.”
“We are decent,” Queenie says suddenly, her lower lip pushing,
getting sore now that she remembers her place, a place from
which the crowd that runs the A & P must look pretty crummy.
Fancy Herring Snacks flashed in her very blue eyes.
“Girls, I don’t want to argue with you. After this come in here with
your shoulders covered. It’s our policy.” He turns his back. That’s
policy for you. Policy is what the kingpins want. What the others
want is juvenile delinquency.
All this while, the customers had been showing up with their carts
but, you know, sheep, seeing a scene, they had all bunched up
on Stokesie, who shook open a paper bag as gently as peeling a
peach, not wanting to miss a word. I could feel in the silence everybody getting nervous, most of all Lengel, who asks me, “Sammy,
have you rung up this purchase?”
I thought and said “No” but it wasn’t about that I was thinking. I
go through the punches, 4, 9, GROC, TOT — it’s more complicated
than you think, and after you do it often enough, it begins to
make a little song, that you hear words to, in my case “Hello (bing)
there, you (gung) hap-py pee-pul (splat)”—the splat being the
drawer flying out. I uncrease the bill, tenderly as you may imagine,
it just having come from between the two smoothest scoops of
vanilla I had ever known were there, and pass a half and a penny
into her narrow pink palm, and nestle the herrings in a bag and
twist its neck and hand it over, all the time thinking.
The girls, and who’d blame them, are in a hurry to get out, so I say
“I quit” to Lengel quick enough for them to hear, hoping they’ll
stop and watch me, their unsuspected hero.
Connecting: Entering Into a Literary Experience
Chapter 1
Did you expect this impul- They keep right on going, into the electric eye; the door flies open
sive decision? What earlier
and they flicker across the lot to their car, Queenie and Plaid and
behavior or details help to
explain the decision? Big Tall Goony-Goony (not that as raw material she was so bad),
leaving me with Lengel and a kink in his eyebrow.
“Did you say something, Sammy?”
“I said I quit.”
“I thought you did.”
“You didn’t have to embarrass them.”
“It was they who were embarrassing us.”
I started to say something that came out “Fiddle-de-doo.” It’s a
saying of my grandmother’s, and I know she would have been
“I don’t think you know what you’re saying,” Lengel said.
“I know you don’t,” I said. “But I do.” I pull the bow at the back of
my apron and start shrugging it off my shoulders. A couple customers that had been heading for my slot begin to knock against
each other, like scared pigs in a chute.
Lengel sighs and begins to look very patient and old and gray. He’s
been a friend of my parents for years. “Sammy, you don’t want to
do this to your Mom and Dad,” he tells me. It’s true, I don’t. But
it seems to me that once you begin a gesture it’s fatal not to go
through with it. I fold the apron, “Sammy” stitched in red on the
pocket, and put it on the counter, and drop the bow tie on top
of it. The bow tie is theirs, if you’ve ever wondered. “You’ll feel
this for the rest of your life,” Lengel says, and I know that’s true,
too, but remembering how he made that pretty girl blush makes
me so scrunchy inside I punch the No Sale tab and the machine
whirs “pee-pul” and the drawer splats out. One advantage to this
scene taking place in summer, I can follow this up with a clean
exit, there’s no fumbling around getting your coat and galoshes, I
just saunter into the electric eye in my white shirt that my mother
ironed the night before, and the door heaves itself open, and outside the sunshine is skating around on the asphalt.
Notice the scope of time
that is included in this short
paragraph: Sammy looks
“around” for the girls, then
looks “back,” and finally
looks ahead.
I look around for my girls, but they’re gone, of course. There
wasn’t anybody but some young married screaming with her children about some candy they didn’t get by the door of a powderblue Falcon station wagon. Looking back in the big windows, over
the bags of peat moss and aluminum lawn furniture stacked on
the pavement, I could see Lengel in my place in the slot, checking
the sheep through. His face was dark gray and his back stiff, as if
he’d just had an injection of iron, and my stomach kind of fell as I
felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter.
“A & P,” from Pigeon Feathers and Other Stories by John Updike, copyright © 1962 and renewed 1990 by
John Updike. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group,
a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
Connecting: Entering Into a Literary Experience
Chapter 1
1. What allowed you to make an imaginative connection to this story? Was it a recollection of similar behavior that you previously observed?
2. Some readers see the young man’s behavior as foolish; others think it is based on integrity—he’s
standing up for what he feels is right. How do you account for his behavior?
3. Is there evidence in the story to suggest that both Sammy and Lengel have regrets about their
Gary Soto (b. 1952)
Gary Soto was born into a Mexican-American family and grew up in a barrio in Fresno, California. A popular Chicano writer, he has published several
books of poetry, taught at the University of California, and been a resonant
voice for social change, particularly addressing struggles faced by Spanishspeaking Americans. Several of his books were developed for young readers,
but all draw heavily on his personal experiences and memorable, true-to-life
insights. He’s often called “the people’s poet.”
F or an interesting video illustration of “Oranges,” see
© Chris Felver/The Bridgeman
Art Library
Gary Soto (1995)
Almost a “once-upon-a- The first time I walked
time” beginning to the With a girl, I was twelve,
Cold, and weighted down
With two oranges in my jacket.
Winter setting and the December. Frost cracking
barking dog are subtle, Beneath my steps, my breath
ominous details.
Before me, then gone,
As I walked toward
Her house, the one whose
Porch light burned yellow
Night and day, in any weather.
A dog barked at me, until
She came out pulling
At her gloves, face bright
With rouge. I smiled,
Touched her shoulder, and led
Her down the street, across
A used car lot and a line
Of newly planted trees,
Until we were breathing
Connecting: Entering Into a Literary Experience
Crisis point, following
mounting suspense.
Resolution of the crisis.
Boy’s character revealed
through his resourceful
Boy’s reflective response
from a somewhat more
informed point of view—a
look back on innocence.
Chapter 1
Before a drugstore. We
Entered, the tiny bell
Bringing a saleslady
Down a narrow aisle of goods.
I turned to the candies
Tiered like bleachers,
And asked what she wanted—
Light in her eyes, a smile
Starting at the corners
Of her mouth. I fingered
A nickel in my pocket,
And when she lifted a chocolate
That cost a dime,
I didn’t say anything.
I took the nickel from
My pocket, then an orange,
And set them quietly on
The counter. When I looked up,
The lady’s eyes met mine,
And held them, knowing
Very well what it was all
A few cars hissing past,
Fog hanging like old
Coats between the trees.
I took my girl’s hand
In mine for two blocks,
Then released it to let
Her unwrap the chocolate.
I peeled my orange
That was so bright against
The gray of December
That, from some distance,
Someone might have thought
I was making a fire in my hands.
From New and Selected Poems © 1995 by Gary Soto. Used with permission of
Chronicle Books LLC, San Francisco. Visit
1. At what point did you feel yourself being drawn into the story this poem tells? Did a particular
experience in your own life, different from the boy’s, draw you into the story?
2. Oranges are identified three times in the poem: in the boy’s pocket, on the store counter, and in
the boy’s hands. What does each of these instances contribute to the story?
3. What feelings or emotions are you most aware of when you connect imaginatively to “Oranges”
and to “A & P”?
Key Terms and Concepts
Chapter 1
When this summary section is included at the end of a chapter, it will provide a brief review of
the concepts, explanations, and discussions presented in the chapter. It will call attention to the
essential insights you should have gained. At the same time, it will ask you to think again about
the literature you have read in the chapter—and reflect on the reasons each piece of literature
was selected.
Chapter 1 introduces the study of literature by identifying two ideas that every reader must understand: Literature exists in the imaginary world of its creator, and it is accessible (experienced) by
the reader through an intentional, imaginative connection to the creator’s world. Readers who
approach literary works (short stories, novels, poetry, and plays) with this perspective are sure to
discover surprising and penetrating insights into our shared human experience.
Key Terms and Concepts
coming-of-age story  A story built around dilemmas or decisions typically associated with a
young person’s shift in perspective from innocence to experience, from idealism to realism, or
from ignorance to knowledge.
genre  The term comes from the French language and is used to identify categories or types of
literature, including both the broadest categories of literature—prose, poetry, and drama—and
specific types of literature within these categories.
imagination  The human power that shapes artistic expression; it enables a writer’s work to
become an expression of meaning in our world and allows readers to engage in identifying with
what the writer’s work has to say about things that matter.
Responding to Literary
© VideoBlocks
Learning Objectives
After reading this chapter, you should be able to do the following:
• Develop a framework for responding to what you read.
• Describe how the use of persona affects your response to literature.
• Analyze the themes and concepts presented in this chapter’s literary selections.
• Discuss what literature contributes to your life.
• Recognize figures of speech, including similes and metaphors.
“I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.”
—Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Writing About What You Read
Chapter 2
    2.1 Writing About What You Read
In our opening chapter, we observed that enjoying literature begins with the depth of connection
you make with the imaginary world that a piece of literature creates. The purpose of this chapter
is to look at a range of literary experiences and to describe what is involved in responding to them
in meaningful ways. Responding is a personal activity that allows you to reflect on your experiences and to gain valuable insights about the human condition; responding can also be a structured analytical process that requires use of literary tools and techniques. Responding requires
active mental engagement: exploring ideas, forming conclusions, and, ultimately, critiquing what
you have read as objectively as possible.
Because this book is an introduction to literature, it offers a broad range of reading experiences.
Some selections may be familiar, some will introduce you to surprising insights, and others will
engage you in human encounters and life complexities that don’t have obvious solutions. The
readings will pull you beyond the scope of popular literature, beyond conventional romances
with happy endings, and beyond detective stories where impossible cases are always solved at the
last moment, allowing the forces of good to succeed. Does exploring more challenging literature
mean that you should never read popular literature, sometimes called “commercial literature”?
No, this approach readily acknowledges the pleasure and delightful escape that such reading
offers, but it also takes you beyond the popular literature horizon, where broader ventures and
more challenging explorations await.
The level of intellectual demands on the reader will vary because writers have very different
purposes when they write. When the events in a story are presented simply and developed in a
straightforward manner without extensive detail, the writer’s intentions are likely to be obvious and easy to understand. But when a writer’s primary purpose is hidden or buried in symbols—when, for example, the author sets out to interpret a puzzling phenomenon or human
condition—the reader will likely need to make careful intellectual inquiry to understand the
author’s intent.
Framework for Responding to What You Read
As stated previously, reading creates imaginative experiences. It connects you to new experiences
that become meaningful when you allow them to influence your thoughts and feelings. To make
your responses active and engaging, you should ask: Is my reading experience echoing things
that have happened in my life? Is it connecting me to things I’ve never considered before? Am I
surprised by (or content with) the way it makes me feel? Does it make me think about a concept
or issue that is important to me or to humanity at large?
Also as you read, consider how the writer develops the situations, characters, and emotions that
stand out for you. Analyze them. Then, draw conclusions about what you have read; develop your
interpretation, focusing on how your reading experience relates to your life, ideas, and values—
not just your values, but others’ also. Your responses can be organized into three steps: connecting, considering, and concluding. These steps provide a simple but effective response framework
that you will use throughout this book. See Table 2.1 for explanations of each step.
At first glance, this matrix may suggest that reading should produce neat linear responses in
an intellectual inquiry process that is orderly, almost mechanical. But certainly that is not what
Writing About What You Read
Chapter 2
happens when you read literature. Life itself is not that way! When you read a piece of literature
imaginatively and with mental vigor, you are stepping inside it, projecting your perspective
across its landscape. Although the author may provide signposts to follow as you discover what
the literary piece intends, you make your own path. Often, it’s a winding one; progress can be
slow. Maybe you miss important details that explain the behavior of an important character,
or you limit the capabilities of a character to the boundaries of your own experience. Or, you
might miss important connections between what is happening and why it’s happening, requiring you to do some rereading. Stop-and-go reading like this can be frustrating, but it also creates learning opportunities. Expect to do this kind of reading in an introduction to literature
course—because the truest satisfaction in reading comes from exploring, moving from insight
to insight.
Table 2.1 Reader’s response framework: Connecting, considering, and concluding
(Imaginative reading)
Involves allowing feelings, curiosity, aspirations, desire to
escape, and associations with past or present experiences to
motivate you to read.
Individual link
and imaginative
“entry” into a
piece of literature.
Involves focusing on basic literary elements, artistic skills,
aesthetic features, ideas, observations, contexts, and
dilemmas that you discover as you read and want to explore
in some depth.
Involves finding your own explanations, making sense of
what you are reading, and determining the value of its
Personal inquiry,
as you analyze
and think about
the content and
unique structure
of the literary
The matrix in Table 2.1 provides a starting point in the exploratory process. It will help you discover insights, appreciate literary techniques, and find significance in your reading. Throughout
this book, many reading selections include a follow-up Response and Reflection section containing questions based on the matrix. These questions—asking you to connect, consider, and conclude—are designed to call attention to details and ideas that will deepen your response.
A Sample Response
Knowing that you will be expected to write about what you read introduces an obligation. It
requires you to read not just for pleasure, but also with specific purpose. When reading for pleasure, you can allow yourself to be caught up in experiencing a story, poem, or play—simply enjoying the suspenseful moments and identifying with imagined settings. But reading literature with
a purpose requires you to have something to say about what you’ve read. It can’t be just a sweeping general statement, such as “That was a great story; it really held my attention.” Your written
statement needs to include specific and thoughtful observations that can be supported by details
in the piece of literature you have read. The framework of connecting, considering, and concluding
can be used in developing your written responses, as illustrated in Responding to Reading: Sample
Short-Answer Written Response.
How Use of Persona Affects Your Response to Literature
Chapter 2
Sample Short-Answer Written Response
Question: Is Sammy presented in the story “A & P” as a person whose actions are solidly
established, or as one “coming of age,” searching for answers about how to act in the
adult world?
Writer briefly summarizes important
factors that contribute to the incident
in the A & P store
and the actions that
Note: The last sentence is not part
of the summary; it
is the thesis statement—identifying
the purpose of the
written response.
Writer selects
details and specific examples as
evidence of the
rationale and
understanding that
underlie Sammy’s
Writer repeats the
“point” of the thesis
that Sammy’s
self-knowledge is
Published in 1961, early in a decade of counterculture and social revolution in
America, Updike’s story presents a glimpse into different generational responses
to these significant movements. The story is set north of Boston where people
are proud of their Puritan heritage, which dates back to colonial days and remains
firmly established in their culture. Lengel, the store manager, feels compelled to
uphold this Puritan ethic when he sees the girls in swimming suits shopping in his
store. He is offended, both by what they are wearing and also by their casual attitude when pushing social norms. He confronts them, pointing out that store policy
does not permit shoppers to be dressed in swimwear. Sammy, a 19-year-old, is
part of the younger generation that supports social change. He sees the situation
differently, demonstrating how adamantly he opposes Lengel’s approach by quitting his job on the spot. He takes a gallant stand not only to impress the girls, but
also to advance the spirit of freedom, excitement, and change introduced by their
presence. Unfortunately, rather than producing heroic, dramatic results, his protest
brings only embarrassing personal consequences.
Sammy quit his job in a voice loud enough for the girls to hear, hoping they would
see him “as their unsuspected hero” (as cited in Clugston, 2014). However, they
did not acknowledge him as they left, and when he got to the store parking lot
they were gone. Consequently, he experiences no external affirmation of his
action, no applause for being a hero. But, Sammy gains new insight: he realizes
“how hard the world was going to be” (as cited in Clugston, 2014). That is, he
begins to understand that his quest for change—stimulated not just by the girls’
entrance but by stifling routines in his work environment—would be an arduous
struggle requiring commitment and persistence over time; achievement of social
change is not driven by spur-of-the moment actions. He shows the strength of this
awareness later when he disagrees with the idea that the A & P incident was a sad
one. Sammy disagrees because he learned a lot from the experience. He may not
have found answers to all the questions he has about becoming a man, but his
self-knowledge and outlook are more realistically grounded than ever before.
   2.2 How Use of Persona Affects Your Response
to Literature
If there’s a nameplate on your desk at work, it’s possible for someone who passes by to get a sense of
who you are just by looking at your desk, noticing how things are arranged, glancing at the design of
your coffee cup, and so on. If these items could speak, the observer could learn a lot more about you,
of course. A piece of literature is somewhat like that desk: The author’s name is on it, and you can
discover things about the author when you read. But there’s a difference. Unlike inboxes and coffee
cups, the characters in stories and poems and plays can speak. As they do, they may represent what
the author thinks, or they may be “speaking for themselves”—representing views that are different
from the author’s. In other words, it’s important to understand an author’s use of persona.
How Use of Persona Affects Your Response to Literature
Chapter 2
Persona in “The Road Not Taken”
In Latin, persona means “mask.” When it is used in literature, persona refers to the person who
is the narrator in a story or the speaker in a poem. In other words, the main voice in a work of
fiction or poetry is usually not the author’s voice, although it may reflect the author’s views. The
main voice comes from the person the author created to narrate or speak. In most cases, this
speaker is a character in the story or the poem, but sometimes a persona can be an outside voice,
a speaker who is looking at the action but is not part of it.
Look carefully at the student’s analysis in the box following Robert Frost’s famous poem “The
Road Not Taken.” The analysis identifies the persona (speaker) as a person who is approaching
decision making thoughtfully, but this person is not necessarily Robert Frost.
Also note Frost’s use of symbol in the poem. A symbol is an object, person, or action that conveys
two meanings: its literal meaning and something it stands for. In “The Road Not Taken,” Frost
presents the literal image of two roads. But he suggests that they stand for something other than
what their literal meaning conveys: They represent (symbolize) life’s pathways on which our dayby-day experiences unfold.
Robert Frost (1874–1963)
Robert Frost was born in San Francisco. At age 11, he moved with his family to New England. He attended both Dartmouth College and Harvard
but did not graduate. After an unsuccessful attempt at farming, he and
his wife moved to England in 1912. There, with encouragement from poet
Ezra Pound, he published his first two collections of poems, A Boy’s Will
and North of Boston. He returned to the United States in 1915 as a popular poet and was even more celebrated in the years that followed, winning
the Pulitzer Prize for his works four times. He was sought after as an artist
in residence at universities in New England and wrote candidly about the
poetic process. His lyrical style and masterful use of ordinary language and
rural settings made his poetry delightful. Building on delight, he engaged in
ironic inquiry to give expression to complex ideas and questions that define
the human spirit.
© Bettmann/CORBIS
The Road Not Taken
Robert Frost (1916)
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.
How Use of Persona Affects Your Response to Literature
Chapter 2
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
“The Road Not Taken” from the book THE POETRY OF ROBERT FROST edited by Edward Connery Lathem.
Copyright © 1923, 1969 by Henry Holt and Company, copyright © 1951 by Robert Frost.
Reprinted by permission of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.
The following questions are reflective of those you will encounter throughout the remainder of this
textbook. The sample answers provided are examples of how you might respond to these questions.
Connecting (Imaginative reading)
Q. What allowed you to connect to the poem?
A. I was able to connect to this poem immediately because I’d often heard the title quoted in public
speeches. Then, I became interested in seeing if I could figure out why the idea of “the road not
taken” is so often mentioned in speeches.
Considering (Analysis)
Q. What do you know about the speaker in this poem?
A. The speaker is a serious, thoughtful person, and could be either a woman or a man. There is no
precise indication of the speaker’s age, but the last line of the poem suggests that the person is
reflective, thinking not just about a present decision but about future consequences as well. Even
though stanza 2 suggests the choice could have gone either way—both roads were a lot alike—the
speaker chose the one “less traveled by” and is willing to accept whatever the choice will bring,
knowing that choosing the other road for future travel is not possible. It is clear, also, that the
speaker is reflecting on a choice related to a significant life decision that involves commitment and
integrity, and is not merely selecting a road in the woods.
Concluding (Interpretation)
Q. What do the comments “telling this with a sigh” (line 16) and “that has made all the difference”
(line 20) reveal about life choices?
A. I’ve concluded that the poem emphasizes the ambiguity associated with life choices. From what
I already knew about the poem, I thought it dealt simply with making a challenging (“less traveled
by”) choice. However, I now see that it reflects not just on the motive for choosing, but also on
the nature of choice making. There appears to be delight, at least satisfaction, on the part of the
speaker at the beginning of the poem, but the “sigh” mentioned at the end suggests that the choice
was more complex than it appeared: It may have even resulted in personal regret. Consequently, the
poem reveals the nature of decision making, implying that, at best, it’s a fuzzy process with ambiguous aspects—both at the moment a choice is made and afterwards. In this way, the poem makes a
wise observation and explores important life knowledge.
How Use of Persona Affects Your Response to Literature
Chapter 2
Your Turn
Try using the literary response framework connecting, considering, concluding to explore meaning in Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour.” In this brief narrative, there is not a lot of action,
but you can gain important insights about the action—and the story’s outcome—by paying close
attention to what the main character, Mrs. Mallard, is thinking.
Kate Chopin (1850–1904)
Chopin was born in St. Louis (her birth name was Katherine O’Flaherty),
one of five children—the only one to live beyond age 25. After attending
Catholic schools, she married Oscar Chopin, a cotton broker, and moved to
New Orleans. When he died 12 years later, she was left to raise their six children. Various journals, including Atlantic Monthly and Vogue, published her
short stories. One of her novels, The Awakening, was controversial because
it acknowledged a woman’s strength in spite of her adulterous life. Chopin’s
writings expressed her personal quest for freedom and contributed to the
rise of feminism.
Missouri History Museum,
St. Louis
The Story of an Hour
Kate Chopin (1894)
Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble,
great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news
of her husband’s death.
It was her sister Josephine who told her, in broken sentences;
veiled hints that revealed in half concealing. Her husband’s friend
Richards was there, too, near her. It was he who had been in the
newspaper office when intelligence of the railroad disaster was
received, with Brently Mallard’s name leading the list of “killed.”
He had only taken time to assure himself of its truth by a second
telegram, and had hastened to forestall any less careful, less tender friend in bearing the sad message.
She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same,
with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance. She wept at
once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms. When
the storm of grief had spent itself she went away to her room
alone. She would have no one follow.
There stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair. Into this she sank, pressed down by a physical exhaustion
that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul.
She could see in the open square before her house the tops of
trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. The delicious
breath of rain was in the air. In the street below a peddler was
crying his wares. The notes of a distant song which some one was
How Use of Persona Affects Your Response to Literature
Chapter 2
singing reached her faintly, and countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves.
There were patches of blue sky showing here and there through
the clouds that had met and piled one above the other in the west
facing her window.
She sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair,
quite motionless, except when a sob came up into her throat and
shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob
in its dreams.
She was young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression and even a certain strength. But now there was a dull stare in
her eyes, whose gaze was fixed away off yonder on one of those
patches of blue sky. It was not a glance of reflection, but rather
indicated a suspension of intelligent thought.
There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it,
fearfully. What was it? She did not know; it was too subtle and
elusive to name. But she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching
toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled
the air.
Now her bosom rose and fell tumultuously. She was beginning to
recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her, and she
was striving to beat it back with her will—as powerless as her two
white slender hands would have been.
When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her
slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under her breath:
“free, free, free!” The vacant stare and the look of terror that
had followed it went from her eyes. They stayed keen and bright.
Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed
every inch of her body.
She did not stop to ask if it were or were not a monstrous joy that
held her. A clear and exalted perception enabled her to dismiss the
suggestion as trivial.
She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind,
tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save
with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead. But she saw beyond
that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would
belong to her absolutely. And she opened and spread her arms out
to them in welcome.
There would be no one to live for her during those coming years;
she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women
believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellowcreature. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem
no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of
And yet she had loved him—sometimes. Often she had not. What
did it matter! What could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in
How Use of Persona Affects Your Response to Literature
Chapter 2
the face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being!
“Free! Body and soul free!” she kept whispering.
Josephine was kneeling before the closed door with her lips to the
keyhole, imploring for admission. “Louise, open the door! I beg;
open the door—you will make yourself ill. What are you doing,
Louise? For heaven’s sake open the door.”
“Go away. I am not making myself ill.” No; she was drinking in a
very elixir of life through that open window.
Her fancy was running riot along those days ahead of her. Spring
days, and summer days, and all sorts of days that would be her
own. She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long. It was
only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might
be long.
She arose at length and opened the door to her sister’s importunities. There was a feverish triumph in her eyes, and she carried
herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory. She clasped her sister’s waist, and together they descended the stairs. Richards stood
waiting for them at the bottom.
Some one was opening the front door with a latchkey. It was
Brently Mallard who entered, a little travel-stained, composedly
carrying his grip-sack and umbrella. He had been far from the
scene of the accident, and did not even know that there had been
one. He stood amazed at Josephine’s piercing cry; at Richards’
quick motion to screen himself from the view of his wife.
But Richards was too late.
When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease—
of joy that kills.
This selection is in the public domain.
Connecting (Imaginative reading)
How is your interest in this story immediately established? How does Chopin create suspense?
Considering (Analysis)
Locate details in the story that give you a sense of what Mrs. Mallard’s relationship with her husband was like. In paragraphs five and six, how does the author’s mention of new spring life, twittering sparrows, and patches of blue sky help you understand Mrs. Mallard’s feelings—and her hopes?
Concluding (Interpretation)
Mrs. Mallard (in paragraphs eight and nine) is experiencing change. She feels that something is
“approaching” her, seeking to “possess her.” What do you think she is struggling with? Had she
ever loved her husband?
What Literature Contributes to Our Lives
Chapter 2
   2.3 What Literature Contributes to Our Lives
Through literature, we can explore human experiences deeply and search for meaning. It opens
new worlds, presents new ideas, and stimulates personal change. In these ways, literature influences each individual differently. Nevertheless, its conventional contributions fall into widely recognized categories. Here are six of these notable contributions, with a literary example selected
to illustrate each one.
Literature Restores the Past
In many ways, literature reflects historical issues and conditions. Long before stories were written
down, they were passed along through oral traditions. At least eight periods in literary history
can be roughly identified in the development of Western civilization (Wheeler, 2010).
Classical period (8th century BCE to middle of 5th century CE)
Medieval period (about 1,000 years, ending in 15th century)
Renaissance and Reformation period (roughly, 16th to mid-17th century)
Enlightenment or Neoclassical period (mid-17th century through 18th century)
Romantic period (roughly, first half of 19th century)
Victorian period (1832–1901)
Modern period (roughly, first half of the 20th century)
Postmodern period (roughly, since end of World War II, 1945)
In all these periods, social, economic, political, and religious traditions greatly influenced writers.
Century after century, their works reflected wars, natural disasters, common events, and human
achievements in cultures they personally knew. So, although we often gain insights about permanent things from writers, we also get a glimpse of conditions that existed in the passing moment
in which they were writing. Some writers develop works that openly celebrate ideas and the spirit
of their age, describing them in detail and making it easy for readers to visualize past events and
customs. Other writers take an indirect approach with much less description, requiring readers
to read more deeply, to examine behaviors and values in order to get a sense of life in earlier periods. Either way, works of literature help to restore the past.
For example, Langston Hughes’s “Dream Boogie” (1951) lifts up the civil rights quest as a dream
with human significance, “a dream deferred” that would be a long time in coming. In the 1950s,
when Hughes published the poem, most black Americans were not experiencing the fulfillment
of the hopes and dreams that Emancipation (nearly 100 years earlier) had promised. Looking
back, we know that it would be more than a decade before significant change would come, as a
result of non-violent protests under the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the passage of
civil rights legislation, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and
the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
You might say, then, that this piece of literature functions both as Hughes’s portrait of an important human ideal that has not yet been achieved (racial reconciliation), and as a photograph—a
snapshot of the state of that idealistic dream in the United States in the early 1950s. In an earlier
essay, Hughes acknowledged,
Most of my poems are racial in theme and treatment, derived from the life I know. In many
of them I try to grasp and hold some of the meanings and rhythms of jazz. . . . [J]azz to me is
one of the inherent expressions of Negro life in America: the eternal tom-tom beating in the
Negro soul—the tom-tom of revolt against weariness in a white world. (Hughes, 1926, p. 694)
What Literature Contributes to Our Lives
Chapter 2
Dream Boogie
Langston Hughes (1951)
Good morning, daddy!
Ain’t you heard
The boogie-woogie rumble
Of a dream deferred?
Listen closely:
You’ll hear their feet
Beating out and beating out a —
You think
It’s a happy beat?
Listen to it closely:
Ain’t you heard
something underneath
like a —
What did I say?
I’m happy!
Take it away!
Hey, pop!
“Dream Boogie” from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes by Langston Hughes, edited by Arnold
Rampersad with David Roessel, Associate Editor, copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes.
Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division
of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.
Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes.
Literature Stimulates the Imagination
Those who create literature may make some use of literal definitions and factual descriptions,
but the appeal and magic in their works are fashioned by the word pictures, feelings, and exquisite detail they create, revealing how particular things look in their minds. Writers enable us to
see things clearly, often in new ways that alter previous perceptions. They often use figures of
speech such as similes and metaphors to stimulate our imaginations. Each will be illustrated
more fully in later chapters:
Simile—A direct comparison of two things that are ordinarily not thought to be similar, using
like or as to connect them. In these lines from an 18th-century love song by Robert Burns, a person’s lover is compared to a rose (visual imagery) and to a melody (auditory imagery):
O my Luve’s like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.
Metaphor—An imaginative comparison of two unlike things, suggesting how each resembles
the other. In the following poem, poet Carl Sandburg compares changing fog patterns to the
silent, subtle movements of a cat:
What Literature Contributes to Our Lives
Chapter 2
The Fog
Carl Sandburg (1916)
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
This selection is in the public domain.
Figures of speech such as similes and metaphors are tools of figurative language, any language
used in a non-literal way to convey images and ideas. For example, Langston Hughes begins the
poem “A Dream Deferred” with the literal question “What happens to a dream deferred?” Then,
he uses explosive figurative language to describe the dream. He asks:
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run? (from Hughes, 1994)
In doing so, Hughes enables us to see things as he imagines them. First, he uses a simile to compare a deferred dream to a raisin lying in the sun, suggesting that dreams can deteriorate and
ultimately fail; next, he introduces another simile to compare a dream to a festering sore, suggesting that dreams can aggravate and become destructive.
In “Dream Boogie,” Hughes asks readers to imagine the quest for civil rights as a dance (metaphor): a be-bop, not an elegant waltz. He arranges the flow of words to help us imagine movement, rhythm, and sounds. He creates fragmentary conversation to allow us to grasp dimensions
of “dream” and “reality.” As he explains in his prefatory note in “The Negro Artist and the Racial
Mountain,” his writing must reflect change, because he is part of a changing community. It is a
marked by conflicting changes, sudden nuances, sharp and impudent interjections, broken
rhythms, and passages sometimes in the manner of the jam session, sometimes the popular
song, punctuated by the riffs, runs, breaks, and distortions of the music of a community in
transition. (Hughes, 1926)
Literature Glorifies the Commonplace
Even though literature often interprets lofty concepts and presents high society with irresistible
glamour, much of its appeal is achieved through faithful treatment of ordinary life experiences.
By dealing with common human interests and basic emotions, literature becomes relevant. For
example, in “I Hear America Singing,” Walt Whitman celebrates the diversity of the working
classes in 19th-century America, using familiar images of home and youthful vigor. Individually,
these images reveal an ordinary slice of life, but when combined, they represent America’s democratic spirit—a defining melody inextricably connected to things that are commonplace rather
than esoteric.
What Literature Contributes to Our Lives
Chapter 2
I Hear America Singing
Walt Whitman (1860)
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves
off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the
deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing
as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the
morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work,
or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young
fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.
This selection is in the public domain.
Literature Evokes Emotions and Links Feeling to Thinking
There is an intimate and mysterious relationship between human emotions and human thought.
Both what we feel (our affective responses) and what we think (our cognitive judgments) influence our literary experiences, but there is no fixed formula for how to use these separate domains
as we read. So, our literary responses vary, revealing a lot about how each of us sees the world.
Feeling usually comes first as we read. Especially when we experience plays or poetry, our immediate responses are stimulated by feelings. By purposely arranging word sounds and visual images,
poets fire up feelings and create a powerful emotional awareness that encourages thought; dramatists choose unique clothing and stage sets to create a captivating perspective on an idea or
concern; every writer develops a particular tone in each work that conveys a specific attitude
toward the subject presented, further deepening emotional responses. All of these techniques
contribute to creating our initial, emotional response to literature.
The feelings and spirit of Jane Kenyon’s poem, for example, are conveyed through carefully crafted
auditory and visual imagery: the sand and gravel falling “with a hiss and a thud” and the cat’s
“long red fur, the white feathers/between his toes, and his/long, not to say aquiline, nose.” Also,
the “blue bowl” is a visual image that creates emotional depth. It suggests the special relationship
that the owners had with their cat. They did more than just provide for the cat; they fed the cat
from a special bowl, “his bowl”—something they considered to be the cat’s own property, something appropriate to bury with the cat. Listen and look for the images that evoke a sense of loss
and strength as well.
The Blue Bowl
Jane Kenyon (1996)
Like primitives we buried the cat
with his bowl. Bare-handed
we scraped sand and gravel
back into the hole.
What Literature Contributes to Our Lives
Chapter 2
They fell with a hiss
and thud on his side,
on his long red fur, the white feathers
between his toes, and his
*Having the curved shape long, not to say aquiline* nose.
of an eagle’s beak We stood and brushed each other off.
There are sorrows keener than these.
Silent the rest of the day, we worked,
ate, stared, and slept. It stormed
all night; now it clears, and a robin
burbles from a dripping bush
like the neighbor who means well
but always says the wrong thing.
Jane Kenyon, “The Blue Bowl,” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2005 by The Estate of Jane Kenyon.
Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc. on behalf of Graywolf Press,
The image of the robin that “burbles” after the storm helps to explain the complexity of human
emotions—emotions that grief can render fragile and less resilient.
Literature Upholds a Vision of the Ideal
Just ask Charlie Brown. If you’re familiar with Peanuts cartoons, you’ll know that Charlie finds
himself in a frustrating world in which he must overcome his own shortcomings if he’s ever to
be as confident as Lucy, as reflective as Linus, as practical as Sally, or as artistic as Schroeder. He
even surmises that Snoopy’s life is more ideal than his own. Clearly, he has a lot of winning to
do—not just in baseball or in wooing his redheaded dream girl—but in getting a firm grasp on
the answers he’s reaching for related to life itself.
This drive to seek the ideal is central in our human experience. The English poet Robert Browning
considered it to be a human obligation when he observed that our reach should exceed our grasp
as we live and grow, day by day. In his view, life is an experiential quest that requires us to be continuously seeking—going beyond what we have already grasped. He explores this idea in a poem
about the famous Italian Renaissance painter Andrea Del Sarto, who may have sacrificed the full
expression of his artistic ability in order to please his wife. Browning’s view was that
a man’s reach should exceed his grasp
Or what’s a heaven for? (“Andrea Del Sarto” 97–98)
Writers sense this reach-versus-grasp dilemma very deeply. It defines their creative activity that,
in its broadest sense, is a process of transforming chaos into order. Within this creative process,
writers often present the search for the ideal as a journey toward a desired goal. The journey
depicted is not necessarily pretty and serene; like life itself, it has challenges, violent conflicts, and
failures, as well as high points of exhilaration and moments of knowing.
In the selection below, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, illustrates this quest for the ideal that we all feel
within us. He asks us to consider the classical Greek hero Ulysses, who has returned from his
heroic battles and is feeling constrained by the routine of ordinary life. He, of course, has grasped
a lot of what life offers, but he still wants to reach for more. Here is the adventurous invitation
that Tennyson imagines Ulysses might make to his aging warriors—asking them to join him on a
further journey that would reach beyond what they had already accomplished, allowing them to
grasp a fuller understanding of their strengths and of life’s significance.
What Literature Contributes to Our Lives
Chapter 2
Excerpt from Ulysses
Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1833)
Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
*Location of departed spirits It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,*
*Greek hero in siege of Troy And see the great Achilles,* whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
This selection is in the public domain.
Literature Explores Significant Human Questions and Reveals Human Nature
As an example of the significant questions explored in literature, let’s look at the underlying
dilemma—the nature of time—that the heroic Ulysses faces in Tennyson’s poem. As we do, think
about how this dilemma might relate to your own life. Ulysses is aware of his mortality; he knows
that death is a certainty and getting nearer. He faces the time dilemma that we all encounter: He
can’t go back and change the past, and he can’t step ahead into the future. Only the present is
available to him—and even as he seizes a moment in the present to express his bold intentions
for a further journey, that moment dissolves into the past. His predicament, to use literary critic
Northrop Frye’s modern image, is like being in the caboose of a moving train, watching the rails
recede, each one like a separate moment in his life. Frye pictures time as something that pulls us
backwards (blindly) into the future (1991).
You, no doubt, have thought about the nature of time in relation to events in your life, perhaps
when one you loved died. Maybe things you’ve read or movies you’ve seen called your attention
to time’s changeless pattern. Literature explores this past-present-future mystery in many ways.
For example, in once-upon-a-time tales like “Sleeping Beauty,” fantasy erases time, and the past
becomes the present, which continues endlessly. In tragic dramas like Oedipus the King, fate
presents consequences from past human actions, bringing misery to the present and the future.
In books like The Great Gatsby, which often become popular movies because they touch all of
us, personal dreams that would settle the past and satisfy future hopes are not fully achieved or
remain tantalizingly elusive, making the present frenzied.
These considerations of the nature of time (life-death dilemma) are complex. Similarly, all significant life questions—those dealing with the nature of justice or love, for example—pose difficulties. Offering insights into such questions is one of the great contributions of literature. What we
gain from studying literature is not a set of answers to life’s hardest questions, but rather insights
into the ways human beings deal with them. A study of literature, in other words, enables us
to glimpse into human nature. It uncovers what lies within us, allowing us to comprehend and
handle puzzling situations and unanswered questions in our own lives. Czech-born writer Franz
Kafka believed that this quest for self-discovery is every reader’s obligation. In a letter, he used
stark imagery to describe literature’s potential for enlightenment:
A Story for Reflection
Chapter 2
Altogether, I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us. . . . What we need are
books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more
than we love ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far
from any human presence, like suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.
That is what I believe. (Kafka, 158)
   2.4 A Story for Reflection
Point of view, which we will discuss in Chapter 4, refers to who tells the story—how it is presented
to the reader. The most common point of view is called “omniscient.” The “omniscient” narrator is
not a character in the story but has access to the thoughts, feelings, and history of the characters.
The omniscient technique in the following story is particularly effective in allowing the reader to
understand the old woman’s predicament and how she, and the others, deal with it.
Alice Walker
Best known for her Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Color
Purple, Alice Walker was born into a sharecropper family in
1944 in Eatonton, Georgia. She was an outstanding student,
earning a scholarship to attend Spelman College. She later
transferred to Sarah Lawrence College, where she completed a
degree in 1965. Issues of race and gender form the center of
her literary work and her social activism, which included partici­pation in civil rights demonstrations led by Martin Luther King,
Jr. She taught gender studies courses at Wellesley College and
began one of the first gender studies programs in the United
States. Her publications include poems, short stories, and novels. She continues to write, exploring
life situations through the eyes of African-American women and highlighting the continuing challenges of sexism, racism, and poverty in American life.
The Welcome Table
Alice Walker (1970)
for sister Clara Ward
I’m going to sit at the Welcome table
Shout my troubles over
Walk and talk with Jesus
Tell God how you treat me
One of these days!
The old woman stood with eyes uplifted in her Sunday-go-tomeeting clothes: high shoes polished about the tops and toes, a
long rusty dress adorned with an old corsage, long withered, and
the remnants of an elegant silk scarf as head rag stained with
grease from the many oily pigtails underneath. Perhaps she had
known suffering. There was a dazed and sleepy look in her aged
blue-brown eyes. But for those who searched hastily for “reasons”
in that old tight face, shut now like an ancient door, there was
A Story for Reflection
Chapter 2
nothing to be read. And so they gazed nakedly upon their own
fear transferred; a fear of the black and the old, a terror of the
unknown as well as of the deeply known. Some of those who saw
her there on the church steps spoke words about her that were
hardly fit to be heard, others held their pious peace; and some
felt vague stirrings of pity, small and persistent and hazy, as if she
were an old collie turned out to die.
She was angular and lean and the color of poor gray Georgia
earth, beaten by king cotton and the extreme weather. Her elbows
were wrinkled and thick, the skin ashen but durable, like the bark
of old pines. On her face centuries were folded into the circles
around one eye, while around the other, etched and mapped as
if for print, ages more threatened again to live. Some of them
there at the church saw the age, the dotage, the missing buttons
down the front of her mildewed black dress. Others saw cooks,
chauffeurs, maids, mistresses, children denied or smothered in the
deferential way she held her cheek to the side, toward the ground.
Many of them saw jungle orgies in an evil place, while others were
reminded of riotous anarchists looting and raping in the streets.
Those who knew the hesitant creeping up on them of the law, saw
the beginning of the end of the sanctuary of Christian worship,
saw the desecration of Holy Church, and saw an invasion of privacy, which they struggled to believe they still kept.
Still she had come down the road toward the big white church
alone. Just herself, an old forgetful woman, nearly blind with
age. Just her and her eyes raised dully to the glittering cross that
crowned the sheer silver steeple. She had walked along the road
in a stagger from her house a half mile away. Perspiration, cold
and clammy, stood on her brow and along the creases by her thin
wasted nose. She stopped to calm herself on the wide front steps,
not looking about her as they might have expected her to do,
but simply standing quite still, except for a slight quivering of her
throat and tremors that shook her cotton-stockinged legs.
The reverend of the church stopped her pleasantly as she stepped
into the vestibule. Did he say, as they thought he did, kindly,
“Auntie, you know this is not your church?” As if one could choose
the wrong one. But no one remembers, for they never spoke of it
afterward, and she brushed past him anyway, as if she had been
brushing past him all her life, except this time she was in a hurry.
Inside the church she sat on the very first bench from the back,
gazing with concentration at the stained-glass window over her
head. It was cold, even inside the church, and she was shivering.
Everybody could see. They stared at her as they came in and sat
down near the front. It was cold, very cold to them, too; outside
the church it was below freezing and not much above inside. But
the sight of her, sitting there somehow passionately ignoring
them, brought them up short, burning.
The young usher, never having turned anyone out of his church
before, but not even considering this job as that (after all, she had
no right to be there, certainly), went up to her and whispered that
she should leave. Did he call her “Grandma,” as later he seemed
to recall he had? But for those who actually hear such ­traditional
A Story for Reflection
Chapter 2
pleasantries and to whom they actually mean something,
“Grandma” was not one, for she did not pay him any attention,
just muttered, “Go ‘way,” in a weak sharp bothered voice, waving
his frozen blond hair and eyes from near her face.
It was the ladies who finally did what to them had to be done.
Daring their burly indecisive husbands to throw the old colored
woman out they made their point. God, mother, country, earth,
church. It involved all that, and well they knew it. Leather bagged
and shoed, with good calfskin gloves to keep out the cold, they
looked with contempt at the bootless gray arthritic hands of the
old woman, clenched loosely, restlessly in her lap. Could their husbands expect them to sit up in church with that? No, no, the husbands were quick to answer and even quicker to do their duty.
Under the old woman’s arms they placed their hard fists (which
afterward smelled of decay and musk—the fermenting scent of
onionskins and rotting greens). Under the old woman’s arms they
raised their fists, flexed their muscular shoulders, and out she flew
through the door, back under the cold blue sky. This done, the
wives folded their healthy arms across their trim middles and felt
at once justified and scornful. But none of them said so, for none
of them ever spoke of the incident again. Inside the church it was
warmer. They sang, they prayed. The protection and promise of
God’s impartial love grew more not less desirable as the sermon
gathered fury and lashed itself out above their penitent heads.
The old woman stood at the top of the steps looking about in
bewilderment. She had been singing in her head. They had interrupted her. Promptly she began to sing again, though this time
a sad song. Suddenly, however, she looked down the long gray
highway and saw something interesting and delightful coming.
She started to grin, toothlessly, with short giggles of joy, jumping
about and slapping her hands on her knees. And soon it became
apparent why she was so happy. For coming down the highway
at a firm though leisurely pace was Jesus. He was wearing an
immaculate white, long dress trimmed in gold around the neck
and hem, and a red, a bright red, cape. Over his left arm he carried
a brilliant blue blanket. He was wearing sandals and a beard and
he had long brown hair parted on the right side. His eyes, brown,
had wrinkles around them as if he smiled or looked at the sun a
lot. She would have known him, recognized him, anywhere. There
was a sad but joyful look to his face, like a candle was glowing
behind it, and he walked with sure even steps in her direction, as if
he were walking on the sea. Except that he was not carrying in his
arms a baby sheep, he looked exactly like the picture of him that
she had hanging over her bed at home. She had taken it out of a
white lady’s Bible while she was working for her. She had looked
at that picture for more years than she could remember, but never
once had she really expected to see him. She squinted her eyes to
A Story for Reflection
Chapter 2
be sure he wasn’t carrying a little sheep in one arm, but he was
not. Ecstatically she began to wave her arms for fear he would miss
seeing her, for he walked looking straight ahead on the shoulder
of the highway, and from time to time looking upward at the sky.
All he said when he got up close to her was “Follow me,” and
she bounded down to his side with all the bob and speed of one
so old. For every one of his long determined steps she made two
quick ones. They walked along in deep silence for a long time.
Finally she started telling him about how many years she had
cooked for them, cleaned for them, nursed them. He looked at her
kindly but in silence. She told him indignantly about how they had
grabbed her when she was singing in her head and not looking,
and how they had tossed her out of his church. A old heifer like
me, she said, straightening up next to Jesus, breathing hard. But
he smiled down at her and she felt better instantly and time just
seemed to fly by. When they passed her house, forlorn and sagging, weatherbeaten and patched, by the side of the road, she did
not even notice it, she was so happy to be out walking along the
highway with Jesus, she broke the silence once more to tell Jesus
how glad she was that he had come, how she had often looked
at his picture hanging on her wall (she hoped he didn’t know she
had stolen it) over her bed, and how she had never expected to
see him down here in person. Jesus gave her one of his beautiful
smiles and they walked on. She did not know where they were
going; someplace wonderful, she suspected. The ground was
like clouds under their feet, and she felt she could walk forever
without becoming the least bit tired. She even began to sing out
loud some of the old spirituals she loved, but she didn’t want to
annoy Jesus, who looked so thoughtful, so she quieted down. They
walked on, looking straight over the treetops into the sky, and
the smiles that played over her dry wind-cracked face were like
first clean ripples across a stagnant pond. On they walked without
The people in church never knew what happened to the old
woman; they never mentioned her to one another or to anybody
else. Most of them heard sometime later that an old colored
woman fell dead along the highway. Silly as it seemed, it appeared
she had walked herself to death. Many of the black families along
the road said they had seen the old lady high-stepping down the
highway; sometimes jabbering in a low insistent voice, sometimes
singing, sometimes merely gesturing excitedly with her hands.
Other times silent and smiling, looking at the sky. She had been
alone, they said. Some of them wondered aloud where the old
woman had been going so stoutly that it had worn her heart out.
They guessed maybe she had relatives across the river, some miles
away, but none of them really knew.
“The Welcome Table” from In Love & Trouble: Stories of Black Women, copyright © 1970 and renewed
1998 by Alice Walker. Reproduced by permission of The Wendy Weil Agency, Inc.
A Story for Reflection
Chapter 2
What allowed you to connect to this story?
At what points were your feelings heightened because of the omniscient point of view—allowing
you not just to observe action, but also to “see inside” the minds of those involved in the action?
Consider the six ways literature contributes to our lives discussed in this chapter. How many of these
can be illustrated by “The Welcome Table”?
A Concluding Exercise: Supporting Your Response to a Literary Work
Responding to something you have read involves more than simply summarizing the content or
re-stating what happened. As this chapter has shown, responding to literature requires you to
imagine, to think, to reflect, and to make connections to life experiences and human concerns.
Your response will be unique, composed of your personal insights. But, at the same time, your
response must be credibly related to what the writer of the literary work has presented. So you
need to show how particular things in the piece of literature actually support your response.
1. Below are three responses to “The Welcome Table.” Each presents a different view of the old
woman and her role in the story. Consider how the selected aspects of the story can be used
to support the response in each case.
“She is old, black and ‘different’; she represents the possibility of a servant class stepping out
of line.” —Peter S. Hawkins (1994), Listening for God, Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, p. 108.
Support from the Story:
I mage describing her appearance: “She was angular and lean and the color of poor gray
Georgia earth, beaten by king cotton and the extreme weather.”
ction in the story: She explained, in her imaginary conversation with Jesus, “how many
years she had cooked for them, cleaned for them, and nursed them.”
ction in the story: “Others saw cooks, chauffeurs, maids, mistresses, children denied or
smothered in the deferential way she held her cheek to the side, toward the ground.”
“This old black woman challenges the very thing that gives them [white women] privilege.
Both they and she are women—but they are white, their only claim to the pedestal on which
they so uneasily stand.” —Barbara Christian (1981) “A Study of In Love and Trouble: The
Contrary Women of Alice Walker,” The Black Scholar, Vol. 12, No. 2, (March/April 1981),
p. 70.
Support from the Story:
Image describing her appearance: “They gazed nakedly upon their own fear transferred;
a fear of the black and the old, a terror of the unknown as well as of the deeply known.”
Chapter 2
Action in the story: “Leather bagged and shoed, with good calfskin gloves to keep out the
cold, they looked with contempt at the bloodless gray arthritic hands of the old woman,
clenched loosely, restlessly in her lap.”
Action in the story: “It was the ladies who finally did what to them had to be done. Daring
their burly indecisive husbands to throw the old colored woman out they made their
“The old woman is empowered by an irrepressible spiritual tradition, ‘singing in her head,’
that allows her to resist conventions and be hopeful.”
Support from the Story:
Image describing her appearance: “In that old tight face, shut now like an ancient door,
there was nothing to be read.”
Image describing her appearance: “On her face centuries were folded into the circles
around one eye, while around the other, etched and mapped as if for print, ages more
threatened again to live.”
Action in the story: “She told him [Jesus] indignantly about how they had grabbed her
when she was singing in her head and not looking, and how they had tossed her out of
his church.”
Action in the story: “She even began to sing out loud some of the old spirituals she loved.”
The epigraph: Five lines from a spiritual, dedicated to the Gospel singer Clara Ward.
2. Using the “Short-Answer Written Response” model that appears earlier in this chapter, write
your response to “The Welcome Table,” and to support your view include references to specific
aspects of the story, like those above.
Chapter 2 describes the nature and scope of responses that readers typically make to literature. Some responses require more intellectual inquiry than others do, but in every productive
response you must connect imaginatively to the literature, consider the literary techniques that
make it effective, and then conclude what meaning your reading experience holds for you.
Among the many contributions literature makes to our lives, six are particularly important:
Literature restores the past, stimulates the imagination, glorifies the commonplace, evokes emotions and links feeling to thinking, upholds a vision of the ideal, and reveals human nature by
exploring significant human questions. The writing process is driven by a human impulse to give
form to something abstract—an idea, a feeling, a speculation. Literature, therefore, grows out of
creative activity that begins in writers’ experiences and imaginings; their finished works capture
and represent the abstract. The extent to which a work’s intrinsic ideas are recognizable and
memorable will determine its ultimate artistic value.
The literature in this chapter invites and requires a broad range of responses, some falling within
familiar boundaries of your life experiences, some pulling you into unfamiliar territory of thought
and reflection. Even though the following outline identifies only one approach for responding to
each piece of literature (when many are possible), it highlights the range of pleasure and insight
that responding to literature can bring.
Key Terms and Concepts
Chapter 2
Key Terms and Concepts
figurative language  Language used in a non-literal way to convey images and ideas. Figures of
speech, including similes and metaphors, are the main tools of figurative language. For example,
ordinary descriptive language: “The moon looked hazy through the clouds.” Figurative language:
“The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.”
figures of speech  Tools of figurative language; the most common are similes and metaphors.
imagery  A distinct representation of something that can be experienced and understood
through the senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste), or the representation of an idea.
Writers use precise language in developing imagery.
metaphor  A figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between one object and
another that is different from it. Example: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women
merely players. They have their exits and their entrances,” from As You Like It by William
persona  Literally, in Latin, “a mask.” When it is used in analyzing literature, persona refers to
the narrator in a story or the speaker in a poem, who may or may not reflect the perspective of
the author.
simile  A figure of speech that compares two objects or ideas that are not ordinarily considered
to be similar, linked by using like or as. Example: “The water made a sound like kittens lapping,”
from The Yearling by Marjorie Rawlings.
song  A lyrical musical expression, a source of emotional outlet common in ancient communities and still influential in contemporary culture.
symbol  An object, person, or action that conveys two meanings: its literal meaning and something it stands for. For example, rain is often symbolized as a life giver; a snake is often symbolized as evil.
tone  In a literary work, the speaker’s attitude toward the reader or the subject. Tone might be
described as serious, playful, ironic, condescending, bored, affectionate, sad, detached, or any
other word that would describe “attitude.”

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