Quest narratives must have five components: 1) the quester, 2) somewhere to go, 3) an expressed reason to go, 4) challenges along the way, and 5) the real reason for the quest which is self-knowledge. The last component is why questers are often written as young and naïve. In the movie Shrek, Shrek and Donkey must travel to the castle where Princess Fiona is held. In exchange for her, Lord Farquaad will return Shrek’s swamp. While saving the princess, Shrek and Donkey are nearly killed by the dragon guarding the castle. After retrieving his swamp, Shrek realizes that he does not want to alone and accepts his feelings for Princess Fiona.
1. Nice to Eat with You: Acts of Communion
Communion occurs when characters share food together, despite its association with holiness. Sharing a meal is a ritualistic way of forming a temporary camaraderie bond between characters. In chapter 15 of The Hunger Games, Katniss notices Rue and shares her hunt. As they eat, they share information about their districts and supplies such as night vision glasses. During this communion, Rue and Katniss begin to form an alliance, making them powerful—what the Capitol does not want to occur.
2. Nice to Eat You: Acts of Vampires
Horrific characters are used as metaphors. During Victorian times, writing about sex was taboo so authors expressed it through vampirism. Ghosts are used to convey a lesson, while doppelgängers represented our dark side. Characters can also symbolize these monsters. In the film The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Judge Claude Frollo expresses vampiric characteristics for body shaming Quasimodo for his deformity, who only has gargoyles as company. Frollo develops lustful feelings for Esmerelda and continues to make advances, despite her rejection. When she escapes the cathedral, Frollo abuses his power by burning homes while trying to find her.
3. Now, Where Have I Seen Her Before?
Every piece of literature connects, creating a web of intertextuality. Purely original literature does not exist; when stories are written, they are inspired by past experiences. Recognizing intertextuality in texts makes the stories come to life. Charles Foster Kane, the protagonist of the film Citizen Kane, was based off publisher William Hearst: both men had careers based on yellow journalism, successfully ran publishing empires, and had failed political careers. They shared similar origins; Heart’s family became wealthy after his father discovered silver ore in a mine, while Kane’s family became rich after his parents were given a mine that was rich in gold.
4. When in Doubt, It’s from Shakespeare…
Writers are often influenced by Shakespeare because quoting him creates a sense of authority for themselves. In a way, writers struggle against him, which creates intertextuality in their works. The love story of Jack and Ross in the film Titanic was inspired by Romeo and Juliet because they are socially incompatible lovers, due to their different classes. Like Juliet with Paris, Rose has a wealthy unrequited love interested named Cal. Near the end, both Romeo and Jack sacrifice themselves to save their lovers.
5. …Or the Bible
Writers are also influenced by the Bible, although they do not necessarily have to be religious. They may borrow characters, symbols, plots, and even phrases which may be brought up as titles. Biblical sources can also be used as irony. The novel The Handmaid’s Tale takes place in the Republic of Gilead, a very patriarchal theocratic society with a severely low birth rate. The very few fertile women, known as Handmaids, are assigned to produce children for the elite, inspired by the tale of Rachel and her handmaid Bilhah. Ironically, Gilead was a fertile and attractive region in the Old Testament, where the story of Jacob and Rachel took place.
6. Hanseldee and Greteldum
Writers may borrow from the literary canon, a list of essential literature, but not all readers will understand the allusion. They often use well-known fairytales because they are relatable and easy to identify. Fairytales are used as irony and add depth and texture to a story. The film Edwards Scissorhands alludes to the tale of Beauty and the Beast. As the beautiful Kim shares living quarters with the intimidating Edward Scissorhands, like Belle, she begins to realize that her beastly cohabitant is a kind person who is not as frightening as he seems and falls in love.
7. It’s Greek to Me
Mythology is an important aspect of culture, so writers borrow from them. In literature, myths are referred by their function as allusions. Writers use myths because readers can easily recognize them. In the film Wonder Woman, Ares was inspired by the Greek god of war and disguised himself as one of Princess Diana’s ally. Her mother, Hippolyta, was the queen of the Amazonians and daughter of Ares. FIX
8. It’s More Than Just Rain or Snow
Weather has a variety of symbolic meanings and can be used to advance the plot. Rain represents the cleansing of a character, while fog can mean mystery. Depending on how it is used, snow can mean anything. In the film Megamind, Megamind disguises himself as Bernard and takes Roxanne to dinner, but accidentally reveals his true identity which upsets her. They walk out of the restaurant in the pouring rain, where Roxanne confronts Megamind for being heinous and deceiving her. The rain symbolizes Megamind’s cleansing of his evilness, who later apologizes from his past actions after saving the city from Titan.
9. Never Stand Next to the Hero
Characters that are close to the protagonist may be killed off to move the plot forward and allow the protagonist to grow as an individual. Characters are only fragments of the writer and readers’ imaginations. They are only developed to an extent, depending on their intentions on the plot. In the episode “How to Save a Life” of the television show Grey’s Anatomy, Dr. Meredith Grey’s husband, Dr. Shepherd, dies after being hit by a semi-truck. Although distraught by his death, Meredith was able to focus on making a name for herself in the medical field in the following seasons. She became Head of General Surgery in “Walking Tall” and won the Harper Avery award in “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.”
10. …More Than It’s Gonna Hurt You: Concerning Violence
Violence has a big range of meanings and carries symbolic significance. There are two types of violence: character-on-character and detrimental events that advance the plot. Near the end of the film The Shape of Water, Richard Strickland strikes Giles and shoots Elisa and the Amphibian Man as they bid farewell. The Amphibian Man heals himself and murders Strickland then jumps into the canal and heals Elisa underwater. If Strickland did not shoot Elisa, she would never have reunited with the Amphibian Man and live her happy ending.
11. Is That a Symbol?
Symbols have multiple interpretations while allegories convey one message. What is considered a symbol is all up to the reader to interpret, trusting their imagination to understand the meaning. Even action and events symbolize something. Near the end of the film Interstellar, Cooper communicates data through Morse code with his daughter in the tesseract. He is ejected and reaches towards Brand. This scene alludes to the famous painting “The Creation of Adam” in which Cooper represents God while Brand stands for humanity having divine contact.
12. It’s All Political
All pieces of writing are political in a way and highlights the views of their authors. They either work as the part of the problem or solution. It is useful to have some knowledge of the author’s background and historical context to understand their message. George Orwell lived through the totalitarian regimes of Hitler over Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union. In his novel 1984, Orwell warns readers about the effects of this regime. The slogan “Big Brother is watching you” refers to the government’s power of mass surveillance and the limited language Newspeak, which translates the Declaration of Independence into “crimethink,” restricts free thinking to avoid rebellion.
13. Yes, She’s a Christ Figure, Too
It is useful to have some knowledge about Christianity when studying Western literature. Readers must push their personal beliefs aside to recognize Christ figures and their effects. In the film The Day the Earth Stood Still, the humanoid Klaatu comes to Earth informing that he comes in peace, which humans disregarded. He also uses the name “Mr. Carpenter” inspired by clothes he obtained at a hospital, alluding to Jesus Christ’s job. When authorities shoot him in a taxi, he is later resurrected by his robot, Gort, and asks humanity whether they want to live in peace with the universe, before departing.
14. Flights of Fancy
Taking flight represents freedom. When a character falls and survives, it means rebirth. In the film Spirited Away, a boy is trapped in the spirited world because he no longer remembers his identity and helps a girl named Sen find her way out. Later, the boy transforms into a dragon while Sen flies him and reminisces about a time when she was saved from drowning in the Haku River. The boy realizes his name is Haku and he was the spirit who saved her life. Their flight restored Haku’s identity which gave him his freedom.
15. It’s All About Sex…
A sex scene has multiple layers beyond sex. Even objects and activities can have sexual components. Sex is usually disguised to protect younger readers and it could not always be written explicitly. In the film The Fountainhead, Dominique Francon stares at man drilling into a wall and they maintain eye contact. Later in her bedroom, she thinks back to the encounter, fixed upon the drill on the wall, alluding to Francon’s sexual frustration.
16. …Except Sex
Writing sex scenes is limited and not as rewarding, so writers avoid the act itself. A sex scene represents something beyond sex. In the novel The Fault in Our Stars, Hazel takes off her nasal cannula before she has sexual intercourse with Augustus. Removing the cannula represents cancer holding her back physically from having sex and symbolizes that she, herself, decided to refrain from doing typical teenage things.
17. If She Comes Up, it’s Baptism
Being in water usually means rebirth, but it can also mean a variety of things. When a character is in water, they must be ready to be baptized. On the other hand, drowning symbolizes struggling and dying. For a character to be redeemed, they must lose things. In the novel Hatchet, Brian Robinson crashes an airplane into a lake after the pilot died from a heart attack, and nearly drowns before making it to the edge of the lake. Brian has transformed from a boy who was upset about his parents’ divorce into a young man who must learn to survive.
18. Geography Matters…
Besides being the setting, geography can define or develop a character. It can also be a metaphor for a character’s subconsciousness. Landscapes have an ambiguous meaning and can be interpreted differently. The novel Dune takes place on the desert planet Arrakis, habited by the Fremen tribe, who care for Paul and his mother after they have been separated from Leto. Arrakis’s arid climate symbolizes the oppression of the Fremen, who were often oppressed for their cultural identity and religion by other inhabitants of the planet.
19. …So Does Season
The relationship between seasons represents different stages of life. Seasonal events often have moral and religious meanings. In the novel The Great Gatsby, Gatsby flirts and takes trips with Daisy while Tom continues his affair with Myrtle in the summer, which symbolizes adulthood and romance. When autumn begins, there is exhaustion and falling leaves that foreshadows the end of love affairs and deaths of Gatsby, Myrtle, and George.
20. Marked for Greatness
Humanity has shifted how scars were interpreted, but in general, they mean a flaw. Scars on a character can reveal their past. In the film The Lion King, Scar has a scar over his left eye, symbolizing his strong desire to become king which backfired when his brother Mufasa was chosen instead. His namesake also represents his lack of physical strength, shown when he attempts to fight a fully-grown Simba.
21. He’s Blind for a Reason, You Know
Being blind will mean something more symbolic and it is beyond physical sight. A text may have a metaphorical depiction of blindness. If blindness is introduced early, it will be an important characteristic in the text. In the novel The Fault in Our Stars, Isaac shares to the cancer support group about his loss of vision and notes that he will give support, not be supported. When Augustus died, Isaac is insightful of Hazel as she mourned Augustus’s death.
22. It’s Never Just Heart Disease… And Rarely Just Illness
The heart is considered the center of emotions, so heart disease is powerful because it symbolizes suffering. If a character has a disease, it has strong metaphorical possibilities. In the film Iron Man, Tony Stark is wounded in the chest by his own company’s grenade so Yinsen saves him by inserting an electromagnet. Before the incident, Stark was shown to be inconsiderate for missing his award ceremony to gamble at a casino. After a brush with death, Stark has a change of heart and became one of the most iconic superheroes. His heart difficulty symbolizes that he is growing into a better and moral person, who does not just think about himself.
23. Don’t Read with Your Eyes
To understand the context, readers must let go of their perspective and meet the work at its level. Readers should not react to characters as if they are real people. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the most controversial books of today for its heavy use of the N-word and interpretation of race. To realize the context, readers should know that the novel took place during a time in which society’s perspective on racism was different than today.
24. It’s My Symbol and I’ll Cry If I Want To
Readers must figure out the symbols by using their knowledge. Every piece of literature helps the reader as they go along the story. Most importantly, readers know more than they think they do. In the novel The Martian, Whatney is accidentally left on Mars after his crew was forced to evacuate because of a sandstorm. In chapter 2, he develops a way to grow potatoes on Martian soil by using leftover resources, to increase his food supply until NASA can rescue him. Being able to thrive in an unusual environment, the potatoes symbolizes how life is always determined to thrive in the worst of times.
25. Is He Serious? And Other Ironies
Irony exceeds everything; it takes readers’ expectations and contradicts them. It adds a richness to the story, but not all readers will understand its presence. In chapter 7 of Brave New World, John the Savage is an outsider in the Reservation because he was the only character who was born through his mother and maintains a relationship her. Ironically, John is considered uncivilized because he believes in old world values such as art and literature, whereas the new world values individual happiness and consumerism.