Tuesday, August 9, 2011

How to Read Literature like a Professor Assignment 2

Part 1

Intertextuality quite literally would mean something along the lines of “pertaining to among (or between) the texts.” To add a bit more meat to this ambiguous meaning, intertextuality centers around the connections between literary works, both consciously added in and subconsciously written. It is somewhat of an omnipresent thread, pervading each literary work and allowing some extra meaning to be derived from one work to another, thus adding a significant amount of description or meaning with a short phrase or quote.

As the author mentions, any two works can be inexplicably linked through intertextuality—even a cartoon and a famous play. Deliberate naming can give immediate characterization, such as Iago the parrot in Aladdin and Iago the treacherous friend in Othello. Ideally, I would say I applied my knowledge of the book to the cartoon and figured out that Iago (the parrot) was villainous. However, as I only thought of Othello as a board game during my early years, I actually applied my knowledge of parrot Iago to treacherous friend Iago. So, I knew that he was backstabbing, greedy, unhappy with his lot in life, and going to somehow pull the rug out from under the main character, this time being Othello. As a further effect, I also heard that annoying, sniveling, obnoxious voice in my head during each of his dialogues.

Another time I used intertextuality to my advantage was while reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When Aslan died on the stone table, for the sins of Edward, I remember thinking, “Is that a reference to Jesus? I wonder if he’ll be resurrected too.” Skip forward a chapter or two and viola! Aslan returns! Based upon Foster’s description of T.S. Elliot as a biblical allusion addict, I am left to assume this connection was deliberate. I also noticed certain biblical motifs in the final book in the series. There is an antichrist figure, a donkey if I recall. Also there is a false prophet, an ape, who is actually referred to by that title once or twice (if memory serves—it has been six years…). Aslan returns (again) to strike down Satan and his forces—I mean the ape, donkey, and army they amass. Oh, and then the stars fall, the world ends, and the heroes end up in a place similar to heaven. Actually, I believe it is actually referred to as heaven. Either way, The Chronicles of Narnia may be better titled, “101 Biblical Allusions (and counting).”

Part 2: Fairy Tales

The Catcher in the Rye, perhaps one of the strangest accounts of a boy roaming through a city ever written, has certain parallels with the old Hansel and Gretel stories. Though Holden, The Catcher in the Rye’s protagonist, probably does not realize the fact that he is lost in his deluded world just as the siblings are lost in the woods, the reader realizes he is. In fact, we realize that his own delusions keep him lost. Why else would he go on and on about suitcases or some other frivolous object unless he was simply trying to keep his mind off of reality and the problems that it presents? Similarly, Hansel and Gretel are deluded that this old crone in the candy house cannot possibly be bad. I mean really, she lives in a gingerbread house! Their mistaken paradigm of the witch would have erased them from existence in the end, had they not taken action in the end. Oddly, the same can be said so Holden, minus the witch part. He does finally decide to get psychoanalyzed, which does unearth some dormant problems which he can deal with, allowing him to live a more effective and probably happier life. He might not have had to push anyone in an oven, but Holden’s choice probably took just about as much courage as Hansel and Gretel’s. After all, sometimes the greatest enemy lies within.

Such a connection between this book and the old story makes for rather funny irony (imagine Hansel or Gretel cursing every third word). Perhaps the greatest irony is the simple fact that there is a connection between the easily understood children’s story and The Catcher in the Rye at all! The prose, the mood, and the style all seem so different, perhaps even contradictory. The story of Hansel and Gretel is easily understood, happy, and straightforward, as it should be. The book on the other hand seems intentionally confusing, dark to say the least, and jumbled, just like Holden’s thoughts. Yet, this connection seems so fitting. Lost young people must find their way, one way or another. They must draw on inner strength to persevere, and to ultimately find themselves or what they are capable of. Finally seeing this connection, a fitting contradiction, greatly increases my appreciation of The Catcher in the Rye, and now makes me wonder what other subtle connections lurk within its pages.

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