• Although its structure and cinematic plot development resemble that of crime fiction, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is a ‘nonfiction novel’ detailing the 1959 murders of four members of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas. Put simply, the book was conceived of journalism and born of a novelist.
• The novel is a product of years of extensive research by Capote and his friend and fellow author Harper Lee, who followed the trails of the Kansas criminals across numerous US states. In Cold Blood revolutionised the American ideals of journalism and literature, blurring the lines between these labels.
• A notable technique Capote employed in order to access classified information was becoming personally acquainted with the criminals of the case. For example, Capote became extremely close to Perry Smith, one of the main murderers in the case, which gave him exclusive information on the personal motives of the killers.
• In Cold Blood reflects this relationship with the murderer through Capote’s narration of the book as an objective bystander. On page 23, we see the almost endearing way that Capote describes Perry; “his voice was both gentle and prim– a voice that, though soft, manufactured each word exactly, ejected it like a smoke ring issuing from a parson’s mouth.” As such, Capote’s friendship with Perry allows him to present the killer to the audience with a certain humanity and empathy, showcasing a broader picture of criminals than just a merciless murderer.
True facts of the Case
• On the 15th of November, 1959, all four members of the small farming Clutter family were brutally murdered, including Herbert Clutter, his wife Bonnie Clutter and their two teenage children, Nancy and Kenyon.
• The family was discovered bound and shot in the head. Herb’s throat had also been slashed. After ransacking the entire house, the criminals had left without finding any cash, carrying with them no more than fifty dollars, a pair of binoculars and a transistor radio.
• Perry Edward Smith and Richard Eugene ‘Dick’ Hickock were convicted of the crime. The two men had become acquainted during serving time at the Kansas State Penitentiary, and soon confessed to the crime, claiming that that they had heard from another prisoner that Herb Clutter was extremely wealthy, and kept his money in an easy-to-reach safe in his house.
• After the confession, the two murderers were flown from Nevada to Garden City, where they stood trial for their crimes. On 29 March, 1960, they received a guilty verdict, and were sentenced to the death penalty. For the following five years, Smith and Hickock lived on death row in Leavenworth, Kansas and were executed by hanging on the 14th of April, 1965.
Perry Edward Smith
One of the two murderers of the Clutter case, Smith is portrayed as a sensitive and artistic man haunted by his turbulent and lonely childhood. Described by Capote as a man of ‘actorish’ good looks, he disfigured both of his legs due to a motorcycle accident, which gave him chronic pain and an addiction to aspirin. His criminal actions are often directly linked to his childhood, described as ‘no bed of roses but pitiful, an ugly and lonely progress toward one mirage and then another’. Smith’s father was extremely abusive towards his wife, Flo Buckskin, and his four children, and so Buckskin later divorced him, taking the children with her. However, on her own she became an alcoholic and died by choking on her own vomit when Smith was only thirteen years old. He was then transferred to a Catholic orphanage, where he suffered from psychological, sexual and physical abuse from the nuns, one of whom attempted to drown him. Smith’s father and two of his siblings committed suicide during his time on death row. Smith eventually befriended Capote through their extensive interviews, and is believed to have shared personal information with him, believing him to be a true friend.
Richard Eugene ‘Dick’ Hickock
The second murderer of the Clutter case. Having grown up in Kansas, Hickock was a popular football player before turning to a life of crime after realising that he could not afford to go to college. During the course of the Clutter murder investigations, Hickock persistently blamed all of the murders on his partner in crime, Smith, claiming that ‘Perry Smith killed the Clutters…. It was Perry. I couldn’t stop him. He killed them all.’ Capote later states that during the murder, Smith was the one who stopped Hickock from raping the 16-year-old Nancy Clutter, as Hickock harboured pedophilic tendencies.
A well-liked and kind-hearted wheat farmer in Holcomb, Kansas. Proprietor of the large River Valley Farm, Herb is described as a hardworking and valued citizen before his murder, who lead a relatively quiet life other than a troubled marriage with his wife due to her chronic depression.
Described as an ‘anxious woman’, it is revealed that Bonnie has a history of numerous mental illnesses, one of which is postpartum depression. Capote states that she and Herb had not slept in the same bed for many years.
Described as the ‘darling of the town’ - the class president and future prom queen Nancy was the 16 year old daughter of the Clutters.
Athletic but introverted, Kenyon was the 15 year old son of Herbert and Bonnie Clutter.
A personal friend of the Clutters, Dewey was the primary investigator in the Clutter murder case and worked for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
Themes and Motifs
The American Dream
The novel is Capote’s reflection upon the American Dream, as he portrays both the lives of those who epitomise it and those who are tragically out of its reach. Herb Clutter’s position as an upstanding American citizen with a prosperous farm elicits the reader’s interpretation of his character as the rags-to-riches ideal. In stark contrast with this, the rootless and criminal Dick Hancock and Perry Smith are presented as individuals for whom the Dream is perpetually unattainable. Their attempt to finally become ‘rich’ materialises through their attempt to rob the Clutters’ home, the failure of which ironically results in their brutal murders of the people who successfully represented the American Dream.
In accordance with the American Dream, In Cold Blood also explores the concept of what is considered ‘normal’ in America, and what can be revealed as the darker underbelly of its white picket fence ideal. Dick asserts throughout the novel that he is ‘normal’, but from an external, objective perspective, he is clearly far from such; he has distorted physical features and has committed a terrible, vicious murder. Capote also explores the idea of normal mental health, as Bonnie Clutter seems to have the perfect marriage and life with Herb, and yet suffers from extreme bouts of ‘nervousness’ and chronic depression which result in her hospitalisation.
What is evil is primarily explored through the character of Perry, who has conflicting ideals about what can be considered truly ‘evil’. The more feminine and gentler of the two murderers, Perry possesses conflicting morals, as despite being a ruthless murderer, he does feel remorse and is affected by what he has done. He even thinks to himself that Herb Clutter is a ‘very nice gentleman’ even in the midst of slitting his throat. Capote in the novel reveals that there are numerous facets to the meaning of true ‘evil’, and the blurred borders that exist between each of these.
Symbolising the idea of dominance and power, Dick and Perry, who have a complementary and polarised gender relationship, feed off each other in order to boost their own masculinity. Described as ‘aggressively heterosexual’, Dick is evidently the more stereotypically masculine counterpart, having had numerous relations with women. Perry, on the other hand, is more feminine and submissive, as Dick often calls him names such as ‘sugar’ and ‘honey’. Both men in the novel utilise the other in order to make themselves feel more masculine in their highly restrictive and conservative society — while Dick emphasises Perry’s feminine qualities, Perry admires Dick and craves his words of affirmation that he, too, is masculine.
Essay Writing for In Cold Blood
Below are some possible prompts for In Cold Blood, and possible ideas to begin writing an essay.
Theme-based Essay Prompt
"I think it is a hell of a thing that a life has to be taken in this manner. I say this especially because there's a great deal I could have offered society. I certainly think capital punishment is legally and morally wrong.”
Is In Cold Blood merely a novelistic argument against the death penalty? Discuss.
To learn more about LSG’s Five Types of essay prompts, I’d highly recommend checking out this blog post. It’s a super unique strategy developed by the founder of LSG, Lisa Tran. The Five Types method, outlined in the top-rated How To Write A Killer Text Response eBook, takes the stress of students and gives them easy to follow rules and tips so that they know how to approach every essay topic, every time.
• The best way to approach any essay prompt is to recognise the limiting and/or important words of the essay question. In this thematic prompt these words are: ‘legally and morally’, and ‘merely’.
• Secondly, for prompts which incorporate a quote, it is helpful to understand the context of the quote. In this case, the quote was said by Perry as his last words before his execution by hanging. Consider the importance of this; these words are especially more meaningful as they symbolise the last direct influence he leaves upon society. They are remorseful words of a murderer reproaching the justice system, which begs the question - does Capote position the reader to agree with the murderer’s view?
• Planning this essay can be structured along three arguments...
1. Capote argues against capital punishment through eliciting pathos for the murderers and portraying them as more than mere monsters.
• Evidence for this argument could be based mostly on the descriptive elements of Capote’s writing, or his emotional attachment to the murderers, particularly Perry.
• Capote paints Perry particularly sympathetically, highlighting his sensitivity as well as his broken and abusive childhood. Quotations from the novel make it clear that his character is romanticised to an extent, such as “It was a changeling's face, and mirror-guided experiments had taught him how to ring the changes, how to look now ominous, now impish, now soulful; a tilt of the head, a twist of the lips, and the corrupt gypsy became the gentle romantic.”
2. In Cold Blood supports the anti-death penalty argument through its structure and organisation.
• The epigraph of the novel is a verse of the poem, ‘Ballade des pendus’ by Francois Villon, that he composed whilst on death row in 1463. Villon’s criminal circumstances were strikingly similar with Dick and Perry’s, as he murdered a priest and stole from his strongbox before being arrested and sentenced to death. Despite this, Villon was ultimately charged with a 10 year banishment from Paris, whereas the Clutter family murderers are hanged - a strikingly different outcome. Thus, Capote employs this poetic epigraph to strengthen his argument against the unjust executions of Perry and Dick.
• In addition to this, the structure of the novel is also used to argue against capital punishment. Although Part One focuses on the lives of both the Clutter family members and Dick and Perry preceding the murder, Part Two skips over the actual murders themselves and recounts the aftermath of its events. This allows Capote to further develop Dick and Perry into real, complex people rather than merely cold blooded murderers; people who do not deserve such a cruel fate.
3. However, Capote does ostensibly condemn the cruelty of the murders and presents the opposing argument that capital punishment is not, in fact, ‘legally and morally wrong’.
• The brutality of the Clutter murders are emphasised through the novel, as Larry Hendricks, who discovers the bodies along with the police, provides the gruesome details of the bodies - ‘each tied up and shot in the head, one with a slit throat’.
• As Perry later admits to the murder in his extended confession, Dewey highlights the fact that the Clutters ‘had suffered’ due to the ‘prolonged terror' inflicted by the murderers, and orders them, as such, to be ‘hanged back to back’.
• The argument for capital punishment in In Cold Blood is also supported by religious beliefs. As a small and predominantly Christian town, Kansas and its residents can be perceived interpreting the words of the Bible literally; at the end Dick and Perry’s trial, the prosecuting attorney Logan Green reads an excerpt from Genesis in the Holy Bible: ‘Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed.’ Rejecting the notion that Christianity preaches forgiveness, Green strives to punish the killers for failing to abide by the laws and prophecies of the Old Testament.
Character essay prompt
Perry Smith, despite Capote’s authorial sympathy towards him, is really a cold and merciless monster. Discuss.
When approaching character-based prompts, you must depart slightly from examining the holistic messages of the author, as you would in a theme-based prompt, but rather analyse how the specific character develops this authorial message. The above essay question could be brainstormed in the following way:
1. Capote’s description of Perry shows that he is far from a ‘monster’, but a human being of great sensitivity and emotion.
• During his confession of the Clutter murders, Perry’s comment, ‘There's got to be something wrong with somebody who'd do a thing like that,’ shows that he, to some extent, understands the gravity of his actions and regrets them.
• Perry is also described by his sister as ‘gentle’, and someone who ‘used to cry because he thought the sunset was so beautiful’. Likewise, even in moments of cruelty, he often shows mercy and a wide moral compass, even stopping Dick from raping Nancy Clutter during their murder spree.
2. Perry is also depicted as someone ‘weakened’ by the tragic events of his past and his own insecurities, rather than an inherently ‘cold and merciless’ person.
• Capote often links Perry’s violent tendencies with his childhood, described as ‘no bed of roses but pitiful, an ugly and lonely progress toward one mirage and then another’, as he was raised ‘with no rule or discipline, or anyone to show [him] right from wrong’.
• In addition to this, Perry can be perceived to be the more insecure and submissive of the two killers, as while Dick often calls him stereotypically feminine names such as ‘sugar’ and honey’, Perry admires his ‘aggressive’ masculinity and craves his words of affirmation in order to feel as masculine and strong as his counterpart.
3. Despite this, Capote does not entirely erase the murderous aspects of Perry’s character.
• Due to the prompt and seemingly nonchalant way in which he kills the clutters, Dick becomes convinced that Perry is that rarity of a person,"a natural killer.”
• Thus, Capote, despite his empathetic portrayal of Perry, never allows the reader to forget the extent of his criminality, and how easily he was able to fire those ‘four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives.’
Get our FREE VCE English Text Response mini-guide
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There Are Also Other Ways of Using Quotation Marks
Questions You Must Ask Yourself When Weaving Quotes into Sentences
How To Find Good Quotes
1. What Are Quotes?
Quotations, better known by their abbreviation ‘quotes’, are a form of evidence used in VCE essays. Using quotations in essays helps to demonstrate your knowledge of the text, and provides solid evidence for your arguments. The discussion on quotations in this study guide can be applied to all three areas of study in the VCAA English course which have been explained in detail in our Ultimate Guides to VCE Text Response, Comparative and Language Analysis.
A quotation is the repetition of a group of words taken from a text by someone other than the original author. The punctuation mark used to indicate a repetition of another author’s work is presented through quotation marks. These quotation marks are illustrated by inverted commas, either single inverted commas (‘ ’) or double inverted commas (“ ”). There is no general rule in Australia regarding which type of inverted comma you must use for quotations. Single inverted commas are preferred in Australia as they follow the British standard. The American standard involves styling quotations with the double inverted comma. You can choose either style, just be consistent in your essays.
2. Why Use Quotes?
The usage of quotations in essays demonstrates:
Your knowledge of the text
Credibility of your argument
An interesting and thoughtful essay
The strength of your writing skills.
However, quotations must be used correctly, otherwise you risk (and these frequent mistakes will be discussed in detail later):
Overcrowding or overloading of quotations
How You Integrate a Quote into an Essay Depends on Three Factors:
What you want to quote
How much you want to quote
How that quote will fit into your essay.
3. What You Want To Quote
As you discuss ideas in a paragraph, quotes should be added to develop these ideas further. A quote should add insight into your argument; therefore, it is imperative that the quote you choose relates intrinsically to your discussion. This is dependent on which aspect of the text you are discussing, for example:
Description of theme or character
Description of event or setting
Description of a symbol or other literary technique
Never quote just for the sake of quoting. Quotations can be irrelevant if a student merely adds in quotes as ‘sentence fillers’. Throwing in quotations just to make your essay appear more sophisticated will only be more damaging if the quotation does not adequately reinforce or expand on your contention. Conversely, an essay with no quotations will not achieve many marks either.
4. How Much You Want To Quote
A quotation should never tell the story for you. Quotations are a ‘support’ system, much like a back up for your ideas and arguments. Thus, you must be selective in how much you want to quote. Generally speaking, the absolute minimum is three quotes per paragraph but you should not overload your paragraphs either. Overcrowding your essay with too many quotations will lead to failure to develop your ideas, as well as your work appearing too convoluted for your assessor. Remember that the essay is your piece of work and should consist mainly of your own ideas and thoughts.
Single Word Quotations
The word ‘evaporates’, used to characterise money and happiness intends to instill the idea that happiness as a result of money is only temporary. (VCAA ‘Can Money Buy Happiness’ Language Analysis)
Single worded quotations can often leave the largest impression on the assessor. This is because you are able to demonstrate that you can focus on one word and develop an entire idea around it.
Sunil Badami ‘still found it hard to tie my Indian appearance to my Australian feeling', showing that for Sunil, his culture was not Indian, but Australian due to his upbringing. (Sticks and Stones and Such-like, Sunil Badami in Growing Up Asian in Australia)
A phrase quotation is the most common quotation length you will use in essays.
The multitudes of deaths surrounding Anna began to take its toll on her, burdening her with guilt as ‘sometimes, if I walked the main street of the village in the evening, I felt the press of their ghosts. I realised then that I had begun to step small and carry myself all hunched, keeping my arms at my sides and my elbows tucked, as if to leave room for them.’ (Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks)
Long quotations comprise of more than one sentence – avoid using them as evidence. Your assessor will not mark you highly if the bulk of your paragraphs consists of long quotations. You should aim to keep your quotations to less than 2 lines on an A4 writing page. If you have a long quotation you wish to use, be selective. Choose only the important phrases or key words, and remove the remaining sentence by replacing it with an ellipsis (…).
Here is the same example again, with the student using ellipsis:
The multitudes of deaths surrounding Anna began to take its toll on her, burdening her with guilt as she felt ‘the press of their ghosts…[and] begun to step small and carry myself all hunched…as if to leave room for them.’ (Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks)
In this case, we have deleted: ‘sometimes, if I walked the main street of the village in the evening’ and ‘I realised then that I had’ by using an ellipsis – a part of the quotation that is not missed because it does not represent the essence of the student’s argument. You would have noticed that a square bracket ([ ]) was used. This will be discussed in detail under Blending Quotes.
5. How That Quote Will Fit into Your Essay
You must never take the original author’s words and use them in your essay without inserting them in quotation marks. Failure to do so leads to ‘plagiarism’ or cheating. Plagiarism occurs when you take someone else’s work and pass it off as your own. You must make sure that you use quotation marks whenever you use evidence from your text.
The following is plagiarism:
Even a single flicker of the eyes could be mistaken for the essential crime that contained all other crimes in itself – thought crime. (1984, George Orwell)
Using quotation marks however, avoids plagiarism:
Even ‘a single flicker of the eyes’ could be mistaken for ‘the essential crime that contained all other crimes in itself – thought crime.’ (1984, George Orwell)
There are serious consequences for plagiarism. VCAA will penalise students for plagiarism. VCAA uses statistical analysis to compare a student’s work with their General Achievement Test (GAT), and if the cross-referencing indicates that the student is achieving unexpectedly high results with their schoolwork, the student’s school will be notified and consequential actions will be taken.
Plagiarism should not be confused with:
Paraphrasing: to reword or rephrase the author’s words
Summarising: to give a brief statement about the author’s main points
Quoting: to directly copy the author’s words with an indication (via quotation marks) that it is not your original work
You should always aim to interweave quotations into your sentences in order to achieve good flow and enhanced readability of your essay. Below is a good example of blending in quotations:
John Proctor deals with his own inner conflict as he is burdened with guilt and shame of his past adulterous actions. Yet during the climatic ending of the play, Proctor honours his principles as he rejects signing a false confession. This situation where Proctor is confronted to ‘sign [himself] to lies’ is a stark epiphany, for he finally acknowledges that he does have ‘some shred of goodness.’ (The Crucible, Arthur Miller)
There are three main methods in how you can blend quotations into an essay:
1. Adding Words
Broken sentences are a common mistake made when students aim to integrate quotations into their sentences. Below are examples of broken sentences due to poor integration of a quotation:
‘Solitary as an oyster’. Scrooge is illustrated as a person who is isolated in his own sphere. (A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens)
Never write a sentence consisting of only a quotation. This does not add insight into your argument, nor does it achieve good flow or readability.
Scrooge, ‘solitary as an oyster’, is illustrated as a person who is isolated in his own sphere. (A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens)
This example is better, however the sentence is still difficult to read. In order to blend quotations into your sentences, try adding in words that will help merge the quotation and your own words together:
Described as being as ‘solitary as an oyster’, Scrooge is illustrated as a person who is isolated in his own sphere. (A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens)
Scrooge is depicted as a person who is ‘solitary as an oyster’, illustrating that he is isolated in his own sphere. (A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens)
Tip: If you remove the quotation marks, the sentence should still make sense.
2. Square Brackets ([ ])
These are used when you need to modify the original writer’s words so that the quotation will blend into your essay. This is usually done to:
Authors sometimes write in past (looked), present (look) or future tense (will look). Depending on how you approach your essay, you may choose to write with one of the three tenses. Since your tense may not always match the author’s, you will need to alter particular words.
Original sentence: ‘…puts his arm around Lewis’ shoulder’ (Cosi, Louis Nowra)
Upon seeing Lewis upset, Roy attempts to cheer him up by ‘put[ting] his arm around Lewis’ shoulder’. (Cosi, Louis Nowra)
Change Narrative Perspective
The author may write in a first (I, we), second (you) or third person (he, she, they) narrative. Since you will usually write from an outsider’s point of view, you will refer to characters in third person. Thus, it is necessary to replace first and second person pronouns with third person pronouns. Alternatively, you can replace first and second person pronouns with the character’s name.
The original sentence: ‘Only now can I recognise the scene for what it was: a confessional, a privilege that I, through selfishness and sensual addiction, failed to accept…’ (Maestro, Peter Goldsworthy)
When Keller was finally ready to share his brutal past with Paul, the latter disregarded the maestro, as he was too immersed in his own adolescent interests. However, upon reflection, Paul realises that ‘only now can [he] recognise the scene for what it was: a confessional, a privilege that [he], through selfishness and sensual addiction, failed to accept’. (Maestro, Peter Goldsworthy)
Insert Missing Words
Sometimes, it may be necessary to insert your own words in square brackets so that the quotation will be coherent when incorporated into your sentences.
The original sentence: ‘His heels glow.’ (Ransom, David Malouf)
Achilles, like Priam, feels a sense of refreshment as highlighted by ‘his heels [which] glow.’ (Ransom, David Malouf)
It is important to maintain proper grammar while weaving in quotations. The question is: does the punctuation go inside or outside the final quotation mark?
The rule is: If the quoted words end with a full stop (or comma), then the full stop goes inside the quotation marks. If the quoted words do not end with a full stop, then the full stop goes outside the quotation marks.
Original sentence: 'Sagitty’s old place plus another hundred acres that went from the head waters of Darkey Creek all the way down to the river.’ (The Secret River, Kate Grenville)
During the past decade, Thornhill became the wealthiest man in the area, owning ‘Sagitty’s old place plus another hundred acres that went from the head waters of Darkey Creek all the way down to the river.’ (The Secret River, Kate Grenville)
During the past decade, Thornhill became the wealthiest man in the area, owning ‘Sagitty’s old place plus another hundred acres’. (The Secret River, Kate Grenville)
6. There Are Also Other Ways of Using Quotation Marks
Title of Text
When including the title of the text in an essay, use single quotation marks.
Directed by Elia Kazan, ‘On The Waterfront’ unveils the widespread corruption among longshoremen working at New Jersey docks. (On The Waterfront, Elia Kazan)
Alternatively, you can underline the title of the text instead of using single quotation marks. Many teachers and examiners prefer this option.
Quotation Within a Quotation
When you quote the author who is quoting someone else, then you will need to switch between single and double quotation marks. You firstly need to enclose the author’s words in single quotation marks, and then enclose the words they quote in double quotation marks. If you're following the American standard, you'll need to do this the opposite way - that is, using double quotation marks for the author's words and and then single quotation marks for the quote. We recommend sticking to the preferred Australian style though, which is single and then double.
Original sentence: ‘…something bitter and stringy, too difficult to swallow. “It’s just that – I – um, I hate it…It’s too – it’s too Indian!”’ (Sticks and Stones and Such-like, Sunil Badami in Growing Up Asian in Australia)
Sunil’s unusual name leads him to believe that it is ‘…something bitter and stringy, too difficult to swallow. “It’s just that – I – um, I hate it…It’s too – it’s too Indian!”’ (Sticks and Stones and Such-like, Sunil Badami in Growing Up Asian in Australia)
As you can see, the student has quoted the author’s words in single quotation marks. The dialogue used by the author is surrounded by double quotation marks. This demonstrates that the dialogue used in the text still belongs to the author.
Using Quotations to Express Irony
When you wish to express irony, you use quotation marks to illustrate that the implied meaning of the actual word or phrase is different to the normal meaning.
As a young girl, Elaine is a victim of Mrs Smeath and her so called ‘friends’. Her father’s interest in insects and her mother’s lack of housework presents Elaine as an easy bullying target for other girls her age who are fit to fulfill Toronto’s social norms. (Cat’s Eye, Margaret Atwood)
In this case, ‘friends’ is written in inverted commas to indicate that Elaine’s peers are not truly her friends but are in fact, bullies.
7. Questions You Must Ask Yourself When Weaving Quotes into Sentences
1. Does the quote blend into my sentence?
2. Does my sentence still make sense?
3. Is it too convoluted for my readers to understand?
4. Did I use the correct grammar?
8. How To Find Good Quotes
Tip One: Do not go onto Google and type in 'Good quotes for X text', because this is not going to work. These type of quotes are generally the most famous and the most popular quotes because, yes they are good quotes, but does that necessarily mean that it's going to be a good quote in your essay? Probably not. But why? Well, it's because these quotes are the most likely to be overused by students - absolutely every single person who has studied this text before you, and probably every single person who will study this text after you. You want to be unique and original. So, how are you going to find those 'good quotes'? Recognise which quotes are constantly being used and blacklist them. Quotes are constantly used in study guides are generally the ones that will be overused by students. Once you eliminate these quotes, you can then go on to find potentially more subtle quotes that are just as good as the more popular or famous ones.
Tip Two: Re-read the book. There is nothing wrong with you going ahead and finding your own quotes. You don't need to find quotes that already exist online or in study guides. Go and find whatever gels with you and whatever you feel like has a lot of meaning to it. I had a friend back in high school who was studying a book by Charles Dickens. I haven't read the book myself, but there was a character who couldn't pronounce the letter S, or he had a lisp of some sort. What my friend did was he found this one word where, throughout the entire book, the guy with the lisp only ever said the S one time and that was a massive thing. So, he used that. This is something that is really unique and original. So, go ahead and try to find your own quotes.
Tip Three: Realise that good quotes do not necessarily have to come from the main character. Yes, the main character does often have good quotes associated with whatever they're saying, but just know that you do have minor characters who can say something really relevant and have a really good point too. Their quote is going to be just as strong in your essay as a main character's quote, which will probably be overused and overdone by so many other students.
Tip Four: Develop a new interpretation of a famous or popular quote. Most of the time, the really popular quotes are analysed in very much the same way. But if you can offer a new insight into why it's being said or offer a different interpretation, then this is automatically going to create a really good quote that's going to offer a refreshing point of view.
For example, if we look at The Great Gatsby, one of the most famous quotes that is constantly being used is, 'He found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass.' What most people will do is they will analyse the part about the 'grotesque thing a rose', because that's the most significant part of the quote that stands out. But what you could do instead, is focus on a section of that quote, for example the 'raw'. Why is the word raw being used? How does the word raw contribute extra meaning to this particular quote? This way you're honing in on a particular section of the quote and really trying to offer something new. This automatically allows you to investigate the quote in a new light.
Tip Five: Just remember that the best quotes do not have to be one sentence long. Some of the best quotes tend to be really short phrases or even just one particular word. Teachers actually love it when you can get rid of the excess words that are unnecessary in the sentence, and just hone in on a particular phrase or a particular word to offer an analysis. And also, that way, when you spend so much time analysing and offering insight into such a short phrase or one sentence, it shows how knowledgeable you are about the text and that you don't need to rely on lots and lots of evidence in order to prove your point.
Those are my five quick tips on how to find good quotes from your texts!
Sunset Boulevard is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out ourUltimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
Sunset Boulevard is perhaps the most famous film about film. A darkly funny yet disturbing noir, it follows washed-up screenwriter Joe Gillis being pulled into the murky world of even-more-washed-up former silent film star Norma Desmond, disingenuously helping with her screenplay. Critical commentary on the film industry is obviously included here, but Billy Wilder’s 1950 film digs deeper to explore the blurred line between fantasy and reality, as well as power, authenticity and self-delusion. Crucially, these themes are often shown in the film’s construction, via the cinematic techniques implemented by Wilder in each scene. This blog will explore the most important examples of these cinematic techniques. Remember, VCE examiners are on the lookout for students who can offer a close reading of the text they are discussing, giving specific examples of how its creator has constructed it to support their arguments. Just look at the difference between an essay that says:
'Through the final shot of the film, Wilder shows Norma completely succumbing to her fantasy.’
Compared to one that argues:
‘Through his utilisation of an increasingly glossy and distorted filter in the ominous final shot, Wilder depicts Norma being completely overtaken by her romanticised fantasy of ‘Old Hollywood’.
So read below to learn how to use the most effective and crucial cinematic techniques within Sunset Boulevard.
Camera Techniques: Shot Types & Angles
Camera techniques are arguably the primary way that a director will intentionally direct the eye of the audience, directly framing how they view a film. The two most basic ways in which the camera is used for this are through the distance between the subject (what the scene is about) and the camera, or the ‘shot type’ and the ‘camera angle’ at which the subject is being filmed. Four key examples of these from Sunset Boulevard are explored below.
Key Examples of Shot Types
Our first look at Norma Desmond is within the wide shot above, just as Joe Gillis has entered her dishevelled mansion early in the film. As a rule, the introductory shot of a character is always worth closely analysing, as the director typically establishes their characteristics and place within the film’s wider world.
Shown above, this distant first look at Norma establishes her distance, both physical and mental, from the world around her. Removing herself from an industry that has long since moved on from her, she is severely out of touch with the reality of the world outside her home. Crucially, as this same shot is from Joe’s perspective, Wilder also foreshadowsthe more specific character ‘distance’ that will emerge between the two. Here, the audience sees the space Joe will similarly leave between himself and Norma, disingenuously humouring her poor-quality scripts and romantic advances and, therefore, always keeping her ‘at a distance’.
Another shot conveying crucial information about character relationships is shown when Joe officially ‘loses’ Betty towards the end of the film, refusing to give up his ‘long-term contract’ with Norma. Here, Wilder consciously frames the scene’s subject (Betty) at a distance with a medium shot. Supported by her refusal to make eye contact with Joe and her literal statement that she ‘can't look at [him]’ we again see physical distance between the camera and the subject translating to emotional distance between two characters. The impact of them no longer ‘seeing eye to eye’ is additionally heightened by the clear chemistry they previously demonstrated across the film.
Key Examples of Camera Angles
Just like the introductory shot of a character is worth digging into, the opening shot of a film is also incredibly important to unpack. Sunset Boulevard’sseemingly straightforward opening shot simply includes the film’s title, by showing the real-life Hollywood street. However, notice that we are not seeing a ‘Sunset Boulevard’ street sign (the more obvious choice), but instead a dirty and stained curbside. Further, Wilder shoots this curb from a high angle. Therefore, the film’s opening shot establishes maybe the most central aim of Wilder’s film; offering a critical look at the superficiality and flawed nature of Hollywood. As such, we are literally looking down on the film industry in the first moment of the film, represented by this dirty and unflattering visual symbol of Hollywood. This, therefore, is setting the stage for the satire and critical commentary that will follow.
Wilder’s careful use of camera angles is further shown at the end of the film after Betty abandons Joe at the gate of Norma’s mansion. Crucially, this all happened due to the desperate exertion of power by Norma, who called Betty and revealed the details of her relationship with Joe. As such, Wilder shoots Norma at a low angle, as Joe looks up at her haughty gaze. The level of power that Norma has exerted over Joe may seem minimal within the moment, but when we consider what happens next, this shot becomes much more important. On the brink of descending completely into madness and taking Joe’s life, Wilder uses this shot to establish that Joe should be looking up in fear at Norma, and his dismissive and pitiful opinion of her will soon lead to his death.
Mise-en-scène is perhaps the most deceptively simple cinematic technique. It involves analysing what appears within a frame and where it has been placed by the director. This includes elements such as the actor’s costumes, the props and the design of the set. Often, mise-en-scène is used to reinforce something we are being told about a character already through the film’s dialogue and acting.
Key Example of Mise-en-scène 1
We can see a key example of characterisation through mise-en-scène early in the film, where the audience’s introduction to Joe Gillis visually communicates his unconcerned and detached attitude, as well as his tendency to settle for something convenient despite its inauthenticity. His being dressed in a bathrobe with the blazing sun outside (and his debt collectors clearly up and doing their jobs) speaks to his slovenliness and uninvested approach to life. The set design within this scene further characterises Joe, with the script directly describing the ‘reproductions of characterless paintings’ that cover his walls. Here, the set arguably provides a visual metaphor for the profit-driven ‘Bases Loaded’ script he is writing at that very moment, later described by Betty as having come ‘from hunger.’
Key Example of Mise-en-scène 2
Equally, our introduction to the home of Norma Desmond helps establish the key elements of her character. The house is, as Joe describes, ‘crowded with Norma Desmonds’, in the form of countless framed photos of her from her silent film era. These self-portraits constantly looking out onto Norma symbolise the deluded fantasy world she has placed herself in. They both show how this world is based around her still being a youthful and famous actress, and that this delusion is maintained through Norma only communicating inwardly, refusing to face the reality of the outside world.
As ‘symbolises’ is a verb that is very commonly misused, it’s necessary here to provide a very simplified definition:
A symbol is something that contains levels of meaning not present at first glance or literal translation.
In film, the most obvious symbols are often physical objects that reappear within the story, working to symbolise concepts that develop the text’s key themes.
The Dead Chimp & The Organ
One of the more seemingly inexplicable parts of Wilder's film actually contains one of its most important symbols, with Norma’s pet monkey playing a key foreshadowing role from beyond the grave. The chimp, a pet owned and trained by Norma to amuse her, leaves a vacant role that Joe will gradually fill after having unknowingly interrupted its funeral. From this point in the film, Joe is manipulated, or ‘trained’, by Norma to entertain and provide companionship to her. Naturally, Joe also ends up dead within the bounds of Norma’s estate, with this symbol, therefore, foreshadowing the full trajectory of his character. All of this is directly alluded to through Joe’s description of the ‘mixed-up dream’ he has the night of the funeral, imagining ‘an organ [player]’ and the ‘chimp…dancing for pennies’ that he will soon become.
This naturally brings us to the organ itself, which serves as a physical reminder of the unflattering parts of the new role Joe must play. Included after Joe wakes from his ‘mixed-up dream’, the shot above frames Max’s organ-playing hands as massive and overpowering, as the much-smaller Joe storms in demanding to know why his ‘clothes and things’ were moved to Norma’s house without his say-so. Crucially, Norma then reveals that she ordered this action and that Joe's apartment debts are ‘all taken care of’, hand-waving his attempt at grasping back some control and dignity by proposing it be ‘deduct[ed]...from [his] salary’. This scene reveals the symbolic role the organ plays within Sunset Boulevard, reminding Joe of the shameful and powerless role of the ‘pet monkey’ that he now fills, as well as what he will be ‘dancing’ for.
Finally, we come to allusions, one of the techniques that Sunset Boulevard is most famous for. Allusions refer to anytime something from outside the world of the text is referenced, including other texts and real-world people, places, events, etc. Biblical and mythological allusions are commonly found in fiction, but references to something closer to our world can often bring a degree of realism to certain texts, working to strengthen their social commentary.
Being a film about film, Sunset Boulevard naturally contains many allusions to other films. However, Wilder does not shy away from adding an extra level of realism to his references to the film industry. Central to this is the use of the real (and still functional) Paramount Picturesstudio to which Joe attempts to sell his clichéd baseball script. Notably, this is the studio that actually released Sunset Boulevard, all of which adds a self-deprecating edge to the satire of the film industry these scenes contain. The scene where the cigar-chomping Paramount executive, Mr Sheldrake, cynically suggests that changing Joe’s film concept to a ‘girls' softball team’ might ‘put in a few numbers’, packs an extra punch due to the use of the real film studio, therefore, showing the effect of this allusion in strengthening the film’s satire.
Allusions to specific films are additionally used for humorous purposes and character development. For instance, take Joe’s dry observation that the extravagance of the funeral for Norma’s pet means that he ‘must have been a very important chimp’, perhaps the ‘great-grandson of King Kong’. Here, Joe’s sardonic and witty character is revealed to the audience. Additionally, these kinds of references further place the film firmly in the world of real Hollywood, again working to strengthen the satire it offers of this industry.
Similarly, allusions to the world of literature flesh out both the characters and the world of Sunset Boulevard. The most stand-out example of this is the allusion to Charles Dickens’ classic novel Great Expectations. Here, Joe muses that the ‘unhappy look’ of Norma’s house reminds him of ‘Miss Havisham’ from this text. This is a character, who, after being abandoned by her fiance, refuses to change her clothing and lives secluded in a ‘rotting wedding dress’. Havisham directly parallels Norma, being a tragic figure immovably stuck in the past, with Norma's excessive placement of young self-portraits being reminiscent of Havishman’s insistence on keeping her house’s clocks at the exact time she received her letter of marital rejection. Therefore, this comparison to the Dickens character, who engages in a more exaggerated version of Norma’s behaviour, seeks to highlight just how detached Norma is from reality through her attempts to live in the past, implying that what she is doing is just as deluded as refusing to remove a rotting wedding dress. Further, the eventual fate of Miss Havisham within Great Expectations, with her wedding dress catching fire and leaving her as an invalid, foreshadows Norma’s similar descent to invalidity through her madness.
We’ve all been doing Text Response essays from as young as Year 7. At this point in VCE, we should be feeling relatively comfortable with tackling themes and characters in our essays. However, the danger with just discussing themes and characters is that we often fall into the trap of simply paraphrasing the novel, or retelling the story. So how do we elevate our essays to become more sophisticated and complex analyses that offer insight?
An important distinction to be aware of is that the expectation of Year 11 English was geared more toward themes and characters. However in Year 12, teachers and examiners expect students to focus on the author’s construction of the text. By keeping in mind that the text is a DELIBERATE CONSTRUCTION, this can help eliminate retelling. A good guideline to follow is to include the author’s name at least once every paragraph.
Some examples are:
- (author) elicits
- (author) endorses or condemns
- (author) conveys
Move beyond talking about character and relationships. How are those characters used to explore ideas? How are they used to show readers what the author values?
To explore the text BEYOND characters, themes and ideas, tackle the following criteria:
Social, cultural and historical values embodied in text
In other words, this means the context in which the text was written. Think about how that influenced the author, and how those views and values are reflected in the text. How does the author create social commentary on humanity?
These involve the author’s use of symbols, metaphors, subtext, or genres. Consider why the author chose those particular words, images or symbols? What effect did it evoke within the reader? What themes or characters are embodied within these literary devices? Metalanguage is essential in VCE essays, so ensure you are confident in this field.
If the text is a film, it’s important to include why the director chose certain cinematography techniques. Comment on the mise-en-scene, camera angles, overview shots, close ups, flashbacks, soundtrack, to name a few. Or if it’s a play, examine the stage directions. These contain great detail of the author’s intentions.
How text is open to different interpretations
“While some may perceive… others may believe…” is a good guideline to follow in order to explore different angles and complexities of the text.
Skilful weaving in of appropriate quotes
This is how to create a well-substantiated essay. To weave in textual evidence, don’t simply ‘plonk’ in sentence long quotes. Instead, use worded quotes within your sentences so the transition is seamless.
Do you know how to embed quotes like a boss? Test yourself with our blog post here.
Strong turn of phrase
Ensure your essay is always linked to the prompt; don’t go off on an unrelated tangent. Linking words such as “conversely” or “furthermore” increase coherence within your essay. Begin each paragraph with a strong topic sentence, and finish each paragraph with a broader perception that links back to the topic and the next paragraph. To see what this looks like in practice, check out What Does Improving Your English Really Look Like? for multiple sample paragraphs.
This is also where having a wide range of vocabulary is crucial to presenting your ideas in a sophisticated manner. Create a word bank from assessor’s reports, sample essays, or teacher’s notes, and by the end of the year you’ll have an extensive list to choose from. Also, referring to literary devices contributes to a great vocabulary, exhibiting a strong turn of phrase!
Consider the topic
What does it imply? Find the underlying message and the implications behind the prompt. There is always tension within the topic that needs to be resolved by the conclusion of your essay. A must-know technique to ensure you actually answer the prompt is by knowing the 5 types of different essay topics, and how your essay structure changes as a result. The How To Write A Killer Text Response ebook is a great way to learn how to identify the type of essay topic you have in front of you immediately, and start writing an A+ essay.
Finally, simply enjoy writing about your text! It will help you write with a sense of personal voice and a personal engagement with the text, which the teachers and assessors will always enjoy.
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 and 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 for 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.
LSG-Curated Essay Topics
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 war. 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.
2. Historical Context
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 Hera 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 and 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 winning 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.
Love and Lust
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 criticises 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.
Potential Textual Evidence:
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.
'tens of thousands dead'
'giving up the pleasure of his family and children'
'these Greeks [beginning] to die'
→ 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.
Cost of War
The play primarily focuses on the loss and pain of the Trojan civilians that survived the war, 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 war. 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.
Potential Textual Evidence:
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].
Integrity and Sense of Duty
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 loses her title and her home. She is held responsible for her actions but is still governed by her honesty and 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 Athena, 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 the gods 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 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 Athena’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 females' points of view were not commonly expressed in plays or any forms of art works, Euripides’ 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 war 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 a woman of power in time of crisis.
Mother of Troy
Potential Textual Evidence:
In employing the simile comparing herself to 'a mother bird at her plundered nest', Hecuba reminds the audience of her endless love for the city of Troy, implying that the devastation of her own home also further deepens her pain. In this scene, Hecuba is portrayed as a female leader who rules with her passion and love.
The image her (Hecuba) as an empathetic Queen is also exemplified through the ways in which she 'weep[s] for [her] burning home'. As the term 'home' invokes connotations of warmth and affection, Hecuba’s endearment for the city she governs is established, accentuating the portrayal of Hecuba as a leader with a passion for her duties.
This in turn propels the audience to be more inclined to feel commiseration for her when she is held responsible for her city’s destruction. As the representative of Troy’s leadership that enables such brutality to occur leading to the wars, Hecuba bears the guilt and responsibility for '[giving] birth to all the trouble by giving birth to Paris' and consequently, for the cataclysmic consequences that ramified from Paris’ involvement with Helen (although she is simply an innocent bystander) → Social accountability for war
Mother of Her Children
Potential Textual Evidence:
From the outset of the play, the former queen of Troy is portrayed as a miserable mother suffering from the loss of her own children and 'howl[ing] for her children dead' (echoed by the Chorus, referred to as 'howl of agony'). By employing animalistic language in describing Hecuba’s act of mourning over Hector’s death, Euripides intensifies the magnitude of her emotional turmoil as it is likened to a loud and doleful cry usually uttered by animals → It is almost not humanly possible to endure so much pain.
This notion is bolstered by the image of Hecuba drowning in 'her threnody of tears' as it engages the pathos of the audience, establishing her as a victim of war and emphasising the poignant story that is to be unveiled.
The simile comparing herself to a woman 'dragged as a slave' in her lamentation further fortifies Hecuba’s portrayal as a victim of a play. Here, the juxtaposition between her former title 'by birth [as] Troy’s...Queen' and her current state magnifies the drastic change in life and the loss she suffered, compelling the audience to better sympathise with Hecuba. → Powers can be ephemeral in times of crisis.
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.
Chorus of Trojan Women
It can be argued that Hecuba acts as the paradigm of the Trojan women as her pain (i.e. the deaths of her children, slavery, the devastation of her city), in a way, represents the suffering of the majority of Hellenic women in times of war, 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 who 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.
5. Literary Devices
Simile (e.g. dragged as a slave)
Euphemism (e.g. serve Achilles at his tomb – euphemism for death)
Symbolism (e.g. Hector’s shield or Troy’s citadel)
Animal imagery (e.g. howl of agony)
Rhetorical question (e.g. for what reason)
Why are these important? Watch how we integrated literary devices as pieces of evidence in this essay topic breakdown:
[Modified Video Transcription]
TIP: See section '7. A+ Essay Topic Breakdown' (below) for an explanation of our ABC approach so that you understand how we've actually tackled this essay prompt.
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 blamed Hecuba for the fall of Troy and for the conflict between the two sides. However, Menelaus did not believe 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, the reason being that 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 exam, 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 (learn more about the different types of prompts in How To Write A Killer Text Response).
Now let’s get started.
Step 1: Analyse
The first thing I always do is to look for keywords. The key words in this prompt are 'structure, 'role of women' and 'suffering'.
With the structure of the play, we can potentially talk about:
Character-related evidence (e.g. strong female character base)
Language-related features (metalanguage/literacy devices)
Plot-related features (order of events) – irony, foreshadowing
Step 2: Brainstorm
In a male-dominated, patriarchal society, women are oftentimes 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 supports or contradicts this statement. Ask yourself:
Is Euripides trying to support the statement and agree that women are simply creatures of emotions who should only stick with domestic duties?
Or is he trying to criticise this belief by showing that women are so much more than just those being governed by their emotions?
Since this play primarily focuses on the cost of war 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:
Hecuba’s loss (she lost her home and children)
Hecuba’s pain (being blamed for Troy’s ruin)
Cassandra’s helplessness despite knowing her fate, surrendering and accepting her future
Andromache’s 'bitter' fate having to give up her child
The Chorus voicing their opinion – slavery
Once a prompt is carefully broken down, it is no longer that scary because all we have to do now is organise our thoughts and write our topic sentences.
Step 3: Create a Plan
P1: 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 evidence that can support this statement is the way 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.
P2: 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 is, of course, plenty of other evidence out there such as the way in which Cassandra is portrayed as a 'poor mad child', her helplessness in surrendering to her 'wretched' fate with Agamemnon who wanted her for himself. 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 enhances the notion that they are still in positions of explicit subjugation.
P3: While Euripides primarily focuses on portraying women’s pain and suffering, he does not completely vilify men or victimise women, maintaining an unbiased view so as to underscore the importance of integrity through his characterisation 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 saying is 'while our playwright is obviously pro-women, he definitely does not condone everything women do and criticise 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 epitomised by 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's death to her, announcing that Polyxena 'is to serve Achilles at his tomb', that 'her fate is settled' and '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 sympathising with her they, in a way, render 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.
6. LSG-Curated Women of Troy Essay Topics
Euripides’ play Women of Troy mainly focuses on the true cost of war. To what extent do you agree with the statement?
Women of Troy demonstrates that there is no real winner in war. Discuss.
In the Trojan wars, the Trojans suffered great losses while the Greeks did not suffer. Do you agree?
How does Euripides use language to portray the loss and suffering of Hellenic women in Women of Troy?
Characters in Women of Troy are all driven and motivated by their sense of duty and obligation. To what extent do you agree with the statement?
Hecuba’s greatest pain stems from the deaths of her children. Discuss the statement.
While Helen’s selfishness should be condemned, the audience can still condone her actions due to the circumstances she is in. To what extent do you agree with the statement?
Women of Troy is a tragedy, rather than a war-play. Do you agree?
Euripides argues that fate and fortunes are not preordained, and tragedies do not incriminate. To what extent do you agree with the statement?
It is impossible to sympathise with Helen because she is the most mischievous character of the play. Do you agree?
Women of Troy explores the ways in which a character’s true self might emerge in times of tragedy. Discuss.
In Women of Troy, The Chorus’ only role is to act as the representative of Hellenic women. Do you agree?
In the end, the gods are not responsible for the tragedies caused by the Trojan war as it happened as a result of poor choices. Do you agree?
Hecuba is the victim of fate. Discuss.
Love is a dangerous passion that can lead to tragic consequences. Does Women of Troy support this statement?
Hecuba is a tragic hero. Discuss.
How is the structure of Women of Troy used to convey its meaning?
It is possible for the audience to sympathise with Helen because of her love for Paris. Do you agree?
There is no villain in Women of Troy because everyone in the play suffers. Do you agree with the statement?
Discuss the role of dishonesty in Euripides’ Women of Troy.
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 that you can emulate this same success, then you'll definitely want to check out our A Killer Text Guide: Women of Troy ebook. In it, we also cover themes, characters, views and values, metalanguage and have 5 sample A+ essays completely annotated so that you can smash your next SAC or exam!
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 to read all your practice essays anyway!).
While I’ll be doing a little bit of recycling here, I want the main take-away point 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.
Step 2: Brainstorm
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?
Step 3: Create a Plan
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 villains 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 by modifying and adding new ideas as needed - this way, you don’t rewrite essays for new prompts and risk losing relevance, but you do reuse ideas and tailor them 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).
Nine Days by Toni Jordan is currently studied in VCE English under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
Themes, Ideas and Values
Essay Topic Breakdown
Jordan’s novel traces the tumultuous lives of the Westaway family and their neighbours through four generations as they struggle through World War II (1939-45), the postwar period of the late 1940s and 50s, the 1990s and the early 2000s. Composed of nine chapters and subsequently nine unique perspectives of life, their family home in Rowena Parade, Richmond, becomes the focal point for Jordan’s exploration of femininity, masculinity, family and Australian society.
2. Main Characters
'Mr. Husting always says first impressions count' (p. 5)
'Mr. Husting holds his other hand out flat and instead of an apple there’s a shilling.' (p. 6)
'I own the lanes, mostly. I know the web of them, every lane in Richmond.' (p. 21)
'When they put me in the grave, I know what it’ll say on the stone, if I get a stone, if they don’t bury me like a stray cat at the tip' (p. 29)
'I didn’t say goodbye to Dad! On account of a book' (p. 158)
'This photo won’t be out of my sight from now on. You’ve given me my sister back, Alec.' (p. 260)
'THE SHADOW CANNOT BE DEFEATED!' (p. 145)
'The toughest gang in Richmond! And they want me, Francis Westaway!' (p. 155)
'I see a purple jewel hanging on a gold chain. It’s a beaut, the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen…There’s no way I’m sharing this. It’s mine.' (p. 174)
'Do you understand how sensitive a reputation is? It’s up to me to be respectable. I’m the eldest. It’s my responsibility.' (p. 200)
'Ma sitting with her dress lifted up to her face, Connie on her knees beside her, holding her arms, cooing soft like Ma is a baby.' (Kip, p. 35)
'We women do what’s expected. You [men] can do almost anything you care to think of.' (p. 280)
'It seems that all my life I’ve had nothing I’ve desired and I’ve given up having desire at all. Now I know what it feels like to want and I will give anything to have it' (p. 285)
'I thought we’d have more time than this. We’ve only just made it.' (p. 290)
'Those moments, when [Kip] reminds me of Tom. I have to leave the room. The fury rises up my legs and up my body like a scream and it’s all I can do not to let it out.' (p. 212)
'We all die alone' (p. 212)
'This is not how I imagined it to be. Children. Mothering.' (p. 212)
'And for things like this, for girls like Connie and saving her future, there is a respectable woman who runs a business in Victoria Street' (pp. 221-222)
'I’d never of done it with boys but Connie, she was different.' (p. 239)
'we’re respectable people.' (p. 218)
‘Kipper’s old man…dropped off the tram in Swan Street somewhat worse for a whiskey or three and hit his head. Blam, splashed his brains all over the road. A sad end.’ (Pike, p. 24)
‘As a girl I had plenty of suitors, but none like Tom. Best behaviour in front of my father, children all brought up in the church by him.’ (p. 212)
‘The parcel is for Stanzi: inside is an old-fashioned coin, dull silver, with a king’s head on one side. It has a silver chain threaded through a hole in the middle. Stanzi looks like she’s about to cry.’ (Alec, p. 254)
‘She doesn’t mean to be hurtful. She is worries for me, that’s all…if she really thought I was in terrible trouble, she would be gentler.’ (Charlotte about Stanzi, p. 126)
‘the oblivious insouciance of the entitled’ (p. 51)
‘I say the question over and over: should I keep the baby?’ (p. 142)
‘The herbs are evidence of an understanding of our place in the universe…an acknowledgement of the delicate balance in our bodies…’ (p. 116)
‘There was only one place I could go: my sister’s’ (p. 124)
‘They contain all the hopes of the human spirit, all the refusal to quit, to keep believing people can feel better’ (p. 116)
‘Yet here I am. Away from home in a world of strangers. Alone. Forgotten.’ (p. 241)
‘This waiting for my life to start, it’s driving me mental.’ (p. 244)
‘I don’t sketch. Instead I concentrate on the scene the scene in front of me so I can remember it later.’ (p. 251)
‘All the things I remember, everything about my life, our family, my childhood: it’s all real because Libby knows it too.’ (Alec, p. 273)
‘I can see both sides.’ (p. 80)
‘Just let me kiss you, Connie. I’d die a happy man.’ (p. 284)
Ava and Sylvester Husting
‘If we have to send boys to fight…it’s layabout boys with no responsibilities, the Kip Westaways of the world, who ought to be going.’ (Ava, p. 102)
‘That shilling. Our little secret. Gentlemen’s honour.’ (Sylvester, p. 8)
‘You’re a good girl, Annabel.’ (Mr. Crouch, p. 177)
‘I’d like to compliment their dresses, but I don’t know what to say.’ (p. 190)
‘He is killing himself, I know that. I won’t have him for much longer.’ (Annabel, p. 207)
‘No mother, no brothers. Working your youth away, looking after an old man.’ (p. 179)
3. Themes, Ideas and Values
‘Family house, family suburb, family man’ (Charlotte about Kip, p. 140)
‘Stuck here…looking after your old man. You should have a family of your own by now.’ (Mr. crouch to Annabel, pp. 178-179)
‘No mother, no brothers. Working your youth away, looking after an old man.’ (p. 179)
The theme of family is a recurring one that develops over time. Jordan’s inclusion of other families such as the Crouches, the Churches, the McCarthys and the Stewarts stands in contrast to the Westaways. The juxtaposition of family life in this way allows the reader to see how such factors like wealth, class and reputation can affect the family dynamic especially within the war period. The idea of family is strained by the pressures of war because with many families' sons and husbands away it left the other family members to adopt other roles - not only physically, but the conventional emotional roles of traditional families of the time are redistributed, specifically within the Westaway household. Jordan postulates that the role family plays in providing emotional/physical support is of far greater importance than the necessity to abide by society's idea of what family should look like.
Women and Reproductive Rights
‘I tell her about shame and the way it’s always the women who wear it. I spare her nothing. I say loose women and no morals and I say bastard and I say slut.’ (Jean, p. 220)
‘You don’t have to have it, you know.’ (Stanzi, p. 132)
‘Your body, your choice…That’s what our feminist foremothers fought for’ (p. 134)
‘What if he wanted to know his child, doesn’t he have the right?’ (pp. 133-134)
Jordan highlights the controversial issues of premarital sex, abortion and the rights of women within the mid 20th and early 21st century. Indeed, it is this theme of women that becomes inextricably linked with the effect of a damaged reputation. When Connie falls pregnant, Jean implores that she has an abortion, in secret of course, in order to preserve her and her family’s reputation within the small community. The issue of abortion is later revisited when Charlotte becomes pregnant in the 1990s, where the contrast between the time periods becomes evident; while unplanned pregnancy is greatly stigmatised in the 1940s, the 1990s offers Charlotte a far wider array of options. It is through Jordan’s depiction of the two cases – Connie’s horrific backyard abortion, and Charlotte’s adjustment to parenthood – that she suggests the perceptions and attitudes towards morality, reputation and women have shifted over time, emphasising the importance of reproductive rights in the development of women.
‘I remember coming home from school once, crying. I would have been around six or seven. I was picked last for some team. That was me, the kid without a father.’ (Alec, p. 262)
‘”Westaway,” Cooper says. “Get in. For once in your life, do not be a pussy.”’ (p. 267)
Within the parameters of her text, Jordan articulates how men conform or reject masculine tropes in an effort to fit into society. Toughness, bulling and unsavory activity are presented as the characteristics of a man through such depictions of Mac and his gang. In its connection to the war period, the novel partly focuses on the notion that in order to be classified as a man he must first go through struggle and hardship as presented in the group of strangers taunting Jack, ultimately bullying him into certain ideals of masculinity which prove toxic and consequential - Jack dies as a result. It is Jordan who advocates for a balanced personality of both ‘masculine’ and 'feminine’ characteristics as suggested in the character development of Kip; evolving, learning and devising a true meaning of what it means to be a man outside of its conventional brutality.
Attitudes Towards Asia
‘She is with a customer or sweeping the floor with a broom made from free-range straw that died of natural causes or singing Kumbaya to the wheatgrass so it is karmically aligned.’ (Stanzi, p. 50)
‘The fear of the Nips coming made him a better man.’ (Annabel, p. 178)
‘always wanted to go to India [to study yoga] at a proper ashram.’ (pp. 132-133)
‘She makes her eyes go big and round like some manga puppy’ (p. 264)
Through both overt and subtle language, Jordan makes reference to the attitudes towards Asia which were prevalent at the time, specifically within the war period that saw many Australians ‘[fearing] the nip’. The derogative slang used for the Japanese represents a lack of understanding and fear (the bombing of Darwin and attack on Sydney left many feeling particularly vulnerable to the Japanese). Exacerbated by the fact that Japanese culture was not widely understood and was often misrepresented, the Japanese were stereotyped as brutal and inhuman. Over the course of the novel, attitudes towards Asia dramatically shift especially within the early 1990s of Stanzi and Charlotte's generation. The philosophical ideas of the east are often referenced by characters like Charlotte as she draws on them to make sense of her own complex life. The novel sees another shift in ideology represented through Alec as his generation's perception turns to a more commercial view. Asian culture has earned a place in mainstream media and western life without such gruesome and violent connotations as were previously held during the time of World War II.
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4. Literary Devices
Throughout her perspective driven text, Jordan makes many references to classic novels which help create a literary context for the narrative and lend themselves to the evolution of the characters throughout the course of the text.
Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers – Kip’s characteristic trait of heroism when he sees the gang waiting for him and says ‘on-bloody-guard, d’Artagnan’ (p. 22)
Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn – both coming-of-age stories about young men struggling within a tough world, only getting by on their wits and strength.
Brontë sisters' Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights – their reference is used in discerning a customer’s knowledge on the texts, but reveals only a surface level understanding due to the novels carrying a certain cultural value.
Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels – referenced by Jack Husting in relation to his adventures in the country. Its use pertains to how Jack feels out of place in his home town after leaving a boy and returning a grown man.
A historical novel that plays with ideas of placing invented characters into a reconstructed world of the past.
Uses elements of both realism and impressionism to create the text.
A strong focus on everyday life within a particular society with reference to real historical detail.
Incorporates a logical and strong foundation of context that can be easily digested and believed by the reader.
Can use an omniscient narrator (all-knowing).
Each chapter offers detail and presents a vivid interpretation of specific events.
Sensory experiences are emphasised by the use of descriptive and poetic language.
The linear flow of the narrative is disrupted by its construction in a non-chronological order, thereby forcing the reader to piece the whole narrative together at the end.
Varied depending on the character’s perspective and time of perspective.
Language is used to historicise each chapter through use of slang, colloquialisms, formal and proper English.
The novel revolves around the Westaway’s family home in Rowena Parade, Richmond over the course of four generations.
Rather than them move or the location change it evolves, paralleling the growth and evolution undergone by each of the Westaway family members.
Inspired by a photograph in the collection of Argus war photos held at the State Library of Victoria, Jordan uses this image capturing a private and intimate moment to establish the premise for each of the book's chapters.
Titled Nine Days and composed of nine unique perspectives on life at a given time, Jordan offers insight into the emotional livelihood of each narrator and attaches both intimate and historical significance to their stories.
5. Essay Topics
Toni Jordan’s Nine Days describes a world in which life in the 1930s and 40s was much harder than life in the 21st century. Do you agree?
In Nine Days, older Kip’s point of view is very unrealistic. To what extent do you agree?
Toni Jordan’s Nine Days shows us people can choose whether they end up happy or not. Discuss.
The mood by the end of Nine Days is ultimately uplifting and positive. Do you agree?
There is more tragedy in Nine Days than there is joy. To what extent do you agree?
Nine Days, by Toni Jordan, shows the best and worst of Australian culture. Discuss
Jordan suggests that appreciation of family is integral to personal happiness. Discuss.
'Your body, your choice.' What do the different experiences of Connie and Charlotte reveal about changing societal attitudes towards women?
There are many characters who are largely hidden figures within the text. What significance is produced by including and excluding different perspectives?
6. Essay Topic Breakdown
Whenever you get a new essay topic, you can use LSG’s THINK and EXECUTE strategy - a technique to help you write better VCE essays. This essay topic breakdown will focus on the THINK part of the strategy. If you’re unfamiliar with this strategy, then check it out in How To Write A Killer Text Response because it’ll dramatically enhance how much you can take away from the following essays and more importantly, your ability to apply this strategy in your own writing.
Within the THINK strategy, we have 3 steps, or ABC. These ABC components are: Step 1: Analyse Step 2: Brainstorm Step 3: Create a Plan
THINK How-based prompt: How does Nine Days explore the relationship between the past and the present?
Step 1: Analyse
This is a ‘how’ essay prompt, so in our planning, we need to identify the ways in which the author accomplishes their task. When analysing your question it is important to know what the question is asking of you, so make sure you highlight the keywords and understand their meaning by themselves and in the context of the question. For example, this question is not just asking about the past and present, but rather the connection between the two - so if you discussed the past and the present separately you wouldn’t be answering the question.
Step 2: Brainstorm
Brainstorming is different for everyone, but what works for me is focusing on the key idea, which here would be the relationship between the past and the present, and listing my thoughts out. Not all the ideas will be as equally relevant/good, but I like to have things written down to then improve or simply not use in favour of other ideas.
Past → Present: Westaway family home, the house changes as the family grows Past → Present: Connie’s tragic abortion compared to Charlotte’s options in the 1990s, women’s rights evolving over time Past → Present: Melbourne becoming more multicultural, Alec’s chapter reveals how Melbourne has changed compared to chapters set in earlier times Past → Present: Kip teaching Alec to cherish those in front of us after seeing Connie’s picture Past → Present: Second World War contrast to 9/11 and war in Afghanistan
Now that I have all my ideas listed out I choose my strongest three to flesh out. There are different things that make an idea strong, but the things I consider are: - Do I have enough evidence to support this idea? - Is the idea substantial enough to turn into a whole paragraph? - Do I have an author’s views and values statement? - Can I include context or metalanguage into this idea?
Using the questions above, I decided to use the following ideas: - Westaway family home, the house changes as the family grows (symbolism) - Kip teaching Alec to cherish those in front of them (focus on characterisation) - Melbourne becoming more multicultural (can talk about historical context)
Step 3: Create a Plan
Contention: Through the use of setting and characterisation, Jordan’s Nine Days reveals how the past and present are interconnected. P1: Westaway home embodying the familial connection P2: The past is not completely separate from the present, it teaches us lessons that are pertinent to contemporary life (Alec) P3: Melbourne becoming more multicultural
If you found this helpful, then you might want to check out our A Killer Text Guide: Nine Days ebook which has an A+ sample essay in response to this prompt, complete with annotations on HOW and WHY the essay achieved A+! The study guide also includes 4 more essay topic breakdowns and sample A+ essays, detailed analysis AND a comprehensive explanation of LSG’s unique BBT strategy to elevate your writing!
Introduction to William Wordsworth and Romanticism
Key Features of Romantic Poetry
Poetic Analysis Examples
1. Introduction to William Wordsworth and Romanticism
William Wordsworth was a British poet and primary co-founder of the Romantic literary movement. He strongly believed that the poetry of the nineteenth century was much too fast-paced and too mindless to be able to evoke a meaningful message to the reader. Contending that ‘all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling,’ he wished to pioneer Romanticism to create a genre of poetry that reminded the reader of the very essence of humanity.
As such, Wordsworth and fellow poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge founded a new style of poetry through their co-written 1798 Lyrical Ballads, a collection of poetry which attempted to unite the human condition with the tranquility of nature.
As a resident of England’s picturesque Lake District, Wordsworth enjoyed becoming one with nature by wandering through the neighbouring hills, moors and lakeside views, while mentally composing poems inspired by its glorious elements.
William Wordsworth: Poems Selected by Seamus Heaney is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out ourUltimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
2. Key Features of Romantic Poetry
The Romantic movement of poetry was founded during the Industrial Revolution, a period in which people were growing farther from the serene comfort of nature and closer towards modern mechanisation and mass manufacturing. As such, a primary characteristic of Romantic poetry is nature, as poets attempted to remind humanity of its meditative respite, and the comfort it could provide in the backdrop of the pollution that accompanied the growing industrialisation of England.
Wordsworth was a pantheist and believed that God was within every aspect of the natural world. In addition to this, he categorised himself as an ardent ‘worshipper of nature’. Thus, much of his poetry explores nature in a sacred and religious sense, presenting goodness and naturalness as synonymous - aptly displaying his belief of nature as a living, divine entity that could only to be ignored at humankind’s peril.
Romantic poetry subdues reason, intellect and the scientific truth in order to place more focus on the ‘truth of the imagination’. As a result of the harsh rigidity and rationality of the Enlightenment era, all human sentiments, from melancholiness to hopefulness, were celebrated by Romantics as important instruments in poetry to remind the common people of sentimentality in a modern and intransigent era.
As Romantics believed that these feelings allowed one to look deeper into one’s self, the theme of powerful emotions constructs the very essence of Romantic poetic poetry. As a result of this, rather than placing much importance on sense or sensibility, much of Wordsworth’s poems scrutinise his own effusion of feelings and the universal truths that these help him discover, speaking as the characteristic Romantic poet occupying a sentimental place of alienation.
Rebellion and Individualism
The Industrial Revolution oversaw the creation of distinct class differences between the extremely wealthy class of businessmen, and financially struggling workers and entrepreneurs. Poets, like all other artists, were forced to become increasingly independent and needed to rely on their unique vision and style in order to succeed in their gradually declining line of work. The Romantics subsequently began to view themselves as heroes who challenged and overcame the social challenges that arose; as champions of independence and self-awareness. As such, Romantic poetry often features characters or symbols of valiant heroism, as the poet acts as a visionary figure in his work, like a prophet telling of poetic self-awareness.
In accordance with their celebration of human emotions, Romantics also became fascinated with the literary conception of ‘the sublime’, a mental state that Classical authors such as Longinus defined as ‘physical, moral, intellectual, metaphysical, aesthetic, spiritual, or artistic greatness’ that is of such magnificence that it cannot be measured.
The Romantics explored these extraordinary experiences in their poetry, describing the power of such sublime experiences on one’s senses, mind and imagination. Wordsworth expressed in his essay that a sublime experience is what occurs when one’s mind attempts to attain ‘something towards which it can make approaches but which it is incapable of attaining’. For example, his biographical poem, The Prelude recounts his ascent of Mount Snowdon and the sublime emotions he experiences as a result of its powerful atmosphere.
Many have viewed Wordsworth’s view of the sublime as the Romantic standard, as his poetry focuses equally on both the alluring and devastating aspects of such sublime experiences. His work focuses on the intertwined pleasure and terror that is generated as a result of such experiences, and how either end of the spectrum is ultimately beautiful and inspiring.
Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife: Come, hear the woodland linnet, How sweet his music! on my life, There's more of wisdom in it.
And hark! how blithe the throstle sings! He, too, is no mean preacher: Come forth into the light of things, Let Nature be your teacher.
This passage, taken from Wordsworth’s Tables Turned; An Evening Scene on the Same Subject, is a primary example of a poem displaying the Romantics’ propensity and reverence for the natural landscape.
The speaker of the poem contrasts the ‘endless strife’ of book-learning to the spontaneous and liberal method of learning through interacting with nature. The description of the ‘woodland [linnet’s]’ song as ‘sweet’ music evokes an image of heavenly bliss associated with the charms hidden within nature. That ‘there’s more of wisdom in’ such nature works in tandem with this, as the speaker asserts that the natural landscape is able to teach a lesson of a magnificence incomparable to the monotony of the ‘dull’ studying thorough book-learning.
The speaker’s evocation of ‘blithe’ emotions through sound is continued in the second stanza, in which ‘the throstle’ delivers another divine ‘song’ in an attempt to entice the reader. The speaker furthers his advocation for natural learning through a condemnation of route learning, as he attacks teachers of such as ‘mean preachers’. The directly following use of a pun emphasises this contrast, as the ‘light of things’ symbolises both the enlightenment that will accompany nature’s teaching, as well as the literal ‘light’ of nature underneath the sun.
The final line of the passage summarises the speaker’s persuasion aptly, as the phrase, ‘let nature be your teacher’, rings similar to a passage which can be found in the Bible; the speaker thus implies that the natural world is the all-superior entity and source of knowledge that one should take lessons from.
The rhyme and the rhythmic beat of the poem give it a sound comparable to a nursery-rhyme. This works in tandem with the Romantic viewpoint that great poetic language should be simple, accessible and conversational; as understandable to the common people as a nursery rhyme is to a child. This similarity also works in accordance with the authorial message of the poem, that nature should be a universal ‘teacher’, as nursery rhymes are often employed as enjoyable sing-songs that educate children on a moral level. As such, Wordsworth here strengthens his viewpoint through his poetic words; that nature should be a mentor to all.
Example Passage 2
For thou art with me here upon the banks Of this fair river; thou my dearest Friend, My dear, dear Friend; and in thy voice I catch The language of my former heart, and read My former pleasures in the shooting lights Of thy wild eyes. Oh! yet a little while May I behold in thee what I was once, My dear, dear Sister! and this prayer I make, Knowing that Nature never did betray The heart that loved her; 'tis her privilege, Through all the years of this our life, to lead From joy to joy… Therefore let the moon Shine on thee in thy solitary walk; And let the misty mountain-winds be free To blow against thee: and, in after years, When these wild ecstasies shall be matured Into a sober pleasure; when thy mind Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms, Thy memory be as a dwelling-place For all sweet sounds and harmonies; oh! then, If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief, Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts Of tender joy wilt thou remember me, And these my exhortations! Nor, perchance— If I should be where I no more can hear Thy voice, nor catch from thy wild eyes these gleams Of past existence—wilt thou then forget That on the banks of this delightful stream We stood together; and that I, so long A worshipper of Nature, hither came Unwearied in that service: rather say With warmer love—oh! with far deeper zeal Of holier love. Nor wilt thou then forget, That after many wanderings, many years Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs, And this green pastoral landscape, were to me More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake!
This passage is taken from the final section from Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, a critical work in Wordsworth’s poetic career. Tracing the growth of his mind in different periods of time, the poem is a condensed, spiritual autobiography of Wordsworth himself as it views his younger self from the perspective of his older self, weighing the sense of ‘loss’ suffered against the belief that the years have brought him ‘abundant recompense’.
After recalling his experiences with nature over his formative and adult years, the speaker now addresses his younger sister Dorothy, as he gives her heartfelt advice about what he has learnt. Here, Dorothy becomes a ghost of his former self, as he hears ‘the language of his former heart’ when she speaks and perceives his ‘former pleasure’ in the ‘soothing lights of [her] wild eyes’.
The speaker depicts his loyalty to nature and its reflective loyalty to him, by the expression that ‘nature never did betray [his] heart’ that loves Dorothy, and this is the reason they have been living from ‘joy to joy’, lending nature a role of salvation.
The speaker then directly addresses the moon as a kind of separate entity, in order to ask it to bless his sister by shining on her ‘solitary walk’, so that when she is an adult her mind may become a ‘mansion for all lovely forms’. This is an ode to the harshness of the society at the time, in which the privileged businessmen and factory owners possessed a monopoly over British wealth, and accompanying prejudices clouded social judgement. As such, the speaker expresses his desires for his beloved sister to be exempt from such hardship that he was once subjected to, so that she can enjoy ‘sweet sounds and memories’ without experiencing the vexations of an unrelenting human society.
The conclusion of the poem is cyclic, as it takes the speaker back to the ‘green pastoral landscape’ of the beginning of his meditations. This symbolises the omnipresent timelessness of nature. As the speaker muses upon his ‘past existence’, he wishes to convey his own reverence for nature to his beloved sister, as he expresses that she will not forget the ‘steep woods and lofty cliffs’ upon which he first understood and respected nature.
The language utilised in this poem is lucid and natural, characteristic of Romantic poetry. The simplicity of the words chosen by Wordsworth effectively communicate the honesty of his own emotions towards nature. The elevated blank verse structure furthers this simplicity, as its familiar and easy tone is like that of a comfortable heartbeat or pulse that runs throughout one’s body in a serene state of mind.
Ultimately, the unconstrained and liberating tone of the poem, in accordance with its free blank verse structure emphasises Wordsworth’s belief that nature is within our very selves. Just as the poem runs smoothly and continuously, akin to a human pulse, Wordsworth suggests that nature too runs within everyone as an incessant heartbeat, necessary in order to experience a ‘warmer’ and ‘holier’ love for this universe.
Although it appears on criteria sheets, many students never really understand the term metalanguage. Strangely, it is something that is rarely addressed in classrooms. While the word may be foreign to you, rest assured that metalanguage is not an entirely new concept you have to learn. How come? Because you have been unknowingly using metalanguage since the very beginning of high school.
It's a word that is more and more frequently thrown around as you get more advanced in high school. And, it's something that becomes tremendously important in your final year of high school, because the more you include metalanguage discussion in your essays, the more intricate your discussion becomes and the more unique it also becomes.
So, let's find out exactly what metalanguage is.
2. Definition of Metalanguage
Metalanguage is language that describes language.
So, instead of maybe using the word, "He was sad", we might say something like, "He felt sorrowful". The choice in words changes the meaning that is interpreted by the reader, just slightly, but there is still a difference. So, when it comes to studying texts or reading articles, and trying to analyze what the author is trying to do, we look at metalanguage as a way to help give us insight into the ideas that they're trying to portray.
The simplest way to explain this is to focus on part 3 of the English exam – Language Analysis. In Language Analysis, we look at the author’s writing and label particular phrases with persuasive techniques such as: symbolism, imagery or personification. Through our description of the way an author writes (via the words ‘symbolism’, ‘imagery’ or ‘personification’), we have effectively used language that describes language.
Now, if we look at the bigger picture, our analysis of an author’s language can be applied to Text Response, and even Reading and Comparing. To learn more about why metalanguage is important in Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response. Otherwise, for those interested in Comparative, head over to our Ultimate Guide to VCE Comparative.
3. Examples of Metalanguage in VCE English
Grammar and punctuation
Achilles is characterised as a foetus, for his position is ‘chin down, shoulders hunched’ as though he is inside a womb. (Ransom, David Malouf)
In the first scene of All About Eve*, Mankiewicz foreshadows Eve's sinful and regretful actions, as a sorrowful expression is emphasized as she accepts her award
As you can see, the word 'foreshadows' pushes us in a new direction. Rather than just saying what has already happened or telling your teacher or examiner something that they already know, it forces you to actually analyze what's in front of you and to offer your own unique interpretation of why this metalanguage or why this technique has been used.
When Terry leaves Friendly’s bar, the thick fog symbolises his clouded moral judgement as he decides whether he should remain ‘D and D’, or become a ‘rat’. (On the Waterfront, Elia Kazan)
The miniature set Zac creates is designed with a white backdrop, symbolising his desire to wipe away reality since he ‘can’t stand real things'. (Cosi, Louis Nowra)
In Medea, the motif of animals emphasizes the inhuman and bestial nature of Medea, highlighting how she defies natural norms.
This student has actually given us an analysis of why animal motifs are used. And that is to highlight how Medea defies natural norms, because of her inhuman and bestial nature.
As indicated earlier, you should be familiar with many, if not all the terms mentioned above. Take note that some metalanguage terms are specific to a writing form, such as camera angle for films. If you need help learning new terms, we have you covered - be sure to check out our metalanguage word banks for books and our metalanguage wordbank for films.
As you discuss themes or characters, you should try and weave metalanguage throughout your body paragraphs. The purpose of this criteria is to demonstrate your ability to understand how the author uses language to communicate his or her meaning. The key is to remember that the author’s words or phrases are always chosen with a particular intention – it is your job to investigate why the author has written a text in a particular way.
[Modified Video Transcription]
Hey guys, welcome back to Lisa's Study Guides. Today, I'm really excited to talk to you about metalanguage. Have you guys ever heard of metalanguage before? It's a word that is more and more frequently thrown around as you get more advanced in high school. And, it's something that becomes tremendously important in your final year of high school, because the more you include metalanguage discussion in your essays, the more intricate your discussion becomes and the more unique it also becomes. So, let's find out exactly what is metalanguage.
Simply put, metalanguage just means language that analyses language. When authors write anything, we make certain decisions when it comes to writing. So, instead of maybe using the word, "He was sad", we might say something like, "He felt sorrowful". The choice in words changes the meaning that is interpreted by the reader, just slightly, but there is still a difference. So, when it comes to studying texts or reading articles and trying to analyse what the author is trying to do, we look at metalanguage as a way to help give us insight into the ideas that they're trying to portray.
Metalanguage comes in really handy, especially if you're somebody who struggles with retelling the story - I have a video on how to avoid retelling the story, which you can watch. Metalanguage essentially takes you to the next level. It prevents you from just saying what happened, and forces you into actually looking at how the ideas and themes are developed by the author through the words that they choose to use. So, let's have a look at a couple of examples to give you a better idea. I'm going to show you two examples. One uses metalanguage and one doesn't, and you'll see how a massive difference in how the student understands the text is really clear.
Number one, foreshadowing.
In the first scene of All About Eve, Mankiewicz emphasizes Eve's sorrowful expression as she accepts her award.
In the first scene of All About Eve, Mankiewicz foreshadows Eve's sinful and regretful actions, as a sorrowful expression is emphasized as she accepts her award.
As you can see, as soon as we put in the word foreshadows, it pushes us in a new direction. Rather than just saying what has already happened or telling your teacher or examiner something that they already know, it forces you to actually analyse what's in front of you and to offer your own unique interpretation of why this metalanguage or why this technique has been used. So, in this case, it's foreshadowing. Let's have a look at another one, motif.
In Medea, Euripides commonly refers to animals when describing Medea's actions and temperament.
In Medea, the motif of animals emphasizes the inhuman and bestial nature of Medea, highlighting how she defies natural norms.
See how, in the first example, it was really just telling you what we might already know through just reading the book, but when it comes to the second example, this student has actually given us an analysis of why animal motifs are used. And that is to highlight how Medea defies natural norms, because of her inhuman and bestial nature.
So, those are some examples of metalanguage. There are so many more different types of metalanguage out there...
Hey guys, welcome to another week of Lisa's Study Guides. Thank you so much to everyone who came to the VCE expo that happened last Thursday through to Sunday. It was so great meeting so many of you - I really did not expect this many of you to rock up and say hi, but I'm so grateful that you did. So, thank you again so much! It just reinforces that what I'm doing is being really helpful to you guys, and I'm so glad! I'm going to keep going with this. I'm going to keep making sure that I offer you guys amazing English tips on this channel. So, hit that subscribe button below (check out our YouTube channel here), if you do support, and make sure you tell your friends about it as well, because the more love we can share, the more we help each other out.
Today we're going to be talking about tones. You might be interested in looking at tones because you are analyzing articles, but sometimes we're also looking at tones when it comes to the author's writing style when it comes to texts.
So, What Is a Tone and Why Is It Important?
A tone is essentially the attitude that an author takes towards their piece. What is really important is that you realise that there's a difference between tone and mood.
Mood has to do more so with the reader's response to an article, whereas tone is the approach that the author has towards the piece.
It's definitely tricky trying to identify tones, but there are a few things that you can ask yourself to help steer yourself in the right direction.
First thing is: does the author have a positive or negative attitude towards a certain idea? For example, if the author says, 'I can't wait to go to this party' (said in an enthusiastic tone), as opposed to saying, 'I can't wait to go to this party' (said in a sarcastic tone), who do you think is more excited about the party? Probably the first one. In this case, it's been a little bit easier because you see visually how I approached it, but if you just listen to what I've said, the first tone is immersed with a lot more enthusiasm, whereas the second one is sarcasm. Just remember that even though I said it was enthusiasm and sarcasm, if you yourself interpreted it differently than that is okay.
Remember with English, as always, there's not always that one perfect answer. Everyone interprets things differently. It's just a matter of you being able to back it up with your own evidence and your own explanation of why you've come to this certain tone.
So, any form of human emotion can ultimately be translated into a tone. So, whether that is being nostalgic, honoured, sentimental, condescending - these are all tones. And, there are actually so many tones that I've linked a link down below that goes to my blog (if you’re reading this you’re already on our blog!) that includes 195 tones you can choose from. I've also separated these turns into positive, neutral and negative tones and divided them yet again, depending on the type of emotion in order to help steer you in the right direction in picking out a tone amongst all the many, many tones that are available out there.
One more additional tip is that authors can also change their tone. So these can be called tonal shifts, or shifts in tone. An author might not start a book with the same tone and finish it with that same tone - so much has happened throughout the entire book or the event, or maybe even if it's just an article, depending on what they're talking about, they can change their tones. Don't get tripped up by that, acknowledge that sometimes throughout a piece there will be modifications. And, if you're able to pick that up, then that goes a really long way when showing off your efforts to your teachers or examiners.
So, just as a heads up, these tips that I've spoken about are all in our ebook How To Write A Killer Language Analysis. If you're keen to find out more about tones, then go ahead and check it out. There's more there, more examples to help test you, to see whether you're on the right track, more questions that you need to ask yourself to find the right tone and what you can do with tonal changes.
I'm also going to do something a little bit different today, I'll write down three different sentences and I want you guys to interpret them your own way and tell me what tones do you think they are? I think this will be a fun exercise to bring our community together. And I'd just love to see what you guys have to say. I'll check in with you guys next time!
Alright, let's see what different tones you identify from these sentences:
1. Check out my new shoes, I just got them yesterday!
2. It was long since I had returned to this place; the memories washed over me wave after wave.
3. It is imperative that we initiate fair laws for all workers!
List of Tones for Language Analysis
We've all struggled with identifying tones for language analysis. So, I've compiled an assortment of tones you can choose from, categorised into their 'intensities'! For a detailed guide on Language Analysis including how to prepare for your SAC and exam, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Language Analysis.
EXECUTE is the writing component that ticks off the English criteria so that your teacher is wowed by your essay and wished it was longer. So, what are these criteria points? Each school may express these points differently, however at the end of the day, teachers and examiners are all looking for the same thing:
An understanding of social, cultural or religious background in the text and how that shapes the themes, ideas, and characters. Without a clear understanding of the context of your text, you cannot fully comprehend the views and values of the author, nor the overall meaning of a text.
For example, Austen was hunched over her small writing desk in the village of Chawton during England’s Georgian era as she wrote Persuasion. You are more likely reading it in a cozy bed, listening to Taylor Swift and half considering what you’re going to watch on Netflix later. Remember, your current social and cultural context can have a great influence on how you read a text, so it’s always important to imagine the author’s own context – whether this be very similar, or very different from the context of their text. It’s as easy as a Google search!
✔️Views and values
An understanding of the author's message and purpose.
Writers use literature to criticise or endorse social conditions, expressing their own opinions and viewpoints of the world they live in. It is important to remember that each piece of literature is a deliberate construction. Every decision a writer makes reflects their views and values about their culture, morality, politics, gender, class, history or religion. This is implicit within the style and content of the text, rather than in overt statements. This means that the writer’s views and values are always open to interpretation, and possibly even controversial. This is what you (as an astute English student) must do – interpret the relationship between your text and the ideas it explores and examines, endorses or challenges in the writer’s society.
✔️Different interpretations by different readers
An understanding of how different readers and develop different interpretations, and how this changes an author's message.
Like our example using Austen vs. you as a modern reader above, the way you interpret an idea or view a character can change based on your unique views and values.
An understanding of how author's constructs their text through specific choices in words.
For example, the use of the word 'bright' vs. 'dull' to describe a landscape is intended to effect the way you perceive particular ideas or characters in a text.
A high-graded English essay will cover all of these points without fail. If you're unfamiliar with any of these, you are missing out on ways to differentiate yourself from other students. At the end of the day, there are only so many themes and characters to discuss, so you need to find unique angles to discuss these themes and characters. This will help your essay move from generic to original (yeah boy!).
If you're interested, How To Write a Killer Text Response ebook shows you the inner workings of my brain 💭- what I think when I see an essay topic, how I tackle it, and how I turn these thoughts into a high-scoring essay. The ebook includes:
- 50-pages teaching you how to respond to ANY essay topic
- Examples from 15+ popular VCE English texts
- Know exactly what to THINK about so you can formulate the best possible essay response
- Plus a bonus 20-pages of high vs low scoring essays, fully annotated (what works and what doesn't) so you know exactly what you need to do
For many students, writing creative pieces can be slightly daunting. For some, it is about unleashing the writer within as the boundaries and thematic constraints that exist in Text Response are lifted. For others, it can be an opportunity to discover new writing styles, branching out from the generic T-E-E-L structure.
Formats of imaginative pieces include:
a personal diary entry ,
chronicling the character's thoughts,
Writing in an imaginative style allows you to draw from your own morals, views and feelings. You can weave in personal anecdotes, experiences, and metaphorical language which gives one's writing that pizazz and individualist factor!
Moreover, you can showcase how you have perceived and interpreted the characters within the novel/film, the landscapes they inhabit. Alternatively, you can step into different personas. For example, for the topic of conflict, I can write as an injured army medic, a doctor, a foreign correspondent and a war photographer.
However, imaginative writing also has many pitfalls students tumble into (do not despair; you can get out of it!):
1) Don't get too caught up in emotions and flowery language.
Great imaginative pieces are not only graded on how good your story telling skills are. More importantly, your teachers would be grading on the palpable links to the themes of the text and prompt you have been given.
In Year 11, when I wrote an imaginative piece, I went overboard with the flowery metaphorical language. My teacher said ‘Overall, the piece is good however, at some parts it sounded like purple prose.’ When I read it over now, I shudder a little.
2) In Reading and Creative, there is greater emphasis on extrapolating themes and ideas from your studied text.
So, those radical and out-of-the box ideas and views you have in relation to the text can now be used.
For example, the overarching themes in Every Man In This Village Is A Liar encompass the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, inequality (the unequal status of women in Middle East), the effect of war on the physical body and the human psych and, how the media portrays war and violence. The starting point to planning any context piece is to use quotes and ideas within your text. Infer meaning from those quotes and main ideas and ask yourself:
'Does it hold a great degree of relevance to issues prevalent today?'
'Can I link it to my sac/exam prompt?'
So, here's an example of planning a creative piece. Two of my favourite quotes from Life of Galileo are:
'Science is the rightful, much loved daughter of the church.'
‘Our ignorance is limitless; let us lop off a millimeter off it. Why try to be clever now that we at last have a chance of being less stupid.’
In essence, this conveys the overarching theme of science vs. religion, and how Church and the inquisition exploit the peoples' views through their own ignorance. Their fear of change, pioneering and gaining of new knowledge stems from the prospect of chaos if society's entrenched values are uprooted. I interpreted this as 'ignorance is not bliss' and instead, it breeds fear in people. This is in relevance with the tragic events that has occurred in recent years - acts of terrorism, and/or racially motivated attacks. In the context of our modern society, religion and science still maintain an intriguing and tumultuous relationship. As the advancement of technology and ethics are not at equilibrium, this is where controversy arises. Conversely, we now have to consider whether this relates to the prompt:
A person never knows who they truly are, until tested by conflict.
Possible idea for this example:
"Is it ethical to administer a new drug capable of rewiring and regenerating brain function at a neuronal level to someone who has sustained extensive brain damage? Is it deemed humane to potentially change a person's character? At what personal cost will this have? - Playing god."
Tips to achieve A+ in creative writing
1. Ensure it is related to the text.
A lot of students believe that the reading and creating essay is exactly the same as the old context essay. However, there is a significant difference! While a creative context essay does not have to link to the text in any way and only needs to explore a certain idea (e.g. encountering conflict), the reading and creating essay needs to offer a relevant interpretation of the text as well as show understanding of the text’s messages and how the text creates meaning.
The easiest way to write a creative response that links clearly to the text is to write about a scenario that is related to the plot line. You can do this by writing a continuation of the storyline (i.e. what happens after the end?), or by filling in gaps in the plot line which the author did not explicitly outline (what happens behind the scenes that caused the outcome?) In this way, your response will be completely original and still demonstrate an understanding of the world of the text.
2. Write in a way that shows understanding of how the text creates meaning.
When creating your response, be aware of the features present in your text (such as characters, narrative, motifs etc) that you can use in your own essay. For example, if the text is narrated from a first-person perspective, you may also mimic this in your essay. Or, you could tell it in first-person from another character’s point of view to demonstrate another interpretation of the text. You may also include motifs from the text into your own response. But be careful when making decisions about structure, conventions and language. If the text is written in very formal and concise language, it is probably not a good idea to use slang. Similarly, if the text is a play, structuring your response as a script might be a better choice than writing a poem!
3. Explore the explicit and implied ideas and values in the texts.
Lastly, remember that whilst it is a creative response, your purpose is NOT to tell a nice story but to explore the ideas, values and messages left by the author! There will always be various interpretations regarding these values, and you can express your understanding of the text through your portrayal of certain characters, or through the events in your response. For example, if you were studying Measure for Measure and wanted to explore how human nature cannot be restrained or limited by law and punishment, you could write a continuation of the play in which the city of Vienna has reverted to its original state of moral decay.
4. Show, don't tell
Creative essays are great because they offer interesting and unique stories; however, there is one common downfall that occurs in writing. Some students create pieces that are too straightforward. Rather than using vocabulary, imagery and symbolism to express a point, they simply write down a statement that sums up what they wish to say. Your aim is to invite the reader to experience the story through your words. This can be done through the character’s thoughts, feelings, actions etc. Thus the well-known phrase among writers, ‘Show, don’t tell’. Keeping this idea in mind turn you into a much more successful writer – and you’ll see the difference!
Tell: Katie was very happy.
Show: Katie’s face lifted. Little wrinkles appeared around her bright eyes, her dimples made an appearance that dug into her cheeks as a big grin emerged to show her perfect teeth.
Tell: She felt horrible for the weeping children.
Show: Guilt throbbed inside her as she stared at the weeping children. Her heart pounded against her chest, her hands trembling beside her still body, her brain screaming at her to do something.
Tell: I was scared.
Show: I hear my breathing; heavy, and rapid. I shut my eyes tightly. I can feel goosebumps running up my arms and down my back.
To test whether or not you are ‘telling’ instead of ‘showing’, think about whether or not your sentence leaves room for questions. In Example 1, ‘Katie was very happy’ would leave the reader thinking – what thought or action showed that she was happy? Whereas ‘show’ demonstrated that she was happy without directly stating it.
The key is to go into the finer details of your story!
Finally, have fun and enjoy the process of planning a creative narrative, let your imagination run a little wild and rein it in with your knowledge! Hopefully these tips were helpful and you are now more confident and informed on the Reading and Creating response!
This blog post was written by Amanda Lau, Rosemary Chen, and Lisa Tran.
Have a go at analysing it yourself first, then see how I've interpreted the article below! For a detailed guide on Language Analysis including how to prepare for your SAC and exam, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Language Analysis.
Author: Professor Chris Lee
Type of article: Speech
Date of publication: 25 – 27th October, 2010
Contention: We, as humans must consider our impact on biodiversity and take action to change our lifestyles before we damage the world beyond repair.
Number of article(s): 1
Number of image(s): 2
Source: VCAA website
Note: Persuasive techniques can be interpreted in many ways. The examples given below are not the single correct answer. Only a selected number of persuasive techniques have been identified in this guide.
Taking Stock Analysis
Persuasive technique: Reputable Source
Example: ‘United Nations stated: “It is a celebration of life on earth and of the value of biodiversity in our lives. The world is invited to take action in 2010 to safeguard the variety of life on earth: biodiversity”.’
Analysis: The use of a reputable source indicates that 1) the author has done his research and is therefore credible, 2) his opinion is supported by an expert group, thus strengthening his reasoning and opinion in regards to biodiversity.
Persuasive technique: Rhetorical questions
Example: ‘Has this been a year of celebration of life on earth? Has this, in fact, been a year of action?’
Analysis: The use of rhetorical questions aims to portray to listeners that the answer is obvious, that humans have not done enough to help biodiversity. As a result, listeners are manipulated into agreeing with the author since if they were to refute the answer; it will appear as though they are nonsensical.
Persuasive technique: Personal approach
Example: ‘It is with great pleasure – though not without a tinge of sadness’
Analysis: By introducing himself with ‘it is with great pleasure’, listeners are invited to reciprocate the feeling of welcome for Lee and hence be open to his opinion. His subsequent, ‘though not without a tinge of sadness’ suggests to listeners that he is disappointed with the current state of biodiversity, which may persuade listeners to feel as though they should help fix the situation.
Persuasive technique: Statistics
Example: ‘35% of mangroves, 40% of forests and 50% of wetlands.’
Analysis: The incorporation of the apparently reliable and credible statistics testifies for Lee’s opinion and thus may persuade listeners to believe that it is indeed, ‘too late for [species]’.
Persuasive technique: Appeal to sense of guilt
Example: ‘Due to our own thoughtless human actions, species are being lost at a rate that is estimated to be up to 100 times the natural rate of extinction.’
Analysis: Since the destruction of biodiversity is ‘due to our own thoughtless human actions’, Lee aims to incite a sense of guilt as listeners appear to be selfish, which may urge them to agree that they need to cease being inconsiderate and do more to improve biodiversity.
Persuasive technique: Appeal to humanity
Example: ‘Reversing this negative trend is not only possible, but essential to human wellbeing.’
Analysis: The appeal to humanity, ‘essential to human wellbeing’ encourages listeners to support Lee since it is our instinctive for humans to nurture ourselves and others.
Persuasive technique: Appeal to sense of pride
Example: ‘We are, in truth, the most educated generation of any to date. We have no excuse for inaction.’
Analysis: Through the appeal to a sense of pride, Lee aims to coax listeners into believing that they have ‘no excuse for inaction’ since only those who are ‘intelligent’ would understand and agree with his stance.
Persuasive technique: Attack on the listener
Example: ‘YOUR country – actually done since 2002 to contribute to the achievement of our goals?’
Analysis: The attack aims to leave listeners in a state of vulnerability since it is clear that many have failed to ‘achieve…[the] goals’. Once in this state, listeners may be more inclined to accept Lee’s stance.
Persuasive technique: Appeal for sympathy
Example: ‘Biodiversity loss undermines the food security, nutrition and health of the rural poor and even increases their vulnerability. ‘
Analysis: Though the reference to ‘the rural poor,’ Lee aims to appeal to listeners’ sympathy and may invite support since it is instinctive to wish for the best for humanity, rather than to see the poor experience a lack of ‘food security, nutrition and health.’
Persuasive technique: Appeal to pride
Example: ‘As leaders in the area of biodiversity’
Analysis: The appeal to pride through positioning listeners as ‘leaders’ invites support since it is innate for humans to wish to be thought of as a person who is respected and powerful.
Persuasive technique: Inclusive Language
Example: ‘we know what damage our lifestyle is doing to our world’
Analysis: The use of inclusive language aims to involve listeners with the issue, thus encouraging support since listeners may feel responsible for the future outcome of biodiversity.
Persuasive technique: Appeal to sense of urgency
Example: ‘The time for talk is over: now, truly, is the time for serious action.
Analysis: By appealing to a sense of urgency, Lee aims to urge listeners to take responsibility since it appears as though the damage to biodiversity will be too late if we fail to take ‘serious action…now.’
Persuasive technique: A sense of responsibility
Example: 2010 with outlines of nature
Analysis: The incorporation of a background of ‘2010’ with outlines of animals, plants and humans aims to demonstrate to listeners that earth is shared by all species, with none dominating another in an attempt to gain listeners’ sense of responsibility since they are part of the biodiversity issue, yet can also be the solution to the problem.
Persuasive technique: Pun
Example: ‘Taking Stock’
Analysis: The first meaning used for the pun suggests to listeners that they need to ‘take stock’ or in other words, scrutinise the dire situation of biodiversity in call for much needed attention to the issue. Through referring to the second meaning of ‘stock’ as animals, Lee intends to appeal to a sense of guilt since he projects the idea that humans are cruelly annihilating the environment by ‘taking’ whatever ‘stock’ for their own self-centered purposes.
Persuasive technique: Appeal to responsibility
Example: ‘earth is in our hands’
Analysis: By placing the ‘earth…in our hands,’ Lee aims to urge a sense of responsibility on behalf of the listeners which in turn, may cause them to agree with the notion to take ‘serious action’ in the name of biodiversity.
Persuasive technique: Use of reputable source
Example: ‘Biodiversity is the greatest treasure we have . . . Its diminishment is to be prevented at all costs. Thomas Eisner’
Analysis: The reference to ecologist, Thomas Eisner attempts to persuade listeners to support Lee since experts in the field of biodiversity recommend that the earth needs to be cherished.
Most people aren’t particularly confident in giving orals or public speaking in general. I began year 7 as a shy girl scoring a lousy 50% in her first English oral. It wasn’t until later on that I realised; even though I can write an amazing piece, it was my delivery and nerves that failed me. In year 9, I entered my first public speaking competition, and have been participating in such competitions ever since. I may not have won those, but it got me comfortable standing in front of people without shaking like someone with hypothermia. Now, I am achieving A+ on my oral assessments and am even on the SRC as Student Action Captain due to a great captaincy speech. Don't forget to also check out Our Ultimate Guide to Oral Presentations for everything you need to know for Oral Presentations.
A few tips on writing your speech:
Have a CAPTIVATING introduction sentence; use a short, clear and powerful sentence.
RELATE to your audience so that it keeps them interested so they actually WANT to listen.
If you are taking on a persona, firstly study and UNDERSTAND your character.
Don’t forget your persuasive techniques. I usually use repetition in conjunction with the ‘rule of three’.
Remember that you are writing a SPEECH, not an essay. Instill your oral with emotion, varied tone and and sentence lengths.
In fact, I've talked about a few of these in a 'Must Dos and Don'ts' video. If you haven't seen it yet, watch before you read on:
A few tips on your performance:
Memorise your speech
Always remember that practice makes perfect. Practise as much as possible; in front of anyone and everyone including yourself (use a mirror). Keep practising until you can recite it.
As for cue cards, use dot points. Don’t just copy and paste whole sentences onto cue cards or else you’ll rely on them too much. Not to mention that it’ll be hard finding out where you are in the middle of your speech. Use “trigger words” so that if you forget your next point, you have something there.
But most importantly, if you mess up, keep going. Even if you screw up a word or suddenly forget your next point, just take a breath, correct yourself, and keep going. Do not giggle. If your friends make you laugh, don’t look at them.
Control your voice
Do not be monotone. Give it some energy; be pumped but not “I-just-downed-5-cans-of-V” pumped. Give it as much energy as it is appropriate for your speech. As you transition through various intense emotions such as anger, happiness and shock, your performance should reflect it. This is achieved in both your tone and your body language (moving around).
Speak as if you believe in your contention – with passion. Even if it’s just full of crap, if you sound confident, then your audience think, ‘wow, they sure know what they’re talking about’. Remember, confidence is key.
Don’t rush through your speech and speak at a million kilometres an hour – or even worse; skipping half of your speech because you just want to get the hell out of there. And also, speak so that the teacher can actually hear you. More likely than not, they’ll be sitting somewhere near the back of the room. After countless “too quiet” comments on my orals, I have finally mastered the art/power of projecting my voice. And it actually does make a huge difference.
Be aware of your actions
Don’t just stand like a statue in one spot. Think about real life – do you know anyone that stands completely and utterly still when talking to you? Make sure you look around the room; you’re addressing everyone, not just one person. Don’t stare at your teacher; it freaks them out. You don’t even have to look at a specific place. I usually just start off looking at the back wall… then as I go through the speech, I naturally turn from one back corner of the room to the other. Also, try not to look down. Don’t try to look at your cue cards while they’re right up next to your body. Move it out when you need to have a GLANCE at them then go back to the audience.
I’ve seen some people pace. This seems alright (though I’ve never done it myself); but always make sure that you face the audience. If you’re doing a monologue (for text response), you can sit down… just don’t sit for your entire piece.
And some natural hand gestures don’t hurt either!
I’ve also heard of some people running around or on the spot about 15mins before a speech. This serves to help with your heart rate by using up all that ‘energy’. Personally, I close my eyes and concentrate on my breathing (so that my heart isn’t jumping out of my chest). Take some long, deep breaths and tell yourself that you can do it!