Understanding How Literature is Being Taught in UniversitiesJuly 26, 2018

Fifty one Australian film critics voted the best Australian films of this century (so far). An adaptation of Rosalie Ham's "The Dressmaker" would make the list, but you haven't heard of it. Your cousemate, a huge fan of Kate Winslet, kept on telling you that the actress was unforgettable as a bully-cum-dressmaker. You were still uninterested about this piece of information, as you don't think one of your professors would mention the star of "Titanic" during the lecture. This won't be the way that literature was being taught in universities.

You expected a few things when you were a soon-to-be university freshmen. There would be a module on Shakespeare. You would write an essay on "The Great Gatsby". It was high time that you read (and analyze) Banjo Paterson's poems. You've been right on those three counts, yet you still haven't figured out the syllabus. Why study the popular classics? The answer to that question leads to another question. Why focus on contemporary fiction? You find yourself in a Catch-22 situation, but you're not hoping to read (and study) Joseph Heller's satirical novel. Let's look at the situation differently.

It's important to know what your professors would want to expect from you at the end of the term. If you don't have a clue, then ask them. There are no right and wrong questions, but the understanding of literary materials would need clarification.

Connecting Literature to Life

What's so special about the special collection? Classics like "Iliad" appeared in the university English lists since the 1960s. Your parents read (and studied) it, so don't be surprised if your grandparents did the same thing In other words, this special collection of classics have a large following. Your folks might have urged you to read it. If you have been an obedient child, then this aspect of the coursework could be a walk in a park. If you preferred comic books (like Archie Andrews and his mates), then you would resort to a browsing of these titles. Whether you read it or not, there would be a special connection. You must have a vague idea (at the least). You don't get a high mark if you opt to argue a general idea. If could confuse your professor(s), so you would be left with a dull piece of work. A total waste of time on your part.

What about the less-popular classics? There's a good chance that you would read them, but some titles may be done on one passing while others would demand more detail. For instance, you could write an engrossing essay on the source of Ham's voice. It should be a vengeful girl, who seemed too eager to get even with her town mates. You need to go to the library and do a comparison and a contrast of two or more ideas based on what you read. You’ve got something there.

What are time and place? There are too many instances when students and readers try to deconstruct the essence of time and place in every book. (Not all, but many titles.) Some aren't too hard to guess (e.g. John Steinbeck's harrowing tales on the hobos) while others have learned about literature's parting advice to aspiring writers and literary aficionados alike. Make a guess. Don't get upset if someone disagrees with it.

What does a famous quote mean to you? You might be familiar with Charles Dickens' opening line in "A Tale of Two Cities". Some students, who happened to be heavy readers, have been peaking at the right time. They don’t have a clue about the objectives, though. You might have a small journal, where you list down your favorite quotes. Look over it, if not make your very short list. Discuss it with your coursemates (over beer and pizza). Be warned that it might not be right to connect it to Trump.

What can I expect from contemporary fiction? You may not read "The Dressmaker" in its entirety, but you know the memorable passages in "Life of Pi". (You have seen Ang Lee’s celluloid adaptation.) You have no plans of visiting Afghanistan after reading "The Kite Runner", but your professor would be impressed if you find a connection. Make a great effort in relating to your young (and probably uneventful) life.

How to Rewrite a Literary Text

There’s a frequent exercise among university students, as they attempt to modify a few sentences (or paragraphs) from a classic that they are studying for some time. You’re reluctant about other students reading it (and giving their unsolicited advice) until a flatmate read your article. Try to find a connection (through an object of sentimental value), which should be more than engaging to your readers (or professor in this case). How you present your idea should matter at this point.

You may have strong feelings on a certain topic, which you can write right away. Take it slow, as you may forget your intention. You should be able to look through the (above) questions. If you don’t have one (or you don’t want anything at all), then think of the good things of studying literature. It should make you feel good, if not motivated when you’re about to give up on your assignment.

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