Go ahead and tilt your mobile the right way (portrait). The kool kids don't use landscape...
Most people aren’t particularly confident in giving orals or public speaking in general. I began year 7 as a shy girl scoring a lousy 50% in her first English oral. It wasn’t until later on that I realised; even though I can write an amazing piece, it was my delivery and nerves that failed me. In year 9, I entered my first public speaking competition, and have been participating in such competitions ever since. I may not have won those, but it got me comfortable standing in front of people without shaking like someone with hypothermia. Now, I am achieving A+ on my oral assessments and am even on the SRC as Student Action Captain due to a great captaincy speech. Don't forget to also check out Our Ultimate Guide to Oral Presentations for everything you need to know for Oral Presentations.
A few tips on writing your speech:
Have a CAPTIVATING introduction sentence; use a short, clear and powerful sentence.
RELATE to your audience so that it keeps them interested so they actually WANT to listen.
If you are taking on a persona, firstly study and UNDERSTAND your character.
Don’t forget your persuasive techniques. I usually use repetition in conjunction with the ‘rule of three’.
Remember that you are writing a SPEECH, not an essay. Instill your oral with emotion, varied tone and and sentence lengths.
In fact, I've talked about a few of these in a 'Must Dos and Don'ts' video. If you haven't seen it yet, watch before you read on:
A few tips on your performance:
Memorise your speech
Always remember that practice makes perfect. Practise as much as possible; in front of anyone and everyone including yourself (use a mirror). Keep practising until you can recite it.
As for cue cards, use dot points. Don’t just copy and paste whole sentences onto cue cards or else you’ll rely on them too much. Not to mention that it’ll be hard finding out where you are in the middle of your speech. Use “trigger words” so that if you forget your next point, you have something there.
But most importantly, if you mess up, keep going. Even if you screw up a word or suddenly forget your next point, just take a breath, correct yourself, and keep going. Do not giggle. If your friends make you laugh, don’t look at them.
Control your voice
Do not be monotone. Give it some energy; be pumped but not “I-just-downed-5-cans-of-V” pumped. Give it as much energy as it is appropriate for your speech. As you transition through various intense emotions such as anger, happiness and shock, your performance should reflect it. This is achieved in both your tone and your body language (moving around).
Speak as if you believe in your contention – with passion. Even if it’s just full of crap, if you sound confident, then your audience think, ‘wow, they sure know what they’re talking about’. Remember, confidence is key.
Don’t rush through your speech and speak at a million kilometres an hour – or even worse; skipping half of your speech because you just want to get the hell out of there. And also, speak so that the teacher can actually hear you. More likely than not, they’ll be sitting somewhere near the back of the room. After countless “too quiet” comments on my orals, I have finally mastered the art/power of projecting my voice. And it actually does make a huge difference.
Be aware of your actions
Don’t just stand like a statue in one spot. Think about real life – do you know anyone that stands completely and utterly still when talking to you? Make sure you look around the room; you’re addressing everyone, not just one person. Don’t stare at your teacher; it freaks them out. You don’t even have to look at a specific place. I usually just start off looking at the back wall… then as I go through the speech, I naturally turn from one back corner of the room to the other. Also, try not to look down. Don’t try to look at your cue cards while they’re right up next to your body. Move it out when you need to have a GLANCE at them then go back to the audience.
I’ve seen some people pace. This seems alright (though I’ve never done it myself); but always make sure that you face the audience. If you’re doing a monologue (for text response), you can sit down… just don’t sit for your entire piece.
And some natural hand gestures don’t hurt either!
I’ve also heard of some people running around or on the spot about 15mins before a speech. This serves to help with your heart rate by using up all that ‘energy’. Personally, I close my eyes and concentrate on my breathing (so that my heart isn’t jumping out of my chest). Take some long, deep breaths and tell yourself that you can do it!
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai is a memoir of the eponymous Pakistani schoolgirl and activist. Yousafzai grows up in Pakistan’s Swat Valley with parents who were unconditionally supportive of her education. However, Pakistan is strongly under the control of the Taliban, an extremist group who opposes education for girls. On the other hand, Yousafzai’s family practice Islam in a peaceful and egalitarian manner.
Tracing how decades of global, geopolitical movements have produced these conditions, Yousafzai recounts the rise of the Taliban and her increasingly dangerous journey to school each day. The geopolitical histories trace back decades to the military rule of General Zia in the 1980s. Since then, turbulent domestic politics combined with a volatile, ever-evolving relationship with America (which, importantly, is partly America’s fault) has allowed the Taliban to rise to power. The post-9/11 period and the ‘War on Terror’ are important milestones here, since these are the years in which Yousafzai grows up.
As the Taliban continue to deny women and girls their freedoms, Yousafzai becomes an outspoken activist, made all the more prominent by the BBC and the New York Times. Because of her fame, nationally and internationally, she becomes a target and is shot in the head by Taliban gunmen when she is just 15. The memoir starts here in its prologue, before going back in time to catch us up. Indeed, Yousafzai is now well-known everywhere for this incident.
The remainder of the book traces her recovery, and reaffirms her commitment to fighting for girls’ education. Even though she now lives in Birmingham, England, she has persevered through many setbacks to keep up the good fight - now on a uniquely far-reaching international platform.
Pride, directed by Matthew Warchus, is a film exploring the 1984-85 miners’ strike in Britain. In particular, it explored how an unlikely ally, the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) organisation, was able to provide solidarity and support despite their differences.
At the time, many members of London’s LGBT community had difficult coming out experiences, made all the more difficult by stigma and dominating views of masculinity - they perceived miners in their hometowns as part of that problem. However, activist Mark Ashton saw an opportunity to help a group in need, and a group that was experiencing similar political pressures as themselves, particularly at the hands of Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
While the National Union of Mineworkers is initially reluctant to take LGSM’s money, Mark is able to connect directly with Dai Donovan, who represents miners from the Welsh village Onllwyn. Over time, LSGM is able to build relationships with locals, who gradually warm to their presence as well. Solidarity - the idea that anybody’s fight against injustice is everybody’s fight against injustice - is an important part of what makes this partnership tick. Their campaign culminates in the Pits and Perverts concert, which raises thousands of pounds.
The ending is a bittersweet one though - the mineworkers’ union finds this too controversial, rejects further support and ultimately loses the strike, while the queer activists return to their own struggles with identity and belonging. However, the campaign forged lasting bonds between these activists and miners, who show up in their own display of solidarity at the next year’s Pride March.
Themes, Ideas, and Key Messages
At LSG, we use the CONVERGENTandDIVERGENTstrategy to help us easily find points of similarity and difference. This is particularly important when it comes to essay writing, because you want to know that you're coming up with unique comparative points (compared to the rest of the Victorian cohort!). I don't discuss this strategy in detail here, but if you're interested, check out my How To Write A Killer Comparative. I use this strategy throughout my discussion of themes above and in the next section, Essay Topic Breakdown.
Similarities (CONVERGENT Ideas)
Identity and Perspective: Before even considering the activism that is featured in each text, it’s worth unpacking the individual identities of the main characters, and the complexities that come with them. Both texts see characters juggle and negotiate tensions within their identity - in particular, other people who share the identity don’t always see eye to eye with them. In I Am Malala, Yousafzai often finds herself at odds with other practitioners of Islam, especially the more extreme Taliban who would oppose her belief in girls’ education. Likewise, queer activists in Pride’s LGSM draw incredulity from their peers, who bristle at the idea of supporting the mineworkers. However, not only are these characters able to overcome these tensions, but their personal identities give them a perspective that feeds back into their activism - they actually draw on their identity in their fight for justice. Yousafzai acknowledges that Muslims “don’t [all] agree” (Chapter 7), but she firmly believes that “education for females not just males is one of our Islamic rights” (Chapter 23). Her fight is informed by, rather than separate from, her faith. In the film, personal identity also acts as a springboard for activism. For example, the collaborative and highly successful Pits and Perverts fundraiser came about as a result of the “long and honourable tradition in the gay community [of] when somebody calls you a name…you take it and you own it”. Queerness is mobilised to fundraise for the miners, rather than silenced or excluded as others might have it.
Injustice and Activism: As we explored in the context sections (and as we’ve been exploring throughout), a fight for justice is fundamentally at the heart of both texts. In the film and the memoir alike, we see conservative agendas disempowering certain groups. Yousafzai recounts how pre-existing sexism in Pakistan, where girls found “no point in going to school just to end up cooking, cleaning and bringing up children” (Chapter 3), was exacerbated by the Taliban who closed schools altogether. They would even vandalise and destroy schools - “by the end of 2008, around 400 schools had been destroyed” (Chapter 11). Yousafzai’s fight is really about equality and human rights. The miners and LGSM are fighting their own injustices and inequalities in the film - Prime Minister Thatcher had been closing down mines and stripping miners of their livelihoods. Not only that, but she’d used pretty brutal tactics, calling in the police and withholding income support for newly-unemployed miners who struggled to feed their families through the winter.
Women’s Education: This isn't the principal fight in Pride, but there are moments where it definitely shines through. In particular, we first meet Sian as a young housewife, but by the end of the film Jonathan had encouraged her to return to school, and we know that she goes onto become the first female MP of her district. Through the strike, she discovered her own passion for trade unionism, and education hugely empowered her to take that passion further. This is particularly important given how much the strike affects men and women alike - consider the significance of ‘Bread and Roses’. In the memoir, the importance of women’s education is a much more central element. As Yousafzai points out, “going to school wasn’t just a way of passing time, it was our future” (Chapter 11). In both texts, education helps people (and women in particular) forge relationships and futures for themselves, and for one another.
Differences (DIVERGENT Ideas)
Now it's your turn! Here are some questions to get you thinking about the differences between the two texts:
Activism: what forms of activism are there? how effective can activism be? how are these ideas portrayed in the two texts?
Solidarity: what does solidarity mean? what are the ways in which people can show solidarity? how are these ideas portrayed in the two texts?
Within the THINK strategy, we have 3 steps, or ABC. These ABC components are:
Step 1: Analyse
Step 2: Brainstorm
Step 3: Create a Plan
Theme-Based Prompt: Compare how the two texts explore injustice.
Step 1: Analyse
This is a theme-based prompt. Both texts have a pretty clear focus on this idea of ‘injustice’, so it’s an important theme to have thought about beforehand. This prompt is quite broad, so you could potentially include a wide range of thoughts and opinions about injustice—you might want to consider angles like who is affected, what its impacts are and what actions can reasonably be taken against it. Also because of how broad this prompt is, try to find answers to these questions from within the texts, but phrase them in a way that doesn’t necessarily refer to a text. This will help you keep your ideas flexible for both texts when the time comes to write.
Step 2: Brainstorm
I think those angles are a reasonable starting point for brainstorming. In the memoir, Yousafzai and her peers—Pakistani schoolgirls—are the most affected, while the injustices portrayed in the film affect coal miners and the LGBTQ+ community. All of these groups are disempowered and disenfranchised by injustice, and this is an important impact. Note that this is something you can say about both texts, which is exactly how we were trying to phrase our answers.
In terms of taking action against injustice, there’s a wide range of measures across the texts—speaking out, writing for news outlets, organising large-scale fundraisers etc.—and the key takeaway from that might be how diverse these measures are, the different outcomes they generate and whether or not they’re effective.
Step 3: Create a plan
Because this theme has a lot of rich overlaps between texts, it’s best to integrate discussion of both texts into every paragraph. When we do this for a theme-based prompt, especially a prompt with just one theme, that means every paragraph uncovers a new angle or dimension from both texts about the theme. Learn more about Integrated Text Discussion in How To Write A Killer Comparative.
P1: Injustice is framed as limiting people’s power—we can look at marginalised groups in both texts, from the schoolgirls of Yousafzai’s Pakistan, or the miners and the queer folk from the film.
P2: It’s also something that must be fought. Because it has such a detrimental impact, there is a need for those groups to stand up for themselves and for each other.
P3: In so doing, injustice may take time to overcome, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight it. Not all activism can be instantly, wildly successful—partial successes along the way are usually more frequent.
Our contention will try to string those three ideas together: injustice in any society involves some experiencing marginalisation and powerlessness that others do not experience (P1), and it is something that must be fought (P2), even if this is a time-consuming process (P3). Have a go at writing your own essay now if you’d like, or read a free preview of our I am Malala and Pride study guidebelow!
We’ll be applying the CONVERGENT and DIVERGENT strategy from LSG’s How To Write A Killer Comparative and at how ideas are developed in similar or different thematic directions in these texts. CONVERGENT ideas lead to similar conclusions and messages, while DIVERGENT ideas take us to different conclusions. If you’d like to learn more about this strategy which can help you build more insightful discussions of the text by finding unique points of comparison, then I’d recommend you check out the LSG’s How To Write A Killer Comparativestudy guide. In the meantime, let’s start with some CONVERGENT ideas.
Power, Race and Oppression
In both texts, we see racial systems that take power away from Bla(c)k people. In the play, settler-colonialism is a big one. It’s depicted as a home invasion, a ship taking up a whole harbour, and as a process of devaluing land and ignoring its custodians. This trickles into contemporary institutions (widely understood patterns, rules or structures within society) which perpetuate these dynamics of race and power, such as the police and the media. Oppression is similarly maintained in The Longest Memory, where physical violence, and even just the threat of possible physical violence, is used to enslave African Americans. Plus, all of this racial violence was justified by the socio-economic interests of enslavers. Both texts see Bla(c)k people disempowered by a range of white institutions.
On the other hand, family and the wider community are depicted as a galvanising or healing force in both texts. In The 7 Stages of Grieving, we see how death can bring together entire communities to commiserate, dance and mourn collectively, drawing on one another’s strength. Depictions of families in projections of photographs also outline how joy and solidarity can be drawn from community. In the novel, family ties are also important. Whitechapel and Cook build a committed relationship to one another; she even says, “he proves he loves me every day.” At the same time, Cook also provides her unconditional love and support to Chapel, whose education and eventual relationship with Lydia are facilitated by her.
Memory and Grief
Both texts show how memory and grief are significant burdens for Bla(c)k people and operate at multiple dimensions. The play is sort of built around the five stages of grief but demonstrates how First Nations grief isn’t neat or linear. It can go from highly expressive to numb in moments. It also has roots in Australia’s genocidal history such that the death of any First Nations person—but especially elders—is felt widely. In The Longest Memory, there’s a physical dimension to Whitechapel’s grief. He earns the name “Sour-face” because of the worry lines that developed after Chapel’s death. He feels extremely guilty and only after Chapel dies does he realise why Chapel disagreed with him so stubbornly in life. He actually learned the tough lesson that he’d been hoping to teach Chapel.
What about divergent ideas? Let’s break down two now.
Struggle and Resistance
Both texts offer ideas about what the fight against racism might look like, but at times these ideas are more different than similar. In The 7 Stages of Grieving, the main struggle is to be heard and understood. In the play and in real life even, we can see how the media is stacked against First Nations peoples, so their fight is about cutting through the bias and making sure they are fairly represented. In The Longest Memory, the fight against slavery is portrayed quite differently. In a scenario where physical violence was used the way it was in order to oppress, self-emancipation was seen by many as the only path out. Enslaved workers weren’t fighting to be heard, they were fighting to survive. It’s also worth bearing in mind the history of abolition, which happened in Northern states first. This gave them a destination, as well as hope.
The Generation Gap
The other thing that the texts diverge on is the relationship between parents and children. In the play, family is consistently shown to provide support and community. As the woman speaks about her father and brother, the unconditional love and support between them is palpable. However, the novel depicts a bit more conflict— Whitechapel argued with Chapel based on his lived experience, and the many young people he had seen be killed for trying to free themselves. However, Chapel was far more committed to freedom than to survival. There isn’t necessarily a ‘right’ answer either way, but this definitely isn’t a tension that we see in the play.
I discuss all these themes in further detail in A Killer Comparative Guide: The 7 Stages of Grieving & The Longest Memory. In this guide, I offer you a deep dive into these two texts through plot summaries and analyses, structural features, critical readings, and best of all, 5 sample A+ essays fully annotated so you can understand exactly how to achieve better marks in your own essays.
Essay Topic Breakdown
As with all our essay topic breakdowns, we'll follow LSG's THINK and EXECUTE technique, as taught in our How To Write A Killer Text Response. The LSG's THINK and EXECUTE technique follows three steps in the THINK phase - Analyse, Brainstorm, and Create a Plan. Learn more about this technique in this video:
Let's use essay topic #1 from the section below.
Compare the ways in which the two texts explore the possibility of social change.
Step 1: Analyse
‘Social change’ is a key term here, but the word ‘possibility’ also stands out to me. Social change—probably towards equality—isn’t something that just happens, so the prompt also wants us to think about how to get there, and whether that seems achievable in the contexts of these stories. The prompt is phrased as an instruction (“Compare”) which invites you to analyse both texts together, but you totally knew that already!
Step 2: Brainstorm
I’d probably start by brainstorming what exactly needs to be changed. In each text, we see institutions and structures which are violent and harmful—from the play, police and the media, and from the novel, the economy itself. However, these institutions are upheld in different ways, and require different mechanisms of change—while the play emphasises grieving and unity, the novel focuses more on emancipation.
Step 3: Create a Plan
Because we’ve got two sets of ideas for each text, let’s alternate the texts (Essay Structure 1, as discussed in How To Write A Killer Comparative) to cover these ideas in four paragraphs.
P1: Starting with The 7 Stages of Grieving, social change is required at the institutional level. Police and the media are racially biased, and Aboriginal people aren’t given a platform to tell their stories. Reconciliation needs to include Aboriginal voices.
P2: With The Longest Memory, social change is required across the economy that depends on enslaving people and stealing their labour, while others have an economic interest in the status quo.
P3: Because of this, change seems more possible in the play, and we start seeing it happen towards the end, as the ice thaws and people, Bla(c)k and white, march across the bridge together.
P4: On the other hand, emancipation is seen as the only path to change in the novel, as intergenerational social pressures among the enslaving class in the South are insurmountable.
So our contention will probably revolve around the idea that ‘social change’ means different things in each text as social inequalities exist at different levels (Paragraph 1&2)—as such, the ‘possibilities’ for that change look different as well (P3&4), particularly the extent to which white people can be involved in that change.
In your English class, you probably feel like your teacher is making stuff up. Moments where you think, “The author can’t possibly have meant that”. To your English teacher, the smallest details have major implications in interpreting the text.
In fact, you probably agree with jokes like this:
The Book: “The curtains were blue.”
What your teacher says: “The curtains represent the character’s depression.”
What the author meant: “The curtains were blue.”
Or even this one...
The disconnect you feel between yourself and the teacher is not just because your teacher is stretching for something to analyse. Whilst the author may have meant something different to what your teacher thinks, this doesn’t mean your teacher is strictly wrong. Context and the author’s intention are two complicated considerations in English, and a whole range of study is dedicated to it. At the VCE level you must consider the context your text was written in, and the author who wrote it, but this shouldn’t hinder your own unique interpretation of the text.
Your interpretation is more important than the author's intention
In 1968, Roland Barthes proposed a theory that has stuck with critics and academics of literature. “The Death of the Author” claimed that the biography, views, or intentions of the author are not a part of the literary object.
The text you are studying in English does not belong to its author, but to the reader, and what the reader decides to make of that text is valid, as long as it is backed up with evidence (as your teacher will say). Barthes’ original essay is complicated, but at a basic level, “The Death of the Author” says that the curtains are not only representative of the character’s depression but could also represent the character’s love of blue orchids.
When we read, we automatically apply our own experiences, biases, and understanding of the world to the text. As such, each person is likely to interpret a text in different ways. This is a major part of studying English, as the critic (you) is more important than the author’s original intention. The fact that a single text can give rise to multiple interpretations is the reason we study English; to debate these interpretations. When you are given an essay topic you are being asked for your opinion on one of these debates, not the author’s opinion on their own work. If you were reading The Fault in Our Stars and claimed it romanticised cancer, you would be participating in the literary debate, despite going against John Green’s original intentions.
In the modern age of mass media, the author is attempting to revive themselves. These are authors who attempt to dictate interpretations of their works after they have been published. The most famous of these is likely J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series. Rowling’s twitter page adds many pieces to the Harry Potter canon and Rowling offers her own interpretations of the text. To Rowling, her intentions are the only correct ways to interpret her texts, and as such she shares them frequently.
This is not true, however, for any author. Authors are not the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to the interpretation of their texts. Despite having intentions and opinions on their texts, there is also evidence which counters their interpretations.
When it comes to the debate surrounding the texts you study, you need to remember that the interpretation of the author is only one part of the debate. It is an opinion equal to everyone else involved in the debate. Imagine the author is on trial. They may have an opinion of the crime (or text), but so does the prosecution. You are the jury and must come up with your own interpretation of the crime. Whether it matches up with the author’s intentions or not does not matter, as long as there is supporting evidence within the text.
Context in VCE English
But what about the circumstances in which something was written? Every time you start a new text you are probably asked to research the time in which it was written, or what major political events may be relevant. Unlike the author, these factors are very important in interpreting a text.
For starters, a text may explicitly reference a certain event, and so understanding that event is key to understanding the text. An episode of the Simpsons may make fun of Donald Trump, and the writers assume we have the contextual knowledge to know who Donald Trump is, why he is important, and why the joke is funny. It is easy for us to understand this context because we live in the context.
If you’re studying texts from 200 years ago it becomes harder to interpret because we’re unfamiliar with the context. While you don’t have to know the context of your text perfectly, understanding the cultural beliefs and major events will help you consider the text objectively.
Researching the context of a text acknowledges that literature is a product of the culture and politics of its time. Its themes may still be relevant in the modern age, but it is difficult to fairly judge, critic, and interpret these texts if we do not consider the context in which it was written. A piece of literature will either follow or criticise the views and opinions of the time, and it is the responsibility of the reader to understand these views and determine where the text sits.
Okay, so the text is a reflection of the time from which it stems, and is separate from the author that wrote it? Not quite. Counter to “The Death of the Author”, the author is also a part of context, and this means certain parts of the author should be considered in interpreting a text.
If there is ambiguity in the meaning of a text, the author’s personal beliefs may clear it up. If a character of a certain race is stereotyped and mocked, the meaning of this may change depending on the race of the author. If an author stereotypes their own race, they might be criticising the way other people see them, whereas making fun of a different culture is most likely upholding racist or discriminatory belief systems.
So, what ARE the curtains?! What do they mean? Well, they're a metaphor, representing more than their literal role as curtains. But also, they’re just blue.
The truth is whilst context and the author are relevant, we should try to gain as much from the text as possible before relying on the context to guide our interpretations. While studying your texts, it is reasonable to apply modern standards to your interpretations.
Shakespeare’s plays are a tad sexist, and we’re able to criticise that, despite Shakespeare writing in a different context. For more on studying Shakespeare in VCE, read How to Approach Studying Shakespeare. But it would also be difficult to appreciate the meaning of texts without the context, especially when the text is a response to a major event. At the same time, we’re allowed to expand on what the author has written. We are not confined to what the author meant to say when we interpret texts. As an English student you have the opportunity to consider what each word may represent for the characters and how it influences your unique interpretation.
So, the curtains mean whatever you want them to mean. You can make reasonable assumptions about a text based on the context it comes from and from the author’s life, but you shouldn’t assume that something means nothing. Trivial things like the colour of curtains may not have been important to the author but allow us as English students to analyse and look deeper into the text, its themes, and the psyche of the characters.
In your SACs and exams looking at these small details and deviating from the author’s intentions is an easy way to stand out. Looking to get to that A+ level? Read How to Turn Text Response Essays from Average to A+. So, when your teacher says the curtains are a metaphor, consider what else could be a metaphor, and don’t assume the author has all the answers, or that there is only one interpretation.
Nine Days by Toni Jordan is currently studied in VCE English under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
Themes, Ideas and Values
Essay Topic Breakdown
Jordan’s novel traces the tumultuous lives of the Westaway family and their neighbours through four generations as they struggle through World War II (1939-45), the postwar period of the late 1940s and 50s, the 1990s and the early 2000s. Composed of nine chapters and subsequently nine unique perspectives of life, their family home in Rowena Parade, Richmond, becomes the focal point for Jordan’s exploration of femininity, masculinity, family and Australian society.
2. Main Characters
'Mr. Husting always says first impressions count' (p. 5)
'Mr. Husting holds his other hand out flat and instead of an apple there’s a shilling.' (p. 6)
'I own the lanes, mostly. I know the web of them, every lane in Richmond.' (p. 21)
'When they put me in the grave, I know what it’ll say on the stone, if I get a stone, if they don’t bury me like a stray cat at the tip' (p. 29)
'I didn’t say goodbye to Dad! On account of a book' (p. 158)
'This photo won’t be out of my sight from now on. You’ve given me my sister back, Alec.' (p. 260)
'THE SHADOW CANNOT BE DEFEATED!' (p. 145)
'The toughest gang in Richmond! And they want me, Francis Westaway!' (p. 155)
'I see a purple jewel hanging on a gold chain. It’s a beaut, the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen…There’s no way I’m sharing this. It’s mine.' (p. 174)
'Do you understand how sensitive a reputation is? It’s up to me to be respectable. I’m the eldest. It’s my responsibility.' (p. 200)
'Ma sitting with her dress lifted up to her face, Connie on her knees beside her, holding her arms, cooing soft like Ma is a baby.' (Kip, p. 35)
'We women do what’s expected. You [men] can do almost anything you care to think of.' (p. 280)
'It seems that all my life I’ve had nothing I’ve desired and I’ve given up having desire at all. Now I know what it feels like to want and I will give anything to have it' (p. 285)
'I thought we’d have more time than this. We’ve only just made it.' (p. 290)
'Those moments, when [Kip] reminds me of Tom. I have to leave the room. The fury rises up my legs and up my body like a scream and it’s all I can do not to let it out.' (p. 212)
'We all die alone' (p. 212)
'This is not how I imagined it to be. Children. Mothering.' (p. 212)
'And for things like this, for girls like Connie and saving her future, there is a respectable woman who runs a business in Victoria Street' (pp. 221-222)
'I’d never of done it with boys but Connie, she was different.' (p. 239)
'we’re respectable people.' (p. 218)
‘Kipper’s old man…dropped off the tram in Swan Street somewhat worse for a whiskey or three and hit his head. Blam, splashed his brains all over the road. A sad end.’ (Pike, p. 24)
‘As a girl I had plenty of suitors, but none like Tom. Best behaviour in front of my father, children all brought up in the church by him.’ (p. 212)
‘The parcel is for Stanzi: inside is an old-fashioned coin, dull silver, with a king’s head on one side. It has a silver chain threaded through a hole in the middle. Stanzi looks like she’s about to cry.’ (Alec, p. 254)
‘She doesn’t mean to be hurtful. She is worries for me, that’s all…if she really thought I was in terrible trouble, she would be gentler.’ (Charlotte about Stanzi, p. 126)
‘the oblivious insouciance of the entitled’ (p. 51)
‘I say the question over and over: should I keep the baby?’ (p. 142)
‘The herbs are evidence of an understanding of our place in the universe…an acknowledgement of the delicate balance in our bodies…’ (p. 116)
‘There was only one place I could go: my sister’s’ (p. 124)
‘They contain all the hopes of the human spirit, all the refusal to quit, to keep believing people can feel better’ (p. 116)
‘Yet here I am. Away from home in a world of strangers. Alone. Forgotten.’ (p. 241)
‘This waiting for my life to start, it’s driving me mental.’ (p. 244)
‘I don’t sketch. Instead I concentrate on the scene the scene in front of me so I can remember it later.’ (p. 251)
‘All the things I remember, everything about my life, our family, my childhood: it’s all real because Libby knows it too.’ (Alec, p. 273)
‘I can see both sides.’ (p. 80)
‘Just let me kiss you, Connie. I’d die a happy man.’ (p. 284)
Ava and Sylvester Husting
‘If we have to send boys to fight…it’s layabout boys with no responsibilities, the Kip Westaways of the world, who ought to be going.’ (Ava, p. 102)
‘That shilling. Our little secret. Gentlemen’s honour.’ (Sylvester, p. 8)
‘You’re a good girl, Annabel.’ (Mr. Crouch, p. 177)
‘I’d like to compliment their dresses, but I don’t know what to say.’ (p. 190)
‘He is killing himself, I know that. I won’t have him for much longer.’ (Annabel, p. 207)
‘No mother, no brothers. Working your youth away, looking after an old man.’ (p. 179)
3. Themes, Ideas and Values
‘Family house, family suburb, family man’ (Charlotte about Kip, p. 140)
‘Stuck here…looking after your old man. You should have a family of your own by now.’ (Mr. crouch to Annabel, pp. 178-179)
‘No mother, no brothers. Working your youth away, looking after an old man.’ (p. 179)
The theme of family is a recurring one that develops over time. Jordan’s inclusion of other families such as the Crouches, the Churches, the McCarthys and the Stewarts stands in contrast to the Westaways. The juxtaposition of family life in this way allows the reader to see how such factors like wealth, class and reputation can affect the family dynamic especially within the war period. The idea of family is strained by the pressures of war because with many families' sons and husbands away it left the other family members to adopt other roles - not only physically, but the conventional emotional roles of traditional families of the time are redistributed, specifically within the Westaway household. Jordan postulates that the role family plays in providing emotional/physical support is of far greater importance than the necessity to abide by society's idea of what family should look like.
Women and Reproductive Rights
‘I tell her about shame and the way it’s always the women who wear it. I spare her nothing. I say loose women and no morals and I say bastard and I say slut.’ (Jean, p. 220)
‘You don’t have to have it, you know.’ (Stanzi, p. 132)
‘Your body, your choice…That’s what our feminist foremothers fought for’ (p. 134)
‘What if he wanted to know his child, doesn’t he have the right?’ (pp. 133-134)
Jordan highlights the controversial issues of premarital sex, abortion and the rights of women within the mid 20th and early 21st century. Indeed, it is this theme of women that becomes inextricably linked with the effect of a damaged reputation. When Connie falls pregnant, Jean implores that she has an abortion, in secret of course, in order to preserve her and her family’s reputation within the small community. The issue of abortion is later revisited when Charlotte becomes pregnant in the 1990s, where the contrast between the time periods becomes evident; while unplanned pregnancy is greatly stigmatised in the 1940s, the 1990s offers Charlotte a far wider array of options. It is through Jordan’s depiction of the two cases – Connie’s horrific backyard abortion, and Charlotte’s adjustment to parenthood – that she suggests the perceptions and attitudes towards morality, reputation and women have shifted over time, emphasising the importance of reproductive rights in the development of women.
‘I remember coming home from school once, crying. I would have been around six or seven. I was picked last for some team. That was me, the kid without a father.’ (Alec, p. 262)
‘”Westaway,” Cooper says. “Get in. For once in your life, do not be a pussy.”’ (p. 267)
Within the parameters of her text, Jordan articulates how men conform or reject masculine tropes in an effort to fit into society. Toughness, bulling and unsavory activity are presented as the characteristics of a man through such depictions of Mac and his gang. In its connection to the war period, the novel partly focuses on the notion that in order to be classified as a man he must first go through struggle and hardship as presented in the group of strangers taunting Jack, ultimately bullying him into certain ideals of masculinity which prove toxic and consequential - Jack dies as a result. It is Jordan who advocates for a balanced personality of both ‘masculine’ and 'feminine’ characteristics as suggested in the character development of Kip; evolving, learning and devising a true meaning of what it means to be a man outside of its conventional brutality.
Attitudes Towards Asia
‘She is with a customer or sweeping the floor with a broom made from free-range straw that died of natural causes or singing Kumbaya to the wheatgrass so it is karmically aligned.’ (Stanzi, p. 50)
‘The fear of the Nips coming made him a better man.’ (Annabel, p. 178)
‘always wanted to go to India [to study yoga] at a proper ashram.’ (pp. 132-133)
‘She makes her eyes go big and round like some manga puppy’ (p. 264)
Through both overt and subtle language, Jordan makes reference to the attitudes towards Asia which were prevalent at the time, specifically within the war period that saw many Australians ‘[fearing] the nip’. The derogative slang used for the Japanese represents a lack of understanding and fear (the bombing of Darwin and attack on Sydney left many feeling particularly vulnerable to the Japanese). Exacerbated by the fact that Japanese culture was not widely understood and was often misrepresented, the Japanese were stereotyped as brutal and inhuman. Over the course of the novel, attitudes towards Asia dramatically shift especially within the early 1990s of Stanzi and Charlotte's generation. The philosophical ideas of the east are often referenced by characters like Charlotte as she draws on them to make sense of her own complex life. The novel sees another shift in ideology represented through Alec as his generation's perception turns to a more commercial view. Asian culture has earned a place in mainstream media and western life without such gruesome and violent connotations as were previously held during the time of World War II.
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4. Literary Devices
Throughout her perspective driven text, Jordan makes many references to classic novels which help create a literary context for the narrative and lend themselves to the evolution of the characters throughout the course of the text.
Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers – Kip’s characteristic trait of heroism when he sees the gang waiting for him and says ‘on-bloody-guard, d’Artagnan’ (p. 22)
Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn – both coming-of-age stories about young men struggling within a tough world, only getting by on their wits and strength.
Brontë sisters' Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights – their reference is used in discerning a customer’s knowledge on the texts, but reveals only a surface level understanding due to the novels carrying a certain cultural value.
Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels – referenced by Jack Husting in relation to his adventures in the country. Its use pertains to how Jack feels out of place in his home town after leaving a boy and returning a grown man.
A historical novel that plays with ideas of placing invented characters into a reconstructed world of the past.
Uses elements of both realism and impressionism to create the text.
A strong focus on everyday life within a particular society with reference to real historical detail.
Incorporates a logical and strong foundation of context that can be easily digested and believed by the reader.
Can use an omniscient narrator (all-knowing).
Each chapter offers detail and presents a vivid interpretation of specific events.
Sensory experiences are emphasised by the use of descriptive and poetic language.
The linear flow of the narrative is disrupted by its construction in a non-chronological order, thereby forcing the reader to piece the whole narrative together at the end.
Varied depending on the character’s perspective and time of perspective.
Language is used to historicise each chapter through use of slang, colloquialisms, formal and proper English.
The novel revolves around the Westaway’s family home in Rowena Parade, Richmond over the course of four generations.
Rather than them move or the location change it evolves, paralleling the growth and evolution undergone by each of the Westaway family members.
Inspired by a photograph in the collection of Argus war photos held at the State Library of Victoria, Jordan uses this image capturing a private and intimate moment to establish the premise for each of the book's chapters.
Titled Nine Days and composed of nine unique perspectives on life at a given time, Jordan offers insight into the emotional livelihood of each narrator and attaches both intimate and historical significance to their stories.
5. Essay Topics
Toni Jordan’s Nine Days describes a world in which life in the 1930s and 40s was much harder than life in the 21st century. Do you agree?
In Nine Days, older Kip’s point of view is very unrealistic. To what extent do you agree?
Toni Jordan’s Nine Days shows us people can choose whether they end up happy or not. Discuss.
The mood by the end of Nine Days is ultimately uplifting and positive. Do you agree?
There is more tragedy in Nine Days than there is joy. To what extent do you agree?
Nine Days, by Toni Jordan, shows the best and worst of Australian culture. Discuss
Jordan suggests that appreciation of family is integral to personal happiness. Discuss.
'Your body, your choice.' What do the different experiences of Connie and Charlotte reveal about changing societal attitudes towards women?
There are many characters who are largely hidden figures within the text. What significance is produced by including and excluding different perspectives?
6. Essay Topic Breakdown
Whenever you get a new essay topic, you can use LSG’s THINK and EXECUTE strategy - a technique to help you write better VCE essays. This essay topic breakdown will focus on the THINK part of the strategy. If you’re unfamiliar with this strategy, then check it out in How To Write A Killer Text Response because it’ll dramatically enhance how much you can take away from the following essays and more importantly, your ability to apply this strategy in your own writing.
Within the THINK strategy, we have 3 steps, or ABC. These ABC components are: Step 1: Analyse Step 2: Brainstorm Step 3: Create a Plan
THINK How-based prompt: How does Nine Days explore the relationship between the past and the present?
Step 1: Analyse
This is a ‘how’ essay prompt, so in our planning, we need to identify the ways in which the author accomplishes their task. When analysing your question it is important to know what the question is asking of you, so make sure you highlight the keywords and understand their meaning by themselves and in the context of the question. For example, this question is not just asking about the past and present, but rather the connection between the two - so if you discussed the past and the present separately you wouldn’t be answering the question.
Step 2: Brainstorm
Brainstorming is different for everyone, but what works for me is focusing on the key idea, which here would be the relationship between the past and the present, and listing my thoughts out. Not all the ideas will be as equally relevant/good, but I like to have things written down to then improve or simply not use in favour of other ideas.
Past → Present: Westaway family home, the house changes as the family grows Past → Present: Connie’s tragic abortion compared to Charlotte’s options in the 1990s, women’s rights evolving over time Past → Present: Melbourne becoming more multicultural, Alec’s chapter reveals how Melbourne has changed compared to chapters set in earlier times Past → Present: Kip teaching Alec to cherish those in front of us after seeing Connie’s picture Past → Present: Second World War contrast to 9/11 and war in Afghanistan
Now that I have all my ideas listed out I choose my strongest three to flesh out. There are different things that make an idea strong, but the things I consider are: - Do I have enough evidence to support this idea? - Is the idea substantial enough to turn into a whole paragraph? - Do I have an author’s views and values statement? - Can I include context or metalanguage into this idea?
Using the questions above, I decided to use the following ideas: - Westaway family home, the house changes as the family grows (symbolism) - Kip teaching Alec to cherish those in front of them (focus on characterisation) - Melbourne becoming more multicultural (can talk about historical context)
Step 3: Create a Plan
Contention: Through the use of setting and characterisation, Jordan’s Nine Days reveals how the past and present are interconnected. P1: Westaway home embodying the familial connection P2: The past is not completely separate from the present, it teaches us lessons that are pertinent to contemporary life (Alec) P3: Melbourne becoming more multicultural
If you found this helpful, then you might want to check out our A Killer Text Guide: Nine Days ebook which has an A+ sample essay in response to this prompt, complete with annotations on HOW and WHY the essay achieved A+! The study guide also includes 4 more essay topic breakdowns and sample A+ essays, detailed analysis AND a comprehensive explanation of LSG’s unique BBT strategy to elevate your writing!
Così is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
Lewis is faced with a seemingly impossible task – to bring order to the chaotic world of the asylum – yet in the process of doing so, he develops hugely as a person. Although, it’s important not to take Lewis’ development at face value. His growth is used to highlight many of Nowra’s values on issues surrounding love, fidelity, madness and reality, just to name a few. It’s also important to look at the development (or lack of development) of other characters and think about why Nowra might have included them in the play. Luckily for you, Così is quite a short play and doesn’t have a huge cast of characters. However, this means that it’s even more important to get a great understanding of each character – they’re all there for a reason!
To fully understand this text, you’ll need to move beyond analysing characters and dialogue and consider Nowra’s main messages. Così is essentially a social commentary, packed full of criticisms of conventional perspectives and values. Also, Così is full of symbols and imagery, which can help you score highly on your essays if you integrate them into your work. Lastly, it's vital to remember that Così is a play, not a book, and on top of that, it is a play within a play. This means that setting, structure and stage directions are all crucial, and make for a high-scoring essay.
Melbourne Mental Institution, Australia during the 1970s.
All of the action takes place inside a burnt-out, derelict theatre. This serves to create an atmosphere of confinement for the audience, encouraging them to reflect on the stifling experience of the patients.
Così is divided into two acts and nine scenes. The play is dominated by Lewis’ development. Act 1 highlights his uncertainty and distance from the world of the asylum. Whereas by Act 2, we see Lewis become more invested in the patients and the asylum, as his relationships with the other characters grow. Lewis’ development is symbolised through the changing imagery throughout the play, specifically fire and water.
Così also is a piece of metatheatre, which Nowra achieves through structuring itas a ‘play within a play’. Metatheatre means that the play draws attention to its distance from reality. This makes sense in relation to Così, as Nowra is continually encouraging his audience to accept their own reality instead of falling into escapism. Including Così Fan Tutte in Così also serves to highlight the difference in popular opinion between Mozart’s era and the 1970s, while emphasising the continuity of love. This contrast also helps Lewis to come to terms with his valuation of love over war, which is at odds with the common opinions of his society.
The line between reality and illusion is explored through the characters who are labelled as ‘insane’ as well as those considered ‘normal.’ Nowra demonstrates that reality is unique for each person, and often people may slip into illusions in order to avoid the truth. It is suggested that although they may not have been completely ‘normal’, those considered to be ‘insane’ still possess great insight that ‘normal’ people may overlook. Additionally, Così reminds the reader of the absurdities of a mental asylum shunned by society, which would only have added to patients’ instabilities, especially as families dealt with the matter secretly. Furthermore, the issue of love and fidelity that was valued so highly in Mozart’s era, is proven to still be relevant in our modern times. Ultimately, Così is a play that criticises traditional structures and views of society – whether they be asylums, university education or harsh stigma. Nowra encourages his audience to accept both the complexity of people and of life, which begins with accepting your own reality.
The protagonist of Così, Lewis is a new university graduate who has agreed to direct a play cast with patients from a mental institution because he needs money. At first, Lewis shares the same values as his friends Nick and Lucy - that love is ‘not so important’ in the days of politics and war. During the time he spends with the patients, however, Lewis experiences a turning point in his understanding and perception of people. By the end of the play, Lewis learns to value love and friendship over war and politics, even stating that ‘without love, the world wouldn’t mean as much’. In emphasising the development of Lewis’ values away from the social norm, Nowra highlights the confining nature of society and the danger of its limited focus, which fails to recognise the value of love and companionship.
Additionally, Nowra blurs the lines between insanity and sanity by portraying Lewis as a bridge between the ‘real’ world and that of the asylum. At the beginning of the play, Lewis states that his grandmother was in an asylum. However, despite knowing that ‘she had gone mad’, he reflects that ‘she was still [his] grandmother.’This, alongside his passion for Julie, enables Lewis to see the patients as people, not their illnesses. Therefore, he subconsciously allows himself to be influenced by them, just as he influences them. This contradicts the traditional views surrounding the unproductivity of the mentally ill and instead highlights their value and worth. Therefore, Nowra warns against dismissing individuals who are mentally ill, instead highlighting their capacity to garner change and therefore be productive and valuable members of society.
Moreover, not only is Lewis involved in directing Così Fan Tutte, but he also finds himself playing the part of Fernando. This again further reinforces his roleas a bridge between society and the asylum (and his connection to its patients), and he ends up embodying the role. Like Fernando, Lewis is unfaithful to his partner. While still in a relationship with his girlfriend Lucy, Lewis becomes intimate with a patient, Julie. Nowra uses his unfaithfulness as evidence of the indiscriminate nature of infidelity – it is not restricted only to women.
Finally, Così explores how Lewis deals with a hardship that he essentially created for himself – he signed up to direct the play. This links to Nowra’s view of the senselessness of war, which he views as a problem that mankind has created for themselves.
Girlfriend and roommate of Lewis, Lucy cannot understand why Lewis is directing a play about love when thousands are dying in the war. She has an affair with Nick, who shares similar beliefs – that politics and the Vietnam War protest are more important than anything else. The flippant nature with which she regards her affair with Nick as purely sexual is also reflective of her lack of value towards love. Thus, Nowra portrays Lucy as a personification of the societal norms of the 1970s – she is political, into free love and challenges traditional notions of femininity.
Furthermore, it is ironic that Lucy and Lewis have similar names. At the start of the play, Lewis allows himself to be influenced by Lucy’s values rather than his own, but by the end, Lewis’ true views prove to be very different from hers.
Lucy also acts as a catalyst for Lewis’ change and development. She pushes him to ‘make a choice’between the world of insanity and fidelity that represents truth for Lewis, or the world of sanity, free love and politics that Lewis comes to view as restrictive and stifling.
An experienced student director, roommate and friend of Lewis who is heavily involved in the moratorium (a protest against the Vietnam War). He promises to help Lewis direct CosìFan Tutte, however he quickly breaks this vow in order to spend time furthering his political career with Lucy. Lewis later discovers that Lucy and Nick are having an affair. Unlike Lewis, however, Nick views his relationship with Lucy as ‘only sex’, therefore suggesting his superficiality and lack of compassion.
This superficiality is further shown through his obsession with the moratorium and his disinterest in Lewis’ Così Fan Tutte. He criticises Lewis for prioritising theatre over politics, stating that ‘only mad people in this day and age would do a work about love and infidelity.’ This suggests that what drives Nick is a desire to be seen doing the ‘normal’ and ‘right’ things, rather than an intrinsic belief that what he is doing is good. He views life as a series of transactions and values activities based on the immediate benefit that they bring him. For example, he admitted to helping Lewis with his direction only ‘so [Lewis would] help [him] on the moratorium committee’.
Overall, Nick lives up to his label of being an ‘egotistical pig’ who ‘likes the sound of his own voice’. He is used by Nowra as a benchmark with which Lewis’ development is compared (i.e. we can see how much Lewis has developed by comparing him to Nick). For example, at the start of the play Lewis shares similar superficial values to Nick, admitting to only take the directing job for a bit of money; however, by the end of Così, he holds vastly different views than Nick.
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Fidelity & Infidelity
According to Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte, fidelity is depicted as an ideal that is never achieved. Since ‘women are like that’ – the interpretation of ‘Così fan tutte’, Mozart supported the belief that men should simply accept that women will inevitably be disloyal in relationships. Nowra echoes this view of women through Lewis and Lucy’s relationship. While Lucy is ‘sleeping’ with Lewis, she is also triflingly ‘having sex’ with Nick. When Lewis discovers Lucy’s betrayal, she waves aside his shock, defending herself, ‘it is not as if we’re married.’ The revelation thus does prove Mozart right, that ‘woman’s constancy is like the Arabian Phoenix. Everyone swears it exists, but no one has seen it.’
Although the women in both Così Fan Tutte and Così are shown to be unfaithful, so are the men. While the men in Così Fan Tutte do not actively participate in adultery, they do fabricate their departure to the war and also disguise themselves as ‘Albanians.’ Their deception is also a betrayal to their wives. Meanwhile, Don Alfonso manipulates everyone. As seen in Così, Lewis is unfaithful to Lucy as he kisses Julie during rehearsals. Julie later reveals that she has a girlfriend who she would prefer to be with, confirming that both men and women are unfaithful in relationships, despite whatever values they may claim to have.
Nowra considers many perspectives of love and fidelity, without offering a definitive opinion. Instead, he explores the progression (or stagnation) of characters’ opinions on love and contrasts them to those of other characters, in the hope of highlighting its complexity. Nick and Lucy both view love as an indulgence that is incompatible with politics and secondary to life’s basic needs. Whereas Lewis claims, ‘without love, the world wouldn’t mean that much’. These differences between Nick and Lucy’s view on love and Lewis’, are major contributors to the deterioration of their relationships. Therefore, Nowra shows that communication and truthfulness are needed for healthy, and reciprocal, relationships.
Overall, while Così Fan Tutte presents love and fidelity as wavering, Nowra provides a more practical view of love. Nowra suggests that love is complex and cannot be fully understoodor tamed, instead portraying it as akin to madness. As love is universal, this view ties in nicely with his non-judgmental perspective on madness and insanity.
Sanity & Insanity
The line between sanity and insanity is explored through the juxtaposition of the patients and society. In the 1970s, those who behaved abnormally were declared to be ‘insane’ and placed in mental institutions that were shunned by society. As scientific developments have now informed us, these environments often failed to assist their patients. The use of electric shock therapy, for example, frequently led to severe, long-term negative effects upon patients.
While the patients were viewed as ‘madmen’ by outsiders, Lewis soon discovers that they are, in many ways, ordinary people. Although each patient has a mental flaw, all possess interesting opinions and beliefs on different matters. Additionally, Nowra encourages his readers to view insanity as more complex than a diagnosis or something that can be fixed with a ‘coat of paint’. Instead, he suggests that insanity is imposed on people through the judgment of others.
Nowra also attempts to blur the lines between sanity and insanity to emphasize the indiscriminate nature of madness. This is seen through Lewis’ character, who consistently bridges the gap between madness and normalcy. For example, despite his ‘sane’ status, he is mistaken for a patient by Justin, joins Roy in imitating electric shock therapy, replaces Doug in the play, and stands with the patients against Justin.
Overall, Nowra portrays insanity as a matter of perspective, rather than an objective diagnosis. He refuses to define madness, instead depicting it as somewhere on the spectrum of human behaviour. In doing so, he critisises traditional perspectives of sanity and insanity and instead encourages his audiences to consider the complexity of madness.
Reality & Illusion
The question of what is real or an illusion is weaved through the patients’ state of mentality. As shown through Ruth who struggles to pretend like she is having real coffee on stage, it is difficult for some to distinguish reality from illusion, even if it is clear to everyone else. For others, they may willingly refuse the truth and succumb to an illusion. Lewis deluded himself into believing that Lucy was faithful, when all signs (such as Nick residing in the same home and Nick and Lucy spending time together) indicated that Lucy was, in fact, blatantly disloyal. Much like Lewis’ protective delusion, Roy uses illusions of a happy childhood to shield him from facing his reality. This builds upon his tendencies to blame others for his behaviour – he is inherently unable to face the truth of his ‘insanity’ and so manipulates his reality to make it more bearable.
Throughout Così, Nowra also explores the relativity of reality. For the patients of the asylum, pretending to give electric shock therapy to others ‘seems realer’ than ‘kissing and stuff’, whereasthe opposite would be true in ‘ordinary’ society. However, Così also suggests that imagination has the capacity to empower. Through participating in the play, which is an illusory form of reality, the patients are able to explore their views on love and commitment.
Ultimately, the behaviour of characters such as Roy and Ruth encourages us to consider the reliability (or unreliability) of our own perceptions. Alongside this, Nowra stresses the importance of being able to accept your own reality, as he shows that characters who fail to do so, also fail to experiencepersonal growth (e.g. Roy, Julie).
The setting of a burnt-out theatre depicts the miserable environment in which the patients of mental institutions are forced to live. As they are ostracised by the community, a lack of care and support is shown through the rejected and deteriorating theatre. The patients’ considerable enthusiasm highlights their unfortunate circumstances, since even a chance to spend their time in an old building performing a play causes much excitement.
Although we see the theatre being touched up with new lights and a ‘coat of paint’,it still remains derelict and run-down. Nowra uses this to symbolise the futility of surface-level treatments (such as medication and isolation) of mental illnesses, and how we should instead focus on seeing the person behind the illness.
However, Nowra also uses the theatre as a symbol of hope. Despite its desolation, it is in the theatre that Lewis feels safe to grow and develop. Additionally, Julie and Lewis’ kiss takes place on the theatre’s stage. The kiss itself represents Lewis becoming more comfortable with himself and his increasingly counter-cultural views.
The women in both Così Fan Tutte and Così are compared with the Arabian Phoenix. The mythical creature is a representation of women, beautiful and enchanting, capturing men such as the god Apollo with its voice. This reflects the power of women to attract men. Nevertheless, its rarity, as often commented on in Così , is linked with the seemingly infrequent loyalty demonstrated by women.
The frequent reference to the Arabian Phoenix throughout Così continually reinforces the play’s misogynisticundertone. Its rarity is likened to the absenceof women’s fidelity, yet never male fidelity. Similarly, Nowra invites his audience to condemn Lucy’s unfaithfulness towards Lewis, yet we are not encouraged to feel the same way about Lewis’ unfaithfulness to Lucy.
Light and Dark
The lights in Act 1, Scene 1 highlight Lewis’ entrance into a new world, where he befriends patients who will ultimately help him to learn and develop. At first Lewis, much like Lucy and Nick, possesses a ‘pitch black’ perspective of the world. This is a representation of their modern beliefs that circulate around politics and war. When the lights are turned on, Roy is present, demonstrating that the patients of the mental institutions are the source for Lewis’ changing perspective throughout the play. Nowra also uses the lights to represent the hope for change that Lewis brings to the patients, and vice versa.
Light is also used to directly juxtapose the chaos and desperation that darkness brings. Before Lewis entered the theatre, it was dark and derelict, symbolising the abandonment and hopelessness of the asylum’s patients. This desperation is viewed in another light during Julie and Lewis’ kiss (which takes place in the dark). In this instance, their desire for each other and the chaos that ensues is liberating for Lewis, as it enables him to come to terms with what he truly values.
However, Julie notes that the wards are ‘never really dark’ as ‘there’s always a light on in the corridor.’ In this sense, darkness symbolises autonomy and freedom, whereas light represents the constant monitoring and scrutinising that the patients are subjected to.
1. Così contends that some things are more important than politics.
2. In Così, the ‘insane’ characters are quite normal.
3. The line between reality and illusion is often blurred.
4. Ironically, it is through the ‘madmen’ that Lewis learns what is truly important.
5. Nick and Lucy’s ‘modern’ value of free love is depicted to be a backwards belief. Discuss.
Now it's your turn! Give these essay topics a go. For more sample essay topics, head over to our Così Study Guideto practice writing essays using the analysis you've learnt in this blog!
Within the THINK strategy, we have 3 steps, or ABC. These ABC components are:
Step 1: Analyse
Step 2: Brainstorm
Step 3: Create a Plan
Character-Based Prompt: It is not only Lewis who develops in Così, but other characters as well. Discuss.
Step 1: Analyse
Simply spot a character’s name and there you have it, it’s a character-based prompt. However, it’s important to recognise that your essay does not need to revolve around only the character(s) in the prompt but should also incorporate discussion of other major and minor characters as well.
In this topic, it is important to incorporate other characters, such as the patients, into your essay, because they are crucial to Lewis’ development. To ensure that you stay on topic, it is best to include a paragraph (or paragraphs) that explore characters other than Lewis and their development. Also try and focus on different areas/types of development (i.e. not just Lewis’ changing values).
Highlight Key Words:
It is not only Lewis who develops in Così, but other characters as well.
Così explores the development/growth of multiple characters, including Lewis.
Lewis is the central catalyst that enables other character’s development to be seen (such as Ruth’s and Zac’s)
However, we also see characters who fail to develop. This is either because they fail to accept their own reality (Roy) or they fail to accept the errors in their thinking (Lucy, Nick)
Nowra also uses Lewis as the benchmark against which the development of other characters is measured. For example, Nick’s lack of development is highlighted through comparing his stagnation/unchanging ways to Lewis’ growth.
Lewis’ development is facilitated by the patients. Nowra uses this to suggest the productivity of the mentally ill and challenge traditional stereotypes that label them as incapable.
Through Lewis’ development, Nowra highlights the falsity in societal stereotypes of the mentally ill (i.e. Lewis’s views change from being discriminatory and stereotypical to more compassionate, and well founded.)
Imagery and symbolism are used to represent development and growth (fire and water) as well as Lewis’ catalytic nature (light and dark).
Step 3: Create a Plan
Contention: Nowra encourages his audience to reconsider their perspective on the mentally ill by highlighting their capacity to not only change themselves, but enact change in others.
Topic Sentence 1: Through his exploration of Lewis’ changing ideals during Così, Nowra attempts to highlight the value of companionship and productivity of the mentally ill, which act to increase Lewis’ confidence when faced with adversity.
Examples: Lewis’ changing ideas on love and fidelity, Lewis’ changing levels of subservience to Lucy and Nick
"Not so important."
"Without love, the world wouldn’t mean as much."
"They are coming to take me away, ha, ha."
"Not sing that."
"I said, don’t sing that song."
Linking Sentence(s): In contrasting Lewis’ meekness to his boldness, Nowra alludes to the personal benefits that personal growth can have. Additionally, he ultimately encourages his audience to view Lewis’ learning as evidence against the common notion of the unproductivity of the mentally ill, as we see Lewis’ development flourish during his time at the asylum.
Topic Sentence 2: Moreover, throughout Così we see Lewis develop a greater understanding of the complexity of madness due to his partnership with the patients.
Examples: Lewis’ changing perspective of the patients, Lewis’ involvement with the patients beyond his role as director, fire and water imagery
"Will go bezerk without their medication."
"Unable to believe he has found himself caught up in [directing]."
"Water drip[ping] though the hole in the roof."
Linking Sentence: Ultimately, through highlighting the development of Lewis’ views towards insanity, Nowra positions his audience to reflect on the complexity of madness and thus warns of the danger of stereotypes.
Topic Sentence 3: Furthermore, as an outsider, Lewis assists the patients in their development, acting as their connection to the real world and ultimately providing a space for them to grow and flourish.
Examples: Juxtaposition of light and dark, Ruth’s development.
"Chink of light."
"Burnt out theatre."
"Real cappuccino machine."
"Wasn’t [her], it was the character."
"Time and motion expert."
Linking Sentence: Ultimately, Nowra explores the learning and growth of characters in Così to not only highlight the necessity of a humanistic approach to treating mental illness, but also to illustrate the nature of mental health as a continuum, on which no one person needs to be stationary forever.
If you find this essay breakdown helpful, then you might want to check out our Così Study Guide where we cover 5 A+ sample essays with EVERY essay annotated and broken down on HOW and WHY these essays achieved A+ so you reach your English goals! Let's get started.
1. List of Listening Resources That You Can Access For Free 2. How To Use These Free Resources (a Step-by-Step Guide) 3. Let Me Walk You Through How I approach These Listening Exercises 4. Time to Test Your Listening Skills
For an overview of the EAL study design plus tips and tricks for reading comprehension, time management and more, check out The Ultimate Guide to EAL.
The listening tasks of the EAL exam are worth 20% of the total exam marks. Since this section was introduced to the exam fairly recently, limited past exam questions are available for students to practice. In this blog, you will find a comprehensive list of external resources that are accessible for free. Although they are not designed specifically for the purpose of VCAA exams, they can still boost your marks if used wisely. I will offer some advice that helped me receive a perfect study score in EAL and give you a step-by-step guide on how to use these listening resources to better prepare for EAL listening.
1. List of Listening Resources That You Can Access For Free:
And for my fellow Chinese friends, I recommend 可可英语. It pretty much includes all major news sources worldwide including the Voice of America, CNN, ABC, National Public Radio, NBC News, BBC, The Economist and National Geography. I particularly love the fact that both the website and its free app offer English transcription and Chinese translation side by side.
2. How To Use These Free Resources (a Step-by-Step Guide)
I recommend you listen to the audio three times. Below, I have broken down what you should pay attention to during each listening exercise.
1st Time Listening
Step 1: Read and Annotate Background Information
Read the background information if available. This mimics the ‘Background Information’ given at the very start of each question in the VCAA exam. In most cases, it provides a general introduction to the speakers and gives you a brief idea of what to expect in the upcoming audio.
Highlight the name of the speakers.
Underline important information.
Step 2: Read and Annotate the Questions
Familiarise yourself with the questions during reading time and annotate them.
Develop an annotation system that works well for you personally.
1. I usually underline key information that gives me information on ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘how’, ‘where’ and ‘when’ (refer to the table in Step 4 below for definitions for these ‘W’ words).
2. Highlight the main person/subject that the question is referring to. This will help you during note taking and formulating your answer. Under the stress of exams, we might lose track of which speaker is talking, especially when the two speakers sound similar. By highlighting the name of the speaker in the question, it reminds us which speaker to pay attention to when answering the question.
If you are playing the audio clips by yourself for practice, make sure you give yourself time to analyse the questions before hitting play! If you have a friend or family member who can act as your ‘exam facilitator’, as soon as reading time ends, highlight or underline the keywords before your exam facilitator plays the audio clips!
Step 3: Listen to the Audio Only (Without the Visual)
This is pretty self-explanatory!
Step 4: Write Down Side Notes
Write down as much information as you can to practice speed writing
Some ‘W’ words (see table below) may not apply to all audio clips so free feel to only use the ‘W’ words that are relevant
2nd Time Listening
Step 1: Fill in the blanks and try to be aware of words you don’t quite ‘get’.
Step 2: Note down how the speakers convey their attitude, feeling, ideas, etc.
Step 3: Interaction between speakers.
There will typically be a question that asks you to describe the interaction between the speakers, such as, ‘Suggest 2 words to describe the interaction between A and B’.The answer you need to provide will typically be a two-word answer. I would encourage you to learn the adjectives used to describe a range of interactions, for example:
Words to describe positive interactions include:
Professional, formal, polite
Words to describe negative interactions include:
Tense, unpleasant, disappointed
3rd Time Listening
Listen to the audio while you read the transcript if available.
3. Let Me Walk You Through How I approach These Listening Exercises
Now that you know the steps, let’s see them in action. Below, I will demonstrate the step-by-step process of how you can make full use of the listening resources above.
For practice, I recommend taking notes in a table format, using the ‘W’ words I mentioned above. We are going to designate a separate table for each speaker in the audio.
2nd Time Listening
Step 1: Fill in the blanks and try to be aware of words you don’t quite ‘get’.
This is where you have the opportunity to fill in the blanks for the challenging words that you did not pick up in the first round. For example: Ubiquitous, monopolists, admirable, immersed, sophisticated and algorithm
Step 2: Note down how the speakers convey their attitude, feeling, ideas, etc.
Step 3: Interaction between speakers.
I will use ‘friendly’ and ‘polite’ to describe the interaction between the interviewer and Jocelyn Brewer. As you listen, see if you can identify why I have chosen these two words to describe the interaction. Keep in mind that there is no right or wrong answer here as long as your choice of descriptive words suit the audio clip.
3rd Time Listening
Usually I would read the transcript in this third and final step, however, since there is no transcript available for this piece, I will skip this step.
4. Time to Test Your Listening Skills
Using the same audio clip and worksheet, have a go at these VCAA-style questions that I wrote up, and then check out my sample answers to see how your own answers compare. You will probably notice that a lot of the information you gather from the ‘W’ words actually provides you with the answers to the majority of the questions here.
What are the problems with internet use today? (2 marks)
What is it that can draw people in and what example does Brewer use in relation to this? (2 marks)
What is Beverley Wang’s opinion on some apps showing many ‘likes’? Support your answer with an example of word choice and language. (3 marks)
What are the costs people have to pay, as Brewer suggests, for the use of Internet? (2 marks)
What does Ecosia try to recognise? (2 marks)
Give the word that the company officer of Ecosia uses to describe Google’s dominant power over the search engine. (1 mark)
What are the two adjectives Beverely Wang uses to praise Ecosia? (2 marks)
What are the challenges faced by companies like Ecosia, according to Brewer? (2 marks)
The problems of internet use lie in its prevalence in society and how powerful the technology is. The apps are designed to mimic the best psychological behaviours and maintain our interest.
Users are drawn in by a range of psychological hacks employed by the app designers. For example, Facebook has adjusted the size of the font to keep us engaged and immersed.
Beverley Wang expresses her opinions that some apps can foster addictive behaviours and can be scary by using a frustrated and alarmed tone. Additionally, by repeating the term ‘consuming’ four times in a row, delivered in a fast pace, Wang affirms the unethical and addictive nature of the apps.
Brewer suggests people have to pay with time and attention.
Firstly, Ecosia aims to be an ethically-orientated company by planting one tree for every 45 web searches. Secondly, it promises to be a ‘privacy-friendly’ platform and endeavours to expose the shameful motives of some search engines such as Google.
‘noble’ and ‘admirable’
Since using Ecosia requires ‘people-poser’, the public need to be more aware of the benefits of switching from an ‘automatically-preferred’ search engine to Ecosia. Ecosia receives ‘56 enquiries every minute’ compared to ‘40 thousand’ enquiries on their competitor’s web engine.