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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!
Once you have finished all your Literature SACs for the year, all that is left is a 2 hour and 15 minute exam that will play a major part in determining your end of year study score. It seems extremely daunting, and because many of the SACs differ from the exam task, you may be feeling a bit nervous or confused about what exactly the exam entails.
In describing the task, the exam paper states:
For each of your selected texts, you must use one or more of the passages as the basis for a discussion of that text.
In your pieces of writing, refer in detail to the passage or passages and the texts. You may include minor references to other texts.
Therefore, you must write two close analysis pieces on the exam, one on each of your chosen texts. You must use the three passages included on the exam to explore and analyse the text as a whole. Most of your piece should be analysis of what is in front of you in the exam, but you must also use evidence from outside the passages, to demonstrate your knowledge and connection with the text.
The exam will be marked against a criterion that differs from any of your SACs (although it is quite similar to your close analysis SAC). Therefore it is imperative to understand the criteria you will be marked on before beginning to study for the Literature exam, and especially before you try some practice exams. They are as follows, and can be found on the VCAA Literature exam page.
Understanding of the text demonstrated in a relevant and plausible interpretation
This criteria relates to your ability to show your comprehension of the text. The examiner will be noting whether the concepts, ideas and themes in the text are understood. They will assess your interpretation of the text, and whether it is relevant and fair in relation to the meaning in the text
Ability to write expressively and coherently to present an interpretation
Literature is a writing subject, therefore this criteria asks that you write with fluency, an expressive vocabulary and clarity. Your piece must also be a coherent, unified work that clearly articulates your discussion and interpretation of the passages and text as a whole. This criteria can also relate to your use of grammar, punctuation and spelling as the clarity of your piece can be threatened if these are not used correctly.
Understanding of how views and values may be suggested in the text
You must demonstrate an ability to identify, discuss and analyze the views and values within the text. You must be able to support your discussion with evidence from the text
Analysis of how key passages and/or moments in the text contribute to an interpretation
Your ability to analyse the three passages, as well as the text as a whole, and draw an interpretation from them. Examiners will be looking to see that you can use set material and the whole text as a basis for discussion.
Analysis of the features of a text and how they contribute to an interpretation
This criteria determines that you must identify factors including metalanguage, specific language and authorial techniques, and discuss how they create meaning. Remember that this is literature, so discussing the different elements used to construct a text (character, plot, setting, motifs, symbols” is imperative.
Analysis and close reading of textual details to support a coherent and detailed interpretation of the text
This criteria determines that you need to use evidence from the text (including quotes) in order to aid a logical and comprehensive interpretation of the text. Examiners will be looking at your ability to look deeply into smaller authorial choices, and how they create meaning.
Best of luck!
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!
Wondering what VCAA examiners might be looking for in a high-scoring essay? Each year, the VCE EAL Examination Reports shed light on some of the features that examiners are looking for in high-scoring responses for the Listening and Language Analysis sections of the EAL exams. Let's go through 5 key points from the reports so that you know how to achieve a 10/10 yourself.
Let’s take the 2017 VCAA EAL Examination Report as an example:
‘The highest-scoring responses analysed argument use and language in an integrated way. Some responses used a comparative approach that analysed arguments and counter arguments from both texts in the same paragraph. However, only comparatively few responses focused on how the overall argument was structured.’
So how do we write about/analyse ‘how the overall argument was structured’?
To save time during the exam, we can adopt templates that can help us transfer our thoughts into words in a fast and efficient way. You can construct your own templates, and you may want to have various templates for various scenarios or essays. Below, I have provided a sample template and I’ll show you how you can use this template in your own essays.
(AUTHOR)’s manner of argument is proposed in real earnest in an attempt to convince the readers of the validity of his/her proposal of...by first…and then supplying solutions to...(DIFFICULTIES), thus structuring it in a logical and systematic way.
The above template ONLY applies to opinion pieces that satisfy these 2 rules:
For example, say the author, John White, contends that plastic bags should be banned and does so by:
When we use our template here, the intro may look like this - note that I’ve bolded the ‘template’ parts so you can clearly see how the template has been used:
John White’s manner of argument, proposed in real earnest in an effect to convince the readers of the validity of his proposal of banning plastic bags by first exposing the deleterious nature of these bags to our environment and natural habitat and then supplying solutions to ban plastic bags, putting it in effect in a logical and systematic way.
Head to Introductions for EAL Language Analysis for more templates and guidance on how to nail your Language Analysis Introduction.
The 2019 VCAA EAL Examination Report states:
‘Students are encouraged to use the key words in the questions as a focus for their listening...Short-answer questions require concise and precise answers. Responses that demonstrated understanding provided what was asked for without including extraneous information.’
Some students tend to add unnecessary information in their answers. Although the answers are correct, they will NOT earn you any extra marks. Listening answers should NOT be a mini essay. Writing irrelevant information will not only waste time but may also compromise the accuracy and overall expression of your response.
The examination reports frequently point out that students struggle with identifying and describing the tone and delivery. For example, the 2017 VCAA EAL Examination Report states:
‘Identifying tone and delivery is challenging for students and emphasis on this is needed...Students are encouraged to use the key words in the questions as a focus for their listening’.
The good news is, just like most skills, listening and identifying the tone can both be improved with practice. In fact, VCAA acknowledges the importance of daily practice as well.
‘Students need to develop their critical listening skills both in and outside of the classroom. They are encouraged to listen, in English, to anything that interests them – current affairs, news, documentaries and podcasts can all be useful.’ (2017 VCAA EAL Examination Report)
Practicing listening does not necessarily mean sitting down and doing Section A questions; it can be as simple as talking with classmates, teachers, neighbours, friends from work, church, etc.
Take a look at our EAL Listening Practice and Resources for a comprehensive list of external resources for practicing listening and a step-by-step guide on how to use them!
VCAA encourages us to write answers that make sense to the reader and are grammatically correct. Make sure you do address, and ONLY address, what the question is asking, because marks will not be rewarded for redundant information.
‘Short answer questions require concise and precise answers. Responses that demonstrated understanding provided what was asked for without including extraneous information. Expression skills need to be sufficiently controlled to convey meaning accurately.’ (2017-2019 VCAA EAL Examination Report)
HINT: This may sound super simple, but a lot of EAL students struggle with it. If you do, you are definitely not alone. Some students seek to use complicated words and/or sentence structures, but we should not compromise clarity over complexity.
VCAA acknowledges the importance of sophisticated vocabulary. This phrase ‘analysis expressed with a range of precise vocabulary’ has been repeatedly used to describe high-scoring essays in the examination reports from 2017 onwards
Below is a list of commonly misspelled, misused and mispronounced words. If you don’t know the meaning of a word, check out Collins Online Dictionary for definitions OR you can use a physical copy of the Collins Dictionary (which you are allowed to bring into the exam and SACs).
For an overview of the EAL study design plus tips and tricks for reading comprehension, time management and more, check out The Ultimate Guide to EAL.
To elaborate further on the example using Macbeth and Animal Farm:
Avoid simply drawing connections between the texts which are immediately obvious. It is clear that both Napoleon and Macbeth are powerful leaders. The questions below start to delve into a more insightful comparison between the two men (comparative words are bolded):
Macbeth and Animal Farm: common theme = power
How do they achieve power?
In Animal Farm, Napoleon is sly about his intentions and slowly secures his power with clever manipulation and propaganda. However, Shakespeare’s Macbeth adopts very different methods as he uses violence and abuse to secure his power.
How do they maintain power?
Both Napoleon and Macbeth are tyrants who go to great length to protect their power. They believe in killing or chasing away anyone who undermines their power.
What is the effect of power on the two characters?
While Macbeth concentrates on Macbeth’s growing guilty conscience and his gradual deterioration to insanity, Animal Farm offers no insight into Napoleon’s stream of consciousness. Instead, George Orwell focuses on the pain and suffering of the animals under Napoleon’s reign. This highlights Shakespeare’s desire to focus on the inner conflict of a man, whereas Orwell depicted the repercussions of a totalitarian regime on those under its ruling.
For one of most popular posts on Comparative (also known as Reading and Comparing), check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Comparative.
2. What Is Magical Realism?
4. Symbols and Analysis
6. Sample Essay Topics
7. Essay Topic Breakdown
Flames is a bit of an out-there story right from the beginning: Levi is attempting to build a coffin for his sister Charlotte because the women in their family come back to life after dying. Neither of them is that close to dying - both are young adults. Charlotte doesn’t really want a coffin so she runs away from home, as far as she can while still remaining in Tasmania at least, and Robbie Arnott takes us on this adventure through interweaving perspectives and rich imagery of his home island.
Some of these perspectives are surprising and unexpected, ranging from a hardcore private investigator to a river god in the form of a water rat, but each of them earns their place in the story. Our job when studying this text is to follow these shifts in perspectives and make sense of how they contribute to the overall text. If you’re writing creatively, you may want to play around with this sort of structure as well in your piece.
Before we get stuck into the text itself, it might be useful to first discuss its genre. Magical realism books tend to be extremely confusing if you’re not familiar with the genre (and sometimes even when you are!). This is because authors in this genre will typically set their stories in the real world (in this case, in Tasmania), but they’ll add supernatural elements, which vary wildly from story to story.
Let’s unpack the genre a bit more, in particular, what it involves and why it’s used.
The most important element of magical realism is that it blends the real world with fantastical elements. In Flames, the most obvious example is gods: gods don’t exist as far as we know, but they walk among humans and play key roles in this text. Less obvious examples of fantastical elements include the wombat farm at Melaleuca (fortunately nobody actually skins wombats) as well as the Oneblood tuna and (unfortunately!) the pet seals.
The fact that these examples are narrated as perfectly normal is another element of magical realism: the author usually operates as if the fantastical elements are perfectly real. We, as readers, enter a world where the existence of these magical things is taken for granted by the characters.
This blurring of the lines between real and magical is primarily supposed to suspend our disbelief: we can’t really be sure what’s real about the novel’s world and what isn’t. All we know is that in many respects, it looks like our own. Within this familiar setting, Arnott lets his own imagination run wild and leaves the reader to figure out the rest. This helps to create a sense of wonder, as if these elements could be real and as magical as described.
These elements also contribute to the story in other ways: in particular, they open up new possibilities for commentary. For example, the voice of the South Esk god is used to highlight the impacts of colonialism and the “blood-tasting tang of iron” that was brought with it.
If you’re liking the sound of this genre and/or if you enjoyed Flames, there’s plenty more to discover in the way of magical realism. It’s a hallmark of Latin American literature (Isabel Allende, Gabriel García Márquez), and it’s also been picked up in Japan by the likes of Haruki Murakami. A prominent Australian example is Carpentaria by Alexis Wright.
Let’s move more closely into Flames, starting with its central theme of death and grief. It’s what defines this central point of tension between Levi and Charlotte throughout the novel, since it starts with their divergent responses to their mother’s death (and reincarnation etc.). Their divergent responses suggest that there’s no one way to cope with death, and their father’s reaction on top of that introduces further complexity: he disappears from their lives altogether, “not want[ing] to be close to them when they [died]”. Between the three of them, there are three very different expressions of grief.
But Edith McAllister is not the only death of significance in the novel. Another standout is the passing of Karl’s seal, after which he becomes haunted by “clicks”; he subsequently leaves tuna-hunting behind. The death of the South Esk god is also explored as causing grief, this time in the form of divine emotional outpouring, “a cloud’s sorrow”. Arnott is thus exploring many processes of grieving, from solitude and callousness to physical and emotional labour.
Outside of these moments of grieving, Arnott explores the background relationships between family members as well. Again, Levi and Charlotte are central to this. As siblings, they don’t always see eye to eye: “Levi and I have never understood each other”. However, that does not diminish their love for each other, particularly as they were left alone after their mother’s death. Their father Jack again makes this dynamic more complicated: he sees an “unbridgeable gap” between himself and Levi for example, but the omniscient third-person narrator in that chapter knows otherwise. Consider what difference it makes when Arnott writes in first person from within these relationships (as he does with Charlotte) versus when he writes in third person, observing from outside.
We also see interesting relationships between Karl and his daughter Nicola. Unlike the McAllisters, the two of them are remarkably close despite his ongoing grief for his seal: “nothing could match the blaze of love in her father’s smile”.
Nicola crops up again under this theme, as she begins to navigate a relationship with Charlotte. In a book review for The Guardian, Sam Jordison argues that this is a bit trite, but we can think of it as one perspective on how relationships begin: organically and sincerely, and out of a desire to protect someone else. By contrast, the start of Jack and Edith’s relationship was founded on something more artificial and manipulative, a “tiny spark” which he ignited in her mind.
This is bookended with romantic relationships that have come to an end, as explored through the eyes of the private investigator: her and her ex-husband, Graham Malik, have settled into something of an “ecosystem”. With these various beginnings and endings, Arnott shows how it can be natural - or supernatural - to fall in and out of love.
Finally, this novel touches on the impacts of colonisation. It’s a few quiet allusions here and there, but they are important: Arnott acknowledges the impact of colonisation on the natural landscape of his birthplace. He does this firstly through the eyes of the South Esk god, who observes the “foul industries” of the “loud, pale apes” when they first arrived on palawa and pakana land, the land we now know as Tasmania.
Arnott also explores colonisation through the eyes of Jack, who experiences racism when taking on the human form of an Aboriginal person. He wanted to learn more about how European colonisers were using fire, but he found “they reacted poorly to his dark appearance”. Meanwhile, First Nations people in Tasmania were being “hunted in their own homeland”, and he chooses not to intervene.
As immortal outside observers, their perspectives are the only ones in the novel that can really trace this history. Arnott might be including them so readers take his descriptions of nature with a grain of salt: even as we appreciate Australia’s beautiful landscape, it’s worth acknowledging its custodians who have kept it that way for tens of thousands of years.
We’ve traced the major purposes of these deities already, but to reiterate them here these ‘gods’ symbolise different parts of nature and the wonder Arnott derives from them. Although nature is already alive, these figures help it feel even more so. They also serve the important purpose of highlighting and acknowledging Tasmania’s colonial history, as well as the disconnect between humankind and nature.
The one natural element worth discussing as its own symbol is water. There are many bodies of water identified in the novel, from rivers and lakes to the ocean, and they each have their own significance. For example, rivers connect parts of the natural landscape while lakes (particularly Crater Lake) represent a getaway, solace, solitude and peace.
The ocean is the most complex of these symbols though: it’s all around the island of Tasmania, and it appears to be a vicious and unforgiving place filled with orcas and tunas the size of “mountains”. But it’s also a place that brings calm to Edith and Charlotte, and even Levi as a child. Arnott canvasses all of these different relationships to nature through the different manifestations of water. Water even exists as rain, which in the novel’s denouement represents a new beginning, a washing away of past tensions and conflicts.
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
How does genre contribute to the storytelling effect of Flames?
When talking about the genre of this text, we’ll definitely need to discuss magical realism. The question here is about how magical realism enriches or contributes to the story, so it might be worth breaking down the elements of magical realism and thinking through each of them one-by-one. The fact that this prompt is framed as a ‘how’ question (one of the 5 types of essay questions) also means we’ll have to bring in Arnott and how he chooses to tell the story.
One magical realism element Arnott adopts is the gods, who play a few roles symbolically in the novel, but there are other elements too: the seals, the flames, the cormorants and so on. Do these elements add as much as the gods, and if so, what are they adding?
Consider also not just the elements as they appear, but also how Arnott is treating them. The fact that a lot of them are taken for granted as perfectly normal is in itself another genre element.
Instead of talking about the elements too disparately or separately, I think a lot of them revolve around this central question of how humans relate to the earth and to one another. This will help connect my ideas to one another.
Paragraph 1: Elements of magical realism show how humans adversely impact nature
Paragraph 2: At the same time, not all humans contribute equally to this pollution, and magical elements also facilitate commentary on this perspective
Paragraph 3: However, Arnott’s use of magical realism also shows possibilities for ‘ideal’ relationships between humans, and between humans and nature
Flames 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.
Hey guys, welcome back to Lisa's Study Guides. So this week I have another essay topic breakdown for you. So eventually I'm going to get through all of the VCAA texts that are on the study design, but we're slowly going to get there and are just want to say yet again, even though this one is like a house on fire, I am really glad if you've clicked on this video and you're not necessarily studying it because as always with all my videos, I try to give you an overall message for you to take away that can be applied to any single text. So that is the same for this particular text today. And so even though the takeaway message for this video is quite specific to short stories, it's still an important consideration for any text that you're studying. Ideally, you want to use a diverse range of evidence for any text, but in particular, for short stories, you don't just want to rely on a small handful, but to try and make links between the different short stories.
So let's see what that means on the other side of this quick overview of the text. Like a House on Fire is a collection of short stories by the author, Cate Kennedy, and unlike a lot of other texts on the study design, this book portrays a lot of very domestic situations, which seems fairly boring compared to some of the other texts that other students might be doing. However, I'm really excited about this text because the short stories are great. Not because they have groundbreaking premises, which they don't, but because of how effortlessly and deeply emotive they are. So the domestic scenarios actually help us relate to the characters in the stories and empathize with the complexity of their experiences. The essay topic we'll be looking at today is in Like a House on Fire, Kennedy finds strength in ordinary people. Discuss.
Here, the term which you really have to think about is strength. We already know that she depicts the story of ordinary people, of people like you or me, or even just people we may know, but does she find strength in them? It could be physical strength, but more often than not, it might be other types of strength. For instance, the mental strength it takes to cope with intense pressure or the emotional strength it takes to make a difficult choice or action. It's important to think about how they might actually apply throughout the book. In this sense, our essay will have essentially two halves.
The first two body paragraphs we'll look at scenarios of intense pressure, be it through the loss of control in one's life or a domestic situation which has become emotionally tense. The last two body paragraphs will then consider the types of strength that Kennedy evinces in these stories. And we'll contend that she does find strength in the characters who face a difficult decision, but that she also finds a lot more strength in the characters who managed to cope with their situation and grapple with the tensions in their lives.
In many of her stories, Kennedy portrays characters who experience powerlessness. This loss of power can come a number of ways. For instance, both Flexion and Like a House on Fire tell the story of men who have injured their previously reliable bodies and have thus been rendered immobile. But they also tell the story of their respective wives who have lost some control over their lives now that they have to care for their husbands. On the other hand, there are the kids in Whirlpool whose mother insists that they dress a certain way for a Christmas photo. Her hand on your shoulders, exerting pressure that pushes you down. Kennedy's use of second person really makes you feel this pressure that keeps you from going out to the pool you so desperately desire to be in. Evidently powerlessness is an experience that comes in many shapes and forms in several stories.
In addition to this, Kennedy explores other emotional tensions across the collection, subverting the idea that the home is necessarily a safe sanctuary. This is where she really goes beyond just the idea of powerlessness, but actually jumps into scenarios that are much more emotionally complex. In Ashes for instance, we see the homosexual protagonist struggle with feeling useless and tongue tied, embarrassed by the floundering pause between his mother and himself. There is a significant emotional hurdle there, which is particularly poignant given that mothers are usually considered a source of safety and comfort for their children. Kennedy's story of domesticity actually subvert or question what we might think of the domestic space shared by family members. If you have the Scribe edition of the book, the artwork on the cover would depict a vase of wilting flowers, an empty picture frame, and a spilt cup of coffee.
These are all visual symbols of an imperfect domestic life. A similar rift exists between husband and wife in both Five Dollar Family and Waiting, the women find themselves unable to emotionally depend on their partners. While Michelle in Five Dollar Family despises her husbands startled, faintly incredulous expression, an inability to care for their child, the protagonist in Waiting struggles to talk about her miscarriages with her husband who is already worn down as it is. Kennedy takes these household roles of mother, son, husband, wife, and really dives into the complex shades of emotion that lies within these relationships. We realize through her stories that a mother can't always provide comfort to a child and that a husband isn't always the dependable partner that he's supposed to be.
However, Kennedy does find strength in some characters who do take a bold or courageous leap in some way. These are really important moments in which she is able to show us the strength that it takes to make these decisions. And she triumphs however small or insignificant that can be achieved.
A moment that really stands out to me is the ending of Laminex and Mirrors, where the protagonist rebelliously smuggles a hospital patient out for a smoke only to have to take him back into his ward through the main entrance and therefore get them both caught. She recounts this experience as the one I remember most clearly from the year I turned 18. The two of us content, just for this perfect moment. And their success resonates with the audience, even though the protagonist would have lost her job and therefore the income she needed for her trip to London, Kennedy demonstrates her strength in choosing compassion for an elderly patient. Even the sister in Whirlpool, who wasn't exactly kind to the protagonist in the beginning, forms an unlikely alliance with her against their mother, sharing a reckless moment and cutting their photo shoot short. Bold leaps such as these are ones that take strength and therefore deserve admiration.
However, more often than not, Kennedy's stories are more about the strength needed to simply cope with life, one day at a time. She explores the minutiae of her characters lives in a way that conveys the day to day struggles, but also hints at the underlying fortitude needed to deal with these things on a daily basis. In Tender, the wife feels as if everything at home is on the verge of coming apart since her husband is only able to cook tuna and pasta casserole for their kids. However, when she must get a possibly malignant tumor removed, her concern of whether there'll be tuna and pasta in the pantry just in case, demonstrates her selfless nature. Kennedy thus creates a character who is strong for others, even when her own life at home is disorderly and her health may be in jeopardy. The strength of gritting one's teeth and getting on with things in spite of emotional tension is a central idea across this collection, and many other examples are there for you to consider as well.
And so we come to the end of our essay. Hopefully going through this gives you an idea of how to cover more bases with your evidence. Remember that you don't have to recount lots and lots of events, but it's more important to engage with what the events are actually telling us about people. This is particularly important for prompts like this one, where it heavily focuses on the people involved. That is it for me this week, please give this video a thumbs up. If you wanted to say thanks to Mark, who has been helping me write these scripts up for a lot of the text response essay, topic breakdowns. If you enjoyed this, then you might also be interested in the live stream coming up next week, which will be on Friday the 25th of May at 5:00 PM. I'll be covering the topic of analyzing argument for the second time, just because there's so much to get through. I'll also be announcing some special things during that particular live stream. So make sure you're there so you're the first to hear it. I will see you guys next week. Bye.
Text Response can be difficult because there are many different aspects of the text you need to discuss in an intellectual and sophisticated manner. The key points you need to include are stated in the VCAA Text Response criteria as shown below:
We have explored some of the different criterion points in past blog posts, but this time we’ll be focusing on number 3,
the ways in which authors/directors express or imply a point of view and values.
Views: How the author sees something
Values: How the author thinks about something
In VCE, simply exploring themes and character development is not enough to score yourself a higher-graded essay. This is where discussion on ‘views and values’ comes in. Essentially this criterion urges you to ask yourself, ‘what are the author’s beliefs or opinion on this particular idea/issue?’ All novels/films are written to represent their author’s views and values and, as a reader it is your job to interpret what you think the author is trying to say or what they’re trying to teach us. And it’s not as hard as it seems either. You’ve instinctively done this when reading other books or watching movies without even realising it. For example, you’ve probably walked out of the cinemas after thoroughly enjoying a film because the ideas explored sat well with you, ‘I’m glad in Hunger Games they’re taking action and rebelling against a totalitarian society’ or, ‘that was a great film because it gave insight on how women can be just as powerful as men!’ Therefore, it is possible in this case that the author of this series favours the disintegration of tyrannical societies and promotes female empowerment.
Views and values are also based on ideas and attitudes of when it was written and where it was set – this brings both social and cultural context into consideration as well. Issues commonly explored include gender roles, racial inequality, class hierarchy, and more. For example, Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, is set during the 20th century and explores feminism through women’s roles during World War II while Emily Bronte’sWuthering Heights depicts the divide between social classes and challenges the strict Victorian values of how society condemns cross-class relationships, in particular between Catherine and Heathcliffe.
Questions to ask yourself when exploring views and values:
Here’s a sample discussion on the author’s views and values:
‘…Dickens characterises Scrooge as being allegorically representative of the industrial age in which he lived. Scrooge describes the poor as ‘surplus population’, revealing his cruel nature as he would rather they die than having to donate money to them. Dickens critiques the industrial revolution whereby wealth lead to ignorance towards poor as the upperclassmen would easily dismiss underclassmen, feeling no responsibility to help them as they believed they were of no use to society. ‘ (A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens)
Here’s a list of some sample essay prompts you may get in regards to exploring ‘views and values’:
Themes, motifs and symbols are different kinds of narrative elements - they’re parts of a story that help to shape its overall effect. However, even though they’re words we use all the time in our English studies, it isn’t always easy to tell the difference!
This post will take you through some definitions, give you some examples and show you how you can use them in essays too. Let’s start with the broadest of the three…
A theme is an idea or a subject that an author wants to explore. Themes appear throughout a work, and they’re often abstract ideas rather than concrete images that you can explicitly identify. Themes usually appear in interactions: for example, a parent reuniting with a child might evoke the theme of parenthood or family, an experience of discrimination might evoke the theme of prejudice or racism, a character facing a difficult choice might evoke the theme of morality or conflict, and so on. As you might be able to see, themes can require us to read between the lines because they are usually implied.
A motif is something a bit more specific. Rather than an abstract idea, we’re looking for a concrete object (usually physical items, but also potentially sounds, places, actions, situations or phrases) that returns time and time again throughout a text. This repetition of motifs helps to create structure for a text - it can tether parts of the story to or around a central image. Because motifs are often linked to a theme, they can also serve as a reminder of that theme’s importance. For example, if the central theme was family or parenthood, the author might create a bird’s nest outside a character’s room; as we watch the bird and the chicks grow throughout the text, parallels are also drawn back to the theme.
You can think of symbols as motifs minus the repetition. It’s the more default word we use when referring to an object that represents an idea, and unlike a motif, symbols only need to appear once to have an impact. They can simply tell us more about a character or situation in that instant, at that specific time, rather than being a parallel or recurring throughout a text. However, they’re still identified in a similar way to motifs: symbols are also concrete objects and they’re still connected to themes.
Here are some text-specific examples for a closer look at these terms:
Check out our Macbeth, Rear Window and The Great Gatsby blog posts for more on these texts. If you’re studying other texts, have a look at our list of text guides in The Ultimate Guide to Text Response.
Themes usually come across in interactions, and a possible first step to identifying them is thinking about if an interaction is good or bad, and why. For example:
In Rear Window, one of the neighbours berates everyone else for failing to notice their dog’s death.
This is a bad interaction because:
The theme we might identify here is duty. The film might suggest that we have a duty to look out for our neighbours (without sacrificing their privacy) or to do our part to keep the neighbourhood safe from potential criminals.
Another example might be:
In The Great Gatsby, the Sloanes invite Gatsby over for dinner without really meaning it.
This is a bad interaction because:
The themes here might be society, wealth and class. This interaction shows us where these characters really stand with regard to these categories or ideas. Because he is ‘new money’, Gatsby cannot understand or fit in with the cruel and disingenuous customs of ‘old money’.
Most interactions in a text will fit into a theme somewhere, somehow - that’s why it’s been included in the story! Try to identify the themes as you go, or maintain lists of interactions and events for different themes. Because themes are so broad, they’re useful for guiding your understanding of a text, particularly as you’re reading it. They also provide a great foundation for essay planning since you can draw on events across the text to explore a certain theme.
While themes can generally appear in texts without the author needing to make too much of an effort, motifs and symbols have to be used really consciously. A lot of interactions might just be natural to the plot, but the author has to take extra care to insert a symbol or motif into the story.
To identify either, pay attention to objects that might feel unusual or even unnecessary to the scene at first - from the examples above, Gatsby showing Daisy his shirts might seem like a strange detail to include, but it’s actually an important symbol in that moment. Then, you go into the brainstorming of what the object could represent - in this case, Gatsby’s newfound wealth. Symbols in particular often appear at turning points: the relationship between two characters might take a turn, an important sacrifice might be made or perhaps someone crosses a point of no return - all of these are potential plot points for the author to include symbols. For motifs, look more for repetition. If we’re always coming back to an image or an object, like Daisy’s green light or Lisa Fremont’s dresses, then it’s likely that image or object has significance.
Symbols and motifs can be more subtle than themes, but they will also help to set your essay apart if you find a way to include them. You’d usually include them as a piece of evidence (with or without a quote) and analyse what they tell us about a theme. For example:
On the surface, Gatsby appears to be financially successful. Over several years, he has acquired many material belongings in order to demonstrate his great wealth. For example, Fitzgerald includes a scene featuring Gatsby tossing his many ‘beautiful’ shirts onto Daisy, who sobs as she admires them. This display of wealth represents the superficial natures of both characters, who prize material belongings over the substance of their relationship.
You don’t need a quote that’s too long or overpowering; just capture the essence of the symbol or motif and focus on what it represents. This is a really good way to show examiners how you’ve thought about a text’s construction, and the choices an author has made on what to include and why. To learn more about text construction, have a read of What Is Metalanguage?
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