Go ahead and tilt your mobile the right way (portrait). The kool kids don't use landscape...
Metalanguage is language that describes language. The simplest way to explain this is to focus on part 3 of the English exam – Language Analysis. In Language Analysis, we look at the author’s writing and label particular phrases with persuasive techniques such as: symbolism, imagery or personification. Through our description of the way an author writes (via the words ‘symbolism’, ‘imagery’ or ‘personification’), we have effectively used language that describes language. For a detailed discussion, see What is metalanguage?
Not gonna lie, this novel is a bit of a tricky one to introduce. World War II, arguably one of the darkest events of human history, has been the basis of so much writing across so many genres; authors, academics, novelists have all devoted themselves to understanding the tragedies, and make sense of how we managed to do this to one another. Many reflect on the experiences of children and families whose lives were torn apart by the war.
In some ways, Doerr is another author who has attempted this. His novel alludes to the merciless anonymity of death in war, juxtaposes individualism with collective national mindlessness, and seeks out innocence amidst the brutality of war.
What makes this novel difficult to introduce is the way in which Doerr has done this; through the eyes of two children on opposite sides of the war, he explores how both of them struggle with identity, morality and hope, each in their own way. Their storylines converge in the bombing of Saint-Malo, demonstrating that war can be indiscriminate in its victims—that is, it does not care if its victims are children or adults, innocent or guilty, French or German. However, their interaction also speaks to the humanity that lies in all of us, no matter how deeply buried.
A very quick history lesson
Fast Five Facts about World War II:
Lasting 1939-1945, the war was fought between the Axis powers (Germany, Japan and Italy) and the Allies (basically everyone else, but mainly England, France, and later the US). Whilst it was Germany who started the war, the intervention of the US at the end of five long years of fighting ultimately helped the Allies win.
Various forms of technology were first used, or found new uses, during the war. Aircraft carriers and various planes (fighters, bombers etc.) became more important than ever, while Hitler’s use of tanks allowed him to take over much of Europe very quickly.
Other forms of new technology included one of the world’s first electronic computers that was used to codebreak (stop reading now and watch The Imitation Game if you haven’t already! Totally counts as studying, right?), as well as radio and radar, used to communicate and also to detect enemies in the field.
World War II is also referred to as the Holocaust, the name given to Hitler’s attempted genocide of the Jewish people. 6 million Jews died in the war, and as many as 15 million others died in total.
Germany’s initial conquest of Europe was swift and brutal. Within a month, Poland had already surrendered and within a year, so had France. However, there were also resistance groups all over these countries which sought to undermine the Nazi regime in a number of ways, both big and small.
My best attempt to give a general plot overview of this very long book
Disclaimer: this is a very, very broad overview of the novel and it is absolutely not a substitute for actually reading it (please actually read it).
Chronologically, we start in 1934, five years before the war. Marie-Laure is a French girl who lives with her father Daniel Leblanc, working at the Museum of Natural History in Paris. As she starts to go blind, Daniel teaches her Braille, and makes her wooden models of their neighbourhood to help her navigate. Six years later, the Nazis invade France, and they flee the capital to find Daniel’s uncle Etienne, who lives in the seaside town of Saint-Malo; Daniel was also tasked with safeguarding a precious gem, the Sea of Flames, from the Nazis.
In Saint-Malo, Daniel also builds Marie-Laure a model of the town, hiding the gem inside. Meanwhile, she befriends Etienne, who suffers from agoraphobia as a result of the trauma from the First World War. He is charming and very knowledgeable about science, having made a series of scientific radio broadcasts with his brother Henri (who died in WWI). She also befriends his cook, Madame Manec, who participates in the resistance movement right up until she falls ill and dies.
Her father is also arrested (and would ultimately die in prison), and the loss of their loved ones prompts both Etienne and Marie-Laure to begin fighting back. Marie-Laure is also given a key to a grotto by the seaside which is full of molluscs, her favourite kind of animal.
On the other side of the war, Werner is, in 1934, an 8 year-old German boy growing up in an orphanage with his sister Jutta in the small mining town of Zollverein. They discover a radio, which allows them to listen to a broadcast from miles away (it was Henri and Etienne’s), and Werner learns French to try and understand it. One day, he repairs the radio of a Nazi official, who recruits him to the Hitler Youth on account of his ingenuity (and his very blonde hair and very blue eyes, considered to be desirable traits by the regime). Jutta grows increasingly distant from Werner during this time, as she questions the morality of the Nazis.
Werner is trained to be a soldier along with a cohort of other boys, and additionally learns to use radio to locate enemy soldiers. He befriends Frederick, an innocent kid who was only there because his parents were rich—Frederick would eventually fall victim to the brutality of the instructors, and Werner tries to quit out of solidarity. Unfortunately, he is sent into the army to apply his training to actual warfare. He fights with Frank Volkheimer, a slightly ambiguous character who a tough and cruel soldier, but also displays a capacity to be kind and gentle (including a fondness for classical music). The war eventually takes them to Saint-Malo.
Also around 1943 or so, a Nazi sergeant, Reinhold von Rumpel, begins to track down the Sea of Flames. He would have been successful ultimately had it not been for Werner, who stops him in order to save Marie Laure.
As America begins to turn the war around, Werner is arrested and dies after stepping on a German landmine; Marie-Laure and Etienne move back to Paris. Marie-Laure eventually becomes a scientist specialising in the study of molluscs and has an extensive family of her own by 2014. Phew.
What kind of questions does Doerr raise through this plot? To some degree, the single central question of the novel is one of humanity, and this manifests in a few different ways.
Firstly, to what extent are we in control of our own choices? Do we truly have free will to behave morally? The Nazi regime throws a spanner in the works here, as it makes incredibly inhumane demands on its people. Perhaps they fear punishment and have no choice—Werner, for instance, does go along with everything. At the same time, his own sister manages to demonstrate critical thinking and moral reasoning well beyond her years, and it makes you wonder if there was potential for Werner to be better in this regard. There’s also the question of whether or not he redeemed himself in the end.
That being said, Werner is far from the only character who struggles with this—consider the perfumer, Claude Levitte, who becomes a Nazi informer, or even ordinary French citizens who simply accept the German takeover. Do they actually have free will to resist, or is it even moral for them to do so?
Hannah Arendt famously coined the phrase “the banality of evil,” referring to how broader movements of inhumanity (such as the Holocaust) can be compartmentalised until individual actions feel perfectly banal, commonplace and ordinary. This is what allowed people to do evil things without actually feeling or even being inherently evil—they were just taking orders, after all. Consider the role of free will in this context.
This brings us to the broader ‘theme’ of war in general: in particular, what kinds of acts are suddenly justifiable in war? Etienne and Madame Manec, for instance, even disagree on the morality of resistance, which can frequently involve murder. Etienne’s pacifist stance is a result of the scale of deaths in the previous world war. At the same time, the climactic event of the novel is an allied bombing of Saint-Malo, a French town, just because it had become a German outpost. Risking lives both French and German, this also highlights the ‘necessity’ of some inhumane actions in times of war.
On a more optimistic note, a human quality that Doerr explores is our natural curiosity towards science. This is abundant in the childhoods of both protagonists, as Werner demonstrates dexterity with the radio at a very young age, and Marie-Laure a keen interest in marine biology. In particular, her blindness pushes her into avenues of science which she can experience without literal sight, such as the tactile sensations of mollusc shells. The title may hint at this—for all the light she cannot see, she seeks enlightenment through knowledge, which in turn gives her hope, optimism and purpose.
At the same time, the human desire to better understand the world can also be used inhumanely—Werner used radio to learn through Etienne and Henri’s broadcasts, but he would later in life also use it to help his compatriots murder enemy soldiers. This alludes to the banality of evil again; by focusing on his very technical role and his unique understanding of the science behind radios, he is able to blind himself to the bigger picture of the evils he is abetting. Science is something that is so innately human, yet can also be used inhumanely as well.
For these reasons, I’d suggest humanity is at the heart of the novel. There is a certain cruel randomness to death in war, but just because so many did perish doesn’t mean that there aren’t human stories worth searching for in the destruction. This is the lens that Doerr brings to the WWII narrative.
To some degree, a lot of these symbols relate to humanity, which I’ve argued is the crux of the novel. I’ll keep this brief so as to not be too repetitive.
One major symbol is the radio, with its potential for good as well as for evil. On one hand, it is undoubtedly used for evil purposes, but it also acts as a source of hope, purpose, conviction and connection in the worst of times. It is what ultimately drives Werner to save Marie-Laure.
Along the same vein, whelks are also a major symbol, particularly for Marie-Laure. While an object of her fascination, they also represent strength for her, as they remain fixed onto rocks and withstand the beaks of birds who try to attack them. In fact, she takes “the Whelk” as a code-name for herself while aiding the resistance movement. It’s also noteworthy that, given the atrocities of war, maybe animals are the only innocent beings left. As Saint-Malo is destroyed and the Sea of Flames discarded, it is the seaside ecosystem that manages to live on, undisturbed. In this sense, the diamond can be seen as a manifestation of human greed, harmless once removed from human society.
Finally, it’s also worth considering the wooden models that Daniel builds for Marie-Laure. They represent his immense love for her, and more broadly the importance of family, but the models also attempt to shrink entire cities into a predictable, easily navigable system. As we’ve seen, this is what causes people to lose sight of the forest for the trees—to hone in on details and lose track of the bigger picture around them. The models are an oversimplification of life, and an illusion of certainty, in a time when life was complicated and not at all certain for anyone.
Identity, morality and hope—these things pretty much shape what it means to be human. Throughout All the Light We Cannot See though, characters sometimes struggle with all three of them at the same time.
And yet they always manage to find something within themselves, some source of strength, some sense of right and wrong, some humanity in trying times. Doerr explores this capacity amply in this novel, and in this sense his novel is not just another story about WWII—it’s a story about the things that connect us, always.
Essay prompt breakdown
Through the prompt that we’ll be looking at today, the main message I wanted to highlight was to always try and look for layers of meaning. This could mean really being across all of the symbols, motifs and poetic elements of a text, and it’s especially important for a novel as literary as this one.
You might not have been particularly happy to find out you’re going to have to study All The Light We Cannot See—it is probably the longest text on the entire text list—but it’s also a really beautiful, well-written book that deservedly took out the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2015.
In this novel, Anthony Doerr tells the World War 2 story through a unique lens, or rather a unique combination of lenses, as he sets a 16-year-old French girl and a 17-year-old German boy on an unlikely path of convergence. Through the dangers and difficulties that they face, Doerr’s novel is one of growth and self-assuredness in a time when this seemed virtually impossible.
The essay topic we’ll be looking at today is:
All The Light We Cannot See is a literal title for the novel, in that it exposes the darkness, evil and cruelty of which humans are demonstrably capable. Is this an accurate interpretation?
As usual, let’s define some keywords.
I want to leave ‘darkness’ for a little later, but let’s start with ‘evil and cruelty.’ By themselves, they generally just mean immorality or inhumanity, but also keep in mind how they come across in characters’ actions, since those will be the focus of our analysis. The word ‘demonstrably’ highlights this, since it means that any ‘evil’ you discuss needs to be demonstrated or proven.
With ‘darkness’, that’s a bit more of a tricky term because it can mean any number of things. Here, it might be taken to mean bad intentions, corruption or anything like that, because it fits with ‘evil and cruelty’. However, this is where the ‘interpretation’ aspect of the prompt comes in—an interpretation being a way of explaining meaning, how do you explain the meaning of ‘darkness’ in relation to the title? Darkness in this sense could be any number of things.
Now, how should we plan for this topic? Let’s first consider if there’s any room to challenge, since the prompt seems to only focus on the more negative, pessimistic side of the book. I’d argue that with darkness, there is also some light in the form of kindness, charity and hope.
This all sounds pretty profound, but I’m just trying to link it back to the book’s title! I mean, that’s what the topic is asking about, right?
Let’s break this down into paragraphs.
For our first paragraph, a good starting point might be analysing the literal forms of darkness in the novel, and seeing what other interpretations we can get from those. A character that comes to mind is Marie-Laure, the French girl who cannot see any ‘light’ due to her blindness. The title could be seen as an allusion to her character and by extension, the hopelessness that blindness might cause in the midst of a war. We could compare Marie-Laure’s situation with that of Werner, who faces the industrialization of his childhood town, watching it become more and more enveloped in ‘darkness’ and as such, hopelessness.
For our next paragraph, we might drill down to deeper levels of interpreting darkness, because it’s often used as a metaphor for inhumanity. It isn’t difficult to find inhumanity in the novel. There’s plenty of it peppered throughout Werner’s storyline, particularly at Schulpforta, where the Hitler Youth were ‘trained’, (to put it lightly). He and his peers are routinely drilled to “drive the weakness from the corps” in humiliating exercises led by cruel instructors. They are also sometimes driven to cruelty towards one another, and Frederick, Werner’s bunkmate, is relentlessly bullied for his perceived weakness.
So by now, it’s clear that the novel demonstrates the human capacity for experiencing ‘darkness’ as well as inflicting it upon others. But, across these two layers of meaning, could there perhaps be some room to challenge these interpretations? This is something we should look at for our final paragraph.
Here, I would probably argue that just as Doerr explores various forms of darkness, there is also enough ‘light’ which allows some characters to overcome or escape from the darkness. These manifestations of light also require you to think about the different symbolic layers of the novel. On one level for example, looking at light literally, there’s the message on Werner’s radio that teaches us that, even though the brain is sealed in darkness, “the world it constructs…is full of light.” A deeper level of meaning to this may refer to the sense of scientific wonder and discovery which sometimes brings light to Werner, and also Frederick, his bunkmate at Schulpforta, when their lives there are at their most dark.
Consider how, just as darkness has levels of interpretation and symbolism in this book, so does light and hope and joy, rather than just evil and cruelty.
And that’s it! Always delving deeper for meaning helps you to really make use of the symbols, imagery and motifs in a text, and I hope this novel in particular illustrates that idea.
We’ve explored historical context, themes, essay planning and essay topics over on our Like 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!
‘Liz sits there helpless’
• From the beginning of the short story we can see that Liz isn’t, or doesn’t feel in control of her situation. The step by step process where she needs to ‘put the key in the ignition and turn it. Fire up the car and drive away’ showcases how the smallest details of starting the car, something that should be so simple instead requires immense mental effort on her behalf.
‘And he’s in there, alone, where she’s left him’.
• Her guilt bubbles to the surface here because it’s as though she’s the villain here, and she’s to blame for leaving him alone.
‘Abandoned him to a roomful of rampaging strangers’
• What’s really interesting here is her description of the other children. Instead of seeing this as an opportunity for Daniel to befriend others and have a great time, she describes them as ‘rampaging strangers’, giving us a sense that Daniel is subject to an unfamiliar environment that is wild, frenzied, rioting.
• These "fighter” phrases reveal Liz’s anxious mindset, as she imagines a world where her son is almost in the wilderness, every man for himself, as though it’s the survival of the fittest - and which Liz so fearfully express, “not that there’s going to be anybody with enough time to notice that Daniel needs help”, is not an environment where Daniel belongs.
“She digs in her bag for her lipstick, her fingers searching for the small cylinder, and pulls out a crayon, then a battery, then a tampon, then a gluestick.”
• Her everyday objects are splashed with Daniel’s belongings - the crayon, the gluestick, and demonstrate how intertwined her life is now with her child. This foreshadows her return to her pre-baby life - that things will not be the same.
“The smell of the place, that’s what throws her, the scent of it all, adult perfumes, air breathed out by computers and printers and photocopiers.”
• Even her sense of smell betrays her being away from Daniel. There’s a sense of alienation, of nausea that shows readers like us that Liz doesn’t feel like she belongs. This is in contrast to later in the story when she is reunited with Daniel and is comforted by ‘inhaling[ing] the scent of him again’.
“Same computer, same shiny worn spot on the space bar…"
• The repetition of ’same’ actually heightens how much has actually changed for Liz. Her entire world is now Daniel, whereas everything in the office is as it used to be. Therefore, there’s this sense that the people’s lives in the office remain unchanged, highlighting again Liz’s alienation.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, they’re right, of course they are.”
• This sarcastic internal monologue reflects Liz’s current state of mind, where she’s experiencing a disconnect from her coworkers, and ’the land of the living’.
"Delete, she presses. Punching the key like a bird pecking. Delete, delete, delete.”
• We can feel Liz’s exasperation at this stage. The simile ‘like a bird pecking’ automates Liz’s actions in the workplace, as though she is doing it by switching to a ‘mechanical form’ of herself. The repetition of ‘delete, delete, delete’ gives us the sense that she’s frustratingly attempting to ‘delete’ her self-acknowledged, perhaps over-the-top anxiety surrounding Daniel, or trying to delete herself out of her situation. Whichever is unclear and left up to interpretation. Perhaps both ring true.
‘Returning to work after maternity leave’
• Liz’s narrative interspersed with new mum’s pamphlet. The juxtaposition of the pamphlet’s words ‘being a stay-at-home mum can begin to seem mundane and repetitive’ is contrasted with Liz’s love of motherhood - she is at odds with what society tells her she should be feeling.
‘[Daniel]’d have his thumb in his mouth right now. Not smiling, that’s for sure.’
• There’s a self-projection of anxiety here with Liz assuming that the childcarers are unable to look after Daniel properly, and that he’s suffering.
‘God, these endless extended moments where you’re left in limbo, the time dangling like a suspended toy on a piece of elastic.’
• This simile highlights how her mindset is completely consumed with Daniel, as she likens her daily experiences with objects and things related to Daniel and childhood. She struggles to switch between her identity as a mother, and her previous identity as a colleague in the workplace.
‘Caroline, Julie and Stella had laughed dutifully enough, but their faces had shown a kind of pained disappointment, something faintly aggrieved.’
• Perhaps this is Cate Kennedy's commentary on society and motherhood. The expectations others have on you as a new mother, and how you should be feeling.
‘He doesn’t run over when he sees her’.
• The opening of this chapter is blunt and brutal. Liz has longed to see Daniel all day, her anxiety getting the best of her, and yet at the moment of their reunion, it’s not as she expects. In this sense, we can to feel that Liz is very much alone in her anxiety and despair and, not the other way around with Daniel.
’She’s fighting a terrible nausea, feeling the sweat in the small of her back.’
• Unlike other stories in this collection, her pain isn’t because the absence of love, but because of its strength. Her love for Daniel is so intense that it’s physiological, making her unwell to have been away from him.
• The symbol of cake represents her pre-baby life, a time when she was concerned with the ‘account of Henderson’s’ and ‘delete fourth Excel column’. Her priorities have now shifted, and the celebrated ‘cake’ tradition in the workplace, one that is at the centre of several conversations, is no longer to significance to Liz. Her husband, Andrew’s attempt to celebrate Liz’s first day back at work with cake is highly ironic. The societal expectation that Liz is happy to be back at work even extends to her husband, and heightens how Liz is very much alone in her experience.
If you found this close analysis helpful, then you might want to check out our Like a House on Fire Study Guide where we analyse EVERY story in the text and pinpoint key quotes and symbols!
Picture this: you’re sitting down at your desk, fumbling your fingers, inspecting the new stationary that you convinced yourself you needed for year 12, resisting the urge to check your phone. Your text response SAC is in two weeks. You’re freaking out because you want, no, need an A+. You decide to write a practice essay for your English teacher. Practice makes perfect, right? You stay up for hours, pouring your heart and soul into this essay. The result? B+. Where did I go wrong?
In this article I will be explaining some basic dos and don’ts of writing an essay on The Golden Age, providing a model essay as an example. At the end of this blog is also a video based on another essay prompt to help you prepare for your Golden Age studies!
The following prompt will be referenced throughout the post;
‘The Golden Age’ shows that everyone needs love and recognition. Discuss.
Planning: the silent killer of A+ essays
I’m sure your teachers have emphasised the importance of planning. In case they haven’t, allow me to reiterate that great planning is compulsory for a great essay. However, flimsy arguments aren’t going to get you an A+. The examiners are looking for complex arguments, providing a variety of perspectives of the themes at hand. From the above prompt, the key word is, ‘discuss’. This means that you should be discussing the prompt, not blindly agreeing with it. Make sure you don’t write anything that wouldn’t sit right with London.
Don’t plan out basic arguments that are one-dimensional. This may give you a pass in English, but won’t distinguish you as a top-scoring student.
Paragraph 1: The children at TGA need love and recognition.
Paragraph 2: Ida and Meyer need love and recognition
Paragraph 3: Sister Penny needs love and recognition.
The above paragraphs merely agree with the statement, but don’t delve into the many aspects of the novel that could contribute to a sophisticated essay.
Do create complex arguments, or paragraphs with a twist! If you can justify your argument and it makes sense, include it in your essay. There are many ways that you could answer this question, but my plan looks like this:
Paragraph 1: Frank Gold yearns for mature, adult love, not recognition from onlookers or outsiders
Paragraph 2: Ida Gold does not seek recognition from Australia, but love and validation from herself
Paragraph 3: Albert requires love from a specific kind of relationship – family, and Sullivan may view love from his father as pity which he rebukes
See the difference?
how to start your essay off with a BANG!
Personally, I always struggled with starting an introduction. The examiners will be reading and marking thousands of essays, so if possible, starting your introduction with something other than Joan London’s ‘The Golden Age’… is a great way to make you stand out from the crowd. Having a strong start is essential to pave the way for a clear and concise essay. You could start with a quote/scene from the text! This is not essential, but it’s a great way to mix things up. This is my start:
Perhaps nothing exemplifies the power of love and recognition more than the bond between Albert Sutton and his older sister, Lizzie, in Joan London’s ‘The Golden Age’. Many of London’s characters exhibit suffering that requires compassion and support to heal and grow, to distinguish present from past. However, London explores the perspectives of such characters from different aspects of trauma, and emphasise that love and recognition do not always work to heal and mature. Frank Gold, the novel’s resident “sneaky” boy who adjusts to newfound life in the Golden Age Convalescent Home seeks love as an adult, rather than eliciting sympathy as a supposed victim. Here love and recognition are unsuccessful in amending Frank’s troubles when given from the perspective of an outsider, a judgemental onlooker. In a similar sense, Ida Gold seeks recognition not from Australia, who she views as a ‘backwater’, but validation in herself after having been ousted from her Hungarian identity. London, however, makes sure to emphasise the impact that Sullivan has on Frank Gold’s life. Sullivan, a boy only a few years older than Frank, seems content with his future, with his fate, despite his sacrifice of rugby and conventional life. There is a lacking sense of urgency for love and recognition in Sullivan’s life, rather, it appears that Sullivan accepts his fate, regardless of his father’s sympathy or support. Thus, London explores a myriad of ways in which love and recognition may or may not heal wounds inflicted upon individuals.
Remember, there are many other ways you could start your essay.
The body paragraphs: To TEEL or not to TEEL?
I’m sure you’ve heard of TEEL countless times since year 7. Topic sentence, evidence, explanation, link. The truth is that these elements are all very important in a body paragraph. However, following a rigid structure will render your essay bland and repetitive. It is also extremely important to note that you should be using evidence from multiple points in the text, and you should be making sure that your paragraphs are directly answering the question. Write what feels natural to you, and most importantly, don’t abuse a thesaurus. If you can’t read your essay without rummaging for a dictionary every second sentence, you should rewrite it. If vocabulary isn’t your strong point (it definitely isn’t mine!), focus on clean sentence structure and solid arguments. There’s nothing worse than you using a fancy word incorrectly.
Don’t overuse your thesaurus in an attempt to sound sophisticated, and don’t use the same structure for every sentence. For example:
Prematurely in the paperback London makes an allusion to Norm White, the denizen horticulturalist of The Golden Age Convalescent Home…
That was an exaggerated example generated by searching for synonyms. As you can see, it sounds silly, and some of the words don’t even make sense. I mean, “denizen horticulturalist”…really?
Do mix up your paragraph structure! If vocabulary is your weak point, focus on clean language.
Early in the novel, London makes reference to Norm White, the resident groundskeeper of The Golden Age Convalescent Home. Norm White hands Frank Gold a cigarette, “as if to say a man has the right to smoke in peace”. Here, there is a complete disregard for rule and convention, an idea that London emphasises throughout the text. This feature provides a counter-cultural experience for Frank, pushing him to realise that he is a strong human being rather than a mere victim. This is a clear contrast to the “babyishness” of the home, and is used as evidence of true humanity in an era where society judged upon the unconventional. Frank yearns for a traditional Australian life after his trauma in Hungary; “his own memory…lodged like an attic in the front part of his brain”. Hedwiga and Julia Marai’s caring of him pushed him towards fear and reluctance to trust, yet also pressured him to seek acceptance in a world that ostracises him for his Jewish heritage and polio diagnosis. This here is why Frank desires a mature, adult connection – love that regards him as an equal human being. Frank seeks Elsa’s love and company as she too loathes being reduced to a victim, an object of pity. Frank thereafter uses humour to joke of his wounds; “we Jews have to be on the lookout”. Elsa sees “a look in his eyes that she recognised”, thus their bond enables both characters to heal. London alludes that Frank requires love and recognition not from the perspective of a sorrowful onlooker, rather he longs to be recognised as a mature adult.
I firmly believe in short and sharp conclusions. Your body paragraphs should be thoroughly explaining your paragraphs, so don’t include any new information here. A few sentences is enough. Once again, write what feels natural, and what flows well.
Don’t drag out your conclusion. Short and concise is the key to finishing well.
Do write a sharp finish! Sentence starters such as, “Ultimately…” or “Thus, London…” are great.
Although trauma is often treated with love and compassion, London details different perspectives on this idea. Whilst Frank Gold requires a specific kind of recognition, Ida and Meyer seek validation in themselves and their relationship, whilst Sullivan is at ease with his fate and does not yearn sympathy from his father.
I'll finish off by giving you an exercise: brainstorm and write up a plan for the essay topic shown in the video below. I'd recommend you do this before watching Lisa's brainstorm and plan. That way, you can see which of your ideas overlapped, but also potentially see which ideas you may have missed out on. Good luck!
What Are You Expected To Cover? (Language Analysis Criteria)
School Assessed Coursework (SAC), Exams, and Allocated Marks
How To Prepare for Your Language Analysis SAC and Exam
How To Write a Language Analysis
What Is Language Analysis?
Language Analysis (also known as Analysing Argument, Argument Analysis, and an array of other names) is comparatively the most different of the three parts of the VCE English study design. The other two parts of English, Text Response and Comparative, focus on analysing texts (like novels and films) where students are then expected to produce an extended piece of writing reflecting on those texts' ideas, themes and messages.
Language Analysis, officially known as ‘Analysing Argument’ in the study design, is the 2nd Area of Study (AoS 2) - meaning that majority of students will tackle the Language Analysis SAC in Term 2. Unlike Text Response and Comparative, in Language Analysis you will be asked to read 'cold material' (meaning that you won't have seen the piece before, i.e. not had the chance to study it prior to your SAC and exam). This 'cold material' will be 1-3 articles and/or images (we'll just refer to all articles/images as 'texts' for simplicity) written for the media, whether it be an opinion piece for a newspaper, or an illustration for a political campaign.
You are expected to read the article, analyse the persuasive techniques used by the author, and express this in an essay. Let's get into it!
What Are You Expected To Cover? (Language Analysis Criteria)
What are teachers and examiners expecting to see in your essays? Below are the VCE criteria for Language Analysis essays.
Note: Some schools may express the following points differently, however, they should all boil down to the same points - what is necessary in a Language Analysis essay.
1. Understanding of the argument(s) presented and point(s) of view expressed
The first most important step is to understand the contention and arguments presented in the text because you'll base your entire analysis on your assumption. This can be tricky if you're unfamiliar with the contentious topic, or if the writer expresses their ideas in complex ways. In the worst case scenario, you'll misinterpret what the author is arguing and this will subsequently mean that your analysis will be incorrect. Never fear! There are many tactics to try and ascertain the 'right' contention - we'll go into detail later.
2. Analysis of ways in which language and visual features are used to present an argument and to persuade
This is where 'language techniques' come into play. You're expected identify the language used by the writer of the text and how that's intended to persuade the audience to share their point of view. There are too many language techniques to count, but you're probably already familiar with inclusive language, rhetorical questions and statistics. For most students, this is the trickiest part of Language Analysis. To read more on how to overcome this part of the criteria, get educated with Why Your Language Analysis Doesn’t Score As Well As It Should. My golden SIMPLICITY and SPECIFICITY strategy (discussed further under 'ebook' later in this guide) shows you how to analyse any language technique with confidence and accuracy.
3. Control and effectiveness of language use, as appropriate to the task
When examiners read essays, they are expected to get through about 12-15 essays in an hour! This results in approximately 5 minutes to read, get their head around and grade your essay - not much time at all! It is so vital that you don’t give the examiner an opportunity to take away marks because they have to reread certain parts of your essay due to poor expression and grammar.
School Assessed Coursework (SAC), Exams and Allocated Marks
Reading and Creating is assessed in Unit 1 (Year 11) and Unit 3 (Year 12). The number of allocated marks are:
Unit 1 - dependant on school
Unit 3 English – 40 marks
Unit 3 EAL – 30 marks (plus 10 marks for short-answer responses and note form summaries)
Exactly when Language Analysis is assessed within each unit is dependent on each school; some schools at the start of the Unit, others at the end. The time allocated to your SAC is also school-based. Often schools use one or more periods combined, depending on how long each of your periods last. Teachers can ask you to write anywhere from 800 to 1000 words for your essay (keep in mind that it’s about quality, not quantity!)
In your exam, you get a whopping total of 3 hours to write 3 essays (Text Response, Comparative, and Language Analysis). The general guide is 60 minutes on Language Analysis, however, it is up to you exactly how much time you decide to dedicate to this section of the exam. Your Language Analysis essay will be graded out of 10 by two different examiners. Your two unique marks from these examiners will be combined, with 20 as the highest possible mark.
How To Prepare for Your Language Analysis SAC and Exam
Preparation is a vital component in how you perform in your SACs and exam so it’s always a good idea to find out what is your best way to approach assessments. This is just to get you thinking about the different study methods you can try before a SAC. Here are my top strategies (ones I actually used in VCE) for Language Analysis preparation that can be done any time of year (including holidays - see How To Recharge Your Motivation Over the School Holidays for more tips):
Get your hands on some sample texts
If your teacher hasn't given you any to practice with, try the VCAA English exam page. You've got exams dating back to 2001, so there are no shortages of practice papers!
Know your terminology (persuasive techniques and tones)
Make sure you brush up on the definitions of persuasive techniques. It’s not going to be a tick if you use metaphor instead of simile, or if you use alliteration instead of assonance. These mistakes do happen! Don’t fall into this trap.
Here are 10 easy Language Analysis techniques you should definitely know:
Credentials and expert opinion
Also ensure you're familiar with tones. It may be easy to identify the writer is ‘angry’, but is there a better way of expressing that? Perhaps ‘irritated’ is a better term or ‘vexed’, ‘passionate’, ‘furious’, ‘disgruntled’, ‘outraged', ‘irate’ and the list goes on….Stuck? Have a look at our 195 tones for Language Analysis.
Images (including cartoons, illustrations, and graphs) are something you also need to get your head around. Understanding how an image persuades its audience can be challenging, so test yourself and see if you know to look for these 10 things in cartoons.
Read and watch Lisa's Study Guides' resources
Doing this study all by yourself can be rather daunting, so we've got your back. We specialise in supporting VCE English by creating helpful videos, study guides and ebooks. Here are some just to get your started:
We create general Language Analysis advice videos where I answer your questions in a QnA format:
We also create article-specific videos where I select a past VCAA exam and analyse it in real-time:
Check out our entire YouTube channel (and don't forget to subscribe for regular new videos!).
Our awesome team of English high-achievers have analysed popular Language Analysis articles (most based off past VCAA exams). Here's a compilation of all the ones we've covered so far:
In this ebook, I teach you my unique SIMPLICITY and SPECIFICITY strategy.
Many people overcomplicate Language Analysis, and as a result, they think it's much harder than it should be. I was one of those people.
To be fair, when I was in VCE, I was getting straight As in my Language Analysis (and that was awesome!). However, I wanted to achieve more. I wanted to break the A+ barrier that I just couldn't seem to breach. I tried using more advanced language techniques, tried to make my analyses more complex, but they all failed.
It was only when I figured out the SIMPLICITY and SPECIFICITY strategy that I finally saw my marks hit the A+ range - I was ecstatic! Find out more by accessing a sample of my ebook via the Shop page, or at the bottom of this blog.
Practice Your Analysis
Analysing can get messy when you will have dozens of annotations sprawled across the text. Start testing out strategies that work for you. For example, try using idea-based-colouring. This means that if the article discusses injustice – for all techniques you identify dealing with injustice, highlight it yellow. For freedom, highlight them green. This will have you annotating and grouping ideas in one go, saving time and confusion.
Another approach is to use technique-based-colouring, where you highlight same or similar techniques in the one colour.
Above is an example of idea-based-colouring from my Lawton, The Home Of The Giant Watermelon - VCAA Exam 2016 video. If you haven't watched this video series, don't worry if it doesn't make sense to you for now. The point here is how the colours help me to quickly locate ideas when I'm writing my essay.
Once you've done some analysis and revision , it's time to write plans! Plans will help ensure you stick to your essay topic, and have a clear outline of what your essay will cover. This clarity is crucial to success in a Language Analysis essay.
Doing plans is also an extremely time-efficient way to approach SACs. Rather than slaving away hours upon hours over writing essays, writing plans can will save you the burnout, and get you feeling confident faster.
Yes, sad but it’s a fact. Writers only get better by actually writing. Even if you just tackle a couple of essays then at least you will have started to develop a thinking process that will help you to set out arguments logically, utilise important quotes and time yourself against the clock. It will help you write faster as well – something that is a major problem for many students. With that said, let's get into how to write a Language Analysis next.
How To Write a Language Analysis
Since we've established that Language Analysis is quite different from Text Response and Comparative, it's not surprising that the essay has its own set of best practices and rules.
Depending on how many texts you're given in your SAC or exam (it can be up to 3 texts), you should have an idea of how you plan to execute your essay accordingly - whether that be through a block structure, bridge structure or integrated structure. To learn more about essay structures, check out Christine's (English study score 49) advice in How To Structure A Language Analysis For Two Or More Texts.
In an introduction, you're expected to have the following:
In recent years, the issue regarding the treatment and management of asylum seekers has become a topic of interest for many Australian citizens, with the debate focusing centrally on the ethics of their indefinite detention, and the reliability of this initiative as a working solution. Many articles intending to weigh-in on the debate depict the Australian Government’s favoured solution in various tones, with two pieces, written by news source, The Guardian, by authors Ben Doherty and Helen Davidson, and activist Kon Karapanagiotidis, respectively, asserting that the initiative is the wrong approach to a growing problem. In their piece, 'Australia’s offshore detention regime is a brutal and obscene piece of self destruction', the former of the authors speaks with an accusatory tone to their audience of regular readers of the popular news publication site and debates the practicality of the 'arbitra[y]' detention of these asylum seekers, as well as calls into question the humanity of the act and assesses whether it is an effective use of Australia’s wealth, intending to persuade readers to be similarly critical of the initiative. Likewise, the author of the open letter, 'Stand in solidarity with people seeking asylum this holiday season', writes to supporters of his resource centre in a tone of conviction, asserting that asylum seekers deserve the safety of asylum within Australia, that detaining or barring them from entering the country is inhumane and the root of much suffering, and that overall, it is morally wrong, and thus should be ceased immediately. Both articles contend that Australia’s current solution to the growing issue is incorrect, with Doherty and Davidson specifically believing that there is a better solution that must be sought, and Karapanagiotidis believing that detention as a whole is inhumane and should not be further employed by the government.
Try to keep your introduction to the point. There's no need to prolong an introduction just to make a set number of sentences. It's always better to be concise and succinct, and move into your main body paragraphs where the juicy contents of your essay resides.
Most of you will be familiar with TEEL. TEEL can stand for:
In Language Analysis, it seems that schools teach their students different acronyms, whether it be TEE:
And if your teacher or school teaches you something slightly different to the aforementioned acronyms - that's okay too. At the end of the day, the foundations in what's expected are the same. Below is an integrated structure example:
While both articles make very different arguments on the same topic, in one particular case they give voice to the same issue, namely, the inhumanity of detaining refugees, in which both articles become advocates for the abolition of offshore detention. Authors for The Guardian write that it is 'needlessly cruel', 'harsh', and a 'brutal regime', using emotive language to give weight to their argument and invoke a sense of discomfort within their readers, particularly towards the government’s chosen solution. They call on the opinions of a number of other sources who have 'repeatedly criticised', the operation, such as the United Nations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among other similar experts on the matter. The authors depict Asylum Seekers as individuals who are 'arbitrarily punished offshore', and who 'have been accused of no crime', and are therefore, by the judgement of the authors, being treated immorally. In agreement, Karapanagiotidis writes of the abuse endured by asylum seekers in detention, including their separation from loved ones, their arbitrary incarceration, and stating that he, himself, 'cannot begin to imagine the personal toll detention has had on [them]', implying further damage has been done and inviting his audience to similarly place themselves into the figurative shoes of an asylum seeker. The author writes that the offshore detention of asylum seekers causes 'pain', and 'suffering', as well as the 'depriv[ation] of [their] hope', using emotive language to invoke sympathy and understanding within his readers. Karapanagiotidis hands the blame for such 'suffering inflicted', on the Australian government, a similar tactic which The Guardian employed throughout their piece. Overall, both articles use a range of language devices and expert sources to agree that the act of detention is inhumane, and the root of much suffering.
As you're writing essays, you'll probably find that you're using the word 'persuades' very often. To mix it up, have a ‘Persuade’ Synonym Word Bank with you whenever you're studying so that you can build up your vocabulary bank and avoid the dreaded, 'I just keep repeating the same word over and over again!'
Conclusions should be short and sweet.
The two articles, in their discussion of Australia’s offshore detention initiative, bring light to several key points. Authors for The Guardian use various appeals, emotive phrases and evidence of reported monetary statistics to sway the reader to share their opinion, as well as arguments regarding the lack of reliability the initiative provides in its ability to deter boats, the sheer cost of the program, and the morality of the issue. Similarly, Karapanagiotidis, the author of the open letter, uses a humanising image, appeals to the values of the readers, and employs phrases with pre-existing connotations known to the audience, to assert main contentions: that asylum seekers deserve asylum, that barring them from settling in the country is the root of much suffering, and that their indefinite detention is not only inhumane, but morally wrong.
If you’d like to see a list of sentence starters to help you broaden your vocabulary for your Analysing Argument essay, check out this blog.
That's it for the Ultimate Guide to Writing a Language Analysis. Good luck!
How Do I Do Well if I HATE the English Texts That I Am Studying?
I know that exact feeling; the feeling of giving up before it has even started. Some lucky students fall in love at first sight with their texts while some unfortunate students dread having to spend a whole year analysing their texts. If you resonate with the latter, you have probably already given up on English, or maybe you’re trying your best to stay optimistic. English is hard, but what makes it harder is when you know you hate the texts that you are studying, so how can I do well in English if I hate the texts that I have to study? Whether you hate reading and analysing texts or you just hate the specific text that you have to study, here is a guide on how to make studying and reading your texts more enjoyable!
We’ve all said it before, “I’ll just read it later” or “I’ll read it right before school starts” and in the end, it all leads to the same conclusion of us never actually reading the text and by the time our SACs roll around, we ‘study’ by reading summaries of our texts and try memorising the most popular quotes.
Do I Really Have To Read the Text?
The bad news is yes, it is highly recommended that you read your texts! (I know it can be tempting to just read chapter summaries but trust me, I have tried writing an essay without reading the text and it went very badly). However, the good news is using LSG’s ideal approach to your English texts, you may only need to read your texts a minimum of three times. In fact, if you make use of your first reading, you probably won’t have to personally read the text again! During this first reading, take your time, don’t try to binge read the entire text in a night as there is a high chance that you will not be following the plot and you’re just reading for the sake of finishing the text. There’s no need to start annotating the text during this first reading as you will most likely have a collective second reading in class where your teacher will go over the whole text in more detail by highlighting significant sections of your text. This first reading is simply for you to familiarise yourself with the text and what you will be handling during the year. However, if you still have trouble understanding your texts, LSG has a plethora of resources such as free text-specific blogs and affordable text guides that you can check out!
How Do I Find the Motivation To Read My Texts?
Some common reasons why we might procrastinate reading our texts are the sheer volume of pages we need to read; having a short attention span and; being a more visual learner. If this is the case, there are many ways to increase your motivation to read or watch your texts!
If the text is a play (e.g. The Crucible by Arthur Miller), watch the play while reading the script. Not only will this help you understand the stage directions in the script, but it can also help with understanding the plot if you are a more visual learner.
If the text has a film adaptation (e.g. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote or The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham), watch the film adaptation first! Knowing major plot twists and spoilers can make reading your text feel faster as you already know what is going to happen. Watching film adaptations can also help allow you to picture the plot easily and help immerse yourself into the setting and the world of the text (however, do take care when doing this as you are only analysing the text you have been allocated, not the adaptations!)
If the text is a film (e.g.Rear Window by Alfred Hitchcock), try to find a trailer of the film or find short clips from the film rather than watching the entire movie in one sitting; watching these cuts and suspenseful scenes may spark your curiosity which is likely to increase your interest towards wanting to watch the movie. Scheduling a movie night with friends and family is also a great way to make watching the film more fun.
Create goals: Space it out, we do not want to get burnt out! Organise goals and do not attempt to read the book all within a night! For example, you could aim to read one chapter a day. Not only will this hold you accountable, but it will also make reading less daunting and overwhelming.
Rewards: Who doesn’t love rewards? Reward yourself after reaching your reading goals, this could be as simple as taking a break after reading or reading a book that you like.
Audiobooks: When you don’t feel like physically reading, download audiobooks of your texts and listen to them while you’re commuting or while you’re doing your chores.
Environment: Create the perfect reading atmosphere! This is quite subjective, however, if you’re struggling to find this niche, here is a step-by-step guide to ‘romanticise’ reading:
Put your devices away! If you’re opting to read an ebook, you can also turn your notifications off. We do not want to be distracted and procrastinate!
Find a comfortable place to sit with good lighting.
If you’re in the mood for a sensory experience, light a scented candle or make your favourite beverage to sip along while you are reading.
If it helps, you can pretend that you’re reading at an aesthetic library, or your favourite café, or a serene park…the options are endless.
It can be even harder to find the motivation to study for the texts that you hate as you’re probably looking for ways to limit the amount of physical contact you make with the text or ways to save time and study less for English but still do well in the subject.
How Do I Save Time When Reviewing and Writing Notes on My Texts?
Tip 1: Write Notes Based on Themes, Writing Style & Characters Instead of Chronologically
Often, students will take notes chronologically based on each chapter, however, this is not helpful at all. In your SACs and exam, you will not be writing paragraphs based on each chapter, instead, you will likely be given one of the five types of essay prompts that require an in-depth understanding of the themes, writing style (such as symbols and motifs) and characters of the text. Therefore, I recommend writing down notes and quotes based on themes, specific writing techniques and characters.
For example, before class, you could create a separate notes page on each prominent theme of the text. When your teacher highlights significant sections of the text, you could then write down these notes into the relative theme document. For comparative texts, you can also create a comparison table based on overlapping themes which will allow you to view the comparisons more easily. If you’re a visual learner, colour coding your notes according to different themes or characters can make it easier to find later on when reviewing your notes. If you do this from the start, you will spend less time re-reading the text and organising your notes which will hopefully reduce the amount of time you spend studying.
Tip 2: Write Down Page Numbers Next to Quotes and Notes
No, you do not have to memorise page numbers for your final exam or SACs, however, writing down page numbers will help yousave time when reviewing your notes as you can just flip over to the page rather than having to re-read the text to find the specific quote or notes. It may seem rather annoying having to write down the page numbers all the time, however, your future self will thank you!
How Can I Find the Motivation To Write on the Text That I Hate?
Tip 1: Find Out What You Hate and Like About the Text
We all experience writer’s block, especially when we have no passion for the text we are studying. However, assuming you have read the text, you would probably have unique opinions on the text. Firstly, find out what you hate about the text.
Do you hate a specific character in the text? Why do you hate this character?
Do you hate the writing style? What is it about the writing style that you hate?
Is there a specific theme you felt the text did not address properly?
Was there a specific scene or part of the text that frustrated you?
Once you find out what you hate about the text, find an essay prompt related to the topic you hate and practice writing an essay about it! Use this as a chance to lowkey rant, discuss or debate about the topic. Not only will this help you develop your inner author voice, but it will also provide you with inspiration to write. On the other hand, you can also find out what you like about the text (hopefully, you don’t hate everything about the text) and practice writing on a topic related to this. For example, I hated studying The Crucible due to the portrayal of women in the text. However, when analysing the text, I realised that the portrayal of women in the text was simply a reflection of the conservative and insular society of Salem which became a theme that I liked discussing.
Tip 2: Put the Text in Context
Keep in mind that the texts that you have been allocated all have a specific aim and purpose such as serving political commentary about a significant historical event, critiquing a specific characteristic of conservative communities or simply a discussion about human nature. Throughout the text, there will be many literary techniques, characters and events that will be used to bring these significant themes to life. Therefore, regardless of whether you like the plot of the text or not, the themes that you will be studying may be more of interest to you. If this is the case, researching the background and the world of the text may help you gain a deeper understanding of these themes which is likely to increase your motivation to write as you will be able to apply your knowledge about the text such as quotes, characters and events to these themes.
Tip 3: Utilise Your Strengths
By focusing on your strengths, you are likely to increase your confidence and consequently, your motivation to write! Therefore, if you are an expert at analysing literary techniques, or if you have mastered writing about characters, use these strengths when you are writing. Not only will playing at your strengths make writing less difficult, it may also help overshadow your weaknesses.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many choices in English and it is quite likely that you will end up with a text that you dislike. However, it is still possible to do well in English while studying texts you hate! Hopefully, these tips can make reading and studying your texts much more enjoyable and consequently, make your English experience much more pleasant. Endure the pain now and you'll be finished before you know it!
Stasiland and 1984 are studied as part of VCE English's Comparative. For one of most popular posts on Comparative (also known as Reading and Comparing), check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Comparative.
Stasiland is a memoir-style recollection of the author Anna Funder’s encounters with people affected by the years of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), or when Germany was divided into east and west. It marries the author’s personal growth and development during her period of research with the personal histories of those who acted as both perpetrator and victim of the regime’s atrocities. The result is an emotional and deeply human perspective of this heavily-documented period of history which delves into the lasting yet often invisible marks the GDR left on those it touched.
1984 is on the surface the dystopian narrative of the struggles and ultimate downfall of a man named Winston who lives in the depressingly grungy and hopeless world of Big Brother and The Party. In a more profound sense, however, it is author George Orwell’s warning concerning the possibilities inherent in the development of totalitarianism and how these might come to damage the human race.
3. Character Analysis and Comparison
When comparing the characters presented in these two texts, it is important to remember that Orwell’s are fictional and Funder’s are her retellings of real people’s stories. Take care to avoid discussing Funder’s characters as constructions, and focus instead on how she has chosen to portray them.
4. Sample Paragraphs
Prompt: Discuss the different ways in which the authors of Stasiland and 1984 explore the intricacies of state power and knowledge.
When significant knowledge in any form is gained, it follows that it can be used in any way an individual or group sees fit. Stasiland and 1984 both show that the same piece of information can be used in drastically different ways to suit the purpose of that information’s owner. In both texts, we can observe this in many areas: mass surveillance for security or espionage purposes, recordkeeping to retain the truth or warp it, and medical or physiological advancements used to solve humanity’s problems or deliberately harm and deform people. Such examples force us to consider two well-known maxims, and to decide between the bliss of ignorance and the power of knowledge.
Sample Body Paragraph
In theory, mass surveillance has many benefits; it could be used to prevent criminal activity such as large-scale terrorist attacks and ensure the happiness and wellbeing of citizens. However, it is almost never associated with anything positive. In George Orwell’s 1984, we are introduced to his hypothesis concerning what it would be like if it were to become developed to its full extent. The concept can be divided into three levels; firstly there is the obvious, external activities that we observe in both texts, which include mail screening, a military or gendarme presence in the streets and a network of informers. Secondly there is the introduction of the state into the home, which is achieved by The Party mainly through the telescreen, the most prominent and sinister instrument of mass surveillance in Oceania which gives total access to individual behaviour in the privacy of the home. While Winston seems to have found a loophole in this area by being ‘able to remain outside the range of the telescreen’, The Party carries its mass surveillance to the truest sense of the expression by extending it to a seemingly impossible third level, which introduces the state into ‘the few cubic centimetres inside [the] skull’. Interestingly, while the Thought Police cannot truly ‘see’ what is inside someone’s head, they can still control it; as long as people think that someone can see their thoughts, they will censor them themselves. This shows that the beauty of mass surveillance is that it does not actually have to be universal or all-encompassing to be successful. This is why the Stasi did not need to go to the lengths of The Party to achieve a similar result; the people merely need to believe that it is so on the basis of some evidence, and through this they can be controlled. Ultimately, mass surveillance can never be anything but destructive for this reason; it could put a complete halt to all terrorist plots and it would still act against the people by insidiously forcing them to censor their own thoughts out of fear.
Both Stasiland and 1984 show absolutely that knowledge is a fundamental and intrinsic part of power, as it cannot exist without knowledge. While it is true that knowledge can be held without exercising it in some external display of power, it always shapes the person who holds it in ways both subtle and direct. Knowledge can therefore be seen as similar to Pandora’s Box; once it exists in a mind, it alters it, and the actions it prompts depend only on the desires and will of that mind.
In order to properly understand either of these texts, you’ll need to put on your history hat. Both of them are very firmly rooted in historical events, and to get a good grasp on what they really mean, you need to understand these events. You should research communism and socialism fairly extensively as well as the GDR, but you don’t need to sit for hours and write a book on the subject. All you need to do is trawl through Wikipedia for half an hour, or as long as it takes to get a sense of the subject. They key is to not ignore things that you don’t understand; if you see terms like ‘Eastern Bloc’ or ‘Marxism’ or ‘The Iron Curtain’ and you’ve got no idea what they are, research them! Even terms that you might believe you’re familiar with, like ‘Communism’ could also use a refresher.
The other main point is that 1984 particularly deals very heavily in ideological and philosophical argument. Orwell constructed the events of the plot as one giant hypothetical situation, so try and think to yourself – could that really happen? Is that really possible, or is this whole thing just plain silly? Remember that this text is much, much more than a simple narrative, and address it as such
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Year of Wonders is set in the small English village of Eyam in 1665, as the town struggles through a deadly outbreak of the bubonic plague. While the characters and events are fictional, author Geraldine Brooks based the novel on the true story of Eyam, whose inhabitants, at the urging of their vicar, courageously decided to quarantine themselves to restrict the spread of the contagion and protect other rural townships.
The experience of the plague provides Brooks fertile ground to develop characters that illustrate the extremes of human nature; displaying the dignity or depravity, self-sacrifice or self-interest that people are capable of when faced with terror, pain and the unknown. She explores the consequences of a catastrophe on an isolated, insular and deeply religious community and we see characters exhibit tireless dedication and heroism, or succumb to depression, exploitation and sometimes murderous depravity.
The novel illustrates that adversity can bring out the best and worst of people and that faith can be challenged and eroded. The novel explores how crises affect human behaviour, beliefs and values and reveal the real character of a community under pressure. Our job while studying this text is to consider how all the different responses to an external crisis contribute to an analysis of human nature.
2. Historical Context
Year of Wonders belongs to the genre of historical fiction (meaning it is fictional but based on historical events) and aims to capture and present the historical context accurately. The context of Year of Wonders is important to understand as it informs a lot of the division and instability in Eyam during the isolation and crisis of the plague (we explain in more detail why context is so important in Context and Authorial Intent in VCE English).
In 1658, only 7 years before the novel opens, Puritan statesmen Oliver Cromwell (who defeated King Charles I in the English Civil War and ruled as Lord Protector of the British Isles from 1653) died and Charles II, heir to the throne, returned from exile to rule England as King. Charles II replaced Cromwell’s rigid puritanism with the more relaxed Anglicanism and his reign began the dynamic period known as the Restoration. During the civil war and Cromwell’s rule, all the past certainties – the monarchy and the Church – had been repeatedly challenged and overturned. This all happened during the lifetime of the Eyam villagers presented in the novel and the recent religious upheaval in Britain was beginning to influence the conservative and puritan congregation of Eyam as the old puritan rector was replaced with Anglican vicar Michael Mompellion. The tension between the puritans and Anglicans is evident early in the novel and is exacerbated by the arrival of the plague, causing further internal fission.
The 17th century also marked the beginning of modern medicine and the Age of Enlightenment. During the Enlightenment, people began to privilege reason and sensory evidencefrom the material world over biblical orthodoxy as the primary sources of knowledge. The Enlightenment advanced ideals such as progress, liberty, tolerance, egalitarianism and the scientific method. These values are reflected in the liberal characters of Anna, Elinor, Mem and Anys Gowdie, and to an extent, Michael Mompellion. However, we also see the limited reaches of the Enlightenment in characters who succumb to superstition or self-flagellation when the plague arrives. This was a time when religious faith was frequently challenged and redefined.
3. Character Analysis
The novel is narrated in the first person by protagonist Anna Frith. Anna, a young widow, mother and housemaid, becomes the town’s nurse and midwife during the plague alongside her employer and friend Elinor Mompellion. Anna is a compelling protagonist and narrator because she is part of the ordinary, working-class life of the village, but also has access to the gentry in her work for the Mompellions, meaning readers can see how the plague affected all social groups.
At the beginning of the novel, Anna is in many ways very conventional. Aside from her intelligence and desire to learn, evidenced by her interest and quick proficiency in learning to read, Anna married young, is a dedicated mother, had an incomplete education and never thought to question the town’s orthodox religious beliefs. However, it is revealed early that she has progressive views on class and morality and as the novel progresses, the extraordinary circumstances of the plague evoke in her heroism and courage. Brooks notes, Anna 'shrugs off the social and religious mores that would keep a weaker woman in her place'. During the plague, Anna becomes the village’s voice of reason and an indispensable figure due to her expanding medical knowledge, tenacity, resourcefulness and tireless generosity.
Michael Mompellion is Eyam’s Anglican preacher, having been appointed three years earlier after Charles II returned to England and replaced Puritan clergies. Generally, Mompellion is altruistic and open-minded: softening strict class divisions, combatting superstition and embracing a scientific approach to the plague. When the plague arrives, the local gentry (the Bradfords) flee and due to his charisma and position in the Church, he becomes the town’s unofficial leader. Mompellion persuades the townspeople to go into self-imposed quarantine to prevent the spread of the plague. His personal charisma, powerful rhetoric and indefatigable dedication to his work mean he can motivate and inspire his parishioners.
Mompellion’s unwavering commitment to his beliefs makes him a good leader, but we also see that his single-minded religious zeal can lead to harsh irrationality and hypocrisy. While progressive on issues such as class divisions, Mompellion is conservative – bordering on fanatic – when it comes to female sexuality. When his beloved wife Elinor dies, it is revealed that Mompellion denied her sexual intimacy for their entire marriage to punish her for the premarital affair and abortion she had as a teenager. Mompellion realises upon Elinor’s death that he extended forgiveness and understanding to all but his wife and, recognising his own hypocrisy and cruelty, he suffers a breakdown and loses much of his religious faith. Through Anna’s eyes, we see Mompellion shift from a character of moral infallibility, to a flawed and inconsistent man of a more ambiguous character.
Elinor is Mompellion’s wife and Anna’s employer and teacher. By the end of the novel, Anna and Elinor are confidantes and friends and their friendship arguably forms one of the strongest emotional cores of the novel, sustaining both women through enormous strain and hardship. Elinor teaches Anna to read and seems not to notice or care about their different social strata, treating everyone equally. Elinor came from a very wealthy family and initially had little practical knowledge of the hardships and necessities of life. During the plague, she confronts pain, suffering and true sacrifice. Because of her beauty, fragility and generosity, the whole town – and especially Anna – view her as a paragon of virtue and the embodiment of innocence. However, Elinor reveals that as a teenager she had a premarital relationship that resulted in an illegitimate pregnancy which she ended through abortion. Elinor considers herself to be permanently marked by sin and is plagued by the guilt of her adolescent mistakes, but her commitment to atone through service and working to help others is admirable.
Anys and Mem Gowdie
Anys and her aunt Mem are the town’s healers and midwives. Both women live on the margins of society, as their knowledge of herbal medicines and power to heal certain ailments causes fear and suspicion. Additionally, Anys further alienates the villagers by having conspicuous affairs with married village men. Anna admires Anys’ herbal knowledge and healing skill and her autonomy and unashamed sexuality, which were rare for women at the time. When the plague breaks out, Anys and Mem are murdered by a mob of hysterical townspeople, who believe they are witches responsible for the plague. This episode shows the power and acute danger of superstitionand hysteria.
Josiah and Aphra Bont
Josiah 'Joss' Bont is Anna’s estranged father and Aphra is Anna’s stepmother. Brooks depicts them as unsympathetic and unforgivable, if understandable, villains as they both seek to profit off the heavy misfortune of others. Joss abused Anna greatly throughout her childhood, and while she manages to forgive him due to the suffering of his own youth, when he cruelly exploits villagers in his position as gravedigger, Anna finds his actions irredeemable. As gravedigger, Joss charged exorbitant fees from desperate people to bury their dead, regularly stole from the beleaguered families and attempted to bury a wealthy plague sufferer alive to loot his home.
Aphra is similarly amoral and greedy. Although her love for her children is shown to be strong, she capitalises on the fear and superstition of her neighbours by selling fake charms while pretending to be Anys Gowdie’s ghost. After the death of her husband and children, Aphra becomes completely deranged, dismembering and refusing to bury the rotting corpses of her children and eventually murdering Elinor. Aphra’s fate and actions show how prolonged catastrophe and suffering can totally erode an individual’s sanity.
The Bradford Family
The Bradford family are arrogant and pretentious. When the plague arrived in Eyam they also proved themselves self-serving and opportunistic, exploiting their wealth and status as part of the gentry to flee Eyam instead of enduring the quarantine with the rest of the village. They provide a foil to the Mompellions, who are of similar status and are newcomers to Eyam with fewer historical ties and thus expectations of loyalty. The two upper-class families provide directly opposite responses to the crisis, with Brooks clearly condemning the cowardice and selfishness exhibited by the Bradfords.
Social Convention and Human Nature in a Crisis
Perhaps the most significant theme or exploration of the novel is what happens to an individual’s character and community norms in a crisis. Year of Wonders depicts a small and isolated community that experiences intense adversity from the plague and, because of their self-imposed quarantine, are additionally isolated from the stabilising forces of broader society. These factors cause the people of Eyam to increasingly abandon their social conventions and descend into chaos and Brooks raises the question of whether people can live harmoniously without a strong social code. She suggests that societal cohesion is the result of social pressure rather than innate to our nature. The social norms and protocols of Eyam collapse under the pressure of the plague, allowing discerning observers like Anna to explore the validity and value of her society’s fundamental values. Eyam’s experience of the plague demonstrates that some norms, like the limited role of women and the strict class divisions, do not need to be so repressive, while other norms and social virtues, like the rule of law and justice, are proved even more essential for their absence as order and civility disintegrate.
Brooks also explores the response of individuals to extreme and enduring adversity and questions whether crises reveal someone’s true nature or instead force them to act out of character.
Anna and Elinor are examples of characters who respond to the crisis of the plague, amongst other real hardships, with a steadfast commitment to their principles. Their innate charity and work ethic are only strengthened and bolstered by the demands of the plague. However, not all residents of Eyam respond to the plague with courage and decency. Many descend into fear and hysteria, while others become malevolent and exploitative in their efforts to protect themselves. The Bonts and the Bradfords are examples of people who act with appalling selfishness, yet Brooks is careful to illustrate them as cruel and self-serving even before the plague. Thus, Brooks appears to argue that our actions under intense duress are intensifications of our true nature.
Faith, Suffering and Science
A major theme explored in the novel is the role of faith in people’s lives and throughout the novel faith, superstition and emerging science contend with each other. Before the plague, the townspeople believe whole-heartedly in God’s divine plan – that the good and bad things that happened to them were God’s rewards or punishments for their virtues or sins. However, the plague makes this worldview unsupportable as the unremitting suffering of plague victims, depicted through gory and vividly gruesome descriptions, demonstrates that their suffering is not commensurate with their sin and that no one can deserve this fate. In particular, it is the suffering of children that most intensely shakes Anna’s faith in a divine plan. Her two young sons are early victims of the plague and their youth and innocence mean it is impossible to justify their deaths as punishment for sin. The sheer tragedy of the plague causes Anna to realise that faith in God’s plan is inadequate to explain suffering and tragedy and she looks for another explanation. This leads her to use science and medicine to ameliorate pain. By focusing on discovering possible cures or pain relievers, Anna and Elinor are indirectly treating the plague as just a 'thing in nature', eschewing the prevailing religious view that the plague is the result of God’s wrath. Their emerging scientific worldview does not rely on God’s presence and intervention in the material world and Anna loses her religious faith.
However, the scientific method and worldview were only in its very nascent form and most people held a firm belief in supernatural intervention, making the townspeople prone to superstition and, in their ignorance and fear, murderousmobhysteria.
Women and Female Sexuality
Women in Eyam had lived highly circumscribed and restricted lives until the crisis of the plague disrupted the social order. The behaviour and speech of women were heavily policed and punished. In a particularly horrifying episode, Joss puts his wife in a muzzle and parades her through the village after she publicly criticises him. While Joss is undeniably an all-round bad guy, his misogyny cannot be dismissed as singular to him. Even Mompellion, an altruistic and in some ways quite progressive man, takes a very harsh stance on female sexuality. Although he preached to adulterous male villagers such as Jakob Merrill that 'as God made us lustful so he understands and forgives', he denied Elinor forgiveness for her teenage sexual relationship and was unfathomably rageful when he discovers Jane Martin having sex outside of marriage. However, Brooks criticises the taboo on female sexuality and shows that sexual desire is an awakening and liberating force for Anna, twice helping her to come out of deep depressions and reminding her that life has joy and meaning.
There are strong feminist undertones throughout the novel as each female character exhibits strengths that the male characters do not and challenges the limitations of her role, expressing desire for more personal autonomy and agency. From the beginning of the novel, Anna admires the sexual freedom of Anys Gowdie and the ability of Elinor to unreservedly pursue her intellectual interests. During the plague, Anna finds herself eschewing her old role and social position and assuming many challenging and indispensable responsibilities that would have been unthinkable for any woman – especially a young single working-class woman – before the plague.
Leadership and Judgement in Times of Crisis
The text explores both the power of religious leaders to influence public opinion and the ability of strong and courageous individuals to rise to positions of respect and authority in a crisis. Mompellion’s natural leadership and rhetorical skill keep the community calm and bring out the spirit of self-sacrifice in them. His clear dedication to his work and parishioners inspires trust in the community, and although Mompellion comes to doubt his judgement, it is undeniable that his strong leadership and assumption of huge responsibility saved countless lives. Anna also emerges as an unofficial leader; she becomes an essential figure and the voice of reason in Eyam. The community’s newfound respect for Anna is evident in the way she is listened to and adhered to and her confidence in firmly and decisively addressing and directing men and those of a higher social class.
We see examples of powerful leadership in the novel, but we also see how an overwhelming crisis can lead to a shortage of clear leadership and expose flaws in existing governing systems. Eyam relied on its gentry (Colonel Bradford) and vicar (Michael Mompellion) to adjudicate and administer justice. However, on the advent of the plague, the Bradfords fled from Eyam and Mompellion became overwhelmed by work, leaving the townspeople to frequently administer their own justice through group tribunals or vigilante action. Additionally, the extreme circumstances of the plague mean the town must deal with crimes it has never faced before and is unsure how to punish. Brooks explores what it means to achieve justice when the only means available are faulty. There are many examples of miscarriages of justice which forces readers to think about the necessity of a strong, fair and prompt judicial system and the weaknesses inherent in these institutions.
5. Sample Essay Topics
How does Year of Wonders explore the concept of social responsibility?
‘In stressful times, we often doubt what we most strongly believe.’ How is this idea explored in Year of Wonders?
‘Year of Wonders suggests that, in a time of crisis, it is more important than ever to hold on to traditional values.’ Discuss.
‘How little we know, I thought, of the people we live amongst.’ What does the text say about community and one’s understanding of reality?
‘Year of Wonders explores human failings in a time of crisis.’ Discuss
Now it’s your turn! Give these essay topics a go using the analysis you’ve learnt in this blog.
The starting point of any theme-based prompt is the ideas, and while this prompt characterises the novel as one essentially about courage, it is more generally exploring the theme of how people responded to the various challenges of the plague. ‘Discuss’ questions give you scope to partially agree, disagree, or extend the prompt. It is okay to ultimately agree with the prompt but to also demonstrate the complexity and nuance of the author’s intentions, and I think that is the best approach for this essay!
Step 2: Brainstorm
As we’ve already discussed, Year of Wondersdepicts a community experiencing an acute crisis and Brooks presents the very worst and very best of human nature. There are characters who display enormous courage (Anna and Elinor), others who are cowardly (the Bradfords) and those who exploit others’ hardships for their own gain (Joss Bont). There is also an entire supporting cast of characters who individually display neither extreme courage nor cowardice but who muddle through a terrible situation with numb apathy. There is also the opportunity to define what courage means here – after all, the decision to isolate themselves within the boundaries of Eyam took immense courage from all the villagers, who knew full well that they would inevitably be exposed to the deadly contagion.
Step 3: Create a Plan
Paragraph 1: [Agree] The novel is grounded in and revolves around the initial courageous decision of the villagers of Eyam to quarantine themselves and risk their own lives to protect others from the spread of the bubonic plague.
Focus on the initial act of courage and the knowing self-sacrifice that this decision required from every single person in Eyam.
As the event that forms the basis of this work of historical fiction, a logical argument can be made that this first act of courage in adversity forms the foundation of the novel and therefore affirms the idea that Year of Wonders is about great courage.
However, importantly, this decision was an act of community courage that anticipated future adversity but was taken before many of the villagers had actually experienced the acute hardship and suffering of the plague. This is why it is important to now discuss the courage shown by individuals in the midst of extreme adversity [link].
Paragraph 2: [Agree] The individuals who displayed courage, hope and conviction in the face of acute personal adversity demonstrate the enormous power of courage to steel us through a crisis.
Anna and the Mompellions concentrate on helping others and their service helped keep some degree of social order and provided comfort to victims of the plague. What they were able to achieve and provide for the community (and how much worse the situation would have been without their courageous assumption of responsibility) illustrates Brooks' high respect for courage and service.
To demonstrate additional analytical thinking, you might consider discussing the fact that these characters were not courageous solely out of charity, but that having an occupation and something to keep them busy and focused actually became a personal survival mechanism. This further highlights the absolutely pivotal role of courage in adversity and is only reinforced through the contrast with the ignoble behaviour of those characters who did not behave courageously and forthrightly [link].
Paragraph 3: [Partial disagree] However, Year of Wonders shows how adversity can provoke extremes of human behaviour and is thus also a story of human failings under immense pressure, with many characters motivated by cowardice and self-interested opportunism.
Here, you should discuss the dishonourable behaviour of the Bonts, the Bradfords and the hysterical mob that murdered the Gowdie women. Your aim should not only be to explain that they behaved without courage, but also to focus on the negativerepercussions their behaviour had for them and the community This will help you build an analytical argument that Brooks’ core message is about the power and necessity of courage in the face of adversity.
Ultimately, while no character escapes from the pain and loss of the plague, Brooks provides illustrations of how different people responded to their shared suffering and it is clear that she believes that the best way to respond to adversity is with the courage and strength to face the challenge head on.
If you found this essay breakdown helpful, let us know if you’d be interested in a complete LSG Year of Wonders Study Guidewhere we would cover 5 A+ fully written sample essays with EVERY essay annotated and broken down on HOW and WHY the essays achieved A+ so you can reach your English goals!
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.
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