Go ahead and tilt your mobile the right way (portrait). The kool kids don't use landscape...
We’ve explored historical context, themes, essay planning and essay topics over on ourLike a House on Fire by Cate Kennedy blog post. If you need a quick refresher or you’re new to studying this text, I highly recommend checking it out!
Hey guys, welcome back to Lisa's Study Guides. So this week I have another essay topic breakdown for you. So eventually I'm going to get through all of the VCAA texts that are on the study design, but we're slowly going to get there and are just want to say yet again, even though this one is like a house on fire, I am really glad if you've clicked on this video and you're not necessarily studying it because as always with all my videos, I try to give you an overall message for you to take away that can be applied to any single text. So that is the same for this particular text today. And so even though the takeaway message for this video is quite specific to short stories, it's still an important consideration for any text that you're studying. Ideally, you want to use a diverse range of evidence for any text, but in particular, for short stories, you don't just want to rely on a small handful, but to try and make links between the different short stories.
So let's see what that means on the other side of this quick overview of the text. Like a House on Fire is a collection of short stories by the author, Cate Kennedy, and unlike a lot of other texts on the study design, this book portrays a lot of very domestic situations, which seems fairly boring compared to some of the other texts that other students might be doing. However, I'm really excited about this text because the short stories are great. Not because they have groundbreaking premises, which they don't, but because of how effortlessly and deeply emotive they are. So the domestic scenarios actually help us relate to the characters in the stories and empathize with the complexity of their experiences. The essay topic we'll be looking at today is in Like a House on Fire, Kennedy finds strength in ordinary people. Discuss.
Here, the term which you really have to think about is strength. We already know that she depicts the story of ordinary people, of people like you or me, or even just people we may know, but does she find strength in them? It could be physical strength, but more often than not, it might be other types of strength. For instance, the mental strength it takes to cope with intense pressure or the emotional strength it takes to make a difficult choice or action. It's important to think about how they might actually apply throughout the book. In this sense, our essay will have essentially two halves.
The first two body paragraphs we'll look at scenarios of intense pressure, be it through the loss of control in one's life or a domestic situation which has become emotionally tense. The last two body paragraphs will then consider the types of strength that Kennedy evinces in these stories. And we'll contend that she does find strength in the characters who face a difficult decision, but that she also finds a lot more strength in the characters who managed to cope with their situation and grapple with the tensions in their lives.
In many of her stories, Kennedy portrays characters who experience powerlessness. This loss of power can come a number of ways. For instance, both Flexion and Like a House on Fire tell the story of men who have injured their previously reliable bodies and have thus been rendered immobile. But they also tell the story of their respective wives who have lost some control over their lives now that they have to care for their husbands. On the other hand, there are the kids in Whirlpool whose mother insists that they dress a certain way for a Christmas photo. Her hand on your shoulders, exerting pressure that pushes you down. Kennedy's use of second person really makes you feel this pressure that keeps you from going out to the pool you so desperately desire to be in. Evidently powerlessness is an experience that comes in many shapes and forms in several stories.
In addition to this, Kennedy explores other emotional tensions across the collection, subverting the idea that the home is necessarily a safe sanctuary. This is where she really goes beyond just the idea of powerlessness, but actually jumps into scenarios that are much more emotionally complex. In Ashes for instance, we see the homosexual protagonist struggle with feeling useless and tongue tied, embarrassed by the floundering pause between his mother and himself. There is a significant emotional hurdle there, which is particularly poignant given that mothers are usually considered a source of safety and comfort for their children. Kennedy's story of domesticity actually subvert or question what we might think of the domestic space shared by family members. If you have the Scribe edition of the book, the artwork on the cover would depict a vase of wilting flowers, an empty picture frame, and a spilt cup of coffee.
These are all visual symbols of an imperfect domestic life. A similar rift exists between husband and wife in both Five Dollar Family and Waiting, the women find themselves unable to emotionally depend on their partners. While Michelle in Five Dollar Family despises her husbands startled, faintly incredulous expression, an inability to care for their child, the protagonist in Waiting struggles to talk about her miscarriages with her husband who is already worn down as it is. Kennedy takes these household roles of mother, son, husband, wife, and really dives into the complex shades of emotion that lies within these relationships. We realize through her stories that a mother can't always provide comfort to a child and that a husband isn't always the dependable partner that he's supposed to be.
However, Kennedy does find strength in some characters who do take a bold or courageous leap in some way. These are really important moments in which she is able to show us the strength that it takes to make these decisions. And she triumphs however small or insignificant that can be achieved.
A moment that really stands out to me is the ending of Laminex and Mirrors, where the protagonist rebelliously smuggles a hospital patient out for a smoke only to have to take him back into his ward through the main entrance and therefore get them both caught. She recounts this experience as the one I remember most clearly from the year I turned 18. The two of us content, just for this perfect moment. And their success resonates with the audience, even though the protagonist would have lost her job and therefore the income she needed for her trip to London, Kennedy demonstrates her strength in choosing compassion for an elderly patient. Even the sister in Whirlpool, who wasn't exactly kind to the protagonist in the beginning, forms an unlikely alliance with her against their mother, sharing a reckless moment and cutting their photo shoot short. Bold leaps such as these are ones that take strength and therefore deserve admiration.
However, more often than not, Kennedy's stories are more about the strength needed to simply cope with life, one day at a time. She explores the minutiae of her characters lives in a way that conveys the day to day struggles, but also hints at the underlying fortitude needed to deal with these things on a daily basis. In Tender, the wife feels as if everything at home is on the verge of coming apart since her husband is only able to cook tuna and pasta casserole for their kids. However, when she must get a possibly malignant tumor removed, her concern of whether there'll be tuna and pasta in the pantry just in case, demonstrates her selfless nature. Kennedy thus creates a character who is strong for others, even when her own life at home is disorderly and her health may be in jeopardy. The strength of gritting one's teeth and getting on with things in spite of emotional tension is a central idea across this collection, and many other examples are there for you to consider as well.
And so we come to the end of our essay. Hopefully going through this gives you an idea of how to cover more bases with your evidence. Remember that you don't have to recount lots and lots of events, but it's more important to engage with what the events are actually telling us about people. This is particularly important for prompts like this one, where it heavily focuses on the people involved. That is it for me this week, please give this video a thumbs up. If you wanted to say thanks to Mark, who has been helping me write these scripts up for a lot of the text response essay, topic breakdowns. If you enjoyed this, then you might also be interested in the live stream coming up next week, which will be on Friday the 25th of May at 5:00 PM. I'll be covering the topic of analyzing argument for the second time, just because there's so much to get through. I'll also be announcing some special things during that particular live stream. So make sure you're there so you're the first to hear it. I will see you guys next week. Bye.
Authorial intent is without a doubt one of the most important parts of any analytical essay in VCE English because talking about it is what offers the deepest level of analysis and shows the examiners that you have thought deeply about the text at hand. If you can discuss authorial intent effectively, you’ll be able to show that you have a solid understanding of what you are talking about and that you’re not working exclusively with surface-level ideas.
What Is Authorial Intent?
When we talk about authorial intent, what is really being referenced is the author’s reason for writing their piece in the way that they have and what messages they are trying to convey. Essentially, it’s what your teacher wants you to think about when they ask you things like “why is the door red?”. More generally speaking, why has the author made a point of telling us as readers the weather at that time? Why has that character been given that particular line of dialogue? Why have they brought in that specific tone for this part of the text? These are all the kinds of questions that you should be asking yourself when you’re reading through material that you have to analyse.
You might also hear authorial intent talked about as the writer’s ‘views and values’. If you’re unsure what views and values actually mean, you can kind of think of it as though the ‘views’ are how the author sees something and the ‘values’ are how the author thinks about something. Essentially, their opinions and perspectives are their views, whereas their morals and principles are their values. These two elements will often be central to the overall intention behind writing their text.
Why Is Authorial Intent Important?
Authorial intent plays a major role in your interpretation of the text; if you can’t figure out what the intent is, you will often miss out on key points and messages throughout the text. If you are lucky, the author will make it really clear to you as a reader what their intent is; however, this often is not the case. That being said, whether their intent is stated or implied doesn’t matter - there will always be something there for you to talk about.
How To ‘Find’ Authorial Intent in the Text: Key Identifiers To Look Out For
If you come across a text that makes it a little bit more difficult to discern what the author is actually trying to say, a good place to start is to look at the context behind the piece of writing.
The time period the novel/movie/play is set in is often a good indicator of what the author is saying. The author will often be using their text as a means by which they can comment on or critique one or more elements of that society, or perhaps as a metaphor for events that are occurring at the time the text is/was written. Alternatively, they may be portraying their view about the events that actually occurred during that time. For example, if you have a text that is set in the Georgian era, it is likely that the author’s message has something to do with colonialism or imperialist mindsets (zeitgeists) because this was a very dominant theme in that society.
Some other reasons you might consider an author having could include:
to highlight the importance of something
to criticise a behaviour or mindset
to ridicule certain actions
to warn against something
to discourage people from doing something
to convey certain political messages or controversial opinions
Realistically there is a broad range of things that the author could be saying, it's your job to pinpoint what that really is.
Once you’ve determined what it is the author is generally talking about, you then need to start thinking about the way that this has been represented. This is where you start to bring in the characters, the events, the dialogue, the inner monologues. Basically, you start looking for the elements that the author has added, not necessarily for a story-telling purpose but, more so, to convey their views and values through the text. This isn’t always going to jump right out at you so there may be a bit of deeper thinking involved.
Another good place to start is to try to identify the central themes of a text. This might be something like ‘Judgement’, ‘Redemption’, ‘Guilt’, etc. The author wouldn't have made these themes so relevant if they didn't have anything to say about them. Once again, this is where you look at the quotes, the setting, the characters and other features (as mentioned before) just with a more theme-focused approach.
Useful Vocabulary & Sentence Examples
When you come to actually putting together a paragraph, it is really important that you don’t forget to include authorial intent at some stage (at least once per paragraph). If you work with a TEEL structure (watch from 05:10) as the baseline, these kinds of comments about the author’s intent would usually be located within the ‘explanation’ section. A good way to double-check that you’ve incorporated authorial intent is to go back through your paragraph and make sure that the author’s name is in there somewhere. If you’ve talked about authorial intent you likely will have said something like:
‘In doing so, (Author) condones the (whatever it is they condone).’
Below are some sample sentence structures that you might think about using throughout your essays. Obviously, the particular vocabulary will vary depending on what your text is and which message you are talking about, but these are good as a guide.
Through (example from text) AUTHOR (offers, provides, asserts) a (condemnation, evaluation…) of (idea, theme, concept, action…)
E.g. Through emphasising the internal struggle faced by Rooke during the floggings, Grenville offers a condemnation of the Empire’s heinous approach to loyalty, as the threat of ‘wirling at the end of the rope’ essentially forces individuals to value duty over conscience. (The Lieutenant)
In doing so, AUTHOR (establishes, condemns, reveals…)
E.g. In doing so, Miller reveals the self-destructive nature of religious extremism in breeding instability and conflict. (The Crucible)
(scene, event…) allows AUTHOR to (suggest, convey, assert,…) that
E.g. Her sorrowful pleas that ‘she beg me to make charm’, fraught with grammatical errors, allow Miller to saliently illustrate the gulf that exists between the vulnerable outcasts such as Tituba and more privileged individuals within a community, in this case, Reverend Parris. (The Crucible)
AUTHOR’s depiction of (character) as (courageous, morally conscious, selfish…) emphasises their belief that…
E.g. Ham’s depiction of Teddy as a morally conscious and genuine individual emphasises her belief that it is possible to transcend the social codes enforced by one’s community.(The Dressmaker)
AUTHOR’s suggestion that… (serves as a reminder, highlights, emphasises the importance of…)
E.g. Euripides’ blatant suggestion that the fate of most of these women is in servitude and sexual slavery is a damning reminder that the victims of war are not just those killed during the conflict. (Women of Troy)
(Hence, thus, as a result…) AUTHOR asserts that…
E.g. Thus, Euripides asserts that victory in war ultimately proves futile as loss will inevitably be suffered somewhat equally by both sides. (Women of Troy)
Evident through AUTHOR’s (characters’ actions/dialogue/section of text…) is the idea that…
E.g. Evident through Miller’s depiction of the struggles faced by Goody Osburn and Goody Good is the idea that where geographical isolation and strict moral codes render a community intolerant, the marginalisation and ostracisation of those who do not fit the societal mould is inevitable. (The Crucible)
Through (action, quote, scene…) AUTHOR seeks to…
E.g. Through highlighting the harm which can result from individuals utilising their power to manipulate situations, Ham seeks to expose the damages caused by ignoring the truth, particularly when done so for personal benefit. (The Dressmaker)
If you’ve gotten to this point then hopefully that means that you are starting to get a better understanding of what authorial intent actually is, the thought processes that go into finding it and why it is such a useful and important element to analyse. Most importantly, I hope that you can at least start recognising the way that the author’s voice comes through in the particular texts that you are studying, and that you can start looking at including some of those observations and ideas when you're writing your responses.
Text Response can be difficult because there are many different aspects of the text you need to discuss in an intellectual and sophisticated manner. The key points you need to include are stated in the VCAA Text Response criteria as shown below:
the ideas, characters and themes constructed by the author/director and presented in the selected text
the way the author/director uses structures, features and conventions to construct meaning
the ways in which authors/directors express or imply a point of view and values
the ways in which readers’ interpretations of text differ and why.
We have explored some of the different criterion points in past blog posts, but this time we’ll be focusing on number 3,
the ways in which authors/directors express or imply a point of view and values.
Views: How the author sees something
Way of thinking
Values: How the author thinks about something
In VCE, simply exploring themes and character development is not enough to score yourself a higher-graded essay. This is where discussion on ‘views and values’ comes in. Essentially this criterion urges you to ask yourself, ‘what are the author’s beliefs or opinion on this particular idea/issue?’ All novels/films are written to represent their author’s views and values and, as a reader it is your job to interpret what you think the author is trying to say or what they’re trying to teach us. And it’s not as hard as it seems either. You’ve instinctively done this when reading other books or watching movies without even realising it. For example, you’ve probably walked out of the cinemas after thoroughly enjoying a film because the ideas explored sat well with you, ‘I’m glad in Hunger Games they’re taking action and rebelling against a totalitarian society’ or, ‘that was a great film because it gave insight on how women can be just as powerful as men!’ Therefore, it is possible in this case that the author of this series favours the disintegration of tyrannical societies and promotes female empowerment.
Views and values are also based on ideas and attitudes of when it was written and where it was set – this brings both social and cultural context into consideration as well. Issues commonly explored include gender roles, racial inequality, class hierarchy, and more. For example, Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, is set during the 20th century and explores feminism through women’s roles during World War II while Emily Bronte’sWuthering Heights depicts the divide between social classes and challenges the strict Victorian values of how society condemns cross-class relationships, in particular between Catherine and Heathcliffe.
Questions to ask yourself when exploring views and values:
Is the author supporting or condeming/critising this idea?
Through which literary devices are they supporting or condemning/critising the idea?
Which characters represent society’s values? Which ones oppose them? Do we as readers favour those that represent or oppose society’s values?
Does the author encourage us to support the morals and opinions displayed by the characters or those supported in that setting/time?
Here’s a sample discussion on the author’s views and values:
‘…Dickens characterises Scrooge as being allegorically representative of the industrial age in which he lived. Scrooge describes the poor as ‘surplus population’, revealing his cruel nature as he would rather they die than having to donate money to them. Dickens critiques the industrial revolution whereby wealth lead to ignorance towards poor as the upperclassmen would easily dismiss underclassmen, feeling no responsibility to help them as they believed they were of no use to society. ‘ (A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens)
Here’s a list of some sample essay prompts you may get in regards to exploring ‘views and values’:
‘Cat’s Eye shows us that society’s expectations are damaging to women.’ To what extent do you agree? (Cat’s Eye, Margaret Atwood)
‘Bronte criticises the social class conventions of her time as she demonstrates that those in the lower classes can succeed.’ (Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte)
‘Social criticism plays a major role in A Christmas Carol.’ (A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens)
‘Hamid shows that it is difficult to find our identity in modern society, with the ever-changing social and politics surrounding us.’ (The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid)
‘In Ransom Malouf depicts war as the experience of grief, loss and destructive waste. The event of war lacks any heroic dimension. Discuss.’ (Ransom, David Malouf)
After Darkness 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.
1. Introduction (Plot Summary) 2. Characters and Development 3. Themes 4. Narrative Conventions/Literary Devices 5. Sample Paragraphs 6. Additional Essay Prompts and Analysis Questions to Consider 7. Tips
1. Introduction (Plot Summary)
Christine Piper’s historical fiction, After Darkness deals with suppressed fragments of the past and silenced memories. The protagonist, Dr Ibaraki, attempts to move forward with life whilst also trying to hide past confrontations as well as any remnants of his past wrongdoings and memories. The text consists of three intertwined narrative strands – Ibaraki’s past in Tokyo in 1934, his arrival in Broome in 1938 to work in a hospital there, and his arrival in a detainment camp in Loveday (South Australia) in 1942 after the outbreak of war.
2. Characters and Development
4. Narrative Conventions/Literary Devices
‘a mallee tree’ - Aboriginal word for water which symbolises purity, source of life 'if it’s hit by bushfire it grows back from the root with lots of branches, like all the others here. It’s a tough tree. Drought, bushfire…it’ll survive almost anything…I was struck by the ingenuity of the tree in its ability to generate and create a new shape better suited to the environment.'
The tag with 'the character ko…[with] its loop of yellowed string...The knot at the end had left an impression on the page behind it: a small indentation, like a scar.'
'Felt like hell on earth'
'The hollow trunks of dead trees haunted its edges like lost people' - Can also link to the landscape narrative convention
'The scene was like a photograph, preserving the strangeness of the moment.'
Description of the hospital atmosphere where the patient next to Hayashi laid
'Only the windows were missing, leaving dark holes like the eyes of an empty soul'
'The photos reached me first. I leafed through the black and white images: swollen fingers, blistered toes, blackened faces, and grotesque, rotting flesh that shrivelled and puckered to reveal bone. The final photo depicted a child’s chubby hands, the tips of the fingers all black.' - Also foreshadowing death of his and Kayoko’s child
'That afternoon, the sky darkened, and the wind picked up…making the world outside opaque.'
Middlemarch (book) which symbolises Ibaraki and Sister Bernice’s friendship as Bernice was left behind
'Being able to conduct research in this way has delivered unparalleled knowledge, which we’ve already passed on to the army to minimise further loss of life.'
'You haafu fools don’t deserve the Japanese blood in you!'
'You bloody racist!'
'You fucking Emperor-worshipping pig...!'
'Haafu' - Derogatory, racism term used to define those who are biracial (half Japanese):
An interpretation of the language use throughout the text could be Piper’s way of humanising the Japanese people to her readers and notifying them that they also have their own culture and form of communication
Another interpretation of the language use is to show that both the Australians and Japanese are just as cruel as each other because they show no respect to one another and use language in such a brutal way
Ibaraki represents that divide where he can speak both languages, yet still, cannot voice his own opinion or stand up for himself (link to theme of silence)
'The void seemed to have a force of its own, drawing the meaning of the words into it.'
'The engine coughed into life.'
'snow was falling as I walked home from the station – the first snow of the season.' - Foreshadowing the storm about to come in his life
'A black silhouette against the fallen snow.' - Foreshadowing Kayoko’s death
5. Sample Paragraphs
'But as soon as you show a part of yourself, almost at once you hide it away.' Ibaraki’s deepest flaw in After Darkness is his failure to reveal himself. Do you agree?
Christine Piper’s historical fiction, After Darkness explores the consequences that an individual will be forced to endure when they choose to conceal the truth from their loved ones. Piper reveals that when a person fails to reveal themselves, it can eventually become a great obstacle which keeps them from creating meaningful and successful relationships. Additionally, Piper asserts that it can be difficult for an individual to confront their past and move completely forward with their present, especially if they believed their actions were morally wrong. Furthermore, Piper highlights the importance of allowing people into one’s life as a means to eliminate the build-up the feelings of shame and guilt.
Piper acknowledges that some people will find it difficult to open up to others about their past due to them accumulating a large amount of regret and guilt over time. This is the case for Ibaraki as he was involved with the ‘experiments’ when he was working in the ‘Epidemic Prevention Laboratory', in which Major Kimura sternly told him to practise ‘discretion and not talk ‘about [his] work to anybody'. The inability to confide in his wife or mother after performing illegal and mentally disturbing actions causes him to possess a brusque conduct towards others, afraid that they will discover his truth and ‘not be able to look at [him] at all'. His failure to confess his past wrongdoings shapes the majority of his life, ruining his marriage and making him feel the need ‘to escape’ from his losses and ‘start afresh'. He eventually lies to his mother by making her believe that he ‘had gone to Kayoko’s parents’ house’ for the break, avoiding any questions from being raised about his job. As a consequence, he fails to tell his family about his horrid past suggesting that he has accepted that ‘[his] life had become one that others whispered about'. Juxtaposed to Ibaraki’s stress relieving methods, Kayoko confides in her mother after she receives news of her miscarriage, highlighting that when one willingly shares their pain with loved ones, it can release the burden as well as provide them with some assistance. In contrast to this, Ibaraki’s guilty conscience indicates that he will take ‘the secret to his grave', making it extremely difficult for people he encounters to understand him and form a meaningful connection with him. Nonetheless, Piper does not place blame on Ibaraki as he was ordered to keep the ‘specimen’ business hidden from society, thereby inviting her readers to keep in mind that some individuals are forced by others to not reveal their true colours for fear of ruining a specific reputation.
Throughout the journey in After Darkness, Piper engendered that remaining silent about one’s past events that shapes their future is one of the deepest flaws. She notes that for people to understand and form bonds with one another, it is extremely important to reveal their identity as masking it only arises suspicions. Piper postulates that for some, memories are nostalgic; whereas, for others it carries an unrelenting burden of guilt, forcing them to hide themselves which ultimately becomes the reason as to why they feel alone in their life.
6. Additional Essay Prompts and Analysis Questions to Consider
Analyse the role of silence in After Darkness. Compare the ways in which the characters in the text utilise or handle silence. What is Piper suggesting about the notion of silence?
Discuss the importance of friendship in the text. What is it about friends that make the characters appear more human? How can friendship bolster development in one’s character?
Racism and nationalism are prominent themes in the text. How are the two interlinked? Explore the ways they are shown throughout the text and by different characters. Is Piper indicating that the two always lead to negative consequences?
Analyse some of the narrative conventions (imagery, simile, metaphor, symbols, motifs, landscapes, language, etc.) in the novel and what they mean to certain characters and to the readers.
Explore the ways in which the text emphasises that personal conscience can oftentimes hold people back from revealing their true thoughts and feelings.
Character transformation (bildungsroman) is prevalent throughout the text. What is Piper suggesting through Ibaraki’s character in terms of the friendships and acquaintances he has formed and how have they impacted him? How have these relationships shaped him as a person in the past and present? Were such traits he developed over time beneficial for himself and those around him or have they caused the destruction of once healthy relationships?
Be sure to read as many academic articles as you can find in relation to the text in order to assist you with in-depth analysis when writing your essays. This will help you to stand out from the crowd and place you in a higher standing compared to your classmates as your ideas will appear much more sophisticated and thought-out.
Being clear and concise with the language choices is such a crucial factor. Don’t over complicate the ideas you are trying to get across to your examiners by incorporating ‘big words’ you believe will make your writing appear of higher quality, because in most cases, it does the exact opposite (see Why Using Big Words in VCE Essays Can Make You Look Dumber). Be careful! If it's a choice between using simpler language that your examiners will understand vs. using more complex vocabulary where it becomes difficult for the examiners to understand what you're trying to say, the first option is best! Ideally though, you want to find a balance between the two - a clearly written, easy to understand essay with more complex vocabulary and language woven into it.
If there is a quote in the prompt, be sure to embed the quote into the analysis, rather than making the quote its own sentence. You only need to mention this quote once in the entire essay. How To Embed Quotes in Your Essay Like a Boss has everything you need to know for this!
If you'd like to see sample A+ essays complete with annotations on HOW and WHY the essays achieved A+, then you'll definitely want to check out our After Darkness Study Guide! In it, we also cover advanced discussions on topics like structural features and context, completely broken down into easy-to-understand concepts so you can smash your next SAC or exam! Check it out here.
The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
Analysing Techniques in Visual Texts
The Complete Maus is a graphic novel that depicts the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Polish Jewish Holocaustsurvivor who experienced living in the ghettos and concentration camps during the Nazi regime. Vladek’s son, Art has transformed his story into a comic book through his interviews and encounters which interweaves with Art’s own struggles as the son of a Holocaust survivor, as well as the complex and difficult relationship with his father.
Survival is a key theme that is explored during Vladek’s experience in concentration camps and his post-Holocaust life.
For example, Vladek reflects that “You have to struggle for life” and a means of survival was through learning to be resourceful at the concentration camps.
Resourcefulness is depicted through the physical items Vladek keeps or acquires, as well as through Vladek’s skills. For example, Vladek explains to Art that he was able to exploit his work constantly through undertaking the roles of a translator and a shoemaker in order to access extra food and clothing by being specially treated by the Polish Kapo.
He even wins over Anja’s Kapo to ensure that she would be treated well by not being forced to carry heavy objects. Vladek’s constant recounts and reflections symbolise survival, as Vladek was willing and able to use his skill set to navigate through the camp’s work system.
During the concentration camps, food and clothes also became a currency due to its scarcity and Vladek was insistent on being frugal and resourceful, which meant that he was able to buy Anja’s release from the Birkenau camp.
Although survival is a key theme, the graphic novel explores how Holocaust survivors in The Complete Maus grapple with their deep psychological scars.
Many of those who survived the war suffered from depression and was burdened with ‘survivor’s guilt’. This can be seen through the character of Art’s mother, Anja, as 20 years after surviving the death camps, she commits suicide. After having lost so many of her friends, and families, she struggled to find a reason as to why she survived but others didn’t. Throughout the graphic novel, her depression is apparent. In a close-up shot, Anja appears harrowed and says that “I just don’t want to live”, lying on a striped sofa to convey a feeling of hopelessness as if she was in prison. Her ears are additionally drawn as drooped, with her hands positioned as if she was in prison in the context is that she must go to a sanatorium for her depression.
It is not only Anja’s guilt that is depicted, but also Art himself who feels partly responsible. Art feels that people think it is his fault as he says that “They think it’s MY fault!” and in one panel, Art is depicted behind bars and that “[He] has committed the perfect crime“ to illustrate that he feels a sense of guilt in that he never really was the perfect son. He believes he is partly responsible for her death, due to him neglecting their relationship. Spiegelman also gives insight to readers of a memory of his mother where she asks if he still loves her, he responds with a dismissive ‘sure’ which is a painful reminder of this disregard.
Art constantly ponders how he is supposed to “make any sense out of Auschwitz’ if he “can’t even make any sense out of [his] relationship with [his] father”. As a child of Jewish refugees, Art has not had the same first-hand horrific experiences as his parents and in many instances struggles to relate to Vladek’s stubborn and resourceful tendencies. Art reflects on this whilst talking to Mala about when he would not finish everything his mother served, he would “argue til I ran to my room crying”. This emphasises how he didn’t understand wastage or frugality even from a very young age, unlike Vladek.
Spiegelman also conveys to readers his sense of frustration with Vladek where he feels like he is being treated like a child, not as an adult. For example, Art is shocked that Vladek would throw out one of Art’s coats and instead buy a new coat, despite Vladek’s hoarding because he is reluctant and feels shameful to let his son wear his “old shabby coat”. This act could be conveyed to readers that Vladek is trying to give Art a life he never had and is reluctant to let his son wear clothes that are ‘inappropriate’ in his eyes. However, from Art’s perspective, he “just can’t believe it” and does not comprehend his behaviour.
Since we're talking about themes, we've broken down a theme-based essay prompt (one of five types of essay prompts) for you in this video:
3. Analysing Techniques in Visual Texts
The Complete Maus is a graphic novel that may seem daunting to analyse compared to a traditional novel. However, with countless panels throughout the book, you have the freedom to interpret certain visuals so long as you give reasoning and justification, guiding the teacher or examiner on what you think these visuals mean. Here are some suggested tips:
Focus on the Depiction of Characters
Spiegelman may have purposely drawn the eyes of the Jewish mice as visible in contrast to the unapparent eyes of the Nazis to humanise and dehumanise characters. By allowing readers to see the eyes of Jewish mice, readers can see the expressions and feelings of the character such as anger and determination. Effectively, we can see them as human characters through their eyes. The Nazis’ eyes, on the other hand, are shaded by their helmets to signify how their humanity has been corrupted by the role they fulfill in the Holocaust.
When the readers see their eyes, they appear sinister, with little slits of light. By analysing the depictions and expressions of characters, readers can deduce how these characters are intended to be seen.
Look at the Background in Each Panel
Throughout the graphic novel, symbols of the Holocaust appear consistently in the background. In one panel, Art’s parents, Anja and Vladek have nowhere to go, a large Swastika looms over them to represent that their lives were dominated by the Holocaust.
Even in Art’s life, a panel depicts him as working on his desk with dead bodies surrounding him and piling up to convey to the reader that the Holocaust still haunts him to this day, and feels a sense of guilt at achieving fame and success at their expense.
Thus, the constant representation of symbols from the Holocaust in Spiegelman’s life and his parents’ past in the panels’ background highlights how inescapable the Holocaust is emotionally and psychologically.
Size of Panels
Some of the panels in the graphic novel are of differentsizes which Spiegelman may have intended to emphasise the significance of certain turning points, crises or feelings. For example, on page 34, there is a disproportionate panel of Vladek and Anja passing a town, seeing the first signs of the Nazi regime compared to the following panels. All the mice seem curious and concerned, peering at the Nazi flag behind them. This panel is significant as it marks the beginning of a tragic regime that would dominate for the rest of their lives.
You should also pay close attention to how some panels have a tendency to overlap with each other which could suggest a link between events, words or feelings.
Planning is an essential part of any successful text response essay. It helps you ensure that you’re answering the prompt, utilising enough quotes and writing the most unique and perceptive analysis possible! The hard part of this is that you only have about FIVE MINUTES to plan each essay in the Year 12 English exam… (more info on the best way to tackle that challenge in this video!)
So, I developed the FIVE TYPES of essay prompts to help students streamline their planning process and maximise every minute of their SACs and exams.
By identifying the type of prompt you’re being challenged with immediately, a number of parameters or guidelines are already set in place. For a specific type of prompt, you have specific criteria to meet – for example, in a metalanguage-based prompt, you immediately know that any evidence you brainstorm in your planning stage should be based around the literary techniques used in your given text.
‘Ambition in the play Macbeth leads to success.’ Discuss. (Macbeth)
When you’re presented with a theme-based prompt, you can automatically shift your brainstorming and planning towards the themes mentioned in the prompt along with any others that you can link to the core theme in some way.
In regard to this Macbeth prompt, for example, you could explore the different ways the theme of ambition is presented in the text. Additionally, the themes of guilt and power are intimately related to ambition in the text, so you can use those other ideas to aid your brainstorming and get you a step ahead of the rest of the state come exam day.
2. Character-based prompt
‘Frankenstein’s hubris is what punishes him.’ Discuss. (Frankenstein)
These prompts are pretty easy to spot – if you see a character’s name in the prompt, there you have it; you have a character-based prompt on your hands.
Once you know this, you can assume that each example you brainstorm has to be relevant to the specific character named in the prompt in some way. Also, you can explore how the actions of characters don’t occur in isolation – they’re almost always interrelated. Remember, however, that the actions of characters are always connected to the themes and ideas the author is trying to convey.
This type of prompt also grants you some freedoms that other types don’t give. For example, unlike a Theme-based prompt, a character-based prompt means that it’s perfectly fine to write about characters in the topic sentences of your body paragraphs.
3. How-based prompt
‘How does Grenville showcase Rooke’s inner conflict in The Lieutenant?’ (The Lieutenant)
Unlike other prompts, the ‘How’ positions you to focus more on the author’s writing intentions. This can be achieved by discussing metalanguage – language that describes language (read my blog post about it here). These prompts tell you immediately that you need to be thinking about the literary techniques explored in the text and explain how they affect the narrative.
Rather than using specific techniques to frame your specific arguments, it’s best to use them as evidence to support arguments that attack the main themes/ideas mentioned in the prompt.
4. Metalanguage or film-technique-based prompt
‘Hitchcock’s use of film techniques offers an unnerving viewing experience’. Discuss. (Rear Window)
This type of prompt is very similar to How-based prompts, specifically in the fact that the discussion of literary techniques is essential.
For this type of prompt specifically, however, the actual techniques used can form more of a basis for your arguments, unlike in How-based prompts.
5. Quote-based prompt
“Out, damned spot!” How does Shakespeare explore the burden of a guilty conscience in Macbeth? (Macbeth)
Countless students ask me every year, “What do I do when there’s a quote in the prompt?!” My reply to these questions is actually fairly straightforward!
There are two main things that you should do when presented with this type of prompt. Firstly, contextualise the quote in your essay and try to use it in your analysis in some way. Secondly, interpret the themes and issues addressed in the quote and implement these into your discussion. The best place to do both of these is in a body paragraph – it weaves in seamlessly and allows for a good amount of analysis, among other reasons!
When faced with unknown prompts in a SAC or your exam, it's reassuring to have a formulaic breakdown of the prompt so that your brain immediately starts categorising the prompt - which of the 5 types of prompts does this one in front of me fall into? To learn more about brainstorming, planning, essay structures for Text Response, read our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
The Great Gatsby 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.
Call it the greatest American novel or ultimate story of unrequited romance—The Great Gatsby is undoubtedly a stunning snapshot of one of the most American decades that America has ever seen. The 1920s saw significant economic growth after WWI, and what’s more American than material excess, wealth, and prosperity? The stock market was going off, businesses were booming, and people were having a great time.
Well, not everybody—and on the flipside, what’s more American than socio-economic inequality or the ever-quixotic American Dream?
In this blog, we’ll go through the novel in this context, examine some of its key themes, and also have a think about the critiques it raises about American society. We’ll also go through an essay prompt that ties some of these things together.
Life in the Roaring Twenties
This snapshot from the 2013 film adaptation actually tells us a lot about the 1920s. On the one hand, social and cultural norms were shifting—men no longer sported beards, and women were dressing more androgynously and provocatively. On the other hand, the modern, American economy was emerging—people began buying costly consumer goods (like cars, appliances, telephones etc.) using credit rather than cash. This meant that average American families were able to get these things for the first time, while more prosperous families were able to live in extreme excess.
In Fitzgerald’s novel, the Buchanans are one such family. Tom and his wife Daisy have belonged to the 1% for generations, and the 1920s saw them cement their wealth and status. At the same time, the booming economy meant that others (like the narrator Nick) were relocating to cities in pursuit of wealth, and (like Gatsby) making significant financial inroads themselves.
The Great Gatsby traces how the differences between these characters can be destructive even if they’re all wealthy. Add a drop of Gatsby’s unrequited love for Daisy, and you have a story that ultimately examines how far people go for romance, and what money simply can’t buy.
The answer to that isn’t so obvious though. Yes, money can’t buy love, but it also can’t buy a lot of other things associated with the lifestyle and the values of established wealth. We’ll get into some of this now.
Wealth and class
Fitzgerald explores tensions between three socio-economic classes—the establishment, the ‘nouveau riche’ and the working class.
Tom and Daisy belong to the ‘old money’ establishment, where wealth is generational and inherited. This means they were born into already wealthy families, which affects their upbringing and ultimately defines them, from the way they speak (Tom’s “paternal contempt” and Daisy’s voice, “full of money”) to their major life decisions (including marriage, symbolised through the “string of pearls” he buys for her—which, fun fact, is estimated to be worth millions of dollars today). It also affects their values, as we’ll see in the following section. For now, consider this image of their home (and those ponies on the left, which they also own), described as follows:
“The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door for [400 metres], jumping over sun-dials and brick walls and burning gardens—finally when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its run.”
Nick Carraway also comes from a similar (though not as extravagant) background—his family had been rich by Midwestern standards for “three generations” before he came to New York.
Conversely, Gatsby belongs to the ‘nouveau riche’, or new money. Unlike the Buchanans, Gatsby was born into a poor family, only coming to wealth in the 1920s boom. Specifically, he inherited money from Dan Cody after running away from home at 17.
Although they are all rich, there are significant cultural differences between old and new money. Old money have their own culture of feigned politeness which Gatsby doesn’t quite get. When Tom and the Sloanes invite Nick and Gatsby to supper in chapter six, Gatsby naively accepts, to which Tom would respond behind his back, “Doesn’t he know [Mrs. Sloane] doesn’t want him?” Even though Gatsby is financially their equal, his newfound wealth can’t buy his way into their (nasty, horrible) lifestyle.
Finally, this is contrasted with the working class, particularly George and Myrtle Wilson who we meet in chapter two. They live in a grey “valley of ashes”, the detritus of a prosperous society whose wealth is limited to the 1%. Fitzgerald even calls it a “solemn dumping ground”, suggesting that life is precarious and difficult here. Consider what separates George—“blond, spiritless… and faintly handsome”—from Tom (hint: $$).
Myrtle is described differently, however—she is a “faintly stout” woman with “perceptible vitality”. This may be less of a description of her and more of a commentary on Tom’s sexuality, and what attracts him to her such that he cheats on Daisy with her. Still, Myrtle’s relative poverty is evident in her expressions of desire throughout their meeting—“I want to get one of those dogs,” she says, and Tom just hands her the money.
Ultimately, looking at the novel through the lens of class, we see a society where upward social mobility and making a living for yourself is possible, just not for everybody. Even when you get rich, it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll suddenly, seamlessly integrate into the lives of old money.
Morality and values
Added to this story of social stratification is a moral dimension, where Fitzgerald can be a little more critical.
Firstly, old money is portrayed as shallow. Daisy’s marriage to Tom and the Sloanes’ insincerity are elements of this, but another good example is Gatsby’s party guests. Many aren’t actually invited—they invite themselves, and “they came and went without having met Gatsby at all.” Their vacuous relationship to Gatsby is exposed when he dies, and they completely abandon him. Klipspringer, “the boarder”, basically lived in Gatsby’s house, and even then he still wouldn’t come to the funeral, only calling up to get a “pair of shoes” back.
The rich are also depicted as cruel and inconsiderate, insulated from repercussions by their wealth. Nick’s description of Tom’s “cruel body” is repeatedly realised, as he breaks Myrtle’s nose in chapter two and condescends Gatsby with “magnanimous scorn” in chapter seven. After Myrtle dies, Nick spots the Buchanans “conspiring” and describes them as “smash[ing] up things and creatures and then retreat[ing] back into their money or their vast carelessness”—he sees them as fundamentally selfish.
Gatsby is portrayed more sympathetically though, which may come from his humble upbringing and his desire to be liked. This is probably the key question of the novel—is he a hero, or a villain? The moral of the story, or a warning? Consumed by love, or corrupted by wealth?
I’m going to leave most of those for the next section, but I’ll finish here with one last snippet: Lucille, a guest at his parties, tears her dress and Gatsby immediately sends her a “new evening gown”. Weird flex, but at least he’s being selfless…
That said, a major part of Gatsby’s character is his dishonesty, which complicates his moral identity.
For starters, he fabricates a new identity and deals in shady business just to reignite his five-year-old romance with Daisy. We see this through the emergence of Meyer Wolfsheim, with whom he has unclear business “gonnegtions”, and the resultant wealth he now enjoys.
In chapter three, Owl Eyes describes Gatsby as a “regular Belasco”, comparing him to a film director who was well-known for the realism of his sets. This is a really lucid analysis of Gatsby, who is in many ways just like a film director constructing a whole fantasy world.
It’s also unclear if he loves Daisy for who she is, or just the idea of Daisy and the wealth she represents. Indeed, he doesn’t seem to treat her as a person, but more like something that he can pursue (like wealth). This is a good read, so I won’t really get into it here—just consider how much things have changed since Gatsby first met Daisy (like her marriage and her children), and how Gatsby ignores the way her life has changed in favour of his still, stationary memory of who she used to be.
Love, desire and hope
All of this makes it tricky to distil what the novel’s message actually is.
Is it that Gatsby is a good person, especially cast against the corrupt old money?
This analysis isn’t wrong, and it actually works well with a lot of textual evidence. Where Nick resents the Buchanans, he feels sympathy for Gatsby. He explicitly says, “they’re a rotten crowd…you’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.” Maybe love was an honourable goal compared to money, which ostensibly makes you “cruel” and “careless”.
I wouldn’t say he was cruel, but this reading is complicated by how he can be careless, choosing not to care about Daisy’s agency, and letting his desires overtake these considerations.
Is it that Gatsby and his desire for Daisy were corrupted by wealth despite his good intentions?
There’s also evidence to suggest wealth corrupts—Nick describes it as “foul dust” that “preyed” on Gatsby, eroding his good character and leaving behind someone who resembles the vacuous elite. Although love might’ve been an honourable goal, it got diluted by money.
Gatsby’s paradigm for understanding the world becomes driven by materialism, and he objectifies Daisy. He starts trying to buy something that he originally didn’t need to buy—Daisy’s love. She certainly didn’t fall in love with this man who owned a mansion and a closet full of “beautiful shirts.” Thus, Gatsby is a sympathetic product of a system that was always stacked against him (a poor boy from North Dakota). Capitalism, right?
Is it that capitalist America provides nothing for people to pursue except for wealth, and therefore little reason for people to feel hope?
Past the basics: structural economic tension and the doomed American Dream
Now we want to start thinking beyond the characters (e.g. if Gatsby is a good person or not) and also factor in their social, historical, political and economic context (e.g. if he was doomed to begin with by a society driven by money). This subheading does sound a bit much, but we’ll break it down here.
A key part of this novel is the American Dream, the idea that America is a land of freedom and equal opportunity, that anyone can ‘make it’ if they truly try. Value is placed on upward social mobility (moving up from a working-class background) and economic prosperity (making $$), which defined much of the Roaring 20s…
For many others, there was significant tension between these lofty values and their lived reality of life on the ground. As much as society around them was prospering, they just couldn’t get a piece of the pie, and this is what makes it structural—as hard as George Wilson might work, he just can’t get himself out of the Valley of Ashes and into wealth. Indeed, you can’t achieve the Dream without cheating (as Gatsby did).
So, there’s this tension, this irreconcilable gap between economic goals and actual means. Through this lens, the tragedy of The Great Gatsby multiplies. It’s no longer just about someone who can’t buy love with money—it’s about how nobody’s dreams are really attainable. Not everyone can get money, and money can only get you so far. Everyone is stuck, and the American Dream is basically just a myth.
Thus, the novel could be interpreted as a takedown of capitalist America, which convinced people like Gatsby that the answer to everything was money, and he bolted after the “green light” allure of cold, hard cash only to find out that it wasn’t enough, that it wasn’t the answer in the end. (.
Consider what kind of message that sends to people like the Wilsons—if money can’t actually buy happiness, what good is it really to chase it? And remember that Gatsby had to cheat to get rich in the first place.
Is [the novel’s message] that capitalist America provides nothing for people to pursue except for wealth, and therefore little reason for people to feel hope?
You tell me.
Prompt: what does Fitzgerald suggest about social stratification in the 1920s?
Let’s try applying this to a prompt. I’ll italicise the key points that have been brought up throughout this post.
Firstly, social stratification clearly divided society along economic lines. This could be paragraph one, exploring how class separated the Buchanans and Wilsons of the world, and how their lifestyles were so completely different even though they all lived in the prosperity of the Roaring 20s. George Wilson was “worn-out” from work, but he still couldn’t generate upward social mobility for his family, stuck in the Valley of Ashes. Conversely, Tom Buchanan is born into a rich family with his beach-facing mansion and polo ponies. Colour is an important symbol here—the Valley is grey, while East Egg is filled with colour (a green light here, a “blue coupe” there…).
The next paragraph might look at the cultural dimension, exploring how you just can’t buy a way of life. This might involve analysing Gatsby’s wealth as deluding him into thinking he can “repeat the past” by buying into the life(style) of old money. This is where Fitzgerald disillusions us about the American Dream—he presents a reality where it isn’t possible for anyone to ‘make it’, where the Buchanans still treat you with scorn even if you’re just as wealthy. Gatsby’s dishonesty is ultimately a shallow one—try as he might, he just cannot fit in and win Daisy back.
Finally, we should consider the moral dimension—even though the wealthier socioeconomic classes enjoyed more lavish, luxurious lifestyles, Fitzgerald also argued that they were the most morally bankrupt. Money corrupted the wealthy to the point where they simply did not care about the lives of the poor, as seen in the Buchanans’ response to Myrtle’s death. Even Gatsby had to compromise his integrity and deal in shady business in order to get rich—he isn’t perfect either. Social stratification may look ostentatious and shiny on the outside, but the rich are actually portrayed as shallow and corrupt.
A good essay on this novel will typically combine some of these dimensions and build a multilayered analysis. Stratification, love, wealth, morality—all of these big ideas can be broken down in terms of social, economic, cultural circumstances, so make sure to consider all angles when you write.
Have a go at these prompts!
1. Nick is biased in his assessment of Gatsby—both of them are no better than the corrupt, wealthy Buchanans. Do you agree?
2. In The Great Gatsby, money is a stronger motivating factor than love. Do you agree?
3. Daisy Buchanan is more innocent than guilty—explore this statement with reference to at least 2 other characters.
4. What does Fitzgerald say about happiness in The Great Gatsby?
5. Is money the true antagonist of The Great Gatsby?
6. The women of The Great Gatsby are all victims of a patriarchal society. To what extent do you agree? (Hint: are they all equally victimised?)
Challenge: According to Fitzgerald, what really lays underneath the façade of the Roaring 20s? Make reference to at least 2 symbols in The Great Gatsby. (Hint: façade = “an outward appearance that conceals a less pleasant reality” – think about things like colours, clothes, buildings etc.)
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.
By the way, to download a PDF version of this blog for printing or offline use, click here!
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!
1. List of Listening Resources That You Can Access For Free 2. How To Use These Free Resources (a Step-by-Step Guide) 3. Let Me Walk You Through How I approach These Listening Exercises 4. Time to Test Your Listening Skills
For an overview of the EAL study design plus tips and tricks for reading comprehension, time management and more, check out The Ultimate Guide to EAL.
The listening tasks of the EAL exam are worth 20% of the total exam marks. Since this section was introduced to the exam fairly recently, limited past exam questions are available for students to practice. In this blog, you will find a comprehensive list of external resources that are accessible for free. Although they are not designed specifically for the purpose of VCAA exams, they can still boost your marks if used wisely. I will offer some advice that helped me receive a perfect study score in EAL and give you a step-by-step guide on how to use these listening resources to better prepare for EAL listening.
1. List of Listening Resources That You Can Access For Free:
And for my fellow Chinese friends, I recommend 可可英语. It pretty much includes all major news sources worldwide including the Voice of America, CNN, ABC, National Public Radio, NBC News, BBC, The Economist and National Geography. I particularly love the fact that both the website and its free app offer English transcription and Chinese translation side by side.
2. How To Use These Free Resources (a Step-by-Step Guide)
I recommend you listen to the audio three times. Below, I have broken down what you should pay attention to during each listening exercise.
1st Time Listening
Step 1: Read and Annotate Background Information
Read the background information if available. This mimics the ‘Background Information’ given at the very start of each question in the VCAA exam. In most cases, it provides a general introduction to the speakers and gives you a brief idea of what to expect in the upcoming audio.
Highlight the name of the speakers.
Underline important information.
Step 2: Read and Annotate the Questions
Familiarise yourself with the questions during reading time and annotate them.
Develop an annotation system that works well for you personally.
1. I usually underline key information that gives me information on ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘how’, ‘where’ and ‘when’ (refer to the table in Step 4 below for definitions for these ‘W’ words).
2. Highlight the main person/subject that the question is referring to. This will help you during note taking and formulating your answer. Under the stress of exams, we might lose track of which speaker is talking, especially when the two speakers sound similar. By highlighting the name of the speaker in the question, it reminds us which speaker to pay attention to when answering the question.
If you are playing the audio clips by yourself for practice, make sure you give yourself time to analyse the questions before hitting play! If you have a friend or family member who can act as your ‘exam facilitator’, as soon as reading time ends, highlight or underline the keywords before your exam facilitator plays the audio clips!
Step 3: Listen to the Audio Only (Without the Visual)
This is pretty self-explanatory!
Step 4: Write Down Side Notes
Write down as much information as you can to practice speed writing
Some ‘W’ words (see table below) may not apply to all audio clips so free feel to only use the ‘W’ words that are relevant
2nd Time Listening
Step 1: Fill in the blanks and try to be aware of words you don’t quite ‘get’.
Step 2: Note down how the speakers convey their attitude, feeling, ideas, etc.
Step 3: Interaction between speakers.
There will typically be a question that asks you to describe the interaction between the speakers, such as, ‘Suggest 2 words to describe the interaction between A and B’.The answer you need to provide will typically be a two-word answer. I would encourage you to learn the adjectives used to describe a range of interactions, for example:
Words to describe positive interactions include:
Professional, formal, polite
Words to describe negative interactions include:
Tense, unpleasant, disappointed
3rd Time Listening
Listen to the audio while you read the transcript if available.
3. Let Me Walk You Through How I approach These Listening Exercises
Now that you know the steps, let’s see them in action. Below, I will demonstrate the step-by-step process of how you can make full use of the listening resources above.
For practice, I recommend taking notes in a table format, using the ‘W’ words I mentioned above. We are going to designate a separate table for each speaker in the audio.
2nd Time Listening
Step 1: Fill in the blanks and try to be aware of words you don’t quite ‘get’.
This is where you have the opportunity to fill in the blanks for the challenging words that you did not pick up in the first round. For example: Ubiquitous, monopolists, admirable, immersed, sophisticated and algorithm
Step 2: Note down how the speakers convey their attitude, feeling, ideas, etc.
Step 3: Interaction between speakers.
I will use ‘friendly’ and ‘polite’ to describe the interaction between the interviewer and Jocelyn Brewer. As you listen, see if you can identify why I have chosen these two words to describe the interaction. Keep in mind that there is no right or wrong answer here as long as your choice of descriptive words suit the audio clip.
3rd Time Listening
Usually I would read the transcript in this third and final step, however, since there is no transcript available for this piece, I will skip this step.
4. Time to Test Your Listening Skills
Using the same audio clip and worksheet, have a go at these VCAA-style questions that I wrote up, and then check out my sample answers to see how your own answers compare. You will probably notice that a lot of the information you gather from the ‘W’ words actually provides you with the answers to the majority of the questions here.
What are the problems with internet use today? (2 marks)
What is it that can draw people in and what example does Brewer use in relation to this? (2 marks)
What is Beverley Wang’s opinion on some apps showing many ‘likes’? Support your answer with an example of word choice and language. (3 marks)
What are the costs people have to pay, as Brewer suggests, for the use of Internet? (2 marks)
What does Ecosia try to recognise? (2 marks)
Give the word that the company officer of Ecosia uses to describe Google’s dominant power over the search engine. (1 mark)
What are the two adjectives Beverely Wang uses to praise Ecosia? (2 marks)
What are the challenges faced by companies like Ecosia, according to Brewer? (2 marks)
The problems of internet use lie in its prevalence in society and how powerful the technology is. The apps are designed to mimic the best psychological behaviours and maintain our interest.
Users are drawn in by a range of psychological hacks employed by the app designers. For example, Facebook has adjusted the size of the font to keep us engaged and immersed.
Beverley Wang expresses her opinions that some apps can foster addictive behaviours and can be scary by using a frustrated and alarmed tone. Additionally, by repeating the term ‘consuming’ four times in a row, delivered in a fast pace, Wang affirms the unethical and addictive nature of the apps.
Brewer suggests people have to pay with time and attention.
Firstly, Ecosia aims to be an ethically-orientated company by planting one tree for every 45 web searches. Secondly, it promises to be a ‘privacy-friendly’ platform and endeavours to expose the shameful motives of some search engines such as Google.
‘noble’ and ‘admirable’
Since using Ecosia requires ‘people-poser’, the public need to be more aware of the benefits of switching from an ‘automatically-preferred’ search engine to Ecosia. Ecosia receives ‘56 enquiries every minute’ compared to ‘40 thousand’ enquiries on their competitor’s web engine.
Whether you revel in the ideas and intricacies of poetry or could not think of anything more monotonous to read, grab a tea (or coffee if it’s one of those nights), your favourite late-night snack, and prepare to be amazed by just how simple it is to absolutely NAIL a poetry essay.
Don’t worry, I know that same overwhelming feeling when poetry can seem as if it’s not even in English, but I can ensure you, learning how to write a poetry essay is like learning to ride a bike…. Once you wrap your head around it you’ll be cruising!
To make these tips even more practical, we’ll be focusing on John Donne’s poetry in relation to the topic below:
‘Donne’s poetry explores the many aspects of human experience.’ Discuss.
1. Start off with a bang!
I’m sure you’ve heard it before… your introduction sets the tone for your essay and this could not be more true. A shallow introduction is like missing the start of your running race, or even worse arriving at a party just before it ends! You’ll just have so much catching up to do! Without being overly hyperbolic, here are a four essential tips that will ensure your assessor sees you as a high-scoring student right from your first sentence.
- Answer the question in your first sentence (even if it is in a broad manner) and always link back to the essay topic – this will show the assessor that you are answering the question given rather than presenting them with a sneaky memorised essay!
- Utilise the right terminology when outlining the type of poet and era they wrote in (i.e. metaphysical poet, Renaissance era, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth)
- Outline the main poetic techniques for which the poet is known for (i.e. playful wit, rich imagery, language, challenging intellectual argument) as well as the ideas and values they endorse (i.e. elevation of reciprocal love, belief in the resurrection of Christ, celebration of eternal life)
- Wow your assessor with unique vocab (i.e. illuminate, emanate, meditate)
And here’s a sample introduction to help you even more:
John Donne’s anthology, “Selected Poetry” illuminates the human condition and thus provides much commentary on life and death. A metaphysical poet of the Renaissance era, Donne combines a playful wit, rich imagery, and perhaps most importantly language, to challenge intellectual argument and celebrate various aspects of sexual desire, mutuality and faith. Immersed in the Christian traditions of his time, Donne’s exploration of Death emanates from the Elizabethan acute awareness of the brevity and vanity of human life; however, with his sensual elevation of reciprocal love and his deep spiritual belief in the resurrection of Christ, Donne meditates upon his belief and celebration of eternal life.
2. Strong topic sentences are Crucial (with a capital C)
Time and time again students fall into one of two traps. They either try to start each paragraph with a lengthy (and often beautiful) phrase trying to encapsulate every idea they plan to introduce in the paragraph. Or on other occasions, they have no introductory sentence and instead launch straight into their poetry analysis. Your assessor may be blown away with your A+ worthy introduction and then reach this weak opening to your paragraph and have to reconsider! Your topic sentence is the frame for the whole paragraph so please, keep it clear, succinct, and relevant to the essay question.
Here are three ‘DOs’ and ‘DON’Ts’ to consider when crafting one of the most important sentences of your essay (again, sorry about the drama!)
- DON’T mention the poem you will use as evidence in your topic sentence
- DO answer and link directly to the essay topic
- DO use linking words to link the ideas in different paragraphs
And here are three STRONG topic sentences for each paragraph of this essay (note how I always link back to the topic of human experiences and link ideas between paragraphs)
- Rewriting the conventional trope, Donne’s oeuvre explores the joy of erotic love and ones’ lustful desire to engage in these sexual experiences.
- While much of Donne’s oeuvre comments on the pleasure of carnal experiences, his more harmonious poems reveal the beauty of relationships in which one can experience a deep sense of mutuality and stability.
- Silhouetted against the backdrop of the Elizabethan reign, Donne’s more metaphysical poems demonstrate the struggle of the process of dying and individual corruption, and the manner in which it leads to the acquirement of God’s love and grace.
3. Organise paragraphs by IDEAS
What makes a poetry essay so unique is that your paragraphs are based on broad ideas rather than the motifs and behaviours of characters in novels. This means that when planning your essay you must ensure that each paragraph has only one idea and that each paragraph is based on a different idea. From there you can work out which poems best represent each concept to work out which poems you will use for each paragraph. This is why I love poetry essays as planning for them is so easy! All you have to do is think of three or four different ideas for the essay topic and then find your textual evidence by working out which poems best reflect these ideas…. Simple! Right?
Here are the three ideas that I plan to discuss in each of my paragraphs of this essay as well as the poems I would use:
- Sexual/physical human experiences
- ‘Elegy 19: To His Mistress Going to Bed’ & ‘The Flea’
- Mutuality and reciprocity as an experience/element of spiritual love
- ‘A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning’
- The innately human experience of dying and being embraced by God in heaven
- ‘Hymn to God My God in My Sickness’
4. Analyse, not summarise
If there was one thing that was playing in my head over and over while writing a poetry essay it was ‘analyse, not summarise’. It is so easy to fall into the trap of simply summarising the poetic techniques and language of the different poems rather than analysing their meaning and linking this directly to the essay question. Even if you have the best plan and ideas going for you, if an assessor notices you going into summary mode they’ll assume you’re just rewriting a memorised essay rather then answering the exact essay question given…. DISASTROUS! To prevent this utter catastrophe, I urge you to please, link to and answer the specific essay topic EVERYTIME you introduce a new poetic technique/piece of evidence. Verbs such as demonstrates, elucidates, illustrates, exemplifies, illuminates and augments are ‘must haves’ in your poetry tool-box as they will ensure that you are analysing not summarising.
Here is a sample paragraph for you to consider (notice how I always link back to the idea of mutual/reciprocal love and experiences every time I introduce a new poetic technique or quote)
While much of Donne’s oeuvre comments on the pleasure of carnal experiences, his more harmonious poems reveal the beauty of relationships in which one can experience a deep sense of mutuality and stability. The poem, ‘’A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning’’ explores the sense of security and harmony which spiritual love and experiences permit. Adopting a hush, reverent tone manifested by the use of sibilance, through the enjambment of the phrase ‘’Dull sublunary lovers love, / (Whose soul is sense) cannot admit / Absence’’, Donne elevates mutual love to a higher plane, one that transcends the lines of poetry. When accompanied by the stability of the ABAB rhyme scheme that works to echo the couple’s settled love, this presents the experience of reciprocity and mutuality of love to be higher than the dull and earthbound nature of love that is solely physical. Hence, Donne reveals the bliss that mutual love permits mankind, given it eclipses the desire for any form of physicality. Further elucidating the strength of mutual love, Donne illuminates how when couples are separated it is ‘’not yet a breach, but an expansion’’, thus celebrating the manner in which deep, reciprocal love not only eclipses the divisions of the clock but how it expands ‘’like gold to airy thinness beat’’ when separated. By connoting spiritual love to the pure and malleable nature of gold, this simile characterizes mutual love to be the prime of human experiences and relationships. Intertwining the elegant conceit of a compass to represent the love that connects the speaker and his mistress, Donne garners the notion that no matter how far ‘’one doth roam’’ the intellectual bond between the couple will remain ‘’firm’’ and enable the pair to overcome any form of physical separation. Hence, Donne illuminates the complex and impermeable bond that this serene form of human experience can foster.
5. Vocab and metalanguage are the easiest ways to SHINE
To say it plainly, writing with unique and refreshing vocabulary is enough to send your grade SOARING. It will not only render your ideas and discussion ever more complex, but has the power to enlighten and stimulate your assessor (and this is something we all want to do… right?). Utilising the correct poetic metalanguage every time you introduce a new quote or line of poetry will ensure that your analysis remains both specific and detailed. As seen in the paragraph above, discussing the poetic techniques provided me with another form of evidence (rather than just the quotes from the poem) to elucidate how these different forms of human experience are illustrated in each of Donne’s poems.
To assist you further, here is some metalanguage for the poetic techniques and structures that frequent John Donne’s poetry:
A mediocre conclusion is like leaving your assessor with an unpleasant aftertaste that unfortunately, will not go away. So please, finally give your conclusion the attention it deserves and follow these five tips to ensure you leave your assessor waiting for that mic to drop!
- Pan out to the broad, abstract ideas that the poet wrestled with
- Discuss the aspects of the poet that set them apart from other poets at the time (i.e. for John Donne that is his intellectual imagery, arresting voice, wit, fusion of passion and logic and the manner in which he challenged intellectual argument and strongly held societal conventions)
- Short and sweet not long and wordy!
- Reinforce the period and society in which the poet wrote
- You can include a secondary quote if you want, however only if it relevant to the essay topic and ideas you discussed
Here is a sample conclusion to assist you:
Railing against the societal value of religion prominent during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the originality of Donne’s ideas about love, death and God along with his strikingly intellectual imagery and rich language incite and interest his more religious readership of the joys of sexual, mutual and religious experiences. The poet and playwright Ben Jonson once wrote that John Donne ‘’was the first poet in the world in some things.’’ Hence, it is through his witty and authentic form of expression that Donne allows us to reflect on and celebrate precisely what it means to be human.
It’s that time of year again when many VCE English students start brainstorming their Oral Presentation SACs. To help you out, we’ve collated some of the biggest names and issues in the recent Australian media.
Each heading represents a broad, ongoing issue, and under it are more specific debates within each issue. Going down a more precise route with your topic selection can make your speech a lot more engaging and current, so pick a broad issue that speaks to you, and ‘zoom in’ on a debate for your speech. Don't forget to also check outOur Ultimate Guide to Oral Presentations for everything you need to know for Oral Presentations.
1. Green New Deal
Originally, the 'New Deal' was a bunch of economic reforms that restimulated the economy back into action after the Great Depression. The 'Green New Deal' is a bunch of policies that combines this economic approach with the need to fight the climate crisis. It was first brought before the United States Congress by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in late 2018, but was ultimately voted down. It called for a 10-year transformation of the economy to provide green jobs; transition to renewable, zero-emission energy sources; and eliminate pollution across sectors such as manufacturing, agriculture and transport.
Is this something that we need to adopt in Australia? Is now the best time for that conversation, given the political climate (not to mention the actual climate of the worst bushfire season in history)? And what exactly are the options?
2019 saw the emergence of the 'school strike for climate', an international movement of students skipping school to demonstrate and demand action on climate change. It took off after Greta Thunberg, a Swedish schoolgirl, began protesting outside the Swedish parliament in late 2018.
It sparked widespread discussion on young people, education and the merits of striking. Scott Morrison was drawn into the discussion, stating that he doesn’t 'want our children to have anxieties about these issues', while defending his government’s track record on renewable energy investment.
So - should young people be worrying about these issues at all? Are they missing out on crucial years of education by taking to the streets? And, is what they’re saying really unreasonable at all?
What should a Prime Minister do in a state of national emergency? While Morrison delegated many of the duties to state premiers, are these distinctions important in times of crisis? Is he the leader we deserve after his resounding, miraculous election victory in 2019? Where to from here?
An ETS basically makes carbon gas emissions an economic good that gets bought and sold like any other - corporations that emit more gas will need to now purchase permission to emit, while corporations that emit less will be able to sell their permits. The debate for an ETS in Australia is old (surprisingly perhaps, John Howard first broached the idea towards the end of his Prime Ministership), but became political poison after Julia Gillard introduced it despite promising that her government wouldn’t introduce a carbon tax in the 2010 election. It has since been scrapped, making Australia the only government in the world to ever dismantle an operational ETS.
A decade later, is it now the right time to revisit this discussion? Just why are so many people opposed to policy that would stop corporations from emitting for free? And what does this mean for our international reputation and commitments?
So this is nothing particularly new, but it’s unfortunately still present even as we move into 2020. Should sports stars be penalised for their opinions when they’re exclusionary and harmful, or should we respect them for their sporting prowess? Maybe this speaks more broadly to the standards we expect sporting stars or public figures in general to set as role models…
Bear with me on this one - while she isn’t specifically a ‘social equity’ debate, Lizzo’s emergence as a breakout singer of 2019 intersects with a lot of social equity movements, from body positivity and feminism to racial justice and self-empowerment. Her upcoming shows in Australia sold out in minutes, which speaks to her newfound popularity as a global star.
What is it about Lizzo that resonates with so many people? What and who does she represent? Is the new decade also a watershed moment for diversity in entertainment?
Again, this one isn’t too new, but a fresh wave of activism for equal pay in sport was sparked this year by Megan Rapinoe, the captain of the US women’s national soccer team (which won the World Cup in 2019). She, her team and the men’s team sued the national soccer federation for gender discrimination and other countries, Australia included, followed suit.
Why does the wage gap exist and what are the reasons for closing it? Is a preference for the men’s game enough to justify paying women less (despite the fact that preferences like this are usually rooted in misogyny and are subjective anyway)? And how does this translate between different sports such as soccer, AFLW and tennis (where Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic have clashed over this before)?
Newstart is Australia’s income support for those aged 22 to 64 who are unemployed. Though a form of social security, it’s fallen behind in terms of how much economic security it can provide recently, with years of no real increases (that is, increases which offset inflation - basically things are getting more expensive and even if Newstart increases, it doesn’t give you more purchasing power in reality).
Is it finally time to increase Newstart? There was some discussion around the holiday season being particularly expensive, but should an increase be permanent? How hard is it to get a job in today’s economy? And are the payments enough to live on if you can’t find a job?
'Voice' was the Australian National Dictionary Centre’s word of the year in 2019, in the context of Indigenous representation in the Australian parliament. A Voice to Parliament would enshrine Indigenous input into laws and policies on issues affecting First Nations communities, and has been called for by activists for some time now.
How does this tie into/is this distinct from other issues such as constitutional recognition? Why haven’t we seen a lot of progress or consensus on these issues? And what might it mean for those communities to be able to make autonomous decisions?
Australian teachers have been struggling with increasingly difficult jobs and flat-lining pay in recent years, and teachers’ unions haven’t been able to successfully find a solution to offset these concerns. Tertiary students are now turning away from pursuing a career in education, and there could be many reasons as to why.
What does this mean for the future of Australian education? In what ways do you as a student feel the impacts? And what could be some solutions - perhaps both from a teacher’s point of view, but also from a student-centric viewpoint?
Unfortunately, Australian students have been falling behind many of their global counterparts in terms of educational outcomes - we even hit our worst ever results in the OECD’s international student assessment in 2018.
What does this mean in an increasingly globalised world and is there a way to turn this around? How might a student perspective on this be unique from that of a politician for example, or another stakeholder? And is education an isolated issue, or should we be looking at more holistic solutions that incorporate health-related, economic and/or social solutions as well?
This is another one of those long-running debates, though it’s on the table again as the ACT has recently legalised recreational cannabis. This goes against federal law, which still bans the possession and use of weed, and makes Canberra the first Australian jurisdiction to decriminalise it. Canberra has also led the way on issues such as same-sex marriage, legalising it as early as 2013 (four years before the rest of the nation would follow suit).
Discussion about other drugs such as ecstasy has also been raised as a result, and this piece might be an interesting read on why different drugs have different legal statuses.
Still, is legalising pot the way to go considering how other Western democracies are already moving in this direction? Is it even a harmful drug at all? And what about the others, such as ecstasy? Or even alcohol, for that matter?
This is an interesting and pretty recent phenomenon - climate grief or climate burnout are new terms that have come into existence to describe the mental health impacts of the climate crisis. In particular, they describe the frustration and despair that people may feel as a result, given that progress on reducing carbon emissions is frighteningly slow and natural disasters are becoming more frequent and devastating at the same time.
What is your take on it and who’s feeling it? Do you have to be affected by disasters, or can it also affect young people who feel pessimistic about the future of the planet? And what could be some strategies for overcoming it? What is the importance of seeing climate through a health lens and how might it inspire activism or change?
2019 saw some other new developments in the conversation around mental health in Australia. A report found that mental health concerns are getting more widespread among young people, while government investment doesn’t really seem to be effective.
Meanwhile, we’re also seeing progress on destigmatising mental health issues within sport - overseas, athletes such as Paul Merson and Stan Collymore have shared stories of their battles, while Cricket Australia looks into ways of creating more supportive environments for their players.
How can we streamline the message around mental health, or the relevant support networks? What solutions haven’t we tried yet, and how might the discussion around this shift in the next decade? What are the implications if we don’t address these issues?
Note that this can be a sensitive issue which may cause distress to some people.
NSW recently legalised abortions for pregnancies shorter than 22 weeks after one of the longest debates in their state Upper House. While the choice versus life debate has raged around the world for decades now (i.e. maybe don’t do a pro-choice speech that people will have heard before, and probably don’t do a pro-life speech in 2020), what is the landscape of the debate like in our day and age?
Who opposes it and why? What is the problem with making health issues criminal issues instead (e.g. drug policy as well)? And what other issues might be linked to this? Can someone who is pro-life also support tougher border restrictions that lead to refugee deaths at sea, for example?
Note that this can be a sensitive issue which may cause distress to some people.
As you all know, English subjects are integral to VCE studies, since it is compulsory that at least all four units of an English subject be done in order for you to reach that ATAR goal at the end of the VCE tunnel. Given the richness in cultural backgrounds of VCE students cohort, EAL is designed to mend the linguistic gaps between local students and those from non-English speaking backgrounds. Students eligible to complete EAL are those who have no more than 7 years residency in a predominately English-speaking country AND no more than 7 years having English as their main language of instructions.
According to the study design published by VCAA, both English subjects:
‘"[contribute] to the development of literate individuals capable of critical and creative thinking, aesthetic appreciation and creativity…"
It might sound complex, but this basically just means that these subjects enable us to enhance our understanding and usage of the English language, which serves to support our daily English communication. This purpose holds even greater significance to students from non-English speaking backgrounds, as those skills offered by English subjects are essential to their life in Australia. That’s said, EAL can be different from mainstream English in the sense that it also assists students whose mother tongue is not English in adapting to the predominately English-speaking community, via developing their language skills.
EAL Study Design
Both EAL and English assess students on multiple areas, including: Text Response, Creative writing, Argument Analysis, and Comparative. We highly recommend you have a read of the links above so you've got all your English/EAL areas covered!
One major difference is in Unit 3, where EAL students are required to do a Listening task, whereas mainstream students study an additional text. For a detailed comparison on VCE EAL vs VCE English, read Cynthia's blog post here.
Shown below is the Unit 3 coursework from the VCAA EAL study design, taken from the VCAA website:
Now that we know the similarities and differences, let's focus primarily on the Listening Component of the EAL Exam for the rest of this blog.
Listening Component Marking Criteria
For the listening component of the exam/SAC the examiners (and your own teachers) will be marking your answers base on TWO main points:
Your ability to understand and convey general and specific parts of the listening track
Your ability to convey information accurately and appropriately
Some of you out there might be thinking “Listening is easy! I just need to write down the correct answer, it's a piece of cake.” Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for EAL listening or any VCE Language listening SAC or exam. The VCAA examiners will be looking for appropriateness of vocabulary and the accurate use of grammar, spelling and punctuation. They even look at how well you phrase your response!
For more information on the the exam, read Rachel's blog on how to Nail that VCE EAL Exam Listening Component. She offers her tips for the exam, including taking advantage of bringing bilingual dictionaries into the exam!
Listening Component Tips
Listening is also the easiest section for students to lose marks as many of them may carelessly misread the question and/or comprehensively fail to answer the question. Listening may also be challenging as it requires you to concentrate on multiple things at the same time, for example, the characters’ main contention, emotions, tone shift, and the context of the recording. However, as long as you do more practice, you will soon be able to master the listening skills! Here are the 4 steps that you will have to know if you want to do well in listening!
1. Read The Background Information Of The Text
Use your reading time (15 minutes) wisely and spend around 2-3 minutes in the listening section. The background information of the text is extremely important as it tells you the context of the recording which can also give you a basic idea of the characters involved in the text and the content they will be talking about.
2. Scan Through The Questions Carefully
Look for the keywords in the question, such as the 5W1H (Who, When, Where, What, Which, How), the character names, and the number of points that needs to be answered in each question.
Examples of the 5W1H Questions
Who is he referring to when he says “You”?
When did he open his first bookshop?
Where did he go after his graduation?
What message is he trying to convey in his speech?
Which phrase did he use to express how dry it was in the desert?
How does he express his anger?
3. Note Taking
You should be using the spaces provided in the exam answer booklet to jot down any key words and phrases that are related to the questions. Do not bother to fill in the answers on the answer line just yet, as you are very likely to get distracted, hence, it may increase the risk of missing the answer for the next question. Remember that your notes should be as concise and clear as possible so you will be able to write down the answers immediately once the recording stops.
4. Focus On The Questions That You’ve Missed
Bear in mind that you will have the chance to listen to the recording two times in total so please DO NOT stress if you miss out any answers or you are not sure about the answers after the first time. Highlight the questions that you have trouble with and focus on them when the recording is played the second time.
Section C, Question 1 requires students to write short answers, in note form or sentences, which altogether will make up of 50% of the marks in Section C. For a lot of student, getting good marks for Question 1 is much easier than getting good marks for Question 2, which requires you to write a full language analysis essay. This is why it is important that you are able to maximise your marks in this question because they are purported to be easier marks to get! Some of the questions will ask the students for factual information but more difficult questions will require to think about that is contained in the text and make an interpretation based on your understanding.
1. Question words
To know what sort of answer you are expected to give before looking for details from the article, you need to be familiar with question words.
WHO - A particular person or group of people impacted by an incident or involved in a situation
WHAT - This really depends. It might require you to give out information about something or to identify reasons for the writer’s opinions (which is good it might make it easier for you to find the writer’s arguments)
WHEN - The timeframe within which an issue or event occurred (date, day, etc)
WHERE - The location of an event
WHY - The reasons for something
HOW - How a problem can be resolved
2. Direction words
Unfortunately, not all questions in this section have “question words” and examiners usually give out questions that are broader using “direction words” or “task words”, making this section more challenging for students. EAL is not the only subject that requires students to know their direction words well so it is definitely worthwhile learning these words to improve your performance. These are the most common direction words used in Section C (see below!).
Describe - Giving information about something or to identify the writer’s opinions
Explain - This requires you to give out information in your own words and elaborate
Identify - Students will be required to find what is asked from the article and write them down in the briefest form possible
List - Usually in note forms – to answer this you need to identify what is asked and briefly noting them down
Summarise - Retelling something in a succinct and concise ways in your own words, it should only be enough to highlight key ideas
Support - Finding evidence from the text to justify a statement or opinions
3. Marks allocation
Another super helpful tip is to pay extra attention to the marks allocation of the questions. It usually gives you a fairly accurate indication of how much you should write. The general rule of thumb would be that the number of marks tell students how many sentences or points they should be making.
Identify the reasons why the writer loves travelling (2 marks)
Students should be writing down 2 reasons why the writer loves travelling
The editor strongly opposes the use of plastic bag. Support this statement (3 marks)
In this case, it is probably best to find 3 pieces of evidence from the article that justify the statement stated to make sure you do not lose any marks by not writing enough.
For sample questions and responses with annotations, read Lindsey's blog on EAL Reading Comprehension here.
Time management during the exam is as important as studying and preparing. Here are some tips to help you manage your time during your exam so you can achieve maximum marks!
1. Look at the comprehension questions during reading time
2. Look for key features instead of analysing and finding techniques straight away
You can also use the reading time to find the contention, determine what type of article it was and the source, etc. The following acronym might help you! Try identifying all of the features below as it also helps you plan your introduction within reading time.
For a detailed guide on writing Language Analysis Introductions, check out our advice here(for both English & EAL students) and here (specifically for EAL students). We recommend reading both blog posts!
3. Set out a detailed time management plan for your essay the night before the SAC or exams(or earlier if possible)
To understand each of these time management tips in detail, read Lindsey's blog on EAL Time Management here.
English Fluency and Proficiency
As non-native speakers living and studying in Australia, we would want nothing more than to improve our English skills both for the comfort of living in an English-speaking country and our career prospects. Here are some tips to help you better their writing skills in EAL.
1. Knowing Your Sentence Structure
I cannot stress how important it really is to really know your sentence structure and grammar because, without a solid understanding of how it is supposed to be structured, grammatical errors can easily be made which will preclude you from articulating your ideas in the clearest manner possible.
Simplest form: Subject + Verb + Object
To see an example of structuring sentences together, read Lindsey's blog here.
2. Expand Your vocabulary
While it is sometimes helpful to memorise words from glossaries found on the Internet, it is not the most the effective way to thoroughly improve your vocabulary. In fact, learning words from a glossary or dictionary by heart can often lead to students misusing the words due to their misinterpretation of the new words.
The best way to upgrade your word bank for your essays is to slowly word up from what you already know. Start off with a simple paragraph and you will see your writing get better after every time you edit or rewrite your paragraphs. Therefore you should:
Avoid generic verbs
Know the word’s connotations
Use strong adjectives
English grammar is often seen as one of the more challenging one due to it having so many tenses and irregular cases. However, if you know how to break it down, it is not that scary because there are actually only 13 tenses and future, past and present tenses. Plus, in our EAL exams, we rarely need to use any other tenses aside from the present tenses anyway.
4. Build Your Own 'Essay Formulas'
For each Area of Study, I have a revision document that contains the following:
Super extensive word bank (my own thesaurus)
Practice essays and sample essays
To see an example of an 'essay formula' in action, read Lindsey's blog on The Keys to English Fluency and Proficiency here.