Chapter 4: Now, Where Have I Seen Her Before?
Wait! I Just Read That…or Maybe I Didn’t
Coming across old friends in literature is akin to a chocoholic taking a break from the deliciousness for a while and then diving right back in. The excitement of revisiting something so familiar and beloved never ends. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Shining, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Fault in Our Stars, If I Stay and Before I Fall, and Divergent and The Hunger Games are only a few pairs of “old friends” I have come across when reading.
Thomas C. Foster’s How to Read Literature Like a Professor explores the notion of how stories give birth to other stories in Now, Where Have I Seen Her Before? Repetitive themes, archetypes, and motifs arise in literature, developing a perpetual stream originating entirely from a single source. As shocking as it may be for Foster to claim that “there’s no such thing as a wholly original work of literature (24),” the belief is entirely warranted given the innumerable times in which I’ve felt déjà vu while reading.
In reading about how all texts are based on previous ones, I reflected upon the deepness of Foster’s concept of “one story.” Is it even possible for texts of the past and present to be linked by some united literary force? Of course it is. Moreover, is a deeper level of intertextual connection superior to a surface level one? Not in my opinion. While it may appear that intertextual connections are deeper in literature because they arise in the form of symbols, archetypes, or themes, intertextuality is not limited to novels. Saturday Night Live, an American comedy show, depicts intertextual connections in the form of parodies. While the show’s references to popular culture may seem surface level, they still generate reactions from an audience.
Knowing Foster’s perspective, however, doesn’t give me any desire to ruin the spontaneity of noting how certain stories intertwine. Seeking out a familiarity as opposed to just letting one instantaneously appear in your subconscious completely obscures the true purpose of reading: to lose yourself in the story. The sudden moment in which you realize two of your favorite stories are related in some way is much more meaningful than having it feel obligatory. Forcing yourself to locate a connection would be like enforcing creativity at an arts school instead of allowing it a gradual development.
There is something so invigorating about finding certain novels that create a perfect puzzle. My excitement stems from an ability to think beneath the surface of the text. Or maybe I just love subconsciously recalling past texts and connecting them to ones I’m currently reading. Either way, the “aha! (28)” factor that Foster speaks of comes into play. Such mental stimulation gives me an even greater desire to discover how the character’s life I have become a part of will end his or her journey.
Authors have drawn parallels between their stories and other ones for years, and some have done it unintentionally. Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, wrote his novella following a dream he had about uncontrollable change. Stephen King, author of The Shining, also dreamt up his novel after staying at The Stanley Hotel, the location of his horror story. Neither one of these authors drew inspiration from the other, for each story was written in a different century. However, when reading one of these stories, I thought of the other because both are allegories for the battle between good and evil and also explore the themes of duality, isolation, and the supernatural. Both Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde and Jack Torrance serve as main characters with the constant self-battle of good versus evil and the strongly evident struggle of involuntary change.
The single story that has been around for ages will continue on, as writers keep subconsciously or purposefully referencing past texts. As we become more skillful readers, our comprehension of novels will increase in purpose. The link below illustrates the necessity of recognizing intertextual connections in order to help inexperienced readers gain such awareness.