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English & EAL
October 11, 2018
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Hey guys. So previously I've done a video where I talked about how to write a thousand word, a thousand, a thousand-worded essay, and one hour. And so that segues into this particular video where I'm talking about writing three essays in three hours. So if you haven't watched that video, then I'll pop it up in the comment. I'll pop it up in the card up above. I would recommend you go watch that first before you watch this, because pretty much all of the concepts that I talk about in that video, uh, I just expected details that you should know for this video. So instead of actually breaking down the essays as I did in the previous video, what I'm going to do this time is talk more so about, you know, how to actually write three essays in three hours and just not get burnt out and not die, basically.
Yeah, it's that serious. So I've got a few tips for you guys, but I'll keep this short. First thing is that yes, you do want to practice at least one time writing three essays in three hours. And the reason why I say that is because inevitably there will come times where one essay will kind of overlap into another hour. And you just want to ensure that you can know how to handle those situations when we're practicing in one hour blocks. I think it's fantastic to make sure that we can do that, but then kind of like three hours and three essays is another ballgame altogether. So I would recommend at least practicing once sitting down somewhere and just smashing out the three hours worth of work, just so that you know exactly what it's going to feel like when you go into the exam. Now, most schools will actually offer a, like a mock exam for you to do so that literally could be your one practice that you just need.
But if you were like me, you might want to do it twice. So in your own time, kind of print off your own exam paper and go ahead and just set aside three hours and just do it that way. The second thing is I heavily emphasized doing reading time. So reading time is pretty much your mental thinking game going strong. And this is where a lot of your pre-work will be done before we actually go into the essays themselves. So make sure you practice reading time. It's 15 minutes before the actual exam, but in that 15 minutes, you can plan three of your essays and you can look up in your dictionary, any key words that you might want to define, or you could even look up the dictionary and try to find synonyms for particular keywords. So what I mean by that is when you open up a dictionary and you look up that word inside the dictionary, often the definition for it will have synonyms for it.
So that's like my little hack that I had when I was at school. And then the last thing I would say is just make sure you know what to do if you go over time. So, like I mentioned before, there may be situations where, you know, worst case scenario, you don't finish your essay in time. And that could be because of many reasons. But first thing for you to remember is if you're running over time, sacrifice your conclusion first, do not sacrifice your third body paragraph. I think mostly what happens is students will kind of be somewhere in the third body paragraph for that essay, but rather than skipping that and just do it a little bit of a mess to finish it up and then going into the conclusion, finish off your third body paragraph. And then just forget about the conclusion. The reason why I say that is because a conclusion is basically just the summary of what your entire essay is about.
It's not really supposed to be, to add in any new information where as your third body paragraph. You're still explaining your ideas. You're still elaborating and discussing the prompt itself. So that is way more important to get you the marks that you need than a conclusion. The next thing I would do if you're running behind is save a proofreading until very last. So in the last video I talked about doing proofreading last five minutes of every essay. But if you do not have time for that later, leave all your proofreading until the very end and, and you might find that you only have five minutes, it's true proofread all of your essays, but at least you kind of have that reassurance was that you made yourself more time to write beforehand. And so if you literally find yourself writing right up until the last minute and you can't perforate fine sacrifice that too.
Now last thing is, let's just say that you have sacrificed your conclusion and you're still writing your third body paragraph right up until the very last minute. You still have at least half a paragraph to go, but you know, the first hour is over and you need to move onto your second essay. I feel like you can either approach this two ways. The first way is just finish it off, but then move on to the next one as quick as possible. And obviously your hope there is that you will finish the second essay in time within that hour. So that by the time you get to your thing, essay, you are on track again. Right? But in the other alternative that you could do, and probably one that I via towards a little bit more is just stop your third paragraph. Okay? You still have maybe five more sentences you still want to write, but just move onto your next one. I think that's kind of important because what happens is once we start running into the next hour, you will find that with your first essay, you'll run maybe five minutes into your second hour, but then you might find that you run 10 minutes into the third hour with your second essay leaving only 15 minutes to finish your third essay. And that might not be like what you want. And you might know that you just won't be able to achieve that because the third essay is maybe the hardest one that you left to last. And that's the one that usually takes you the longest. So yeah, like these are just thoughts and considerations for you guys to take away with whatever you guys do. I think just be strategic. Think about these things beforehand, because they are things that could trip you up when you are in the exam, you're stressed, you're anxious, you're under time pressure and you just need to get things done.
It might kind of make you do like bad decisions or you might do something out of the ordinary that you normally wouldn't do. But if you think about these things beforehand and think about, okay, this is what I'm going to do. If this situation occurs, then at least you kind of have some control over what's happening. And that gives you a little bit of reassurance. That is it from me. I wanted to let you guys know that because we are approaching the end of year. And I know that you guys might not need English help from me very shortly, especially when you're in year 12. I wanted to let you guys know that I do have a personal YouTube channel as well. So that's just linked up above for you. And also in the description box below. If you're interested in following me there, then go ahead and subscribe. I would really love to see you guys there and just be able to still have the connection with you guys. You know, it'd be nice to not only just have you guys on board with me for a year, and then you guys kind of disappear and do your own thing, I'd still really love to stay in contact and be able to hear how you guys are going to once you finish school. So I will see you guys next time. Bye!
As the VCE English exam creeps up on us, many of you will be testing your writing skills under timed conditions (if not, then you better!!!). But, have you sat down under timed conditions for 15 minutes of Reading Time? Have you thought about how to maximise reading time? Many of you may have already figured out how you will approach Reading Time in your exam. Some of you will have a rough idea, while some will pay attention to detail – knowing how to spend each and every minute in that 15 minutes of silence. During Year 12, I was somewhere in between. I knew I didn’t want to waste precious time like others – those who would simply open the exam booklet, check out the three sections, then sit there staring blankly at the clock to tick over to 9:15am (you will definitely see some classmates doing this :’)) Below is a 5x5x5 guideline which, in my opinion, is the most strategic way to maximise every single minute in Reading and Writing Time. Keep reading afterwards for more details!
The best tip I’ve received from a VCAA examiner is: ‘Don’t automatically select the prompt that looks easiest.’
Why? While a prompt may look ‘easier’, it may not necessarily enable you to delve into the text to the best of your ability. It is worth spending a few extra seconds contemplating how you would break down your other available prompts. This is worth doing because sometimes, you actually realise that the prompt which looked ‘harder’ to deal with initially (probably because of some scary-looking keywords), is more suited to you and your ability to respond.
In case you’re wondering, a ‘mental plan’ is my way of saying ‘do a plan in your head’. You should always plan (don’t even get me started if you don’t!). You will most definitely reassure yourself and calm your nerves once you’ve organised your contention(s) in your mind and the examples you want to use. Don’t wait until Writing Time to do this, because you can knuckle out hurdles straight away (especially if it takes you time to come up with ideas and evidence!).
Don’t jump straight into analysing techniques straight away. Reason: This may obscure your interpretation of the contention. The contention is the first thing you need to get right. So sit back, read the article for what it is, and absorb as much of the argument presented to you.
Your second reading should firstly, reinforce your interpretation of the author’s contention, and secondly, involve you identifying language techniques! This should take you right up to the end of Reading Time but even if you still have spare time left, it doesn’t hurt to read the article(s) a third time! The more times you read something, the better your mind will consolidate the cold material in front of you!
Feel free to take on board this guideline or to create your own – at the end of the day, if you have a plan for Reading Time, you’re set!
You've done all that hard work thinking up 'mental plans' during Reading Time, let's put them to paper. Don't skip this step, because you would otherwise have wasted your precious 15 minutes getting ahead. Moreover, it's highly likely you'll forget the points you want to write about if you just store it in your brain. Remember that you are in an adrenaline-driven situation, where nerves can get the better of you. Avoid any mind blanks by guaranteeing yourself success and write the damn plan down!
55 minutes is a good goal because it forces you to get your act together. Aiming for an essay in 60 minutes can often turn into 65 minutes, or even longer. At the very least if you do go over time with a '55 minute per essay' rule, you will put yourself in a position where you can afford to go slightly overtime, and yet still have enough time for other essays.
This is a step that many people skip, but if you're reading this blog - you won't be joining them. A quick review of your work can help you edit errors you didn't notice while writing. As you practise in the lead up to exams, take note of what errors you tend to make when writing. Is it expression, punctuation, or spelling errors? Keep an eye on your most common mistakes when proof-reading to be more a more effective editor. It is these small incremental changes you can make in your essays which add up to make a powerful impact on the final product.
Share this post with your friends and best of luck for your VCE English exam!
I am Malala and Made in Dagenham is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Comparative (also known as Reading and Comparing). For a detailed guide on Comparative, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Comparative.
If you’re wondering how to write a comparative analysis, or you need some guidance on how to approach one; then I have to say, you have come to the right place! The Longest Memory and Black Diggers are studied as part of VCE English's Comparative.
Firstly, if you haven't watched our The Longest Memory and Black Diggers introductory video detailing themes, characters and more, check it out below:
For one of most popular posts on Comparative (also known as Reading and Comparing), check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Comparative. In this article, I will be breaking down a comparative analysis. You will get to know how exactly I write one! Specifically, I will be focusing on the two texts, The Longest Memory and Black Diggers. I have also included my own essay as an example to follow through.
This is the prompt that I have decided to approach:
‘The hopes and dreams of oppressed characters rarely eventuate.’ How do Black Diggers and The Longest Memory explore this idea?
Let’s break it down!
Firsts things first, we need an introduction. Here is an example of my one:
The hopes and dreams of oppressed individuals can be fulfilled to a certain extent. This degree of fulfilment, however, can ultimately become restricted by the entrenched beliefs and dictations of society; and thus, this process of fulfilment is presented to be difficult and rare to achieve. In Fred D’Aguiar’s novella, The Longest Memory, the hopes and dreams for equality and racial acceptance is revealed to coerce oppressed individuals to subvert social norms, all in an attempt to gain liberty and fairness. Similarly, Tom Wright’s play, Black Diggers, explores the collective yearning of oppressed Indigenous Australians who seek to gain a sense of belonging and recognition in society. Both D’Aguiar and Wright expose how the obstacles of social inequality, deep-rooted prejudice and beliefs can essentially restrict the fulfilment of such desires and dreams.
Okay, now let’s take a closer look at it and see exactly how I constructed my introduction:
Here, I have immediately addressed the topic question in my first sentence and provided my standpoint.
In my next sentence, I went on to elaborate about my viewpoint of the prompt. I highlighted how society’s perceptions and beliefs restrict individuals’ hopes and dreams to occur.
I then went on to introduce the first text, The Longest Memory. I explained the role of hopes and dreams, and how they drive individuals to gain their own freedom.
Next, I introduced the second text, Black Diggers, by using the transition comparing word, “similarly.” I briefly explained how Black Diggers is similar to The Longest Memory, in that they both have individuals who have yearnings and desires.
I finished off my introduction by addressing the two writers, and the message they convey about hopes and dreams.
Now moving on to the body paragraphs! Here is an example of one paragraph I wrote for my essay:
The ambitions of the oppressed are achieved to a certain extent. However, they are not maintained and thus become restricted due to the beliefs and conventions entrenched in society. D’Aguiar asserts that a sense of liberation can indeed be achieved in the unjust system of slavery, and this is demonstrated through his characterisation of Chapel. His depiction of Chapel serves as a subversion of the conventional type of slave; he is “half a slave, half the master” and belongs to “another way of life.” His defiance and rebellion against the dictations of society is exemplified through his speech, which consists of rhythmic and poetic couplets, filled with flowery language; which ultimately challenges the idea of illiterate slaves. D’Aguiar also associates the allusion of the “two star-crossed lovers” in regards to the relationship between Lydia and Chapel; who were “forbidden” to “read together.” Despite this, the two characters take on a form of illicit, linguistic, sexual intercourse with each other, as they “touch each other’s bodies in the dark” and “memorise [their] lines throughout.” Here, D’Aguiar illustrates their close intimacy as a form of rebellion against the Eurocentric society, who believed such interrelation between blacks and whites was “heinous” and “wicked.” The individualistic nature of Chapel is also paralleled in Black Diggers, where Wright’s portrayal of Bertie expresses the yearning for a sense of belonging. Just like Chapel, Bertie desires free will, and he decides to “fight for the country.” This aspiration of his however, is restrained by both his Mum and Grandad; who in a similar manner as Whitechapel, represent the voice of reality and reason. Wright employs the metaphor of the Narrandera Show to depict the marginalisation and exclusion of Aboriginal people, as they will never be “allowed through the wire,” or essentially, ever be accepted in Australia. This notion of exclusion is further reinforced through Bertie’s gradual loss of voice and mentality throughout Wright’s short vignettes, as he soon becomes desensitised and is “unable to speak.” Here, Wright seems to suggest that the silenced voices of the Indigenous soldiers depict the eternal suffering they experienced; from both the horrors of war, but also the continual marginalisation and lack of recognition they faced back home. Consequently, D’Aguiar and Wright highlight how the ambitions of young individuals are limited by the truths and history of reality, and are essentially rarely achieved.
Now let’s take a deeper look into this paragraph:
I started my paragraph by briefly explaining how the hopes and dreams of individuals are achieved, but they are not maintained due to social beliefs and conventions.
I went on to highlight the first text, The Longest Memory, and started to discuss about D’Aguiar’s characterisation of Chapel.
Here, I provided evidence and emphasised on the language D’Aguiar has used to construct his character of Chapel, and further explained how he did it in order to portray Chapel as non-standard type of slave.
I continued to discuss about the relationship between Lydia and Chapel, as they are both characters who defied society’s expectations and ideals.
I have highlighted D’Aguiar’s characterisation of Chapel and Lydia, and further explained how he uses their relationship to demonstrate defiance and rebellion against society.
Then, I have addressed the second text by discussing the similarity between the characters of Chapel and Bertie.
I explained the similarities between Chapel and Bertie, but also included some comparisons with Mum and Grandad and Whitechapel.
I went on to explain how Wright used the construction of a metaphor, to convey the marginalisation and exclusion Aboriginal people faced.
I have further emphasised how Wright characterised Bertie to become silent throughout the play.
I explained Wright’s portrayal of the silent Indigenous soldiers, in which he conveyed their exclusion and lack of recognition in society.
I ended my paragraph by explaining how both of the writers reveal how the ambitions of individuals are rarely achieved due to the truth of reality.
And lastly, we need to end our comparative analysis with a conclusion. Here is my conclusion:
D’Aguiar and Wright both illustrate oppressed individuals fighting against the beliefs and conventions of society; in order to gain their freedom and achieve their hopes and dreams. However, both reveal the harsh truths of reality that ultimately inhibit and restrict the capacity of people’s ambitions. D’Aguiar and Wright compel their readers to try and grasp an understanding of the past of slaves and Aboriginal soldiers, in order to seek remembrance and closure of this fundamental truth. They both convey the need for memories and the past to never be forgotten; and instead remembered and recognised in history.
Here, I will explain how I constructed my conclusion:
I begin my conclusion by explaining the similarities between the two writers, in which they both presented oppressed individuals who desire freedom and have defied social beliefs.
I then further emphasised how Wright and D’Aguiar convey the message that hopes and dreams are restricted due to the truths of reality.
I elaborated on the message that both writers conveyed to their audience, in which they wanted their readers to acknowledge the history and truth of slavery and war.
I ended my paragraph by highlighting the main purpose of the texts and the writers’ intention; which was to convey to their audience the significance of memories, and the need for the past to be remembered and recognised in history.
And that’s all folks! That’s the total rundown of my comparative analysis. I hope you were able to learn a thing or two from this article. Now, go on and begin writing!
[Modified Video Transcription]
What's up everyone! So, I want to get a new segment started and it's pretty much the ‘essay questions with Lisa Tran’ segment. And basically, what this includes is every now and then I will choose a topic on one of your suggestions of whatever book, or film you’re studying, and break that down together with you on camera, on YouTube. So, if you like the idea of that, then make sure you give this video a thumbs up so that I know that this is something that you're super keen on and that you'll find helpful.
So, I've taken liberties (since this is the first one that we've ever done) of choosing my own essay topic that I was interested in doing. It's based on The Handmaid's Tale, and if any of you have read this or watched it (it's a TV series on Hulu) I have read and watched both and it has just been sensational, so I wanted to basically break down this prompt with you. If it's something that you haven't watched, or if you haven't read it, that's not a problem at all because the skills that I will be teaching you when it comes to breaking down an essay topic will be invaluable when it comes to actually applying it to your own studies. So, let's get started.
Just as a really quick summary (that will probably butcher the overall meaning and the experience that you get from the book, but I don't want to really spoil it for you either), The Handmaid’s Tale is set in this future world where America, or the United States, has become a dystopian society, and women in particular are reduced to nothing more than just a child bearing species. Men are in charge and these women, who are deemed to be people who can give birth, are kept alive and kept around in these rich people's homes or people who are higher up in the hierarchy, and they basically have to have sex with the male leader of the home and just create children, and that is their purpose. If they're no longer fertile, then they'll pretty much be out-casted from society and rejected.
As a book, it's very thought-provoking because it's set in the future. Of course, this is something that we cannot guarantee won't actually happen. It's really scary to see how a world that was progressive (because they lived in modern American society, there was a lot of free movement happening, there were same-sex relationships that were out in the open, people were taking contraceptives) regressed, and it went back to a lot of old values that we had moved on from. It really opens up a pot of questions that you can ask about where we’re going as a society, where we think we're going as a society and where we'll actually end up.
That's just my quick two minute spiel. If you wanted to get your hands on the book then I highly recommend it - I'll pop it down in the description box below (on Youtube).
The question here is ‘Atwood’s concerns in The Handmaid's Tale go beyond women's freedom’ Discuss.
So, the first thing I always do is I look at the keywords; we've got ‘Atwood’s concerns’, ‘go beyond’ and ‘women's freedom’.
The reason why we look at keywords is because we want to confirm to ourselves (as the writer of this essay), that we are going to stay focused and not go off topic with the essay topic, and the keywords will ensure that not only we stay on topic, but they emphasize the ideas that we really need to focus on. So, let's break down each of the keywords individually.
This means that we have to focus on the author's intention or message in writing The Handmaid's Tale. We'd be thinking about ‘what ideas does she criticize or condemn?’, or ‘what does she endorse on the other hand?’
So, ‘go beyond’ is a very straightforward way of saying that an essay that is only focused on women's freedom probably won't be holistic or well-rounded enough. We have to look beyond the obvious.
The third one is ‘women's freedom’. So, what does this mean? To live in a patriarchal society, to be constantly monitored by guards and potential eyes.
It's very easy to slip into just speaking about handmaids. Like I mentioned before, there's a male lead in the house who is the highest up in the hierarchy. He has a wife as well. Serena Joy is a perfect example of someone who on the surface ranks as the highest in female roles, because she is the wife of the commander. So, we see things from her perspective.
From this exploration of the key words, I can come up with two main body paragraphs. The two ideas are one:
‘To live in a chilling, post-modernism dystopia, Atwood showcases the evils of the patriarchy’
My second one is:
‘Moreover, Atwood reveals how, despite being at the top of the female hierarchy as commander’s wives, even they suffer’
Let's have a look at both of these ideas individually.
Some of my rationale behind this idea include one: Offred, who is our protagonist. Offred is actually not her real name, and because Offred is not her real name, she therefore represents any type of handmaid. She's just another one of them with a name assigned to her. Our identity is connected with our name, so her identity, which is what makes her feel human, is completely shredded from her. She has trouble remembering what she even used to look like.
The second thing is that it's dehumanizing. It doesn't matter whether Offred is intelligent, educated or even beautiful, what matters are viable ovaries and therefore, she's classified as a handmaid, and this is her last chance at being able to survive in this type of society.
The third one is that she isn't even given the freedom to take her own life. Suicide is almost impossible, “I know why there was no glass in front of the watercolor picture of the blue irises, and why the window opens only partly and why the glass in it is shatter-proof. It isn’t running away they're afraid of. We wouldn't get that far. It's those other escapes, the ones you can open in yourself, given a cutting edge”. For us as humans, we get the opportunity to do things that we want, but even to take her own life away, to save herself from the world that she's living in, is impossible.
Onto our second idea.
The first example I have for this is how Serena Joy, the commander’s wife, actually used to have her own television show. She used to be really popular, she was a celebrity, and yet she's been reduced to basically just being the commander's wife, where she lurks around in the house. She really doesn't do that much anymore, she's just there to support her husband and that is her role.
The second example is that she's forced to partake in a ritual where her husband has sex with a handmaid, “Which of us is it worse for, her or me?” (her meaning Offred). So, you can see that even for a commander’s wife, somebody who is in a high position in this society (she's the elite basically of what women could be), even she is suffering.
This means that in fact, we should speak about other major issues in the novel and not just about female concerns. Our first two ideas revolve around female concern, but let's see what else we could discuss. To me, another major issue revolving around freedom that's important to talk about is ‘has the Gilliad society actually influenced men and men's freedom?’ It's super easy to just target men and say that, you know, men are in power now and so it's all about the women, but there are ample examples that show that even the men are suffering.
Of course there are heaps of other issues that are brought forward in The Handmaid's Tale, but the ideas that I’ve discussed here are the ones that personally interest me the most, meaning that I've got a lot more to say and a lot more opinion to offer in my discussion.
At this point, I'll leave it up to you guys. If you have read or watched The Handmaid's Tale, tell me what you think or ask me any questions you have about how you would structure this essay. I'd really love to have a productive discussion with you that includes some critical thinking on your part. So, let's get it started.
If you like this type of advice, you may like joining my mailing list. Basically I send out weekly emails to you where I answer student questions and give you more advice, tips and resources that I don't give anywhere else.
And, if you're in need of a more detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
It's 32 degrees today for the first time in Melbourne, in like forever, so I'm going to the beach and I'm going to spoil myself right now. I'll see you guys next week. Bye!
This blog was updated on 05/10/2020.
Being one of the few texts that was added to the text list this year, Euripides’ play Women of Troy is definitely a daunting task for English (& EAL) students to tackle due to the lack of resources and essay prompts available. In fact, the only materials that can be found on the internet are those analysing the older translation of the play (titled The Trojan Women). That is why we are here to help you as much as we can by offering you a mini-guide of Women of Troy, in the hope that you can get a head start with this play.
Women of Troy 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 Context
3. Literary Devices
6. LSG-Curated Essay Topics
7. A+ Essay Topic Breakdown
Women of Troy is a tragedy which takes place in the immediate aftermath of the Trojan war, critiquing the atrocities committed by the Greeks to both people of Melos and Troy. By constructing a play in which women are able to dominate the stage and exude their genuine despair in response to their impending enslavement, Euripides shifts the perspectives from epic tales of Greek and Trojan male heroes to the conversely affected women who suffered at the hands of the heroes while simultaneously providing both the contemporary and modern audience with a unique insight into the true cost of wars. This is especially significant because the society was pervaded by patriarchal values, where women were subordinated to their male counterparts. Euripides’ proto-feminist works were not well received by his peers at the time of writing as women’s personal thoughts and pain were not commonly discussed in the Hellenic repertoire.
The Trojan war occurred as a result of the conflict between Greece and Troy and was said to last for over 10 years. According to a tale, during a festival on the Olympus, Athena, Aphrodite and Heras were fighting over a golden apple. They chose a random mortal, which was Paris who would then be the Prince of Troy, to decide who the most beautiful goddess of the three was. As a reward for picking her, Aphrodite promised Paris that he would be married to the most beautiful woman in the world, which was Helen – wife of Menelaus, the Spartan prince. Aphrodite had her son Eros (a cupid) enchant Helen and Paris so that they would fall endlessly in love with each other. Helen then escaped from Menelaus’ palace to be with Paris, starting the war between Greece and Troy. Menelaus was enraged he convinced his brother Agamemnon to lead an expedition to retrieve Helen. The Greek army was commanded to attack the Trojans. The siege lasted for more than 10 years until the Greeks came up with a strategy to abduct Helen from the palace. The Greek soldiers build a giant wooden horse and hid in there to get in the citadel of Troy, attacking them in the middle of the night and won the war. After the war the Greek heroes slowly made their way home. However, the journey home was not easy, Odysseus took 10 years to make the arduous journey home to Ithaca because Poseidon agreed to punish the Greeks for the atrocities committed before and after their victory.
Euripides’ works often warn the audience of the detrimental effects brought on by excessive passion, asserting that it is best to moderate emotions and exhibit sophrosyne (the power of self-control over one’s emotions). He often criticizes the goddess of love, Aphrodite for enchanting mortals and leading them into a life governed by love and lust. In this play, he purports that it is inherently Aphrodite’s fault that the Trojans are fighting against the Greeks, as it is Aphrodite who makes Paris and Helen endlessly fall in love with each other.
In Women of Troy, Euripides presents a particularly acerbic critique on Menelaus’ “uncontrollable lust” in “sen[ding] a hunting party to track down Helen” as he juxtaposes the cost of the Trojan war being and the prize that they receive.
→ All that in exchange for one woman - Helen
His chastisement is further bolstered by Cassandra’s rhetorical question asking “they kept on dying, for what reason”. This manoeuvres the audience into acknowledging the pointlessness of the Trojan war as it is not worth risking so many lives over Helen or any minor military conflict. In doing so, Euripides once again lambastes the actions of those vindictive and bloodthirsty Greeks.
The play primarily focuses on the loss and pain of the Trojan civilians that survived the war and are sieged in the city after the war and are eventually either killed or enslaved after the Fall of Troy. While the Trojan war is the setting of many famous classical works being examined by various different angles, not many focus on the consequences suffered by women. This enables Euripides to raise the question of whether or not such victory is worth fighting for while simultaneously inviting the audience to emulate the playwright’s disapprobation of such a violent and brutal resolution of conflict.
You can also use the evidence from the above to justify your arguments on the cost of wars. They all aim to magnify the extent to which the Trojan people, as well as the Greeks have to suffer as result of this pointless war.
We can also discuss how wars affect beliefs and their people’s faith. In the Hellenic society, Gods have always been a significant part of their life as it is believed that mortals’ lives are always under the influence of divine intervention. This is evidenced through the ways in which Hellenic people build temples and make sacrifices to the Gods, thanking the Gods for allowing them to live prosperous lives and begging for their forgiveness whenever they wrong others. This is why it is significant when Hecuba referred to the Gods as “betrayers” in her lamentation, implying that there is a change in attitude in time of tragedy. Events such as this make people question their fate and belief, galvanising them to wonder “what good [gods] were to [them]”.
Some characters in Women of Troy are also fundamentally driven by their sense of duty and integrity and act according to their moral code regardless of what the circumstances may be. Hecuba, for instance, sympathises with the Chorus of Troy and acts as a leader even when she lost her title and her home. She is held responsible for her actions but is still governed by her honesty, integrity as Helen makes her plea. Talthybius is also governed by both his sense of duty and integrity. Despite his understanding of Hecuba’s circumstances, he still follows his order and ensures that the Trojan women are allocated to their Greek households. However, he does not disregard her sense of morality and treats Hecuba with understanding and sensitivity.
Helen, on the other hand, does not demonstrate the same degree of moral uprightness. In time of tragedy, she chooses to lie and shift the blame to others to escape her execution. She prioritises her own benefits over everyone else’s and allows thousands of others to suffer from the impacts of her treachery in eloping with Paris.
The prologue of the play opens with a conversation between Poseidon and Athene, foreshadowing their divine retribution against the Greeks. Witnessing the immediate aftermath of the Trojan war, they curse the war which they ironically themselves initiated, thus condemning the horrific injustice of the conflict and the actions of its vengeful and blood thirsty so-called heroes. This is evidenced through the ways in which they punished Odysseus by creating obstacles on his journey home.
However, it can also be argued that the gods in Women of Troy themselves act as a symbol of injustice in a way. From the feminist view, the Fall of Troy and the enslavement of Trojan women demonstrate the gods’ lack of care as they disregard the monstrosities that occur to women after the Greeks’ victory. The divine intervention which is promised in the beginning casts the following injustices cursed upon the women of Troy in a different light as it can be argued that they caused the war. While their retribution against the Greeks can be seen as a means to punish the heroes, it is evident that that they are more concerned about the sacrilege committed and the disrespect they receive after the Trojan war than the injustices suffered by women. This thereby humanises s the gods and fortifies the notion that they also have personal flaws and are governed by their ego and hubris.
The idea that there are forces beyond human control is enhanced, and Poseidon and Athene’s pride proves that humans are just innocent bystanders at the mercy of the gods. It can be argued that the chain of unfortunate events are unpredictable as they are determined by gods, whose emotions and prejudices still control the way they act. On the other hand, the characters in the play do at times make choices that would lead to their downfall and tragic consequences. For instance, it is Menelaus who decided to go after the Trojans just because of one woman and he was not enchanted or under any influence of divine intervention.
Euripides centres his play on Trojan women, enabling the discussion on the cause and effect of war. Given that female’s points of view were not commonly expressed in plays or any forms of art works, Euripides’s decision to have his play focus on women allows the Athenian audience, comprised of mainly male Athenians, to observe a part of the military conflict that was not seen before.
The protagonist Hecuba, for example, is portrayed as the archetypal mother. While this image is presented during the aftermath of the Trojan war, Euripides also uses Hecuba as a representative of contemporary Hellenic women as this archetype is universal for all circumstances. It is evident that Euripides’ play mainly focuses on Hecuba’s grief, with her lamentation dominating the prologue. This implies that the protagonist, in this instance, also acts as a diatribe against the patriarchal society which allows women to suffer greatly as a result of wars and military conflict. However, this play differs from other plays written by Euripides in that he also explores a woman’s burden and responsibility as a leader, allowing the audience to understand the difficulties of being woman of power in time of crisis.
Potential textual evidence:
Potential textual evidence:
Talthybius is sympathetic towards women, establishing himself as a complicated figure with a strong sense of integrity. This is epitomised through the ways in which he employs euphemistic language when announcing the dreadful news to Hecuba. He tries his best to be sensitive and mitigate the impacts of Hecuba’s daughter death to her, announcing that Polyxena “is to serve Achilles at his tomb” and that “her fate is settled” “all her troubles are over”. He was being sensitive and subtle instead of abruptly delivering the news. While he represents an enemy state, he shows that men can also be compassionate, contradicting the Phallocentric belief that men should only be governed by cool logic.
It can be argued that Hecuba acts as the paradigm of the Trojan women as her pain, in a way, represents the suffering of the majority of Hellenic women in time of war (i.e. the deaths of her children, slavery, the devastation of her city), which enhances Euripides’ condemnation of a society where military conflicts can easily be facilitated. The Chorus of the play often echoes her deepest pain, establishing a sense of camaraderie between female characters of the play.
In this play, the Chorus acts as the voice of the “wretched women of Troy”, representing the views of the unspoken that are objectified and mistreated by their male counterparts. After Troy lost the war, women were seen as conquests and were traded as slaves, exposing the unfair ethos of a society that was seen as the cradle of civilisation. By allowing the Trojan women to express their indignation and enmity as a response to their impending slavery, Euripides is able to present a critique on the ways in which women were oppressed in Ancient Greece.
Why are these important? Have a watch at how we integrated literary devices as pieces of evidence in this essay topic breakdown:
Staged in a patriarchal society, Women of Troy was set during the immediate aftermath of the Trojan war – a war between the Greeks and the Trojans. Hecuba is the former queen of Troy, who suffered so much loss as the mother of her children as well as the mother of Troy. She lost her son Hector and her husband in the Trojan war, her daughter Polyxena also died and Cassandra was raped. After the Greeks won, women were allocated to Greek households and forced into slavery, including the Queen of Troy. She was also the mother of Paris, the prince of Troy. It was purported that Paris and Helen were responsible for initiating the war as Helen was governed by her lust for Paris and left Menelaus, the Spartan prince, for this young prince of Troy. Consequently, Menelaus was enraged by this elopement and declared that he wanted Helen dead as a punishment for her disloyalty. Helen defended herself and lied that it was against her will, crying that she was kidnapped and blaming Hecuba for the Fall of Troy and for the conflict between the two sides. However, Menelaus did not believe in what Helen had to say and decided to bring her back to her home on a separate ship.
The play ended with the Greek ships leaving Troy, which was then on fire. The Trojan were singing a sad song together as they left to prepare for their new lives as slaves living in Greek households.
The play’s main focus is on the suffering of women, as exemplified by the way Euripides chose to portray Hecuba’s loss and Cassandra’s helplessness.
So, our essay prompt for today is
“How does Euripides use the structure of the play to explore the role of women and their suffering in time of war?”.
This is indeed one of the more challenging prompts that VCAA wouldn’t probably give, reason being it is a language/structure-based prompt. It requires you to have a much more profound knowledge of the text, and it is not always easy to spot language features, especially in a poetic sounding play like Women of Troy. There is just so much going on in the text! While it is not super likely that you will get this prompt for the exams, I have seen a lot of schools give language/ structure-based prompts to students for SACs as it gives them an opportunity to challenge themselves and look for textual evidence that will distinguish them from their peers. These types of evidence are definitely worth looking for because they can also be used as evidence to back up your arguments for theme-based or character-based prompts.
Now let’s get started.
The first thing I always do is to look for keywords. The key words in this prompt are “structure”, “role of women” “suffering”.
With the structure of the play, we can potentially talk about:
In a male-dominated, patriarchal society, women are often time oppressed and seen as inferior. Their roles in the society were limited, they were only seen as domestic housewives and mothers. It is important to look for evidence that either support or contradict this statement. Ask yourself:
Since this play primarily focuses on the cost of wars and how women, as innocent bystanders, have to suffer as a result of the Trojan war, it should not be difficult finding evidence related to women’s suffering. It might include:
Once a prompt is carefully broken down, it is no longer that scary because all we have to do now is to organise our thoughts and write our topic sentences.
BP1: Euripides constructs a strong female character base to contradict the prevailing views of the period that women are inferior to their male counterparts
It is significant that Euripides chose to have a strong female protagonist, as the character herself acts as a diatribe against the patriarchal society, contradicting any engrained beliefs that pervaded the society at the time. An example of an evidence that can support this statement is the ways in which Hecuba dominates the stage while giving her opening lamentation. The lengthy nature of the monologue itself enables Euripides to present his proto-feminist ideas and go against the Hellenic gendered prejudice.
We can also talk about Hecuba’s leadership and her interaction with the Chorus of Trojan women. She refers to them as “my children” and employs the simile “a mother at her plundered nest”. The way the Greek playwright constructs the relationship between characters is worth mentioning as Hecuba in this play is portrayed as a compassionate and empathetic leader, showing that women are also capable of leading others in a way that engenders a sense of camaraderie between them.
Another good thinking point is to talk about how Helen acts as a paradigm of a group of women who had to turn to deception and go against their integrity to survive in time of tragedy.
BP2: Euripides’ selective use of language and literacy devices in portraying women’s pain and suffering further enables him to portray the ways in which women, as innocent bystanders, are oppressed in time of war.
An example of a metalanguage used in this play is the animal imagery the Chorus used to depict Hecuba’s pain. By referring to her pain as a “howl of agony”, they intensify the magnitude of Hecuba’s pain as the term “howl” is usually used to describe a loud cry usually uttered by animals like wolves. This implies that Hecuba, who acts as representative of Hellenic women, has to suffer from an emotional turmoil that is far beyond bearable, which in turn further fortifies the audience’s sympathy for her, as well as the Trojan women.
Another piece of evidence that I would talk about is the simile “dragged as a slave”. It was used to describe Hecuba, the former queen of Troy. By likening someone who used to be at a position of power to “a slave”, Euripides underscores the drastic change in circumstances that occurred as a result of the Trojan war, magnifying the tremendous amount of loss Hecuba experienced. Furthermore, the image of the protagonist’s devastated physical state enhances the dramatist’s condemnation of war as it allows him to elucidate the detrimental impacts such violence and dreadfulness impose on innocent bystanders.
There are, of course, plenty of other evidence out there such as the way in which Cassandra is portrayed as a “poor mad child”, her helplessness surrendering to her “wretched” fate with Agamemnon who wanted her for himself because “. We can also talk about the inclusive language positing “our misery” “our home” used by the Chorus in echoing Hecuba’s pain, etc.
The use of symbolism can also be discussed. For instance, the citadel in the city of Troy in the epilogue acts as a metonym for Hecuba’s resistance before entering slavery. The image of it crumbling exemplifies women’s helplessness and enhance the notion that they are still in positions of explicit subjugation.
BP3: While Euripides primarily focuses on portraying women’s pain and suffering, he does not completely vilify men or victimize women, maintaining an unbiased view so as to underscore the importance of integrity through his characterization of both male and female character.
The last body paragraph of our essays is often the one used to challenge the prompt, showing the assessors our wealth of ideas and depth of knowledge. Basically what we are say is “while our playwright is obvious pro-women, he definitely does not condone everything women do and criticize everything men do”. In this way, we have the opportunity to explore the ways characters are constructed and the ways they are used in the play to convey its meaning.
If I were to write an essay on this, I would talk about Talthybius and Helen, mainly because they are both complex characters that the audience cannot fully love or hate.
Talthybius is surprisingly sympathetic towards women, establishing himself as a complicated figure. This is epitomized through the ways in which he employs euphemistic language when announcing the dreadful news to Hecuba. He tries his best to be sensitive and mitigate the impacts of Hecuba’s daughter death to her, announcing that Polyxena “is to serve Achilles at his tomb” and that “her fate is settled” “all her troubles are over”. He was being sensitive and subtle instead of abruptly delivering the news. While he represents an enemy state, he shows that men can also be compassionate, contradicting the Phallocentric belief that men should only be governed by cool logic.
Similar to Talthybius, Helen is also a complicated figure as she is both a victim of fate and a selfish character. It is possible for the audience to sympathise with her as she is merely a victim of fortune in that she was bewitched by Aphrodite and governed by her love for Paris, the prince of Troy. However, the ways in which she shifts the blame to Hecuba and makes her pleas preclude the audience from completely sympathizing with her as it, in a way, renders her as a self-absorbed and repugnant character. This notion is further fortified by the fact that she cared so little for the “tens of thousands” lives taken on her behalf as the phrase quantifies and magnifies the cataclysmic consequences of her lust for Paris.
If you'd like to see A+ essays based off some of the essay topics above (written by Mark Yin - our LSG content guru and 50 English study score achiever), complete with annotations on HOW and WHY the essays achieved A+ so you can emulate this same success, then you'll definitely want to check out our Women of Troy: A Killer Text Guide! In it, we also cover themes, characters, views and values, metalanguage and have 4 other sample A+ essays completely annotated so you can smash your next SAC or exam! Check it out here.
Whenever you get a new essay topic, you can use LSG’s THINK and EXECUTE strategy, a technique to help you write better VCE essays. This essay topic breakdown will focus on the THINK part of the strategy. If you’re unfamiliar with this strategy, then check it out in How To Write A Killer Text Response.
Within the THINK strategy, we have 3 steps, or ABC. These ABC components are:
Step 1: Analyse
Step 2: Brainstorm
Step 3: Create a Plan
Quote-Based Prompt: "Who can forget these sufferings? Time will bring no relief." There is no villain in Women of Troy because everyone in the play suffers. Do you agree with the statement?
The following comes essay topic breakdown comes from our Women of Troy: A Killer Text Guide:
The quote mentions long-lasting sufferings, and the prompt seems to ask who suffers, and who is responsible. If you’ve been reading this guide in order, a lot of similar ideas from the last four essays might jump out here - I think that’s okay, because ideally you do get to a point where you can ‘recycle’ some of your quotes and ideas between essays (and the examiner won’t have read all your practice essays anyway!).
While I’ll be doing a little bit of that here, I want the main take-away from this essay to be around framing. Even if you’re using similar ideas that you’ve already seen, the trick is to explain and frame your analysis in a way that answers every prompt specifically. This is best done through how you thread your arguments together, and how you make those links. We’ll get into this as we plan.
For now, let’s recap these ideas of suffering and responsibility. Hecuba and the Trojan women suffer, and they argue Helen is responsible - but Helen also suffers, and she argues that the gods are responsible. The gods, as we know, are insulated from suffering because of their divine and superhuman status. So are they the villains?
This is a similar progression of ideas that we have seen before, but I want to ground them in this cycle of suffering-responsibility.
P1: The eponymous women of Troy certainly suffer, and in many of their eyes, Helen is a villain.
P2: However, Helen does not see herself that way - and she is not incorrect. She too seems to suffer, and she sees the gods as the main villains who are responsible.
P3: Euripides may see the gods as careless and negligent beings, but he doesn’t necessarily depict them as cruel; rather, the excessively passionate war itself is depicted as the true enemy, and villainous are those who revel in its cruelty.
As you might notice, parts of this plan are recognisable: we’ve started a few of these essays with a first paragraph about the Trojan women’s suffering, developed that in paragraph two by contrasting with Helen, and ending our analysis with the gods. But when reusing some of those ideas, it’s important to make sure they answer the specific question, modifying and adding new ideas as needed - this way, you don’t rewrite essays for new prompts and risk losing relevance, but you reuse ideas and tailor it to new prompts every time.
The contention for this one will be: the Trojan War undoubtedly has its winners and losers, and few of these characters agree on who the responsible villains are, with some blaming Helen (P1) while she herself blames the gods (P2). However, the gods only form a part of the picture - rather, Euripides depicts war itself as the villain, lambasting those who take pride in inflicting cruelty in the midst of war (P3).
If you'd like to see an A+ essay on the essay topic above, complete with annotations on HOW and WHY the essays achieved A+ so you can emulate this same success, then you'll definitely want to check out our Women of Troy: A Killer Text Guide! In it, we also cover themes, characters, views and values, metalanguage and have 4 other sample A+ essays completely annotated so you can smash your next SAC or exam! Check it out here.
With contributions from Mark Yin - 50 study score achiever, and author of our Women of Troy: A Killer Text Guide!
Families. Love them or hate them, everybody has a family in some shape or form.
Lahiri’s novel The Namesake and Szubanski’s memoir Reckoning both explore just how complex family dynamics can be. In particular, both texts take an intergenerational approach, which means that they look at how children might struggle to understand their parents’ psyches, and vice versa. They also look at how these struggles can play out into adulthood and throughout the course of one’s life in complicated and poignant ways.
And of course, it gets trickier from there: Lahiri and Szubanski tell the stories of families, yes, but they also tell stories of migration, trauma, and heritage. In both texts, these ideas colour the experiences of the central families and are thus just as crucial for our analysis. Let’s go over the key characters of each text first, before having a closer look at how they compare on each of these themes. In particular, we’ll be going through snapshots of scenes from both texts and comparing what they have to say about these themes.
Lahiri’s novel revolves around the fictional Ganguli family: Ashima and Ashoke have two children, Sonia and Gogol, the latter of whom is the protagonist. The novel spans over three decades, starting from Gogol’s birth shortly after Ashima and Ashoke’s move to America. By the time it finishes, both Gogol and his younger sister have grown up, and Ashoke has passed away. Thus, this story traces the development of this fictional family over time, illustrating how their relationships with one another change over time.
Szubanski’s memoir, on the other hand, is largely about her own family, including her Scottish mother Margaret and her Polish father Zbigniew. In particular, Reckoning is a family history of her dad’s side, who were living in Poland when the Nazis invaded in 1939. There is some exposition of his family, including his parents Jadwiga and Mieczyslaw, his sister Danuta, and her family as well.
Zbigniew would eventually fight as an assassin the Polish resistance, and Reckoning reflects on how that impacted and shaped his relationship with Magda. The memoir is described to be “as much a biography of her father as it is about her.”
In the process, we learn about his migration, moving to Scotland after the war (where he met Margaret), then to England, then to Australia, with Magda their youngest child aged 5. The memoir covers her life from there onwards, including a journey back to Europe to reconnect with the rest of her family.
At LSG, we use the CONVERGENT and DIVERGENT strategy to help us easily find points of similarity and difference. This is particularly important when it comes to essay writing, because you want to know that you're coming up with unique comparative points (compared to the rest of the Victorian cohort!). I don't discuss this strategy in detail here, but if you're interested, check out my How To Write A Killer Comparative ebook. I use this strategy throughout my discussion of themes below and techniques in the next section.
Evidently, this theme largely underpins the stories of both texts. In particular, The Namesake and Reckoning both show that relationships between family members—whether that be parents, children or siblings—can be really complicated.
Let’s start with The Namesake. Motifs of parenthood and marriage are evident front and centre right from the novel’s get go, as a pregnant Ashima reflects on her life as it stands in 1968. When Gogol is born, his parents’ love for him is also evident: “Ashoke has never seen a more perfect thing.” At the same time, while Ashima is starting to see “pieces of her family in [Gogol’s] face,” her own grandmother is passing away—it’s thus important to remember that parenthood runs both ways (this’ll be important for both texts).
In any case, Ashima struggles with the first few years of parenthood - despite settling into a schedule, she finds herself “despondent” when Gogol begins nursery school. However, she grows accustomed to it in time, making “forays out of the apartment” and settling into some semblance of a routine to keep herself somewhat occupied.
Parenthood isn’t really shown to get any easier though—at his 14th birthday, we see a somewhat awkward exchange between Ashoke and Gogol, now “nearly as tall” as his father. What Ashoke thinks is a nice gift actually sets off a decades-long identity crisis for Gogol regarding his name: “from the little that he knows about Russian writers, it dismays him that his parents chose the weirdest namesake.”
This scene demonstrates how there can be miscommunications between parents and children that make it difficult for them to understand each other. Without explaining his name to his son, Gogol and Ashoke are unable to truly connect; Gogol is annoyed if anything, answering his father “a bit impatiently”. Parents and children may want to understand each other better, but this is evidently not always possible. The consequences of this can often span over years, with Gogol changing his name to Nikhil and training himself to “ignore his parents, to tune out their concerns and pleas” once he goes to college.
Still, familial love perseveres over time, though it sometimes shifts and changes along the way. With Gogol and Sonia both grown up, Ashima reflects on the separate lives they now lead, noting that she “must be willing to accept” her “children’s independence”, and her son’s partner Maxine despite her misgivings. Culture also plays a role here, which we will explore more in the next section. However, what is evoked in this passage (near the start of chapter 7) is that parents have their child’s best interests in mind. Indeed, similar themes flow through both texts.
That said, familial love can be harder to see in Reckoning—in particular, Magda’s father is characterised throughout the memoir as emotionally distant to the point of cruelty. When she first learns of the Holocaust, she finds Zbigniew’s “lack of feeling…monstrous.” She doesn’t understand how he can be so detached from the war having lived “right in the centre of it.” She also doesn’t understand why he yearns more than anything to escape that period of his life.
The texts are similar in that both of them illustrate how parents and children often struggle with barriers in communication despite their love for each other. In particular, children may not always understand their parents’ experiences from before they were born, or how those experiences affect them in the present.
It’s not all bad though—love perseveres, and sometimes parents can surprise you. When Magda finally comes out to her parents, their response is generally quite receptive, and her father is perhaps uncharacteristically touching in this scene:
“Whatever his misgivings were he didn’t dwell on them and he never let the come between us. As I was about to leave they both put their arms around me. ‘We love you,’ they said.”
Additionally, both texts deal with parent-child relationships that are affected by experiences of trauma that parents attempt to suppress.
In The Namesake, it’s largely Ashoke’s brush with death that jars his world view, to the point where he names Gogol after the author whose book saved his life after his accident. However, because he doesn’t process his trauma or tell Gogol the story, it leads to a gap in understanding that compromises some elements of their relationship.
These themes are more strongly present in Reckoning, where Zbigniew’s experiences in the war shape many of his opinions and attitudes, as well as his approach to parenting. Tennis, for example, becomes a vehicle for him to teach Magda about winning and losing, “never once let[ting Magda] win.” They have a similarly clinical experience with hunting, where Zbigniew “los[es] patience” with Magda for mourning the death of a rabbit.
Correctly, though retrospectively, Magda hypothesises that this came from a need to “prove himself” after the war ended, and to “discharge the pent-up killer energy inside him.” Even though she would only understand this in time, it didn’t change how her father’s trauma shaped her childhood in ways that she couldn’t have understood at the time.
Reckoning also shows that trauma can be intergenerational, or as Magda puts it “passed on genetically.” She discovers that her maternal grandfather Luke lived through the Irish famine, and watched ten of his siblings die of poverty, causing her to wonder about the “gift of [her] Irish inheritance” that was left on her psyche.
What’s worth remembering here is that it isn’t just the fathers who bury traumatic events from their past (surprising, I know). When Magda’s mother slaps her for the first time, it is because Magda repeats one of her own deepest regrets, soiling a dress made to visit their respective fathers in hospital: “I understand now, of course, that it was herself she was slapping.”
So, while it is true in both texts that traumatic memories impact how parents relate to their children, Reckoning is a deeper and broader exploration of intergenerational trauma. In particular, Magda not only looks at her relationship with her parents, but also her parents’ relationship with theirs.
This is the final piece of the puzzle in terms of major themes and how they fit together. With how characters relate to culture and heritage, we also see both texts evince some rich, intergenerational differences.
In The Namesake, there’s a marked cultural schism between Gogol and his parents. Gogol is desperate to escape his ethnicity, and his status as a second-generation migrant means he is well-assimilated into American culture—he wears his shoes in the house, addresses his parents in English, and dresses like an American. He is also comfortable dating American people, feeling “effortlessly incorporated” into Maxine’s family and daily life. On the other hand, Ashima is demonstrated to struggle more with the move, describing it as a “lifelong pregnancy”, a burden that people treat with “pity and respect.” There are ties to other themes here as well—for example Ashima’s homesickness is sharpened by the fact that she is separated from her family, in particular her parents. It also means that she becomes a part of the life from which Gogol is so desperate to escape.
In Reckoning however, this generational gap is reversed. It is Zbignew who yearns to escape his home culture, while Magda desperately wishes to understand her father: “while I was racing backwards towards my Polishness, my father was rushing in the other direction, assimilating at a rate of knots.” Though this is reversed, there are still ties into other themes: intergenerational misunderstandings for instance are perpetuated by their differing stances on migration. Trauma is also relevant, as Zbigniew is trying to escape it, while Magda is simply working towards understanding her father.
Put this way, we can understand how familial relationships can be complicated by migration, trauma, and the different attitudes it can engender.
Reckoning and The Namesake are two texts that explore many similar themes—family, migration, trauma, heritage, identity—over the span of decades. I would probably argue that family is the central theme that grounds many of the others; it shapes the identity of children—migrant children—and brings out traumatic memories in spite of your best efforts to suppress them.
Hopefully, this gives you a good overview of the themes across these two texts, how they fit together, and how they are similar or different. Don’t forget that themes can overlap and intersect, as is often the case here.
The topic draws on two quotes:
“But in the meantime I had been given a great gift—my parents’ unconditional love.” (Reckoning)
“‘Don’t worry,’ his father says. ‘To me and your mother you will never be anyone but Gogol.’” (The Namesake)
And the prompt itself is:
Compare what the two texts suggest about parent-child relationships.
Topics for comparative essays are usually pretty broad, but let’s pull out some key words and questions that the topic and the quotes seem to raise.
The one that stands out the most to me is this idea of ‘unconditional love’. For parents, this usually means they’ll love and support their child no matter what mistakes or choices they make. In the context of Reckoning, this was brought up in terms of Magda’s sexuality, which is neither a mistake nor a choice, but consider how it permeates through the memoir, and how it’s always been there in some of her parents’ thoughts, words and actions. And how might it compare with The Namesake?
The other quote is a little more interesting, in particular the ‘to me and your mother’ bit, which I think complicates the idea of unconditional love. Is love still unconditional if parents define who you are and who you will “never be”? I think what’s implied here is that you want to include some discussion of parental expectations, which is another can of worms. It might include things like how parents want you to behave, what career choices they might want you to make, whether or not they approve of your friends or romantic partners.
Now, let’s dive into a possible plan to tackle a topic like this...
So firstly, let's establish that parent-child relationships are often laden with expectations.
It may not be the obvious example, but Ashima’s family had undoubtedly expected her to marry Ashoke, a PhD student in Boston at the time, as conveyed through “her mother’s salesmanship”. We see this mirrored in the life of Moushumi as well, whose parents orchestrated a “series of unsuccessful schemes” to see her married in her adolescence. Gogol experiences expectations that aren’t all so intentional—while his parents don’t mean him any harm by naming him Gogol, he feels trapped by the name, “always hated it” in fact. Still, his parents are markedly “disappointedly” when he chooses Columbia over MIT, and are “distressed” by his low income while he’s at college.
Szubanski’s parents have somewhat similar expectations in this regard: “the ranks of the second generation are full of doctors and lawyers and professionals.” She felt that “all of the family’s educational hopes rested on [her].”
These examples mightn’t be the most obvious, but they’re effective for making this point, and don’t need too much explanation to tie it into the prompt.
Let’s keep this in mind for our second paragraph: trauma can be passed on intergenerationally through how parents treat their children, and this can bring its own set of expectations as well.
Gogol feels trapped by his name, but it is a result of his father’s traumatic experiences. What Ashoke might not realise is that this has caused Gogol even more distress of his own. This is probably stronger in Reckoning, where Peter’s emotional capacity is compromised as a result of war. When Magda looks through the book filled with pictures of decomposing bodies and feels uneasy, her father’s comment, “don’t be silly, it’s just a picture,” makes her feel ashamed of herself for her “stupidity and weakness”. So, parental expectations can be distorted by their traumatic experiences, which only serves to pass that trauma on.
To conclude, let’s flip this around to look at how children respond to their parents: in both texts, there’s a sense that being able to confront these expectations and memories from the past helps children to synthesise their own identity and move forward in their own lives.
In The Namesake, Gogol only reads The Overcoat after his father dies, in fact saving it from a box that was about to be donated, “destined to disappear from his life altogether.” The novel ends here, which could represent that he is able to move into a new phase of his life only after having grappled with this one. Szubanski’s pilgrimage back to Poland and Ireland come from similar desires to better understand her parents. She “wondered if Europe might provide the sense of home [she] craved” particularly given her father’s desire to never look back at his traumatic past there.
I think the bottom line is that parent-child relationships are already complex, and can be further complicated by a number of factors. Still, it’s up to children to grapple with the burden of expectations, and to forge our own path forward from there.
Anna Funder’s Stasiland and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go bring together two complex, poignant worlds of “personal stories” and subjective narration of what once was, an individual's place in history and its aftermath, especially when the world attempts to move on.
Establishing a literary allusion to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in the title, Funder’s narrator of Anna fills the role of Alice as she stumbles upon and explores the absurd and unjust world of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Driven by an almost naive curiosity, akin to Alice herself, Funder conducts extensive interviewing to uncover not only the stories and experiences of the victims of the regime, but also of the Stasi, the “internal army by which the government kept control”. Through her literary journalism, Funder creates an intimate and sensory experience for the reader, extending beyond factual occurrences to capture the “horror-romance” of East Germany, “a country which no longer exists” but its inhabitants, victims and perpetrators continue to live on.
Ishiguro delves into human mortality through the platform of a science fiction world, where the focus is ultimately on the prospect of an existence where one’s life is knowingly shortened, and what becomes important with such a backdrop. Readers are introduced to the concept of ‘clones’, existing as live incubators of organs that will be later harvested for others. Perceived by society as less than humans, Ishiguro’s narrative focuses on clones who spent time at Hailsham, a boarding school ‘experiment’ in England which attempted to provide a more ‘humane’ education and upbringing for clones, and their sheltered perspectives on their existence, their mortality and purpose.
Why have Funder and Ishiguro written what they have written?
Funder’s dogged pursuit to uncover and reveal the “portraits” of individuals who lived through the GDR was prompted by West Germany’s dismissal of, and use of stereotypes when these individuals were concerned, and the assumption that “no-one is interested in these people”. She discovers that “things have been put behind glass”, in the forms of museums and metaphorical mausoleums, “but they are not yet over”. Stasiland therefore acts as a work that champions the importance of memory, of remembering and of history, as Sisyphean of a task as this inevitably is because it is “working… against time”. In addition, Funder’s purposeful choice to include the perspectives of the Stasi themselves opens up another realm of understanding to the reader. It allows the audience to examine the Stasi's motives and justifications, their humanity or lack thereof, of the lessons learnt and unlearnt, as a means of framing the entire regime and of framing the spectrum of humanity.
Whilst Ishiguro’s universe differs greatly when placed alongside Stasiland, his characters also belong to a world that no longer exists, as their Hailsham upbringing evolves into a historical artefact, reflective of a world that “wanted [the clones] back in the shadows” and which remained oblivious to the reality of the clones’ existence. Ishiguro gives voice to the clones; the “poor creatures” who otherwise possessed no voice or recognised humanity in this world, and no purpose apart from their utility as organ donors. These individuals are shown to be no less human than you and I, and it is in their sheltered lives, headed towards “wherever it was [they were] supposed to be”, which permits the reader to examine their own life purpose and meaning, and how a clone’s existence is ultimately reduced in not only length, but also ability and capacity.
Both texts confront uncomfortable truths about humanity and reality, the treatment that certain individuals were unfortunately subjected to which resulted in their dehumanising, and which “broke” them, sooner or later.
What are the big ideas underpinning the texts? How are they explored? What sorts of comparisons can be drawn between the two texts?
(This is not an exhaustive list by any means, and its main purpose is to prompt and inspire thought and a closer analysis of both texts, and of yourself. Please feel free to draw upon your own ideas and interpretations of the texts to compare and discuss!)
Stasiland: Prompted by the VCAA 2015 exam, the GDR is indeed ‘cruel and absurd’, especially in the methods the nation constructed and enforced this society, as this ultimately broke the souls of innocent individuals, and left questions unanswered and scars unhealed for many. It showcases how what could potentially be described as 'idealistic' in terms of government control can become grotesque, how otherworldly and Orwellian this recent history seems, and how the perspectives of victim, perpetrator, outsider and more are not restricted to the land of the GDR, but to today as well. In addition, as Funder discovers, these perspectives are closely intertwined, in which certain individuals of the Stasi were victimised too, and could not remain in the "group in the know [as] one of the unmolested".
Never Let Me Go: The novel’s context of clones is removed from the reality that readers are familiar with, and as Ishiguro focuses on the clones’ perspectives throughout, there always remains an element that feels 'off' and ’not quite right’ about who they are and the purpose of their existence. Whilst the context of Never Let Me Go differs greatly from a regime with "the most perfected surveillance state of all time", it highlights an unsettling reality, in which scientific advancement has resulted in a society benefitting from the clones' existence and from organ harvesting, but who are also rejecting of the possibility of their humanity. The clones may never be able to perceive and fully understand this cruelty or absurdity themselves, but this does not mean they are not victims of this, for a fate that they could not choose.
Possible points for comparison: The victimisation of individuals in both texts, whether it was internalised or ushered into oblivion is central to the absurd worlds of Stasiland and Never Let Me Go. The clones are in a way, victims from birth, and unable to avoid their shortened existence and purpose, whereas those in the GDR who were subjected to surveillance, interrogation, torture, etc. became ensnared and damaged beyond repair; the aftermath of which they were unable to escape from. However, the closing of Hailsham and the falling of the Berlin Wall spell out different fates in the two texts - those in Stasiland may be "fettered" by their past that is "not ever, really, over", but are provided a future in which there is hope for rebirth in the "green", "lush" city of Berlin and beyond. On the contrary, the clones are only able to move toward their fate, towards "wherever it was [they are] supposed to be" and towards completion. Coupled with the naivety accompanying the clones' existence, their acceptance of what is ahead and the lack of awareness surrounding their victimisation, readers are prompted to consider the cruelty of such existence, and whether there is greater tragedy in having your "soul buckled out of shape, forever", or in never knowing who you really are.
Stasiland: In discussing and unearthing a recent history of a "bygone world" that many individuals wish to "pretend it was never there", Funder's attempt to create and immortalise "portraits" of East Germans raises questions about how events and lives are remembered and forgotten. Especially when elements of this past in the GDR could not be "pinned down by facts, or documents", the detrimental impact of a lack of recognition and acknowledgement of one's past, especially one filled with trauma, is thereby highlighted by Funder. When the rest of the world deems the GDR and the Stasi to only belong "behind glass" in museums and yet it is "not yet over" for those who are still suffering and carrying scars, physical and psychological, the purpose of Stasiland rings clear and true. Whilst it is a Sisyphean attempt, "working against forgetting, and against time", through Stasiland, Funder ultimately gives a voice to the "personal stories" comprising history, before there are "none left".
Never Let Me Go: Through the lens of Kathy H's narration and the recollection of her memories surrounding her upbringing, readers uncover the pieces of her existence as moments of her past begin "tugging at [her] mind". Memory itself can be fickle, recording and preserving certain experiences but not others, and as time passes, "fading surprisingly quickly" before being lost in the ether of one's past. Ishiguro's continual mention of Kathy's memories of an event, of her years at Hailsham and beyond almost lulls the reader into overlooking this element of the narration - in which the reader's understanding is built upon an uncertain and incomplete foundation of facts; similar to how the clones' "sheltered" understanding of their world came to be. After Hailsham closes, its existence recedes into the memories of the clones, and although Kathy declares that the memories will be retained "safely in [her] head", upon her completion, this will also be lost, and Hailsham will be further diminished in history as a 'failed experiment' and one day forgotten.
Possible points for comparison: The valiant efforts to remember and preserve the once-was is woven into the fabric of both texts, despite the inevitability of forgetting as death and 'completion' claims those who lived through East Germany and Hailsham respectively. When the recent history of the GDR becomes a "lost world", and the importance of remembering what transpired is being superseded by the innovation and process of the present, it opens up room for the same mistakes of the past to be made again. Hailsham was an attempt to create a more idealised and humane upbringing for the clones, and to showcase their humanity in a society which rejected this, and the boarding school's closure reflects a failure in which any previous successes will never be acknowledged. Memory, and by extension, one's understanding of the past is what enables change in the future; in attitude, in approach, in the treatment of others, in decisions, in growth, as an individual and as a whole. With its gradual loss, it may also be ineluctable that history repeats itself in one way or another.
Stasiland: Stasiland itself is comprised of the stories of human lives, and includes various individuals' tenacity, strength and courage to their vices, cruelty and cowardice. By seeking out not only those who were victims of the regime but also perpetrators, Funder examines the many complex facets of human nature and the irreversible impact of the GDR on East Germans and who they became or were broken into. However, the personal involvement of Anna as a narrator and most importantly, as an outsider to the GDR provides a subjective perspective of this history. Whilst this has received criticism, it is important to consider how the human experience itself is subjective, as is never being able to truly understand another individual's story as the exact experience is theirs alone to hold and perhaps be "fettered" to; both of which are evident in Stasiland.
Never Let Me Go: Ishiguro constructs a narrative in which Kathy H and the clones are assumed human individuals from the text’s introduction, and it is only as the clones uncover how they may be "troubling and strange" that the reader gains a sense of how they are perceived in society as sub-human. However, the pre-determined fate and mortality of these "poor creatures", especially as they are born and 'complete' seemingly without a scope of awareness beyond their exposure during their upbringing and their sole purpose as organ donors - renders their lives even more heart wrenching and tragic - and human. The simplicity with which Ishiguro details the musings and reflections of Kathy H, and in the concluding moment of her imagined fantasy of Tommy, as not "out of control" as she may felt, readers cannot ignore the stark juxtaposition with the circumstances of her existence, in which she ultimately has no control over her identity as a clone. To grasp autonomy, to defy and deviate from being "wherever it was [she] was supposed to be", even for a moment, Ishiguro portrays a courage which is undoubtedly human.
Possible points for comparison: When faced with the stories of lives not our own, but each individual possessing elements which resonate and resemble us, it is much more possible to understand their struggles, their intentions and their experiences. Consider the story behind each face, each character, each name, not only in these two texts but also other texts and even our lives, as we are fundamentally more similar than different when compared to each other, even in the face of separation and distinction.
Ultimately, Funder and Ishiguro's texts probe the existential question of what it means to be human and what defines one's identity, and how it is shaped by experience, fate, intentions and actions. Question the texts, question the characters, question yourselves, and you'll discover worlds and perspectives closer to home than the GDR or Hailsham may initially seem.
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