English & EAL

Like a House on Fire

Mark Yin

May 17, 2018

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[Video Transcription]

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.

Paragraph one

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.

Paragraph two

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.

Paragraph three

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.

Paragraph four

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.

Resources

Like a House on Fire

How To Get An A+ On Your Like A House On Fire Essay?

Close Analysis Of 'Cake' From Like A House On Fire

Like a House on Fire Essay Planning

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