Don’t Read with Your Eyes

This may sound very odd to being with, and I can hear the skeptical questions now – Don’t read with my eyes? What should I do, transform into an alien and read with its eyes?

Don’t be so literal. This is a lesson on perspective. When you are reading for AP Lit, you must read with the perspective of someone who lived in the time the book was originally published. It makes an enormous difference in your Tying it Back and your understanding of the book.

The title and general content of this page comes straight from a book called How to Read Literature Like a Professor. Now, personally, I am not a huge fan of the book simply because it is a book about reading (and it says that you’ve been reading wrong). But, it had good points – such as this chapter. So, I’ll break it down for you.

Let’s face it. Most of the novels we read in AP Lit were not written in our time. There are some discrepancies between what we believe and are used to and what the authors (and society in general) believed and were used to when the book was published. If you get hung up on certain aspects of a novel because of something that is only now considered wrong, offensive, or just different from what you’d expect living in the 21st century, you lose a lot of what the book has to offer.

The main reason you try to read with the eyes of someone in the time period is to better understand the material. It does NOT mean you have to agree with it. 

If, for example, the author of the work you’re reading is male and lived in the 1800s, he is not automatically sexist. Even if the only women in the story are childbearing mothers without jobs. If you were to write an essay explaining that the author is sexist, you probably won’t get a good grade. Why? Because people in the Victorian Era believed in very strict gender roles. To them, the idea is normal, and so your dissection of the book must start from that standpoint.

Basically, make sure to understand the historical context of any book you are going to analyze and analyze it accordingly.

With that in mind, an argument that Jane Eyre is feminist could hold up. Yes, Jane could not be happy without a man in her life. Yes, the book ends with marriage. However, the main character is female and is portrayed as *gasp* human. Et cetera, et cetera.

A side note: there are other ways to analyze literature. My AP Lit class once had the most randomly fun day analyzing children’s books through feminist and Marxist lenses. For example, one group analyzed Curious George. Their explanation went pretty much as follows… “There were 45 men throughout the book, and 5 women. 45 – 5 = SEXISM.”

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Summer reading, while annoying and generally the bane of all students-enjoying-their-well-deserved-vacation’s existence, is still important. Not because the book will change your life, but because the first couple weeks of school (not counting the arbitrary getting-to-know-you first day) center around it. Make sure you know what your summer reading is, read it, and remember enough of it to get by.