Extinction by Hannie Rayson is usually studied in the Australian curriculum Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
[Modifed Video Transcription]
This is the prompt that I have decided to approach for this video and blog post:
Heather Dixon-Brown and Piper Ross’s dynamic is fuelled by competitiveness unique to the female experience in contemporary times.
Let’s break it down!
Different Interpretations of Extinction
Today I’ll be talking about different interpretations of texts, specifically the feminist lens, which is a critical lens for you to know if you’re wanting to get those top marks. Even if you’re not there yet, and you want to amp up your essay, this is it. So keep watching (or reading)!
I won’t be talking about the feminist lens in detail in this video/blog, but know that this is one of the must-know VCAA criteria points I discuss in my How To Write A Killer Text Response ebook. It is particularly relevant to Extinction because by viewing your text through a feminist lens, you’ll be able to get so much more out of your discussion. Think about it this way, you can wear all sorts of ‘glasses’ (i.e. lenses) when you’re reading a text: a feminist lens, a pro-sustainability lens, an ecocritical lens. If you were to put these lenses on, how would it change your interpretation of the text? By adopting this advanced way of approaching a text, you’ll undoubtedly wow examiners because you’re able to discuss your texts on a level that the majority of students aren’t even aware of! I touch more on feminist and ecocritical lenses at the end of the video above :)
How To Break Down This Extinction Essay Topic
Whenever you get a new essay topic, you can use LSG’s THINK and EXECUTE strategy, a technique to help you write better VCE essays. This essay topic breakdown will focus on the THINK part of the strategy. If you’re unfamiliar with this strategy, then check it out in How To Write A Killer Text Response.
Within the THINK strategy, we have 3 steps, or ABC. These ABC components are:
Step 1: Analyse
Step 2: Brainstorm
Step 3: Create a Plan
Character-Based Essay Prompt: Heather Dixon-Brown and Piper Ross’s dynamic is fuelled by competitiveness unique to the female experience in contemporary times.
Not sure what we mean by ‘Character-Based Essay Prompt’? Then, you’ll want to learn more about the 5 types of essay prompts here.
Step 1: Analyse
This prompt specifies two characters – Dixon-Brown and Piper – and therefore mandates an in-depth discussion of them within your essay. However, it is important to be careful of focusing exclusively on the explicitly mentioned characters when given a character prompt. After all, while Dixon-Brown and Piper are both very important to Extinction, they are not the only relevant characters! In order to ensure that your discussion covers enough of the text, make sure your brainstorming stage includes the ideas and themes exemplified by the unmentioned characters, and how they relate to the ones that are specified.
Step 2: Brainstorm
- Agree to the prompt, but not entirely – Dixon-Brown and Piper do experience competitiveness between themselves, as two women in the twenty-first century, but it is not the only factor impacting their relationship dynamic
- Female competitiveness in relationships and desirability – e.g. having sex with Harry without the other knowing (make sure to use DB’s quotes about competition!)
- Make this more specific – competition in terms of sex, sexuality and whether or not one is desired (can link this well to the young/old dichotomy)
- Young/old – related to female competitiveness, but more specific – tension between what is wanted and considered attractive versus what is no longer given value
- Idealism/pragmatism – separate from the sphere of gender; has more of its roots in politics and contrasting schools of thought
- Adopt traits from a feminist lens – focusing on women, power, relationships with men, when they can speak versus when they can’t, etc.
Step 3: Create a Plan
Body Paragraph 1: Contemporary demands for female competitiveness undoubtedly underlie the dynamics between Dixon-Brown and Piper Ross.
- Under the modern-day patriarchy, women are encouraged to compete over social resources – reputation, desirability, and, crucially to Extinction, one’s sex and sexuality against the context of men. Both women are attracted to Harry, and eventually, both engage in 'covert sexual relationship[s]' that 'compromise the integrity' of the tiger quoll project. Beneath the veneer of assertiveness, Dixon-Brown’s underlying insecurities expose her treatment of Piper as a rival.
- Although she openly denounces Harry’s assumption that 'You thought I wanted to compete for your affections', she nevertheless demands to know if Harry is 'quite smitten with Piper'. Dixon-Brown tries to distance herself from such romantic bindings, insisting that she 'do[esn’t] need a relationship' and thus subconsciously pitting herself as Piper’s opposite – in other words, a competitor for the different instances of Harry’s affection.
- Rayson is quick to highlight and consequentially reject this modern female infighting, arguing that the insecurities as birthed from the patriarchy directly and unnecessarily demean the relationships between women.
Body Paragraph 2: The primary source of female conflict between Dixon-Brown and Piper is that of their incongruent ages; Rayson maintains that the tension between ‘younger’ and ‘older’ individuals contributes massively to the wider tenseness in their dynamic.
- Patriarchal values dictate that the value of a woman decreases with age: Dixon-Brown claims that Harry 'would prefer a younger woman', implying that her desirability has decreased with the increase of age.
- The professor’s obsession with appearances and reputation as a woman is almost completely absent in Rayson’s consideration of Piper, who is actively pursued by both Andy and Harry throughout the play. She is 'adore[d]' by the former, and the latter is enthusiastic at the prospect of 'mak[ing] love like that…again' during Act Two, Scene One. Rayson attacks the systems of patriarchal value that have driven both women to resist and distrust each other in the first place.
Body Paragraph 3: Conversely, while the spheres of politics certainly overlap occasionally within feminism and the question of female competition, they nevertheless form a largely distinct motivation behind the conflict between Piper and Dixon-Brown.
- Piper and Dixon-Brown’s dynamic is perhaps most aptly summarised in Act One, Scene Two, with the introduction of the Dixon-Brown Index. Dixon-Brown claims that 'five thousand' is the 'latest magic number' with which to determine what animal populations are most feasible to make conservation efforts towards. Piper criticises the index immediately, pointing out the ridiculousness of having it 'apply to every mammal on earth', regardless of any other relevant factors. To Piper, every animal life is 'worth saving', whether they be 'killer whales or teeny potoroos' – Dixon-Brown, by contrast, must 'liv[e] in the real world' and exists at the mercy of funding, of which there is 'only so much… to go around'. The tension within their dynamic thus bears this underlying current of idealism versus pragmatism, and persists even after the primary establishment of the tiger quoll project.
For further reading see our Extinction blog post where we cover themes, characters, symbolism and more! And for more essay help, you'll definitely want to take a look at Risini's fully annotated Extinction essay.
If you're studying Extinction yourself, then LSG's A Killer Text Guide: Extinction study guide is for you! In it, we teach you to think like a 50 study scorer through advanced discussions on things like structural feature analysis, views and values, different interpretations and critical readings. Included are character breakdowns, a play summary, 5 A+ fully annotated essays and so much more!