Go ahead and tilt your mobile the right way (portrait). The kool kids don't use landscape...
If you are anything like me, the thought of standing up in front of a classroom, or even a small panel of teachers, having to hold the floor for five minutes, and being assessed on your performance is just about as terrifying as it gets. Where other students thrived on the oral presentation SAC, embracing its change of pace in comparison to the other written tasks, I dreaded it. I knew the feeling all too well: legs jelly-like and quivering, breath short and rapid, palms sweating, tongue uncomfortably heavy as the words tumble out too fast to keep up with…essentially (as I, a true master of the English language, would put it) the absolute worst.
Fast forward to the present day and, I hate to break it to you, I am still not a fan of public speaking. But guess what? I did my oral presentation and I’m still alive to tell the tale. Plus, as a bonus, it did not involve me passing out, and as a double bonus, I still ended up with a great result. So I am here, my fellow members of the ‘Might Go Ahead and Drop Out of VCE so I Don’t Have To Do My Oral’ club, as proof that it can be done and to help you get through it.
What Do We Mean by ‘Overcoming’?
As I have already mentioned, emerging triumphant from your oral does not require you to magically become a public speaking fanatic. Let me manage your expectations right now: that probably isn’t going to happen overnight, and likely never will. But you can still be good at public speaking, perhaps great at it, even if it scares you. Trying to figure out a magical formula of preparation that will have you breezing through the oral in total zen-mode is not only going to waste your time, but will likely also make you more frightened when you realise that you can’t completely shake the nerves. So, by accepting the reality that the fear probably isn’t going to go away any time soon we can start to learn how to manage it, at least succeed in spite of it, and hopefully even use it to our advantage.
“an inherently interesting topic means that you’ll showcase your opinions in an authentic way, which is incredibly important when it comes to presentation time.”
This becomes particularly significant for someone dealing with a fear of public speaking because of this basic principle: when you care about something it is easier to talk about, even in front of other people. This means that you don’t just need to choose a topic that will engage your audience, but also one that you yourself find engaging.
Fear is an intense emotional response to a situation, and as we know it can easily consume us in the moment. If your oral topic is boring and does not interest you on a personal level then what is going to be the strongest emotion you feel when delivering it? Fear. However, passion is another intense emotional response, and so if you are passionate about the arguments you are making then, although your fear will still be there, you will feel another strong emotion that can balance it out.
So how do you find a contention that you care about? Often the best place to start is to think about the things that affect your life. We know that your topic has to have been in the media since September of last year, but lots of things are on the news and they don’t only matter to the older generations. Think about issues that relate to schools, jobs, climate change, animals, drug-taking, fashion – these are all aspects of our lives that you might be able to form a personal connection to, and that personal connection will help you find the passion you need to get through the speech, and also get through to your audience. Check out our 2021 Oral Presentation Topics for some topic inspiration, and then learn how to create a killer contention here.
More About the Voice, Less About the Words
It is quite likely that if you know you struggle with the delivery of oral presentations, you might try to compensate by overreaching with your script. For someone who feels more comfortable with written assessments, it can be easy to try to make the oral as close to one as possible by writing it almost as you would an essay – using lots of impressive vocabulary, complex sentences and a formal structure. This approach is all well and good until you try to say it all out loud. This isn’t to say that your command of language isn’t important to the oral, but by trying to craft a safety net of eloquent, written words you are simply distracting yourself from what makes this SAC unique; you can’t avoid the fear by avoiding the task altogether. So, you need to write a speech that you can say, not just one that sounds good on paper. Writing with the wrong sense of tone is one of the points we touch on in 5 Common Oral Presentation Mistakes.
During the writing process, you need to make your speech work for you rather than make yourself work for it. This means constantly thinking about what the words will sound like in front of an audience, and not making the performance unnecessarily hard for yourself before you even start practicing. When you’re already nervous about speaking in front of other people, the last thing you want to have to worry about is tripping over difficult language to make convoluted arguments. So, simplicity and punch is always better than verbosity and pretence. Here are some ideas of how to use this strategy:
Make your arguments short, sharp, and to the point. Avoid going off on any tangents, and just stick to the main points you need to get across. You are trying to persuade your audience, not confuse them.
Use a mixture of long and short sentences, because a script that uses varied sentence structures is easier to say out loud without stumbling due to nerves. Short, bold statements are both less prone to being mangled by nerves and more memorable for your listeners – just make sure you don’t only use short sentences and prevent your oral from flowing.
Think about where you can schedule in pauses for emphasis, because these will give you space to stop and catch your breath without revealing your nervousness.
Write like you speak! Of course you want your tone to be assertive and intelligent, but it is possible to maintain this whilst also incorporating some relaxed language. You are allowed to use the first person in this task, so take the opportunity to personalise what you say, which will help you appear more comfortable and also form a personal connection with your audience. Remember that an oral is essentially a conversation with your audience, even if they don’t get to speak back, and this means that as long as you don’t use slang you can have some fun with your delivery.
Don’t rely on an essay-like structure. Your audience won’t know when a paragraph ends, so the way the script looks on the page is largely irrelevant. Make it easy for yourself to follow.
Remember, when you struggle with a fear of public speaking it is difficult to make what you say in the spotlight sound natural. To overcome this, you want to prepare yourself to almost sound unscripted (as ironic as that sounds). Without slipping into an overly casual or informal voice, it is best if you sound comfortable and relaxed when addressing your audience. This is of course the exact opposite of how you might feel going into the assessment, so you write a speech that will make you seem like you aren’t worried about passing out. The ancient adage ‘fake it ‘til you make it baby’ definitely rings true here. However, that said, really believing what you are saying and caring that the audience believes it too, as we advised earlier, will also help you avoid sounding forced and uncomfortable.
Preparation and Memorisation
Another mistake often made when attempting to compensate for a fear of public speaking is to rely too heavily on cue cards in the oral. Having your entire speech on hand when you complete the assessment just in case you get lost might seem like a good idea, but it is most likely actually going to hold you back from giving your best performance. Ideally, you want to have done enough preparation so that you do not need to look at your notes at all. As we discussed earlier, having a script that is as simple as possible, and that mimics your speech patterns, will help you sound less fearful – and will also be easier to memorise.
Memorise your speech by practicing it as much as possible. Make sure to get your script written as far in advance as you can, so you have plenty of time to practice without stressing yourself out further. When you do practice, do so standing up, envision an audience in front of you (or practice in front of friends or family), and rehearse how you might move around the space as you talk. You can start by having your whole script with you, but eventually you should work up to only needing a few dot points for each section that can jog your memory if you forget. This strategy might seem to make the speech even scarier, but in reality not reading off a script will help you relax into the performance, and allow you to focus on your movements and voice. Practicing enough to have the speech memorised will also help build your confidence.
Making the Most of Your Nerves
As much as I would love to tell you that you can be ‘cured’ of your fear of public speaking, it is best to accept that the nerves are going to be there and learn how to succeed in tandem with them, rather than just hoping that they go away. Instead of being convinced that fear is going to be your downfall, try to think about how, as impossible as it sounds, you can use the nerves to your advantage. Apart from making you jittery and uncomfortable, nerves also boost your energy and adrenaline, and with the right attitude you can turn this energy into confidence. Instead of letting your nerves cause you to close up, you can use them to help you open up. Often those of us who fear feeling exposed in front of a crowd have quiet, reserved personalities that we might think of as preventing us from being able to perform. However, when our bodies are flooded with nerves this ‘wired’ feeling can be used to help us project our voices and to take up space, therefore driving us to appear more outgoing. Instead of just making you feel ‘on edge’, a manageable amount of nervous energy can give you an edge that will amp up your performance.
Even if all of this sounds completely different to your experience of fear, what I am trying to communicate is that the way you frame the oral, and the nerves that come with it, in your mind makes all the difference. If you convince yourself that you are too scared of public speaking to ever succeed with this task, you are severely limiting your chances of achieving a positive outcome. So, focussing on retraining your mindset in the lead up to delivering your speech is very important. Try not to think of this one assessment task as being a make or break five minutes, and instead view it as a learning experience that you can use to your advantage. After all, public speaking is something most of us will have to deal with multiple times over the course of our lives, so you may as well work on getting better at it. That said, my number one piece of advice about the oral presentation is to…*drumroll please*...not take it too seriously! This might sound unrealistic, and I am definitely not telling you to put in less effort, but the more pressure you put on yourself the more nervous you are going to be. Choose a topic that interests you, believe in your contention, make use of humour and personal anecdotes, and just have fun with what you say! Your fear is probably going to be your biggest obstacle, so make it as easy as you can on yourself and the rest should fall into place…as long as you put in the work.
Welcome to 2014! As many of you will already be in your second or third week of schooling, it’s likely that you’re getting plenty of workload from across your subjects. Some of you may very well be preparing for your oral presentation SAC that’s coming up very soon! If that is the case, I’ve collated a list of some popular topics that have cropped up in the Australian media since September last year. The list is intended to help you brainstorm different issues you may wish to debate in your speech, with the contention left for you to decide once you have researched enough on the topic! Check it out below:
Treatment of asylum seekers
Processing of asylum seekers
‘One punch law’
Should mathematics be compulsory in schools?
Shark culling in South Australia
The end of car manufacturing in Australia
Sex education and homosexuality
Needle vending machines
Cory Bernadi’s book – The Conservative Revolution (Abortion)
Since September 2015, the current affairs has been raging with numerous controversial topics - perfect for your oral presentation! Here are some of the more interesting issues that would be a good starting point for your oral. Remember to offer an interesting and unique argument, even if it may mean adopting the unconventional or unpopular point of view on the issue!
Oral presentation topics 2016
1. Should we have 24 hour public transport on weekends?
2. Gender selective abortion in Australia
3. Should the driving age in Australia be lowered?
4. Cricket star Chris Gayle’s treatment of journalist Mel McLaughlin
5. Should children be vaccinated?
6. Should the voting age in Australia be lowered to 16 years?
7. Should singer Chris Brown be denied entry to Australia?
8. Cultural appropriation in Australia
9. Should an Australian Prime Ministers be removed from office without a general election?
10. Should Australia be a republic?
11. Should the Australian flag be changed?
12. Is Australia Day racist against Indigenous Australians?
13. Adam Goodes booing: Are AFL football crowds racist?
14. Australian of the Year - Rosie Batty: Victim blaming
15. Should UBER be made legal in Australia?
16. Should baby formula be limited in sales?
17. Should greyhound racing be banned in Australia?
18. Is Australia’s border security policy justified?
19. Should Australian Open arenas have sports betting advertising?
20. See more Oral Presentation Topics 2017, click here.
Since September 2014, the current affairs has been raging with numerous controversial topics – perfect for your oral presentation! Here are some of the more interesting issues that would be a good starting point for your oral. Remember to offer an interesting and unique argument, even if it may mean adopting the unconventional or unpopular point of view on the issue!
Should medicinal cannabis be legalised in Australia?
Should US anti-vaccination campaigner Sherri Tenpenny be allowed to give talks in Australia?
Should children be vaccinated?
Should ‘pick-up artist’ Julien Blanc have been banned from visiting Australia?
Is social media negatively impacting on student studies?
Should women be allowed to breastfeed in public?
Should we have more stringent surrogacy laws?
Should music be free?
Freezing women’s eggs
Sexualisation of women in the media
The media’s portrayal of ‘terrorism’
Freedom of speech (Charlie Hebdo)
Creativity in schools
Should children be allowed to roam unsupervised by their parents?
This blog covers choosing the perfect topic for your next Oral Presentation. To get a better overview of what's expected of you in Oral Presentations, writing up your speech, and speech delivery, check out Our Ultimate Guide to Oral Presentations.
The following is the LSG criteria that will ensure you find an interesting topic!
Step 1: Select a topic that has appeared in the media since 1 September of the previous year
Getting started on this first part can be tricky, especially if you want to choose something a bit more original or fresh.
In any case, the first thing you need is an event. An event in the VCE English context is anything that happens which also generates opinionated media coverage—so, it’s not just an event but it has to be an event that people have published opinions about, and they have to have been published since September 1.
You might wonder why we don’t go to the issue straight away. Here’s a hypothetical to illustrate: if you asked me to name an issue, the best I could probably come up with off the top of my head is climate change. However, if you asked me to name an event, I’d pretty easily recall the Australian bushfires—something much more concrete which a) has generated specific and passionate opinions in the media; and b) can easily be linked to a wider issue such as climate change.
So where do you find an event? If you can’t think of a particularly interesting one right away, you could always try Wikipedia. Seriously, Wikipedia very helpfully has pages of things that happened in specific years in specific countries, so “2019 in Australia” might well be a starting point. The ABC news archive is also really helpful since you can pick dates or periods of time and see a good mix of news events from then.
I wouldn’t underestimate your own memory here either. Maybe you attended the School Strike for Climate and/or you feel vaguely disappointed in the government. Maybe there was something else happening in the news you remember (even though it is often about the environment these days). It doesn’t have to be from the news though—maybe there was a movie or TV show you watched recently that you have thoughts about. You could really do a speech on any of these, as long as you suspect there might be recent, opinionated media coverage.
Only once you have an event should you look for an issue. This will be a specific debate that comes out of the event, and can usually be framed as a “whether-or-not” question. The bushfires, for example, might generate debate around whether or not the Australian government is doing enough to combat climate change, whether or not Scott Morrison has fulfilled his duties as Prime Minister, whether or not it’s appropriate to discuss policy already when people are still grieving. All of these issues are going to be more current and more focused than just ‘climate change’, so pick one that resonates for your speech. In the next couple of sections, I’ll offer you a list of 2019-20 issue-debate breakdowns (i.e. topic ideas!).
Most importantly, choose an event/issue that is interesting for you. You’re the one who’s going to deal most intimately with this event/issue - you’ll have to research multiple sources, come up with a contention and arguments, write the essay, present the essay - so make it easier for yourself because you’re going to be spending a lot of time completing all these steps. Besides, an inherently interesting topic means that you’ll showcase your opinions in an authentic way, which is incredibly important when it comes to presentation time.
Step 2: Filter out the boring events/issues
“Your aim of this entire Oral Presentation SAC is to persuade your audience to agree with your contention (whatever that may be) based off the issue you’ve selected.” -The VCAA English Study Design
Next, you’ll need use this test to see whether or not your topic will stand up to the test of being ‘interesting’ enough for your audience. My first question to you is: who is your audience?
Is it your classroom and teacher? Is it a handful of teachers? If you don’t know, stop right now and find out. Only continue to the next question once you’re 100% certain of your audience.
Once you know who your audience is, ask yourself: Does this event and issue relate to my audience?
This question matters because “your aim of this entire Oral Presentation SAC is to persuade your audience to agree with your contention (whatever that may be) based off the issue you’ve selected.” This means that what you say to your audience and how they respond to your speech matters. Even if your assessor isn’t counting exactly how many people are still listening to your speech at the end, everyone knows a powerful speech when they’re in the presence of one - it hooks the audience from start to end - and an assessor, consciously or subconsciously, cannot deny that the collective attentiveness of the room has an influence on their marking of your Oral Presentation.
That’s why you should choose a topic that your audience can relate to. This is just my personal opinion, but I don’t find a speech on the Adani Coalmine (broad issue = climate change) as interesting and engaging as School Strike For The Climate (broad issue = climate change). That’s not to say that I’m for or against the Adani Coal Mine, but I know that if I’m speaking to a crowd of 17-18 years olds, the School Strike For The Climate would be a better choice because it’s going to hit a lot closer to home (1) (perhaps some of those in your audience - including yourself - have attended one of those strikes).
To extrapolate this idea further, I try to avoid topics that have too many unfamiliar words for my audience. For example, I recall one year when one of my students decided to take a stance on pain medications and that they should be restricted to only over-the-counter in pharmacies. Have I lost you already with the ‘over-the-counter’? Yeah, I have no doubt that some of you are unfamiliar with that word (don’t stress, I didn’t know it either when I was in school). On top of this phrase, she used words like ‘Schedule A’, ‘Pharmaceuticals Benefits Scheme’, ‘Medicare rebate’, ‘opioids', ‘subsidised’, and other words that aren’t part of the usual vocabulary of her audience. I’d take heed because in order to captivate the audience’s attention, they need to understand what you’re talking about. As soon as there’s something they don’t understand, it becomes much harder for them to follow your speech, and before you know it, Sarah, the class sleeper is taking her afternoon snooze and the others are struggling to keep their eyes open! Having said all that, if you have an equivalent jargon-heavy topic like pain medications that really does interest you, then go for it. Just bear in mind that you’ll need to explain any new vocabulary during your speech to keep your audience’s attention.
Keen to learn more? My How To Write A Killer Oral Presentation eBook continues on this same path, covering the next steps in your Oral Presentation journey!
Access a step-by-step guide on how to write your Oral Presentation with simple, easy-to-follow advice
Read and analyse sample A+ Oral Presentations with EVERY speech annotated and broken down on HOW and WHY students achieved A+ so you reach your goal
Learn how to stand out from other students with advice on your speech delivery
Sounds like something that'd help you? I think so too! Access the full eBook by clicking here!
1. ‘Implementing a sugar tax to curb Australian obesity.’
Premise: Mexico and UK have already implemented the ‘Sugar Tax’ on soft drinks to prevent obesity through the avenue of consumer choices, with this debate being sparked in Canada and Australia as to whether this is a viable solution. The World Health Organization believes this could reduce consumption of sugar by reinvesting the more expensive prices into health initiatives against ‘Childhood Obesity’. The Federal Government is facing this decision in 2019, to introduce these radical changes. Thus, whether or not the sugar tax should be implemented would be the core of your oral.
2. ‘What can Australia do to reduce the dangers of paramedic assault and overtime?’
Premise: Lately in the media, paramedic attacks and unreasonable overtime shifts means that the safety of our ambulance staff is compromised. A series of movements and a necessity for awareness has been sparked in Australia, with one paramedic being assaulted every 50 hours, and 147 assaulted in 2018. Whether or not people choose to support ambulance safety on a political front, social front or preemptive front (see Ambulance Victoria’s ‘Help keep our ambos safe at work’), action has been gaining momentum in contemporary news and campaigns. Is Australia doing enough for paramedic safety? This would be the basis of your oral.
3. ‘How are our politicians dealing with events of Melbourne CBD terrorism?’
Premise: A series of concentrated terrorist attacks on Melbourne’s Bourke Street and around Melbourne’s CBD has led to preventative measures such as 88 concrete blocks and anti-terror speaker systems. With politicians such as Matthew Guy pushing movements such as suspects facing curfews and counselling and drones around the city being put in place to monitor events like Christmas Day and New Years, this issue is being noted. But is enough being done? How effective are these measures, and are the police and government working closely enough to avoid these situations? This would be the basis of your oral.
Premise: The question of whether loot boxes being utilised in video games marketed to underage children are in fact exposing them to gambling is currently being debated at a Senate level in Australia and around the world. Whilst opinions are segregated on whether this is harmless or harmful, statistics and experts seem to believe in Europe that the detriment is too high, with 15 gambling regulators pinning game developers and publishers. Similarly, the UK and especially Australia have been making movements to rid the gaming industry of this practice. However, ‘EA Games’ is a big player against this, thriving of their sales in games such as ‘FIFA Coins’ and ‘Star Wars: Battlefront’. Thus, whether it is just gambling or gaming would form this oral.
Premise: The anti- vaccination movement, concentrated in the beachside town of Byron Bay in Australia is claiming more young lives daily, as medical reports are starting to note a greater toll in whooping cough cases and other vaccination related diseases. With campaigns such as the ‘No Jab, No Play’ initiative and other experts stating the way vaccinations are being handled, the situation is not apt in the current necessity for herd immunity amongst young Australians. Whether or not vaccination should be more heavily emphasised would be explored in this oral.
6. ‘The competition of Uber, Taxis and other ride sharing services.’
Premise: The hyper competitive nature of ride-sharing services and transport on the Australian field means that Uber and taxis have a lot more competition with one another, meaning shared business can affect the others customers in a major way. Hence, the Australian approach of lawsuits and the pickup of other services such as Shebah, Gocatch and Ola, means that drivers are facing harder times finding customers and also maintaining a steady stream of income. Whether or not these competing companies escalate the quality of transport or are too detrimental to driver’s livelihood would be explored in this oral.
Premise: Communities within Australia, specifically in Queensland, prepare themselves for overwhelming drought this 2019, with as their profits will most probably drop below $13,000 in this next financial year for farmers. Whilst milk companies and other politicians have attempted to rally with farmers, more attention seemingly may have to be put in place to assure the livelihood of these agricultural practitioners. Hence, even with drought relief practices and campaigns with many stakeholders in the government and as owners of business, it may require more of a push on a formal level in these pivotal years for farmers. The necessary movements and activism for greater support of farmers would be explored in this oral.
Premise: The rise in plastic consumption on a global scale and also lack of environmental solutions has led sea turtle’s digestive tracts and parts of the deepest oceans to be littered with seemingly minute particles called ‘microplastics’. However, these particles have detrimental effects and often litter foods, water sources and our ecosystem, usually sinking to the bottom of the ocean, with 99% of the plastic the seas contain building on the bottom. Ultimately, how we deal with these microplastics and whether it is important would be illustrated in this oral.
Premise: The ‘Close the Gap’ campaign originally focused on integrating the Indigenous people back into modernized society that excluded them wrongly. Objectives were necessary to fulfill educational reforms, social necessities and the favour within employment that needed to be shown in order to “even the playing field”. Over the years, this has been scrutinised and subjected to downfalls, both political and social, with many of these objectives not achieved. Thus, greater attention or movement may have to be incited. Hence, whether enough is being done or more needs to be provoked would inspire this oral.
10. ‘Can we use genetically modified foods in daily life?’
Premise: The discussion of GMOs (genetically modified foods) and their ethical, moral and health implications have segregated both consumers and producers alike. Australia’s viewpoint of the scientific practice in modifying foods has been portrayed in the recent elongation to bans in South Australia until 2025, but has also been challenged with groundbreaking research that could double the crop yield in theory, due to the advances in photosynthetic characteristics and other chemical properties of plants. Thus, whether or not they should be refuted or supported would form the basis of this oral.
Premise: It is rare to find a career where the exact same work will be paid differently based on sexuality, race or gender. It seems in the contemporary age the real issue is that cultural norms raise more women lawyers, doctors and teachers than engineers, physicists and STEM workers. Rather than a direct percentage of the pay gap, it is made apparent that it is rather a systematic average of less over time because of the careers being chosen. Whether or not the wage gap is due to STEM and what we can do to prevent this would be the formation of your oral.
12. ‘Should we take on Finland’s education system?’
Premise: Standardised testing is often a debate that goes without alternatives that truly work. But the core of Finland’s number 1 education system in the world is that they hire so many good teachers, hence independent learning is monitored and possible. The VCE system and IB curriculum does not streamline because students are so pressured they do not take time to explore and ultimately find what they want to do in tertiary. In Finland, it is less about the competition, and more about individual learning up until university so that they excel in different pathways. What would it take to change Australian systems to model this? This would be a key idea within your oral.
Premise: This is a heavily utilised oral topic. The Australia Day debate is a popular one, and this is because it is rich in cultural, social, ethical and political stances within itself. With the date remaining the same in 2019, and with the fireworks of the Perth council still going ahead, more protests and council movement means that these discussions are still very contemporary and readily available online. The bids and failed attempts to change the day to a Reconciliation Week celebration, or any date but ‘Invasion Day’ all form evidence to back up either side. Hence, the question of whether or not the date should be moved would be the primary focus of this oral.
Premise: The National Broadband Network policy meant that the telecommunications sector was supposed to gain momentum and strengthen itself, however, downfalls of the technicians and rollout of the service have meant public scrutiny and Government blame being laid. Telstra’s work on this with ping and download speeds being effective, but upload speeds suffering means that Australian consumers are not completely satisfied with the service, putting into question the ultimate effectiveness of NBN as an invested infrastructure. The success of NBN would form the base of this oral.
15. ‘Teaching standards for undergraduates in Australia.'
Premise: The teaching standards of Australia have been heavily scrutinised after certain lower ATAR scores were primarily accepted into the fields. Thus, the question of whether the right teachers are being accepted and their skills are being honed is put into the spotlight, as a lower bar for the academic necessity of the career sparks debate on whether the standards for Australian education has fallen. However, with 2 teachers in the Global Top 50 for the education sector means there is still hope, and with lots of regional areas geographically, it can be difficult- So whether or not Australia is doing enough would form this oral.
16. ‘Is the cost of living rising too high in Australia?’
Premise: The cost of living within Australia is inevitably rising, with a spike of homelessness within Sydney and the common retiree locations being in Asian countries forming the basis of whether or not we should start working on this sector of Australia’s wealth. However, some sources argue that our economy is steady and positive, with the perspective gained on this challenging what 2019 seems to hold for the cost of living. It is a contemporary topic as the next generation will have to face these challenges, proving an interesting oral if you focus on the stakeholders in each category (teenagers, workers, government and retirees).
17. ‘Are we doing enough to aid beekeepers in Australia?’
Premise: The ‘Save the Bees’ campaign begun as we started to realise the necessity and imminent danger we would face if bees were in harm's way. Recently, South Australia faced some strange occurrences with mysterious bee deaths, and younger stakeholders attempting to grasp Australia’s bee population. National Geographic focused on real steps and actions that could be taken within Australia, with measures that could potentially be put in place in order to protect these bees. Hence, this could be a unique oral if presented with the statistics and urgency of this issue.
Premise: The Strawberry Needle Scare was a 2018 issue, with 2019 implications in the dangers of food tampering, and a case of needles in grapes at a Melbourne store. Moreover, the implications for farmers and the agricultural community meant that many workers were affected by this, as consumers initially feared the worst, affecting Australian livelihood at its core. Thus, in order to do a contemporary oral on this, you would focus primarily on the impact on the farmers, what future fears could arise, (eg. the grape needle scare), and what consumers need to be aware of in future contamination.
Premise: In a digital, gratification-desiring age, anxiety and depression are symptoms of the high pressure scenarios within daily life. Recently, new studies proving the dire nature within Australia’s mental health provoked more attention by experts and the population into methods and the ‘epidemic’ we face, as we continue to head down a dark spiral. With case studies, statistics and the current situation within pressurised work situations, this could form a strong oral.
Premise: The concept of the ‘Towards Zero’ campaign is that we would have no deaths on the roads in short. This takes drink driving measures, the hazardous first months of a probationary driver and the zones in which these accidents are most highly occurring into consideration, as the government, younger drivers, and adult drink drivers are all concerned. There are already worrying trends going into 2019 however, as this forms the basis of some concerning patterns, and could be explored either way in an oral of whether or not the ‘zero road toll’ is truly possible.
We’ve come to that time in the year when everyone is scrambling to find the perfect Oral Presentation topic. Choosing the best topic for you is easily the most difficult part of this SAC, so to hopefully ease the burden, I’ve crafted this list with the latest and biggest global debates. My two biggest pieces of advice are NOT to choose an overly complex subject and NOT to choose anything you don’t really understand. A simple idea that is argued effectively works far better than a complex idea argued poorly. Moreover, find a topic that you are genuinely passionate about; regardless of what your ideas are, your passion is the key to success.
That being said, if you are currently struggling to find some inspiration, have a read of the following oral topics that will hopefully bring light to the relevant and pressing issues of the world.
1.Not enough is being done to address gender discrimination, violence and inequality in Australia
We are lucky to live in a country where gender discrimination is on the decline, and where we’re progressively making our way towards equality. Unfortunately, we haven’t quite reached it yet. Gender discrimination and sexist ideologies slowly make their way through our school locker rooms, into our classrooms, across our halls, and most tragically, into our homes. Do we really focus on fixing these issues from youth through education, or are the government and media just letting these problems run their course?
The key thing to focus on is the barriers still present in society that are preventing us from reaching true equality. Search for famous female figures in Australia and the struggles they had to overcome solely based on their gender like Julia Gillard, Grace Tame and Nicole Kidman. Moreover, in a country as advanced and progressive as Australia, why are hundreds of women continuing to be murdered in domestic abuse disputes? It’s these terrifying statistics that demonstrate how far we have to go as a country, and how quickly we need action.
2.Addressing the ‘Climatic Catastrophe’ is being hindered by climate scepticism and multimillion-dollar corporations
Climate change. A buzzword for the top problem of the future. Even now, we’re feeling the terrible effects of the heating climate - floods, droughts and life-changing bush fires that have misplaced thousands of Aussies. A problem this big should require immediate action, right?
Well, two things are preventing us from slowing the changing climate and growing emissions. Firstly, Australia is clearly over-reliant on the coal industry. It is our top export after all, and our mining industry always proves to be a ‘booming success’. Not to mention the several ‘generous’ donations provided from multimillion-dollar fuel corporations to several of our own government parties.
Secondly, there seems to be certain online rhetoric that perpetuates false information. Otherwise known as ‘climate scepticism’, there are people who genuinely believe that climate change is a ‘hoax’ and not worth the time or effort to address. Think about the impact that the spreading of this misinformation can do.
3.Are we too reliant on fossil fuels?
The Russian war against Ukraine has had several terrible impacts across the world, affecting countries that weren’t even involved in the conflict to begin with. You may have heard your parents complain about the soaring fuel prices, or even had to cash out almost double for petrol yourself. The main reason for this is Australia’s reliance on fuel imports from Russia, which have quite obviously been disrupted.
This brings forward an important question, are we too reliant on fossil fuels as a nation? Imagine if we had made the switch to electric cars even just a few years earlier. I have a feeling our transport situation would be significantly better. Think about the policies we would need to introduce to become greener and more self-sufficient.
4.Indigenous injustices and deaths in custody are still being ignored
WARNING: This topic contains descriptions and the name of a recently deceased Indigenous person.
Veronica Nelson, a 37-year-old Indigenous woman, died whilst in custody after calling out 40 times for help from prison staff while being tragically ignored. Her unjust death evaded all sorts of media attention until her recent coroner’s report was revealed. According to doctors, if she had simply received medical attention that night, she would still be here with us today. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated issue.
Hundreds of reports of police brutality, deaths in custody and compliant media sources have been covered up or callously ignored. Take a look at the recent Royal Commission into the almost 500 Indigenous deaths in custody. What can we do as a nation to prevent further harm to our First Nation People?
5.Are social media ‘influencers’ skewing our perceptions of reality?
There’s no denying it, social media is one of the most influential platforms across the world. We often look towards celebrities and new ‘influencers’ for inspiration, life advice and familiarity. Especially coming out of the pandemic, these influencers have been a source of comfort for many during lockdowns. Unfortunately, lives are easy to fake and we are left wondering whether the people we look up to in the social media world are creating unrealistic expectations for us. Are they gaining profit at the expense of our mental health, or do they genuinely care for human connection?
6.Overconsumption in the fashion world: SHEIN, Fashion Nova and more
Online shopping is becoming our new reality, but rapidly growing fashion trends have led to mass production and inhumane outsourcing of labour. Think about the new fast fashion outlets that opened in Melbourne. Should we really be giving a retail platform to businesses that exploit workers and tailors, consistently produce poor-quality clothes and contribute to extensive land pollution? We’ve experienced huge clothing turnover over the past decade, contributing to one of our biggest land-fill issues at the moment. The emphasis on the constant need for more ‘trendy’ pieces results in items of clothing being poorly produced and going ‘out of fashion’ faster and consequently getting thrown out at the end of a new season. Fast fashion is an affordable option for many, but it comes at a cost of underpaid labour and pollution. How can society work towards finding the middle ground, so that everyone benefits and more importantly, what individual efforts can be made to ensure this?
7.Alcohol consumption amongst youths is becoming increasingly normalised
Everyone knows about the impact of alcohol on the body and mind, especially when it is consumed under age. Yet, binge drinking in Australia is a common weekend occurrence for students and is constantly normalised at social gatherings. Turning 18 and officially becoming an adult is exciting for many because of the prospect of finally being able to legally purchase and consume alcohol. However, even now, the long-term effects of alcohol have been proven to be the same as certain drugs and yet, it is heavily marketed by various companies, particularly to young Australians (Cassidy, 2021).
Many healthcare professionals stress that we need to work on reducing the culture of heavy drinking in Australia by increasing awareness of the genuine dangers. Think about ways in which we can do this that are different from what we have in place already.
8. The treatment of Ukraine vs. the Middle East/Sri Lankan/Asian refugees
When the war began in Ukraine, it rightfully caused worldwide outrage. Countries pledged artillery, medical aid and further security assistance for those fighting and opened their borders to Ukrainian refugees. However, during numerous conflicts in the Middle East, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, the world remained silent. The irony lies too within our own government, which was quick to reprimand Russia during the war and willingly state Australia will accommodate Ukrainian refugees, yet sends all other refugees that arrive in Australia to Christmas Island, or back home. There was, and still is, a difference in the treatment of vulnerable people that has long been tied into prolonged systematic racism, and it is still not being addressed.
9.‘Financial influencers’ are damaging people’s lives and careers
We’ve all seen it online, across Facebook and TikTok. ‘Financial influencers’ that can ‘turn you into a millionaire’ as long as you invest in their 12-step monetised plan for monetary freedom. For the most part, it is unsupported financial advice from online influencers who don’t have any qualifications. They cover bitcoin, cryptocurrency and ‘NFTs’ on social media, mainly encouraging people to quit their jobs and fully focus on the stock markets. Whilst some people have given out genuinely helpful and accessible advice, most end up teaching teenagers and young adults the wrong information, or strategies that have a low chance of success. We have a duty to protect people online, and adults making unsupported gambles with their finances is going against that. A good place to start would be to find out the real-life experiences of people who have lost money and stability as a result of this ‘advice’.
10.Social media has led to growing desensitisation and a lack of human empathy
The internet can be a place of joy and entertainment, allowing us to connect with people across the world and have access to endless information. Unfortunately, it is also a dark space filled with unregulated content that can be easily accessed. We’ve seen mass shootings, suicides and other disturbing material live streamed, exposing us to the worst acts of human nature. There are even those with a ‘morbid curiosity’ who purposefully try and find this content. Continued exposure to this type of content results in more desensitisation towards this material. If we continue this path, are the majority going to lack empathy towards others? Have a look at the wider effects of this type of content on the development of the brain.
11.The gaps in our labour market are only going to grow without rapid action
Over the past year, we have had some of the worst gaps in the labour market. There have been shortages in some of the most essential positions such as nursing, teaching, paramedics and 000 operators. The low wages and stressful nature of the jobs have made it difficult to find enough people willing to enter those job sectors. However, they are vital for our society to function, so how come nothing has yet been introduced to rapidly fix these shortages? Currently, we are out-sourcing labour, but this isn’t a long-term solution and we need to ensure that we don’t experience these problems in the future.
Over the past few years, especially in Australia and the USA, we have noticed an increasing trend in people refusing vaccines (COVID and others) due to growing anti-vax sentiments. Despite the plethora of evidence online that discusses the benefits and heavy testing that vaccines have and continue to undergo, people still claim that they do more harm than good. Moreover, it has now been noted that we now have a surplus of vaccines within Australia because of our vaccine hoarding during the middle of the pandemic.
Yet, there are still people across the globe who are dying from various illnesses due to their country’s inability to afford or get access to vaccines. It is now our responsibility to ensure nothing like this happens again in the future, by finding ways to reduce these inequities and tackle vaccine privilege.
13.Our personal data, information and finances are becoming increasingly exposed
This might seem like a bold statement to make, but imagine the sheer level of data that you store online or on your phone. There’s GovID data that is simply stored on your phone that contains information about your entire identity, facial recognition technology that is used everywhere (biotech), cameras and fingerprint access everywhere. The debate is extremely two-sided, with increased cyber protection assisting in solving crimes and preventing identity fraud, but with the growing level of cybercrimes, we’re also put at risk.
Così is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
Lewis is faced with a seemingly impossible task – to bring order to the chaotic world of the asylum – yet in the process of doing so, he develops hugely as a person. Although, it’s important not to take Lewis’ development at face value. His growth is used to highlight many of Nowra’s values on issues surrounding love, fidelity, madness and reality, just to name a few. It’s also important to look at the development (or lack of development) of other characters and think about why Nowra might have included them in the play. Luckily for you, Così is quite a short play and doesn’t have a huge cast of characters. However, this means that it’s even more important to get a great understanding of each character – they’re all there for a reason!
To fully understand this text, you’ll need to move beyond analysing characters and dialogue and consider Nowra’s main messages. Così is essentially a social commentary, packed full of criticisms of conventional perspectives and values. Also, Così is full of symbols and imagery, which can help you score highly on your essays if you integrate them into your work. Lastly, it's vital to remember that Così is a play, not a book, and on top of that, it is a play within a play. This means that setting, structure and stage directions are all crucial, and make for a high-scoring essay.
Melbourne Mental Institution, Australia during the 1970s.
All of the action takes place inside a burnt-out, derelict theatre. This serves to create an atmosphere of confinement for the audience, encouraging them to reflect on the stifling experience of the patients.
Così is divided into two acts and nine scenes. The play is dominated by Lewis’ development. Act 1 highlights his uncertainty and distance from the world of the asylum. Whereas by Act 2, we see Lewis become more invested in the patients and the asylum, as his relationships with the other characters grow. Lewis’ development is symbolised through the changing imagery throughout the play, specifically fire and water.
Così also is a piece of metatheatre, which Nowra achieves through structuring itas a ‘play within a play’. Metatheatre means that the play draws attention to its distance from reality. This makes sense in relation to Così, as Nowra is continually encouraging his audience to accept their own reality instead of falling into escapism. Including Così Fan Tutte in Così also serves to highlight the difference in popular opinion between Mozart’s era and the 1970s, while emphasising the continuity of love. This contrast also helps Lewis to come to terms with his valuation of love over war, which is at odds with the common opinions of his society.
The line between reality and illusion is explored through the characters who are labelled as ‘insane’ as well as those considered ‘normal.’ Nowra demonstrates that reality is unique for each person, and often people may slip into illusions in order to avoid the truth. It is suggested that although they may not have been completely ‘normal’, those considered to be ‘insane’ still possess great insight that ‘normal’ people may overlook. Additionally, Così reminds the reader of the absurdities of a mental asylum shunned by society, which would only have added to patients’ instabilities, especially as families dealt with the matter secretly. Furthermore, the issue of love and fidelity that was valued so highly in Mozart’s era, is proven to still be relevant in our modern times. Ultimately, Così is a play that criticises traditional structures and views of society – whether they be asylums, university education or harsh stigma. Nowra encourages his audience to accept both the complexity of people and of life, which begins with accepting your own reality.
The protagonist of Così, Lewis is a new university graduate who has agreed to direct a play cast with patients from a mental institution because he needs money. At first, Lewis shares the same values as his friends Nick and Lucy - that love is ‘not so important’ in the days of politics and war. During the time he spends with the patients, however, Lewis experiences a turning point in his understanding and perception of people. By the end of the play, Lewis learns to value love and friendship over war and politics, even stating that ‘without love, the world wouldn’t mean as much’. In emphasising the development of Lewis’ values away from the social norm, Nowra highlights the confining nature of society and the danger of its limited focus, which fails to recognise the value of love and companionship.
Additionally, Nowra blurs the lines between insanity and sanity by portraying Lewis as a bridge between the ‘real’ world and that of the asylum. At the beginning of the play, Lewis states that his grandmother was in an asylum. However, despite knowing that ‘she had gone mad’, he reflects that ‘she was still [his] grandmother.’This, alongside his passion for Julie, enables Lewis to see the patients as people, not their illnesses. Therefore, he subconsciously allows himself to be influenced by them, just as he influences them. This contradicts the traditional views surrounding the unproductivity of the mentally ill and instead highlights their value and worth. Therefore, Nowra warns against dismissing individuals who are mentally ill, instead highlighting their capacity to garner change and therefore be productive and valuable members of society.
Moreover, not only is Lewis involved in directing Così Fan Tutte, but he also finds himself playing the part of Fernando. This again further reinforces his roleas a bridge between society and the asylum (and his connection to its patients), and he ends up embodying the role. Like Fernando, Lewis is unfaithful to his partner. While still in a relationship with his girlfriend Lucy, Lewis becomes intimate with a patient, Julie. Nowra uses his unfaithfulness as evidence of the indiscriminate nature of infidelity – it is not restricted only to women.
Finally, Così explores how Lewis deals with a hardship that he essentially created for himself – he signed up to direct the play. This links to Nowra’s view of the senselessness of war, which he views as a problem that mankind has created for themselves.
Girlfriend and roommate of Lewis, Lucy cannot understand why Lewis is directing a play about love when thousands are dying in the war. She has an affair with Nick, who shares similar beliefs – that politics and the Vietnam War protest are more important than anything else. The flippant nature with which she regards her affair with Nick as purely sexual is also reflective of her lack of value towards love. Thus, Nowra portrays Lucy as a personification of the societal norms of the 1970s – she is political, into free love and challenges traditional notions of femininity.
Furthermore, it is ironic that Lucy and Lewis have similar names. At the start of the play, Lewis allows himself to be influenced by Lucy’s values rather than his own, but by the end, Lewis’ true views prove to be very different from hers.
Lucy also acts as a catalyst for Lewis’ change and development. She pushes him to ‘make a choice’between the world of insanity and fidelity that represents truth for Lewis, or the world of sanity, free love and politics that Lewis comes to view as restrictive and stifling.
An experienced student director, roommate and friend of Lewis who is heavily involved in the moratorium (a protest against the Vietnam War). He promises to help Lewis direct CosìFan Tutte, however he quickly breaks this vow in order to spend time furthering his political career with Lucy. Lewis later discovers that Lucy and Nick are having an affair. Unlike Lewis, however, Nick views his relationship with Lucy as ‘only sex’, therefore suggesting his superficiality and lack of compassion.
This superficiality is further shown through his obsession with the moratorium and his disinterest in Lewis’ Così Fan Tutte. He criticises Lewis for prioritising theatre over politics, stating that ‘only mad people in this day and age would do a work about love and infidelity.’ This suggests that what drives Nick is a desire to be seen doing the ‘normal’ and ‘right’ things, rather than an intrinsic belief that what he is doing is good. He views life as a series of transactions and values activities based on the immediate benefit that they bring him. For example, he admitted to helping Lewis with his direction only ‘so [Lewis would] help [him] on the moratorium committee’.
Overall, Nick lives up to his label of being an ‘egotistical pig’ who ‘likes the sound of his own voice’. He is used by Nowra as a benchmark with which Lewis’ development is compared (i.e. we can see how much Lewis has developed by comparing him to Nick). For example, at the start of the play Lewis shares similar superficial values to Nick, admitting to only take the directing job for a bit of money; however, by the end of Così, he holds vastly different views than Nick.
By the way, to download a PDF version of this blog for printing or offline use, click here!
Fidelity & Infidelity
According to Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte, fidelity is depicted as an ideal that is never achieved. Since ‘women are like that’ – the interpretation of ‘Così fan tutte’, Mozart supported the belief that men should simply accept that women will inevitably be disloyal in relationships. Nowra echoes this view of women through Lewis and Lucy’s relationship. While Lucy is ‘sleeping’ with Lewis, she is also triflingly ‘having sex’ with Nick. When Lewis discovers Lucy’s betrayal, she waves aside his shock, defending herself, ‘it is not as if we’re married.’ The revelation thus does prove Mozart right, that ‘woman’s constancy is like the Arabian Phoenix. Everyone swears it exists, but no one has seen it.’
Although the women in both Così Fan Tutte and Così are shown to be unfaithful, so are the men. While the men in Così Fan Tutte do not actively participate in adultery, they do fabricate their departure to the war and also disguise themselves as ‘Albanians.’ Their deception is also a betrayal to their wives. Meanwhile, Don Alfonso manipulates everyone. As seen in Così, Lewis is unfaithful to Lucy as he kisses Julie during rehearsals. Julie later reveals that she has a girlfriend who she would prefer to be with, confirming that both men and women are unfaithful in relationships, despite whatever values they may claim to have.
Nowra considers many perspectives of love and fidelity, without offering a definitive opinion. Instead, he explores the progression (or stagnation) of characters’ opinions on love and contrasts them to those of other characters, in the hope of highlighting its complexity. Nick and Lucy both view love as an indulgence that is incompatible with politics and secondary to life’s basic needs. Whereas Lewis claims, ‘without love, the world wouldn’t mean that much’. These differences between Nick and Lucy’s view on love and Lewis’, are major contributors to the deterioration of their relationships. Therefore, Nowra shows that communication and truthfulness are needed for healthy, and reciprocal, relationships.
Overall, while Così Fan Tutte presents love and fidelity as wavering, Nowra provides a more practical view of love. Nowra suggests that love is complex and cannot be fully understoodor tamed, instead portraying it as akin to madness. As love is universal, this view ties in nicely with his non-judgmental perspective on madness and insanity.
Sanity & Insanity
The line between sanity and insanity is explored through the juxtaposition of the patients and society. In the 1970s, those who behaved abnormally were declared to be ‘insane’ and placed in mental institutions that were shunned by society. As scientific developments have now informed us, these environments often failed to assist their patients. The use of electric shock therapy, for example, frequently led to severe, long-term negative effects upon patients.
While the patients were viewed as ‘madmen’ by outsiders, Lewis soon discovers that they are, in many ways, ordinary people. Although each patient has a mental flaw, all possess interesting opinions and beliefs on different matters. Additionally, Nowra encourages his readers to view insanity as more complex than a diagnosis or something that can be fixed with a ‘coat of paint’. Instead, he suggests that insanity is imposed on people through the judgment of others.
Nowra also attempts to blur the lines between sanity and insanity to emphasize the indiscriminate nature of madness. This is seen through Lewis’ character, who consistently bridges the gap between madness and normalcy. For example, despite his ‘sane’ status, he is mistaken for a patient by Justin, joins Roy in imitating electric shock therapy, replaces Doug in the play, and stands with the patients against Justin.
Overall, Nowra portrays insanity as a matter of perspective, rather than an objective diagnosis. He refuses to define madness, instead depicting it as somewhere on the spectrum of human behaviour. In doing so, he critisises traditional perspectives of sanity and insanity and instead encourages his audiences to consider the complexity of madness.
Reality & Illusion
The question of what is real or an illusion is weaved through the patients’ state of mentality. As shown through Ruth who struggles to pretend like she is having real coffee on stage, it is difficult for some to distinguish reality from illusion, even if it is clear to everyone else. For others, they may willingly refuse the truth and succumb to an illusion. Lewis deluded himself into believing that Lucy was faithful, when all signs (such as Nick residing in the same home and Nick and Lucy spending time together) indicated that Lucy was, in fact, blatantly disloyal. Much like Lewis’ protective delusion, Roy uses illusions of a happy childhood to shield him from facing his reality. This builds upon his tendencies to blame others for his behaviour – he is inherently unable to face the truth of his ‘insanity’ and so manipulates his reality to make it more bearable.
Throughout Così, Nowra also explores the relativity of reality. For the patients of the asylum, pretending to give electric shock therapy to others ‘seems realer’ than ‘kissing and stuff’, whereasthe opposite would be true in ‘ordinary’ society. However, Così also suggests that imagination has the capacity to empower. Through participating in the play, which is an illusory form of reality, the patients are able to explore their views on love and commitment.
Ultimately, the behaviour of characters such as Roy and Ruth encourages us to consider the reliability (or unreliability) of our own perceptions. Alongside this, Nowra stresses the importance of being able to accept your own reality, as he shows that characters who fail to do so, also fail to experiencepersonal growth (e.g. Roy, Julie).
The setting of a burnt-out theatre depicts the miserable environment in which the patients of mental institutions are forced to live. As they are ostracised by the community, a lack of care and support is shown through the rejected and deteriorating theatre. The patients’ considerable enthusiasm highlights their unfortunate circumstances, since even a chance to spend their time in an old building performing a play causes much excitement.
Although we see the theatre being touched up with new lights and a ‘coat of paint’,it still remains derelict and run-down. Nowra uses this to symbolise the futility of surface-level treatments (such as medication and isolation) of mental illnesses, and how we should instead focus on seeing the person behind the illness.
However, Nowra also uses the theatre as a symbol of hope. Despite its desolation, it is in the theatre that Lewis feels safe to grow and develop. Additionally, Julie and Lewis’ kiss takes place on the theatre’s stage. The kiss itself represents Lewis becoming more comfortable with himself and his increasingly counter-cultural views.
The women in both Così Fan Tutte and Così are compared with the Arabian Phoenix. The mythical creature is a representation of women, beautiful and enchanting, capturing men such as the god Apollo with its voice. This reflects the power of women to attract men. Nevertheless, its rarity, as often commented on in Così , is linked with the seemingly infrequent loyalty demonstrated by women.
The frequent reference to the Arabian Phoenix throughout Così continually reinforces the play’s misogynisticundertone. Its rarity is likened to the absenceof women’s fidelity, yet never male fidelity. Similarly, Nowra invites his audience to condemn Lucy’s unfaithfulness towards Lewis, yet we are not encouraged to feel the same way about Lewis’ unfaithfulness to Lucy.
Light and Dark
The lights in Act 1, Scene 1 highlight Lewis’ entrance into a new world, where he befriends patients who will ultimately help him to learn and develop. At first Lewis, much like Lucy and Nick, possesses a ‘pitch black’ perspective of the world. This is a representation of their modern beliefs that circulate around politics and war. When the lights are turned on, Roy is present, demonstrating that the patients of the mental institutions are the source for Lewis’ changing perspective throughout the play. Nowra also uses the lights to represent the hope for change that Lewis brings to the patients, and vice versa.
Light is also used to directly juxtapose the chaos and desperation that darkness brings. Before Lewis entered the theatre, it was dark and derelict, symbolising the abandonment and hopelessness of the asylum’s patients. This desperation is viewed in another light during Julie and Lewis’ kiss (which takes place in the dark). In this instance, their desire for each other and the chaos that ensues is liberating for Lewis, as it enables him to come to terms with what he truly values.
However, Julie notes that the wards are ‘never really dark’ as ‘there’s always a light on in the corridor.’ In this sense, darkness symbolises autonomy and freedom, whereas light represents the constant monitoring and scrutinising that the patients are subjected to.
1. Così contends that some things are more important than politics.
2. In Così, the ‘insane’ characters are quite normal.
3. The line between reality and illusion is often blurred.
4. Ironically, it is through the ‘madmen’ that Lewis learns what is truly important.
5. Nick and Lucy’s ‘modern’ value of free love is depicted to be a backwards belief. Discuss.
Now it's your turn! Give these essay topics a go. For more sample essay topics, head over to our Così Study Guideto practice writing essays using the analysis you've learnt in this blog!
Within the THINK strategy, we have 3 steps, or ABC. These ABC components are:
Step 1: Analyse
Step 2: Brainstorm
Step 3: Create a Plan
Character-Based Prompt: It is not only Lewis who develops in Così, but other characters as well. Discuss.
Step 1: Analyse
Simply spot a character’s name and there you have it, it’s a character-based prompt. However, it’s important to recognise that your essay does not need to revolve around only the character(s) in the prompt but should also incorporate discussion of other major and minor characters as well.
In this topic, it is important to incorporate other characters, such as the patients, into your essay, because they are crucial to Lewis’ development. To ensure that you stay on topic, it is best to include a paragraph (or paragraphs) that explore characters other than Lewis and their development. Also try and focus on different areas/types of development (i.e. not just Lewis’ changing values).
Highlight Key Words:
It is not only Lewis who develops in Così, but other characters as well.
Così explores the development/growth of multiple characters, including Lewis.
Lewis is the central catalyst that enables other character’s development to be seen (such as Ruth’s and Zac’s)
However, we also see characters who fail to develop. This is either because they fail to accept their own reality (Roy) or they fail to accept the errors in their thinking (Lucy, Nick)
Nowra also uses Lewis as the benchmark against which the development of other characters is measured. For example, Nick’s lack of development is highlighted through comparing his stagnation/unchanging ways to Lewis’ growth.
Lewis’ development is facilitated by the patients. Nowra uses this to suggest the productivity of the mentally ill and challenge traditional stereotypes that label them as incapable.
Through Lewis’ development, Nowra highlights the falsity in societal stereotypes of the mentally ill (i.e. Lewis’s views change from being discriminatory and stereotypical to more compassionate, and well founded.)
Imagery and symbolism are used to represent development and growth (fire and water) as well as Lewis’ catalytic nature (light and dark).
Step 3: Create a Plan
Contention: Nowra encourages his audience to reconsider their perspective on the mentally ill by highlighting their capacity to not only change themselves, but enact change in others.
Topic Sentence 1: Through his exploration of Lewis’ changing ideals during Così, Nowra attempts to highlight the value of companionship and productivity of the mentally ill, which act to increase Lewis’ confidence when faced with adversity.
Examples: Lewis’ changing ideas on love and fidelity, Lewis’ changing levels of subservience to Lucy and Nick
"Not so important."
"Without love, the world wouldn’t mean as much."
"They are coming to take me away, ha, ha."
"Not sing that."
"I said, don’t sing that song."
Linking Sentence(s): In contrasting Lewis’ meekness to his boldness, Nowra alludes to the personal benefits that personal growth can have. Additionally, he ultimately encourages his audience to view Lewis’ learning as evidence against the common notion of the unproductivity of the mentally ill, as we see Lewis’ development flourish during his time at the asylum.
Topic Sentence 2: Moreover, throughout Così we see Lewis develop a greater understanding of the complexity of madness due to his partnership with the patients.
Examples: Lewis’ changing perspective of the patients, Lewis’ involvement with the patients beyond his role as director, fire and water imagery
"Will go bezerk without their medication."
"Unable to believe he has found himself caught up in [directing]."
"Water drip[ping] though the hole in the roof."
Linking Sentence: Ultimately, through highlighting the development of Lewis’ views towards insanity, Nowra positions his audience to reflect on the complexity of madness and thus warns of the danger of stereotypes.
Topic Sentence 3: Furthermore, as an outsider, Lewis assists the patients in their development, acting as their connection to the real world and ultimately providing a space for them to grow and flourish.
Examples: Juxtaposition of light and dark, Ruth’s development.
"Chink of light."
"Burnt out theatre."
"Real cappuccino machine."
"Wasn’t [her], it was the character."
"Time and motion expert."
Linking Sentence: Ultimately, Nowra explores the learning and growth of characters in Così to not only highlight the necessity of a humanistic approach to treating mental illness, but also to illustrate the nature of mental health as a continuum, on which no one person needs to be stationary forever.
If you find this essay breakdown helpful, then you might want to check out our Così Study Guide where we cover 5 A+ sample essays with EVERY essay annotated and broken down on HOW and WHY these essays achieved A+ so you reach your English goals! Let's get started.
Frankenstein 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.
2. Historical Contexts and Setting
4. Feminist Interpretation
5. Sample Essay Topics
6. Essay Topic Breakdown
Frankenstein is a Gothic novel. The genre emerged in the eighteenth century, and was characterised by elements of mystery, horror and the supernatural. Such elements are manifested in the novel by Shelley’s use of isolated settings and dark undertones. Through her main plot of raising the dead to create a living creature, Shelley stays true to Gothic elements by allowing her characters to cross boundaries between mortal and supernatural worlds.
The novel is told in the epistolary form - written in a series of letters. This effectively integrates the reader into the story by allowing them to feel as if they are receiving a personal account of the events of the novel, adding an element of immersion.
Frankenstein is also a frame narrative, a form which examines the dark, internalised consciousness of each character that narrates the events of a story in each frame. Unlike in an omniscient narrative perspective, each storyteller is a character with concomitant shortcomings, limitations, prejudices, and motives.
Historical Contexts and Setting
Born in London, 1797, Mary Shelley was the only daughter of notable intellectual radicals. Her father, William, was a philosopher who condemned social institutions as corrupt and instead advocated for reason to guide people’s decisions.
During the 18th century, the traditional and metaphysical understanding of the meaning of life were replaced by more secular ideologies. It was during this period that galvanism was born; Luigi Galvani’s experimentalism with electrical currents to stimulate muscle movement. Shelley took inspiration from this to form the crucial plot device of Frankenstein.
The context of Frankenstein was also the backdrop of the French Revolution. There has been critic speculation that Shelley’s creature is an emblem of the French Revolution itself – originally created in order to benefit mankind, but the abuse of which drives it to uncontrollable destruction.
Thus, in Frankenstein, Shelley explores not only the scientific possibilities of human existence, but also the nature of man and self awareness of ambition. The novel is designed to make the reader wonder - is scientific exploration an exciting or terrifying thing? How much ambition is too much - and does having it offer more good or harm to humanity?
Pursuit of dangerous knowledge
Victor’s personal torment throughout the novel arises as a result of his attempt to surge beyond accepted human limits of science. Walton mirrors this pursuit by his attempt to surpass previous human explorations in his endeavour to reach the North Pole. Shelley evidently warns against such pursuits, as Victor’s creation causes the destruction of all those dear to him, and Walton finds himself critically trapped between sheets of ice, with only his deep loneliness to keep him company. A key difference between Victor and Walton’s fate, however, is that while Victor’s hatred of the creature drives himself into misery, he serves as a warning for the latter to pull back from his treacherous mission, proving just how dangerous the desire for knowledge can become.
The sublimity of the natural landscape is a typical Romantic symbol throughout the novel, as it acts as a source of emotional and spiritual renewal for both Frankenstein and his creature. Depressed and remorseful after the deaths of William and Justine, Victor retreats to Mont Blanc in the hopes that its grandness will uplift his spirits. Likewise, the creature’s ‘heart lightens’ as spring arrives, delivering him from the ‘hellish’ cold and abandonment of the winter. Such as this, nature acts as an instrument through which Shelley mirrors inherent similarity between Frankenstein and the creature. Nature is also constantly depicted as a force stronger than that of man, perceivable by its punishment of Frankenstein for attempting to violate maternal laws in his unnatural creation of the creature. As such, Shelley suggests that Frankenstein’s hubristic attitude towards nature ultimately results in his damnation.
Beauty and Monstrosity (Societal Prejudice)
The creature is rejected almost solely due to its hideously ugly physical appearance, standing at ‘eight feet tall’ and described as ‘a thing even Dante could not have conceived’. Prejudice against outward appearances becomes apparent throughout the novel, as despite educating itself and developing a ‘sophisticated speech’, the creature continues to be judged solely on its appearance and is shunned and beaten due to its repulsiveness. Shelley condemns the extent of this prejudice through the character of William, who, despite the creature’s belief that he is far too young to have ‘imbibed a horror of deformity’, demonstrates intense loathing at the ‘ugly wretch’. In stark contrast to this, the reader can perceive a prevalent social privilege of beauty, as numerous characters are favoured solely for their outward appearances. Safie, similar to the creature in that she is also foreign and unlearned in English, is admired for her ‘countenance of angelic beauty’. While the ‘demoniacal corpse’ of the creature is perceived by society as ‘a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled and whom all men disowned’, Safie’s beauty marks her as a cherished individual who ‘infuses new life’ into souls.
Victor’s obsession with creating life is shrouded in secrecy, and his obsession with destroying his creation remains equally secretive until his revelation to Walton near the end of the story. However, while Victor chooses to remain reclusive due to his horror and guilt, the creature is forced to do so merely by his hideous appearance. Despite this, the theme of secrecy also links the creator and creature through the character of Walton; in confessing to Walton of his crimes before he dies, Victor is able to escape this stifling secrecy that ruined his life, just as the monster desperately takes advantage of Walton’s presence to force a human connection, hoping to find someone who will empathise with his miserable existence as ‘a monster’.
Frankenstein has been perceived by many as a feminist novel, as Shelley’s weak representation of women acts as a critique to patriarchal ideals of females.
During the eighteenth century, a woman’s finest characteristics were described by Rousseau himself: ‘The first and most important qualification in a woman is good nature or sweetness of temper.’
Thus, in Frankenstein, women are almost always perceived through a male’s perception. The women in the novel are thus excluded from all spheres; not given voices in telling their stories, nor truly figuring in the male characters’ romantic lives.
Female representation is purposefully excluded from the novel in order to accentuate this flaw in society. As such, the women that do appear are symbols of the ‘ideal women’ of the eighteenth century - they are presented as reflections of their male counterparts; as mothers, daughters, sisters, or wives, rather than strong individual entities.
It is important to note that most of Shelley’s idealised women in Frankenstein all die in the end, and the character traits that had defined them as idealised women were the cause of their deaths. For example, Caroline Beaufort dies directly as a result of her acting as a dutiful caregiver, and looking after Elizabeth when she contracts scarlet fever. By emancipating her from her stereotypical role as a woman through death, Shelley suggests that her Enlightened society must depart from this systematic oppression of the female sex.
Author's Views and Values
Frankenstein depicts a variety of Shelley’s views and values. Some ways to word these in an essay would be:
Shelley suggests through Frankenstein’s downfall that an individual cannot succeed in isolation.
Shelley visibly condemns the misuse of intellect and scientific discovery for one’s own personal gain.
In Frankenstein, Shelley depicts the creature’s mistreatment to oppose the societal judgement that beauty is reflective of character.
Shelley offers a moral edict that superfluous pride leads to downfall.
Shelley denounces the naïve ideals of revolution ideology through the tragic and violent consequences of Frankenstein’s discovery
Focus on how Shelley depicts women as merely weaker, sacrificial reflections of their male counterparts.
Margaret Saville, Walton’s ‘dear sister’, is only present in the novel through his narrative portrayal of her. She is described as the ‘angel [of] the house’, and while her brother is exploring to ‘accomplish some great purpose’, Margaret is at home, passively waiting for his letters.
Caroline Beaufort, Victor’s mother, is also only perceptible as the archetypal female, encompassing the roles of wife, mother, and daughter. After her father dies, leaving her as an ‘orphan and beggar’, Caroline is reduced to a damsel in distress in need of saving by Alphonse Frankenstein, who comes to her ‘like a protecting spirit’.
In this paragraph, you could focus on how females are valued primarily as objects of physical beauty, rather than individual human beings of autonomy.
Elizabeth is selected from the orphan peasant group merely due to her ‘very fair’ beauty. Thus, it is this ‘crown of distinction’ which affords Elizabeth her subsequent life of happiness in the Frankenstein household. However, beauty for women also induces objectification, as she is ‘given’ to Victor as a ‘pretty present’, and he views her as his ‘possession’ to ‘protect, love, and cherish’.
Safie is also physically beautiful, with a ‘countenance of angelic beauty and expression’. It is this attractiveness of Safie which affords her marginalised power as a woman. Unlike the creature, who is rejected by the De Laceys because of his ‘hideous deformity’, the foreign Safie ‘[diffuses] happiness among’ the De Lacey household through her ‘exotic’ beauty.
Shelley’s deliberate exclusion of women from romantic and reproductive spheres in Frankenstein condemns the societal oppression of females.
Frankenstein encompasses an immense focus on male relationships. There exists an almost homosexual ‘brotherly affection’ between Walton and Frankenstein, as Frankenstein can be perceived as the figure fulfilling Walton’s ‘bitter… want of a friend’ and companion for life; something that would conventionally be found in a wife.
Homosexual undertones are also evident in Frankenstein’s ‘closest friendship’ with Henry Clerval, who he treasures arguably more than Elizabeth. The murder of Frankenstein’s ‘dearest Henry’ exacts from him ‘agonies’ in the form of ‘strong convulsions’, as he subsequently falls physically ill for two months ‘on the point of death’. In contrast to this, the strangulation of Elizabeth is received by a brief period of mourning, implying that Frankenstein does not require as much time to grieve Elizabeth.
Finally, the male creature and his assumption that a female creature ‘will be content with the same fate’ as himself further emphasises male dismissal of female autonomy.
Essay Topic 2: ‘Life, although it may only be awn accumulation of anguish, is dear to me and I will defend it.’ How does Shelley use paradox to show the complexity of the human condition?’.
As the creature’s education by books teaches him contradictory lessons on human nature, Shelley portrays the acquisition of knowledge as a paradoxical double-edged sword.
Through intertextual references to the books through which the creature ‘[studies] human nature’, Shelley presents the paradoxical characteristics of mankind.
Although The creature is propelled to suicidal thoughts of ‘despondency and gloom’ by Goethe’s Sorrows of Werther, the book also reveals his empathy, as he becomes ‘a listener’ to the ‘lofty sentiments and feelings’ of humanity.
Plutarch’s Lives instils in him the ‘greatest ardour for virtue… and abhorrence for vice’; two traits, the creature realises, that simultaneously and paradoxically manifest in society.
Milton’s Paradise Lost allowsthe creature to compares his rejection by Frankenstein with that of Satan by God. This results in his own paradoxical turn in character - as he subsequently declares ‘ever-lasting war against his ‘accursed creator’, ’evil thenceforth [becomes his] good’.
Shelley purposefully pairs the grotesque physicality of the creature with potent verbal power to showcase his complex humanity.
The creature’s humanity despite his ‘physical deformity allows him to be perceived by the audience as human rather than a ‘wretch doomed to ignominy and perdition’.
For De Lacey, the hideous appearance of the creature is eclipsed by his eloquence, which ‘persuades [him] that [he] is sincere’. Shelley portrays through his initial acceptance of the creature that he is a ‘daemon’ only in appearance, and thus criticises the ‘fatal prejudice that clouds [the majority of society’s] eyes’.
This idea is furthered as Felix’s perception of the creature’s ‘miserable deformity’ results in a ‘violent attack’ upon him. However, the creature abstains from defending himself out of human goodness - despite his capability to tear ‘[Felix] limb from limb’, the creature instead showcases his sensitivity.
Thus, the paradoxical antithesis of the creature is the way in which human actions, such as those of Felix, diminish his own humanity and mould him into the monstrous animal his appearance presents him as.
The symbolism of fire and ice in ‘Frankenstein’ serves as a moral reminder of the paradoxical essence of human ambition.
The motif of fire symbolises the seductive quality of scientific aspiration, as Frankenstein’s ‘longing to penetrate the secrets of nature’ is described as literally ‘warming’ his young imagination. Despite being life-giving, fire is also evidently death-dealing, as fifteen-year-old Frankenstein perceives a vicious storm during which lightning causes the destruction of an oak tree into a ‘blasted stump’ issuing a ‘stream of fire’. As such, the powerfully antithetical nature of fire complicates his ambition, as he muses, ‘How strange… that the same cause should produce such opposite effects!’.
In contrast, the motif of ice represents the perils of superfluous ambition. The icy sea of Mont Blanc serves as the backdrop of Frankenstein’s dialogue with his ‘filthy creation’. The creature utilises his familiarity to the icy climate to overpower his ‘master’; there is a disturbing reversal in roles as the creature forces Frankenstein to follow him into the ‘everlasting ices of the north’, and wishes for him to suffer ‘the misery of cold and frost to which [he himself is] impassive’.
The paradox of fire and ice in Frankenstein culminates in the creature’s dramatic announcement of death by fire, surrounded by ice. This acts as a bitter and ironic parody of both Walton's and Frankenstein's dream of the fire, underscoring its tragic fatality. This is emphasised by the creature’s final words, ‘I shall ascend my funeral pile triumphantly and exult in the agony of the torturing flames… my ashes will be swept into the sea by winds’.
Authorial intent is without a doubt one of the most important parts of any analytical essay in VCE English because talking about it is what offers the deepest level of analysis and shows the examiners that you have thought deeply about the text at hand. If you can discuss authorial intent effectively, you’ll be able to show that you have a solid understanding of what you are talking about and that you’re not working exclusively with surface-level ideas.
What Is Authorial Intent?
When we talk about authorial intent, what is really being referenced is the author’s reason for writing their piece in the way that they have and what messages they are trying to convey. Essentially, it’s what your teacher wants you to think about when they ask you things like “why is the door red?”. More generally speaking, why has the author made a point of telling us as readers the weather at that time? Why has that character been given that particular line of dialogue? Why have they brought in that specific tone for this part of the text? These are all the kinds of questions that you should be asking yourself when you’re reading through material that you have to analyse.
You might also hear authorial intent talked about as the writer’s ‘views and values’. If you’re unsure what views and values actually mean, you can kind of think of it as though the ‘views’ are how the author sees something and the ‘values’ are how the author thinks about something. Essentially, their opinions and perspectives are their views, whereas their morals and principles are their values. These two elements will often be central to the overall intention behind writing their text.
Why Is Authorial Intent Important?
Authorial intent plays a major role in your interpretation of the text; if you can’t figure out what the intent is, you will often miss out on key points and messages throughout the text. If you are lucky, the author will make it really clear to you as a reader what their intent is; however, this often is not the case. That being said, whether their intent is stated or implied doesn’t matter - there will always be something there for you to talk about.
How To ‘Find’ Authorial Intent in the Text: Key Identifiers To Look Out For
If you come across a text that makes it a little bit more difficult to discern what the author is actually trying to say, a good place to start is to look at the context behind the piece of writing.
The time period the novel/movie/play is set in is often a good indicator of what the author is saying. The author will often be using their text as a means by which they can comment on or critique one or more elements of that society, or perhaps as a metaphor for events that are occurring at the time the text is/was written. Alternatively, they may be portraying their view about the events that actually occurred during that time. For example, if you have a text that is set in the Georgian era, it is likely that the author’s message has something to do with colonialism or imperialist mindsets (zeitgeists) because this was a very dominant theme in that society.
Some other reasons you might consider an author having could include:
to highlight the importance of something
to criticise a behaviour or mindset
to ridicule certain actions
to warn against something
to discourage people from doing something
to convey certain political messages or controversial opinions
Realistically there is a broad range of things that the author could be saying, it's your job to pinpoint what that really is.
Once you’ve determined what it is the author is generally talking about, you then need to start thinking about the way that this has been represented. This is where you start to bring in the characters, the events, the dialogue, the inner monologues. Basically, you start looking for the elements that the author has added, not necessarily for a story-telling purpose but, more so, to convey their views and values through the text. This isn’t always going to jump right out at you so there may be a bit of deeper thinking involved.
Another good place to start is to try to identify the central themes of a text. This might be something like ‘Judgement’, ‘Redemption’, ‘Guilt’, etc. The author wouldn't have made these themes so relevant if they didn't have anything to say about them. Once again, this is where you look at the quotes, the setting, the characters and other features (as mentioned before) just with a more theme-focused approach.
Useful Vocabulary & Sentence Examples
When you come to actually putting together a paragraph, it is really important that you don’t forget to include authorial intent at some stage (at least once per paragraph). If you work with a TEEL structure (watch from 05:10) as the baseline, these kinds of comments about the author’s intent would usually be located within the ‘explanation’ section. A good way to double-check that you’ve incorporated authorial intent is to go back through your paragraph and make sure that the author’s name is in there somewhere. If you’ve talked about authorial intent you likely will have said something like:
‘In doing so, (Author) condones the (whatever it is they condone).’
Below are some sample sentence structures that you might think about using throughout your essays. Obviously, the particular vocabulary will vary depending on what your text is and which message you are talking about, but these are good as a guide.
Through (example from text) AUTHOR (offers, provides, asserts) a (condemnation, evaluation…) of (idea, theme, concept, action…)
E.g. Through emphasising the internal struggle faced by Rooke during the floggings, Grenville offers a condemnation of the Empire’s heinous approach to loyalty, as the threat of ‘wirling at the end of the rope’ essentially forces individuals to value duty over conscience. (The Lieutenant)
In doing so, AUTHOR (establishes, condemns, reveals…)
E.g. In doing so, Miller reveals the self-destructive nature of religious extremism in breeding instability and conflict. (The Crucible)
(scene, event…) allows AUTHOR to (suggest, convey, assert,…) that
E.g. Her sorrowful pleas that ‘she beg me to make charm’, fraught with grammatical errors, allow Miller to saliently illustrate the gulf that exists between the vulnerable outcasts such as Tituba and more privileged individuals within a community, in this case, Reverend Parris. (The Crucible)
AUTHOR’s depiction of (character) as (courageous, morally conscious, selfish…) emphasises their belief that…
E.g. Ham’s depiction of Teddy as a morally conscious and genuine individual emphasises her belief that it is possible to transcend the social codes enforced by one’s community.(The Dressmaker)
AUTHOR’s suggestion that… (serves as a reminder, highlights, emphasises the importance of…)
E.g. Euripides’ blatant suggestion that the fate of most of these women is in servitude and sexual slavery is a damning reminder that the victims of war are not just those killed during the conflict. (Women of Troy)
(Hence, thus, as a result…) AUTHOR asserts that…
E.g. Thus, Euripides asserts that victory in war ultimately proves futile as loss will inevitably be suffered somewhat equally by both sides. (Women of Troy)
Evident through AUTHOR’s (characters’ actions/dialogue/section of text…) is the idea that…
E.g. Evident through Miller’s depiction of the struggles faced by Goody Osburn and Goody Good is the idea that where geographical isolation and strict moral codes render a community intolerant, the marginalisation and ostracisation of those who do not fit the societal mould is inevitable. (The Crucible)
Through (action, quote, scene…) AUTHOR seeks to…
E.g. Through highlighting the harm which can result from individuals utilising their power to manipulate situations, Ham seeks to expose the damages caused by ignoring the truth, particularly when done so for personal benefit. (The Dressmaker)
If you’ve gotten to this point then hopefully that means that you are starting to get a better understanding of what authorial intent actually is, the thought processes that go into finding it and why it is such a useful and important element to analyse. Most importantly, I hope that you can at least start recognising the way that the author’s voice comes through in the particular texts that you are studying, and that you can start looking at including some of those observations and ideas when you're writing your responses.
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!
Rear Window 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.
When most people think of Hitchcock, it’s the screeching violins from Psycho that first come to mind. Whilst he is indeed known for his hair-curling thrillers, Rear Window is a slightly subtler film which focuses not on a murderer at large, but rather a crippled photographer who never even leaves his apartment.
Our protagonist L.B. ‘Jeff’ Jefferies is portrayed by James Stewart, who was known at the time for portraying cowboys in various Western films as well as starring in an earlier Hitchcock film Rope. After breaking his leg after a racing accident, Jeff begins to spy on his neighbours, one of whom he suspects of having committed a murder.
Despite some initial misgivings, his insurance nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) and lover Lisa (Grace Kelly) also come to share his suspicions and participate in his spying. Their contributions ultimately allow the mystery to be solved.
Intertwined with this mystery is also the rather complex story of Jeff and Lisa’s relationship. Jeff on one hand resembles the ‘macho’ men of action whom Stewart is very accustomed to playing. On the other hand, Kelly portrays a character much like herself, a refined and elegant urbanite whose lifestyle inherently clashes with that of an action photographer.
Hitchcock ultimately resolves both of these storylines in the film’s denouement.
2. Historial Context
Before getting into the nitty-gritty of the film, it is crucial to understand a bit about its historical context. As with any other text, the social conditions at the time of Rear Window’s release in 1954 inform and shape the interactions and events of the film.
Released in the post-war period, the film is undoubtedly characterised by the interpersonal suspicion which defined the era. In particular, there was a real fear in America of Communist influences and Soviet espionage - so much so that a tribunal was established, supposedly to weed out Communists despite a general lack of evidence. This practice of making accusations without such evidence is now known as the McCarthyism, named after the senator behind the tribunal.
The film undoubtedly carries undertones of this, particularly in Jeff’s disregard for his neighbours’ privacy and his unparalleled ability to jump to conclusions about them. During this era, people really did fear one another, since the threat of Communism felt so widespread. Jeff’s exaggerated interpretations of his neighbours’ actions lead him to an irrational sense of suspicion, which is in many way the basis of the entire film.
At the same time, the 1950s saw a boom in photojournalism as a legitimate profession. To some extent, this was fuelled by the heyday of Life magazine (an American weekly, as well-known then as Time magazine is today). This publication was almost entirely photojournalistic, and one of their war photojournalists, Robert Capa, is actually the basis of Jeff’s character. This explains the prevalence of cameras in his life, as well as his ability to emotionally distance himself from those whom he observes through the lens.
Another crucial historical element is the institution of marriage, and how important it was to people during the 1950s. It was an aspiration which everyone was expected to have, and this is reflected statistically - only 9.3% of homes then had single occupants (as opposed to around 25% today). People also tended to marry at a younger age, generally in their early 20s.
Conversely, divorce was highly frowned upon, and once you were married, you would in general remain married for the rest of your life. In particular, divorced women suffered massive financial difficulties, since men, as breadwinners, held higher-paying jobs, and women were only employed in traditionally female roles (e.g. secretaries, nurses, teachers, librarians). Seen in this light, we can understand Lisa’s overwhelming desire to marry and settle down with Jeff. The importance of marriage is also evident in the lives of Jeff’s neighbours; Miss Torso’s 'juggling [of the] wolves', and Miss Lonelyheart’s depression both reflect this idea.
Combining a basic understanding of the film’s plot, as well as our knowledge of its history, we can begin to analyse some of the themes that emerge.
Possibly the central tenet of the film is the big question of privacy. Even in today’s society, the sanctity of privacy is an important concept; every individual has a right to make their own choices without having to disclose, explain or justify all of them. The character of Doyle says almost these exact words:
'That’s a secret and private world you’re looking into out there. People do a lot of things in private that they couldn’t possibly explain in public'
The tension that Hitchcock draws upon is this other idea of public responsibility, or civic duty - that is, the need to uphold the peace and protect one’s fellow citizens from harm. These ideas clash in Rear Window, as fulfilling this civic responsibility (which for Jeff means privately investigating Thorwald) means that Thorwald’s right to privacy gets totally thrown out the window. So to speak.
Evidently, this is a major moral dilemma. If you suspect that someone has committed murder, does this give you the right to disregard their privacy and surveil them in this way? While the film doesn’t give a definite answer (and you won’t be required to give a definite answer), Hitchcock undoubtedly explores the complexity of this question. Even Jeff has misgivings about what he’s seeing:
'Do you suppose it’s ethical to watch a man with binoculars, and a long-focus lens—until you can see the freckles on the back of his neck, and almost read his mail? Do you suppose it’s ethical even if you prove he didn’t commit a crime?'
In some ways, the audience is also positioned to reflect on this question, and in particular, reflect on the paranoia that characterised and defined the McCarthy era.
Somewhat separate to these questions is the romance between Jeff and Lisa, since Hitchcock seems to keep the thriller storyline and the romance storyline separate for a large part of the film. Their contrasting lifestyles and world views present a major obstacle in the fulfilment of their romance, and the murder mystery both distracts and unites them. Hitchcock further alludes to the question of whether marriage will be able to settle those differences after all - a major example is the following scene, in which Lisa not only reveals her discovery of Mrs Thorwald’s ring, but also expresses a desire for Jeff to ‘put a ring on it’ as well:
It’s impossible to study a Hitchcock film without considering how he impacted and manipulated its storytelling. The cinematographic techniques employed in Rear Window are important ways of shaping our understanding of the film, and Hitchcock uses a wide array of visual cues to communicate certain messages.
Lighting is one such cue that he uses a lot - it is said that at certain points in filming, he had used every single light owned by the studio in which this film was shot. In this film, lighting is used to reveal things: when the lights are on in any given apartment, Jeff is able to peer inside and watch through the window (almost resembling a little TV screen; Jeff is also able to channel surf through the various apartments - Hitchcock uses panning to show this).
On the contrary, a lack of lighting is also used to hide things, and we see Thorwald utilise this at many stages in the film. Jeff also takes advantage of this, as he often sits in a position where he is very close to being in the shadows himself; if he feels the need, he is able to retreat such that he is fully enshrouded. Low-key lighting in these scenes also contributes to an overall sense of drama and tension.
Another handy visual cue is the cross-cut, which is an example of the Kuleshov effect. The Kuleshov effect is an editing technique whereby a sequence of two shots is used to convey information more effectively than just a single shot. Specifically, the cross-cut shifts from a shot of a person to a second shot of something that this person is watching.
We see this often, particularly when Jeff is responding to events in the courtyard; Hitchcock uses this cross-cut to immediately show us what has caused Jeff’s response. This visual cue indicates to viewers that we are seeing what Jeff is seeing, and is one of the few ways that Hitchcock helps audiences assume Jeff’s point-of-view in key moments.
Similarly, Hitchcock also uses photographic vignetting to merge our perspectives with Jeff’s - in certain shots, we see a fade in clarity and colour towards the sides of a frame, and this can look like a circular shadow, indicating to us that we are seeing something through a telescope or a long-focus lens.
Interestingly, a vignette is also a short, descriptive scene that focuses on a certain character and/or idea to provide us with insights about them - in this sense, it’s also possible to say that Jeff watches vignettes of his neighbours. Since this word has two meanings, you must be careful about which meaning you’re referring to.
By the way, to download a PDF version of this blog for printing or offline use, click here!
5. Key Symbols
As with any other text, it’s important to consider some of the key symbols that Hitchcock draws upon in order to tell his story. That being said, one of the benefits of studying a film is that these symbols tend to be quite visual - you are able to see these recurring images and this may make them easier to spot. We’ll be going through some of these key images in the final part of this guide.
One of the first symbols we see is Jeff’s broken leg, which is propped up and completely covered by a cast, useless for the time being. Because he has been rendered immobile by his leg, readers can infer from this symbol that he is also incapable of working or even leaving his apartment, let alone solving a murder mystery. The broken leg is in this sense a symbol of his powerlessness and the source of much of his discontent.
Another interpretation of the broken leg however, is that it represents his impotence which on one hand is synonymous for powerlessness or helplessness, but is on the other hand an allusion to his apparent inability to feel sexual desire. Being constantly distracted from Lisa by other goings-on in the courtyard definitely supports this theory. All in all, Jeff’s broken leg represents some compromise of his manhood, both in the sense that he cannot work in the way that a man would have been expected to, but also in the sense that he is unable to feel any attraction towards Lisa, even as she tries her best to seduce him.
Conversely, Jeff’s long-focus camera lens is a symbol of his passive male gaze, which is more or less the only thing he can do in his condition. It is the main means through which he observes other people, and thus, it also symbolises his voyeuristic tendencies - just as his broken leg traps and inhibits him, his camera lens transports him out of his own apartment and allows him to project his own fears and insecurities into the apartments of his neighbours, watching them for entertainment, for visual pleasure.
In this latter sense, the camera lens can also be understood as a phallic symbol, an erection of sorts. It highlights Jeff’s perverted nature, and the pleasure he derives from the act of observing others. Yikes.
On the other hand, Lisa’s dresses underscore the more positive parts of her character. Her initial wardrobe represents her elegance and refinery whilst also communicating a degree of incompatibility with Jeff. However, as she changes and compromises throughout the film, her wardrobe also becomes much more practical and much less ostentatious as the film wears on, until she is finally wearing a smart blouse, jeans and a pair of loafers. The change in her wardrobe reflects changes in her character as well.
Finally, the wedding ring of Mrs Thorwald is hugely significant; wedding rings in general represent marriage and commitment, and are still very important symbols that people still wear today. Specifically, Mrs Thorwald’s ring means a couple of things in the context of the film - it is firstly a crucial piece of evidence (because if Mrs Thorwald was still alive, she would probably still be wearing it) and it is also a symbol through which Lisa can express a desire for stability, commitment and for herself to be married.
There’s definitely plenty to talk about with Hitchcock’s Rear Window, and I hope these points of consideration help you tackle this film!
Test your film technique knowledge with the video below:
Ready to start writing on Rear Window? Watch the Rear Window Essay Topic Breakdown:
6. Sample Essay Topics
In Rear Window, Hitchcock suggests that everybody can be guilty of voyeurism. Do you agree?
Jeff’s attempts to pursue justice are entirely without honour. To what extent is this true?
In the society presented in Rear Window, Jeff has more power and agency than Lisa in spite of his injury. Do you agree?
Discuss how the opening sequence sets up later themes and events in Rear Window.
'Of course, they can do the same thing to me, watch me like a bug under glass if they want to.' Hitchcock’s Rear Window argues that it is human nature to be suspicious. To what extent do you agree?
Explore the role of Jeff’s courtyard neighbours in the narrative of Rear Window.
Jeff and Lisa’s roles in Rear Window, as well as that which they witness, reflect the broader societal tensions between the sexes of the time. Discuss.
'I’m not much on rear window ethics.' The sanctity of domestic privacy supersedes the importance of public responsibility. Is this the message of Rear Window?
Marriage lies at the heart of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Discuss.
Hitchcock’s Rear Window explores and ultimately condemns the spectacle made of human suffering. Is this an accurate reflection of the film?
Rear Window argues that it is more important to be right than to be ethical. Do you agree?
'To see you is to love you.' What warnings and messages regarding attraction are offered by Hitchcock’s Rear Window?
In Rear Window, women are merely objects of a sexist male gaze. To what extent do you agree?
In what ways do Hitchcock’s cinematic techniques enhance his storytelling in Rear Window?
'When they’re in trouble, it’s always their Girl Friday that gets them out of it.' Is Lisa the true heroine of Rear Window?
Now it's your turn to give these essay topics a go! In our ebook A Killer Text Guide: Rear Window, we've take 5 of these essay topics and show you our analysis, brainstorm and plan for each individual topic. We then write up full A+ essays - all annotated - so that you know exactly what you need to do to replicate a 50 study scorer's success!.
7. Essay Topic Breakdown
Whenever you get a new essay topic, you can use LSG’s THINK and EXECUTE strategy - a technique to help you write better VCE essays. This essay topic breakdown will focus on the THINK part of the strategy. If you’re unfamiliar with this strategy, then check it out in How To Write A Killer Text Response because it’ll dramatically enhance how much you can take away from the following essays and more importantly, your ability to apply this strategy in your own writing.
Within the THINK strategy, we have 3 steps, or ABC. These ABC components are:
Step 1: Analyse
Step 2: Brainstorm
Step 3: Create a Plan
Film technique-based prompt:
Hitchcock’s use of film techniques offers an unnerving viewing experience. Discuss.
Step 1: Analyse
While we should use film techniques as part of our evidence repertoire in each essay, this particular type of essay prompt literally begs for it. As such, I’d ensure that my essay has a greater focus on film techniques (without concerning myself too much over inclusion of quotes; the film techniques will act as a replacement for the quotes).
Step 2: Brainstorm
Since the essay prompt is rather open-ended, it is up to us to decide which central themes and ideas we’d like to focus on. By narrowing down the discussion possibilities ourselves, we’ll 1) make our lives easier by removing the pressure to write about everything, and 2) offer teachers and examiners a more linear and straightforward approach that will make it easier for them to follow (and give you better marks!).
The ‘unnerving viewing experience’ is present throughout the entire film, so my approach will be to divide up each paragraph into start of the film, middle of the film and end of the film discussions. This will help with my essay’s coherence (how well the ideas come together), and flow (how well the ideas logically progress from one to another).
Step 3: Create a Plan
Contention: Through a diverse range of film techniques, Hitchcock instils fear and apprehension into the audience of Rear Window.
P1: The opening sequence of Rear Window employs various film techniques to immediately establish underlying tension in its setting.
P2: Through employing the Kuleshov effect in the strategically cut scene of Miss Lonelyhearts’ attempted suicide, Hitchcock adds to the suspenseful tone of the film by developing a guilty voyeur within each viewer.
P3: In tandem with this, Hitchcock ultimately adds to the anxiety of the audience by employing lighting and cross-cutting techniques in the climax scene of the plot, in which an infuriated Thorwald attempts to enter Jeff’s apartment.
If you find this helpful, then you might want to check out our A Killer Text Guide: Rear Windowebook, which has all the information and resources you need to succeed in your exam, with detailed summaries and background information, as well as a detailed analysis of all five essay prompts!
Things Fall Apart 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.
Things Fall Apart is set in a fictional group of Igbo villages called Umuofia, around the beginning of the twentieth century. The first half of the novel is dedicated to an almost anthropological depiction of Igbo village life and culture through following the life of the protagonist Okonkwo. Okonkwo is the greatest wrestler and warrior alive in the nine villages and beyond. He has dedicated his life to achieving status and proving his strength to avoid becoming like his father Unoka – a lazy, improvident, but gentle man. Weakness is Okonkwo’s greatest fear. After men in another village kill a woman from Umuofia, a boy named Ikemefuna is given to Umuofia as compensation and lives in Okonkwo’s compound until the Gods decide his fate. Ikemefuna quickly becomes part of Okonkwo’s family; he is like a brother to Okonkwo’s son Nwoye and is secretly loved by Okonkwo as well. Over the next three years, the novel follows Okonkwo’s family through harvest seasons, religious festivals, cultural rituals, and domestic disputes. Okonkwo is shown to be more aggressive than other Igbo men and is continually criticized and rebuked by the village for his violence and temper. When the Oracle of the Hills and Caves decides that Ikemefuna must be killed, Okonkwo is warned by a respected elder to have no hand in the boy’s death because Ikemefuna calls him ‘father’. However, afraid of being thought weak, when Ikemefuna runs to Okonkwo in hope of protection, Okonkwo delivers the fatal blow. Ikemefuna’s brutal death deeply distresses Nwoye who becomes afraid of his father.
At the end of Part One, Okonkwo accidentally kills a clansman at a funeral after his faulty gun explodes and is exiled to his motherland, Mbanta. During his exile, British missionaries arrive in Mbanta and establish a church. Nwoye, disillusioned with his own culture and Gods after Ikemefuna’s death, is attracted to Christianity and is an early convert. This is a heartbreaking disappointment to Okonkwo. When Okonkwo and his family return from exile after seven years they find that the missionaries and colonial governors have established Umuofia as the center of their new colonial government. Clashes of culture and morality occur, and as the British make the Igbo more dependent on them through introducing trade and formal education, the Igbo way of life is continually undermined. When a Christian convert unmasks an egwugwu during a tribal ritual, a sin amounting to the death of an ancestral spirit, the egwugwu burn down the village church. The men who destroyed the church are arrested and humiliated by the District Commissioner, and Okonkwo beheads a court messenger at a village council in rebellion. When none of his clansmen rise with him against the British, Okonkwo realizes his culture and way of life is lost and commits suicide in despair. Suicide is a crime against the Earth Goddess, Ani, so Okonkwo is left to rot above ground in the Evil Forest, like his father Unoka – a shameful fate he spent his life desperate to avoid. The final paragraph, written from the perspective of the District Commissioner, reduces Okonkwo’s life to a single sentence about his death in his planned book The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of The Lower Niger. Achebe has filled an entire novel with evidence of the complexity and sophistication of Okonkwo’s individual and social life and the District Commissioner’s casual dismissal and belittling of him causes us to flinch with horror and dismay. This is a metaphor for the reduction of Igbo culture in the eyes of its colonizers.
The title gives away the plot of the novel and anticipates the collapse of Okonkwo and his society. Things Fall Apart is about the connection between the tragic downfall of Okonkwo, who fate and temperamental weakness combine to destroy, and the destruction of his culture and society as the Igbo way of life is assailed by forces they do not understand and are unprepared to face.
A Full and Fair Representation of Ibo Traditional Life
The first part of the novel presents the traditional world of the Ibo with specificity and vibrancy. The imbedded descriptions of the patterns of interaction, daily routines and seasonal rituals of Ibo life creates an overwhelming impression of community and shared culture. We see the established system of values which regulates collective life and how closely related this is to natural cycles and environments. The Ibo’s moral values are contained in sayings and stories, rituals and festivals. Achebe depicts a comprehensive and sustaining social, spiritual, economic, agricultural, and legal order. (Chapters to consider: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 10, 12, 19)
While Ibo society is marked by the internal coherence of its organization and the poetry of its rituals, this coherence is partially formed by the repression of the individual and the inflexibility of social norms. Achebe shows the violence, dehumanization, and discrimination vulnerable groups experience in Umuofia due to the rigid adherence to tradition and superstition. This includes the customary abandonment of newborn twins, the sacrificial murder of Ikemefuna in the name of justice, and the discriminatory caste structure that denies inclusion to the osu (Chapters 7, 18).
Obierika’s questioning of the stern logic of some customs suggests that many laws are enacted from a sense of duty and inevitability rather than from a firm conviction in their justice or efficacy (Chapter 13). The cultural demand for conformity places a huge moral and psychological burden on individuals who must reckon with the sometimes heartless will of the gods. This internal tension is epitomized in the character of Okonkwo, discussed below.
Clash of Cultures
When the Ibo are confronted with rival institutions a mirror is held up to their society. Fall Apart honestly considers and reflects on Ibo practices, customs, values, and beliefs. The novel is a frank articulation of the nature of the African past and its relevance to the present and future. Achebe wants to illuminate Ibo culture to dispense with lingering colonial prejudices, but he is not sentimental or nostalgic for the past. Instead he is shifting through it to identify the valuable aspects of Ibo culture to bring into the future and help define Nigeria’s post-independence identity.
Achebe recognises that the colonial encounter which led, swiftly and seemingly inevitably, to the disintegration of Ibo culture revealed its profound weaknesses. Achebe suggests that with the arrival and contrast against another culture, a cultural reckoning was inevitable for the Ibo. However, cultural reckoning and revaluation is not the same thing as destruction and erasure. The British colonialists were a hostile force seeking cultural domination. By pointing out some of the weaknesses of the Ibo tradition, Achebe in no way excuses or justifies colonial domination or diminishes the pain and tragedy of the cultural erasure that occurred.
The anti-colonial position and purpose of the novel is powerfully clear. Achebe depicts the process of colonial initial establishment and the resultant cultural suspension of Ibo society. The British colonizers believed in their inherent cultural superiority and arrived in Umuofia with the intention to “bring civilization” (p.151) to Africa. They wanted to achieve full control by supplanting Ibo religion and culture with their own.
The British arrived quietly and non-confrontationally with their religion and the clans allow them to stay, misinterpreting their silence as peaceability. An Ibo proverb warns that there is danger in silence and nothing to fear from someone who reveals their motivations (Chapter 15). Obierika recognizes how the white man’s strategy disguised their intentions and gave them the freedom to grow and fortify. He explains the political consequences for the clan, now divided by the new religion, they can no longer act as one (Chapter 20). Without strength in unity, the Ibo are vulnerable to further encroachment of British control in their other institutions.
As only a small number of Ibo initially converted to Christianity, the church was only able to establish itself firmly in the villages because of the Ibo’s religious tolerance (Chapter 2, 22). Mr Brown learns about Ibo religion and his willful blindness to its complexity shows how the colonizers justified their colonial rule and imposition through labelling their subjects ‘primitive’. Mr Brown understands that Christianity held no appeal for people well integrated in Ibo society, concluding that “a frontal attack on it would not succeed” (p.132) and thus introduces education as a new method of cultural displacement and erasure. Additionally, trade also increased the Ibo’s dependence on the introduced economy (Chapter 21).
From the very first introduction of the colonizers we understand that violence and fear were tools of oppression and dominance, forcing the Ibo to submit and keeping them unresisting (Chapter 15, 20, 23). Not only do the British impose foreign rule on the Ibo and judge them by standards they do not recognize, the District Commissioner’s personal brand of ‘justice’ is corrupt and hypocritical. When the elders are arbitrarily and falsely imprisoned, he tells them that what they have done “must not happen in the dominion of our queen” (p.141), combining personal corruption with a state apparatus of paternalism, hegemony, and occupation (Chapter 20, 23).
Dogmatic zealot, Reverend Smith, encourages fanaticism in his converts, motivating them to insult and humiliate the clan (Chapter 22). Under Reverend Smith’s wrathful guidance, the colonial agenda becomes transparently aggressive. The grief and pathos of the Ibo’s situation and collective trauma is displayed evocatively in the final episodes as Achebe depicts this painful moment of acute crisis (Chapter 22, 23, 24, 25).
A recurring thematic question in Things Fall Apart is to what degree the collapse of the Ibo and the downfall of Okonkwo are due to their own internal weaknesses or the whims of a pernicious fate.
The Ibo understand fate to be in a dynamic and somewhat ambiguous relationship with personal agency. This is evident in their proverb “when a man says yes his chi says yes also” (p.20) which acknowledges and privileges the role of an individual’s choices in shaping their destiny (Chapter 4). The saying “as a man danced so the drums were beaten for him” (p.135) also relates this idea – fate is a response to one’s behaviour. Okonkwo is warned that killing Ikemefuna, his surrogate son, is the “kind of action for which the goddess wipes out whole families” (p.49).This demonstrates the clan’s belief that the goddess’s (or fate’s) punishments are not arbitrary but the result of individual action (Chapter 8).
Although there is an element of chance in Okonkwo’s gun accidentally exploding and killing someone, his exile carries the suggestion of just comeuppance in its echo of the guns failure to shoot when purposely aimed at Ekwefi (Chapter 5, 13). Likewise, although the arrival of the Christians was unexpected and chanced, Nwoye’s rejection of his father is traceable directly to Okonkwo’s choice to kill Ikemefuna (Chapter 7). The desertion of people injured by Ibo traditions is a blow to the clan that feels equally earned (Chapters 16, 17, 18).
After his exile, Okonkwo believes his chi has turned against him (Chapter 14). He renunciates the wisdom of his elders by denying the active role he had in directing the course of events. His refusal to reflect on the connection between his actions and punishment reflect his fatal flaws: hubris and willful lack of self-knowledge. By refusing to self-analyze and self-correct, Okonkwo loses the opportunity of redemption. Comparably, the Ibo, despite believing in a relationship between action and fate, do not reflect on the cause of their kinsmen’s desertion to Christianity. Achebe provides numerous examples of the clan’s dogma and brutal traditions denying people such as Ikemefuna or twins control over their lives (Chapter 2, 7). It was the shortcomings of the Ibo social and religious order that made members susceptible to the attraction of a competing value system with a more articulated concept of individuality. The Ibo’s cultural lack of self-apprehension meant they could not adjust their traditions to save themselves.
However, just as Achebe shows how individuals in the clan are at the mercy of rigid overarching authority, he shows how the fateful forces of history constrain human agency. The British’s hostile intention to erase and supplant the Ibo way of life is a punishment greater than the Ibo deserve and a force stronger than they can rise to. In his description of the grief and trauma of colonial imposition, Achebe demonstrates his compassion and sorrow for the Ibo as they faced the sweeping and unforgiving forces of change in their moment of historical crisis.
Sample Essay Topics
1. "Things Fall Apart demonstrates how the values and customs of a society help us to deal with the familiar but not with change." Discuss.
2. "Traditional ideas of honour dominate Okonkwo's life and finally they destroy him." Discuss.
3. "Nwoye knew that it was right to be masculine and to be violent, but somehow he still preferred the stories his mother used to tell." How does Achebe explore masculinity in Things Fall Apart?
Now it's your turn! Give these essay topics a go. For more sample essay topics, head over to our Things Fall Apart Study Guideto practice writing essays using the analysis you've learnt in this blog!
Within the THINK strategy, we have 3 steps, or ABC. These ABC components are:
Step 1: Analyse
Step 2: Brainstorm
Step 3: Create a Plan
Let's look at an essay prompt in this video below:
In Things Fall Apart, women suffer the most and are victimised by men. Discuss.
Whenever you are breaking a prompt down. Ask yourself...
What are the key words/ ideas that you need to address?
Which theme is the prompt referring to?
Do you agree with prompt? Or do you disagree with it?
The keywords of this prompt would be women, suffer,, victimised and men. The prompt requires us to address the role of women in the text and the ways in which they suffer in a society that is pervaded by patriarchal values. It also asks us, ‘Who is to blame?’ Are men solely responsible for the maltreatment or are there other causes to their suffering? The word ‘most’ in this prompt is actually there to give us a bit of room for discussion. Yes, women do suffer, but do they suffer the most? Or do men suffer as well?
Now that we’ve thought about the prompt, we can move on to the second step of the THINK part of the THINK and EXECUTE technique. To find out more about this unique strategy, I’d recommend downloading a free sample of our How to Write a Killer Text Response eBook!
Now, before we write our ideas in beautiful topic sentences, it’s often easier to simplify everything first. One way to do this is to work out whether the paragraph agrees or disagrees with the prompt at hand. We could follow this structure…
Yes, the prompt is true because X Yes, another reason it is true is X While it is true, it is limited by X
By elucidating the ways in which women are seen as inferior to their male counterparts, the writer establishes his critique on a society that victimises and oppresses women. From the outset of the book, Okonkwo is characterised as a violent man who ‘rules his household with a heavy hand’, placing his wives in perpetual fear. The frequent beating and violence fortifies the portrayal of him as a man who is governed by his hatred of ‘gentility and idleness’, further showing the terror that his wives are forced to be living in.
"Do what you are told woman. When did you become one of the ndichie (meaning elders) of Umuofia?"
He also sees his wife’s mere act of questioning as disrespect, as evidenced through the ways in which he implies that she is overstepping her role.
“There were many women, but they looked on from the fringe like outsiders"
This simile also shows how women are often marginalised and treated as outcasts, underlining the overarching yearning for social justice throughout the text. This pitiful image of women looking ‘on from the fringe’ also helps Achebe relay his criticism of gender double standards and the unfairness that Igbo women are forced to live with. Achebe’s sympathy for women’s suffering and condemnation of men’s mistreatment towards are also evident through his depiction of a society that normalises misogyny.
‘His mother and sisters worked hard enough, but they grew women’s crops… Yam, the king of crops, was a man’s crops’
The personification of the crops, in particular, the men’s crops, the ‘yam’, being the ‘king of crops’ establishes this gender hierarchy in yet another way. More specifically, the position of men in the social hierarchy is highlighted and the negative connotation attached to the ‘women’s crops’ undermine their hard work, rendering it in significant. While women are the main victims of Igbo gendered prejudice, Achebe does not disregard the undue burden that societal expectations impose on men.
‘He was afraid of being thought weak.’
Achebe explores the burdens of unrealistic expectations that are placed on both men and women. This quote exemplifies societal expectations on men to be strong, powerful and fearless leaders who never show emotions. Achebe’s sympathies regarding these expectations show us that this is an important critique in Things Fall Apart that we can analyse.
If you find this helpful, then you might want to check out our Things Fall Apart: A Killer Text Guide where we cover 5 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 you reach your English goals! Let's get started.