Go ahead and tilt your mobile the right way (portrait). The kool kids don't use landscape...
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 :)
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.
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!
Get our FREE VCE English Text Response mini-guide
Now quite sure how to nail your text response essays? Then download our free mini-guide, where we break down the art of writing the perfect text-response essay into three comprehensive steps.
Access a FREE sample of our Extinction study guide
Written by Tasha Gacutan who achieved a perfect study score of 50 in English
Learn how to brainstorm ANY essay topic and plan your essay so you answer the topic accurately (no more going off-topic!)
Includes annotated sample A+ essays
Advanced discussions like structural feature analysis, views and values, different interpretations and critical readings - all broken down into easy-to-understand concepts that students of any level can replicate
We’ve all been doing Text Response essays from as young as Year 7. At this point in VCE, we should be feeling relatively comfortable with tackling themes and characters in our essays. However, the danger with just discussing themes and characters is that we often fall into the trap of simply paraphrasing the novel, or retelling the story. So how do we elevate our essays to become more sophisticated and complex analyses that offer insight?
An important distinction to be aware of is that the expectation of Year 11 English was geared more toward themes and characters. However in Year 12, teachers and examiners expect students to focus on the author’s construction of the text. By keeping in mind that the text is a DELIBERATE CONSTRUCTION, this can help eliminate retelling. A good guideline to follow is to include the author’s name at least once every paragraph.
Some examples are:
- (author) elicits
- (author) endorses or condemns
- (author) conveys
Move beyond talking about character and relationships. How are those characters used to explore ideas? How are they used to show readers what the author values?
To explore the text BEYOND characters, themes and ideas, tackle the following criteria:
Social, cultural and historical values embodied in text
In other words, this means the context in which the text was written. Think about how that influenced the author, and how those views and values are reflected in the text. How does the author create social commentary on humanity?
These involve the author’s use of symbols, metaphors, subtext, or genres. Consider why the author chose those particular words, images or symbols? What effect did it evoke within the reader? What themes or characters are embodied within these literary devices? Metalanguage is essential in VCE essays, so ensure you are confident in this field.
If the text is a film, it’s important to include why the director chose certain cinematography techniques. Comment on the mise-en-scene, camera angles, overview shots, close ups, flashbacks, soundtrack, to name a few. Or if it’s a play, examine the stage directions. These contain great detail of the author’s intentions.
How text is open to different interpretations
“While some may perceive… others may believe…” is a good guideline to follow in order to explore different angles and complexities of the text.
Skilful weaving in of appropriate quotes
This is how to create a well-substantiated essay. To weave in textual evidence, don’t simply ‘plonk’ in sentence long quotes. Instead, use worded quotes within your sentences so the transition is seamless.
Do you know how to embed quotes like a boss? Test yourself with our blog post here.
Strong turn of phrase
Ensure your essay is always linked to the prompt; don’t go off on an unrelated tangent. Linking words such as “conversely” or “furthermore” increase coherence within your essay. Begin each paragraph with a strong topic sentence, and finish each paragraph with a broader perception that links back to the topic and the next paragraph. To see what this looks like in practice, check out What Does Improving Your English Really Look Like? for multiple sample paragraphs.
This is also where having a wide range of vocabulary is crucial to presenting your ideas in a sophisticated manner. Create a word bank from assessor’s reports, sample essays, or teacher’s notes, and by the end of the year you’ll have an extensive list to choose from. Also, referring to literary devices contributes to a great vocabulary, exhibiting a strong turn of phrase!
Consider the topic
What does it imply? Find the underlying message and the implications behind the prompt. There is always tension within the topic that needs to be resolved by the conclusion of your essay. A must-know technique to ensure you actually answer the prompt is by knowing the 5 types of different essay topics, and how your essay structure changes as a result. The How To Write A Killer Text Response ebook is a great way to learn how to identify the type of essay topic you have in front of you immediately, and start writing an A+ essay.
Finally, simply enjoy writing about your text! It will help you write with a sense of personal voice and a personal engagement with the text, which the teachers and assessors will always enjoy.
Extinction is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out ourUltimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
1. Summary: A Brief Snapshot
At the heart of innovative technology and products lies exceptional human creativity. Our brains are practically wired to create and innovate newness. Naturally, the influx of products entering the market creates a consumer frenzy. Suddenly, everything is a commodified entity with a dollar-sign attached to it. Its inherent value lies in how much consumers covet the item.
Let’s take the iPhone for example! An idea of a communication device - both sleek in its functionality and aesthetic - is mass produced, consumed by millions and the cycle perpetuates itself. It is an item so coveted and desired, a 17-year-old boy from China sold a kidney to buy the iPad and iPhone. This phenomenon of consumerism is symptomatic of a contemporary world’s obsession with vanity and aesthetic. Our fixation on the surface-level and glossy facades is similarly echoed by Extinction’s main protagonist, Professor Heather Dixon-Brown, who criticises the ‘charismatic fauna push’ where we are ‘making celebrities out of pandas and polar bears’. While those campaigns are successful in raising better awareness and positivity in the realm of conservation, they do not change the ways in which we live and consume.
How we live today is inflicting a deep ecological impact on planet earth. Furthermore, as urban landscapes inevitably expand, we continue to encroach on the territory of the natural world.
These are the kind of thoughts that popped into my mind after reading Extinction. Hannie Rayson’s provocative play delves deep into the central question of what it means to uphold a personal conviction in the face of self-interest and necessity. Casual flings, extinguishing of life and the friction between ‘ideological purity’ and functionality threatens to unhinge even seemingly robust characters such as Heather Dixon-Brown, an ecologist who preaches that she ‘uses her head, not her heart’. Rayson’s literary work endeavours to capture how the human character is, in fact, multidimensional and never static! As the passionate environmentalists and pragmatic ecologists are entangled in ethical quandaries, the playwright also illustrates how divorcing your mindset from emotion is a universal struggle. Furthermore, she explores how moral conviction is consistently at odds with the demands of the personal and professional domains we inhabit.
Throughout the drama encapsulating mining magnates, environmentalists and ecologists, Rayson combines their fictional voices to echo a cautionary tale of how self-interest and misconception about ‘the other’ may distort rationality. When the CEO of Powerhouse mining, Harry Jewell, bursts into a wildlife rescue centre in Cape Otway, holding a critically injured and endangered tiger quoll, he inadvertently catalyses a conflict that will draw out the prejudices withheld by the trio of environmentalists.
I encourage you to think about the lessons embedded in the play. What are the take-home messages YOU have discovered?
What is the message the playwright is attempting to deliver to her audiences?
When you finished the play, what feelings were you left with?
Which characters did you find likeable? Who aggravated you the most? And most importantly, provide evidence for why you felt that way! Was it because of their problematic ways of dealing with an ideological crisis? Or their fierce passion towards upholding moral conviction?
2. Character Analysis
Let's take a look at these deeply flawed human beings:
Professor Heather Dixon-Brown
Director of the CAPE institute
Interested in only saving species that are ‘statistically saveable'.
Bureaucrat with the realism to match.
'I am an ecologist, not an environmentalist. I use my head, not my heart.'
'Species are like commodities…I just don’t approve of this ‘charismatic fauna’ push - making celebrities out of pandas and polar bears.' (p. 99)
'You want me to close the CAPE. Is that what you want? Then we can bask in ideological purity…' (p. 120)
The never-ending struggle between heart and mind is central theme in the play.
An idealist with the knack for alluring women to fall for him.
'You don’t serve your cause by being indifferent to the interest of working people.'
'I know his type: the kind of greenie who’s always saying no. No dams. No mines. No roads.' (p. 114)
'I am not some multinational corporation devouring the Amazon. I’m just a bloke who’s come back home.' (p. 114)
Zoologist from San Diego Zoo (temporarily transferred)
Andy Dixon’s girlfriend
Gets entangled in a romp with Harry Jewell aka Mr. Evil
'They are all 'worth saving''. (p. 83)
A vet who is extremely pragmatic in his mindset towards his work and personal life
Slight aversion to technology
The inevitability of technology supplanting certain occupations
Technological evolution? (Is it the kind of evolution we want?)
'…the great advocate for our native flora and fauna…' (p. 118)
'You should see this dairy farm. It’s all computerised. They’ve got one bloke managing a thousand cows. No human supervision of the milking. No-one to check the udders. I’m just there, doing the rounds. Like a robot.' (p. 82)
Logic vs. Emotion (Pragmatism vs. Ideological Purity)
To divorce your emotions from affecting your decision-making capacity is a universal struggle aptly captured by Rayson’s depiction of Dixon-Brown’s gradual inclination towards the tiger quoll project funded by a coal company. In this case, we can argue that her objectivity and ‘her head’ is seemingly beguiled by the charms of Harry Jewell.
Early in the play, Professor Dixon-Brown is anchored to her desk, filing applications and paperwork instead of ‘getting back to her own research’. This prospect changes when Harry - big coal - offers 'two million dollars on the table' to fund the tiger quoll campaign. Nonetheless, we see the two unexpected collaborators setting a dangerous precedent where one can simply equate a species’ livelihood to ‘commodities’ and ‘a good return’ of profit.
What is compelling about Harry’s character is that he combines both pragmatism and ideological purity. Firstly, Harry has the means and business acuity to manoeuvre a board of directors bent on exploring coal ‘right on the edge of the national park’. However, ‘Mr Evil’ is also inspired by nostalgia and sentimentality over a childhood memory where a tiger quoll steals his drumstick.
Conversely, Andy Dixon-Brown’s stance against the mining industry and automated dairy farms is admirable considering how technology has become a central cornerstone of modern-day life. His partner Piper Ross, a zoologist, echoes similar distaste for mining companies, however, her passion for ‘saving’ all animals eclipses her own presumptions towards ‘Mr Evil’. She is eventually persuaded to head the tiger quoll project.
Whereas, Professor Dixon-Brown enjoys the uncomplicatedness of numbers and statistics. However, her carefully crafted algorithm fails to differentiate between the diversity of animals within the ecosphere. Instead, it filters out populations of 5000 and above to collate only the ‘statistically saveable’.
In this respect, Harry’s actions showcase how a striking a balance between pragmatism and emotion is important.
Unity in a Socially Divisive World
In this play, the ‘us vs. them’ mentality pervades the minds of the protagonists. Through the heated dialogue between environmentalists, ecologists and mining moguls, Hannie Rayson delivers the message that as a society we should not be so reliant on simplifying individuals based on age-old presumptions and surface-level characteristics. Harry Jewell echoes a similar sentiment as he discusses his company’s plans to Piper: 'Who’s this ‘we’? You don’t serve your cause by being indifferent to the interests of the working people.' (p. 92)
Zooming in: Andy & Harry: Let's explore the volatile dynamic between the two males
Andy’s indignant stance against collaborating with the mining industry showcases his resilience in sticking to his moral code. One can argue that his immediate demonisation of Harry Jewell, as evidenced by the nickname ‘Mr. Evil’, is a symptom of Andy’s oversimplified thinking. It is through Andy’s inflammatory and infantile language towards the Mining CEO that Rayson articulates how the politics of conservation is in shades of grey. Conversely, Harry’s admits that he knew Andy was ‘the type of greenie who’s always saying no [from the moment he came through that door]’. In highlighting the binary oppositions of the two men working in different fields, the play acknowledges how prejudice inhibits potential collaborations.
Harry and Andy showcase how our own misconceptions about ‘the other’ detract from our own moral causes - such as in this case, saving the forest. Both men are committed to the same cause. However, Andy’s antagonistic approach towards Harry undercuts his own integrity as he willingly allows prejudice to cloud his thinking simply because it is the more convenient thing to do, as opposed to collaborating and accommodating each other’s interests.
Categorising strangers into convenient stereotypes is pure laziness.
Andy: 'Hope he didn’t damage that cruise missile he’s got out there?' (p. 73)
Harry: 'I know the type - knew him the moment he came through that door. He’s the kind of greenie who’s always saying no. No dams. No mines. No roads.' (p. 114)
Romanticism vs. Reality
Against the backdrop of familial arguments and budding romances, Extinction’s Professor Dixon-Brown’s blunt dialogue about conservation reveals its politicised nature. Her heated dialogue with Piper echoes her frustration at ‘writing [Stuart Decker’s] applications so he can get ‘a sun tan’ conducting research on The Great Barrier Reef and win accolades for it'. Furthermore, she satirically exclaims that ‘[the institute] needs to defend its territory’. Her mocking of the vice-chancellor who acted like they were in a ‘White House Situation Room’ implicitly demonstrates her growing disdain towards the tenuous politics of her workplace. Essentially, Heather’s realist approach exposes what lies beneath the glossy exterior of conservation efforts.
I’ve seen quite a few videos of baby pandas circulating on my Facebook feed, most of them are part of a conservation effort or campaign. The comment section of these videos is like a medley of heart-eyes and exclamations of ‘How cute!!’ This relatively harmless sentiment is dismissed by Professor Dixon-Brown when she states that she is completely disengaged with ‘charismatic fauna’ (p. 99) push - making celebrities out of pandas and polar bears’. Our overwhelmingly positive reactions towards such campaigns is based on a societal gravitation towards the aesthetically pleasing which bleeds into the next thematic idea revolving around our fixation on appearance (surface-level).
Essentially, in the context of this play, the preferential treatment of endangered animals reflects our own biased thinking.
Vanity and Our Obsession With Appearance
The idea of vanity also pervades the sub-consciousness of both male and female protagonists. Against the backdrop of environmental conservation dilemmas, Hannie Rayson manages to entwine a secondary story strand which captures the insecurities peppering the female experience in this contemporary age. The audience learns that Heather Dixon-Brown spends $267 on hair removal every five weeks. Interestingly, her brother, ‘a screaming heterosexual’ (p. 95), likens the hair removal process to ‘getting a tree lopped’. The destructive and almost violent imagery of chopping down a tree echoes the crippling pressure for Heather to ‘sculpt’ herself into a particular ideal of femininity.
It is in this way that Rayson articulates a broader thematic idea that womanhood is still being defined in terms of attractiveness and perseveration of youth. Heather’s internalised insecurities resurface in her heated confrontation with Harry. She accuses him of ‘prefer[ing] a younger woman’ and having ‘never been with a woman with pubic hair’. Both of which Harry indignantly refutes. Through this heated dialogue, audiences gain an insight into Heather’s vulnerability as a divorcee-to-be and interestingly, we are exposed to her assertiveness as she questions 'can’t [you] stomach a woman who stands up to you?'
Her conflicting ideologies on womanhood are best exemplified through Harry who almost admonishes her for embodying ‘some nineteen-fifties idea of relationships’ where ‘sex with someone’ does not necessarily entail ‘a lifelong commitment’. This is also the central conflict faced by all the characters who engage in seemingly non-committal relationships and false expectation. It is through these failed trysts that Rayson disapproves of uninhibited sexual impulses and by extension, criticises the increasing promiscuity in contemporary times. Essentially, Rayson’s fixation on causal sexual relationships mirrors her own opinion that there has been a paradigm shift in how we govern our sexuality and bodies since the 1950s.
Conservation in a World of Destruction
You can define conservation in terms of ‘preservation of… ’, ‘sustaining…’.
In the personal domain, Piper maintains that she and Harry ‘slept in separate tents’ to her boss Professor Dixon-Brown who also doubles as her potential sister-in-law. Conversely, Professor Dixon-Brown is forced to make an ethical compromise to prevent a career besmirching orchestrated by a mass-email insinuating a sordid romance between her and her newest collaborator, Harry Jewell. Her reputation as CAPE’s director is nearly tarnished by the vengeful force of a fling’s ex-wife.
Do I preserve my moral compass or my professional reputation?
Other thematic ideas that relate to this umbrella phrase include: misuse of authority and ethics of the digital world.
Deleting emails is tantamount to rewording/reworking history. Professor Dixon-Brown’s attempt at salvaging/restoring her pristine moral code of ‘using her head, not her heart’ is encapsulated in her desperate dash to the IT servers at 1am in the morning to delete the incriminating email detailing her illicit relationship with Harry Jewell. This, undoubtedly, compromises both of their careers as professionals. Furthermore, their intimate fling casts Dixon-brown as a seducer/a woman who is easily compromised, which is untrue. However, it is the facades that count in the play.
Euthanising the Female Tiger Quoll
In this case, by virtue of being female, we can assume the tiger quoll ‘with a crushed spine’ has reproductive capabilities. The injured tiger quoll was a life-giving entity. Technically, if she recovered fully, the tiger quoll could be the solution to its endangered status.
Andy’s swift decision to euthanise the animal in great pain could be in reference to his own desire to ‘make [his life] over’. He has inadvertently projected his own fears and anxieties over his GSS diagnosis onto the critically injured creature. Essentially, in the moment of mutual pain, Andy could resonate with the tiger quoll.
My theory is that the images of casual sex serve as an ironic layer to a play titled Extinction. Both Piper and Heather unwittingly develop sexual relations with Jewell on a casual basis which symbolises how intercourse is no longer purely valued as a means for continuing the species. These ‘efforts’ for reproduction are fruitless.
1. They show how mankind is centred on pleasure and instant gratification, prioritising the self above all matters.
2. They demonstrate how modern living expectations, consumerism and the perpetuation of gluttony have led to a plateau in human evolution.
Real-life Amanda -> Tutor comment translation:
As I was reading the text, a recurring question kept nagging at me: Why are there intimate scenes sandwiched between the layers of ideological conflict and tension?
Tutor -> real-life Amanda translation:
Oh my goodness, are these characters THAT sexually frustrated? Someone’s heart is going to get broken and then we will have to analyse that in our essays. Ughhhhhh.
5. Stage Directions
1. The opening scene showcases how vets and environmentalists alike are surprised by the first sighting of a tiger quoll in a decade. Their surprise at this unprecedented occurrence is reinforced by the ‘wet and windy’ conditions. Typically, stormy weather is symbolic of chaos and unpredictability.
2. During a particularly heated exchange between Andy and Piper, the interjection of ‘thunder’ intensifies rising temperament in both characters. (p. 73)
3. When Andy discovers who ‘Harry bloody Jewell’ is, his growing disbelief and rising temperament are complemented by the off-stage sound of ‘the roar of the motorbike’. The audiological stage cue characterises Jewell as an unwanted presence of chaos and noise. As the motorbike’s roar is a sound incongruent with the natural environment encapsulating Harry.
The Meaning of Fire
In Act Two: Scene One, the secretiveness of Harry and Piper’s tryst is underlined by the ‘vast blackness’ and their figures ‘in silhouette’. Furthermore, its fragile and tenuous connection is symbolically related to how both counterparts repeatedly ‘poke the fire’ to ensure its longevity through the night. Perhaps, this imagery is referring to how all temptation and sexual energy need to be moderated, which complements Piper’s reluctance to continue their budding relationship.
6. Sample Essay Topics
We've offered a few different types of essay topics below. For more sample essay topics, head over to ourExtinction Study Guide to practice writing essays using the analysis you've learnt in this blog!
The play, Extinction demonstrates that compromise is necessary in the face of conflict.
As a self-professed ecologist, Heather Dixon-Brown’s decision to collaborate with 'the other’ stems from self-interest. Discuss.
'I use my head, not my heart.' Extinction explores how human nature reacts under pressure and vice.
How does Hannie Rayson explore the idea of emotion in the play Extinction?
Within the THINK strategy, we have 3 steps, or ABC. These ABC components are:
Step 1: Analyse
Step 2: Brainstorm
Step 3: Create a Plan
Theme-Based Prompt: Extinction is a play about personal integrity and environmental responsibility. Do you agree?
Step 1: Analyse
This essay prompt is an example of a theme-based prompt. It specifies both 'personal integrity' and 'environmental responsibility' as themes for you to consider. When faced with a theme prompt, I find it most helpful to brainstorm characters and author’s views that are relevant to the given themes, as well as considering more relevant themes that may not have been mentioned in the prompt itself.
Step 2: Brainstorm
Personal integrity and environmental responsibility are central themes, but they aren’t the only themes that Extinction concerns itself with
Environmental responsibility - political, financial, social, pretty much all characters (Piper and Harry as a focus)
Personal integrity - truth versus lie, how we react under pressure, Dixon-Brown and her choice to delete the emails
What is left over? Other kinds of responsibility, e.g. interpersonal relationships
Interpersonal relationships, e.g. Piper and Andy (with a focus on Andy)
Step 3: Create a Plan
P1: Environmental responsibility
Piper and Harry - the tiger quoll project
Potential to talk about idealism versus pragmatism?
P2: Personal integrity
Honesty, morality, ethics
Dixon-Brown’s choice to delete the emails is motivated by selfishness, not by personal integrity
P3: Responsibility to act honestly and transparently in relationships Andy!
He is both environmentally responsible and has personal integrity, but still struggles with his relationships until the very end of the play
If you find this helpful, then you might want to check out A Killer Text Guide: Extinction where we cover five A+ sample essays (written by a 50 study scorer!), with EVERY essay annotated and broken down on HOW and WHY these essays achieved A+ so that you know how to reach your English goals! Let's get started.
Finding out that your school has selected to study a Shakespeare play as your section A text can be a pretty daunting prospect. If I’m honest, I wasn’t all too thrilled upon discovering this either...it seemed as though I now not only had to worry about analysing my text, but also understanding what Shakespeare was saying through all of his old-fashioned words.
However, let’s not fret - in this post, I’ll share with you some Measure for Measure specific advice and tactics, alongside excerpts of an essay of mine as a reference.
Having a basic understanding of the historical context of the play is an integral part of developing your understanding of Measure for Measure (and is explored further in Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare). For example, for prompts that open with “What does Shakespeare suggest about…?” or “How does Measure for Measure reflect Shakespeare’s ideas about…?” it can be really helpful to understand Shakespeare’s own position in society and how that influenced his writing.
There’s no need to memorise certain parts of Shakespeare’s history - as that would serve no purpose - just try to gauge an understanding of what life was like in his time. Through understanding Shakespeare’s position in society, we are able to infer his stances on various characters/ideologies in the play.
Measure for Measure is often regarded as an anti-Puritan satire. Although Shakespeare’s religion has been a subject of much debate and research, with many theories about his faith being brought forward, many believe that he was a secret Catholic. He is believed to be a ‘secret’ Catholic, as he lived during the rise of the Puritans - those who wished to reform the Church of England and create more of a focus on Protestant teachings, as opposed to Catholic teachings. It was often difficult for Catholics to practice their faith at this time.
Angelo and Isabella - particularly Angelo, are believed to embody puritanism, as shown through their excessive piety. By revealing Angelo to be “yet a devil,” though “angel on the outward side,” Shakespeare critiques Puritans, perhaps branding them as hypocritical or even unhuman; those “not born of man and woman.” Thus, we can assume that Shakespeare would take a similar stance to most of us - that Angelo wasn’t the greatest guy and that his excessive, unnatural and puritanical nature was more of a flaw than a virtue.
Tips for Moving Past the Generic Examples/Evidence Found in the Play
It’s important to try and stand out with your examples in your body paragraphs. If you’re writing the same, simple ideas as everyone else, it will be hard for VCAA assessors to reward you for that. Your ideas are the most important part of your essay because they show how well you’ve understood and analysed the text - which is what they are asking from you, it’s called an ‘analytical interpretation of a text,’ not ‘how many big words can you write in this essay.’ You can stand out in Measure for Measure by:
1. Taking Note of Stage Directions and Structure of Speech
Many students tend to simply focus on the dialogue in the play, but stage directions can tell you so much about what Shakespeare was really trying to illustrate in his characters.
For example, in his monologue, I would often reference how Angelo is alone on stage, appearing at his most uninhibited, with his self-interrogation revealing his internal struggle over his newfound lust for Isabella. I would also reference how Shakespeare’s choice of syntax and structure of speech reveal Angelo’s moral turmoil as he repetitively asks himself “what’s this?” indicating his confusion and disgust for his feelings which “unshapes” him.
Isabella is shown to “[kneel]” by Mariana at the conclusion of the play, in order to ask for Angelo’s forgiveness. This detail is one that is easily missed, but it is an important one, as it is an obvious reference to Christianity, and symbolises Isabella’s return to her “gentle and fair” and “saint” like nature.
2. Drawing Connections Between Characters - Analyse Their Similarities and Differences.
Drawing these connections can be a useful way to incorporate other characters not necessarily mentioned in your prompt. For example, in my own English exam last year, I chose the prompt “...Power corrupts both Angelo and the Duke. Do you agree?” and tried to pair Angelo and Isabella, in order to incorporate another character into my essay (so that my entire essay wasn’t just about two characters).
A favourite pair of mine to analyse together was Angelo and Isabella. Although at first glance they seem quite different, when you read into the text a little deeper you can find many similarities. For example, while Angelo lives alone in his garden, “succumbed by brick,” requiring “two keys” to enter, “nun,” Isabella, wishes to join the nuns of Saint Clare where she “must not speak with men” or “show [her] face.” Shakespeare’s depiction of the two, stresses their seclusion, piety and restriction from the “vice” plaguing Vienna. What’s important about this point is that you can alter your wording of it to fit various points that you may make. For example, you could use this example to prove to your assessor how Isabella’s alignment with Angelo signals Shakespeare’s condemnation of her excessive puritanical nature (as I did in my body paragraph below) or, you could use these same points to argue how Angelo was once indeed a virtuous man who was similar to the “saint” Isabella, and that it was the power that corrupted him (as you could argue in the 2019 prompt).
Another great pair is the Duke and Angelo. Although they certainly are different in many ways, an interesting argument that I used frequently, was that they both were selfish characters who abused their power as men and as leaders in a patriarchal society. It is obvious where Angelo did this - through his cruel bribery of Isabella to “lay down the treasures of [her] body,” however the Duke’s behaviour is more subtle. The Duke’s proposal to Isabella at the conclusion of the play, as he asks her to “give [him her] hand,” in marriage, coincides with the revelation that Claudio is indeed alive. It appears that the Duke has orchestrated the timing of his proposal to most forcefully secure Isabella and in this sense, his abuse of power can be likened to Angelo’s “devilish” bribery. This is as, through Shakespeare’s depiction of Isabella, it is evident that she has little interest in marriage; she simply wishes to join a convent where she “must not speak with men,” as she lives a life of “strict restraint.” The Duke is aware of this, yet he demands Isabella to “be [his]”- wishing to take her from her true desire and Shakespeare is able to elucidate Isabella’s distaste through her response to this: silence. By contrasting Isabella’s once powerful voice - her “speechless dialect” that can “move men” - with her silence in response to the Duke’s proposal, Shakespeare is able to convey the depth of the Duke’s selfishness and thus his similarity to Angelo.
We've got a character list for you in Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare (just scroll down to the Character section).
What’s important to realise about these bits of evidence is that you can use them in so many different prompts, provided that you tailor your wording to best answer the topic. For example, you could try fitting at least one of the above examples in these prompts:
‘Give me your hand and say you will be mine…’ The characters in ‘Measure for Measure’ are more interested in taking than giving. Discuss.
‘More than our brother is our chastity.' Explore how Shakespeare presents Isabella's attitude to chastity throughout Measure for Measure.
‘I have seen corruption boil …' To what extent does Shakespeare explore corruption in Measure for Measure, and by what means?
‘Measure or Measure presents a society in which women are denied power.’ Discuss.
How To Kick Start Your Essay with a Smashing Introduction
There’s no set way on how to write an introduction. Lots of people write them in many different ways and these can all do well! This is the best part about English - you don’t have to be writing like the person sitting next to you in order to get a good mark. I personally preferred writing short and sweet introductions, just because they were quick to write and easy to understand.
For example, for the prompt...
“...women are frail too.”
To what extent does ‘Measure for Measure’ examine the flaws of Isabella?
...my topic sentences were...
Isabella is depicted as a moral, virtuous and pious woman, but it is this aspect of her nature that paradoxically aligns her with the “tyrannous” Angelo.
Shakespeare explores the hypocrisy and corruption of Isabella as a flaw, as she deviates from her initially “gentle and fair” nature.
Despite exploring Isabella’s flaws to a large degree, Shakespeare does indeed present her redemption at the denouement of the play.
...and my introduction was:
William Shakespeare’s play, ‘Measure for Measure’ depicts a seventeenth century Viennese society in which disease, misconduct and licentiousness are rife. It is upon a backdrop of such ordeals that Shakespeare presents the character of Isabella, who is initially depicted as of stark contrast to the libertine populate of Vienna. To a considerable extent, ‘Measure for Measure’ does indeed examine the flaws of the “gentle and fair” Isabella, but Shakespeare suggests that perhaps she is not “saint” nor “devil,” rather that she is a human with her own flaws and with her own redeeming qualities.
Instead of rewording my topic sentences, I touched on them more vaguely, because I knew that I wouldn’t get any ‘extra’ points for repeating them twice, essentially. However, if you feel more confident in touching on your topic sentences more specifically - go ahead!! There are so many different ways to write an introduction! Do what works for you!
This body paragraph included my pairing between Angelo and Isabella. My advice would be to continue to incorporate the language used in the prompt. In this paragraph, you can see me use the word “flaw” quite a bit, just in order to ensure that I’m actually answering the prompt, not a prompt that I have studied before.
Isabella is depicted as a moral, virtuous and pious woman, but it is this aspect of her nature that paradoxically aligns her with the “tyrannous” Angelo. Where Angelo is “of ample grace and honour,” Isabella is “gentle and fair.” Where Angelo believes in “stricture and firm abstinence,” Isabella too believes that “most desire should meet the full blow of justice.” This similarity is enhanced by their seclusion from the lecherous society in which they reside. Angelo lives alone in his garden, “succumbed by brick,” requiring “two keys” to enter, whilst Isabella desires the life of a nun where she “must not speak with men” or “show [her] face.” This depiction of both Angelo and Isabella stresses their seclusion, piety and restriction from the “vice” that the libertine populate is drunk from. However, Shakespeare’s revelation that Angelo is “yet a devil” though “angel on the outward side,” is perhaps Shakespeare’s commentary on absolute stricture being yet a facade, a flaw even. Shakespeare presents Isabella’s chastity and piety as synonymous with her identity, which ultimately leaves her unable to differentiate between the two, as she states that she would “throw down [her] life,” for Claudio, yet maintains that “more than our brother is our chastity.” Though virtuous in a sense, she is cruel in another. Although at first glance, Shakespeare’s depiction of Isabella’s excessive puritanical nature appears to be her virtue, by aligning her with the “devil” that is Angelo, it appears that this is indeed her flaw.
Conclude Your Essay by Dazzling Your Assessor!
My main tip for a conclusion is to finish it off with a confident commentary of the entire piece and what you think that the author was trying to convey through their words (in relation to the topic). For example, in pretty much all of my essays, I would conclude with a sentence that referenced the entire play - for example, how it appeared to be such a polarising play, with largely exaggerated, polarising characters/settings (eg. Angelo and the Duke, or the brothels that stood tall next to the monastery):
Ultimately, Shakespeare’s play ‘Measure for Measure,’ depicts Isabella as a multifaceted character. She is not simply one thing - not simply good nor bad - her character’s depiction continues to oscillate between the polar ends of the spectrum. Although yes, she does have flaws, so too does she have redeeming qualities. Though at times deceitful and hypocritical, she too is forgiving and gentle. Thus, as Shakespeare’s play, ‘Measure for Measure,’ does centre on polarising characters in a polarising setting, perhaps through his exploration of Isabella’s flaws alongside her virtues, he suggests that both the good and the bad inhabit us.
Measure for Measure is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
We are well into the second half of Semester 1 and for Year 12 students, the Mt Everest that is the final English examination is approximately 6 months away. Though most students are at this stage comfortable with the text response aspect of English, many tend to struggle with the notion of “answering the prompt”.
When working to correct this issue, it is important to understand the VCAA English Study Design brief for text response which outlines its examination criteria as being:
detailed knowledge and understanding of the selected text, demonstrated appropriately in response to the task
development in the writing of a coherent and effective structure in response to the task
control in the use of expressive and effective language appropriate to the task.
The importance of answering the prompt is stressed in each of the 3 listed points in the rubric which share the common theme of following the assigned task. In order to construct an essay which successfully answers the prompt, one must be conscious of the relationship between the prompt assigned, their stated contention and the topic sentences they provide.
Prompts for Section A are divided into one of five categories. To learn more about LSG's Five Types Technique, check out our blog.
The first thing one should do when presented with a prompt is analyse it by identifying the keywords of the prompt and clarifying all the key terms. Once this has been done, it is time to formulate a contention.
A contention is simply your view of the prompt. This is where you challenge the statement presented to you and construct a viewpoint outlining the degree to which you are in agreement or disagreement with the prompt or if you are sitting on the fence. It is vital to do this not by blatantly rewording the prompt to display your stance, instead you must observe the prompt and construct an assessment of the prompt by drawing from the text to confirm your contention. It is through your contention that your points of discussion detailed in your topic sentences are formed.
Points to remember:
do not explicitly say “I agree” or “I disagree”
rather demonstrate how you feel (and thus how you are going to write) by using the text to highlight your opinion of the prompt
use your contention as “umbrella” from which your body paragraph ideas fall under
The next step in developing your essay response is to settle on what points to make in your body paragraphs and write topic sentences. Topic sentences outline the content you will be presenting to your teacher or examiner in the particular body paragraph. A good topic sentence should detail an idea that can be drawn from your contention. A habit some students carry into Year 12 from earlier years of essay writing is to write body paragraphs solely on characters and in turn writing a topic sentence stating which character they will write about in that paragraph. Rather than doing this, focus on the context, themes, symbols and conventions particular character(s) feature in throughout the text.
Points to remember:
ensure your topic sentence clearly indicates what you will discuss in your paragraph
check to make sure your topic sentence is an idea that stems from your contention
avoid character based topic sentences and focus on the themes these characters are utilised to explore
The key to adhering to the prompt presented to you is forming a relationship between the material given to you, your adopted contention and the topic sentences which headline your evidence and justification. Think of the prompt as the avenue through which to form your overall stance. Your contention is the basis of the entirety of your essay. Your topic sentences are opening statements written with the purpose of helping you develop a discussion that follows your contention that is in relation to the prompt. When your text response has evidence of this not only will you present an essay that closely addresses the prompt, but your work will reflect your thoughts, in a manner which efficiently enables you to show off your skills.
For many students, writing creative pieces can be slightly daunting. For some, it is about unleashing the writer within as the boundaries and thematic constraints that exist in Text Response are lifted. For others, it can be an opportunity to discover new writing styles, branching out from the generic T-E-E-L structure.
Formats of imaginative pieces include:
a personal diary entry ,
chronicling the character's thoughts,
Writing in an imaginative style allows you to draw from your own morals, views and feelings. You can weave in personal anecdotes, experiences, and metaphorical language which gives one's writing that pizazz and individualist factor!
Moreover, you can showcase how you have perceived and interpreted the characters within the novel/film, the landscapes they inhabit. Alternatively, you can step into different personas. For example, for the topic of conflict, I can write as an injured army medic, a doctor, a foreign correspondent and a war photographer.
However, imaginative writing also has many pitfalls students tumble into (do not despair; you can get out of it!):
1) Don't get too caught up in emotions and flowery language.
Great imaginative pieces are not only graded on how good your story telling skills are. More importantly, your teachers would be grading on the palpable links to the themes of the text and prompt you have been given.
In Year 11, when I wrote an imaginative piece, I went overboard with the flowery metaphorical language. My teacher said ‘Overall, the piece is good however, at some parts it sounded like purple prose.’ When I read it over now, I shudder a little.
2) In Reading and Creative, there is greater emphasis on extrapolating themes and ideas from your studied text.
So, those radical and out-of-the box ideas and views you have in relation to the text can now be used.
For example, the overarching themes in Every Man In This Village Is A Liar encompass the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, inequality (the unequal status of women in Middle East), the effect of war on the physical body and the human psych and, how the media portrays war and violence. The starting point to planning any context piece is to use quotes and ideas within your text. Infer meaning from those quotes and main ideas and ask yourself:
'Does it hold a great degree of relevance to issues prevalent today?'
'Can I link it to my sac/exam prompt?'
So, here's an example of planning a creative piece. Two of my favourite quotes from Life of Galileo are:
'Science is the rightful, much loved daughter of the church.'
‘Our ignorance is limitless; let us lop off a millimeter off it. Why try to be clever now that we at last have a chance of being less stupid.’
In essence, this conveys the overarching theme of science vs. religion, and how Church and the inquisition exploit the peoples' views through their own ignorance. Their fear of change, pioneering and gaining of new knowledge stems from the prospect of chaos if society's entrenched values are uprooted. I interpreted this as 'ignorance is not bliss' and instead, it breeds fear in people. This is in relevance with the tragic events that has occurred in recent years - acts of terrorism, and/or racially motivated attacks. In the context of our modern society, religion and science still maintain an intriguing and tumultuous relationship. As the advancement of technology and ethics are not at equilibrium, this is where controversy arises. Conversely, we now have to consider whether this relates to the prompt:
A person never knows who they truly are, until tested by conflict.
Possible idea for this example:
"Is it ethical to administer a new drug capable of rewiring and regenerating brain function at a neuronal level to someone who has sustained extensive brain damage? Is it deemed humane to potentially change a person's character? At what personal cost will this have? - Playing god."
Tips to achieve A+ in creative writing
1. Ensure it is related to the text.
A lot of students believe that the reading and creating essay is exactly the same as the old context essay. However, there is a significant difference! While a creative context essay does not have to link to the text in any way and only needs to explore a certain idea (e.g. encountering conflict), the reading and creating essay needs to offer a relevant interpretation of the text as well as show understanding of the text’s messages and how the text creates meaning.
The easiest way to write a creative response that links clearly to the text is to write about a scenario that is related to the plot line. You can do this by writing a continuation of the storyline (i.e. what happens after the end?), or by filling in gaps in the plot line which the author did not explicitly outline (what happens behind the scenes that caused the outcome?) In this way, your response will be completely original and still demonstrate an understanding of the world of the text.
2. Write in a way that shows understanding of how the text creates meaning.
When creating your response, be aware of the features present in your text (such as characters, narrative, motifs etc) that you can use in your own essay. For example, if the text is narrated from a first-person perspective, you may also mimic this in your essay. Or, you could tell it in first-person from another character’s point of view to demonstrate another interpretation of the text. You may also include motifs from the text into your own response. But be careful when making decisions about structure, conventions and language. If the text is written in very formal and concise language, it is probably not a good idea to use slang. Similarly, if the text is a play, structuring your response as a script might be a better choice than writing a poem!
3. Explore the explicit and implied ideas and values in the texts.
Lastly, remember that whilst it is a creative response, your purpose is NOT to tell a nice story but to explore the ideas, values and messages left by the author! There will always be various interpretations regarding these values, and you can express your understanding of the text through your portrayal of certain characters, or through the events in your response. For example, if you were studying Measure for Measure and wanted to explore how human nature cannot be restrained or limited by law and punishment, you could write a continuation of the play in which the city of Vienna has reverted to its original state of moral decay.
4. Show, don't tell
Creative essays are great because they offer interesting and unique stories; however, there is one common downfall that occurs in writing. Some students create pieces that are too straightforward. Rather than using vocabulary, imagery and symbolism to express a point, they simply write down a statement that sums up what they wish to say. Your aim is to invite the reader to experience the story through your words. This can be done through the character’s thoughts, feelings, actions etc. Thus the well-known phrase among writers, ‘Show, don’t tell’. Keeping this idea in mind turn you into a much more successful writer – and you’ll see the difference!
Tell: Katie was very happy.
Show: Katie’s face lifted. Little wrinkles appeared around her bright eyes, her dimples made an appearance that dug into her cheeks as a big grin emerged to show her perfect teeth.
Tell: She felt horrible for the weeping children.
Show: Guilt throbbed inside her as she stared at the weeping children. Her heart pounded against her chest, her hands trembling beside her still body, her brain screaming at her to do something.
Tell: I was scared.
Show: I hear my breathing; heavy, and rapid. I shut my eyes tightly. I can feel goosebumps running up my arms and down my back.
To test whether or not you are ‘telling’ instead of ‘showing’, think about whether or not your sentence leaves room for questions. In Example 1, ‘Katie was very happy’ would leave the reader thinking – what thought or action showed that she was happy? Whereas ‘show’ demonstrated that she was happy without directly stating it.
The key is to go into the finer details of your story!
Finally, have fun and enjoy the process of planning a creative narrative, let your imagination run a little wild and rein it in with your knowledge! Hopefully these tips were helpful and you are now more confident and informed on the Reading and Creating response!
This blog post was written by Amanda Lau, Rosemary Chen, and Lisa Tran.
Station Eleven is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out ourUltimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
Breaking Down a Station Eleven Essay Prompt
We've explored themes, characters, symbols and provided a summary of the text over on our Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel blog post. If you need a quick refresher or you’re new to studying this text, 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!
The Prompt: 'The distortion of memories can be harmful.' Do you agree?
Step 1: Analyse
The first thing to note about this prompt is that it's a theme-based prompt, focussing specifically on the theme of memory, which plays a significant role throughout the novel! But more specifically, it's asking directly about the impacts distorted (i.e. misrepresentative/twisted/warped) memories have on individuals, and whether this is harmful or not. So ultimately, you have to look at which memories are distorted throughout the novel, and evaluate whether this process is ultimately helpful to the characters or not.
Many characters' memories are altered significantly from what actually occurred - this is especially relevant for the characters living after the pandemic, as memories naturally distort over a 20-year period
The two main characters we see whose memories are altered the most are Tyler and Kirsten - both of whom were children during the collapse of civilisation
For Tyler, his recollections of the past are all dominated by violence and this has a significant impact on his worldview. One could very easily argue that it is this distorted view of reality that ultimately leads to the formation of his cult and the subsequent harm he inflicts
Thus, in the case of Tyler, it is quite clear that the distortion of memories has been quite harmful
However, on the other hand, Kirsten has had to commit unspeakable acts, (as implied by her being unable to remember her past/childhood), but this is seen as a coping mechanism, allowing her to move forward in life
Thus, for Kirsten, the manipulation of her memories through her forgetting is ultimately rather positive!
Memory distortion doesn't just relate to these two characters - it also affects Clark quite severely
He is shown to be quite unhappy in the pre-apocalyptic world, which is a stark contrast to his fulfilment by the end of the novel. What causes this?
This can be attributed to his distortion of memories which allows him to view the old world in a far more positive manner, with significant nostalgia
Thus, like Kirsten, Clark's distortion of memories is also presented as largely beneficial
So ultimately, while there are downsides to manipulating one's memories (Tyler), Mandel shows that distorting memories is largely a positive coping mechanism for many characters!
Step 3: Create a Plan
From my brainstorming, I'll be approaching the essay with the following contention:
Distorting memories can be harmful but more often is beneficial.
Now it's time to work out our paragraph ideas.
P1: Tyler's distortion of memories is largely detrimental and therefore harmful because they are tainted with violence and thus exacerbate his suffering.
P2: However, Kirsten uses this as a coping mechanism, enabling her to move forward from the trauma associated with the collapse of society and therefore the distortion of memories is necessary in her case.
P3: Further, Clark's rose-tinted view of the past world allows him to come to terms with the collapse of society and again is beneficial.
While Emily St. John Mandel's post-apocalyptic novel Station Eleven illustrates the harm which can be associated with the distortion of memories, it ultimately expounds on the benefits which can be garnered by those who alter their perceptions of reality given how this can serve as an invaluable coping mechanism to process trauma. The non-linear structure of her novel, achieved through the interweaving of pre- and post-lapsarian scenes (1), allows her to sculpt parallels between her characters who are able to accurately recall both the positives and the negatives of the 'modern world'. She thus advocates that whilst the distortion of memories can perpetuate and enable violence, it can alternatively result in tangible benefits when utilised in a positive manner, thus exposing Mandel's credence in how this can actually serve to benefit individuals and entire communities as a whole.
Annotations (1) It is really useful to show an understanding of how the novel has been constructed and why - so through Station Eleven not following a traditional model of time, this allows Mandel to really contrast between her characters - namely Kirsten and Tyler.
Mandel expounds (2) how the distortion of memories can ultimately exacerbate the suffering experienced by vast sectors of the community, arguing that it is this which actively perpetuates harm due to the inability of humans to adequately process trauma, particularly trauma which stems from one's childhood given the loss of innocence which accompanies this. Indeed, Tyler, who was characterised as a young boy during the 'neutron bomb' of the Georgia Flu and the subsequent destruction of civilisation 'had the misfortune of remembering everything', ultimately resulting in dire consequences for the majority of characters who interact with him. Mandel condemns Tyler's innate desire to justify the pandemic, arguing his inability to forget, process and fully comprehend ‘the blood drenched years of the collapse’ drives the creation of his cult which eventually perpetuates great suffering. This ultimately results in significant consequences, thus allowing her to denounce how the distortion of memories (with Tyler's recollections largely being defined by extreme violence and gore) can be extremely harmful. Indeed, 'ruling with a combination of charisma, violence and cherry-picked verses from the Book of Revelations', Tyler damages the overwhelming majority of people he comes into contact with, from having numerous 'child brides' to rendering the town of St. Deborah by the Water 'unsafe' to his cult containing only a few 'true believers', (3) serving as the embodiment of humanity's insatiable lust for power. Through his reciting of only phrases from the Book of Revelations, labelled the most exclusionary and brutal book of the New Testament (4), Mandel condemns the selectivity of Tyler's beliefs, advocating that his internalisation of only the most harmful and violent phrases exemplifies the lack of benefits associated with violently distorting memories given the inability of humans to process such immense trauma and suffering. Whilst Mandel explains Tyler's actions as stemming from the violence underpinning his childhood, particularly given that he was raised by a 'lunatic' whom others deemed 'unsaveable', she dispels the notion that this excuses them, arguing the degree of hardships inflicted by Tyler himself are unjustifiable, thus further exposing her credence in the necessity of being able to forget harmful memories in order to overcome them. Ultimately, through her portrayal of Tyler's inability to forget his childhood as 'a boy adrift on the road', Mandel reveals the potential for harm to be imposed due to the distortion of memories so that they are marked by violence, arguing that this can indeed be overwhelmingly dangerous.
Annotations (2) It is great to use action words such as 'expounds' instead of the basic 'shows’ as this demonstrates a more in-depth understanding of the author’s views and values (ensuring you meet VCAA Criteria 2: Views and Values).
(3) When making claims such as that Tyler harms 'the majority of people he comes into contact with', it is great to show multiple examples, so that your claims are properly backed up with appropriate evidence!
(4) This is a really great point to draw out that other students may not consider - Tyler never references any other components of the New Testament and only focuses on the most violent sections of one particular book.
However, Mandel also displays a belief in the positives which can be gleaned by those who inherently distort their memories as a mechanism to process traumatic times in their lives, arguing this can provoke significant, tangible benefits. Conveyed through the non-linear structure of her novel, Mandel sculpts parallels between Tyler and Kristen given their similar ages and respective connections to protagonist Arthur through him serving as their father and father figure respectively, with the significant difference being that only the latter was able to forget 'the year [she] spent on the road…the worst of it' (5). As such, only Kirsten is able to adequately move on from this extremely traumatic period in her life, exemplifying Mandel's credence in how the distortion of memories can truly serve as an invaluable coping mechanism allowing individuals to overcome significant harm, with Kirsten experiencing a large degree of post-lapsarian fulfilment given her 'friendships' with her fellow members of the Travelling Symphony, her 'only home'. Despite Kirsten's past being underpinned by significant violence, with her having three 'knife tattoos' to commemorate those she has had to kill in order to survive, her continued ability to adapt her memories into less traumatic ones is applauded, with her murders having been portrayed as occurring 'slowly…sound drained from the earth' as a way for her to process 'these men [which she] will carry with [her] for the rest of [her] life', thereby exposing Mandel's credence in the necessity of being able to overcome trauma through distorting memories. As such, she ironically went on to perform Romeo and Juliet following one such event which, given Mandel's depiction of the unparalleled significance of artistic forms of expressionism facilitating human wellbeing as Kirsten 'never feels more alive' than when she performs, exposes Mandel's illumination of how altering false realities (6) can ultimately provoke tangible benefits given Kirsten's ability to simply move on despite the traumatising nature of the truth. Ultimately, through the juxtaposition between Tyler and Kirstens' distortion (7) of memories, Mandel expounds how distorting memories can wield both consequences and benefits, with the latter occurring when employed subconsciously by individuals to process harmful memories.
Annotations (5) It is quite sophisticated to go back to the construction of the novel throughout the essay (as opposed to just briefly mentioning it in the introduction!). This shows you truly understand why the author structured the novel the way she did, which in this case is to highlight the similarities and differences between Kristen and Tyler.
(6) Try to avoid repeating 'distortion of memories' every single time - it is great to use synonyms such as 'false realities', but make sure you're using the right words (see annotation 2 for more information).
(7) Note how this links back to paragraph 1 (given that these two points are so similar and go off of one another) which makes the essay flow better. We are showing that our argument is well-structured and follows logical patterns.
Furthermore, Mandel similarly explores the benefits of utilising the distortion of memories as a coping mechanism and how, especially when this is done through the lens of nostalgia, it can facilitate unprecedented satisfaction. Indeed, Clark is depicted to be the literal embodiment of post-lapsarian fulfilment (8) given his ability to, albeit through rose-tinted glasses, appreciate the 'taken-for-granted miracles' of the 'former world' through his position as the 'Curator' at the 'Museum of Civilisation'. Subsequently, he serves to expose Mandel's belief in the benefits of altering one's recollections in an overwhelmingly positive manner. As such, Clark 'spend[s] more time in the past…letting his memories overtake him' as he maintains integral cultural artefacts which 'had no practical use but that people wanted to preserve'. This ultimately eventuates into a significant degree of fulfilment for not only Clark himself, but also the other residents of the Severn City Airport, the children of whom 'like all educated children everywhere….memorise abstractions' of the pre-lapsarian society, with the entire Airport community revelling in the everyday 'beauty' of objects not typically appreciated by the general populace. In doing so Mandel highlights her belief regarding the significance underpinning the benefits which can be gained from those whose memories are distorted to cope with losses in a positive manner, arguing this can enable a substantial increase in wellbeing. This is exacerbated through the juxtaposition in Clark's pre- and post-lapsarian fulfilment, for in the former he is denigrated as merely an unhappy 'minimally present...high functioning sleepwalker' (9). Overall, through her portrayal of Clark's satisfaction despite his elderly status and the loss of everyone dear to him, Mandel exposes her belief in the value of distorting one's memories in an overwhelmingly positive manner, advocating this can facilitate the forming of one's intrinsic purpose and thus fulfilment.
Annotations (8) You want to show how characters correlate to specific themes, and if one embodies a particular idea, then you should clearly state that! It shows examiners you really know your stuff. See this blog for more about the themes and characters in Station Eleven.
(9) Again, you want to clearly highlight how Clark is distorting his memories, including by providing evidence to back up your claim.
Ultimately, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven exemplifies the limitations of the human psyche when affected by trauma, arguing that the distortion of memories can have either a positive or negative impact upon the individual. Whilst she cautions her audience against the dangers of adhering to selective recollections, she simultaneously presents the benefits which can be garnered from this, alongside the ability to liberate oneself from such harmful memories.
For more Station Eleven writing samples, check out this blog post, which compares three different paragraphs and analyses how they improve upon one another.
If you found this essay breakdown helpful, then you might want to check out our Station Eleven Study Guide where we cover 5 A+ sample essays with EVERY essay annotated and broken down on HOW and WHY these essays achieved A+ so you reach your English goals!
The following blog post (updated 02/10/2020), is a mix of the video transcription, along with some new pieces of advice and tips. Happy learning!
Hey guys. Welcome back to Lisa's Study Guides.
Right now, it's in the middle of December, and I know that most of you should have finished school by now, and you're enjoying your school holidays. Because it is summer holidays, and most people aren't really studying right now, this is for the truly keen beans, the people who are reading the text before the school starts, which, by the way, you should be doing. I'll pop that video in a card up above and so if you are studying Burial Rites, then this video is for you. If you're not, as always, it doesn't really matter because the type of advice that I will be giving would definitely be relevant to any text, because it's more about your thinking and how you actually go around approaching essay topics.
Burial Rites is about this girl called Agnes, and she is the last person in Iceland to be sentenced to the life sentence. This book covers the last few months of her life, living with these people who she's sharing her story with. She has been sentenced because she has murdered Natan. And although we first initially hear that she has murdered this guy, when we start to hear her story develop, that's when we start to see that there are shades of gray. That she did have reason behind what she did, and you can start to feel quite sympathetic towards her. At the same time, though, and this is what today's essay question will be about. There's a lot to do with the patriarchy. Agnes being not just a woman, but an intelligent woman, was something that was looked down upon, and people were scared of that. That's just to give you a little bit of context so that we can start this essay topic.
Today's chosen essay topic is:
Women have no power in Burial Rites, the patriarchy dominates their lives. To what extent do you agree?
Step 1: Analyse
The first step, as always, is we look at keywords. What are the keywords here? To me, they are women, no power, patriarchy and dominates. These words really stand out to me, and these are the words that I feel are necessary for me to focus on in order to answer this prompt properly.
The second step that I do is I define keywords. So what I do here is I try to understand what the keywords mean and also their implications.
Women, is our first keyword. it's easy just to say, "Oh, women includes this character and this character." But we can start to think about more so the implications as well. So don't just think about the major characters like Agnes and Margret, but also think about the minor characters like Sigga and Rosa.
No power. So to me, no power means to lack freedom. It's not necessarily no power like you know I'm not strong and this is why we need to actually define the words because many words have multiple connotations or they have multiple meanings. So you need to figure out, "Okay, how am I going to find this word so that I've got the right focus for the rest of my essay?" This is silly, but what if you, halfway through your essay, went, "Holy crap, power could also mean electricity, and I didn't talk about electricity." So electricity is not part of Burial Rites, but it's just something to get you thinking. You know you don't just want to dive straight into the essay, assuming you know what the keyword means and what it entails. Actually spend time to define it, so that it's a lot clearer for you, too. So I've also added that no power means a lack of power compared to men. So because it is a patriarchy, the fact that they have no power is very much sort of linked to the fact that it's male-induced.
The third keyword is a patriarchy, so a male-dominated society, which means that an analysis of male characters is also required to fully understand male and female interactions. If you have an essay where you only talk about the women, then you're maybe only answering it 50%. To really add extra value to what you're saying and to really solidify your points, talk about the men because everyone influences each other one way or another.
The last thing is I would also add, 'to what extent'? When a prompt says, "to what extent?" to me, it means that some sort of challenge is required here. It's probably not enough if I just completely agree with it because it's only suggesting that the extent does end somewhere and that you need to go beyond it.
Step 2: Brainstorm
While in this video I don't cover the brainstorm process, you can learn more by reading up on my THINK and EXECUTE strategy, which has helped thousands of students achieve better marks!
Step 3: Create a Plan
My third step is I plan out key arguments. So this is how I'm going to break down this essay prompt. I am going to do two body paragraphs where I agree and one body paragraph where I disagree. So this should mean that I'm only agreeing to a certain extent. Here's a video about this type of essay structure and response:
Body paragraph 1:
So my first body paragraph is yes, under male authority, the women are robbed of freedom and power. My example for that would be Agnes, who is the protagonist. She is a woman who's being sentenced to death for murdering Natan, more about him later, and, as a result, society condemns her and she's robbed of her identity and freedom. "Everything I said was altered until the story wasn't my own." The metaphor of a story represents her being stripped of her experiences and identity, and instead replaced with how others think of her, whore, madwoman and murderess.
Body paragraph 2:
My second body paragraph would be another agreement, but this time I'm going to focus on the men. In this second body paragraph, my argument is men hold exploitative power over women. One, Natan, the person who was murdered, toys with all his whores, demonstrating male dominance in 1820s Iceland. All his workmaids are stranded, shipwrecked with nowhere else to go, highlighting women's hopelessness in changing their situation. Additionally, there's Blondal. So Blondal is a government authority and he's torn when commanding Lauga, Lauga, not too sure how to say that. You guys let me know. "I'm sure you would not question me," which is also another example of women's subordinate status.
Body paragraph 3:
The third one is one where I disagree. Here will be that there are rare instances of female empowerment in the novel. The first one will be Rosa, the poet. So Rosa has an affair with Natan, but Kent praises Rosa and she's described to be a wonderful woman and beautiful. Rosa transcends patriarchal structures, as she is assertive, headstrong, going against social codes in an act of female empowerment.
The second one will be Agnes. Her storytelling and ability to express what she is inside allows her to gain a voice in the patriarchal world that has silenced her. Through her storytelling, she asserts her self-worth and dignity and despite the fact that she has been locked down, she is being treated like crap by the men, her ability to hold herself strong and to be able to face her death with dignity means that with some sense, at least from within, that sense of empowerment has not been completely diminished.
If you found this blog and video helpful, and would like to see Burial Rites essay writing in action, then I recommend you check out How To Write A Killer Text Response below!
We’ll be applying the CONVERGENT and DIVERGENT strategy from LSG’s How To Write A Killer Comparative and at how ideas are developed in similar or different thematic directions in these texts. CONVERGENT ideas lead to similar conclusions and messages, while DIVERGENT ideas take us to different conclusions. If you’d like to learn more about this strategy which can help you build more insightful discussions of the text by finding unique points of comparison, then I’d recommend you check out the LSG’s How To Write A Killer Comparativestudy guide. In the meantime, let’s start with some CONVERGENT ideas.
Power, Race and Oppression
In both texts, we see racial systems that take power away from Bla(c)k people. In the play, settler-colonialism is a big one. It’s depicted as a home invasion, a ship taking up a whole harbour, and as a process of devaluing land and ignoring its custodians. This trickles into contemporary institutions (widely understood patterns, rules or structures within society) which perpetuate these dynamics of race and power, such as the police and the media. Oppression is similarly maintained in The Longest Memory, where physical violence, and even just the threat of possible physical violence, is used to enslave African Americans. Plus, all of this racial violence was justified by the socio-economic interests of enslavers. Both texts see Bla(c)k people disempowered by a range of white institutions.
On the other hand, family and the wider community are depicted as a galvanising or healing force in both texts. In The 7 Stages of Grieving, we see how death can bring together entire communities to commiserate, dance and mourn collectively, drawing on one another’s strength. Depictions of families in projections of photographs also outline how joy and solidarity can be drawn from community. In the novel, family ties are also important. Whitechapel and Cook build a committed relationship to one another; she even says, “he proves he loves me every day.” At the same time, Cook also provides her unconditional love and support to Chapel, whose education and eventual relationship with Lydia are facilitated by her.
Memory and Grief
Both texts show how memory and grief are significant burdens for Bla(c)k people and operate at multiple dimensions. The play is sort of built around the five stages of grief but demonstrates how First Nations grief isn’t neat or linear. It can go from highly expressive to numb in moments. It also has roots in Australia’s genocidal history such that the death of any First Nations person—but especially elders—is felt widely. In The Longest Memory, there’s a physical dimension to Whitechapel’s grief. He earns the name “Sour-face” because of the worry lines that developed after Chapel’s death. He feels extremely guilty and only after Chapel dies does he realise why Chapel disagreed with him so stubbornly in life. He actually learned the tough lesson that he’d been hoping to teach Chapel.
What about divergent ideas? Let’s break down two now.
Struggle and Resistance
Both texts offer ideas about what the fight against racism might look like, but at times these ideas are more different than similar. In The 7 Stages of Grieving, the main struggle is to be heard and understood. In the play and in real life even, we can see how the media is stacked against First Nations peoples, so their fight is about cutting through the bias and making sure they are fairly represented. In The Longest Memory, the fight against slavery is portrayed quite differently. In a scenario where physical violence was used the way it was in order to oppress, self-emancipation was seen by many as the only path out. Enslaved workers weren’t fighting to be heard, they were fighting to survive. It’s also worth bearing in mind the history of abolition, which happened in Northern states first. This gave them a destination, as well as hope.
The Generation Gap
The other thing that the texts diverge on is the relationship between parents and children. In the play, family is consistently shown to provide support and community. As the woman speaks about her father and brother, the unconditional love and support between them is palpable. However, the novel depicts a bit more conflict— Whitechapel argued with Chapel based on his lived experience, and the many young people he had seen be killed for trying to free themselves. However, Chapel was far more committed to freedom than to survival. There isn’t necessarily a ‘right’ answer either way, but this definitely isn’t a tension that we see in the play.
I discuss all these themes in further detail in A Killer Comparative Guide: The 7 Stages of Grieving & The Longest Memory. In this guide, I offer you a deep dive into these two texts through plot summaries and analyses, structural features, critical readings, and best of all, 5 sample A+ essays fully annotated so you can understand exactly how to achieve better marks in your own essays.
Essay Topic Breakdown
As with all our essay topic breakdowns, we'll follow LSG's THINK and EXECUTE technique, as taught in our How To Write A Killer Text Response. The LSG's THINK and EXECUTE technique follows three steps in the THINK phase - Analyse, Brainstorm, and Create a Plan. Learn more about this technique in this video:
Let's use essay topic #1 from the section below.
Compare the ways in which the two texts explore the possibility of social change.
Step 1: Analyse
‘Social change’ is a key term here, but the word ‘possibility’ also stands out to me. Social change—probably towards equality—isn’t something that just happens, so the prompt also wants us to think about how to get there, and whether that seems achievable in the contexts of these stories. The prompt is phrased as an instruction (“Compare”) which invites you to analyse both texts together, but you totally knew that already!
Step 2: Brainstorm
I’d probably start by brainstorming what exactly needs to be changed. In each text, we see institutions and structures which are violent and harmful—from the play, police and the media, and from the novel, the economy itself. However, these institutions are upheld in different ways, and require different mechanisms of change—while the play emphasises grieving and unity, the novel focuses more on emancipation.
Step 3: Create a Plan
Because we’ve got two sets of ideas for each text, let’s alternate the texts (Essay Structure 1, as discussed in How To Write A Killer Comparative) to cover these ideas in four paragraphs.
P1: Starting with The 7 Stages of Grieving, social change is required at the institutional level. Police and the media are racially biased, and Aboriginal people aren’t given a platform to tell their stories. Reconciliation needs to include Aboriginal voices.
P2: With The Longest Memory, social change is required across the economy that depends on enslaving people and stealing their labour, while others have an economic interest in the status quo.
P3: Because of this, change seems more possible in the play, and we start seeing it happen towards the end, as the ice thaws and people, Bla(c)k and white, march across the bridge together.
P4: On the other hand, emancipation is seen as the only path to change in the novel, as intergenerational social pressures among the enslaving class in the South are insurmountable.
So our contention will probably revolve around the idea that ‘social change’ means different things in each text as social inequalities exist at different levels (Paragraph 1&2)—as such, the ‘possibilities’ for that change look different as well (P3&4), particularly the extent to which white people can be involved in that change.
To understand the works of Franklin and Ziegler, we are going to take a look at the historical contexts in which the texts were written. By doing this, we’ll establish a proper understanding of some of the language and concepts that you might have experienced in class. The three specific historical contexts that we will address are life in 1950s London, uncovering the enigma of DNA as well as 19th-century rural life in Australia. As you continue to read this study guide, you may wish to refer back to this section if you find some of the terminologies and references confusing!
Life in 1950s London (Photograph 51)
Photograph 51 is set during the 1950s in London. This was a challenging time for everyone, largely due to Britain’s impaired economy after the war, as well as the financial obligations of the nation to the United States. An iconic local feature of this time was the fact that the government encouraged everyone in the nation to grow food for themselves and their communities. Everywhere you looked, land was being used to farm crops! Indeed, people would grow food everywhere that they could because government rations were strictly enforced and the 1950s was a decade marked by the struggle for parents to find enough food for themselves and their children. This was a difficult situation in which to live and work. However, in this time after the Second World War, Britain experienced changes on a scale never experienced by the country before. The war had cost Britain its status as a nation of monumental power, and in the 1950s the nation was looking to rebuild itself. This was a period of enthusiasm and optimism, in which many technological and scientific developments were made. Computers became more sophisticated, and humanity deeply desired to explore the workings of the world.
Nonetheless, during this time of hope and progress, women were remarkably undervalued, and female professionals were often treated with contempt. We are provided with a snapshot of what this looked like in Photograph 51. As a Jewish woman in the 1950s, Rosalind Franklin is depicted as a target for prejudice in the world around her. For example, she is not permitted to dine with her male colleagues at lunch, which renders her unable to engage in meaningful conversations with her colleagues and debate about their research and ideas. Additionally, despite the fact that she is just as qualified as Wilkins, he continually ignores her qualifications and achievements. We see this as he refers to her with the patronising nickname ‘Rosy’, which underscores the reality that he sees her as inferior to him. It is evident that the professional world was a challenging place for women and minorities during the 1950s in London. However, Rosalind Franklin was willing to persist with her important scientific work in this formidable social setting.
19th Century Rural Life in Australia (My Brilliant Career)
My Brilliant Career was published in 1901. This was the year when the Commonwealth of Australia was formed, as the colonies of Western Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales united as one nation. The text is set in areas around Goulburn in Australia in the 1890s, which is around 195 kilometres - or a two-hour drive - in the South-West direction of Sydney. To put it bluntly: Australia was a challenging place to live in in the 1890s. Take a moment to consider the harsh realities of life in this time and place. During this time, most of Australia was a rural environment and this was an era in which Australians were confronted with drought, economic hardships and high unemployment rates. Indeed, the period of prosperity during the 1850s gold rush was, unfortunately, coming to a close, international investment in Australia was devastatingly declining and the price of wool and wheat was dropping at a dangerous pace. The dire economic situation was certainly not helped by the long drought, which created a distressing situation for the agricultural industry. As we see in the text, Sybylla’s father is a dairy farmer, and her family lived through this unbearable summer heat, the harsh drought and the pain caused by dying livestock. Miles Franklin convincingly uses Sybylla and her family to illustrate the extent to which the adversity of the time had an impact on everyone and the fact that nobody could escape it.
During this period, many women had to take up jobs to support their families, due to the turbulent economic times. Having said that, this was a challenging environment for a woman to pursue a career. Marriage was seen as the only appropriate venture for a woman, and women were expected to marry as soon as they were able to. It was basically unthinkable for a woman to work and pursue a career unless she was working while she waited to be able to depend upon a husband for support. Those who chose not to marry were treated poorly by the world around them. In particular, women could be traded and bartered as labour, and we see when Sylblla becomes a governess to repay her family’s debt.
During this challenging time, it was becoming increasingly common for young women in Australia to publish books, with Miles Franklin being one of them. Nevertheless, Miles Franklin - officially born Stella Franklin - ensured that ‘Miss’ was excluded from her name on the cover of her text. Presumably, she did not want her readers to assume that My Brilliant Career was written by a woman, as this may have harmed sales. Despite this, it is undeniable that social perspectives surrounding gender roles were gradually shifting towards permitting women greater rights within society. For instance, women were eventually granted the right to vote in federal elections in Australia when the Franchise Act was passed in 1902. We see such a progressive attitude represented in the text through Sybylla. Despite the social expectations placed upon her, Sybylla has aspirations for her future. As part of her aspirations, she must choose between the traditional route of marriage to Harry Beecham or her plans to pursue a career. Through this, we see that Miles Franklin welcomes the potentiality for increased social freedom for women to pursue meaningful occupations. In defiance of what society expected of her, she wanted to do something with her life and have a meaningful career! Much like many women of the day in rural Australia, pursuing such a path was no easy task and she faced much opposition.
2. Plot Summaries
We’re now going to take a quick look at the plots of My Brilliant Career and Photograph 51. However, I cannot overemphasise the importance of setting aside the time to read these texts in detail and annotate them for yourself. You may wish to use these summaries to refresh your memory about the plot, or to stay on track if you get lost or confused while you read! We’ll provide you with a general overview of what happens, with a particular focus on the key events in each text.
Summary: My Brilliant Career
My Brilliant Career is an Australian literary classic by Stella 'Miles' Franklin which is set in rural New South Wales in the late nineteenth century. The story is presented in an autobiographical format and depicts the life and travels of Sybylla Melvyn and her family. The novel is written in a fairly free-flowing format, which Sybylla unapologetically explains is the result of her life being unstructured and lacking a plot. At times you may be frustrated with Sybylla’s pessimism and cynicism. At other times, you may hold back tears as you reflect on the adverse circumstances she faces as she pursues her goals and strives to find purpose in her life.
The novel commences with Sybylla and her family living in Bruggabong. Sybylla is content with her life here, with the freedom to roam around and ride horses as she pleases. However, as the first chapter comes to a close, we are told that Sybylla’s father, Dick Melvyn, intends to sell his stations and move his family to Possum Gully. He hopes that Possum Gully will present him with greater financial opportunities through trading farm animals. Sybylla is frustrated by the move and perceives her family’s new home as boring and monotonous. At the same time, life is hard for her mother, who becomes increasingly critical of Sybylla who seems to be developing into a rebellious child. Dick inflicts a great deal of pain upon his family, as he spends too much time in town, loses money with every sale and becomes an alcoholic. The drought certainly doesn’t simplify matters, with the scorching heat taking a toll on Sybylla, her family and their animals.
Eventually, we learn that Sybylla’s grandmother has decided to take Sybylla to live with her in Caddagat. Sybylla enthusiastically agrees and celebrates the opportunity to experience life in a different location away from the difficulties of Possum Gully. Whilst in Caddagat, she lives with Grandma Bosser, Aunt Helen and Uncle Jay-Jay. During her time there, several men approach Sybylla with an interest in marrying her. The first is Everard Grey, a wealthy lawyer from Sydney with a keen interest in the performing arts. She is denied the opportunity to travel with him and he neglects her upon hearing this news. Frank Hawden, a farmhand to the family, is attracted to Sybylla, but she sharply rejects him due to his unsophisticated demeanour. Finally, she meets Harold Beecham of Five-Bob Downs. They enjoy spending time together and he brings out Sybylla’s playful side. They eventually become engaged. However, Sybylla never intends to marry him and only agrees to the engagement on the condition that it is kept a secret between the two of them. She shares to her audience that she intends to break off the engagement as a means of stirring up and confronting Harold. Eventually, Harold is forced to leave Five-Bob Downs due to his financial misfortune resulting in the loss of his property. However, he and Sybylla agree to maintain their engagement and commit to marrying after a few years. Having said that, Sybylla never really has any intention of marrying Harold, for she views marriage as restrictive and unnecessary controlling of her freedom to pursue her own life.
Shortly after Harold’s departure, Sybylla is confronted with the news that her father’s debt to Peter M’Swat means that she will be required to travel to Barney’s Gap to work as a governess for the M’Swat children. It would be an understatement to say that Sybylla is dissatisfied with this new state of affairs! She absolutely hates working for the M’Swat family! She finds that the house is filthy, the children are disobedient and she has very minimal personal space. All she wants is to go back and live with Grandma Bossier and Aunt Helen. However, her mother denies her this privilege, for she must repay her father’s debt. The experience at Barney’s Gap becomes so bad for her that she develops an illness due to the emotional strain that she experiences. Accordingly, Mr. M’Swat sends her back home to Possum Gully to be with her family.
Sybylla hardly receives a warm welcome from her parents. Her mother continually treats her as ungrateful, and her father’s drinking has had a significant impact on his demeanour. Her younger sister, Gertie, is sent off to live in Caddagat, and Sybylla feels as if Grandma Bossier, Aunt Helen and Uncle Jay-Jay have forgotten about her. To make matters worse, she feels as if Harold Beecham, who has been unable to return to Five-Bob Downs, is falling in love with Gertie. Eventually, Harold travels to Possum Gully. Sybylla is expecting her to ask Dick for permission to marry Gertie. But to her surprise, he actually intends to ask Sybyllla if she will marry him, even though she made it clear through her letters that she had no intention of doing so. For fear of hurting him and due to her view of marriage as restrictive, she rejects Harold again and sends him on his way.
And that’s basically the story! Sybylla concludes with some reflections on her position and purpose in life. She sees her purpose as completing the monotonous tasks that nobody wants to complete and she is thankful for the opportunity to earn her living through hard labour. Overall, we know that her ambition was to become an author, and this book is her final product as she writes about her various experiences.
Summary: Photograph 51
Photograph 51 is a play by Anna Ziegler which tells the story of the discovery of the structure of DNA. The title takes its name from the photograph taken by Raymond Gosling and Rosalind Franklin at King’s College in 1952. The play has been constructed by Ziegler with a bit of artistic license, and she herself admits that she has modified timelines, altered facts and events, and recreated characters. If we take a step back and look at the big picture, we have a great representation of events that makes some bold statements about injustice within the scientific community and society at large.
It is important to mention that this play is full of characters who break the fourth wall - a performance convention in which we usually imagine that there is a wall that separates characters from the audience when we watch a television show, movie or play. Ziegler has deliberately constructed this play in a manner where the characters that feature in the play provide commentary on the events to the audience. And this is how we start, with Rosalind directly speaking to the audience alongside Wilkins, Watson, Crick, Caspar and Gosling. Rosalind shares that the play will be about ‘powerful’ scientists accomplishing incredible feats. Shortly after this, our story begins (with frequent interruptions from the male scientists who want to bicker with each other and give their own commentary on the events).
Rosalind arrives at King’s College in London to work in the field of genetics. However, much to her surprise and dissatisfaction, she is told that she will be working on uncovering the structure of DNA. She also learns that she will be working with a doctoral student, Gosling, under the direction of Wilkins. Wilkins and Rosalind clearly don’t get along, and they are often fighting about something! Meanwhile, Gosling is clearly lower in the chain of hierarchy and awkwardly tries to have a say in matters.
Now, pay attention to this part, because it will be important for the end. Shortly after her arrival at King’s College, Rosalind goes to see a production of Shakespeare’s comedy, The Winter’s Tale. Ziegler doesn’t get into the details, but basically, this play features King Leontes and Hermione, his wife. Leontes murders Hermione upon suspecting her of unfaithfulness. In The Winter’s Tale, Leontes is able to pray Hermione back to life! Why is this significant to Photograph 51? Just remember for now that Rosalind can’t seem to remember who played Hermione in the London production, whilst she can recall who played Leontes. We may say that this represents the misogyny that Rosalind has internalised after facing a life of sexism from the world around her.
As Rosalind and Gosling work closely on taking photographs of DNA, Gosling urges her to go home and rest on several occasions. She refuses, as she wants to persist in her work! He also pleads with her to be careful around the beam, but she is reluctant to listen. It is clear that she disregards her health and well-being because she is fixated on the task at hand.
We are introduced to two other scientists, Watson and Crick, who are also competing in the race to discover the structure of DNA. Another character, Caspar, is introduced around this time. He’s a PhD student who is captivated by Rosalind’s work and writes to her for assistance with his research. He eventually finishes his PhD and obtains a fellowship at King’s College where he develops a close relationship with Rosalind.
Over the course of the play, Wilkins works progressively closer with Watson and Crick, and eventually shares Rosalind’s Photograph 51 with them. This image, having been captured and developed by Rosalind and Gosling, was crucial to their discovery of the double helical structure of DNA. Watson and Crick are also able to access Rosalind’s unpublished paper which details all of her findings.
Rosalind and Caspar are having dinner together and Rosalind admits to the audience that she has feelings for Caspar. However, she does not share this information with him. During this time, Rosalind has some pain in her stomach and it is revealed that she has cancer, with two tumours in her ovaries. It is likely that this came about due to her close work with X-rays. She becomes very sick and eventually dies at the age of thirty-seven.
We are informed that Watson, Crick and Wilkins all receive the Nobel prize for their work on uncovering the structure of DNA. Meanwhile, Rosalind receives no credit, even though her research was what helped them with their breakthrough.
In the final moments of the play, Rosalind and Wilkins talk about The Winter’s Tale. Wilkins shares that he saw her entering the theatre on the day when she saw the play, but he decided not to enter with her. He regrets this and it is clear that he has lived a life full of regret. Wilkins wishes he could bring Rosalind back to life, just as Leontes does with Hermione in Shakespeare’s play. However, he regrets that this is not possible and must carry on his life with guilt and regret for the decisions he has made and the way that he has treated Rosalind.
3. Themes, Motifs and Key Ideas
Through discussing themes, motifs and key ideas, we’ll gain a clearer understanding of some super important ideas to bring out in your essays. Remember that, when it comes to themes, there’s a whole host of ways you can express your ideas - but this is what I’d suggest as the most impressive method to blow away the VCAA examiners. We’ll be adhering to the CONVERGENT and DIVERGENT strategy. While this study guide doesn’t go into too much detail about using LSG’s CONVERGENT and DIVERGENT strategy, I’d highly recommend you familiarise yourself with it by reading LSG'sHow To Write A Killer Comparative.
Within Photograph 51 and My Brilliant Career, we are presented with characters with profound ambitions to overcome adverse circumstances. Indeed, both texts featured major and minor characters, who yearn to overcome their circumstances and make the most of their unfortunate situations. At the conclusion of My Brilliant Career, Sybylla questions the nature of 'vain ambition'. She reflects on the inevitability of death, and that all will die, regardless of one’s status as a 'king or slave'. Ultimately, Sybylla wants to be 'true' to herself, and in striving to do so, she finds contentment. Likewise, Rosalind is satisfied with 'painstakingly' trying to accomplish success by discovering the truth in her work. She is highly diligent, for she wants to discover the truth, and she will not permit herself to make a mistake. In doing so, she '[pays] attention to every detail'. However, as part of this, Watson and Crick are able to take advantage of her, and ultimately achieve success at her expense.
Rather insightfully, Caspar reflects that 'the things we want but can’t have are probably the things that define us'. This reflects the reality for characters across both texts. In particular, Rosalind has a deep 'yearning' for various things throughout Photograph 51. This is not strictly for success in her research, for she admits that she yearns for friendships, peace, to be able to sleep well at night and for a deeper relationship with Caspar. Rosalind works diligently with her research, admitting that she doesn’t believe in 'laziness'. She regularly stays up all night, which likely contributes to her significant health complications. At the same time, this has an impact on her ability to form meaningful relationships with the people around her. Ultimately, she is not able to attain any of her aspirations, for her life is cut short by her unfortunate death. Likewise, Crick acknowledges that his ambitions in the scientific community have negatively impacted his relationship with his wife. Whilst he may have started out with the desire to 'support [his] family, to do science, to make some small difference in the world', it is clear that he became overwhelmed with his desire for success, and this has cost him dearly.
One of the most significant characters with aspirations in My Brilliant Career is Dick Melvyn. He clearly possesses great ambition at the beginning of the text, which motivates him to move his family from Bruggabrong to Possum Gully. However, this ambition for financial prosperity turns him into a man who is 'a slave of drink', as well as someone who is overall 'careless' and 'bedraggled in his personal appearance'. Indeed, his ambition has taken a challenging toll on him and the life of his family. Unlike Dick Melvyn, who has been harshly impacted by his ambition for success, the M’Swat family seem to be genuinely supportive of their children, and others outside of their family. This is evident in their care for the Melvyn family in their time of financial need. It is evident that a desire for success and 'the possession of money' does not necessarily lead to ruin.
The leading characters in My Brilliant Career and Photograph 51 differ in the extent to which they display selflessness as they approach life. Whilst Sybylla’s perception of her circumstances may not be entirely accurate, we can see that she approaches her despairing circumstances with ultimate altruism that leads her to neglect her own desires and focus on how she can be useful in serving the needs of others. At the conclusion of the text, Sybylla sees that she is most suited to 'wait about common public-houses to look after [her] father when he is inebriated'. She seems to be content to submit to her circumstances in order to look after the needs of her family. In contrast, Rosalind seems to be limited in her capacity to discern the needs of others, and the fact that others also require resources to complete their work. This is highlighted when Wilkins complains that 'she’s keeping [him] from [his] work'. Indeed, she seems to hoard 'all the best equipment'. Whilst Wilkins may be exaggerating the extent of the situation, this still highlights Rosalind's uncharitable approach to her work.
At the heart of these differences are the contrasting worldviews of the leading characters, and the way in which they each find meaning in life. Rosalind ultimately views society as opposed to her, and her response to this is to stand her ground tenaciously. She finds meaning in persevering and avoiding mistakes at all costs. In this approach to her world, she is able to justify her occasional cruel treatment of the men around her. On the other hand, Sybylla finds purpose in being able to fulfil a functioning role in the society around her. By the time the novel reaches its conclusion, she has essentially given up fighting for any of her own interests and seems to be content in serving the needs of those around her. This is evident when she rejects Harold for the final time. She notes that Harold is like a ' child pleading for a dangerous toy', and that '[her] refusal was for his good'. In doing so, she demonstrates selflessness, for she genuinely believes that she is acting in Harold’s best interest. The key contrast between Rosalind rejecting the assistance of Wilkins and Sybylla refusing to marry Harold is that Rosalind isolates herself and rejects others because she sees other people as unreliable, and sees that she will 'work best' if she works 'alone', whereas Sybylla rejects Harold for she believes she is acting for his good.
4. Sample Essay 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 Create a Plan
Learn more about this technique in this video:
Step 1: Analyse
This ‘discuss’ topic prompts us to evaluate the topic in light of My Brilliant Career and Photograph 51 and reach a conclusion. This is also a theme-based topic, relating to perception and self-awareness. Accordingly, it would be wise to ‘discuss’ how key themes CONVERGE and DIVERGE across our texts. With our given theme, we will need to consider what we mean by ‘perception’, how it occurs in both texts, and the conclusions we can draw from this that will feature in our analysis.
Step 2: Brainstorm
In order to address this topic, we need to consider the notion of perception and how this connects with self-awareness. Crucially, the topic prompts us to consider where characters think they have perceived their situation accurately, when in reality they have actually accepted a form of illusion or false perception. We want to broadly consider where this occurs, which will enable us to group characters together later on. We also want to address the reality that something usually occurs to cause a person to realise that they have been perceiving their reality incorrectly.
Step 3: Create a Plan
We will approach this topic with a chronological structure. This means that we are going to broadly consider 1) the behaviour of characters with a false perception of reality, 2) the nature of crises that cause someone to confront their perception of their world, and 3) how characters respond to such crises.
As we think of examples to include in each of our paragraphs, we need to also be considering CONVERGENT and DIVERGENT points of comparison. We can base these around the themes from the Themes, Motifs and Key Ideas section of LSG's Photograph 51 & My Brilliant Career study guide.
Paragraph 1: Living with a false perception of reality
At this point, we should discuss the CONVERGENT ideas analysed in the Themes, Motifs and Key Ideas section of LSG's Photograph 51 & My Brilliant Career study guide. We should make sure that we focus on Sybylla and Rosalind at the beginning of their respective texts. In particular, we can focus on the naivety of Sybylla and how this connects to her as an unreliable narrator, as well as how Rosalind’s steadfast determination causes her to lose sight of reality.
On top of this, we also want to draw connections between the themes and the minor characters of the texts. We mustn’t limit our discussion to one that centres solely around Sybylla and Rosalind, so we’ll take a look at Harold’s relationship with Sybylla, as well as Watson and Crick’s publication of false data.
Paragraph 2: Crises that confront a false perception of reality
Now we want to focus on the ‘middle’ sections of each of our texts. Take note: ‘middle’ doesn’t necessarily have to be exactly halfway through the book. However, it should be around the point where there is a significant turn of events. My Brilliant Career actually has a few of these, but we’ll focus on Sybylla having to travel to Barney’s Gap. In Photograph 51, we’ll discuss Rosalind’s discovery of her cancer diagnosis.
As we trace our secondary characters, we’ll look at Harold’s financial troubles, as well as Watson and Crick’s ridicule due to their flawed model.
Paragraph 3: Responding to crises and evaluating a false perception of reality
As we conclude our essay, we want to discuss the impacts of the crises on our characters. For Sybylla, we’ll talk about how she continues in her naivety. However, the crisis does prompt Sybylla to evaluate some of her values. For Rosalind, she doesn’t really change her ways, however, it does give her more urgency. These are some of the DIVERGENT ideas that will feature in our discussion. We also need to address Watson and Crick, who end up taking an even more cunning approach to their work, which results in them achieving international recognition for their research.
Want to see the the fully written and annotated version of the essay we've just planned here? Check our A Killer Comparative Guide: Photograph 51 & My Brilliant Career. Not only can you find the full version of this essay, there are also 4 other (5 in total) full, A+ essays fully annotated, as well as more themes, analysed quotes, exploration of different interpretations and lenses and more!!
Ah, language analysis. It’s that time of year again, which sees us trade our novels and films for newspapers and blog articles, and our knowledge of characters and themes for the never-ending list of persuasive language devices which we will soon begin to scour our texts in search of.
Once again we must put ourselves in the mind of an author, only this time it’s a little different. No longer are we searching for hidden meanings within the text, instead we search for techniques and appeals to emotions which our daring author uses to persuade us to stand in solidarity with their view. My, how times change. Just when we think we’re getting the hang of something, VCE English throws us a curveball. Typical VCAA.
There's a lot that goes into a strong Analysing Argument response and it can be difficult to know where to start, so here's a specific breakdown of an A+ essay to help you elevate the quality of your own writing! Just before we get started, if you'd like to find out more about Language Analysis, head here for a comprehensive overview of this area of study.
Now, before you get too deep into this step - and I know how eager you must be to dive into that juicy analysis – you first need to decide on a structure. In this particular case of Language Analysis, we are comparing two articles, meaning we have a couple of different structures to choose from. That is, we now need to decide whether we will be separating the analysis of each article into its own individual paragraph, or rather, integrating the analysis and drawing on similar ideas from each of the texts to compare them within one paragraph. Tough decisions, eh?
While most examiners prefer integrated paragraphs, as it shows a higher level of understanding of the texts, sometimes the articles make implementing this structure a little difficult. For example, maybe one article focuses more on emotional appeals, while the other uses factual evidence such as statistics to persuade the reader. What do we do then? If none of the arguments are similar, but we still want to use that amazing integration technique, what can we do?
Well first of all, remember that we are comparing two articles. Comparisons don’t always have to be about similar things, in fact, the true spirit of comparison should take into account the articles’ differences too. So what does this mean for us? We can still integrate our paragraphs, however, we will be focusing on how two contrasting techniques seek to achieve the same result of persuading the audience.
Next, now that we’ve got structure out of the way, we can work on the actual analysis part of planning. That is, scouring through the articles for those various language devices the author has used to turn this article from an exposition to a persuasive text, and then deciding on how we shall be using this in our essay.
I absolutely cannot stress this enough, but: PLAN YOUR ESSAYS! Yes, I happened to be one of those students who never planned anything and preferred to jump straight into the introduction, hoping all my thoughts would fall into place along the way. Allow me to let you in on a little secret: that was a notoriously bad idea. My essays always turned out as garbled, barely legible messes and I always managed to talk myself into circles. Trust me, planning is crucial to an A+ essay.
It is also crucial that you know what exactly should be going into the planning process. There are two main aspects of planning that you need to focus on for a Language Analysis essay: analysis and implementation. I know that might not make much sense right now, but allow me to explain:
This includes reading through your articles and picking out all the pieces that seem like persuasive techniques. For example, you might find a paragraph using inclusive language such as "our problem” to convince the reader that this is an issue that they need to be directly concerned about, or perhaps you may find a sentence describing the “excess of funds” being poured into the initiative that demonstrates to the audience how big of a problem it is. This step typically includes underlining areas of interest in the articles, making arrows between similar arguments which you think should be linked and doodling in the margins of the paper with all your immediate thoughts so you don’t forget them later. This part is the lengthiest and it may take you some time to fully understand all of the article.
Next, comes implementation.
This is the part where we make ourselves an actual essay plan, in which we decide how to implement all the new information we’ve collected. That is, deciding which arguments or language devices we will analyse in paragraph 1, paragraph 2 and so on. This part is largely up to you and the way in which you prefer to link various ideas.
Below is an example of how you might choose to plan your introduction and body paragraph. It may seem a bit wordy, but this is the recommended thought process you should consider when mapping out your essay, as explained in the following sections of this blog post. You may want to skip ahead and read those first so you know what we’re talking about when you see CCTAP (explained in Step 2: Introduction) or TEEL (explained in Step 3: Body Paragraphs), but otherwise it’s pretty straight forward. With enough practice you may even be able to remember some of these elements in your head, rather than writing it out in detail during each SAC or exam (it might be a little time consuming).
Sample Introduction Plan
Note: Sentences in quotation marks ('') represent where the information has been implemented in the actual introduction.
Context: Detention of Asylum Seekers is currently a popular topic of discussion, 'issue regarding the treatment and management of asylum seekers'.
Contention: Detention of Asylum Seekers is wrong, 'detention as a whole is inhumane'.
Tone: Conviction, 'tone of conviction'.
Audience: Those in favour of Asylum Seekers, 'supporters of his resource centre'.
Purpose: Allow Asylum Seekers into the country, '[barring them from entering the country]…should be ceased immediately'.
Sample Body Paragraph Plan
Topic: Inhumanity of detention
Evidence: Article 1’s Emotive Language
Example: 'harsh', 'brutal regime', 'needlessly cruel' to invoke discomfort.
Evidence: Article 1’s Expert Opinions
Example: Amnesty International, UN, etc. 'repeatedly criticised'.
Evidence: Article 1’s Humanisation of Asylum Seekers
Example: Depicts as individuals who’ve been 'arbitrarily punished'.
Evidence: Article 2’s Invitation to Empathise
Example: Writes he 'cannot imagine the horrors', inviting readers to try too.
Evidence: Article 2’s Emotive Language
Example: 'pain', 'suffering', 'deprivation of hope' to invoke sympathy.
Evidence: Article 2’s Placing of Blame
Example: Blames Australian Government for the 'suffering inflicted'.
Link: Restate topic sentence in relation to entire essay
Step 2: Introduction
Now that you’ve got all the planning out of the way, next comes beginning the essay and writing up your introduction. Having a top notch introduction not only sets the standard for the rest of your language analysis, but it gives you a chance to set yourself apart from the crowd. Your teacher or examiner will be reading heaps of these kinds of essays within a short period of time and no doubt it’ll begin to bore them. Thus, having a punchy introduction is bound to catch their attention.
In addition to having a solid beginning, there are a few other things you need to include in your intro, namely, CCTAP. What does CCTAP stand for and why is it so important, you may ask? Well, the nifty little acronym stands for Context, Contention, Tone, Audience and Purpose, which are the five key pieces of information you need to include about both of your articles within your introduction. In addition to all the various language devices we collected during planning, you will need to scan through the articles to find this information in order to give the reader of your essay the brief gist of your articles without ever having read them.
For an example on how you would accomplish this all in one paragraph, here’s my introduction:
In recent years, the issue regarding the treatment and management of asylum seekers has become a topic of interest for many Australian citizens, with the debate focusing centrally on the ethics of their indefinite detention, and the reliability of this initiative as a working solution. Many articles intending to weigh-in on the debate depict the Australian Government’s favoured solution in various tones, with two pieces, written by news source, The Guardian, by authors Ben Doherty and Helen Davidson, and activist Kon Karapanagiotidis, respectively, asserting that the initiative is the wrong approach to a growing problem. In their piece, 'Australia’s offshore detention regime is a brutal and obscene piece of self destruction', the former of the authors speaks with an accusatory tone to their audience of regular readers of the popular news publication site and debates the practicality of the 'arbitra[y]' detention of these asylum seekers, as well as calls into question the humanity of the act and assesses whether it is an effective use of Australia’s wealth, intending to persuade readers to be similarly critical of the initiative. Likewise, the author of the open letter, 'Stand in solidarity with people seeking asylum this holiday season', writes to supporters of his resource centre in a tone of conviction, asserting that asylum seekers deserve the safety of asylum within Australia, that detaining or barring them from entering the country is inhumane and the root of much suffering, and that overall, it is morally wrong, and thus should be ceased immediately. Both articles contend that Australia’s current solution to the growing issue is incorrect, with Doherty and Davidson specifically believing that there is a better solution that must be sought, and Karapanagiotidis believing that detention as a whole is inhumane and should not be further employed by the government.
Step 3: Body Paragraphs
And now we reach the meat of your essay - the body paragraphs. A typical essay should have at least three of these, no less, although some people might feel the need to write four or five. While this may seem like a good idea to earn those extra marks, you should never feel pressured to do so if you already have three good paragraphs planned out. You have limited time to write your essay and getting as many words on the page as possible won’t always improve your score, especially if you traded quality for quantity. What your teachers and examiners are really looking for is a comprehensive understanding of the texts and the way in which you organise your ideas into paragraphs. So sure, writing an extra paragraph may be useful if you have the time and technique, but never feel pressured to expend the effort on one if it costs you time to the point where you’re turning in an unfinished essay. You can achieve an A+ essay with only three paragraphs, so don’t stress.
Now, onto writing the actual paragraphs. There are various little acronyms to help you through this process, such as TEEL, PEEL or MEAT. Some of these you may have already heard of before and you might even have a preference as to which one you will use. But regardless of what you choose, it is important that you add all the correct elements, as leaving any of them out may cost you vital marks. Make sure you include a Topic sentence, Evidence, Example and Link (TEEL). Once you have the structure down pat, there’s one other thing you need to consider during a Language Analysis essay: don’t forget to analyse the picture.
Seriously, it’s pretty crucial. A requirement of this kind of essay is to analyse imagery, whether it be the newspaper’s header, a cartoon or an actual photograph. This step may involve analysing the image for what it is, or linking the imagery with an already existing argument within the article. Whatever you deduce it to mean, just make sure you slip it into one of the paragraphs in your essay. [Note: an analysis of imagery is not included in following paragraph].
While both articles make very different arguments on the same topic, in one particular case they give voice to the same issue, namely, the inhumanity of detaining refugees, in which both articles become advocates for the abolition of offshore detention. Authors for The Guardian write that it is 'needlessly cruel', 'harsh', and a 'brutal regime', using emotive language to give weight to their argument and invoke a sense of discomfort within their readers, particularly towards the government’s chosen solution. They call on the opinions of a number of other sources who have 'repeatedly criticised', the operation, such as the United Nations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among other similar experts on the matter. The authors depict Asylum Seekers as individuals who are 'arbitrarily punished offshore', and who 'have been accused of no crime', and are therefore, by the judgement of the authors, being treated immorally. In agreement, Karapanagiotidis writes of the abuse endured by asylum seekers in detention, including their separation from loved ones, their arbitrary incarceration, and stating that he, himself, 'cannot begin to imagine the personal toll detention has had on [them]', implying further damage has been done and inviting his audience to similarly place themselves into the figurative shoes of an asylum seeker. The author writes that the offshore detention of asylum seekers causes 'pain', and 'suffering', as well as the 'depriv[ation] of [their] hope', using emotive language to invoke sympathy and understanding within his readers. Karapanagiotidis hands the blame for such 'suffering inflicted', on the Australian government, a similar tactic which The Guardian employed throughout their piece. Overall, both articles use a range of language devices and expert sources to agree that the act of detention is inhumane, and the root of much suffering.
If you'd like to see more sample A+ body paragraphs and essays, all with annotations to see exactly what makes them high-scoring, check out our How To Write A Killer Language Analysis ebook for an in-depth guide to nailing your Language Analysis.
Step 4: Conclusion
You’ll be glad to know that this is the final part of your essay, hooray! And some might argue it is in fact the easiest, because now all you need to do is summarise all of those body paragraphs into a concise little one. Simple right?
Conclusions typically don’t even have to be all that long, I mean, you’re only restating what you’ve already written down, so there’s no new thinking involved. Under no circumstances should you be using your conclusion to add in any new information, so just make sure you give a brief description of your previous arguments and you should be good to go!
And one more thing: never start your conclusions with 'In conclusion'. Seriously, that may have worked in Year 8, but we’re writing for a whole different standard these days and starting your conclusions off like that just isn’t going to cut it.
The two articles, in their discussion of Australia’s offshore detention initiative, bring light to several key points. Authors for The Guardian use various appeals, emotive phrases and evidence of reported monetary statistics to sway the reader to share their opinion, as well as arguments regarding the lack of reliability the initiative provides in its ability to deter boats, the sheer cost of the program, and the morality of the issue. Similarly, Karapanagiotidis, the author of the open letter, uses a humanising image, appeals to the values of the readers, and employs phrases with pre-existing connotations known to the audience, to assert main contentions: that asylum seekers deserve asylum, that barring them from settling in the country is the root of much suffering, and that their indefinite detention is not only inhumane, but morally wrong.
The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
Analysing Techniques in Visual Texts
The Complete Maus is a graphic novel that depicts the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Polish Jewish Holocaustsurvivor who experienced living in the ghettos and concentration camps during the Nazi regime. Vladek’s son, Art has transformed his story into a comic book through his interviews and encounters which interweaves with Art’s own struggles as the son of a Holocaust survivor, as well as the complex and difficult relationship with his father.
Survival is a key theme that is explored during Vladek’s experience in concentration camps and his post-Holocaust life.
For example, Vladek reflects that “You have to struggle for life” and a means of survival was through learning to be resourceful at the concentration camps.
Resourcefulness is depicted through the physical items Vladek keeps or acquires, as well as through Vladek’s skills. For example, Vladek explains to Art that he was able to exploit his work constantly through undertaking the roles of a translator and a shoemaker in order to access extra food and clothing by being specially treated by the Polish Kapo.
He even wins over Anja’s Kapo to ensure that she would be treated well by not being forced to carry heavy objects. Vladek’s constant recounts and reflections symbolise survival, as Vladek was willing and able to use his skill set to navigate through the camp’s work system.
During the concentration camps, food and clothes also became a currency due to its scarcity and Vladek was insistent on being frugal and resourceful, which meant that he was able to buy Anja’s release from the Birkenau camp.
Although survival is a key theme, the graphic novel explores how Holocaust survivors in The Complete Maus grapple with their deep psychological scars.
Many of those who survived the war suffered from depression and was burdened with ‘survivor’s guilt’. This can be seen through the character of Art’s mother, Anja, as 20 years after surviving the death camps, she commits suicide. After having lost so many of her friends, and families, she struggled to find a reason as to why she survived but others didn’t. Throughout the graphic novel, her depression is apparent. In a close-up shot, Anja appears harrowed and says that “I just don’t want to live”, lying on a striped sofa to convey a feeling of hopelessness as if she was in prison. Her ears are additionally drawn as drooped, with her hands positioned as if she was in prison in the context is that she must go to a sanatorium for her depression.
It is not only Anja’s guilt that is depicted, but also Art himself who feels partly responsible. Art feels that people think it is his fault as he says that “They think it’s MY fault!” and in one panel, Art is depicted behind bars and that “[He] has committed the perfect crime“ to illustrate that he feels a sense of guilt in that he never really was the perfect son. He believes he is partly responsible for her death, due to him neglecting their relationship. Spiegelman also gives insight to readers of a memory of his mother where she asks if he still loves her, he responds with a dismissive ‘sure’ which is a painful reminder of this disregard.
Art constantly ponders how he is supposed to “make any sense out of Auschwitz’ if he “can’t even make any sense out of [his] relationship with [his] father”. As a child of Jewish refugees, Art has not had the same first-hand horrific experiences as his parents and in many instances struggles to relate to Vladek’s stubborn and resourceful tendencies. Art reflects on this whilst talking to Mala about when he would not finish everything his mother served, he would “argue til I ran to my room crying”. This emphasises how he didn’t understand wastage or frugality even from a very young age, unlike Vladek.
Spiegelman also conveys to readers his sense of frustration with Vladek where he feels like he is being treated like a child, not as an adult. For example, Art is shocked that Vladek would throw out one of Art’s coats and instead buy a new coat, despite Vladek’s hoarding because he is reluctant and feels shameful to let his son wear his “old shabby coat”. This act could be conveyed to readers that Vladek is trying to give Art a life he never had and is reluctant to let his son wear clothes that are ‘inappropriate’ in his eyes. However, from Art’s perspective, he “just can’t believe it” and does not comprehend his behaviour.
Since we're talking about themes, we've broken down a theme-based essay prompt (one of five types of essay prompts) for you in this video:
3. Analysing Techniques in Visual Texts
The Complete Maus is a graphic novel that may seem daunting to analyse compared to a traditional novel. However, with countless panels throughout the book, you have the freedom to interpret certain visuals so long as you give reasoning and justification, guiding the teacher or examiner on what you think these visuals mean. Here are some suggested tips:
Focus on the Depiction of Characters
Spiegelman may have purposely drawn the eyes of the Jewish mice as visible in contrast to the unapparent eyes of the Nazis to humanise and dehumanise characters. By allowing readers to see the eyes of Jewish mice, readers can see the expressions and feelings of the character such as anger and determination. Effectively, we can see them as human characters through their eyes. The Nazis’ eyes, on the other hand, are shaded by their helmets to signify how their humanity has been corrupted by the role they fulfill in the Holocaust.
When the readers see their eyes, they appear sinister, with little slits of light. By analysing the depictions and expressions of characters, readers can deduce how these characters are intended to be seen.
Look at the Background in Each Panel
Throughout the graphic novel, symbols of the Holocaust appear consistently in the background. In one panel, Art’s parents, Anja and Vladek have nowhere to go, a large Swastika looms over them to represent that their lives were dominated by the Holocaust.
Even in Art’s life, a panel depicts him as working on his desk with dead bodies surrounding him and piling up to convey to the reader that the Holocaust still haunts him to this day, and feels a sense of guilt at achieving fame and success at their expense.
Thus, the constant representation of symbols from the Holocaust in Spiegelman’s life and his parents’ past in the panels’ background highlights how inescapable the Holocaust is emotionally and psychologically.
Size of Panels
Some of the panels in the graphic novel are of differentsizes which Spiegelman may have intended to emphasise the significance of certain turning points, crises or feelings. For example, on page 34, there is a disproportionate panel of Vladek and Anja passing a town, seeing the first signs of the Nazi regime compared to the following panels. All the mice seem curious and concerned, peering at the Nazi flag behind them. This panel is significant as it marks the beginning of a tragic regime that would dominate for the rest of their lives.
You should also pay close attention to how some panels have a tendency to overlap with each other which could suggest a link between events, words or feelings.
Not gonna lie, this novel is a bit of a tricky one to introduce. World War II, arguably one of the darkest events of human history, has been the basis of so much writing across so many genres; authors, academics, novelists have all devoted themselves to understanding the tragedies, and make sense of how we managed to do this to one another. Many reflect on the experiences of children and families whose lives were torn apart by the war.
In some ways, Doerr is another author who has attempted this. His novel alludes to the merciless anonymity of death in war, juxtaposes individualism with collective national mindlessness, and seeks out innocence amidst the brutality of war.
What makes this novel difficult to introduce is the way in which Doerr has done this; through the eyes of two children on opposite sides of the war, he explores how both of them struggle with identity, morality and hope, each in their own way. Their storylines converge in the bombing of Saint-Malo, demonstrating that war can be indiscriminate in its victims—that is, it does not care if its victims are children or adults, innocent or guilty, French or German. However, their interaction also speaks to the humanity that lies in all of us, no matter how deeply buried.
A very quick history lesson
Fast Five Facts about World War II:
Lasting 1939-1945, the war was fought between the Axis powers (Germany, Japan and Italy) and the Allies (basically everyone else, but mainly England, France, and later the US). Whilst it was Germany who started the war, the intervention of the US at the end of five long years of fighting ultimately helped the Allies win.
Various forms of technology were first used, or found new uses, during the war. Aircraft carriers and various planes (fighters, bombers etc.) became more important than ever, while Hitler’s use of tanks allowed him to take over much of Europe very quickly.
Other forms of new technology included one of the world’s first electronic computers that was used to codebreak (stop reading now and watch The Imitation Game if you haven’t already! Totally counts as studying, right?), as well as radio and radar, used to communicate and also to detect enemies in the field.
World War II is also referred to as the Holocaust, the name given to Hitler’s attempted genocide of the Jewish people. 6 million Jews died in the war, and as many as 15 million others died in total.
Germany’s initial conquest of Europe was swift and brutal. Within a month, Poland had already surrendered and within a year, so had France. However, there were also resistance groups all over these countries which sought to undermine the Nazi regime in a number of ways, both big and small.
My best attempt to give a general plot overview of this very long book
Disclaimer: this is a very, very broad overview of the novel and it is absolutely not a substitute for actually reading it (please actually read it).
Chronologically, we start in 1934, five years before the war. Marie-Laure is a French girl who lives with her father Daniel Leblanc, working at the Museum of Natural History in Paris. As she starts to go blind, Daniel teaches her Braille, and makes her wooden models of their neighbourhood to help her navigate. Six years later, the Nazis invade France, and they flee the capital to find Daniel’s uncle Etienne, who lives in the seaside town of Saint-Malo; Daniel was also tasked with safeguarding a precious gem, the Sea of Flames, from the Nazis.
In Saint-Malo, Daniel also builds Marie-Laure a model of the town, hiding the gem inside. Meanwhile, she befriends Etienne, who suffers from agoraphobia as a result of the trauma from the First World War. He is charming and very knowledgeable about science, having made a series of scientific radio broadcasts with his brother Henri (who died in WWI). She also befriends his cook, Madame Manec, who participates in the resistance movement right up until she falls ill and dies.
Her father is also arrested (and would ultimately die in prison), and the loss of their loved ones prompts both Etienne and Marie-Laure to begin fighting back. Marie-Laure is also given a key to a grotto by the seaside which is full of molluscs, her favourite kind of animal.
On the other side of the war, Werner is, in 1934, an 8 year-old German boy growing up in an orphanage with his sister Jutta in the small mining town of Zollverein. They discover a radio, which allows them to listen to a broadcast from miles away (it was Henri and Etienne’s), and Werner learns French to try and understand it. One day, he repairs the radio of a Nazi official, who recruits him to the Hitler Youth on account of his ingenuity (and his very blonde hair and very blue eyes, considered to be desirable traits by the regime). Jutta grows increasingly distant from Werner during this time, as she questions the morality of the Nazis.
Werner is trained to be a soldier along with a cohort of other boys, and additionally learns to use radio to locate enemy soldiers. He befriends Frederick, an innocent kid who was only there because his parents were rich—Frederick would eventually fall victim to the brutality of the instructors, and Werner tries to quit out of solidarity. Unfortunately, he is sent into the army to apply his training to actual warfare. He fights with Frank Volkheimer, a slightly ambiguous character who a tough and cruel soldier, but also displays a capacity to be kind and gentle (including a fondness for classical music). The war eventually takes them to Saint-Malo.
Also around 1943 or so, a Nazi sergeant, Reinhold von Rumpel, begins to track down the Sea of Flames. He would have been successful ultimately had it not been for Werner, who stops him in order to save Marie Laure.
As America begins to turn the war around, Werner is arrested and dies after stepping on a German landmine; Marie-Laure and Etienne move back to Paris. Marie-Laure eventually becomes a scientist specialising in the study of molluscs and has an extensive family of her own by 2014. Phew.
What kind of questions does Doerr raise through this plot? To some degree, the single central question of the novel is one of humanity, and this manifests in a few different ways.
Firstly, to what extent are we in control of our own choices? Do we truly have free will to behave morally? The Nazi regime throws a spanner in the works here, as it makes incredibly inhumane demands on its people. Perhaps they fear punishment and have no choice—Werner, for instance, does go along with everything. At the same time, his own sister manages to demonstrate critical thinking and moral reasoning well beyond her years, and it makes you wonder if there was potential for Werner to be better in this regard. There’s also the question of whether or not he redeemed himself in the end.
That being said, Werner is far from the only character who struggles with this—consider the perfumer, Claude Levitte, who becomes a Nazi informer, or even ordinary French citizens who simply accept the German takeover. Do they actually have free will to resist, or is it even moral for them to do so?
Hannah Arendt famously coined the phrase “the banality of evil,” referring to how broader movements of inhumanity (such as the Holocaust) can be compartmentalised until individual actions feel perfectly banal, commonplace and ordinary. This is what allowed people to do evil things without actually feeling or even being inherently evil—they were just taking orders, after all. Consider the role of free will in this context.
This brings us to the broader ‘theme’ of war in general: in particular, what kinds of acts are suddenly justifiable in war? Etienne and Madame Manec, for instance, even disagree on the morality of resistance, which can frequently involve murder. Etienne’s pacifist stance is a result of the scale of deaths in the previous world war. At the same time, the climactic event of the novel is an allied bombing of Saint-Malo, a French town, just because it had become a German outpost. Risking lives both French and German, this also highlights the ‘necessity’ of some inhumane actions in times of war.
On a more optimistic note, a human quality that Doerr explores is our natural curiosity towards science. This is abundant in the childhoods of both protagonists, as Werner demonstrates dexterity with the radio at a very young age, and Marie-Laure a keen interest in marine biology. In particular, her blindness pushes her into avenues of science which she can experience without literal sight, such as the tactile sensations of mollusc shells. The title may hint at this—for all the light she cannot see, she seeks enlightenment through knowledge, which in turn gives her hope, optimism and purpose.
At the same time, the human desire to better understand the world can also be used inhumanely—Werner used radio to learn through Etienne and Henri’s broadcasts, but he would later in life also use it to help his compatriots murder enemy soldiers. This alludes to the banality of evil again; by focusing on his very technical role and his unique understanding of the science behind radios, he is able to blind himself to the bigger picture of the evils he is abetting. Science is something that is so innately human, yet can also be used inhumanely as well.
For these reasons, I’d suggest humanity is at the heart of the novel. There is a certain cruel randomness to death in war, but just because so many did perish doesn’t mean that there aren’t human stories worth searching for in the destruction. This is the lens that Doerr brings to the WWII narrative.
To some degree, a lot of these symbols relate to humanity, which I’ve argued is the crux of the novel. I’ll keep this brief so as to not be too repetitive.
One major symbol is the radio, with its potential for good as well as for evil. On one hand, it is undoubtedly used for evil purposes, but it also acts as a source of hope, purpose, conviction and connection in the worst of times. It is what ultimately drives Werner to save Marie-Laure.
Along the same vein, whelks are also a major symbol, particularly for Marie-Laure. While an object of her fascination, they also represent strength for her, as they remain fixed onto rocks and withstand the beaks of birds who try to attack them. In fact, she takes “the Whelk” as a code-name for herself while aiding the resistance movement. It’s also noteworthy that, given the atrocities of war, maybe animals are the only innocent beings left. As Saint-Malo is destroyed and the Sea of Flames discarded, it is the seaside ecosystem that manages to live on, undisturbed. In this sense, the diamond can be seen as a manifestation of human greed, harmless once removed from human society.
Finally, it’s also worth considering the wooden models that Daniel builds for Marie-Laure. They represent his immense love for her, and more broadly the importance of family, but the models also attempt to shrink entire cities into a predictable, easily navigable system. As we’ve seen, this is what causes people to lose sight of the forest for the trees—to hone in on details and lose track of the bigger picture around them. The models are an oversimplification of life, and an illusion of certainty, in a time when life was complicated and not at all certain for anyone.
Identity, morality and hope—these things pretty much shape what it means to be human. Throughout All the Light We Cannot See though, characters sometimes struggle with all three of them at the same time.
And yet they always manage to find something within themselves, some source of strength, some sense of right and wrong, some humanity in trying times. Doerr explores this capacity amply in this novel, and in this sense his novel is not just another story about WWII—it’s a story about the things that connect us, always.
Essay prompt breakdown
Through the prompt that we’ll be looking at today, the main message I wanted to highlight was to always try and look for layers of meaning. This could mean really being across all of the symbols, motifs and poetic elements of a text, and it’s especially important for a novel as literary as this one.
You might not have been particularly happy to find out you’re going to have to study All The Light We Cannot See—it is probably the longest text on the entire text list—but it’s also a really beautiful, well-written book that deservedly took out the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2015.
In this novel, Anthony Doerr tells the World War 2 story through a unique lens, or rather a unique combination of lenses, as he sets a 16-year-old French girl and a 17-year-old German boy on an unlikely path of convergence. Through the dangers and difficulties that they face, Doerr’s novel is one of growth and self-assuredness in a time when this seemed virtually impossible.
The essay topic we’ll be looking at today is:
All The Light We Cannot See is a literal title for the novel, in that it exposes the darkness, evil and cruelty of which humans are demonstrably capable. Is this an accurate interpretation?
As usual, let’s define some keywords.
I want to leave ‘darkness’ for a little later, but let’s start with ‘evil and cruelty.’ By themselves, they generally just mean immorality or inhumanity, but also keep in mind how they come across in characters’ actions, since those will be the focus of our analysis. The word ‘demonstrably’ highlights this, since it means that any ‘evil’ you discuss needs to be demonstrated or proven.
With ‘darkness’, that’s a bit more of a tricky term because it can mean any number of things. Here, it might be taken to mean bad intentions, corruption or anything like that, because it fits with ‘evil and cruelty’. However, this is where the ‘interpretation’ aspect of the prompt comes in—an interpretation being a way of explaining meaning, how do you explain the meaning of ‘darkness’ in relation to the title? Darkness in this sense could be any number of things.
Now, how should we plan for this topic? Let’s first consider if there’s any room to challenge, since the prompt seems to only focus on the more negative, pessimistic side of the book. I’d argue that with darkness, there is also some light in the form of kindness, charity and hope.
This all sounds pretty profound, but I’m just trying to link it back to the book’s title! I mean, that’s what the topic is asking about, right?
Let’s break this down into paragraphs.
For our first paragraph, a good starting point might be analysing the literal forms of darkness in the novel, and seeing what other interpretations we can get from those. A character that comes to mind is Marie-Laure, the French girl who cannot see any ‘light’ due to her blindness. The title could be seen as an allusion to her character and by extension, the hopelessness that blindness might cause in the midst of a war. We could compare Marie-Laure’s situation with that of Werner, who faces the industrialization of his childhood town, watching it become more and more enveloped in ‘darkness’ and as such, hopelessness.
For our next paragraph, we might drill down to deeper levels of interpreting darkness, because it’s often used as a metaphor for inhumanity. It isn’t difficult to find inhumanity in the novel. There’s plenty of it peppered throughout Werner’s storyline, particularly at Schulpforta, where the Hitler Youth were ‘trained’, (to put it lightly). He and his peers are routinely drilled to “drive the weakness from the corps” in humiliating exercises led by cruel instructors. They are also sometimes driven to cruelty towards one another, and Frederick, Werner’s bunkmate, is relentlessly bullied for his perceived weakness.
So by now, it’s clear that the novel demonstrates the human capacity for experiencing ‘darkness’ as well as inflicting it upon others. But, across these two layers of meaning, could there perhaps be some room to challenge these interpretations? This is something we should look at for our final paragraph.
Here, I would probably argue that just as Doerr explores various forms of darkness, there is also enough ‘light’ which allows some characters to overcome or escape from the darkness. These manifestations of light also require you to think about the different symbolic layers of the novel. On one level for example, looking at light literally, there’s the message on Werner’s radio that teaches us that, even though the brain is sealed in darkness, “the world it constructs…is full of light.” A deeper level of meaning to this may refer to the sense of scientific wonder and discovery which sometimes brings light to Werner, and also Frederick, his bunkmate at Schulpforta, when their lives there are at their most dark.
Consider how, just as darkness has levels of interpretation and symbolism in this book, so does light and hope and joy, rather than just evil and cruelty.
And that’s it! Always delving deeper for meaning helps you to really make use of the symbols, imagery and motifs in a text, and I hope this novel in particular illustrates that idea.
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