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Bombshells and The Penelopiad are studied as part of VCE English's Comparative. For one of most popular posts on Comparative (also known as Reading and Comparing), check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Comparative.
Bombshells is a collection of six monologues written by Joanna Murray-Smith, each featuring one female character who is symbolic of a specific stage in life and role. Together, they are a telling account of the struggles of being a woman in a modern world, and the monologue format allows the author to emphasise how they are simultaneously unique and universally relatable.
ThePenelopiad is Margaret Atwood’s retelling of Homer’s Odyssey from Odysseus’ wife Penelope’s point of view. The story is narrated first-person by Penelope who resides in the underworld, but is also peppered with spoken, sung or chanted testimonies from the twelve dead maids of the story who act as a Chorus, a traditional part of ancient Greek theatre. Although the story is old and much-retold, the voice is modern and the author’s messages concerning women and their position in the world and their relationship with men are universal, regardless of the historical period.
4. Sample paragraphs
Prompt: How do Bombshells and The Penelopiad emphasise the subtleties of the male-female relationship dynamic?
While the narratives of both Bombshells and The Penelopiad are firmly focused on the female perspective of issues relevant to them, the texts also address the male perspective and role in such issues. Like the women, the men created by the authors have instrumental roles in the way the stories play out, which interestingly are sometimes disproportionate to their actual involvement in the plot.
One of the main differences between the texts, other than the literary format, is the level of dialogue and active participation afforded to the male characters. In The Penelopiad, the male characters arguably largely direct Penelope’s life, from her father essentially selling her into marriage to Odysseus’ life-disrupting departure, return and ‘lies…tricks and… thieving’, not to mention her ‘quite spoiled’ son Telemachus’ will to usurp and disobey his mother. Penelope’s narration gives them large amounts of dialogue and paints them as three-dimensional people in her life, whereas the male characters in Bombshells have barely any dialogue – most of them have none – and yet manage to cause a similar level of turmoil in the female characters. The marriage of Theresa McTerry to her fiancé Ted, for example, sends her into long, capitalised rants heavily punctuated with exclamation marks and profanities; Murray-Smith does not even give Ted a full description. Even without forming the male characters into rich, detailed personas, she still manages to fully showcase the chaos visited upon Theresa by her ill-considered marriage. She draws greater attention to her inner panic and desperation than we see in Penelope, whose voice retains a sense of shocked detachment even when crying or suffering. As such, the differing approaches of the authors both showcase the fact that men can wreak significant havoc with women’s lives, and that we do not actually need to know much about the particulars of the men or their acts to comprehend the women’s suffering.
The approaches of Atwood and Murray-Smith towards the level of engagement of their male characters differ significantly, yet both show the full impact of their actions on the lives of their female counterparts. Even when the men are given only cursory mentions, their presence as an agent of change within the story is sufficient for them to dramatically alter the courses of the characters they consort with.
It’s very hard to look past the overt feminist overtones of both try – even though these are some of the most interesting parts of the texts and you definitely should discuss them, there is more to them than messages about women. Maybe expand your view to more general ideas about human beings, how we live our lives and the ways we react to situations of duress.
Also consider that these texts are in two different formats; how does the live performance of Bombshells change the way it is perceived? How do the different media of these texts support or emphasise the authors’ messages? What can a monologue do better than a book in terms of transmitting an idea and vice versa?
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David Malouf’s Ransom and Stephan Frears’ The Queen was a brand-new text pairing added to the study design in 2020. It is a unit with many nuances and intricacies to discuss, making it a perfect pairing to unpack in an essay topic breakdown!
Overall, both Ransom and The Queen overlap fairly heavily in terms of key themes, ideas and messages. Even if you haven’t watched The Queen or read Ransom yourself, the essay topic I have chosen can give you an idea of how to seamlessly integrate such thematic overlaps and similarities into your own writing, whilst also acknowledging the differences in both 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
The Essay Prompt:
'it is true that the gods made me a king, but they also made me a man, and mortal.' – Priam (87-88)
'Your Majesty, there’s a last minute addition from Downing Street. They’re suggesting adding and as a grandmother here.' – Janvrin (Script, 87th Minute)
How do both texts explore the tensions that are created between a person’s public and private life?
Step 1: Analyse
This prompt is both a quote-based, and a how-based prompt (learn more about the five types of prompts here). This means that the examiner wants us to explain howthe text creators (Frears and Malouf) convey tensions between one’s public and private life, using the quote to help us do so.
Step 2: Brainstorm
First, let’s break down the prompt part of the essay question. Here, the keywords are:
‘tensions’ - we have to focus on the contrast, and the hardships, that stem from the characters in both texts as they juggle their roles as leaders and individuals of their own accord. These difficulties are explored in more detail in an earlier LSG blog Ransom and The Queen.
‘public and private lives’ - invites us to consider the individuals in both texts, specifically leaders such as Queen Elizabeth and Priam, who have distinctly different public and private personas. Specifically, we want to focus on how the differences that arise between these two ‘lives’ suggest that compromises must be made in order for leaders to perform their role to its greatest potential.
Now it’s time to break down the quote itself!
Both the quotes from Ransom and The Queen illustrate points of tension in the lives of leaders.
Priam’s quote occurs toward the climax of Ransom. The examiner is directing you to discuss how being ‘a man’, and therefore seemingly unremarkable in nature, challenges Priam’s existence as a ‘king’, thus creating a point of tension in his reign.
Similarly, Janvrin’s quote also highlights how being a ‘grandmother’ is a role that must be performed by Queen Elizabeth in conjunction with her existence as the Queen of England. Yet, the inclusion of ‘Downing Street’ in this quote also moves you to consider how the queen’s own private affairs, such as Diana’s death, must be handled in conjunction with an outside team such as Tony Blair as British Prime Minister, thus entangling both her public and private personas.
Through both quotes, it is evident that when responding to how Frears and Malouf explore tensions in their respective texts, you should analyse the key characters of each text and their roles as both leaders and individuals in their own right.
I’ve grouped my ideas in a logical order so you can easily identify how each idea relates to my essay plan in Section C. During your own brainstorming, this will be difficult to achieve, so just keep in mind that you don’t need a logical layout of ideas until the planning stage!
At the beginning of both texts, each protagonist fails to recognise and adequately perform their role as a ‘man’ and ‘grandmother’ respectively, due to their duties as a leader. This leaves them out-of-touch with the people around them, suggesting that being a leader can negatively impact one’s relationships with those they care about most.
Priam refers to himself as ‘mortal’ in the prompt, revealing his own vulnerability. Furthermore, the inclusion of ‘Downing Street’ encourages discussion surrounding Tony Blair and his role as a public figure. In both cases, these men express their emotions to their people and those closest to them, leaving them open to backlash and criticism of their authority as leaders.
For Queen Elizabeth, expressing her grief ‘as a grandmother’ allows her to connect emotionally to her people and regain their support, whilst for Priam, appearing to Achilles simply as ‘a man’ enables him to return to Troy both successful in his mission and respected by his people. This reveals that leaders should not let their public and private lives evoke tension, but rather should harness elements of each respective realm to build a modern, effective and relatable leadership style.
Step 3: Create a Plan
By dissecting the prompt’s keywords and briefly analysing the quote and its meaning, I have come up with three main points:
Paragraph 1: In both texts, Frears and Malouf suggest that in allowing themselves to be controlled by their public personas, leaders may struggle to connect with both their people and their own families
Ransom: Somax is initially unable to connect with Priam due to his adherence to royal protocol and tradition
The Queen: Queen is unable to provide emotional support to her grandsons following their mother’s death, due to her own stoicism and emotionally distant nature
Paragraph 2: Yet, in revealing an aspect of their personal lives, leaders risk compromising their public authority
Ransom: When Priam breaks protocol and leaves the walls of Troy, the Trojan people question the strength and competence of their leader
The Queen: Tony Blair’s unconventional style means he initially fails to gain respect from the Royal Family, despite being elected British Prime Minister
Paragraph 3: This delicate balance between one’s public and private lives is achieved most successfully when leaders reveal an element of their private selves and make themselves vulnerable and relatable to their people.
Ransom: Priam recognises the importance of being a father as well as a leader, allowing him to bury Hector’s body whilst retaining respect and admiration from his people
The Queen: By adopting Blair’s suggestions and addressing the British people in an honest, vulnerable way, Queen Elizabeth is able to regain their trust and respect.
Stephen Frears’ film The Queen, set in contemporary England, and David Malouf’s novel Ransom, taking place in Ancient Greece, both explore the concept that one’s public identity can create tensions between their ceremonial constructed persona, and their own private identities. In both texts, Frears and Malouf (1) suggest that in allowing themselves to be controlled by their public personas, leaders may struggle to connect with their people, and their own families. Yet, in revealing an aspect of their own lives, they may also risk compromising their own public authority. This delicate balance between one’s public and private lives, therefore, is conveyed throughout Ransom and The Queen to be achieved most successfully when leaders reveal an element of their private lives and make themselves both vulnerable and relatable to their people, harnessing aspects of both their public and private lives in order to confidently perform their roles to the greatest extent possible. (2)
Annotations (1) Make sure to refer to the author/director in your introduction and continually throughout your essay. This helps to ensure you are considering their purpose and its intended effect/message to the audience (see Views and Values for more on this).
(2) This is where I have included the broader implications of the topic – it will be my final paragraph where I somewhat challenge the prompt
In both Ransom and The Queen, leaders that allow themselves to be dictated by their public identities and subsequent rules, protocols and expectations, are portrayed to express difficulty in connecting with their constituents and their own families. In The Queen, Queen Elizabeth finds comfort in placing 'duty first, self second', as in performing in her role as a monarch for many years, she foregrounds such identity over her ability to connect personally with those around her. However, this struggle to formulate intimate connections is conveyed by Frears (3) to, at times, be at her detriment. Upon meeting the Royal Family, Cherie Blair, who symbolises the wider British society (4), describes that family as 'a bunch of free loading, emotionally retarded nutters'. This blunt description serves to indicate that in acting according to 'how [she] was brought up' and 'all [she’s] ever known', the queen compromises her public image and relatability to her people. In a similar manner, in Ransom, Somax describes only having 'seen King Priam at a distance…he is surprised at how old he looks', clearly illustrating the emotional and physical distance between the king and the people of Troy. Such distance is portrayed by Malouf to not only affect the way the people view their king, but also the manner in which Priam himself is able to formulate and express basic human emotions, as 'royal custom – the habit of averting his gaze', initially prevents him from connecting with Somax on a more intimate level. Through this, both Malouf and Frears highlight how, (5) in allowing themselves to be consumed by their roles as leaders, both Priam and Queen Elizabeth have sacrificed their ability to truly connect and engage with those around them, leaving them out-of-touch with the same people they govern. However, this lack of connection is also shown to extend to their families, as the queen is pictured by Frears to be physically disconnected with her own grandsons. Upon learning of Diana’s death, Prince Charles is depicted delivering the news to his sons, whilst the queen watches on from the corridor, as Frears uses a mid-shot with the door frame obstructing the audience’s view of Queen Elizabeth herself. This can be seen to symbolise (6) the ‘barricade’ between the queen and her own family, as her role as monarch separates her from those she loves. (7) In a similar manner, Priam’s only recollection of the birth of his son is 'recall[ing] a series of small squalling bundles', as his 'role…to hold myself apart in ceremonial stillness' directly prevents him from understanding, and becoming involved with his family, emotionally distancing himself from his own sons. Consequently, Frears and Malouf convey to their audience that the role of being a leader can negatively impact upon one’s relationship with others, serving as a constant burden and barrier to achieving intimate emotional connections.
Annotations (3) In writing ‘conveyed by Frears’ as opposed to ‘conveyed’ I am trying to demonstrate that I am aware the film is a construction made by a director (in this case Frears) for a purpose – he is trying to communicate with the audience through the actions of his characters. See LSG’s Views and Values blog post or How To Write A Killer Text Response (the Views and Values section) for more on this.
(4) In this case, I am attempting to go ‘beyond’ what is simply portrayed in this scene and incorporate the setting of the text – in this case, highlighting my awareness of the time and place in which the film is set (i.e. context). While aimed at Literature students, this blog on context is helpful as it walks you through some contextual aspects you should consider.
(5) This is one of the main ways I would link my two ideas in Year 12, and draw ‘mini conclusion’ or a link (think of the TEEL structure) back to the topic. Yet, in beginning with ‘Malouf and Frears’, I am keeping the purpose of each text central to my link.
(6) When using film techniques, try to analyse their meaning. Rather than simply stating ‘Frears uses a mid-shot’, tell your assessor WHY he does this and what its intended effect is on the audience. This not only acts as a form of ‘textual evidence’ but also demonstrates your understanding of the text itself.
(7) In this sentence, I have tried to draw connections between the physical world and the author’s purpose in portraying the isolation of the British Royal family. Here, I’m referring to the ideas, views and values of the author/director.
On the other hand, however, in revealing one’s private life and expressing humility, leaders are also shown to risk their public authority. In Ransom, Priam becomes determined, following the death of Hector, to try 'something impossible. Something new' and allow for an element of vulnerability to be expressed, in order to successfully ransom his son’s body. Such an unusual, unconventional method of leadership, however, is depicted to take the people of Troy by surprise, as they witness their leader dressed 'in plain white' (8), stripped of his former royal gown. Therefore, the Trojans, who 'crowd the ramparts of the city' and 'line the walls of Troy' each day, in an attempt to view and 'cheer' their leader, 'do not know how to react' upon viewing Priam in such a common, ignoble state, reconsidering the way in which they regard and respect him. In a similar manner, in The Queen, Tony Blair is a Prime Minister whose ‘unconventional' style of leadership is seen to initially unnerve the Royal family. Upon being elected, Blair is described in a montage scene (9) to be a 'wonderful new Prime Minister…a compassionate young man…such a breath of fresh air', a different style of leader to previous Prime Ministers whom the queen previously worked with. The description of Blair as a 'compassionate young man' is significant as such compassion, combined with his youth, acts as a deterrent for the Royals in showing him respect as a leader, taken aback by his unusual views and values. Consequently, upon the death of Diana, although Blair attempts to advise Queen Elizabeth on behalf of the British People, Prince Phillip declares 'who does he think he’s talking to? You’re the sovereign. The head of state. You don’t get dictated to' clearly symbolising their lack of respect and willingness to consider Blair’s perspectives and ideas. In this way, Frears highlights how, in adopting an unconventional style of leadership, those in power may struggle to gain the respect of others around them, particularly their fellow leaders, with the Queen Mother’s statement of 'silly Mr Blair and his Cheshire cat grin' clearly portraying Tony Blair’s lack of authority within the Royal Family. Whilst, in Ransom, the people of Troy struggle to come to terms with Priam’s own change in his leadership style, wondering 'is the king deserting them?', those in The Queen are seen to accept Blair’s leadership style, evident through his 'landslide victory', as, unlike the people of Troy, they are seen to be open to a more progressive form of leadership. In both texts, however, Frears and Malouf demonstrate that leaders who illustrate an element of vulnerability, such as Priam and Tony Blair, may struggle asserting their authority over those with more traditional standards and views, such as the Trojan people and the Royal Family, and thus sacrifice an element of their public image and reputation.
Annotations (8) This is a brief quote – these are useful to ‘replace’ your own words. It ensures you are remaining relevant in your analysis (aka not going off track!!) and acts as a way to ‘show off’ to your assessors that you know your text. However, as these quotes are so simple, I would rarely go into depth with my analysis of them – save this for your longer quotations.
(9) Although naming the scene as a ‘montage’ isn’t entirely necessary in this case, it shows the assessor that you remember where this scene takes place and gives a bit of context, further achieving that first criterion.
Yet, both David Malouf and Stephen Frears examine the notion that in revealing an element of their private life and making themselves vulnerable, a leader may be able to become more relevant, thereby easing the tension between their public and private personas (10). In The Queen, Queen Elizabeth’s adamant refusal to 'dance to their tune' and abide by the requests of her people leads her to proclaim 'I don’t think I have ever been hated like that', with Frears’ depiction of her crying outside Balmoral evident of her realisation that she needs to adapt to the 'change…shift in values' occurring among her constituents. This private expression of vulnerability by Elizabeth is the catalyst for her change in leadership style, with the setting of Balmoral itself, and subsequent events that take place there, symbolising the ability for leaders to harness an element of their personal lives and use it to adapt and connect with their people. In a similar manner, Priam’s declaration that coming to Achilles 'as a man of sorrow' gives him the 'chance to break free of the obligation of always being the hero' highlights Malouf’s view that, at times, leaders must 'break free' of the overwhelming 'obligation[s]' of their public life in order to achieve their objectives and desires within the private sphere. Priam’s realisation that the 'gods made me…mortal' (11) and subsequent appearance as 'a man of sorrow' allow him to successfully bury the body of his son, as he places his identity as 'a man' at the forefront. Priam’s ability to use his emotion in order to fulfil the desires of both him, as 'a father', and the wider people of Troy in allowing their most esteemed warrior to receive a proper burial, is mirrored in The Queen, where Queen Elizabeth adopts the use of emotion to regain the respect of British society. In returning from Balmoral, the queen directly interacts with the people outside Buckingham Palace, with Frears using a long shot to capture the extremely large numbers that had gathered outside the palace gates to emphasise the scale of public sorrow occurring. The queen’s interaction with her people, combined with her public address 'as a grandmother' (12), symbolises the way in which she was able to harness her identity both 'as your queen, and as a grandmother' to appeal to her people, gain their respect, and successfully lead them through an unprecedented, tumultuous event, thus easing the strain between her public and private personas. Likewise, Priam’s claim 'that the gods made me a king, but also made me a man' (13) highlights that he too has developed an understanding that in order to lead most successfully, one must express an element of vulnerability and humility, allowing for the people to emotionally connect and relate to those whom they admire. Therefore, both Malouf and Frears highlight that expressing elements of their private lives through their public identities is a method most effective in gaining leaders the respect and admiration they crave, as those they lead are able to find an element of commonality and relatability within such esteemed individuals.
Annotations (10) Here is where I begin to go beyond simply the limitations or ‘obvious’ points made in the prompt and consider its wider implications. One strategy I used to help plan and write these paragraphs in Year 12 was to ask myself ‘Why is this a topic? What is the author/director trying to tell me as a member of the audience?’ It usually helps to closely consider the author’s purpose, thus ensuring you achieve a coherent and comprehensive analysis.
(11) Here, I am using part of the quote in the prompt to serve as evidence and back up my point regarding Priam’s combination of both his public and private identities. See How To Embed Quotes in Your Essay Like a Boss to learn how to seamlessly include quotes in your writing.
(12) It is here where I have used the quote from the prompt to influence my reasoning and my overall argument.
(13) Now I am moving on to explain the significance of the quote in the prompt.
Ultimately, both The Queen and Ransom explore the various tensions that can occur throughout the public and private lives of leaders, and their need to grapple with and understand such a concept in order to perform their duties most effectively. Whilst being constrained by one’s public persona may create emotional distance between an individual and those around them, in revealing an element of vulnerability, both texts illustrate that leaders risk losing respect and authority within public society. However, Frears and Malouf suggest that despite the difficult balance between one’s public and private lives, in order to lead most effectively, esteemed individuals should not allow each respective realm to create tension and unease, but rather harness elements of both their intimate and public personas in order to create a modern, effective and relatable leadership style (14).
Annotations (14) My final sentence aims to focus on the ‘bigger picture’. Think of this as your ‘mic drop moment’ – you want to finish your essay with an overall statement that touches upon the author’s expressed or implied point of view. 5 Tips for a Mic-Drop Worth Essay Conclusion will help you nail your conclusion.
Throughout this essay, I have implemented the CONVERGENT and DIVERGENT strategy to help me discuss insightful 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 How To Write A Killer Comparative.
If you found this helpful and you’d like to dive deeper into this text pairing, see A Killer Comparative Guide: Ransom & The Queen. In this guide you'll learn unique points of comparison, we'll teach you how to think like a 45+ study scorer through advanced discussion on topics like literary and cinematic techniques, and we give you 5 A+ sample essay fully annotated!
Photograph 51 & The Penelopiad are studied as part of VCE English's Comparative. For one of our most popular posts on Comparative (also known as Reading and Comparing), check out ourUltimate Guide to VCEComparative.
We've explored themes, characters and literary devices amongst other things over on our Comparing The Penelopiad and Photograph 51blog post. If you need a quick refresher or you’re new to studying this text pair, I highly recommend checking it out!
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
Without further ado, let’s get into it!
‘You heard what you wanted to hear.’ (Photograph 51)
‘Now that all the others have run out of air, it’s my turn to do a little story-making.’ (The Penelopiad)
Compare the ways in which both texts suggest there is power in storytelling.
Step 1: Analyse
The first step is to deduce what type(s) the essay question is (for a refresher on the 5 types of essay prompts, check out this blog). I usually find that a process of elimination is the easiest way to determine this. The prompt doesn’t explicitly include the keyword ‘How’, so it isn’t how-based. There are also no characters mentioned in the prompt, so we can rule out character-based. There’s no metalanguage included, so it isn’t metalanguage-based either. However, the prompt does mention the themes of ‘power’ and ‘storytelling’, so yes, it is theme-based. There are also two quotes (one from each text) included as part of the prompt, so it’s also quote-based.
Now that we’ve determined what types of essay prompt are relevant here, the next step is to identify its keywords: ‘the ways’, ‘both texts’, ‘power’ and ‘storytelling’.
The inclusion of ‘the ways’ tells us that we must consider different examples from ‘both texts’ where Ziegler and Atwood show us there is ‘power in storytelling’. The thematic words ‘power’ and ‘storytelling’ are especially important in your selection of evidence and also your three distinct paragraph ideas, as singling out the thematic keywords will make sure you do not go off-topic.
Step 2: Brainstorm
Let’s look at the common themes of ‘power’ and ‘storytelling’ that are central to the essay topic, and more specifically, how there is power WITHIN storytelling. In the case of Photograph 51 and The Penelopiad, a common representation of storytelling that is present in both texts is that truthful storytelling is subjective. This means that both Atwood and Ziegler posit that those in power throughout history have been afforded the ability to shape the historical narrative to best fit their interests. Both texts are also set within patriarchal societies - 1950s Britain and Ancient Greece. Therefore, our overall contention in response to this topic can be:
Both texts suggest that the ability to control the subjective nature of storytelling is a power that has predominantly been afforded to men throughout history.
This opening line addresses ‘power in storytelling’ in a specific way that brings in the contexts of both texts. Each of your paragraphs should fall somewhere under this umbrella of thought - exploring the dynamics of the patriarchal systems within both texts in relation to storytelling. Who tells the story? How does it benefit them? Why not others?
Step 3: Create a Plan
It is now time to develop the three main ideas that will form your essay structure. It is important to remember that each paragraph should include a discussion of converging and diverging ideas. Try to only use one or two examples from each text in a paragraph, as this way, you will have more time and space in your paragraphs to analyse your literary techniques and quotes. As the old saying goes, show don’t tell!
P1: Both texts give women a voice through the retelling of their stories from a different perspective.
Photograph 51 serves as a correction to the history of the discovery of the helix structure.
The Penelopiad inserts the female perspective into the famous myth of The Odyssey, giving reasoning and depth to the female voice.
Rosalind’s story is primarily told by the male scientists as the play retells the events, injected with commentary from the male scientists.
The Penelopiad is a first-person recount from Penelope herself, therefore she is given more agency and control of the narrative.
P2: However, women still lack authority in the shaping of their own narratives as their subjective truth and perspective is often undermined.
Predominantly, the narration is told from the male perspective as male scientists narrate Rosalind’s life. Her story is still subject to male opinion.
The Maids interrupt Penelope’s first-person narrative through the 10 interludes from the maids’ perspective. In doing so, they cast doubt on Penelope’s retelling of the narrative and offer a more truthful perspective.
Rosalind’s story is often interrupted by other male scientists, therefore more directly illustrating that men have more control over the subjective truth. Despite Rosalind’s story being central to the novel, Ziegler still demonstrates the difficulty women face in being believed and accredited for their contribution to history.
Penelope’s story is not interrupted by men like Rosalind’s is. Therefore, there is a lack of male dominance in this aspect of the tale. However, the theme of patriarchal dominance is instead illustrated through the lack of authority that the maids have. Despite their account of the events in the tale being the most accurate, their low social status limits the power of their voice in a patriarchal society.
P3: In patriarchal societies, the men ultimately control their own narrative and how they are remembered, amplifying their own greatness by omitting the potential blemishes on their character.
The male scientists deflect the blame for discrediting Rosalind by instead blaming her cold personality instead of their own deception and inability to cooperate with a woman.
The execution of the maids is dismissed in the trial of Odysseus as Odysseus’ actions are justified in the patriarchal society of Ancient Greece.
The male scientists’ reputations remain untarnished at the conclusion of the narrative, aside from personal guilt and shame. They achieved the scientific success they set out to achieve and were remembered as heroes.
Unlike the untarnished reputation of the male scientists, the maids curse Odysseus at the conclusion of the narrative.
The ability to control the subjective nature of storytelling is a power that has predominantly been afforded to men throughout the retelling of history (1).This is a result of the dominance of patriarchal systems, which inherently give men more agency in society to dictate the narrative for the next generations to remember (2).Both Atwood’s The Penelopiad and Ziegler’s Photograph 51 criticise this power imbalance in historical storytelling and deliver the female perspective in two different eras of history. Each text recognises that the lack of voice women are granted in society undermines and suppresses their contribution to history (3). Ultimately, both authors question the objectivity of the legacies that men have left behind, casting doubt on the narratives that they have shaped by introducing the underrepresented female perspective (4).
Annotations (1) A ‘universal truth’ or broad thematic statement is a great way to start an essay. This is your overall contention that does not mention the specifics of the texts - it purely deals with the themes of the topic.
(2) As seen here, your second sentence can be used to back up the universal truth in a way that is more specific to the texts and the ideas you’re going to discuss. In my second sentence, I’ve included more information about the societal power structures that are present within the texts and how men have more power to dictate historical narratives.
(3) Then, you signpost the three ideas that you’re going to discuss within your essay in a clear, precise and summarised way. Here is where you can mention textual details such as the titles, authors, forms and setting (i.e. 1950s Britain and Ancient Greece).
(4) I have finished off my introduction with an ‘Ultimately’ sentence that discusses the authorial intent of both authors. This offers a broader in-depth look at the topic as a whole, as it acknowledges the author’s intentional decisions about the text.
By writing narratives that focus on the female perspective in history, both texts afford the female protagonists power through the representation of their voice. Atwood and Ziegler address the imbalance of female input in history and aim to rectify that through representing the contributions women made in both narratives. Photograph 51, through the form of a play that retrospectively reenacts the events leading up to the discovery of the helix structure, cements Rosalind Franklin as the true genius behind the 'secret of life'. This honour has been credited to Watson and Crick solely throughout history, with them being given recognition of the 'Nobel' and having their names 'in textbooks'. Ziegler firmly details how the key to their success is the 'photograph she took of B', which Watson exploits to eventually win the race to construct the model. Similarly, The Penelopiad is also a societal correction to the lack of female representation in the narratives presented (4). Written as a first-person narration, Penelope’s aim as a narrator is to be given the opportunity 'to do a little story-making' in this retrospective novel, inserting her perspective into the well-known myth of Odysseus and The Odyssey(5). The characterisation of Penelope is subverted in Penelope’s retelling, as the generalisation of her character being only recognised for her 'smart[s]', '[her] weaving', and '[her] devotion to [her] husband' is challenged. Atwood contends that Penelope is also determined, self-sufficient and tactile through the narrative voice she grants Penelope as the main protagonist of the text. Rosalind in Photograph 51 is not the narrator of her story, which limits her agency in the telling of her truth in comparison to Penelope, who is able to shape her story the way she wishes (6). Underpinning both of these texts is Atwood and Ziegler’s authorial intention to contend that there is an underrepresentation of female contribution to history, and therefore utilise their texts to give power to female characters in patriarchal systems (7).
Annotations (4) The transitional sentence between texts can be less jarring and clunky if you introduce your example from Text B in a similar vein to the discussion of Text A. As seen here, I have used my discussion of how Ziegler represents Rosalind in a manner that is seen as a historical correction to then transition into how Penelope also serves the same purpose.
(5) The explicit stating of the first-person narration style in The Penelopiad directly addresses the keywords of 'the ways' from the essay question. By incorporating different textual examples like narration and characterisation (as seen in the following sentence), I’m able to analyse multiple ways that the authors suggest there is power in storytelling.
(6) It makes it easier to discuss your divergent idea if it is directly linked to the converging ideas you’ve already mentioned, just as I have here in pointing out the difference in protagonists and narration. This means you don’t have to waste time re-explaining things from the texts!
(7) I conclude with a more broad statement that references the authors’ intentions in order to finish with a more in-depth exploration, just like the end of the introduction.
Women still lack authority in the shaping of their own narratives as their version of the truth is often undermined. Despite the main motivator for the texts being to empower the women by giving them a voice, both texts also recognise the limitations of a patriarchal society by illustrating the challenges the protagonists face in having their voices heard. By viewing the past through a retrospective lens in The Penelopiad, Penelope is finally able to deliver her perspective, encapsulated in the opening line of 'now that I’m dead I know everything'. (8) The notion that Penelope had to be dead and free of the restraints placed on her voice whilst she was alive in patriarchal Ancient Greece demonstrates the complete lack of authority the voices of women have in establishing themselves in history. This is echoed in the same retrospective retelling of Rosalind’s story in Photograph 51, as the play begins with Rosalind stating that 'this is what it was like', establishing that the events that follow this initial line are a snapshot into the limitations she had to face as a woman in the male-dominated scientific field. It also references that the interjections of the male scientists as they commentate on her life were 'what it was like', as male opinion majorly shaped the suppression of Rosalind’s success throughout the play. On the contrary, (9) Penelope’s recount of the story is less interrupted by interjections of other characters, specifically those from men. However, the maids deliver ten interludes throughout The Penelopiad. These interludes are another example of female voice being represented in the text, but often being dismissed due to their crudeness or sarcastic nature in their casting of doubt over both Penelope and Odysseus, as they taunt Penelope’s decision to 'blame it on the [...] poxy little sluts!' and blemish Odysseus’ name by characterising him as the 'artfullest dodger' or 'blithe lodger', in reference to his infidelity. Despite the maids being the most authoritative in terms of true Greek theatre, (10) as they deliver the truest and most objective judgement of events, they are 'forgotten' and are not served true justice as a result of their low social status and gender that limits their voice in a patriarchal society. The female perspectives in the texts are truer representations of history in both contexts, yet because of limitations regarding their gender in the two patriarchal systems, they are overshadowed by the male recounts of history.
Annotations (8) To strengthen your essay, it is important to also use evidence that is not strictly dialogue or themes from inside the text. In this line, I use a literary device - retrospective storytelling - to back up the analysis I am talking about.
(9) Starting your discussion of the divergent ideas is easy with the use of phrases such as ‘on the contrary’, ‘unlike this…’ and ‘however’. You don’t want to spend unnecessary time on filler sentences. Be efficient!
(10) By further strengthening my analysis with a range of examples (e.g. mentioning the historical importance of genre, such as Greek theatre in this instance), I’m able to demonstrate a deeper knowledge of not only the texts and their context.
In patriarchal societies, the men ultimately have more control over their own narratives and shape them for their own personal glorification of character. The omission of immorality and emphasis on male achievement by the men narrating the story is a clear indication that despite the selfish choices they make, men are still able to shape their legacies in their favour. Watson and Crick in Photograph 51 are depicted as 'arrogant' and duplicitous as they extort their 'old friend[ship]' with Wilkins for personal gain, pressuring him into 'talking about his work' to further progress towards notoriety. The conclusion of the play, with Watson and Crick accepting the honour of the Nobel Prize and claiming it as the 'finest moment' of their lives, illustrates that the motivation of personal success justifies the immoral actions of men as they are remembered fondly as scientific heroes without the blemishes of their characters. Similarly in The Penelopiad, Odysseus is revered as a hero through the intertextual reference of The Odyssey, a myth detailing the legend of Odysseus and his 'cleverness'. Penelope’s recounting of the 'myth of Penelope and Odysseus' sheds light on her ingenuity in the tales of Odysseus, showing that she 'set the whole thing up on purpose', referring to the deceiving plan that Odysseus had been awarded all the credit for in the original retelling of their story. Additionally, in the 'trial of Odysseus', Odysseus’ character is evaluated in the setting of a court, as the maids have demanded justice for Odysseus’ unjust execution of them. However, the judge overturns this decision as it would serve as a 'blot on an otherwise exceedingly distinguished career', encapsulating the idea that men in a patriarchal society will omit personal errors in favour of presenting themselves and other men as heroes of their narratives. However, unlike the untarnished male success of Photograph 51, the maids curse Odysseus so he would 'never be at rest' in the conclusion of the narrative, as Atwood makes the final statement that men throughout history should be held accountable for the immoral actions they make (11).
Annotations (11) By concluding with a specific reference to the authorial intent of this specific idea explored throughout the paragraph, you ‘zoom’ back out and show your reader the bigger picture.
At the end of each text it is evident that, regardless of the representation and voice that is given to the female characters, the deeply entrenched patriarchal systems in both timelines negate this power in favour of the male voice (12). Ziegler’s play asserts that Rosalind’s 'groundbreaking work' should 'cement her place in history', and aims to give her recognition from a relatively more progressive, feminist society. Atwood’s conclusion also is representative of giving women more recognition for their achievements, like giving credit for Penelope’s 'intelligence' as an esteemed character trait in contemporary society. Both characters cast doubt over the previously revered male heroes in both texts, and further criticise the lack of female representation in those heroic stories. In conveying both Penelope and Rosalind’s stories, the authors call for a further critique of past and future accounts of human achievement.
Annotations (12) In this conclusion, I have chosen to focus on comparing the authorial intentions of Atwood and Ziegler in relation to the topic. In doing so, it can summarise my contention that I introduced earlier in the essay. By starting my conclusion with an overall statement regarding the ending of the two texts, I draw on the readers’ preexisting ideas of how they felt at the end of each narrative.
If you’re studying Photograph 51 and My Brilliant Career, check out our Killer Comparative Guide to learn everything you need to know to ace this assessment.
I am Malala and Made in Dagenham is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Comparative (also known as Reading and Comparing). For a detailed guide on Comparative, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Comparative.
Compare the importance and role of idols and role models in I am Malala and Made in Dagenham.
Describe the role of fear and obligation as an obstacle to progress by comparing I am Malala and Made in Dagenham.
‘As we change the things around us, the things around us change us’. Discuss the extent to which this is true by comparing I am Malala and Made in Dagenham.
Discuss the benefit of adversity in strengthening one’s will to persevere by comparing I am Malala and Made in Dagenham.
Resilience is more important than success. Discuss whether this is true within the texts I am Malala and Made in Dagenham.
Compare the role and importance of family within the texts I am Malala and Made in Dagenham.
Compare both I am Malala and Made in Dagenham in relation to the importance of language as a device (spoken and written).
Compare the forms of resistance displayed by protagonists Malala Yousafzai and Rita O’Grady in texts I am Malala and Made in Dagenham and decide why they chose these methods.
Analyse the effectiveness of small triumphs creating ripple effects in wider communities by comparing I am Malala and Made in Dagenham.
Discuss whether support networks are intrinsic for a single figure to create positive change by comparing I am Malala and Made in Dagenham.
The main protagonists are galvanized by the people they wish not to be like rather than their role models. Discuss to what extent this is true by comparing the texts I am Malala and Made in Dagenham.
Made in Dagenham and I am Malala explore the vices of deceit, appeasement and scapegoating. Discuss these by comparing both texts, commenting on how they pose a threat to the causes of both protagonists.
What role do interpersonal relationships play in the texts I am Malala and Made in Dagenham? Can these relationships be both positive and negative? Discuss.
Change cannot be immediate but gradual. To what extent is this true in texts I am Malala and Made in Dagenham.
Examine the role of the media in driving social change by comparing texts I am Malala and Made in Dagenham
A patriarchal society is invariably one that is repressive. Discuss this statement and its truths or falsities by comparing texts I am Malala and Made in Dagenham.
Discuss solidarity in relation to social, historical and cultural progress and whether it can be both positive and negative by comparing texts I am Malala and Made in Dagenham.
1.'The fantasy never got beyond that—I didn't let it—and though the tears rolled down my face, I wasn't sobbing or out of control. I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be.'
Compare how a perceived sense of control shapes characters in both Never Let Me Go and Stasiland.
2. Compare how the texts explore the importance of memory in defining identity.
3. 'To conform is to be safe and to survive.'
Compare how this idea is examined in both texts.
4.'I'll have Hailsham with me, safely in my head, and that'll be something no one can take away.' (Never Let Me Go)
Compare how these texts explore the consequences of denying history for affected individuals.
5. Compare how Never Let Me Go and Stasiland examine what it means to be human.
6. Compare how both texts explore the influence of being an outsider on one's understanding of society and their place in the world.
7.'This society, it was built on lies – lie after lie after lie.' (Stasiland)
Compare what the two texts say about wilful ignorance in society.
8. 'It is impossible to be free when you are unaware of your confines.'
Compare how the two texts explore freedom and confinement.
9. 'When I got out of prison, I was basically no longer human.' (Stasiland)
'Poor creatures. What did we do to you?' (Never Let Me Go)
Compare how Never Let Me Go and Stasiland explore how humanity can be irreparably broken.
10. Compare how these texts examine the sacrifices required for societal progression and change.
11. Compare what the two texts say about the inevitability of change and being forgotten.
12. Compare the ways these texts explore the influence of different types of human relationships on the individual.
13.'Things have been put behind glass, but they are not yet over.' (Stasiland)
Compare how Never Let Me Go and Stasiland demonstrate differing attitudes towards reality and the past.
14. Compare what the two texts suggest about the factors which shape an individual's world view.
15. 'We took away your art because we thought it would reveal your souls. Or to put it more finely, we did it to prove you had souls at all.' (Never Let Me Go)
'...a soul buckled out of shape, forever.' (Stasiland)
Compare how Never Let Me Go and Stasiland explore the concept of souls in relation to one's identity.
In Stasiland, Anna Funder, the author and first-person narrator, meets and listens to the ordinary people of East Germany: those who resisted the GDR dictatorship, those who were crushed by it, and those who diligently and remorselessly worked for it as Stasi informants or officers. As Anna speaks with those whose lives have been traumatised by the Stasi, she reflects on how the reunified Germany has dealt with (or ignored) its citizens' trauma and whether memory can be reconciled. Anna is an Australian working for a television station in Berlin in 1996. As an outsider Anna is uniquely positioned to ask East Germans about their experiences, as they do not have to battle with prior knowledge and experience to share their stories. She is interested in the former German Democratic Republic and what has happened to the East German people since the country reunified with West Germany. She became curious after learning that there are people putting together documents that were shredded by the Stasi.
Anna travels to Leipzig and visits the former headquarters of East Germany’s secret police, the Stasi, which is now a museum. The Stasi were the East German secret police and internal surveillance and defense force. Headed by Erich Mielke, they conducted surveillance on the East German population, aided by a vast number of civilian informants. While in Leipzig, Anna meets with a woman called Miriam Weber, who attempted to sneak out of East Germany when she was just a teenager. Miriam, sleep deprived and tortured, lied about receiving help from an organisation to cross the Wall and was sentenced to jail time. Her husband Charlie was also imprisoned by the Stasi and died while in custody. Miriam was told he committed suicide by hanging, but she suspects he was killed after the Stasi refused to show her his body and went to great lengths to hide Charlie during the funeral.
Returning to the apartment she rents in Berlin, Anna puts an advertisement in the paper calling for former Stasi agents and informers to share their stories with her. She meets with several ex-Stasi men, including Herr Winz, Herr Christian, Herr Bohnsack and Hagen Koch. She also visits and speaks to Karl-Eduard von Schitzler, a hateful man who hosted a propaganda-filled television program that criticised West Germany and gave false information about Communist success. In their discussions the former Stasi agents are concerned with justifying their involvement with the Stasi, although many also remain committed to communist ideals and await with anticipation the next revolution and restoration of the communist government.
Anna rents her apartment from an unpredictable and evasive young woman called Julia. Over time, Julia comes to trust Anna and shares her story of the Stasi cruelly interfering with her life. Anna also speaks with her rock musician friend Klaus Renft – East Germany’s Mick Jagger, and a woman named Frau Paul who was separated overnight from her sick infant son when the Berlin Wall went up and was later imprisoned for inflated charges of assisting people to escape East Germany.
After Anna’s mother is diagnosed with cancer, she goes home to Australia for 3 years, returning to Berlin to meet with some of the people she spoke with during her earlier stay, including Hagen Koch and Miriam. She also finally visits the ‘puzzlers’ in Nuremberg, whose story first sparked her interest in investigating the lives of East Germans affected by the Stasi. Anna is disappointed in the puzzlers, realising that their work is futile and there is no real effort put towards uncovering the lost information.
Almost all East Germans were left reeling at the sudden collapse of their government. For many, the collapse of the GDR took with it ideological security and made them nostalgic for the past. For others, being confronted with the level of the Stasi’s intrusion into their lives was deeply traumatic, as people realised they had been grievously betrayed by their fellow citizens, neighbours and even family members. The nostalgia for the regime that Funder witnesses shows how people cling to certainty and position and sometimes struggle with new freedoms. However, having spoken with so many individuals whose lives were ruined by the Stasi, Anna feels that the old regime was oppressive and authoritarian, and that the East Germans are better off with the challenges of their freedom, rather than stuck with the certainties of their oppression.
Never Let Me Go
Never Let Me Go is set in a dystopian alternative reality in England in the 1990s. The narrator, Kathy H, is a thirty-one-year-old 'carer' – a clone who looks after other clones who are donating their organs. Kathy is about to retire after a long career as a carer to become a donor herself, meaning she will soon 'complete' (a euphemism for dying). However, this premise is not immediately apparent to the reader. At the start of the novel, Kathy informs us she will be leaving her role as carer in a few months and has started to write down memories of her life, sorting through her time as a 'student' at Hailsham. However, at the start of the novel the reader is not aware that Kathy is a clone, although she appears to be addressing an insider from her world.
In the first third of the novel Kathy reflects on her childhood and teenage years at Hailsham. Hailsham is an institution where clones are looked after by 'guardians' and referred to as 'students', and which at first appears to be a private boarding school with a heavy focus on the arts and creativity. Their best works of painting, pottery, drawing or poetry were selected and taken away by a woman known as 'Madame', for what the students presume, and what is later confirmed to be, a gallery. The students know they are different from their guardians and the people who live outside Hailsham, referred to as 'normals', but the truth of what the clones are and their certain fate is not fully articulated until the characters are adults.
Kathy is close friends with a confident and controlling girl called Ruth and a boy named Tommy, whose work is never selected for the Gallery – an acknowledgement that defines status at the school. Tommy, teased and excluded, struggles to control his temper and often explodes into furies of rage. The students collect items and other students’ artwork for their own memory boxes, bought or traded at the school’s Exchanges and Sales. Kathy buys a cassette tape by a woman named Judy Bridgewater that contains a song called ‘Never Let Me Go’. This song makes Kathy emotional, and one day she is caught dancing to it by Madame, who Kathy is surprised to see is in tears watching her. Kathy presumes Madame is upset because she knows Kathy can never have children.
Ruth and Tommy start dating and Part Two sees the three friends reach early adulthood and move to a place known as the Cottages, to live with other clones from around the country and experience some freedom before beginning their donations or training to become a carer. When Rodney, another Cottage resident, believes he saw Ruth’s 'possible' – an original that one of the clones was modelled off – the three friends along with Rodney and his girlfriend Chrissie, take a trip to Norfolk to find her. Norfolk exists in the imagination of the Hailsham students as a 'lost corner', where things they have lost will be found. While the 'possible' is not Ruth’s original, Kathy and Tommy find a copy of the Judy Bridgewater tape that Kathy had lost. Ruth was secretly desperate to find her possible and hoped to find her working in an office. Ruth dreams of working in an office and her wish that her possible will be an office worker is one of the only suggestions we have that the clones secretly long for more from their lives and view their possibles as versions of them and what they are capable of. Back at the Cottages, Ruth continues to be manipulative and self-promoting, leading to a falling out with Kathy where she decides to leave early to begin training as a carer and falls out of contact with Ruth and Tommy.
Part Three encompasses Kathy’s time as a carer. Years after the time at the Cottages, Kathy organises to be Ruth’s carer and Ruth reconnects Kathy and Tommy, admitting she knew they loved each other and deliberately kept them apart. She hopes they will attempt to get a deferral from Madame. After Ruth 'completes', Kathy and Tommy finally become a couple. They visit Madame to ask for a deferral, who informs them there is no such thing. They learn from Madame that Hailsham was an attempt to reform the treatment of clones in their youth by proving they had souls. In most centers, clones are reared in deplorable, abusive conditions. They also learn that Hailsham had to be shut down. The normals became too uncomfortable with the reality of the clones’ souls but were not prepared to lose their organ supply.Never Let Me Go is a story about injustice and social stratification, where one group is made to suffer for the benefit of another. The 'normals' can deny their mortality while forcing the clones to confront their death sooner than their natural life span, and by shutting down schools like Hailsham, they do not need to think about the ethics of their choices.
Tommy dies and Kathy resigns herself to her fate as a donor. At the end of the novel, Kathy misses Tommy and Ruth, but consoles herself that she will always have her memories with her. Ishiguro explores the extent to which people accept their predetermined fate and how they can find meaning and love within those often-cruel limitations.
2. Textual Features Analysis
A textual feature is a component of the text used by authors to give meaning to their work. It is necessary to engage with the actual construction of the texts and to discuss textual features using metalanguage (terms that describe and analyse language). To write a thorough and thoughtful essay, you need to understand the textual features and how they are connected to overall thematic ideas. Structural features and metalanguage can be used as evidence of authorial intent and deepen our understanding of how writers use literary techniques to develop ideas and create meaning. Let’s take a look at Genre.
Stasiland is an example of creative nonfiction, meaning it tells a story of factual events and real people using literary and poetic techniques. The word ‘creative’ doesn’t give authors permission to exaggerate or dramatise the truth, instead this genre is one of factually accurate prose about real people and events that is told in a vivid and compelling way.
The reason Stasiland is classified as creative nonfiction and not under the genre of memoir is because although the events follow Anna Funder’s experiences in Berlin, they are not predominantly about her. A memoir is the writer’s own personal journey and life, whereas creative nonfiction generally has more public relevance and commentary. In Stasiland, Funder’s experiences in Berlin structure the chronology of the narrative but take a thematic backseat to the stories of the East Germans she meets and the historical events she relays.
Never Let Me Go
Never Let Me Go has elements of multiple genres: dystopian fiction, speculative historical fiction, science fiction and bildungsroman.
‘Dystopia’ means the opposite of ‘utopia’, but you’ll notice that most dystopian novels are set in societies where the ruling classes believe they are in a utopia. This is true of Never Let Me Go, as the clones pay with their lives and freedom for the utopian elimination of disease and extended life spans of the 'normals'. However, while clearly set in a horrific dystopian world, Never Let Me Gonotably differs from other novels in the dystopian genre, as the oppressed clones never once consider rebelling against the status quo – the most Kathy and Tommy hope for is an extension before beginning their donations and 'completing'. Ishiguro has stated in multiple interviews that he was most interested in exploring why oppressed persons never consider rebelling against their fate – what leads them to passive acceptance of their position in society?
In his exploration of this question, Ishiguro explores the development and growing up of Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, trying to understand why they all submit without protest to their fate. In this sense the novel is a bildungsroman. Bildungsroman is a genre concerned with the psychological and moral development of a protagonist from childhood to adulthood, focusing on a person’s formation or coming of age. Never Let Me Go follows Kathy, Ruth and Tommy throughout their childhood and adolescence at Hailsham, their experience of limited freedom at the Cottages as young adults, and finally the reality of their short adult life as organ donors.
Of course, Never Let Me Go also fits into the category of speculative historical fiction and science fiction. The novel is set in an alternate historical reality where genetic science rapidly advanced after World War Two (significantly outstripping the real-world) and clones have been used to extend life in the UK for decades. However, Ishiguro does not give much narrative weight to describing the political reality of his fictional world, and neither does he offer much scientific explanation for the existence of clones. As we’ve already discussed, Ishiguro was vastly more interested in using these scientific and political circumstances to create conditions within which to explore characters and, by extension, human nature, so Never Let Me Go fits uneasily in these genres.
3. Themes (Convergent and Divergent Strategy)
Now that we’ve looked closely at both Stasiland and Never Let Me Go, it’s time to discuss in depth the key themes and ideas. Themes are the big ideas about human experience that a text explores, and form part of the message the author is hoping to communicate. A sound knowledge of key themes is essential for developing a thoughtful essay. All essay topics will ask you to explore thematic ideas in one way or another. If you have a strong understanding of both texts’ themes and how they are communicated, you will be able to generate arguments for any essay topic with confidence.
I’ll be adhering to the CONVERGENT and DIVERGENT strategy. This guide doesn’t go into too much detail about using LSG’s CONVERGENT and DIVERGENT strategy, so perhaps familiarise yourself with it by readingHow to Write a Killer Comparative.
Convergent Idea: The Importance of the Act of Remembering
Both Stasiland and Never Let Me Goillustrate the importance of remembering through the very construction of the text: in the narrative voice and narrative structure. Both narrators are looking into the past to try to make sense of history. For Kathy, this is a personal history whereas for Funder it is an act of witnessing a nation’s past and elevating the voices of the victims.
Stasiland is a compilation of the stories of all kinds of people involved and impacted by the GDR, including those who rebelled against the system, those who supported it and those crushed by it. Thus, ‘both sides’ of history are represented. Funder said in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald after the publication of Stasiland that, 'When [Germans] read my book, people in the East are not proud of themselves. They'd rather not be reminded that other people were braver than they were. So there is a huge force to pretend that the Stasi regime was not as bad as it was.' This desire to forget the past so as to ignore confronting the terrible and terrifying truths contained within it is what Funder is working against by writing Stasiland. At one point in the text, she explicitly states what she’s doing:
'I’m making portraits of people, East Germans, of whom there will be none left in a generation. And I’m painting a picture of a city on the old fault-line of east and west. This is working against forgetting, and against time' (Stasiland, 147).
Julia explains the importance of these portraits, telling Anna 'For anyone to understand a regime like the GDR, the stories of ordinary people must be told. …You have to look at how normal people manage with such things in their pasts' (144). These 'things in their pasts' are not just trauma and hardship, but the knowledge that people just like them – their spouses, children, friends and neighbours – were capable of such cowardice, betrayal, self-interest and cruelty. It is this knowledge that Funder wants to preserve – that ordinary people are capable of both extraordinary courage and extraordinary cowardice.
Anna comes across a sobbing man 'I don’t want to be German anymore!...We are terrible…They are terrible. The Germans are terrible' (Stasiland, 253-4). Anna reflects that East Germans were 'long used to thinking the bad Germans were on the other side of the Wall' and now he is forced to ask 'were his people, now broke or drunk, shamed or fled or imprisoned or dead, any good at all?' (Stasiland, 254).
Although Kathy’s narration is entirely from her perspective, her act of remembering is also in many ways a political statement that forces us to consider the inhumanity people are capable of.
Kathy recollects and structures her memories of her childhood and relationships to understand them as a unified whole, essentially establishing her identity. More importantly, it is evident in phrases such as 'I don’t know how it was where you were, but at Hailsham…' (NLMG, 13) and 'I’m sure you’ve heard it said plenty more' (NLMG, 4) that Kathy is positing a reader for her writing. Assuming a reader places her autobiography in a social framework with the purpose of communicating her life, which turns it into a historical account that exists beyond the limit of her death. Kathy’s attempt to leave a legacy by writing down her experiences and structuring her identity is an act of protest against a society that believes she is sub-human, without feelings or motivations, and that her life meant nothing.
Divergent Idea: The Role and Value of Nostalgia
The way memory can be distorted is particularly clear in relation to the idea of nostalgia for a brutal past. This idea is explored differently in Stasiland and Never Let Me Go, with Funder condemning nostalgia as blinding people to the horrors of the past, and Ishiguro illustrating how drawing comfort from the past can help people through difficult times.
In Stasiland, many disaffected former East Germans tell Anna that things were 'so much better before' (Stasiland, 251) the country’s reunification. Anna reflects:
'I don’t doubt this genuine nostalgia, but I think it has coloured a cheap and nasty world golden; a world where they was nothing to buy, nowhere to go and anyone who wanted to do anything with their lives other than serve the Party risked persecution, or worse' (Stasiland, 251-2).
Similarly, while working at the radio station on Ostalgie parties (Ostalgie is nostalgia for life in Communist East Germany), Miriam observes 'a crazy nostalgia for the GDR – as if it had been a harmless welfare state that looked after people’s needs. Most of the people at these parties are too young to remember the GDR anyway. They are just looking for something to yearn for' (Stasiland, 275). Funder is critical of nostalgia because it minimises past injustice.
Conversely, in Never Let Me Go, nostalgia and false memories are shown to be consolatory and even useful. Before Kathy begins to recount her childhood, she mentions a donor who was once under her care who 'knew he was close to completing' (NLMG, 5). He asks Kathy to share memories of her childhood and 'What he wanted was not just to hear about Hailsham, but to remember Hailsham, just like it had been his own childhood. …so the line would blur between what were my memories and his' (NLMG, 5). Although this man is falsifying his memories, he is not editing and revising history like some people in east Berlin, he is replacing them entirely to suppress the trauma of his own past. He is not yearning for a return to an idealised past the way some people in Stasiland do. For Kathy, nostalgia for her childhood helps her reconnect with her friends, creating a sense of belonging and identity. Her attachment to Hailsham strengthens her worldview, her relational bonds and gives meaning to her life. Nostalgic memory in Never Let Me Go brings comfort, although you could argue that it also fosters passivity and acceptance in the face of oppression.
4. LSG’s Bubble Tea (BBT) Strategy for Unique Strategies
Why Is an Interpretation Important?
Your interpretation is what English is all about; it’s about getting you to think critically about the essay topic at hand, to formulate a contention (agree, disagree, or sit on the fence) and argue each of your points with the best pieces of evidence you can find - and it’s something you might already be starting to do naturally.
In this section, we aim to help you develop your own interpretation of the text, rather than relying on your teacher, tutor or even a study guide (including this one) author’s interpretation. By developing your own interpretation, you become a better English student by:
Writing with meaning. For a text to be interpreted, you need a text and an interpreter (i.e. you!). Whenever we read a new text, our interpretation of a text is shaped by our pre-existing beliefs, knowledge and expectations. This should be reassuring because it means that you can leverage your own life experiences in developing a unique interpretation of the text! We’ll show you how this works in the next point.
Remembering evidence (quotes or literary devices) more easily. If you know you admire a character for example (which is in itself an interpretation 😉), you can probably remember why you admire them. Perhaps the character’s selflessness reminds you of your Dad (see how you’re using real life experiences mentioned in Point 1 to develop an interpretation of the text?). You will then more easily recall something the character said or did in the text (i.e. evidence) that made you admire them.
Having an analysis ready to use alongside the evidence. As a result of Point 2, you’ll be able to write a few sentences based on your own interpretation. Rather than memorising entire essays (we’ve talked about this before) and regurgitating information from teachers, tutors, study guides and other resources - which can be labour intensive and actually detract from the originality of your essay - you’re approaching the essay with your own thoughts and opinions (which you can reuse over and over again across different essay topics).
Let’s look on the flip side. What happens when you don’t have your own interpretation?
When you don’t take the time to actively think for yourself - i.e. to think through your own interpretations (we’ve talked about the importance of THINK in theTHINK and EXECUTE strategy here) - when it finally comes to writing an essay, you may find it difficult:
a) to get started - formulating a contention in response to the essay topic is challenging because you have no strong opinion about the text,
b) complete the essay - writing up arguments and using evidence in paragraphs becomes challenging because you have no strong opinion about the text,
c) to score higher marks - ultimately, you end up regurgitating other people’s ideas (your teacher’s, tutor’s or from study guides) because you have (you guessed it) no strong opinion on the text.
Having your own interpretation means that you’ll eliminate issues a, b and c from above. Overall, you’ll have opinions (and therefore contentions) ready for any prompt when you go into your SACs or exams, which means it’ll be easier not only to write a full essay, but an original and insightful one as well.
To overcome the issues above, you need to be confident with your own interpretation of the text. This doesn’t come naturally to a lot of students, and it makes sense why. After all, so many subjects reward specific answers (2 + 2 = 4), whereas English is tricky because there’s so much more flexibility in what constitutes a ‘correct answer’. It’s scary treading the sea of different possible interpretations because you’ll ask yourself questions like:
How do I know if my interpretation is correct?
How do I know if my evidence actually backs up what I’m arguing?
What if I disagree with my teacher, and they mark me down for a differing opinion?
Or worse - I’m not smart enough to come up with my own interpretation!
Let me say that you are absolutely smart enough to develop your own interpretation, and I’ll show you how to do so in A Killer Comparative Guide: Stasiland & Never Let Me Go with LSG’s unique strategy - the BUBBLE TEA (BBT) strategy. By following our step-by-step framework, you can be confident that your interpretation is valid, that it backs up your argument, and that most importantly, you won’t lose marks for it!
5. Sample Essay Questions
1. ‘To conform is to be safe and to survive.’ Compare how this idea is examined in both texts.
2. 'The earlier years…blur into each other as a kind of golden time' (Never Let Me Go) 'I don’t doubt this genuine nostalgia, but I think it has coloured a cheap and nasty world golden.' (Stasiland) Compare what the two texts say about the dangers of willful ignorance.
3. 'For Miriam, the past stopped when Charlie died.' (Stasiland) '…I’d see it was Tommy, and he’d wave, maybe even call…and though the tears rolled down my face, I wasn’t sobbing…I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be.' (Never Let Me Go) What role do love and relationships play in helping people withstand persecution?
4. ‘It is impossible to be free when you are unaware of your confines.’ Compare how the two texts explore freedom and confinement.
4. ‘The past is always harder to access than we think’. Compare the ways in which Stasiland and Never Let Me Go depict the difficulties in uncovering the past.
Essay Topic Breakdown
As with all our essay topic breakdowns, we'll follow LSG's THINK and EXECUTE strategy, as taught in our How To Write A Killer Text Response study guide. The LSG's THINK and EXECUTE strategy follows three steps in the THINK phase - Analyse, Brainstorm, and Create a Plan. Learn more about this technique in this video:
'To remember or forget? Which is healthier? To demolish it or fence it off? To dig it up, or leave it to lie in the ground?' (Stasiland). 'What he wanted was not just to hear about Hailsham, but to remember Hailsham, just like it had been his own childhood' (Never Let Me Go). How does memory inform identity in Stasiland and Never Let Me Go?
Step 1: Analyse
This quote-based prompt is constructed a bit like a theme-based prompt as it directs us to talk about memory’s role in forming identity. However, the quotes act as an additional hint in terms of what else we’re supposed to discuss. We need to identify where these quotes come from in the texts and why they might be significant. The Stasiland quote (from p. 52) comes from the question of what the nation should do with Hitler’s bunker. In the end the only decision was indecision, the mayor buried the bunker and hoped that people in 50 years might know what to do with it. Thus, this quote points to the difficulty countries have in creating a national identity when there is horror and trauma in their history. The Never Let Me Go quote (from p. 5) points towards an ill donor’s recreation of his identity using someone else’s memories. Therefore, this quote points to how memories, even false ones, can reconstruct individual identity.
Step 2: Brainstorm
Because of the direction of the two quotes, I am going to explore memory’s role in forming individual and group identity.
Kathy and Julia develop greater self-insight through sharing their memories in a structured, logical narrative.
Kathy and Herr Koch fear that the loss of the physical presence of Hailsham and the Berlin Wall will undermine the significance of their memories of these places, which form a substantial part of their pasts and identities. They therefore pay much more attention to preserving their memories of these places to affirm their identity.
East Germany’s rewriting and erasure of history meant that they no longer identified as the same Germans responsible for Hitler’s regime.
The episode in which a distressed man sobs 'I don’t want to be German anymore!' reveals how difficult memories can generate confusion and internal conflict over an individual’s perception of their national identity.
In NLMG, the country’s determined forgetting of the circumstances of the clones allows them to preserve their own interests and maintain an uncomplicated, guilt-free, but false, innocent national identity.
Step 3: Create a Plan
P1: Both texts show that the degree to which one’s memories have been investigated and illuminated impacts how well they understand their identity.
Compare Kathy and Julia and the way they reconstruct their understanding of their identity by reflecting on their memories with the new information offered by hindsight.
Conversely, the ill donor that Kathy cares for at the beginning of the novel sought to purposefully suppress his own identity by replacing his memories. This speaks to the same idea that memories can evolve and shape identity but shows how that can be misaligned with reality and truth (note: this discussion of the donor is your opportunity to use the quote from the prompt, which is a requirement of a quote-based topic).
P2: Sometimes people hold on tightly to particular memories as a way to affirm their identity as losing those memories is akin to erasing or denying the legitimacy of their experiences.
Compare Hagen Koch’s obsession with the Berlin Wall and Kathy’s preoccupation with Hailsham.
P3: Choosing what gets remembered or forgotten in a nation’s ‘official history’ drastically impacts how their national identity is perceived and how well that identity aligns with reality.
'History was so quickly remade, and so successfully, that it can truly be said that the easterners did not feel then, and do not feel now, that they were the same Germans as those responsible for Hitler’s regime'
'I don’t want to be German anymore!'
'To remember or forget? Which is healthier?'
'The world didn’t want to be reminded how the donation program really worked.'
'They preferred to believe these organs appeared from nowhere.'
The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood retells the story of the Odyssey by Homer from the perspective of Penelope, a half mortal and half divine princess who also happened to be the wife of Odysseus, and her Twelve Maids. A retrospective narrative, Atwood opens her mythological tale with Penelope and the Maids in the afterlife reflecting on the events that occurred centuries before. Told in chronological order from her birth, the Maids serve as a traditional part of greek theatre in their purpose of a Chorus as they make commentary on their life.
Anna Ziegler’s play, Photograph 51, is set during the 1950s in the age of scientific discovery as researchers are scrambling to be the first to unlock the mysteries of DNA. Its protagonist, scientist Rosalind Franklin is an under-appreciated genius working as the only female in her respective field. As one of her photographs uncover the truth of DNA, her competitors' ambition leads the men around her to success.
The Twelve Maids
King Icarius of Sparta
Penelope’s Mother (The Naiad)
Melantho of the Pretty Cheeks
Theseus and Peirithous
Piraeus and Theoclymenus
Both texts explore the use and demonstration of power in its various forms of physical displays of strength to the patriarchal forces that govern each texts respective world. Indeed, the power of men prevailing atop the social hierarchy while displacing those below them is a common theme within both texts. The authority associated with Icarius’ title of King allows his drunken and rude behaviour to go by unquestioned while in Photograph 51 Wilikins embodies the power possessed by white men. The patriarchal power that men possess within each of the respective texts becomes closely linked to fragile masculinity in their exertion of physical strength or intellectual superiority; Odysseus self-proclaimed superhuman strength is equated to Wilkins need for intellectual dominance, especially over the brilliant Rosalind.
While the men within each text exert their inherent power of supposed supremacy, the women within each world draw are shown to draw on their physical appearance as a source of power or is shown to be disempowered by it. In The Penelopiad, Helens is known for her legendary beauty which she uses to relentlessly taunt Penelope, the proverbial ugly duckling, through which Atwood demonstrates how, like other forms of power, can be used to oppress others. Conversely, Photograph 51 examines how Rosalind is disempowered by her perceived lack of traditional physical beauty. Many of the men around her using her unflattering appearance to ridicule and minimise her and her work.
While the time periods in which the two texts are set may greatly differ, the notion of identity is still a prevailing theme that is explored. Indeed, the role others perceptions play in each character's construction of their own self-worth and values provides both authors a basis for the examination of how societies enforce conformity while punishing uniqueness. In The Penelopiad, it can be seen that the glowing perceptions of Odysseus from his mother and his nurse nurture and grow Odysseus’ egocentric view of himself as a hero. In contrast Photograph 51 demonstrates the negative effects these perceptions can have on one’s self-identity, as the negative views that surround Rosalind ultimately make her question herself and her actions.
Not only do others perceptions shape one's personality, but the expectations enforced by Society. Both protagonists within each text feels pressure from those around them to live up to certain expectations; Penelope feels she must constantly encourage Odysseus’ self glorifying tales of heroism, while Rosalind feels similar pressure to follow her father's advice to consistently be right which eventually leads to her unfavourable reputation for being difficult to work with.
Both Ziegler and Atwood suggest that in order to overcome the pressures and external expectations of society each which of these women must have a positive and strong sense of self. In the case of Photograph 51, Rosalind must adopt a strong self-belief in her work in order to survive the hostile masculine environment around her. By contrast, Odysseus constantly boasts and exaggerates his stories of heroism and the cleverness of his actions. While both Odysseus and Rosalind have a strong self-belief, Odysseus’ is guided by ego while Rosalind’s is guided by intelligence
Women and Misogyny
The feminine figure and roles are depicted in contrasting ways between the texts, but both show how the construction of characters who either adhere to or reject the social constructs of femininity during their era are forced to grapple with the harsh realities of being a woman in both ancient and modern times. One of the biggest examples of femininity shown within each text is the value the patriarchal system places on motherhood and the high expectations they have for mothers and mother figures. Some mother figures in the The Penelopiad demonstrate the gentle and protective qualities associated with typical feminine attributes; the two contrasting figures within the same text, Odysseus’ nurse and mother demonstrate the two extremes of femininity relating to motherhood. Eurycleia is presented as benevolent and dedicated to the mother figure ideal as she is shown to snatch Penelope's newborn son and envision him as her own. In contrast, Penelope's mother an elusive and neglectful Naiad leaves her child to swim around unsupervised.
In Photograph 51 mothers are depicted as primarily concerned with the needs of their children and husbands as they are shown to identify themselves with their attributes and successes. It can be seen that such characters as Gosling's mother's interest in his PhD suggests that like Penelope she judges her own worth by her child's success. Indeed, while these mothers are shown to be nurturing and caring most of it emphasises their need to control and guide their child's life.
Not only mothers, but wives become another primary source of femininity that is examined within both texts. The Penelopiad’s notion of wives becomes closely related to the idea that within a patriarchal system women are associated with being a possession rather than an equal. Regardless of class and social standing every woman on some level is shown to be oppressed by this traditional and conventional idea of womanhood. Penelope is encouraged to be a doting wife to her husband Odysseus, while in contrast, the Maids remain unmarried yet are still subjects of oppressive mistreatment. Unlike The Penelopiad, wives have little to no significance within Photograph 51, a text heavily focused on the scientific discovery of DNA, Indeed, the woman or the wife is seen as irrelevant in the scientific field while any mention of women outside of Rosalind is confined to the wives of men contained within the domestic sphere.
Storytelling and The Narrative
The notion of storytelling and the power of narrative becomes closely linked to such ideas as femininity and womanhood within each text as each closely revolves around women taking back control of their own narratives and stories. The Penelopiad is a story about other stories as it is based off retelling an already famous story. The Odyssey becomes a vessel for Penelope to share her own insights and feelings while her actions of retelling the well-known work is a source of empowerment for her as she is able to negate stories about herself that she would prefer not to hear. This frees her from the burden of being a legend or a myth as she urges women not to follow her example of keeping their mouths shut. In contrast, Rosalind Franklin does speak out initially but gained an unfortunate reputation as a difficult woman in stories about her that are circulated by men.
Through this, it can be said that the aim of both Ziegler and Atwood is to challenge the historical invisibility of women throughout time. While Ziegler's play attempts to highlight the ways in which stories told by men have worked to minimise or downplay the roles and contributions of women, The Penelopiad attempts to offer new perspective of already well-known stories that intend to give insight into the woman's understanding of life.
Genre, literary form and its construction
Style and language
“And what did I amount to, once the official version gained ground? An edifying legend. A stick used to beat other women with.” (ch.1)
“We were told we were dirty. We were dirty. Dirt was our concern, dirt was our business, dirt was our specialty, dirt was our fault. We were the dirty girls. If our owners or the sons of our owners or a visiting nobleman or the sons of a visiting nobleman wanted to sleep with us, we could not refuse.” (ch.4)
“Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it.” (ch.7)
“Oh gods and oh prophets, please alter my life,
And let a young hero take me for his wife!
But no hero comes to me, early or late—
Hard work is my destiny, death is my fate!” (ch.8)
“The more outrageous versions have it that I slept with all of the Suitors, one after another—over a hundred of them—and then gave birth to the Great God Pan. Who could believe such a monstrous tale?” (ch. 20)
“Dr Wilkins, I will not be anyone’s assistant” (Rosalind pg.13)
“It’s for men only” (Wilkins pg.17)
“But those are precisely the conversations i need to have. Scientists make discoveries over lunch.” (Rosalind pg. 17)
“...You don’t have to try and wing me over. In fact, you shouldn’t try to win me over because you won’t succeed. I’m not that kind of person.” (Rosalind pg.35)
“To Watson and Crick, the shape of something suggested the most detailed analysis of its interior workings” (Casper pg.41)
Comparing Photograph 51 and The Penelopiad
The play Photograph 51 by Anna Ziegler invites us to revisit the events surrounding the discovery of DNA’s double helix structure. While the DNA double helix structure is common knowledge now, in the 1950s many scientists were racing to claim its discovery. Ziegler's title, Photograph 51 is simply named after the X-ray photograph taken of the hydrated B form of DNA, which was crucial in the consequent events that eventually led to the identification of DNA's structure. However, much controversy has surrounded exactly who deserves credit for the discovery, particularly because the Nobel Prize was awarded to James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins - 3 people who did not actually take Photograph 51 itself. Instead, people have argued that Rosalind Franklin should have been one to be award the prize, or at least share the prize as it was her work that led to Photograph 51 and without it, Watson, Crick and Wilkins may not have discovered the DNA structure. Yet what makes this situation even more complicated is that Franklin’s work was shared with Watson without her knowledge in addition to the fact that Franklin died of ovarian cancer 4 years before the prize was awarded. Since the Nobel Prize does not generally make posthumous awards, Rosalind’s work has never shared in the glory along with the other men. Ziegler takes this opportunity to explore Rosalind’s perspective, and gives the audience a chance to peer into her experiences, interactions with others, and strong mindset. The question now begs: if Rosalind’s data had not been leaked, would she have gone on to discover the structure of DNA on her own? If Watson and Crick had not seen Photograph 51, would they have gone on to discover the structure of DNA on their own?
The Penelopiad is similar to Photograph 51 in that it is written from a women's perspective previously never explored in literature. While in Photograph 51, Ziegler allows us to be privy to Rosalind’s thoughts - a perspective unknown to media and publications because of her death, Margaret Atwood chooses to write from Penelope’s perspective, a view also previously never explored in Greek literature. Penelope’s reminisces about her life from her deathbed in Hades, the underworld. We learn of Penelope’s key life moments from childhood through to adulthood, such as the psychological damage inflicted upon her when her father attempts to drown her as a child, to her pretending to weave a shroud so that she can delay the decision to choose a Suitor who undoubtedly only wants to marry her so they could take up the throne and treasure. Her narrative is occasionally interrupted by the 12 maids who were killed by Odysseus, Penelope’s husband, upon his return. These maids were wrongly murdered and their presence in Atwood’s story brings attention to their plight as not only females, but as slaves during Ancient Greece. When studying The Penelopiad, I would strongly encourage you to be familiar with its historical context - mainly, you should have a good understanding of the story ‘The Odyssey’, the Trojan War, and the roles of the Gods mentioned in the novel. I’ve created a playlist I’ll link below for you with some videos I believe will be helpful for your studies.
Women’s reactions to misogyny
Misogyny is widespread in both Photograph 51 and The Penelopiad, and both writers explore the ways in which females deal with such an environment.Penelope is more graceful in her response, as she is accepting of her place as a woman, as poignantly expressed: "I kept my mouth shut; or, if I opened it, I sang [Odysseus] praises. I didn’t contradict, I didn’t ask awkward questions, I didn’t dig deep.” Meanwhile, Rosalind reacts with snark hostility, "I don’t suppose it matters whether or not it suits me, does it?”. Rosalind refuses to let her womanhood impede her career as a scientist, to the extent that her stubbornness is self-defeating and her being constantly on guard only causes further misunderstandings and tension with Wilkins: “You know…I think there must come a point in life when you realise you can’t begin again. That you’ve made the decisions you’ve made and then you live with them or you spend your whole life in regret."
Misogyny from a male lens
In The Penelopiad, even Telemachus shows a lack of understanding and empathy for his own mother, and wants her to find a Suitor quickly because she is "responsible for the fact that his inheritance was being literally gobbled up." He disobeys Penelope’s wishes and resents being “under the thumbs of women, who as usual were being overemotional and showing no reasonableness and judgement”. Like Telemachus, the men in Photograph 51 have NO sense of what it means to be a woman. They is frustratingly presumptuous in the female psyche, as seen when Crick boasts: "See, women expect men to fall upon them like unrestrained beasts.” The viewpoints of the males in both texts highlight misogyny that is deeply rooted in society, and a demonstration of how far we can be from the truth when we formulate our own assumptions.
Women’s undervalued abilities
Penelope is clever, but it’s only beauty and sex appeal that is valued in society as so clearly shown by all men charmed by Helen of Troy. Penelope's intelligence, and more widely, all women’s intelligence is seen as a threat to men as she says, 'cleverness is a quality a man likes to have in his wife as long as she is some distance away from him". Unlike Penelope’s era where women usually didn’t actively or overtly fight for their rights, the 1950s sees more agency in women. While Rosalind’s intelligence secures her a job and career, she still faces a hostile, sexist environment. Her fellow male scientists dismiss her credentials. From the get go, Rosalind is expected to ‘assist’ Wilkins, and is disparagingly referred to as ‘Miss Franklin’, rather than as ‘Dr Franklin’ as she is rightfully entitled to. Moreover, her methodical approach to her work drives the frustrated Wilkins to share her confidential research with Crick and Watson, displaying the men's inherent distrust and disrespect of women.
Here’s a tip for you. You may have noticed that the common themes I mentioned aren’t just one-worded themes, like ‘misogyny’. Yes, I could’ve lumped my themes together under the umbrella of ‘misogyny’ but I wanted to go that extra mile. By breaking it down further, I am better able to showcase my detailed understanding of the texts, and you’ll find that adopting this specificity in writing is rewarded in VCE.
Here’s another tip. At the Year 12 level, and particularly in Reading and Comparing, your assessor expects you to not only understand the text itself, but to understand the real-life implications explored. Here we’re looking at human reactions and responses to our world and experiences. So when you start comparing Photograph 51 and The Penelopiad think about the human condition. For example, on a textual level, you’d be asking yourself: what factors drive Rosalind to act with such hostility towards men? Why is the way she deals with misogyny so different to that of Penelope? Now if we zoom out and look at the bigger picture, you need to start asking yourself: What do these texts say about us as people? What can we learn from these stories?
Obviously there’s so much more you can extract from these books and compare, but I hope this has given you something to think about!
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.
While Rosalind and Penelope are examples of strong female characters, they are both severely flawed. Discuss.
In what ways do misogyny and expectations impact individuals identity within each text?
What structural elements help convey the strength of women within The Penelopiad and Photograph 51?
“We were told we were dirty. We were dirty. Dirt was our concern, dirt was our business, dirt was our specialty, dirt was our fault. We were the dirty girls.” (The Penelopiad)
Authorial message-based Prompt:
What comments do the authors make about the corrupting force of power?
Essay Topic Breakdown
Make sure you watch the video below for extra tips and advice on how to break down this essay prompt!
Essay Topic: The authors of Photograph 51 and The Penelopiad give voice to the women in their stories. Discuss.
‘Authors’ - means I should talk about their intention and what message they want us to hear
‘Voice’ - power to speak, to story-tell, to share their side of the story
‘Women’ - be sure not to only talk about the main characters such as Penelope and Rosalind but other women in the books
‘Discuss’ - a word like ‘discuss’ gives you a lot of flexibility to discuss any ideas that are relevant to the topic, whereas a ‘do you agree’ style of question is a bit more limiting. With so much more flexibility to ‘discuss’ various ideas, I’m going to touch on topics that most interest me. I feel that this is a great way to get yourself in tune with the book, especially as you start writing. The more you can make the writing interesting for yourself, the more interesting it will be for your reader.
By giving voice to the women in their stories, Atwood and Ziegler reveal stories of those previously silenced, and showcase how storytelling empowers women marginalised by misogynistic social constructs.
Body paragraph 1: In giving a voice to the females, both Atwood and Ziegler offer a new, previously unseen perspective on misogyny.
In The Odyssey, the maids are constructed as unfaithful and disrespectful of queen Penelope, Telemachus and other staff. Their own story is silenced and instead, is observed through others, whereas in The Penelopiad, themaids tell their own version of events - mainly that their actions were under Penelope’s instruction.
The patriarchal rule is accentuated through their lack of status and rape, which is considered to be a “deplorable but common feature of palace life”.
Moreover, we feel sympathy for these three-dimensional characters, as they ’toil and slave/ And hoist [their] skirts at [men’s] command’.
Likewise Rosalind Franklin's version of events has never been revealed because of her early death. In Photograph 51, we learn of the misogyny Rosalind faced as a female scientist "My name is Rosalind. But you can call me Miss Franklin. Everyone else does."
Body paragraph 2: By offering these women a voice, the authors reject social conventions of femininity.
Penelope is cunning and intelligent, foiling the Suitor’s plans to marry her by delaying her decision with the endless weaving of her ‘shroud’. The juxtaposition of unsuspecting men and strategic Penelope thwarts traditional gender roles where women are viewed as inferior. "They were very angry, not least because they’d been fooled by a woman."
Meanwhile, Rosalind is stubborn and resilient nature rebuffs the narrow-minded beliefs of her fellow coworkers who believe that “kindness always works with women” and that "women expect men to fall upon them like unrestrained beasts."
Body paragraph 3: Most importantly, both authors showcase the importance of giving women a voice as a means to control their own narrative.
Penelope opens her reflection with an emphasis on how she “owe[s] it to [herself]” to “spin a thread of [her] own”. She shares how she now has the opportunity to share her side of the story, whereas allowing others to speak of her from their perspective means that “they were turning me into a story…not the kind of stories I’d prefer to hear about myself”.
While Penelope is empowered to reveal her story and invites us to an alternate version of historical events, this is not afforded to Rosalind in Photograph 51. Rosalind is literally sidelined, “…we just hear her lines - a recording, or she speaks from offstage' and therefore unable to control her narrative. The stage direction (/) indicates that the men of past and present talk over her, reducing her opinion and overriding her speech with their own “self-aggrandisement."
To see another essay prompt breakdown for this text pair and a full sample A+ essay with annotations, check out this blog post.
Whether you consider yourself a Frankenstein expert, or someone who is a bit taken back by the density of the novel and Shelley’s writing, do not fret! Below I will outline 3 tips which, will hopefully give you a clearer perspective on how to approach writing on Frankenstein! Let’s get started!
1. ALWAYS TRY TO TALK ABOUT SHELLEY’S CONCERNS
Since the book was set during the Age of Enlightenment and the Romantic era, Shelley essentially used Frankenstein as a vessel to criticise and warn readers against many of the values upheld during her era. It’s therefore crucial that you address this!
The late 18th century and the first decades of the 19th century were exciting times for science and exploration. Shelley’s two main protagonists, Walton and Frankenstein, both passionately sough to discover what had previously been hidden. Walton wanted to be the first to find a passage through the Arctic Circle; Frankenstein wanted to be the first to create manmade life, to uncover the mysteries of Nature. Both men claimed to be desirous of benefitting humankind but both wanted glory more. This obsession to win accolades for their discoveries will destroy Victor, and turn Walton for a while into a hard taskmaster over his crew.
Juxtaposed against these two characters is Henry Clerval. Clerval, too, has an inquiring mind but he also cares about humanity, family and friends. He represents the balanced human being who is sociable, compassionate, intelligent and loyal to his friends. Victor’s ability to reanimate the dead, to bring to life his gigantic Creature using the newly discovered electricity, makes him a genius but also a monster. In his inexperience he botches the work producing a hideous and terrifying creature with, ironically, initially all the virtues of the ideal man of he world. Repulsed by his amateurish handiwork, Victor abandons his creation, setting in place the vengeance that will unfold later.
Try to ground any response to Shelley’s text in the enormous enthusiasm for new discoveries and new geographic phenomena that attracted lavish praise for those who went where others feared to tread. It was this praise that drove Walton and Frankenstein to exceed reasonable expectations becoming reckless and careless of the consequences of their actions.
2. ALWAYS TRY TO DRAWS LINKS AND CONTRAST DIFFERENT CHARACTERS AND THEMES!
Walton, Frankenstein and the Creature are interconnected in so many ways – whether it be their isolation, ambition, desire for companionship, desire for vengeance or the Romantic values they share. I’ve also noted that it is also really easy to connect themes in Frankenstein as the tragic story-arc of the novel is built upon many different causes. What I mean by this is that there is a clearly define relationship between isolation, ambition and vengeance (and ultimately tragedy) in the sense that isolation is what led to the brewing of unchecked ambition which essentially causes the resultant tragedy.
Take Frankenstein for example: having left his loving family and friends, who provided him with love and companionship for Ingolstadt, there was no one to hold him back from his natural tendencies towards unchecked ambitions, leading him to creating the monster who out of spite towards society kills all of Frankenstein’s loved ones, leading them towards the desire for mutual destruction. Being able to see these links and draw them together will not only add depth to your writing but it also arms you with the ability to be able to deal with a wider array of prompts.
3. ALWAYS TRY TO LOOK FOR MORE NUANCED EXAMPLES AND DISCUSSIONS!
While Walton, Frankenstein and the Creature can be discussed incredibly thoroughly (and by all means go ahead and do it), but it is also very important to consider the novel as a whole and talk about, if not more thoroughly, on the minor characters. While characters such as the De Laceys, villagers and the rustic in the forest can be used to highlight the injustices brought upon the creature and people’s natural instincts of self preservation and prejudice, innocent characters such as Elizabeth and Justine can be used to emphasise the injustice of society and the consequences of unchecked ambition and isolation.
Henry Clerval (like previously mentioned) can be contrasted against Walton and his best friend Frankenstein to show that as long as we have a balanced lifestyle and companionship, ambition will not lead us to ruin. Characters such as the Turkish merchant can also have parallels drawn with Frankenstein in telling how our selfish desire and actions, born out of inconsideration for their consequences, can backfire with great intensity. Lastly the character of Safie (someone I used a lot in my discussions) can be compared and contrasted with the Creature to show the different treatment they receive despite both being “outsiders” to the De Laceys due to their starkly different appearances.
Mentioning these characters and utilising these contrasts can be monumental in showing your understanding of the novel and by extension, your English analytical ability.
Hey guys, I'm Lisa, welcome back to Lisa's Study Guides. Today, we're going to be talking about Frankenstein and breaking down an essay topic for it. So in the past, I've done plenty of videos looking at different types of essay topics and breaking them down by looking at keywords and then going into the body paragraphs and looking at those ideas. This time round, the takeaway message that I want you to leave with is understanding what types of evidence you should be using inside your body paragraphs. Specifically, I wanted to talk about literary devices or metalanguage. Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein uses so many literary devices that it's impossible to ignore. If you are somebody who is studying this text or other texts that you use and are heavily embedded with literary techniques, then it's really important that you don't just use dialogue as part of your quotes, but actually reading between the lines. I'll teach you on how it's not just about finding dialogue, which you include as quotes inside your body paragraphs, but reading between the lines, so looking at literary devices like metaphors, symbols, imagery, so let's get started.
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein constitutes escaping critique of the prioritization of scientific advancement over human welfare and relationship. Dr. Frankenstein is fascinated with science and discovery, he is consumed with the idea of a new and more noble race by stitching up dead body parts from a cemetery. He feverishly works away at his experiment until one day the creature is born. Frankenstein is horrified at the living thing he has made and completely rejects the creature, leaving it without a parental figure. The creature is left alone to look after himself. He educates himself and on repeated occasions tries to approach people in society, however, is rejected every time because of his monstrous appearance. As a result, the creature becomes enraged at humanity and Frankenstein's unfair treatment towards him and consequently exacts revenge on Frankenstein and his family.
The essay topic we'll be looking at today is, Our sympathies in this novel ultimately lie with the creature. Discuss. So in previous videos, we've looked at keywords, how to identify them and how to define them. Since it's pretty straightforward for this essay topic, I thought I would skip that part and then go into the more nitty gritty with the body paragraphs. But, if you are unfamiliar with these steps, then I'll link them in the card above and also in the description below so you can have a look at how I went ahead and did the keyword section in my planning, now back to the prompt. Unequivocally within Frankenstein, Shelley portrays sympathy as spread throughout the text through depicting the creature as innately human through his desire for relationship and the challenges he faces at the hands of the prejudice enlightenment society he's born into, Shelley elicits sympathy for his situation. However, through the notable absence of the female gender throughout the text, Shelley portrays those silent within society as most deserving of sympathy.
So, with this in mind, here are the potential paragraphs in response to this prompt. Paragraph one, Shelley's depiction of the creature as innately human motivates support for his challenges at the hands of a prejudice society. The action of the creature to open his dull yellow eye, symbolic of his nature as a human being alongside a green wrinkled on his cheeks, with one hand stretched out, indicates his simple desire for paternal connection. Through constructing the creature's actions as innately human Shelley acts proleptically of the inequitable experiences the creature will experience throughout the structural architecture of the text. And through doing so, depicts his character as worthy of support.
Similarly, through the metaphor of fire, Shelley explores the duality of progress and innovation of which the creature desires. The fire, one that gives light as well as heat, yet also causes a cry of pain, indicates the hardships of the creature in his isolation, whereby, his forced to withdraw from his desire for education. Upon viewing himself in a pool, the creature becomes "fully convinced that I was in reality [a] monster" with the consequent sensations of despondency and mortification granting the reader the opportunity to sympathize with the creature in order to indicate the intensely negative social prejudices that are inflicted upon the creature.
So you can see that we've looked at symbols of the creature's nature and the metaphor of fire to support our topic sentence. Using literary techniques is what's going to make the difference between you and another student who might be saying the same thing. Why? Because when you look at literary devices, it means that you're reading just beyond the lines, just beyond what's in front of you. You're now introducing your own interpretation, so you're looking at fire and thinking about what that means in connection to the text, and why Mary Shelley would use the term of a fire and revolve her discussion around that. So let's see how we keep doing this in the next body paragraph.
Paragraph two, Shelley indicates the significance of relationships as a key element of human nature that the creature is denied, motivating affinity from readers. In replacement of human relationships, the creature rather seeks comfort within the natural world. The metaphorical huge cloak that the creature takes refuge within indicates this, illustrative of an ecosystem, the forest allows the creator to surround himself with life. The subsequent attempts to "imitate the pleasant songs of the birds" reveals the desperate urge of the creature for companionship as he is abandoned by the paternal relationship represented by Victor Frankenstein, which forms a core of human relationships. Again, here we've discussed the metaphorical huge cloak and its connection with the forest, I strongly encourage you to have the goal of discussing at least one literary device per body paragraph. And no, there is no such thing as talking about too many literary devices because it's really just about whether or not your argument is concise and whether or not you're backing that up with evidence.
Paragraph three. However, it is Shelley's depiction of the submissive female sex within Frankenstein that becomes most deserving of sympathy. Each female character is characterized as passive, disposable, and they're serving a utilitarian function, namely as a channel of action for the male characters within the text. Notably, the complete lack of absence of Margaret Saville, functioning only as an audience for Walton's letters exemplifies this. Margaret's role within the text is simply to enable Walton to relay the story of Frankenstein and as such were the most necessary character of the texts whilst the most distant. This ironic dichotomy enables Shelley to exemplify the difficult role of the female within society, arising sympathy from the readership. Here, even the purposeful emission of a character is discussed as a language technique. So, this type of literary device definitely tops the cake because you're literally looking at what's not even there. That's definitely reading between the lines.
Frankenstein is a very complex novel, and sometimes that's what makes it a difficult text to study. But, it lends itself to many unique interpretations and it's heavily dressed with heaps of literary devices or metalanguage, however you want to call it. So, that's what makes it an absolutely fantastic text for high school students to study. If you wanted to find out more on how to nail a Frankenstein essay, then I'll link you to my blog just down below, because there are definitely more tips there to help you excel in this particular text. Thank you so much for watching, and especially even if you're not studying this text, I hope you've been able to take something away from this video. And I'm confident that you have because talking about literary devices is definitely a topic that isn't necessarily the fore front of discussion in classrooms, and it's something that a lot of people struggle with. So, I hope you are able to walk away with a new goal in sight in order to improve your English essays. So, I will see you guys next time, thank you so much for joining me, see you guys soon. Bye!
How Do I Do Well if I HATE the English Texts That I Am Studying?
I know that exact feeling; the feeling of giving up before it has even started. Some lucky students fall in love at first sight with their texts while some unfortunate students dread having to spend a whole year analysing their texts. If you resonate with the latter, you have probably already given up on English, or maybe you’re trying your best to stay optimistic. English is hard, but what makes it harder is when you know you hate the texts that you are studying, so how can I do well in English if I hate the texts that I have to study? Whether you hate reading and analysing texts or you just hate the specific text that you have to study, here is a guide on how to make studying and reading your texts more enjoyable!
We’ve all said it before, “I’ll just read it later” or “I’ll read it right before school starts” and in the end, it all leads to the same conclusion of us never actually reading the text and by the time our SACs roll around, we ‘study’ by reading summaries of our texts and try memorising the most popular quotes.
Do I Really Have To Read the Text?
The bad news is yes, it is highly recommended that you read your texts! (I know it can be tempting to just read chapter summaries but trust me, I have tried writing an essay without reading the text and it went very badly). However, the good news is using LSG’s ideal approach to your English texts, you may only need to read your texts a minimum of three times. In fact, if you make use of your first reading, you probably won’t have to personally read the text again! During this first reading, take your time, don’t try to binge read the entire text in a night as there is a high chance that you will not be following the plot and you’re just reading for the sake of finishing the text. There’s no need to start annotating the text during this first reading as you will most likely have a collective second reading in class where your teacher will go over the whole text in more detail by highlighting significant sections of your text. This first reading is simply for you to familiarise yourself with the text and what you will be handling during the year. However, if you still have trouble understanding your texts, LSG has a plethora of resources such as free text-specific blogs and affordable text guides that you can check out!
How Do I Find the Motivation To Read My Texts?
Some common reasons why we might procrastinate reading our texts are the sheer volume of pages we need to read; having a short attention span and; being a more visual learner. If this is the case, there are many ways to increase your motivation to read or watch your texts!
If the text is a play (e.g. The Crucible by Arthur Miller), watch the play while reading the script. Not only will this help you understand the stage directions in the script, but it can also help with understanding the plot if you are a more visual learner.
If the text has a film adaptation (e.g. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote or The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham), watch the film adaptation first! Knowing major plot twists and spoilers can make reading your text feel faster as you already know what is going to happen. Watching film adaptations can also help allow you to picture the plot easily and help immerse yourself into the setting and the world of the text (however, do take care when doing this as you are only analysing the text you have been allocated, not the adaptations!)
If the text is a film (e.g.Rear Window by Alfred Hitchcock), try to find a trailer of the film or find short clips from the film rather than watching the entire movie in one sitting; watching these cuts and suspenseful scenes may spark your curiosity which is likely to increase your interest towards wanting to watch the movie. Scheduling a movie night with friends and family is also a great way to make watching the film more fun.
Create goals: Space it out, we do not want to get burnt out! Organise goals and do not attempt to read the book all within a night! For example, you could aim to read one chapter a day. Not only will this hold you accountable, but it will also make reading less daunting and overwhelming.
Rewards: Who doesn’t love rewards? Reward yourself after reaching your reading goals, this could be as simple as taking a break after reading or reading a book that you like.
Audiobooks: When you don’t feel like physically reading, download audiobooks of your texts and listen to them while you’re commuting or while you’re doing your chores.
Environment: Create the perfect reading atmosphere! This is quite subjective, however, if you’re struggling to find this niche, here is a step-by-step guide to ‘romanticise’ reading:
Put your devices away! If you’re opting to read an ebook, you can also turn your notifications off. We do not want to be distracted and procrastinate!
Find a comfortable place to sit with good lighting.
If you’re in the mood for a sensory experience, light a scented candle or make your favourite beverage to sip along while you are reading.
If it helps, you can pretend that you’re reading at an aesthetic library, or your favourite café, or a serene park…the options are endless.
It can be even harder to find the motivation to study for the texts that you hate as you’re probably looking for ways to limit the amount of physical contact you make with the text or ways to save time and study less for English but still do well in the subject.
How Do I Save Time When Reviewing and Writing Notes on My Texts?
Tip 1: Write Notes Based on Themes, Writing Style & Characters Instead of Chronologically
Often, students will take notes chronologically based on each chapter, however, this is not helpful at all. In your SACs and exam, you will not be writing paragraphs based on each chapter, instead, you will likely be given one of the five types of essay prompts that require an in-depth understanding of the themes, writing style (such as symbols and motifs) and characters of the text. Therefore, I recommend writing down notes and quotes based on themes, specific writing techniques and characters.
For example, before class, you could create a separate notes page on each prominent theme of the text. When your teacher highlights significant sections of the text, you could then write down these notes into the relative theme document. For comparative texts, you can also create a comparison table based on overlapping themes which will allow you to view the comparisons more easily. If you’re a visual learner, colour coding your notes according to different themes or characters can make it easier to find later on when reviewing your notes. If you do this from the start, you will spend less time re-reading the text and organising your notes which will hopefully reduce the amount of time you spend studying.
Tip 2: Write Down Page Numbers Next to Quotes and Notes
No, you do not have to memorise page numbers for your final exam or SACs, however, writing down page numbers will help yousave time when reviewing your notes as you can just flip over to the page rather than having to re-read the text to find the specific quote or notes. It may seem rather annoying having to write down the page numbers all the time, however, your future self will thank you!
How Can I Find the Motivation To Write on the Text That I Hate?
Tip 1: Find Out What You Hate and Like About the Text
We all experience writer’s block, especially when we have no passion for the text we are studying. However, assuming you have read the text, you would probably have unique opinions on the text. Firstly, find out what you hate about the text.
Do you hate a specific character in the text? Why do you hate this character?
Do you hate the writing style? What is it about the writing style that you hate?
Is there a specific theme you felt the text did not address properly?
Was there a specific scene or part of the text that frustrated you?
Once you find out what you hate about the text, find an essay prompt related to the topic you hate and practice writing an essay about it! Use this as a chance to lowkey rant, discuss or debate about the topic. Not only will this help you develop your inner author voice, but it will also provide you with inspiration to write. On the other hand, you can also find out what you like about the text (hopefully, you don’t hate everything about the text) and practice writing on a topic related to this. For example, I hated studying The Crucible due to the portrayal of women in the text. However, when analysing the text, I realised that the portrayal of women in the text was simply a reflection of the conservative and insular society of Salem which became a theme that I liked discussing.
Tip 2: Put the Text in Context
Keep in mind that the texts that you have been allocated all have a specific aim and purpose such as serving political commentary about a significant historical event, critiquing a specific characteristic of conservative communities or simply a discussion about human nature. Throughout the text, there will be many literary techniques, characters and events that will be used to bring these significant themes to life. Therefore, regardless of whether you like the plot of the text or not, the themes that you will be studying may be more of interest to you. If this is the case, researching the background and the world of the text may help you gain a deeper understanding of these themes which is likely to increase your motivation to write as you will be able to apply your knowledge about the text such as quotes, characters and events to these themes.
Tip 3: Utilise Your Strengths
By focusing on your strengths, you are likely to increase your confidence and consequently, your motivation to write! Therefore, if you are an expert at analysing literary techniques, or if you have mastered writing about characters, use these strengths when you are writing. Not only will playing at your strengths make writing less difficult, it may also help overshadow your weaknesses.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many choices in English and it is quite likely that you will end up with a text that you dislike. However, it is still possible to do well in English while studying texts you hate! Hopefully, these tips can make reading and studying your texts much more enjoyable and consequently, make your English experience much more pleasant. Endure the pain now and you'll be finished before you know it!
How can we write about a film in a way that shows our knowledge of its complexity in the way it conveys ideas through visuals and sound?
While this blog post focuses on the construction of Invictus, the concepts around analysing film and writing about it apply to all other Year 11 and 12 multimodal texts. If you are studying Ransom with Invictus for the Comparative component of VCE English, you may also find out Ransom and Invictus study guide helpful.
What contrasts Invictus from Ransom, is, of course, that we can see Clint Eastwood’s depictions of post-Apartheid South Africa through his visualisations of, for instance, characters emotions and behaviours, by the formation of cinematic techniques. We can see the divided community in which the narrative is set; involving the rift between Afrikaners and black South Africans. The added challenge of writing about a multimodal text such as Invictus, is that its composition through these film techniques should be integrated as textual evidence in a cohesive and effective way.
Some key study design points:
“The features of written, spoken and multimodal texts used by authors to convey ideas, issues and themes.”
“The ways in which different texts provide different perspectives on ideas, issues and themes and how comparing them can offer an enriched understanding of the ideas, issues and themes.”
“Use textual evidence appropriately to support comparative analysis.”
A good way to approach analysis of textual evidence is through looking at quotes. However, to further show our understanding of the text is perhaps to discuss the context of these quotes; examining what the director is showing us along with this dialogue. What are the expressions portrayed by the characters? What does the framing reveal to us about the characters, symbols or the setting? What is Eastwood wanting us to understand about the narrative through the combination of these techniques? By asking these questions we can try to grasp what the intentions of the director are.
Some key film techniques to think about may be camera framings/angles, acting, lighting, editing, mise en scène, symbols, etc. (see terminology at the end of this blog).
Analysing a frame
A useful idea might be to go through the film multiple times, pause at certain moments and note what you can both see and hear. Turn on the subtitles to help decipher the dialogue – note these quotes down. It may also be worthwhile to read through the actual script to Invictus; from this we can learn of the intentions of Eastwood from a different perspective – in what he wanted to show his audience in each scene.
INT. SPRINGBOK DRESSING ROOM - DAY
The sound of cleats approaching on concrete. Exhausted
footsteps. The DRESSING ROOM ATTENDANT PUTS CASES OF BEER
(cans) on a side table, rips them open, backs away --
-- as the Springboks enter silently, faces miserable,
shoulders slumped. They've lost another game.
What is the setting? What can we see happening in this setting? Who is there? What are the behaviours and expressions of the characters? What does the type of camerawork tell us? What does the lighting and colour tell us? These might be some questions to consider.
MANDELA ENTERS LOFTUS VERSFELD STADIUM AS NEW PRESIDENT
In this scene, Eastwood utilises wide, high angle framing to represent the enormity of the stadium; filled with Afrikaners who, predominantly, detest the new President. Still, even as the framing is constantly filled with these Springboks sports fans, the director shows us the smiling, confident Mandela, who warmly waves to his new ‘partners in democracy’ without fear or distaste. We can see this as the camera draws in on Mandela’s facial expressions. Moreover, the courage of Mandela is exhibited as he exits the stadium and a sports fan hurls a drink at him. Even despite that he ‘sees everything’, Mandela continues to wave and smile at the crowd.
MANDELA ENTERS ELLIS PARK STADIUM FOR WORLD CUP FINAL
On the other hand, this scene, whilst it continues to demonstrate the steadfast, affable nature of Mandela, shows the unification of South Africa. Through Mandela’s support of the Springboks by wearing the green and gold, we can understand that the Springboks have subsided from once being a ‘prominent symbol of the apartheid era’. By contrast to his first appearance, Mandela is now upheld as a leader to all; there is no jeering or booing, but lively backing of both the Boks and The President. Mandela has fundamentally transformed the team who once brought ‘shame upon our nation’ into something to be proud of and excited for.
The camera pans around the stadium depicting cheering and applauding fans, who are even carrying the new South African flag. Even more interestingly, the black South Africans who widely scorned the Springboks, are now watching the rugby final in support of their team; their country.
JASON AND HIS TEAM MEET THE NEW BODYGUARDS
Eastwood utilises tight, close-up framing in this scene as to allude to the confrontation between black and white South Africans. By this, the director draws us in to the agitated, bemused expressions on Jason and Linga, who immediately clash with the new SAS bodyguards they must partner with. Jason stresses the personal bond between his team and the President – ‘[Madiba] that’s what we call him’. This immediately shows the distaste that the black South Africans have towards their ‘enemies’, the Afrikaners.
Madiba implores that ‘reconciliation starts here’ and ‘forgiveness starts here’; Mandela assembles this new team of bodyguards because they are his representatives and ambassadors. He wants the ‘rainbow nation’ to start here.
Writing an analysis
Once we understand what’s happening in some important scenes, we can think about how this understanding can be implemented into pieces of writing.
Consider the quotes: ‘Pienaar’s team’, ‘shame upon our nation’, ‘somebody gets the axe’ and ‘tails between their legs’. This is what TV host, Boland Botha, and the rugby president, say after the Boks perform poorly in their rugby match. Accompanying this scene are close-ups of Francois Pienaar, who is made to be the blame for the momentous loss.
We could approach an analysis of this by embedding quotes amongst a discussion of the cinematic techniques; explaining what we learn about the character of Pienaar through these. By including both quotes and some context in the cinematic construction, it displays a clear knowledge and understanding.
For instance, we could write:
“Eastwood demonstrates Pienaar as a prominent leader in the Springbok team. He is made out to be responsible for ‘[his] team’s’ dismal performance. Tight, close-up framing shows the audience a defeated Pienaar, a captain and leader who has brought ‘shame upon’ the South African nation, and as the rugby president suggests, deserves to ‘get the axe’. The harsh, low-key lighting of the frame draws in on the raked and bruised Pienaar, who is isolated as the key to the Boks having ‘their tails between their legs’ throughout the game.”
Have a go at analysing the film and finding a way to balance embedded quotes with examples of the director’s techniques.
All in all, while it is not crucial to talk about specific production techniques as such, it can help give you an edge in demonstrating that you know the ins and outs of the text. It helps show your comprehension of the context, themes and ideas presented, which is key to exemplifying a capacity to perceive authorial intent.
Some useful terminology
Shots: extreme long shot/long shot, medium shot, close-up shot/extreme close-up
Establishing shots: first shot of a new scene, shows the audience where the scene is taking place.
Depth of field: distance between closest and furthest objects giving a focused image.
Bird’s-eye view, low angle, eye-level, high angle
Skewed angle: camera set on an angle (horizon line is not parallel with the bottom of the frame)
Zooming, panning/tilting, tracking, hand-held
Mise en Scene: the arrangement of a frame; the artistic look of a shot in its elements of lighting, colour, camera techniques, sets, costumes, etc.
Lighting: high-key (bright, low shadow and contrast) or low-key (underlit, strong contrast between light and dark)
Point-of-view: the perspective from which the text is portrayed; the audience are driven to identify with characters portrayed.
Opening/resolution: how a narrative is introduced in setting up characters, settings, etc., how these develop and resolve at the end of a text.
Motif: a distinguishable feature which portrays a theme and idea about a character, setting, etc.
For more information on film techniques, watch this video:
For a detailed list of film techniques, learn morehere.
• Although its structure and cinematic plot development resemble that of crime fiction, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is a ‘nonfiction novel’ detailing the 1959 murders of four members of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas. Put simply, the book was conceived of journalism and born of a novelist.
• The novel is a product of years of extensive research by Capote and his friend and fellow author Harper Lee, who followed the trails of the Kansas criminals across numerous US states. In Cold Blood revolutionised the American ideals of journalism and literature, blurring the lines between these labels.
• A notable technique Capote employed in order to access classified information was becoming personally acquainted with the criminals of the case. For example, Capote became extremely close to Perry Smith, one of the main murderers in the case, which gave him exclusive information on the personal motives of the killers.
• In Cold Blood reflects this relationship with the murderer through Capote’s narration of the book as an objective bystander. On page 23, we see the almost endearing way that Capote describes Perry; “his voice was both gentle and prim– a voice that, though soft, manufactured each word exactly, ejected it like a smoke ring issuing from a parson’s mouth.” As such, Capote’s friendship with Perry allows him to present the killer to the audience with a certain humanity and empathy, showcasing a broader picture of criminals than just a merciless murderer.
True facts of the Case
• On the 15th of November, 1959, all four members of the small farming Clutter family were brutally murdered, including Herbert Clutter, his wife Bonnie Clutter and their two teenage children, Nancy and Kenyon.
• The family was discovered bound and shot in the head. Herb’s throat had also been slashed. After ransacking the entire house, the criminals had left without finding any cash, carrying with them no more than fifty dollars, a pair of binoculars and a transistor radio.
• Perry Edward Smith and Richard Eugene ‘Dick’ Hickock were convicted of the crime. The two men had become acquainted during serving time at the Kansas State Penitentiary, and soon confessed to the crime, claiming that that they had heard from another prisoner that Herb Clutter was extremely wealthy, and kept his money in an easy-to-reach safe in his house.
• After the confession, the two murderers were flown from Nevada to Garden City, where they stood trial for their crimes. On 29 March, 1960, they received a guilty verdict, and were sentenced to the death penalty. For the following five years, Smith and Hickock lived on death row in Leavenworth, Kansas and were executed by hanging on the 14th of April, 1965.
Perry Edward Smith
One of the two murderers of the Clutter case, Smith is portrayed as a sensitive and artistic man haunted by his turbulent and lonely childhood. Described by Capote as a man of ‘actorish’ good looks, he disfigured both of his legs due to a motorcycle accident, which gave him chronic pain and an addiction to aspirin. His criminal actions are often directly linked to his childhood, described as ‘no bed of roses but pitiful, an ugly and lonely progress toward one mirage and then another’. Smith’s father was extremely abusive towards his wife, Flo Buckskin, and his four children, and so Buckskin later divorced him, taking the children with her. However, on her own she became an alcoholic and died by choking on her own vomit when Smith was only thirteen years old. He was then transferred to a Catholic orphanage, where he suffered from psychological, sexual and physical abuse from the nuns, one of whom attempted to drown him. Smith’s father and two of his siblings committed suicide during his time on death row. Smith eventually befriended Capote through their extensive interviews, and is believed to have shared personal information with him, believing him to be a true friend.
Richard Eugene ‘Dick’ Hickock
The second murderer of the Clutter case. Having grown up in Kansas, Hickock was a popular football player before turning to a life of crime after realising that he could not afford to go to college. During the course of the Clutter murder investigations, Hickock persistently blamed all of the murders on his partner in crime, Smith, claiming that ‘Perry Smith killed the Clutters…. It was Perry. I couldn’t stop him. He killed them all.’ Capote later states that during the murder, Smith was the one who stopped Hickock from raping the 16-year-old Nancy Clutter, as Hickock harboured pedophilic tendencies.
A well-liked and kind-hearted wheat farmer in Holcomb, Kansas. Proprietor of the large River Valley Farm, Herb is described as a hardworking and valued citizen before his murder, who lead a relatively quiet life other than a troubled marriage with his wife due to her chronic depression.
Described as an ‘anxious woman’, it is revealed that Bonnie has a history of numerous mental illnesses, one of which is postpartum depression. Capote states that she and Herb had not slept in the same bed for many years.
Described as the ‘darling of the town’ - the class president and future prom queen Nancy was the 16 year old daughter of the Clutters.
Athletic but introverted, Kenyon was the 15 year old son of Herbert and Bonnie Clutter.
A personal friend of the Clutters, Dewey was the primary investigator in the Clutter murder case and worked for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
Themes and Motifs
The American Dream
The novel is Capote’s reflection upon the American Dream, as he portrays both the lives of those who epitomise it and those who are tragically out of its reach. Herb Clutter’s position as an upstanding American citizen with a prosperous farm elicits the reader’s interpretation of his character as the rags-to-riches ideal. In stark contrast with this, the rootless and criminal Dick Hancock and Perry Smith are presented as individuals for whom the Dream is perpetually unattainable. Their attempt to finally become ‘rich’ materialises through their attempt to rob the Clutters’ home, the failure of which ironically results in their brutal murders of the people who successfully represented the American Dream.
In accordance with the American Dream, In Cold Blood also explores the concept of what is considered ‘normal’ in America, and what can be revealed as the darker underbelly of its white picket fence ideal. Dick asserts throughout the novel that he is ‘normal’, but from an external, objective perspective, he is clearly far from such; he has distorted physical features and has committed a terrible, vicious murder. Capote also explores the idea of normal mental health, as Bonnie Clutter seems to have the perfect marriage and life with Herb, and yet suffers from extreme bouts of ‘nervousness’ and chronic depression which result in her hospitalisation.
What is evil is primarily explored through the character of Perry, who has conflicting ideals about what can be considered truly ‘evil’. The more feminine and gentler of the two murderers, Perry possesses conflicting morals, as despite being a ruthless murderer, he does feel remorse and is affected by what he has done. He even thinks to himself that Herb Clutter is a ‘very nice gentleman’ even in the midst of slitting his throat. Capote in the novel reveals that there are numerous facets to the meaning of true ‘evil’, and the blurred borders that exist between each of these.
Symbolising the idea of dominance and power, Dick and Perry, who have a complementary and polarised gender relationship, feed off each other in order to boost their own masculinity. Described as ‘aggressively heterosexual’, Dick is evidently the more stereotypically masculine counterpart, having had numerous relations with women. Perry, on the other hand, is more feminine and submissive, as Dick often calls him names such as ‘sugar’ and ‘honey’. Both men in the novel utilise the other in order to make themselves feel more masculine in their highly restrictive and conservative society — while Dick emphasises Perry’s feminine qualities, Perry admires Dick and craves his words of affirmation that he, too, is masculine.
Essay Writing for In Cold Blood
Below are some possible prompts for In Cold Blood, and possible ideas to begin writing an essay.
Theme-based Essay Prompt
"I think it is a hell of a thing that a life has to be taken in this manner. I say this especially because there's a great deal I could have offered society. I certainly think capital punishment is legally and morally wrong.”
Is In Cold Blood merely a novelistic argument against the death penalty? Discuss.
To learn more about LSG’s Five Types of essay prompts, I’d highly recommend checking out this blog post. It’s a super unique strategy developed by the founder of LSG, Lisa Tran. The Five Types method, outlined in the top-rated How To Write A Killer Text Response eBook, takes the stress of students and gives them easy to follow rules and tips so that they know how to approach every essay topic, every time.
• The best way to approach any essay prompt is to recognise the limiting and/or important words of the essay question. In this thematic prompt these words are: ‘legally and morally’, and ‘merely’.
• Secondly, for prompts which incorporate a quote, it is helpful to understand the context of the quote. In this case, the quote was said by Perry as his last words before his execution by hanging. Consider the importance of this; these words are especially more meaningful as they symbolise the last direct influence he leaves upon society. They are remorseful words of a murderer reproaching the justice system, which begs the question - does Capote position the reader to agree with the murderer’s view?
• Planning this essay can be structured along three arguments...
1. Capote argues against capital punishment through eliciting pathos for the murderers and portraying them as more than mere monsters.
• Evidence for this argument could be based mostly on the descriptive elements of Capote’s writing, or his emotional attachment to the murderers, particularly Perry.
• Capote paints Perry particularly sympathetically, highlighting his sensitivity as well as his broken and abusive childhood. Quotations from the novel make it clear that his character is romanticised to an extent, such as “It was a changeling's face, and mirror-guided experiments had taught him how to ring the changes, how to look now ominous, now impish, now soulful; a tilt of the head, a twist of the lips, and the corrupt gypsy became the gentle romantic.”
2. In Cold Blood supports the anti-death penalty argument through its structure and organisation.
• The epigraph of the novel is a verse of the poem, ‘Ballade des pendus’ by Francois Villon, that he composed whilst on death row in 1463. Villon’s criminal circumstances were strikingly similar with Dick and Perry’s, as he murdered a priest and stole from his strongbox before being arrested and sentenced to death. Despite this, Villon was ultimately charged with a 10 year banishment from Paris, whereas the Clutter family murderers are hanged - a strikingly different outcome. Thus, Capote employs this poetic epigraph to strengthen his argument against the unjust executions of Perry and Dick.
• In addition to this, the structure of the novel is also used to argue against capital punishment. Although Part One focuses on the lives of both the Clutter family members and Dick and Perry preceding the murder, Part Two skips over the actual murders themselves and recounts the aftermath of its events. This allows Capote to further develop Dick and Perry into real, complex people rather than merely cold blooded murderers; people who do not deserve such a cruel fate.
3. However, Capote does ostensibly condemn the cruelty of the murders and presents the opposing argument that capital punishment is not, in fact, ‘legally and morally wrong’.
• The brutality of the Clutter murders are emphasised through the novel, as Larry Hendricks, who discovers the bodies along with the police, provides the gruesome details of the bodies - ‘each tied up and shot in the head, one with a slit throat’.
• As Perry later admits to the murder in his extended confession, Dewey highlights the fact that the Clutters ‘had suffered’ due to the ‘prolonged terror' inflicted by the murderers, and orders them, as such, to be ‘hanged back to back’.
• The argument for capital punishment in In Cold Blood is also supported by religious beliefs. As a small and predominantly Christian town, Kansas and its residents can be perceived interpreting the words of the Bible literally; at the end Dick and Perry’s trial, the prosecuting attorney Logan Green reads an excerpt from Genesis in the Holy Bible: ‘Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed.’ Rejecting the notion that Christianity preaches forgiveness, Green strives to punish the killers for failing to abide by the laws and prophecies of the Old Testament.
Character essay prompt
Perry Smith, despite Capote’s authorial sympathy towards him, is really a cold and merciless monster. Discuss.
When approaching character-based prompts, you must depart slightly from examining the holistic messages of the author, as you would in a theme-based prompt, but rather analyse how the specific character develops this authorial message. The above essay question could be brainstormed in the following way:
1. Capote’s description of Perry shows that he is far from a ‘monster’, but a human being of great sensitivity and emotion.
• During his confession of the Clutter murders, Perry’s comment, ‘There's got to be something wrong with somebody who'd do a thing like that,’ shows that he, to some extent, understands the gravity of his actions and regrets them.
• Perry is also described by his sister as ‘gentle’, and someone who ‘used to cry because he thought the sunset was so beautiful’. Likewise, even in moments of cruelty, he often shows mercy and a wide moral compass, even stopping Dick from raping Nancy Clutter during their murder spree.
2. Perry is also depicted as someone ‘weakened’ by the tragic events of his past and his own insecurities, rather than an inherently ‘cold and merciless’ person.
• Capote often links Perry’s violent tendencies with his childhood, described as ‘no bed of roses but pitiful, an ugly and lonely progress toward one mirage and then another’, as he was raised ‘with no rule or discipline, or anyone to show [him] right from wrong’.
• In addition to this, Perry can be perceived to be the more insecure and submissive of the two killers, as while Dick often calls him stereotypically feminine names such as ‘sugar’ and honey’, Perry admires his ‘aggressive’ masculinity and craves his words of affirmation in order to feel as masculine and strong as his counterpart.
3. Despite this, Capote does not entirely erase the murderous aspects of Perry’s character.
• Due to the prompt and seemingly nonchalant way in which he kills the clutters, Dick becomes convinced that Perry is that rarity of a person,"a natural killer.”
• Thus, Capote, despite his empathetic portrayal of Perry, never allows the reader to forget the extent of his criminality, and how easily he was able to fire those ‘four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives.’
Compare how the conflict between illusion and reality is explored in these texts.
'Uncertainty breeds fear, and fear breeds further uncertainty.' Compare how this idea is demonstrated in The Crucible and Year of Wonders.
Compare how secrets and superstition affect the characters in both texts.
Compare how The Crucible and Year of Wonders explore issues of human fallibility and deception.
Compare the ways these texts examine the preservation of morality amidst accusation and condemnation.
'Humans are ultimately inclined towards evil rather than good.' Compare how the two texts explore this inclination.
Compare how The Crucible and Year of Wonders examines the strength of one's faith during hardship and conflict.
“How little we know, I thought, of the people we live amongst.” (Year of Wonders) Compare what the two texts say about community and one's understanding of reality.
"Here we are, alive, and you and I will have to make it what we can.” (Year of Wonders) 'It is only possible to discover what it means to live when faced with death.' Compare the ways these texts explore this possibility.
“It is the essence of power that it accrues to those with the ability to determine the nature of the real.” (The Crucible) Compare the ways the two texts demonstrate the connection between power and controlling the truth.
Compare how truths and falsehoods shape the lives and societies in The Crucible and Year of Wonders.
Compare how The Crucible and Year of Wonders shows that conflict can cause both regression and strengthening of integrity and humanity.
Compare how women are perceived in both The Crucible and Year of Wonders.
Compare the ways morality is examined and determined in these texts.
"Man, remember, until an hour before the Devil fell, God thought him beautiful in heaven?" (The Crucible) Compare how the two texts explore the repercussions of disillusionment.
The Crucible and Year of Wonders is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Comparative (also known as Reading and Comparing). For a detailed guide on Comparative, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Comparative.
Most people only think about EXECUTING their essay - the writing. Whether that be essay structure, memorising quotes or how to avoid repeating yourself in the dreaded conclusion. However, my strategy places emphasis on the THINK.
THINK is the brainstorm, exploration, and development of ideas. Get this right, and you'll come up with ideas and a response that pushes you ahead of your peers. The EXECUTION comes next, only strengthening your lead to the finish line.
So what does THINK actually involve? 🤔
You need to consider aspects of an essay topic that most students gloss over, including:
💭What's the essay topic type?
Knowing the essay topic type will change your essay structure. While you might wish for a one-size-fits-all essay structure, this is a limited viewpoint that stops you from reaching your potential. Different essay types include:
Author's message-based prompts
By understand what's required in each one of these essay topic types, you'll have a template you can follow to ensure that you answer the prompt (no more complaints from your teacher complaining that you're going off topic!).
💭 What are the question tags?
Never heard of this term previously? That's because majority of teachers don't teach you to change your Text Response according to the question tag. A 'do you agree?' essay topic expects a different response from a 'discuss' essay topic.
💭 How do I ensure I respond to each keyword?
This is important so you don't go off topic (we've all at least experienced this once in our high school writing careers 😥). Sometimes, one missed keyword is all it takes to derail your entire essay. No matter how well you've written your essay, an essay that doesn't answer the prompt won't fare well.
For example, have a think about which keywords can be found in this essay topic "Jeff's attempt to pursue justice are entirely without honour. To what extent is this true?".
For me, the keywords include:
- 'Pursue justice'
- 'To what extent is this true?'
Even though I've labelled almost every word in the essay topic, individually, each of these keywords will shape my response. Majority of students will pick up the necessity to discuss the keyword 'entirely' in their essays. They will potentially argue that Jeff's attempt isn't entirely without honour, and mention instances where honour was shown. However, a less obvious keyword that needs further exploration is 'justice'. Most students will take this word for granted, and won't really explore what the word 'justice' means in this sentence. A more advanced student will understand that 'justice' in this essay topic is viewed from Jeff's perspective, meaning that what Jeff deems to be 'justice', might not be the same 'justice' for a viewer. These are the nuances in an essay topic that I'd like you to be very confident in.
Knowing how to THINK will ensure that you EXECUTE your essay writing most effectively, optimising your potential to nail that A+. If I went from average to consistent A+s in Year 11 and Year 12, I have no doubt you can do it too. That's why I created the How To Write a Killer Text Response ebook.
I know that you are probably like I was, searching for a clear, simple way to get better at English without just relying on my teacher (despite the fact that I had a great teacher!). I've compiled my 10 years of tutoring English, refining this strategy year after year. With this knowledge, many of my students achieved a study score they thought was impossible (one student Ruby, wanted a study score of 30 to get into her university course, and ultimately achieved a 40 study score! WOW! 😮).
If you're interested, How To Write a Killer Text Response ebook shows you the inner workings of my brain 💭- what I think when I see an essay topic, how I tackle it, and how I turn these thoughts into a high-scoring essay. The ebook includes:
- 50-pages teaching you how to respond to ANY essay topic
- Examples from 15+ popular VCE English texts
- Know exactly what to THINK about so you can formulate the best possible essay response
- Plus a bonus 20-pages of high vs low scoring essays, fully annotated (what works and what doesn't) so you know exactly what you need to do and what not to do