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Contention and Topic Sentences
We are well into the second half of Semester 1 and for Year 12 students, the Mt Everest that is the final English examination is approximately 6 months away. Though most students are at this stage comfortable with the text response aspect of English, many tend to struggle with the notion of “answering the prompt”.
When working to correct this issue, it is important to understand the VCAA English Study Design brief for text response which outlines its examination criteria as being:
detailed knowledge and understanding of the selected text, demonstrated appropriately in response to the task
development in the writing of a coherent and effective structure in response to the task
control in the use of expressive and effective language appropriate to the task.
The importance of answering the prompt is stressed in each of the 3 listed points in the rubric which share the common theme of following the assigned task. In order to construct an essay which successfully answers the prompt, one must be conscious of the relationship between the prompt assigned, their stated contention and the topic sentences they provide.
Prompts for Section A are divided into one of five categories. To learn more about LSG's Five Types Technique, check out our blog.
The first thing one should do when presented with a prompt is analyse it by identifying the keywords of the prompt and clarifying all the key terms. Once this has been done, it is time to formulate a contention.
A contention is simply your view of the prompt. This is where you challenge the statement presented to you and construct a viewpoint outlining the degree to which you are in agreement or disagreement with the prompt or if you are sitting on the fence. It is vital to do this not by blatantly rewording the prompt to display your stance, instead you must observe the prompt and construct an assessment of the prompt by drawing from the text to confirm your contention. It is through your contention that your points of discussion detailed in your topic sentences are formed.
Points to remember:
do not explicitly say “I agree” or “I disagree”
rather demonstrate how you feel (and thus how you are going to write) by using the text to highlight your opinion of the prompt
use your contention as “umbrella” from which your body paragraph ideas fall under
The next step in developing your essay response is to settle on what points to make in your body paragraphs and write topic sentences. Topic sentences outline the content you will be presenting to your teacher or examiner in the particular body paragraph. A good topic sentence should detail an idea that can be drawn from your contention. A habit some students carry into Year 12 from earlier years of essay writing is to write body paragraphs solely on characters and in turn writing a topic sentence stating which character they will write about in that paragraph. Rather than doing this, focus on the context, themes, symbols and conventions particular character(s) feature in throughout the text.
Points to remember:
ensure your topic sentence clearly indicates what you will discuss in your paragraph
check to make sure your topic sentence is an idea that stems from your contention
avoid character based topic sentences and focus on the themes these characters are utilised to explore
The key to adhering to the prompt presented to you is forming a relationship between the material given to you, your adopted contention and the topic sentences which headline your evidence and justification. Think of the prompt as the avenue through which to form your overall stance. Your contention is the basis of the entirety of your essay. Your topic sentences are opening statements written with the purpose of helping you develop a discussion that follows your contention that is in relation to the prompt. When your text response has evidence of this not only will you present an essay that closely addresses the prompt, but your work will reflect your thoughts, in a manner which efficiently enables you to show off your skills.
Get our FREE VCE English Text Response mini-guide
Now quite sure how to nail your text response essays? Then download our free mini-guide, where we break down the art of writing the perfect text-response essay into three comprehensive steps.
Written expression is often overlooked in our essays. Often, if we are made aware of clunky or awkward expression, we are also not quite sure how to go about improving it. Although sophisticated and pertinent ideas serve as the foundation of a successful essay, how we construct our sentences and express these ideas may be what distinguishes a good essay from a great essay.
These differences can be rather subtle, but the small things can and do matter.
1) USE YOUR VOCAL CHORDS
(to read out loud, not sing… unless you really want to)
Take your essay and read it out loud. Let your own conscience guide you in terms of whether a particular sentence flows well, is complete and makes sense. Keep your eye out for these small errors in particular: Grammar:Does your sentence actually make sense? Let’s have a look at an example:Although Funder suggests that the act of telling one’s story, especially one of victimisation, can catalyse the internal confrontation and healing required to move on.
(This is not grammatically correct! This is because this example only contains a subordinate clause and is lacking a main clause.)
But wait… what is this ‘subordinate clause’ and ‘main clause’?
A clause includes a subject and a verb.
Melissa ate an apple.After Wendy ate an apple.
What is the difference between the two clauses above?
‘Melissa ate an apple’ makes grammatical sense on its own. This is what we call a main clause (or an independent clause). On the other hand, ‘After Wendy ate an apple’ is an incomplete sentence as it does not make sense. What happened after Wendy ate her apple? This is the information that is missing from the latter clause, making this a subordinate clause (or a dependent clause).
So now let’s try again…
Although Funder suggests that the act of telling one’s story, especially one of victimisation, can catalyse the internal confrontation and healing required to move on, ultimately, these individuals can never be truly free from the past that has irrevocably defined them.
(Hooray! This is a complete sentence now.)
Spelling: Are the title of the text, the author or director’s name, characters’ names, publisher’s name, etc. all spelt correctly (and capitalised, underlined, and italicised appropriately)?
Did you use the correct there, their and they’re? How about it’s and its? (and so on).
Sentence length: Did that sentence just go on for 5 lines on a page and you are out of breath now? You can most probably split that overloaded sentence into two or more sentences that make much more sense. Check whether you have a clear subject in your sentence. If you have three different ideas in one sentence, give each idea its own opportunity (ie. sentence) to shine. The opposite also applies: if it is for a very short sentence, did that sentence pack enough content or analysis?
One spelling error or half-finished sentence in an essay will not severely affect your mark, but they can easily add up if they occur often enough. Consequently, this will distract the reader from engaging with your ideas fully and thus disrupt the flow of your essay.
By being aware of these aspects, you are now able to easily fix them and boost your writing.
2) BE SUBTLE
Try not to be casual or overt in your writing as it can be quite jarring to read and unfortunately give readers a potentially negative impression of your piece.
Try not to use phrases such as:
- In my opinion… (You do not need it as your entire essay should be your implicit opinion!)
- This quote shows that… (Embed the quote and link to its implication instead)
- This technique is designed to… (Identify the technique and be specific, especially in Language Analysis)
- I think that…, I believe… (Avoid using first person in a formal essay. Use of first person in creative writing is fine though if required)
They are redundant and do not add much to your ideas and analysis. Try omitting them and see whether that helps your sentence flow better and seem more formal.
3) LINK ‘EM UP
Sentences that seem disjointed or a clear connection can make it difficult for your teacher or the assessor to join the dots between an idea and an implication or consequence. Use linking words as they are fantastic for explicitly showing the reader how your ideas are related and thus allow your writing to proceed smoothly.
Therefore, hence, thus, thereby, consequently, subsequently, in addition, additionally, furthermore, moreover, on the other hand, on the contrary, however, henceforth, and so on… The list is endless!
4) ADD OOMPH (through vocabulary)
In general, having a wide vocabulary will allow you to express your ideas and analysis more accurately as you are likely to have access to a precise word that can capture the essence of your idea. Make a vocabulary list for a particular text or for Language Analysis (such as tone words) and aim to use varied language to convey yourself well.
If you’d like to see a list of sentence starters and essay phrases to help you get a headstart on expanding your vocabulary, check out this blog.
Focus on verbs and expanding your list of synonyms for words such as shows, demonstrates, highlights, emphasises, suggests and so on. An individual, character, author or director may not only be conveying but also denigrating or remonstrating or bolstering or glorifying or insinuating. Adding precision to your writing through careful vocabulary choice will distinguish your writing and also add complexity.
BEWARE! There is a fine line to tread with sophisticated vocabulary - do not overload your writing as you can risk writing convoluted sentences that hinder the reader’s ability to understand your piece. Also make sure that you understand the nuances of each synonym and that they are used in the correct context! (They are synonyms after all - not the same word!)
If you are debating whether to use a word, ask yourself: do you know what it means?
If yes: Go for it!
If no: Do not use it until you know what it means.
Reading sample essays, The Age Text Talks, reviews and more of the texts you are currently studying will expose you to not only a multitude of interpretations of your text, but also to different sentence structures, writing styles or vocabulary that you could incorporate into your own writing.
I would also highly recommend that you read outside of the texts you are studying if you have time, whether that may be novels by the same author or even newspapers. Your written expression will only benefit from this exposure as the ways you can express yourself through writing continue to increase upon seeing others’ eloquence.
6) GET WRITING
If you do not write, you will never be able to improve your written expression. Put pen to paper (or hands to keyboard) and start constructing that essay. You can only fix your writing once you have writing to fix.
There Are Also Other Ways of Using Quotation Marks
Questions You Must Ask Yourself When Weaving Quotes into Sentences
How To Find Good Quotes
1. What Are Quotes?
Quotations, better known by their abbreviation ‘quotes’, are a form of evidence used in VCE essays. Using quotations in essays helps to demonstrate your knowledge of the text, and provides solid evidence for your arguments. The discussion on quotations in this study guide can be applied to all three areas of study in the VCAA English course which have been explained in detail in our Ultimate Guides to VCE Text Response, Comparative and Language Analysis.
A quotation is the repetition of a group of words taken from a text by someone other than the original author. The punctuation mark used to indicate a repetition of another author’s work is presented through quotation marks. These quotation marks are illustrated by inverted commas, either single inverted commas (‘ ’) or double inverted commas (“ ”). There is no general rule in Australia regarding which type of inverted comma you must use for quotations. Single inverted commas are preferred in Australia as they follow the British standard. The American standard involves styling quotations with the double inverted comma. You can choose either style, just be consistent in your essays.
2. Why Use Quotes?
The usage of quotations in essays demonstrates:
Your knowledge of the text
Credibility of your argument
An interesting and thoughtful essay
The strength of your writing skills.
However, quotations must be used correctly, otherwise you risk (and these frequent mistakes will be discussed in detail later):
Overcrowding or overloading of quotations
How You Integrate a Quote into an Essay Depends on Three Factors:
What you want to quote
How much you want to quote
How that quote will fit into your essay.
3. What You Want To Quote
As you discuss ideas in a paragraph, quotes should be added to develop these ideas further. A quote should add insight into your argument; therefore, it is imperative that the quote you choose relates intrinsically to your discussion. This is dependent on which aspect of the text you are discussing, for example:
Description of theme or character
Description of event or setting
Description of a symbol or other literary technique
Never quote just for the sake of quoting. Quotations can be irrelevant if a student merely adds in quotes as ‘sentence fillers’. Throwing in quotations just to make your essay appear more sophisticated will only be more damaging if the quotation does not adequately reinforce or expand on your contention. Conversely, an essay with no quotations will not achieve many marks either.
4. How Much You Want To Quote
A quotation should never tell the story for you. Quotations are a ‘support’ system, much like a back up for your ideas and arguments. Thus, you must be selective in how much you want to quote. Generally speaking, the absolute minimum is three quotes per paragraph but you should not overload your paragraphs either. Overcrowding your essay with too many quotations will lead to failure to develop your ideas, as well as your work appearing too convoluted for your assessor. Remember that the essay is your piece of work and should consist mainly of your own ideas and thoughts.
Single Word Quotations
The word ‘evaporates’, used to characterise money and happiness intends to instill the idea that happiness as a result of money is only temporary. (VCAA ‘Can Money Buy Happiness’ Language Analysis)
Single worded quotations can often leave the largest impression on the assessor. This is because you are able to demonstrate that you can focus on one word and develop an entire idea around it.
Sunil Badami ‘still found it hard to tie my Indian appearance to my Australian feeling', showing that for Sunil, his culture was not Indian, but Australian due to his upbringing. (Sticks and Stones and Such-like, Sunil Badami in Growing Up Asian in Australia)
A phrase quotation is the most common quotation length you will use in essays.
The multitudes of deaths surrounding Anna began to take its toll on her, burdening her with guilt as ‘sometimes, if I walked the main street of the village in the evening, I felt the press of their ghosts. I realised then that I had begun to step small and carry myself all hunched, keeping my arms at my sides and my elbows tucked, as if to leave room for them.’ (Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks)
Long quotations comprise of more than one sentence – avoid using them as evidence. Your assessor will not mark you highly if the bulk of your paragraphs consists of long quotations. You should aim to keep your quotations to less than 2 lines on an A4 writing page. If you have a long quotation you wish to use, be selective. Choose only the important phrases or key words, and remove the remaining sentence by replacing it with an ellipsis (…).
Here is the same example again, with the student using ellipsis:
The multitudes of deaths surrounding Anna began to take its toll on her, burdening her with guilt as she felt ‘the press of their ghosts…[and] begun to step small and carry myself all hunched…as if to leave room for them.’ (Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks)
In this case, we have deleted: ‘sometimes, if I walked the main street of the village in the evening’ and ‘I realised then that I had’ by using an ellipsis – a part of the quotation that is not missed because it does not represent the essence of the student’s argument. You would have noticed that a square bracket ([ ]) was used. This will be discussed in detail under Blending Quotes.
5. How That Quote Will Fit into Your Essay
You must never take the original author’s words and use them in your essay without inserting them in quotation marks. Failure to do so leads to ‘plagiarism’ or cheating. Plagiarism occurs when you take someone else’s work and pass it off as your own. You must make sure that you use quotation marks whenever you use evidence from your text.
The following is plagiarism:
Even a single flicker of the eyes could be mistaken for the essential crime that contained all other crimes in itself – thought crime. (1984, George Orwell)
Using quotation marks however, avoids plagiarism:
Even ‘a single flicker of the eyes’ could be mistaken for ‘the essential crime that contained all other crimes in itself – thought crime.’ (1984, George Orwell)
There are serious consequences for plagiarism. VCAA will penalise students for plagiarism. VCAA uses statistical analysis to compare a student’s work with their General Achievement Test (GAT), and if the cross-referencing indicates that the student is achieving unexpectedly high results with their schoolwork, the student’s school will be notified and consequential actions will be taken.
Plagiarism should not be confused with:
Paraphrasing: to reword or rephrase the author’s words
Summarising: to give a brief statement about the author’s main points
Quoting: to directly copy the author’s words with an indication (via quotation marks) that it is not your original work
You should always aim to interweave quotations into your sentences in order to achieve good flow and enhanced readability of your essay. Below is a good example of blending in quotations:
John Proctor deals with his own inner conflict as he is burdened with guilt and shame of his past adulterous actions. Yet during the climatic ending of the play, Proctor honours his principles as he rejects signing a false confession. This situation where Proctor is confronted to ‘sign [himself] to lies’ is a stark epiphany, for he finally acknowledges that he does have ‘some shred of goodness.’ (The Crucible, Arthur Miller)
There are three main methods in how you can blend quotations into an essay:
1. Adding Words
Broken sentences are a common mistake made when students aim to integrate quotations into their sentences. Below are examples of broken sentences due to poor integration of a quotation:
‘Solitary as an oyster’. Scrooge is illustrated as a person who is isolated in his own sphere. (A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens)
Never write a sentence consisting of only a quotation. This does not add insight into your argument, nor does it achieve good flow or readability.
Scrooge, ‘solitary as an oyster’, is illustrated as a person who is isolated in his own sphere. (A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens)
This example is better, however the sentence is still difficult to read. In order to blend quotations into your sentences, try adding in words that will help merge the quotation and your own words together:
Described as being as ‘solitary as an oyster’, Scrooge is illustrated as a person who is isolated in his own sphere. (A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens)
Scrooge is depicted as a person who is ‘solitary as an oyster’, illustrating that he is isolated in his own sphere. (A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens)
Tip: If you remove the quotation marks, the sentence should still make sense.
2. Square Brackets ([ ])
These are used when you need to modify the original writer’s words so that the quotation will blend into your essay. This is usually done to:
Authors sometimes write in past (looked), present (look) or future tense (will look). Depending on how you approach your essay, you may choose to write with one of the three tenses. Since your tense may not always match the author’s, you will need to alter particular words.
Original sentence: ‘…puts his arm around Lewis’ shoulder’ (Cosi, Louis Nowra)
Upon seeing Lewis upset, Roy attempts to cheer him up by ‘put[ting] his arm around Lewis’ shoulder’. (Cosi, Louis Nowra)
Change Narrative Perspective
The author may write in a first (I, we), second (you) or third person (he, she, they) narrative. Since you will usually write from an outsider’s point of view, you will refer to characters in third person. Thus, it is necessary to replace first and second person pronouns with third person pronouns. Alternatively, you can replace first and second person pronouns with the character’s name.
The original sentence: ‘Only now can I recognise the scene for what it was: a confessional, a privilege that I, through selfishness and sensual addiction, failed to accept…’ (Maestro, Peter Goldsworthy)
When Keller was finally ready to share his brutal past with Paul, the latter disregarded the maestro, as he was too immersed in his own adolescent interests. However, upon reflection, Paul realises that ‘only now can [he] recognise the scene for what it was: a confessional, a privilege that [he], through selfishness and sensual addiction, failed to accept’. (Maestro, Peter Goldsworthy)
Insert Missing Words
Sometimes, it may be necessary to insert your own words in square brackets so that the quotation will be coherent when incorporated into your sentences.
The original sentence: ‘His heels glow.’ (Ransom, David Malouf)
Achilles, like Priam, feels a sense of refreshment as highlighted by ‘his heels [which] glow.’ (Ransom, David Malouf)
It is important to maintain proper grammar while weaving in quotations. The question is: does the punctuation go inside or outside the final quotation mark?
The rule is: If the quoted words end with a full stop (or comma), then the full stop goes inside the quotation marks. If the quoted words do not end with a full stop, then the full stop goes outside the quotation marks.
Original sentence: 'Sagitty’s old place plus another hundred acres that went from the head waters of Darkey Creek all the way down to the river.’ (The Secret River, Kate Grenville)
During the past decade, Thornhill became the wealthiest man in the area, owning ‘Sagitty’s old place plus another hundred acres that went from the head waters of Darkey Creek all the way down to the river.’ (The Secret River, Kate Grenville)
During the past decade, Thornhill became the wealthiest man in the area, owning ‘Sagitty’s old place plus another hundred acres’. (The Secret River, Kate Grenville)
6. There Are Also Other Ways of Using Quotation Marks
Title of Text
When including the title of the text in an essay, use single quotation marks.
Directed by Elia Kazan, ‘On The Waterfront’ unveils the widespread corruption among longshoremen working at New Jersey docks. (On The Waterfront, Elia Kazan)
Alternatively, you can underline the title of the text instead of using single quotation marks. Many teachers and examiners prefer this option.
Quotation Within a Quotation
When you quote the author who is quoting someone else, then you will need to switch between single and double quotation marks. You firstly need to enclose the author’s words in single quotation marks, and then enclose the words they quote in double quotation marks. If you're following the American standard, you'll need to do this the opposite way - that is, using double quotation marks for the author's words and and then single quotation marks for the quote. We recommend sticking to the preferred Australian style though, which is single and then double.
Original sentence: ‘…something bitter and stringy, too difficult to swallow. “It’s just that – I – um, I hate it…It’s too – it’s too Indian!”’ (Sticks and Stones and Such-like, Sunil Badami in Growing Up Asian in Australia)
Sunil’s unusual name leads him to believe that it is ‘…something bitter and stringy, too difficult to swallow. “It’s just that – I – um, I hate it…It’s too – it’s too Indian!”’ (Sticks and Stones and Such-like, Sunil Badami in Growing Up Asian in Australia)
As you can see, the student has quoted the author’s words in single quotation marks. The dialogue used by the author is surrounded by double quotation marks. This demonstrates that the dialogue used in the text still belongs to the author.
Using Quotations to Express Irony
When you wish to express irony, you use quotation marks to illustrate that the implied meaning of the actual word or phrase is different to the normal meaning.
As a young girl, Elaine is a victim of Mrs Smeath and her so called ‘friends’. Her father’s interest in insects and her mother’s lack of housework presents Elaine as an easy bullying target for other girls her age who are fit to fulfill Toronto’s social norms. (Cat’s Eye, Margaret Atwood)
In this case, ‘friends’ is written in inverted commas to indicate that Elaine’s peers are not truly her friends but are in fact, bullies.
7. Questions You Must Ask Yourself When Weaving Quotes into Sentences
1. Does the quote blend into my sentence?
2. Does my sentence still make sense?
3. Is it too convoluted for my readers to understand?
4. Did I use the correct grammar?
8. How To Find Good Quotes
Tip One: Do not go onto Google and type in 'Good quotes for X text', because this is not going to work. These type of quotes are generally the most famous and the most popular quotes because, yes they are good quotes, but does that necessarily mean that it's going to be a good quote in your essay? Probably not. But why? Well, it's because these quotes are the most likely to be overused by students - absolutely every single person who has studied this text before you, and probably every single person who will study this text after you. You want to be unique and original. So, how are you going to find those 'good quotes'? Recognise which quotes are constantly being used and blacklist them. Quotes are constantly used in study guides are generally the ones that will be overused by students. Once you eliminate these quotes, you can then go on to find potentially more subtle quotes that are just as good as the more popular or famous ones.
Tip Two: Re-read the book. There is nothing wrong with you going ahead and finding your own quotes. You don't need to find quotes that already exist online or in study guides. Go and find whatever gels with you and whatever you feel like has a lot of meaning to it. I had a friend back in high school who was studying a book by Charles Dickens. I haven't read the book myself, but there was a character who couldn't pronounce the letter S, or he had a lisp of some sort. What my friend did was he found this one word where, throughout the entire book, the guy with the lisp only ever said the S one time and that was a massive thing. So, he used that. This is something that is really unique and original. So, go ahead and try to find your own quotes.
Tip Three: Realise that good quotes do not necessarily have to come from the main character. Yes, the main character does often have good quotes associated with whatever they're saying, but just know that you do have minor characters who can say something really relevant and have a really good point too. Their quote is going to be just as strong in your essay as a main character's quote, which will probably be overused and overdone by so many other students.
Tip Four: Develop a new interpretation of a famous or popular quote. Most of the time, the really popular quotes are analysed in very much the same way. But if you can offer a new insight into why it's being said or offer a different interpretation, then this is automatically going to create a really good quote that's going to offer a refreshing point of view.
For example, if we look at The Great Gatsby, one of the most famous quotes that is constantly being used is, 'He found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass.' What most people will do is they will analyse the part about the 'grotesque thing a rose', because that's the most significant part of the quote that stands out. But what you could do instead, is focus on a section of that quote, for example the 'raw'. Why is the word raw being used? How does the word raw contribute extra meaning to this particular quote? This way you're honing in on a particular section of the quote and really trying to offer something new. This automatically allows you to investigate the quote in a new light.
Tip Five: Just remember that the best quotes do not have to be one sentence long. Some of the best quotes tend to be really short phrases or even just one particular word. Teachers actually love it when you can get rid of the excess words that are unnecessary in the sentence, and just hone in on a particular phrase or a particular word to offer an analysis. And also, that way, when you spend so much time analysing and offering insight into such a short phrase or one sentence, it shows how knowledgeable you are about the text and that you don't need to rely on lots and lots of evidence in order to prove your point.
Those are my five quick tips on how to find good quotes from your texts!
Although it appears on criteria sheets, many students never really understand the term metalanguage. Strangely, it is something that is rarely addressed in classrooms. While the word may be foreign to you, rest assured that metalanguage is not an entirely new concept you have to learn. How come? Because you have been unknowingly using metalanguage since the very beginning of high school.
It's a word that is more and more frequently thrown around as you get more advanced in high school. And, it's something that becomes tremendously important in your final year of high school, because the more you include metalanguage discussion in your essays, the more intricate your discussion becomes and the more unique it also becomes.
So, let's find out exactly what metalanguage is.
2. Definition of Metalanguage
Metalanguage is language that describes language.
So, instead of maybe using the word, "He was sad", we might say something like, "He felt sorrowful". The choice in words changes the meaning that is interpreted by the reader, just slightly, but there is still a difference. So, when it comes to studying texts or reading articles, and trying to analyze what the author is trying to do, we look at metalanguage as a way to help give us insight into the ideas that they're trying to portray.
The simplest way to explain this is to focus on part 3 of the English exam – Language Analysis. In Language Analysis, we look at the author’s writing and label particular phrases with persuasive techniques such as: symbolism, imagery or personification. Through our description of the way an author writes (via the words ‘symbolism’, ‘imagery’ or ‘personification’), we have effectively used language that describes language.
Now, if we look at the bigger picture, our analysis of an author’s language can be applied to Text Response, and even Reading and Comparing. To learn more about why metalanguage is important in Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response. Otherwise, for those interested in Comparative, head over to our Ultimate Guide to VCE Comparative.
3. Examples of Metalanguage in VCE English
Grammar and punctuation
Achilles is characterised as a foetus, for his position is ‘chin down, shoulders hunched’ as though he is inside a womb. (Ransom, David Malouf)
In the first scene of All About Eve*, Mankiewicz foreshadows Eve's sinful and regretful actions, as a sorrowful expression is emphasized as she accepts her award
As you can see, the word 'foreshadows' pushes us in a new direction. Rather than just saying what has already happened or telling your teacher or examiner something that they already know, it forces you to actually analyze what's in front of you and to offer your own unique interpretation of why this metalanguage or why this technique has been used.
When Terry leaves Friendly’s bar, the thick fog symbolises his clouded moral judgement as he decides whether he should remain ‘D and D’, or become a ‘rat’. (On the Waterfront, Elia Kazan)
The miniature set Zac creates is designed with a white backdrop, symbolising his desire to wipe away reality since he ‘can’t stand real things'. (Cosi, Louis Nowra)
In Medea, the motif of animals emphasizes the inhuman and bestial nature of Medea, highlighting how she defies natural norms.
This student has actually given us an analysis of why animal motifs are used. And that is to highlight how Medea defies natural norms, because of her inhuman and bestial nature.
As indicated earlier, you should be familiar with many, if not all the terms mentioned above. Take note that some metalanguage terms are specific to a writing form, such as camera angle for films. If you need help learning new terms, we have you covered - be sure to check out our metalanguage word banks for books and our metalanguage wordbank for films.
As you discuss themes or characters, you should try and weave metalanguage throughout your body paragraphs. The purpose of this criteria is to demonstrate your ability to understand how the author uses language to communicate his or her meaning. The key is to remember that the author’s words or phrases are always chosen with a particular intention – it is your job to investigate why the author has written a text in a particular way.
[Modified Video Transcription]
Hey guys, welcome back to Lisa's Study Guides. Today, I'm really excited to talk to you about metalanguage. Have you guys ever heard of metalanguage before? It's a word that is more and more frequently thrown around as you get more advanced in high school. And, it's something that becomes tremendously important in your final year of high school, because the more you include metalanguage discussion in your essays, the more intricate your discussion becomes and the more unique it also becomes. So, let's find out exactly what is metalanguage.
Simply put, metalanguage just means language that analyses language. When authors write anything, we make certain decisions when it comes to writing. So, instead of maybe using the word, "He was sad", we might say something like, "He felt sorrowful". The choice in words changes the meaning that is interpreted by the reader, just slightly, but there is still a difference. So, when it comes to studying texts or reading articles and trying to analyse what the author is trying to do, we look at metalanguage as a way to help give us insight into the ideas that they're trying to portray.
Metalanguage comes in really handy, especially if you're somebody who struggles with retelling the story - I have a video on how to avoid retelling the story, which you can watch. Metalanguage essentially takes you to the next level. It prevents you from just saying what happened, and forces you into actually looking at how the ideas and themes are developed by the author through the words that they choose to use. So, let's have a look at a couple of examples to give you a better idea. I'm going to show you two examples. One uses metalanguage and one doesn't, and you'll see how a massive difference in how the student understands the text is really clear.
Number one, foreshadowing.
In the first scene of All About Eve, Mankiewicz emphasizes Eve's sorrowful expression as she accepts her award.
In the first scene of All About Eve, Mankiewicz foreshadows Eve's sinful and regretful actions, as a sorrowful expression is emphasized as she accepts her award.
As you can see, as soon as we put in the word foreshadows, it pushes us in a new direction. Rather than just saying what has already happened or telling your teacher or examiner something that they already know, it forces you to actually analyse what's in front of you and to offer your own unique interpretation of why this metalanguage or why this technique has been used. So, in this case, it's foreshadowing. Let's have a look at another one, motif.
In Medea, Euripides commonly refers to animals when describing Medea's actions and temperament.
In Medea, the motif of animals emphasizes the inhuman and bestial nature of Medea, highlighting how she defies natural norms.
See how, in the first example, it was really just telling you what we might already know through just reading the book, but when it comes to the second example, this student has actually given us an analysis of why animal motifs are used. And that is to highlight how Medea defies natural norms, because of her inhuman and bestial nature.
So, those are some examples of metalanguage. There are so many more different types of metalanguage out there...
Whether you revel in the ideas and intricacies of poetry or could not think of anything more monotonous to read, grab a tea (or coffee if it’s one of those nights), your favourite late-night snack, and prepare to be amazed by just how simple it is to absolutely NAIL a poetry essay.
Don’t worry, I know that same overwhelming feeling when poetry can seem as if it’s not even in English, but I can ensure you, learning how to write a poetry essay is like learning to ride a bike…. Once you wrap your head around it you’ll be cruising!
To make these tips even more practical, we’ll be focusing on John Donne’s poetry in relation to the topic below:
‘Donne’s poetry explores the many aspects of human experience.’ Discuss.
1. Start off with a bang!
I’m sure you’ve heard it before… your introduction sets the tone for your essay and this could not be more true. A shallow introduction is like missing the start of your running race, or even worse arriving at a party just before it ends! You’ll just have so much catching up to do! Without being overly hyperbolic, here are a four essential tips that will ensure your assessor sees you as a high-scoring student right from your first sentence.
- Answer the question in your first sentence (even if it is in a broad manner) and always link back to the essay topic – this will show the assessor that you are answering the question given rather than presenting them with a sneaky memorised essay!
- Utilise the right terminology when outlining the type of poet and era they wrote in (i.e. metaphysical poet, Renaissance era, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth)
- Outline the main poetic techniques for which the poet is known for (i.e. playful wit, rich imagery, language, challenging intellectual argument) as well as the ideas and values they endorse (i.e. elevation of reciprocal love, belief in the resurrection of Christ, celebration of eternal life)
- Wow your assessor with unique vocab (i.e. illuminate, emanate, meditate)
And here’s a sample introduction to help you even more:
John Donne’s anthology, “Selected Poetry” illuminates the human condition and thus provides much commentary on life and death. A metaphysical poet of the Renaissance era, Donne combines a playful wit, rich imagery, and perhaps most importantly language, to challenge intellectual argument and celebrate various aspects of sexual desire, mutuality and faith. Immersed in the Christian traditions of his time, Donne’s exploration of Death emanates from the Elizabethan acute awareness of the brevity and vanity of human life; however, with his sensual elevation of reciprocal love and his deep spiritual belief in the resurrection of Christ, Donne meditates upon his belief and celebration of eternal life.
2. Strong topic sentences are Crucial (with a capital C)
Time and time again students fall into one of two traps. They either try to start each paragraph with a lengthy (and often beautiful) phrase trying to encapsulate every idea they plan to introduce in the paragraph. Or on other occasions, they have no introductory sentence and instead launch straight into their poetry analysis. Your assessor may be blown away with your A+ worthy introduction and then reach this weak opening to your paragraph and have to reconsider! Your topic sentence is the frame for the whole paragraph so please, keep it clear, succinct, and relevant to the essay question.
Here are three ‘DOs’ and ‘DON’Ts’ to consider when crafting one of the most important sentences of your essay (again, sorry about the drama!)
- DON’T mention the poem you will use as evidence in your topic sentence
- DO answer and link directly to the essay topic
- DO use linking words to link the ideas in different paragraphs
And here are three STRONG topic sentences for each paragraph of this essay (note how I always link back to the topic of human experiences and link ideas between paragraphs)
- Rewriting the conventional trope, Donne’s oeuvre explores the joy of erotic love and ones’ lustful desire to engage in these sexual experiences.
- While much of Donne’s oeuvre comments on the pleasure of carnal experiences, his more harmonious poems reveal the beauty of relationships in which one can experience a deep sense of mutuality and stability.
- Silhouetted against the backdrop of the Elizabethan reign, Donne’s more metaphysical poems demonstrate the struggle of the process of dying and individual corruption, and the manner in which it leads to the acquirement of God’s love and grace.
3. Organise paragraphs by IDEAS
What makes a poetry essay so unique is that your paragraphs are based on broad ideas rather than the motifs and behaviours of characters in novels. This means that when planning your essay you must ensure that each paragraph has only one idea and that each paragraph is based on a different idea. From there you can work out which poems best represent each concept to work out which poems you will use for each paragraph. This is why I love poetry essays as planning for them is so easy! All you have to do is think of three or four different ideas for the essay topic and then find your textual evidence by working out which poems best reflect these ideas…. Simple! Right?
Here are the three ideas that I plan to discuss in each of my paragraphs of this essay as well as the poems I would use:
- Sexual/physical human experiences
- ‘Elegy 19: To His Mistress Going to Bed’ & ‘The Flea’
- Mutuality and reciprocity as an experience/element of spiritual love
- ‘A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning’
- The innately human experience of dying and being embraced by God in heaven
- ‘Hymn to God My God in My Sickness’
4. Analyse, not summarise
If there was one thing that was playing in my head over and over while writing a poetry essay it was ‘analyse, not summarise’. It is so easy to fall into the trap of simply summarising the poetic techniques and language of the different poems rather than analysing their meaning and linking this directly to the essay question. Even if you have the best plan and ideas going for you, if an assessor notices you going into summary mode they’ll assume you’re just rewriting a memorised essay rather then answering the exact essay question given…. DISASTROUS! To prevent this utter catastrophe, I urge you to please, link to and answer the specific essay topic EVERYTIME you introduce a new poetic technique/piece of evidence. Verbs such as demonstrates, elucidates, illustrates, exemplifies, illuminates and augments are ‘must haves’ in your poetry tool-box as they will ensure that you are analysing not summarising.
Here is a sample paragraph for you to consider (notice how I always link back to the idea of mutual/reciprocal love and experiences every time I introduce a new poetic technique or quote)
While much of Donne’s oeuvre comments on the pleasure of carnal experiences, his more harmonious poems reveal the beauty of relationships in which one can experience a deep sense of mutuality and stability. The poem, ‘’A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning’’ explores the sense of security and harmony which spiritual love and experiences permit. Adopting a hush, reverent tone manifested by the use of sibilance, through the enjambment of the phrase ‘’Dull sublunary lovers love, / (Whose soul is sense) cannot admit / Absence’’, Donne elevates mutual love to a higher plane, one that transcends the lines of poetry. When accompanied by the stability of the ABAB rhyme scheme that works to echo the couple’s settled love, this presents the experience of reciprocity and mutuality of love to be higher than the dull and earthbound nature of love that is solely physical. Hence, Donne reveals the bliss that mutual love permits mankind, given it eclipses the desire for any form of physicality. Further elucidating the strength of mutual love, Donne illuminates how when couples are separated it is ‘’not yet a breach, but an expansion’’, thus celebrating the manner in which deep, reciprocal love not only eclipses the divisions of the clock but how it expands ‘’like gold to airy thinness beat’’ when separated. By connoting spiritual love to the pure and malleable nature of gold, this simile characterizes mutual love to be the prime of human experiences and relationships. Intertwining the elegant conceit of a compass to represent the love that connects the speaker and his mistress, Donne garners the notion that no matter how far ‘’one doth roam’’ the intellectual bond between the couple will remain ‘’firm’’ and enable the pair to overcome any form of physical separation. Hence, Donne illuminates the complex and impermeable bond that this serene form of human experience can foster.
5. Vocab and metalanguage are the easiest ways to SHINE
To say it plainly, writing with unique and refreshing vocabulary is enough to send your grade SOARING. It will not only render your ideas and discussion ever more complex, but has the power to enlighten and stimulate your assessor (and this is something we all want to do… right?). Utilising the correct poetic metalanguage every time you introduce a new quote or line of poetry will ensure that your analysis remains both specific and detailed. As seen in the paragraph above, discussing the poetic techniques provided me with another form of evidence (rather than just the quotes from the poem) to elucidate how these different forms of human experience are illustrated in each of Donne’s poems.
To assist you further, here is some metalanguage for the poetic techniques and structures that frequent John Donne’s poetry:
A mediocre conclusion is like leaving your assessor with an unpleasant aftertaste that unfortunately, will not go away. So please, finally give your conclusion the attention it deserves and follow these five tips to ensure you leave your assessor waiting for that mic to drop!
- Pan out to the broad, abstract ideas that the poet wrestled with
- Discuss the aspects of the poet that set them apart from other poets at the time (i.e. for John Donne that is his intellectual imagery, arresting voice, wit, fusion of passion and logic and the manner in which he challenged intellectual argument and strongly held societal conventions)
- Short and sweet not long and wordy!
- Reinforce the period and society in which the poet wrote
- You can include a secondary quote if you want, however only if it relevant to the essay topic and ideas you discussed
Here is a sample conclusion to assist you:
Railing against the societal value of religion prominent during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the originality of Donne’s ideas about love, death and God along with his strikingly intellectual imagery and rich language incite and interest his more religious readership of the joys of sexual, mutual and religious experiences. The poet and playwright Ben Jonson once wrote that John Donne ‘’was the first poet in the world in some things.’’ Hence, it is through his witty and authentic form of expression that Donne allows us to reflect on and celebrate precisely what it means to be human.
Plans are one of the most ignored (and underestimated) steps in the essay writing process. Some people don’t do them simply because they don’t want to, some sacrifice them because they think they’ll run out of time, and some do ‘plans’, but in reality, they’re only a rough mental outline. Each of these situations place too many students time and time again in sticky situations come an English SAC or exam.
Why plans are essential for any good essay
They ensure that you can’t mind blank — it’s all on the paper in front of you!
They ensure that you always stay on topic.
Mental plans or not having a plan at all mean that you don’t have a true direction in which your essay is going. If you’re not sure where you’re going, well, how are you going to get anywhere?
They save you time in writing time.
Instead of wasting reading time, you’ve done most of your thinking right at the beginning of the SAC or exam, positioning you to do really well in your essay because you can focus on constructing some really juicy, coherent analysis in your body paragraphs, rather than remembering your basic points and/or making sure your essay is actually answering the question.
Let’s have a look at an essay topic that I’ve tackled in the past. This one is based on Kate Grenville’s The Lieutenant, a current VCE Year 12 English text. To learn more about themes, quotes, characters about this text, and to have a look at an essay topic breakdown, check out this blog post written by outstanding LSG tutor, Angelina!
“But a man could not travel along two different paths.” How does Grenville explore Rooke’s conflict of conscience in The Lieutenant?
Step 1: Highlight key words
Now, it may seem like I've just highlighted the whole prompt, and I understand why you might think that! However, each of the words highlighted convey something meaningful within the prompt. If you're ever unsure about what could be considered a key word, consider whether the prompt would have the same meaning without the word in question.
Step 2: Define key words
In this topic, the main phrase that needs defining is ‘conflict of conscience’. For me, this signals that we must consider morality and the weighing up of right and wrong, especially when tough decisions have to be made.
I’d also take a moment to analyse the quote. This essay prompt is quote-based, so it’s imperative that we discuss the quote and consider the meaning of the quote throughout our essay. For some more detailed info on how to tackle different types of essay prompts, check out this blog post.
Step 3: Start essay plan
Next, I’d start tackling the plan itself. Although it seems like the above steps would take a while, my real-life planning process only takes about 5 minutes. You certainly don’t have to write everything down and you certainly don’t have to make it make sense to anyone but yourself.
Personally, I like to format my plans in dot-point form. I write 1, 2, 3 for each of my body paragraphs and I leave a space underneath each so I can plan each paragraph.
First, I’ll just write rough topic sentences under each, so I can really step back and consider whether my plan of action for the essay’s body paragraphs will do a good job at answering the prompt itself. Again, these are only rough topic sentences — fancying them up will come during the essay writing phase.
Step 4: Important things to include in each paragraph
Once I’ve decided on what each of my body paragraphs will be about, I can them go into a bit more depth for each of them individually.
These are the elements that I include for each:
Essentially, the points that I’ll argue and the reasoning behind the paragraph
The evidence that I’ll be using to reinforce my point(s).
In Year 12, I made a conscious effort to include one literary device or metalanguage example per body paragraph in all of my English essays. This really set me apart from the rest of the state because, in reality, not enough students really focused on the language of their texts, which can really impress examiners.
Strategy: Colour-coded plans
For me, using different colours in my plans helped me organise my thoughts, distinguish between them, and ensure that I had covered everything that I wanted to cover.
Obviously, you can come up with a colour system that works for you, but this is what I came up with:
Green = metalanguage
Red = quotes
Black/blue = everything else!
And that’s it — my four-step but five minute essay planning process. Don’t be afraid to modify this to make it work for you and your needs. However, definitely DO be afraid of not planning — it’s absolutely essential for any good essay.
Hey guys. I've been doing a load of essay topic breakdowns for you guys, and we've been looking at plans for them, so I thought I would actually show you how I actually do a real life plan, one that I would do on paper if I was preparing for a SAC or an exam, as opposed to the ones that I do on YouTube because the ones that I do on YouTube are slightly different. I definitely go into more detail than I normally would. But at the same time I still do use the same concepts as I would when I do read the steps on YouTube. So I'm going to go and show you that today. And before I actually do that, I just want to preface this and tell you guys why doing a plan is so important.
So I know that a plan is something that one, a lot of people just don't do, or two, they tend to sacrifice it if they feel like they don't have enough time, or three, they do a plan in their head, but they don't actually write it down on paper. Now, all of these things are pretty detrimental for you, especially because when you write a plan, it actually helps to secure you and ensure that one, you're not going to mind blank throughout your essay or let me rephrase that, if you do mind blank throughout your essay, you will still have a piece of paper in front of you telling you, "This is what you were thinking Lisa, just go and follow this method or what you've written down here." So that way you don't just get stuck in the middle of your essay and start having a freak out because you've forgotten what you were supposed to write.
Second thing is that it ensures that you don't go off topic. This is something that happens quite frequently. If you don't have a plan, then you have this idea of, "Oh, I'll write this and this", and then somehow halfway through an essay, halfway through a paragraph, you realize, "Holy crap, I have completely veered off the topic or this has gone completely in the other direction from what I intended. This is not what I wanted." So in order to prevent that from happening, just do a plan, please! You will find that it ends up saving you so much time and it just gives you that reassurance that you need in situations where there are so many unpredictable factors, like what prompts you're actually going to get. And your focus and attention should be more about developing those ideas, rather than having a mind blank in the middle of your essay and then having a little bit of a freakout as a result.
So I'm going to base this video on a previous essay topic breakdown in the past, and that is on Kate Grenville's The Lieutenant. I was going to say Lieutenant, because I always accidentally say that, but no, it is Lieutenant. Now, if you are not doing as text as always, don't stress about it because what I want you to take away from this video is how you actually do plans, the thinking that goes behind it and the formatting around it. So let's just get started.
The essay topic that we're doing today is, "But a man could not travel along two different paths." How does Grenville explore Rooke's conflict of conscience in The Lieutenant. So as always, my first step is I will highlight the keywords that I see inside the prompt. Keywords are different for everyone, but these are the ones that I think are most important.
Firstly, the actual quote itself, how Grenville, conflict of conscience. Pretty much in this case I could probably just highlight the entire thing, but for the sake of just defining some keywords, this is what I would do. So the next step is to define key words. I think the only big key word that I need to define here is conflict of conscience. And so to me, the conflict of conscience suggests internal conflict, which implies that we'll need to consider morality and the concepts of right and wrong, especially when a difficult decision must be made and sides need to be taken. So as you can see, I've written these words down next to the keyword and that will just help me ensure that I stay on topic or I stay in tune with what the keyword is about and I don't suddenly change my mind halfway through the essay.
Then what I'll do is, I will analyze the quote itself. So this is unique because this particular essay prompt has a quote inside it, but I'll have to think about, okay, where did I see this quote? Who might've said it and what might it mean? And I'll draw it down a few notes for that. Then I'll pretty much just go straight into my plan. Now, my plans I've written within five minutes, most of the thinking is actually done during reading time. So personally, I've always found that just writing dot points is completely fine. I don't need to go more beyond that. And I'll show you a few examples now of real life year essay plans that I did during that time. And as you can see, they are pretty much just scribbles and if anybody else was to look at my essay plans, they would have no idea what I'm talking about. But you know what, for me it makes complete sense and that's all that matters. You're not graded on your plan, so just go ahead and do it your way. You do you.
So what I'll do is I'll quickly dot down one, two, three, and these represent my body paragraphs. Then I'll just write down very quickly what the topic sentences will be. I don't actually write the full topic sentence itself, but I guess the essence of it, so the key things that I will mention in the topic sentence. By writing down the three topic sentences, this allows me to take a step back and look at the essay holistically and ensure that I am answering it the way that I want to. Then what I'll do is I'll move into each individual body paragraph and write down some things that I think are important for me to remember when I go ahead and write it. So I might write down a couple of ideas that I think are important. I will write down quotes that I think are essential to my discussion. And then what I'll do is I will throw in at least one literary device or a metalanguage that I think is important to discuss.
So in this case, in this first body paragraph, it's limited omniscient third person perspective. By throwing this in, I will ensure that I can show my examiner or show my teacher that I can go on that deeper level. I'll repeat this method with both paragraph two and three. Of course for you, you might need to write down more dot points. You can write fewer dot points, it's really just dependent on every individual. If you are somebody who needs to write down the quotes more, then go ahead and do that. But for me, a lot of the quotes will stick in my head. I just need one point just to bounce off, and then from there, I'm able to pull in all of the other quotes that are necessary.
You also notice that I do things in different colors. Now, I think this is a strategy that I implemented in order to make things a lot clearer for myself before jumping into an essay. So for example, for anything that's a metalanguage based, I'll write it in green. The whole purpose for that is to ensure that in every single body paragraph, I do cover some form of a literary device because that was always really important for me. I thought that it was one of the key things that helped me differentiate myself from other students. So if I took a step back from the plan and I looked at it overall, I could see, okay, there's a green color in every single body paragraph, done. I have ticked off that criteria.
I also used to write quotes in red as well. So red just helped me do the same thing. It helps me take a step back and go, "Yep, there's a bit of red in every single body paragraph. I'm definitely including quotes," which might sound pretty stupid, but it's just that little bit of reassurance that I think really makes that difference when it comes to a stressful situation.
That's pretty much it. It's just five minutes of your time, so we probably don't need to go into it in too much more detail than that. But as you can see from my essay plans, I'm quite minimal. I just keep things as short as possible because that's all I really need because a lot of the information is here, but I just need to reinforce it and ensure that it is concrete when it is on paper.
So for yourself, I would recommend that you start practicing your plans. You can try my method and see if that works for you, but over time, I'm sure that you'll come to find your own way of writing plans that work for you.
Next week I'm going to have another essay topic breakdown for you. Can you guess what it might be? If you want to take a stab, put it in the comment section below, but that's it for me in this week guys. I hope that was helpful for you, and don't forget plans are crucial to an amazing essay.
If you needed any extra help, then my mailing list is always available for you guys. I send out emails every single week just giving you new advice and tips for your studies, so I'll put that in the description box below for you to sign up. Other than that, I will talk to you guys next week. Bye!
David Malouf’s Ransom and Stephan Frears’ The Queen was a brand-new text pairing added to the study design in 2020. It is a unit with many nuances and intricacies to discuss, making it a perfect pairing to unpack in an essay topic breakdown!
Overall, both Ransom and The Queen overlap fairly heavily in terms of key themes, ideas and messages. Even if you haven’t watched The Queen or read Ransom yourself, the essay topic I have chosen can give you an idea of how to seamlessly integrate such thematic overlaps and similarities into your own writing, whilst also acknowledging the differences in both texts.
Within the THINK strategy, we have 3 steps, or ABC. These ABC components are:
Step 1: Analyse
Step 2: Brainstorm
Step 3: Create a Plan
The Essay Prompt:
'it is true that the gods made me a king, but they also made me a man, and mortal.' – Priam (87-88)
'Your Majesty, there’s a last minute addition from Downing Street. They’re suggesting adding and as a grandmother here.' – Janvrin (Script, 87th Minute)
How do both texts explore the tensions that are created between a person’s public and private life?
Step 1: Analyse
This prompt is both a quote-based, and a how-based prompt (learn more about the five types of prompts here). This means that the examiner wants us to explain howthe text creators (Frears and Malouf) convey tensions between one’s public and private life, using the quote to help us do so.
Step 2: Brainstorm
First, let’s break down the prompt part of the essay question. Here, the keywords are:
‘tensions’ - we have to focus on the contrast, and the hardships, that stem from the characters in both texts as they juggle their roles as leaders and individuals of their own accord. These difficulties are explored in more detail in an earlier LSG blog Ransom and The Queen.
‘public and private lives’ - invites us to consider the individuals in both texts, specifically leaders such as Queen Elizabeth and Priam, who have distinctly different public and private personas. Specifically, we want to focus on how the differences that arise between these two ‘lives’ suggest that compromises must be made in order for leaders to perform their role to its greatest potential.
Now it’s time to break down the quote itself!
Both the quotes from Ransom and The Queen illustrate points of tension in the lives of leaders.
Priam’s quote occurs toward the climax of Ransom. The examiner is directing you to discuss how being ‘a man’, and therefore seemingly unremarkable in nature, challenges Priam’s existence as a ‘king’, thus creating a point of tension in his reign.
Similarly, Janvrin’s quote also highlights how being a ‘grandmother’ is a role that must be performed by Queen Elizabeth in conjunction with her existence as the Queen of England. Yet, the inclusion of ‘Downing Street’ in this quote also moves you to consider how the queen’s own private affairs, such as Diana’s death, must be handled in conjunction with an outside team such as Tony Blair as British Prime Minister, thus entangling both her public and private personas.
Through both quotes, it is evident that when responding to how Frears and Malouf explore tensions in their respective texts, you should analyse the key characters of each text and their roles as both leaders and individuals in their own right.
I’ve grouped my ideas in a logical order so you can easily identify how each idea relates to my essay plan in Section C. During your own brainstorming, this will be difficult to achieve, so just keep in mind that you don’t need a logical layout of ideas until the planning stage!
At the beginning of both texts, each protagonist fails to recognise and adequately perform their role as a ‘man’ and ‘grandmother’ respectively, due to their duties as a leader. This leaves them out-of-touch with the people around them, suggesting that being a leader can negatively impact one’s relationships with those they care about most.
Priam refers to himself as ‘mortal’ in the prompt, revealing his own vulnerability. Furthermore, the inclusion of ‘Downing Street’ encourages discussion surrounding Tony Blair and his role as a public figure. In both cases, these men express their emotions to their people and those closest to them, leaving them open to backlash and criticism of their authority as leaders.
For Queen Elizabeth, expressing her grief ‘as a grandmother’ allows her to connect emotionally to her people and regain their support, whilst for Priam, appearing to Achilles simply as ‘a man’ enables him to return to Troy both successful in his mission and respected by his people. This reveals that leaders should not let their public and private lives evoke tension, but rather should harness elements of each respective realm to build a modern, effective and relatable leadership style.
Step 3: Create a Plan
By dissecting the prompt’s keywords and briefly analysing the quote and its meaning, I have come up with three main points:
Paragraph 1: In both texts, Frears and Malouf suggest that in allowing themselves to be controlled by their public personas, leaders may struggle to connect with both their people and their own families
Ransom: Somax is initially unable to connect with Priam due to his adherence to royal protocol and tradition
The Queen: Queen is unable to provide emotional support to her grandsons following their mother’s death, due to her own stoicism and emotionally distant nature
Paragraph 2: Yet, in revealing an aspect of their personal lives, leaders risk compromising their public authority
Ransom: When Priam breaks protocol and leaves the walls of Troy, the Trojan people question the strength and competence of their leader
The Queen: Tony Blair’s unconventional style means he initially fails to gain respect from the Royal Family, despite being elected British Prime Minister
Paragraph 3: This delicate balance between one’s public and private lives is achieved most successfully when leaders reveal an element of their private selves and make themselves vulnerable and relatable to their people.
Ransom: Priam recognises the importance of being a father as well as a leader, allowing him to bury Hector’s body whilst retaining respect and admiration from his people
The Queen: By adopting Blair’s suggestions and addressing the British people in an honest, vulnerable way, Queen Elizabeth is able to regain their trust and respect.
Stephen Frears’ film The Queen, set in contemporary England, and David Malouf’s novel Ransom, taking place in Ancient Greece, both explore the concept that one’s public identity can create tensions between their ceremonial constructed persona, and their own private identities. In both texts, Frears and Malouf (1) suggest that in allowing themselves to be controlled by their public personas, leaders may struggle to connect with their people, and their own families. Yet, in revealing an aspect of their own lives, they may also risk compromising their own public authority. This delicate balance between one’s public and private lives, therefore, is conveyed throughout Ransom and The Queen to be achieved most successfully when leaders reveal an element of their private lives and make themselves both vulnerable and relatable to their people, harnessing aspects of both their public and private lives in order to confidently perform their roles to the greatest extent possible. (2)
Annotations (1) Make sure to refer to the author/director in your introduction and continually throughout your essay. This helps to ensure you are considering their purpose and its intended effect/message to the audience (see Views and Values for more on this).
(2) This is where I have included the broader implications of the topic – it will be my final paragraph where I somewhat challenge the prompt
In both Ransom and The Queen, leaders that allow themselves to be dictated by their public identities and subsequent rules, protocols and expectations, are portrayed to express difficulty in connecting with their constituents and their own families. In The Queen, Queen Elizabeth finds comfort in placing 'duty first, self second', as in performing in her role as a monarch for many years, she foregrounds such identity over her ability to connect personally with those around her. However, this struggle to formulate intimate connections is conveyed by Frears (3) to, at times, be at her detriment. Upon meeting the Royal Family, Cherie Blair, who symbolises the wider British society (4), describes that family as 'a bunch of free loading, emotionally retarded nutters'. This blunt description serves to indicate that in acting according to 'how [she] was brought up' and 'all [she’s] ever known', the queen compromises her public image and relatability to her people. In a similar manner, in Ransom, Somax describes only having 'seen King Priam at a distance…he is surprised at how old he looks', clearly illustrating the emotional and physical distance between the king and the people of Troy. Such distance is portrayed by Malouf to not only affect the way the people view their king, but also the manner in which Priam himself is able to formulate and express basic human emotions, as 'royal custom – the habit of averting his gaze', initially prevents him from connecting with Somax on a more intimate level. Through this, both Malouf and Frears highlight how, (5) in allowing themselves to be consumed by their roles as leaders, both Priam and Queen Elizabeth have sacrificed their ability to truly connect and engage with those around them, leaving them out-of-touch with the same people they govern. However, this lack of connection is also shown to extend to their families, as the queen is pictured by Frears to be physically disconnected with her own grandsons. Upon learning of Diana’s death, Prince Charles is depicted delivering the news to his sons, whilst the queen watches on from the corridor, as Frears uses a mid-shot with the door frame obstructing the audience’s view of Queen Elizabeth herself. This can be seen to symbolise (6) the ‘barricade’ between the queen and her own family, as her role as monarch separates her from those she loves. (7) In a similar manner, Priam’s only recollection of the birth of his son is 'recall[ing] a series of small squalling bundles', as his 'role…to hold myself apart in ceremonial stillness' directly prevents him from understanding, and becoming involved with his family, emotionally distancing himself from his own sons. Consequently, Frears and Malouf convey to their audience that the role of being a leader can negatively impact upon one’s relationship with others, serving as a constant burden and barrier to achieving intimate emotional connections.
Annotations (3) In writing ‘conveyed by Frears’ as opposed to ‘conveyed’ I am trying to demonstrate that I am aware the film is a construction made by a director (in this case Frears) for a purpose – he is trying to communicate with the audience through the actions of his characters. See LSG’s Views and Values blog post or How To Write A Killer Text Response (the Views and Values section) for more on this.
(4) In this case, I am attempting to go ‘beyond’ what is simply portrayed in this scene and incorporate the setting of the text – in this case, highlighting my awareness of the time and place in which the film is set (i.e. context). While aimed at Literature students, this blog on context is helpful as it walks you through some contextual aspects you should consider.
(5) This is one of the main ways I would link my two ideas in Year 12, and draw ‘mini conclusion’ or a link (think of the TEEL structure) back to the topic. Yet, in beginning with ‘Malouf and Frears’, I am keeping the purpose of each text central to my link.
(6) When using film techniques, try to analyse their meaning. Rather than simply stating ‘Frears uses a mid-shot’, tell your assessor WHY he does this and what its intended effect is on the audience. This not only acts as a form of ‘textual evidence’ but also demonstrates your understanding of the text itself.
(7) In this sentence, I have tried to draw connections between the physical world and the author’s purpose in portraying the isolation of the British Royal family. Here, I’m referring to the ideas, views and values of the author/director.
On the other hand, however, in revealing one’s private life and expressing humility, leaders are also shown to risk their public authority. In Ransom, Priam becomes determined, following the death of Hector, to try 'something impossible. Something new' and allow for an element of vulnerability to be expressed, in order to successfully ransom his son’s body. Such an unusual, unconventional method of leadership, however, is depicted to take the people of Troy by surprise, as they witness their leader dressed 'in plain white' (8), stripped of his former royal gown. Therefore, the Trojans, who 'crowd the ramparts of the city' and 'line the walls of Troy' each day, in an attempt to view and 'cheer' their leader, 'do not know how to react' upon viewing Priam in such a common, ignoble state, reconsidering the way in which they regard and respect him. In a similar manner, in The Queen, Tony Blair is a Prime Minister whose ‘unconventional' style of leadership is seen to initially unnerve the Royal family. Upon being elected, Blair is described in a montage scene (9) to be a 'wonderful new Prime Minister…a compassionate young man…such a breath of fresh air', a different style of leader to previous Prime Ministers whom the queen previously worked with. The description of Blair as a 'compassionate young man' is significant as such compassion, combined with his youth, acts as a deterrent for the Royals in showing him respect as a leader, taken aback by his unusual views and values. Consequently, upon the death of Diana, although Blair attempts to advise Queen Elizabeth on behalf of the British People, Prince Phillip declares 'who does he think he’s talking to? You’re the sovereign. The head of state. You don’t get dictated to' clearly symbolising their lack of respect and willingness to consider Blair’s perspectives and ideas. In this way, Frears highlights how, in adopting an unconventional style of leadership, those in power may struggle to gain the respect of others around them, particularly their fellow leaders, with the Queen Mother’s statement of 'silly Mr Blair and his Cheshire cat grin' clearly portraying Tony Blair’s lack of authority within the Royal Family. Whilst, in Ransom, the people of Troy struggle to come to terms with Priam’s own change in his leadership style, wondering 'is the king deserting them?', those in The Queen are seen to accept Blair’s leadership style, evident through his 'landslide victory', as, unlike the people of Troy, they are seen to be open to a more progressive form of leadership. In both texts, however, Frears and Malouf demonstrate that leaders who illustrate an element of vulnerability, such as Priam and Tony Blair, may struggle asserting their authority over those with more traditional standards and views, such as the Trojan people and the Royal Family, and thus sacrifice an element of their public image and reputation.
Annotations (8) This is a brief quote – these are useful to ‘replace’ your own words. It ensures you are remaining relevant in your analysis (aka not going off track!!) and acts as a way to ‘show off’ to your assessors that you know your text. However, as these quotes are so simple, I would rarely go into depth with my analysis of them – save this for your longer quotations.
(9) Although naming the scene as a ‘montage’ isn’t entirely necessary in this case, it shows the assessor that you remember where this scene takes place and gives a bit of context, further achieving that first criterion.
Yet, both David Malouf and Stephen Frears examine the notion that in revealing an element of their private life and making themselves vulnerable, a leader may be able to become more relevant, thereby easing the tension between their public and private personas (10). In The Queen, Queen Elizabeth’s adamant refusal to 'dance to their tune' and abide by the requests of her people leads her to proclaim 'I don’t think I have ever been hated like that', with Frears’ depiction of her crying outside Balmoral evident of her realisation that she needs to adapt to the 'change…shift in values' occurring among her constituents. This private expression of vulnerability by Elizabeth is the catalyst for her change in leadership style, with the setting of Balmoral itself, and subsequent events that take place there, symbolising the ability for leaders to harness an element of their personal lives and use it to adapt and connect with their people. In a similar manner, Priam’s declaration that coming to Achilles 'as a man of sorrow' gives him the 'chance to break free of the obligation of always being the hero' highlights Malouf’s view that, at times, leaders must 'break free' of the overwhelming 'obligation[s]' of their public life in order to achieve their objectives and desires within the private sphere. Priam’s realisation that the 'gods made me…mortal' (11) and subsequent appearance as 'a man of sorrow' allow him to successfully bury the body of his son, as he places his identity as 'a man' at the forefront. Priam’s ability to use his emotion in order to fulfil the desires of both him, as 'a father', and the wider people of Troy in allowing their most esteemed warrior to receive a proper burial, is mirrored in The Queen, where Queen Elizabeth adopts the use of emotion to regain the respect of British society. In returning from Balmoral, the queen directly interacts with the people outside Buckingham Palace, with Frears using a long shot to capture the extremely large numbers that had gathered outside the palace gates to emphasise the scale of public sorrow occurring. The queen’s interaction with her people, combined with her public address 'as a grandmother' (12), symbolises the way in which she was able to harness her identity both 'as your queen, and as a grandmother' to appeal to her people, gain their respect, and successfully lead them through an unprecedented, tumultuous event, thus easing the strain between her public and private personas. Likewise, Priam’s claim 'that the gods made me a king, but also made me a man' (13) highlights that he too has developed an understanding that in order to lead most successfully, one must express an element of vulnerability and humility, allowing for the people to emotionally connect and relate to those whom they admire. Therefore, both Malouf and Frears highlight that expressing elements of their private lives through their public identities is a method most effective in gaining leaders the respect and admiration they crave, as those they lead are able to find an element of commonality and relatability within such esteemed individuals.
Annotations (10) Here is where I begin to go beyond simply the limitations or ‘obvious’ points made in the prompt and consider its wider implications. One strategy I used to help plan and write these paragraphs in Year 12 was to ask myself ‘Why is this a topic? What is the author/director trying to tell me as a member of the audience?’ It usually helps to closely consider the author’s purpose, thus ensuring you achieve a coherent and comprehensive analysis.
(11) Here, I am using part of the quote in the prompt to serve as evidence and back up my point regarding Priam’s combination of both his public and private identities. See How To Embed Quotes in Your Essay Like a Boss to learn how to seamlessly include quotes in your writing.
(12) It is here where I have used the quote from the prompt to influence my reasoning and my overall argument.
(13) Now I am moving on to explain the significance of the quote in the prompt.
Ultimately, both The Queen and Ransom explore the various tensions that can occur throughout the public and private lives of leaders, and their need to grapple with and understand such a concept in order to perform their duties most effectively. Whilst being constrained by one’s public persona may create emotional distance between an individual and those around them, in revealing an element of vulnerability, both texts illustrate that leaders risk losing respect and authority within public society. However, Frears and Malouf suggest that despite the difficult balance between one’s public and private lives, in order to lead most effectively, esteemed individuals should not allow each respective realm to create tension and unease, but rather harness elements of both their intimate and public personas in order to create a modern, effective and relatable leadership style (14).
Annotations (14) My final sentence aims to focus on the ‘bigger picture’. Think of this as your ‘mic drop moment’ – you want to finish your essay with an overall statement that touches upon the author’s expressed or implied point of view. 5 Tips for a Mic-Drop Worth Essay Conclusion will help you nail your conclusion.
Throughout this essay, I have implemented the CONVERGENT and DIVERGENT strategy to help me discuss insightful points of similarity and difference. This is particularly important when it comes to essay writing, because you want to know that you're coming up with unique comparative points (compared to the rest of the Victorian cohort!). I don't discuss this strategy in detail here, but if you're interested, check out How To Write A Killer Comparative.
If you found this helpful and you’d like to dive deeper into this text pairing, see A Killer Comparative Guide: Ransom & The Queen. In this guide you'll learn unique points of comparison, we'll teach you how to think like a 45+ study scorer through advanced discussion on topics like literary and cinematic techniques, and we give you 5 A+ sample essay fully annotated!
Most assessments require you to write essays using formal language. In English writing, there are two main styles of writing – formal and informal. The primary purpose of formal language is to achieve sophistication and clarity. Although the difference between the two styles is relatively straightforward, we’ll point out some common examples to just to make sure that you don’t slip and make an unnecessary mistake. Consider these two examples:
Example 1 : We cordially invite you to the Year 12 formal.
Example 2 : Hey buddy! Wanna go to the dance?
It is clear that example 1 is formal while example 2 is informal. The vocabulary, tone, and syntax are all things that change depending on the style you wish to adopt. Informal language isn’t always a ‘taboo’ though. Creative pieces and persuasive pieces can be written informally, for example, if it is a personal diary or an advertisement respectively. If you’re unsure, the easiest way to separate the two is to question whether or not you would say the phrase in real-life conversations. If it’s a yes, then it’s most likely informal language. Below are some more specific examples of the differences between formal and informal writing:
Formal: Avoids using colloquial words/phrases
Informal: May use colloquial words/phrases
Formal: Avoids contractions (write out full words – was not, did not, had not etc.)
Informal: May use contractions (wasn’t, didn’t, hadn’t etc.)
Formal: Usually written in third person (Sharon, Ben, they, them etc.)
Informal: May use first (I, me etc.), second (he, she etc.) or third person (as above).
Formal: Specific words (such as, large, items, etc.)
Informal: Imprecise words (like, big, things, etc.)
Formal: Avoids cliches (many, etc.)
Informal: May use cliches (loads of, etc.)
Formal: Avoids addressing readers using second person pronouns (the readers, an individual, one’s etc.)
Informal: May address readers using second person pronouns (you, your, etc.)
Formal: Avoids using abbreviated words (write in full – photograph, television, etc.)
Informal: May use abbreviated words (photo, TV, etc.)
This blog covers choosing the perfect topic for your next Oral Presentation. To get a better overview of what's expected of you in Oral Presentations, writing up your speech, and speech delivery, check out Our Ultimate Guide to Oral Presentations.
The following is the LSG criteria that will ensure you find an interesting topic!
Step 1: Select a topic that has appeared in the media since 1 September of the previous year
Getting started on this first part can be tricky, especially if you want to choose something a bit more original or fresh.
In any case, the first thing you need is an event. An event in the VCE English context is anything that happens which also generates opinionated media coverage—so, it’s not just an event but it has to be an event that people have published opinions about, and they have to have been published since September 1.
You might wonder why we don’t go to the issue straight away. Here’s a hypothetical to illustrate: if you asked me to name an issue, the best I could probably come up with off the top of my head is climate change. However, if you asked me to name an event, I’d pretty easily recall the Australian bushfires—something much more concrete which a) has generated specific and passionate opinions in the media; and b) can easily be linked to a wider issue such as climate change.
So where do you find an event? If you can’t think of a particularly interesting one right away, you could always try Wikipedia. Seriously, Wikipedia very helpfully has pages of things that happened in specific years in specific countries, so “2019 in Australia” might well be a starting point. The ABC news archive is also really helpful since you can pick dates or periods of time and see a good mix of news events from then.
I wouldn’t underestimate your own memory here either. Maybe you attended the School Strike for Climate and/or you feel vaguely disappointed in the government. Maybe there was something else happening in the news you remember (even though it is often about the environment these days). It doesn’t have to be from the news though—maybe there was a movie or TV show you watched recently that you have thoughts about. You could really do a speech on any of these, as long as you suspect there might be recent, opinionated media coverage.
Only once you have an event should you look for an issue. This will be a specific debate that comes out of the event, and can usually be framed as a “whether-or-not” question. The bushfires, for example, might generate debate around whether or not the Australian government is doing enough to combat climate change, whether or not Scott Morrison has fulfilled his duties as Prime Minister, whether or not it’s appropriate to discuss policy already when people are still grieving. All of these issues are going to be more current and more focused than just ‘climate change’, so pick one that resonates for your speech. In the next couple of sections, I’ll offer you a list of 2019-20 issue-debate breakdowns (i.e. topic ideas!).
Most importantly, choose an event/issue that is interesting for you. You’re the one who’s going to deal most intimately with this event/issue - you’ll have to research multiple sources, come up with a contention and arguments, write the essay, present the essay - so make it easier for yourself because you’re going to be spending a lot of time completing all these steps. Besides, an inherently interesting topic means that you’ll showcase your opinions in an authentic way, which is incredibly important when it comes to presentation time.
Step 2: Filter out the boring events/issues
“Your aim of this entire Oral Presentation SAC is to persuade your audience to agree with your contention (whatever that may be) based off the issue you’ve selected.” -The VCAA English Study Design
Next, you’ll need use this test to see whether or not your topic will stand up to the test of being ‘interesting’ enough for your audience. My first question to you is: who is your audience?
Is it your classroom and teacher? Is it a handful of teachers? If you don’t know, stop right now and find out. Only continue to the next question once you’re 100% certain of your audience.
Once you know who your audience is, ask yourself: Does this event and issue relate to my audience?
This question matters because “your aim of this entire Oral Presentation SAC is to persuade your audience to agree with your contention (whatever that may be) based off the issue you’ve selected.” This means that what you say to your audience and how they respond to your speech matters. Even if your assessor isn’t counting exactly how many people are still listening to your speech at the end, everyone knows a powerful speech when they’re in the presence of one - it hooks the audience from start to end - and an assessor, consciously or subconsciously, cannot deny that the collective attentiveness of the room has an influence on their marking of your Oral Presentation.
That’s why you should choose a topic that your audience can relate to. This is just my personal opinion, but I don’t find a speech on the Adani Coalmine (broad issue = climate change) as interesting and engaging as School Strike For The Climate (broad issue = climate change). That’s not to say that I’m for or against the Adani Coal Mine, but I know that if I’m speaking to a crowd of 17-18 years olds, the School Strike For The Climate would be a better choice because it’s going to hit a lot closer to home (1) (perhaps some of those in your audience - including yourself - have attended one of those strikes).
To extrapolate this idea further, I try to avoid topics that have too many unfamiliar words for my audience. For example, I recall one year when one of my students decided to take a stance on pain medications and that they should be restricted to only over-the-counter in pharmacies. Have I lost you already with the ‘over-the-counter’? Yeah, I have no doubt that some of you are unfamiliar with that word (don’t stress, I didn’t know it either when I was in school). On top of this phrase, she used words like ‘Schedule A’, ‘Pharmaceuticals Benefits Scheme’, ‘Medicare rebate’, ‘opioids', ‘subsidised’, and other words that aren’t part of the usual vocabulary of her audience. I’d take heed because in order to captivate the audience’s attention, they need to understand what you’re talking about. As soon as there’s something they don’t understand, it becomes much harder for them to follow your speech, and before you know it, Sarah, the class sleeper is taking her afternoon snooze and the others are struggling to keep their eyes open! Having said all that, if you have an equivalent jargon-heavy topic like pain medications that really does interest you, then go for it. Just bear in mind that you’ll need to explain any new vocabulary during your speech to keep your audience’s attention.
Keen to learn more? My How To Write A Killer Oral Presentation eBook continues on this same path, covering the next steps in your Oral Presentation journey!
Access a step-by-step guide on how to write your Oral Presentation with simple, easy-to-follow advice
Read and analyse sample A+ Oral Presentations with EVERY speech annotated and broken down on HOW and WHY students achieved A+ so you reach your goal
Learn how to stand out from other students with advice on your speech delivery
Sounds like something that'd help you? I think so too! Access the full eBook by clicking here!
Within the THINK strategy, we have 3 steps, or ABC. These ABC components are:
Step 1: Analyse Step 2: Brainstorm Step 3: Create a Plan
Without further ado, let’s get into it!
The Prompt: ‘“We are loot my son and I, soldiers’ plunder.” Discuss how Euripides highlights the plight of women taken as slaves in war.’
Step 1: Analyse
The first thing to note about this prompt is that it is a 'how’ question, it is essentially asking us to identify the literary techniques Euripides has employed in order to ‘highlight’ the women’s ‘plight’. The noun ‘plight’ is defined as a troublesome or unfortunate situation, yet we must consider this word in the context of war. How do the women suffer? In other words, how does Euripides demonstrate to his reader just how dejected the women are as slaves?
Step 2: Brainstorm
It is relatively simple to identify the literary techniques which consistently appear throughout Euripides’ play, such as imagery, metaphor and simile (not entirely sure what literary techniques are? We have a list of them for you here). However, keeping in mind we have to form three paragraphs, we should consider Euripides’ authorial voice more broadly. For example, the women consistently lament their disillusionment with the gods. This is not a literary technique in itself, but it is still a literary choice which Euripides has made and which has been deepened with more specific literary devices like metaphor. The same could be said for the women’s struggle for hope, and the contrast between their joyous pasts and dismal futures.
Step 3: Create a Plan
Unlike a ‘to what extent’ question, we do not have to form an argument. Instead, we must forge a discussion of Euripides’ literary decisions as a playwright.
P1: Euripides juxtaposes the triumphant pasts of the Trojan women with their tragic futures. The 'shining citadels of Troy' are now a 'black smokened ruin’.
P2: Euripides illuminatesthe women’sattempts to retain futile hope. Note that hope also comes in the form of revenge.
P3: The dramatic irony of the play renders the women’s desperate calls upon the gods all the more tragic. Here, we can also make reference to the prologue, and Athene’s ploy to create a storm on the Greeks’ journey home which also ultimately affects the women.
At the heart of the conflict in The Women of Troy, lies the anguished 'suffering' (1) of the Trojan women as they confront their fates as 'slaves', and remember their pasts as wives and mothers. In his tragedy, first performed in Athens circa 415 BCE, Euripides amplifies the conflicted voices of the Trojan women, voices which are by contrast suppressed and disregarded in the Homeric worksthe Iliad and the Odyssey. Euripides’ stark dichotomy between the glories and 'rituals' of the past, and the sombre 'grief' of the present, elucidate the magnitude of their losses, both material and moral. For as Andromache laments, these women have been objectified as 'loot', mere spoils of war to be abused and exploited. (2) The women’s tendency to clutch onto chimerical (3) hopes and values only serves to further illuminate the profundity of their suffering once these ambitions have been brutally quashed in the 'dust' of their 'smoke blackened ruin' of Troy. Perhaps most significantly, Euripides juxtaposes the lingering though pitiful hope of the women with the gods’ complete 'desert[ion]' of Troy, positioning the women in an ironic chasm of cruel abandonment. Thus, the plight of women as wartime captives is dramatised by Euripides, corralling the audience into an ultimate stance of pity and empathy.
Annotations: (1) It is often useful to embed short/one word quotes in your essay (we teach you how in How To Embed Quotes in Your Essay Like a Boss). It shows you have a great understanding of the text, and reads fluidly as opposed to overly long quotes.
(2) Here, I have addressed the quote in the prompt in a single sentence, unpacking Euripides’ analogy of Andromache and Astyanax as ‘loot’. By comparing the two characters to war spoils, he is suggesting that they have been stripped of their free will and autonomy.
(3) It is really important to vary your vocabulary in order to increase the sophistication of your essay. The adjective ‘chimerical’ refers to an ideal which is impossible to achieve.
Euripides’ juxtaposition between the dismal future of the Trojan women and the zenith of their pasts, further illuminates the chasm of their sufferings and losses as the ultimate victims of wartime atrocities. Chiefly, Euripides contrasts Hecuba’s former royal status with the demoralizing fate of her captivity, encapsulating this tragic fall from nobility with the ironic imagery, 'throned in the dust’. Yet perhaps what truly emphasises her plight as a slave is her enduring role as a maternal figure of leadership, encapsulated in her regard of the chorus as '[her] children' and her reciprocated address as 'dear queen' and 'your mother'. Despite the 'death agony' she feels, she chooses to maintain her nobility through the depth of her morality, dramatizing the pitiful nature of her plight (4). Moreover, Euripides’ juxtaposition between the 'shining citadels of Troy' and the 'misery' of the chorus elucidates the significance of 'home', a source of solace which has been barbarically stripped away from them. Likewise, Andromache laments her past as a dutiful and faithful wife, contrasting her fidelity against her fate as a 'concubine' to the formidable Neoptolemus (5). Euripides implies that Andromache must abandon her reputation as the 'perfect wife' – the very attribute for which she was chosen especially – doomed to confront a life of sexual slavery, an unwilling mother of Neoptolemus’ children.
Annotations: (4) Here, I have used the word ‘plight’, making sure I am engaging directly with the prompt. It is often easy to fall into the trap of creating a generalised essay which only loosely adheres to the question.
(5) It is more sophisticated to specify the name of Andromache’s husband (Neoptolemus), rather than to just simply state ‘Andromache’s husband’ (even though he is not featured as a character in Euripides’ play).
Euripides (6) characterises the women by their tendency to clutch on to 'hope[s]' and ideals that are impossible to fulfil. Almost a coping mechanism of sorts, the chorus paradoxically romanticise the Greek landscape in the first episode, lauding the 'sacred halls', 'green fields', 'beautiful river[s]' and 'wealth' of Hellas. Yet, their ardent critiques of their future 'home[s]' rejects any notion that the women truly believe these glorifications of the Greek realm. Similarly, Hecuba is motivated by her futile hope that Astyanax may one day seek vengeance and be 'the savior of Troy' by 'rebuild[ing]' the city. Yet tragically, this doomed hope is violently quashed by Odysseus 'blind panic' and acute lack of rationality: the 'liar' and 'deceiver' who 'lead the Greek council' in their debate. Though this hope initially provides her with some form of solace, all comfort is dashed with the announcement of his 'butchery'. Likewise, Cassandra is motivated by her own pursuit for revenge, lauding her 'sacred marriage' to Agamemnon as an event worthy of 'praise' and 'celebration'. Yet her hope is also jaded, for she must in the process 'flout all religious feeling' as a slave of Agamemnon’s 'lust', until she meets her painful hour of death at Clytemnestra’s hands.
Annotations: (6) Notice that several of the sentences have begun with ‘Euripides characterises’ or ‘Euripides illuminates’, engaging with the ‘how’ part of the prompt. We are showing what the author has done and why.
Ironically, Euripides illuminates the plight of the Trojan women through his dramatic elucidation of the gods’ callous abandonment of the ruined Troy. Euripides juxtaposes the past 'rituals', 'dances', 'songs', 'sacrifices', 'offerings' and 'ceremonies' of the chorus with their bitter laments that 'the gods hate Troy' and that they are ultimately characterised by avarice. They are neither answered not consoled in their ultimate time of mourning, for the audience is aware that Poseidon has fled the scene in the prologue, disillusioned by the 'ceas[ing]' of 'worship', leaving 'nothing (…) worth a god’s consideration' in the fallen city. What is also rendered ironic by Euripides, is Athene’s formidable ploy to 'make the Greeks’ return home a complete disaster.' Regardless of Athene’s true motives for instigating this ultimate pursuit of comeuppance, the fact remains that the women too must endure this perilous journey to Greece. Not only are the despairing wives, mothers and daughters condemned to 'abject slavery' on foreign soil, they are 'innocent: victims who may – alongside the Greeks – find themselves on the shores of Euboea, among the 'float[ing] (…) corpses' of the Greek soldiers. They are not simply abandoned by the gods, they are, directly or indirectly, punished. (7)
Annotations: (7) This is a more original point which other students may not automatically think of. We often view Athene’s ‘ploy’ as a deserved punishment of the ‘murderous’ Greeks, yet there is no true justice, for the women too are ultimately affected.
In a play which serves to fill the silence of the Trojan women in the legendary works of the Iliad and the Odyssey(8), Euripides augments the pitiful plight of the Trojan women with agonizing references to past 'happiness', and equally unbearable forecasts of their roles as 'slaves' of Greek lust. They are indeed 'loot' and they are indeed 'plunder' – as Andromache so bitterly laments – yet their plight is recorded in the works of 'poets' to come, remembered as a legacy of stoicism 'a hundred generations hence.' Taken as our 'great theme', these women are 'sufferer[s]', yet they are also heroes.
Annotations: (8) Just as I have done in the introduction, I have referred to the context of the play in the conclusion. The Iliad and the Odyssey provided the framework for Euripides’ play, so by referencing Homer’s works we are showing the examiner that we have an understanding of the historical context.
If you'd like to dive deeper into Women of Troy, check out ourA Killer Text Guide: Women of Troystudy guide. In it, we teach you how to how to think like a 50 study scorer through advanced discussions on topics such as views and values and metalanguage, we provide you with 5 A+ sample essays that are fully annotated and everything is broken down into easy-to-understand concepts so that students of all levels can understand and apply what we teach!!
Literary and Cinematic Techniques in Ransom and The Queen
Essay Topics for Ransom and The Queen
Resources for Ransom and The Queen
Set during the Trojan War, one of the most famous events in Greek mythology, David Malouf’s historical fiction Ransom seeks to explore the overwhelming destruction caused by war, and the immense power of reconciliation. Drawing on The Iliad, the epic poem by Homer, Malouf focuses on the events of one day and night, in which King Priam of Troy travels to the enemy Greek encampment to plead with the warrior Achilles to release the body of Priam’s son, Hector. Maddened by grief at the murder of his friend Patroclus, Achilles desecrates the body of Hector as revenge. Despite Achilles’ refusal to give up Hector’s body, Priam is convinced there must be a way of reclaiming the body – of pitting new ways against the old, and forcing the hand of fate. Malouf’s fable reflects the epic themes of the Trojan War, as fatherhood, love, grief, and pride are expertly recast for our times.
To learn more, head over to our Ransom Study Guide(which covers themes, characters, and more).
Set in the weeks leading up to and after the infamous death of Princess Diana in 1997, The Queen captures the private moments of the monarchy's grief and loss, and Queen Elizabeth II's inner conflict as she attempts to keep her private and public affairs separate.
The film opens with Tony Blair's "landslide victory" in the election as the "youngest Prime Minister in almost two hundred years", preempting viewers of the "radical modernisation" that's to come as he takes the reign. Juxtaposed with Blair's introduction is the stoic Queen Elizabeth II, residing in Buckingham Palace serenaded by bagpipes, in a ritual unchanged since Queen Victoria, immediately establishing the entrenched traditional values she represents. Princess Diana’s sudden death at the hands of relentless paparazzi results in turmoil in both the lives of those in the monarchy and adoring British citizens who mourn for the loss of the “people's princess". As days ensue with no public response from the Royal Family, the British people grow in disdain towards the authority, demanding a more empathetic response. Caught between the people and the monarchy is Blair, who sees the Royal Family’s public image suffer as a result of inaction.
Despite heavy resistance from the Queen, he eventually encourages her to surrender old royal protocols and adopt a more modern approach to meet public expectation: to fly the flag at half-mast, hold a public funeral, and publicly grieve for the loss of Princess Diana – all in all, to show the people that the monarchy cares. The Queen’s decision to accept Blair’s advice ultimately reconnects her with the British people and restores the Royal Family’s reputation amongst the public.
Together, Ransom and The Queen showcase the challenges involved in leadership roles: the inner conflict that leaves these individuals torn between their private and public demands. More on this in the next section.
2. Themes in Ransom and The Queen
Parenthood and Leadership
In both texts, deaths act as a catalyst for both Priam and the Queen’s personal change – Priam’s son Hector, and the Queen’s, ex-daughter-in-law, Princess Diana.
In Ransom, we learn of the familial sacrifice Priam has needed to make as a leader. His separation from loved ones is expected as he has been ‘asked to stand…at a kingly distance from the human, which in [his] kingly role…[he] can have no part in'. Up until Hector’s death, Priam has been removed from paternal experiences, a sad truth when he admits that his relationships with his children are merely ‘formal and symbolic,’ and a part of the ‘splendour and the ordeal of kingship'. Unlike his wife Hecuba, whose grief is assailed by intimate moments with her children as she recalls, ‘Troilus was very late in walking…I was in labour for eighteen hours with Hector', Priam is unable to recall these private memories. Despite what would ordinarily be experiences shared by both father and mother, Priam cannot echo his wife’s grief to the same extent as these experiences have not been ‘in his sphere’ and he is even ‘unnerved’ by them. Malouf demonstrates how Priam’s royal obligations have suffocated his role as a father, and consequentially, he has been unable to connect with his family in the way he would desire to.
While Priam’s overt expressiveness in his limitations as a father may sway empathy from Ransom readers, Queen Elizabeth’s stoicism at first makes her appear cold-hearted and unfeeling. Her reaction to Prince Charles’ desire to fly a private jet to see Diana in hospital (‘Isn’t that precisely the sort of extravagance they always attack us for?…this isn’t a matter of state.’) is one from a leader's mindset - she's more concerned of the media’s reaction, rather than offering familial care and concern. However, as the film unfolds, viewers come to understand that her stoicism doesn’t necessarily come about because of her own personal choice, but rather, because her leadership role demands it of her.
TIP: Save the words ‘stoicism’ and ‘stoic’ to use in your essay. These words describe someone who experiences suffering but doesn’t openly express it.
We see the Queen’s quiet intentions to protect her grandchildren – ‘I think the less attention one draws to [Diana’s death], the better…for the boys’ – yet her silence is the inadvertent cause of public scorn. As such, Frears doesn’t make a villain out of the Queen, someone who on the outside may seem unfeeling and apathetic, but encourages viewers to see her from a unique perspective – a woman who struggles to manage her identity in both the private and public light.
It is only when Priam and the Queen detach themselves from their traditional roles that we see a change for the better in both of their personal journeys. Priam’s removal of his ‘jewelled amulet [and] golden armbands’ is symbolic of his shedding of the royal weight, and paving way for his step into a paternal role. Likewise, the Queen’s physical distancing from Buckingham Palace, an iconic symbol for tradition, into the public sphere where she mingles with the British people enables her to finally play the role of a grandmother. Both texts show how parenthood can lead to a more enriched human experience. Malouf finally portrays Priam as a happy man when he has the vision to be remembered in his legacy for his role as a father first, then as a king. Likewise in The Queen, her highness’ public mourning connects her with her people, and brings her joy and delight at last.
Tradition, Change, and the New
Both texts explore the challenging tug and pull between upholding traditions and making way for the new.
As humans, we cherish traditions because they are customs or beliefs that have been passed on from generation to generation. They have sentimental value, and by continuing on these traditions, our actions show that we respect the path our elders have laid for us. Tradition is not necessarily depicted in a negative light in either texts, but rather, shown to have its place. The Queen’s resistance against sailing the flag at half mast is out of deference for her elders. Even Somax’s casual storytelling about his daughter-in-law’s griddlecakes is customary, as each time his son would ‘set up the stones’ and her ‘quick and light…flipping’ of the cakes. However, Frears and Malouf both assert that adaptability in upholding tradition is also needed in order for us to grow and develop as humans.
The new is not depicted as an experience one should fear, but rather, an experience one should approach with curiosity. As Malouf writes, ‘[Priam] saw that what was new could also be pleasurable'. The following positive expressions from the king ‘chuckling’ and ‘smiling’ echo the sentiment that while humans naturally resist change, embracing it is often beneficial to our lives. To be meta, Ransom is the retelling of the Trojan events, but Malouf adds to this tradition with a fresh perspective on the story.
Frears and Malouf both demonstrate that change is often propelled into possibility through the support and urging of others. Priam’s vision for his journey is instilled by the goddess Iris, who comes to him in a dream. His consequential journey is supported by Somax, whose ordinary everyday experiences teach Priam more about fatherhood than he had learnt as a father himself. Meanwhile, Achilles drags Hector’s body day after day, with no intention of change until Priam suddenly appears in his camp. Both texts highlight the influence those surrounding us can have on our personal change.
3. Similarities and Differences
At LSG, we use the CONVERGENT and DIVERGENT strategy to help us easily find points of similarity and difference. This is particularly important when it comes to essay writing, because you want to know that you're coming up with unique comparative points (compared to the rest of the Victorian cohort!). I don't discuss this strategy in detail here, but if you're interested, it's worth checking out my How To Write A Killer Comparative ebook to see how you can really set yourself apart and ace Comparative writing. I use this strategy throughout my discussion of themes above and techniques in the next section. To help you get started, here are some questions to get you thinking about the similarities and differences between the two texts:
Public vs. Private Spheres: how is public vs. private life portrayed in either texts?
Stories and Storytelling: who tells the story in either texts? Is there power in storytelling? Why do humans share stories?
Grief, Death, and Loss: How do humans deal with death? What emotions do we experience?
4. Literary and Cinematic Techniques in Ransom and The Queen
Opening Portrayals of Queen Elizabeth and Priam
When Charles consoles Prince William and Harry after informing them of their mother’s death, Queen Elizabeth peers inwards from outside the room, distant and removed from her family. The enclosed frame of the door only serves to heighten her isolation from her family as she is pained by the ‘unrestrained intimacy and affection’ between the boys and their father, something she is unable to partake in. Her face half-covered by the shadows stresses how her familial experience only occurs from afar as she prioritises her role as her highness. Internal change, at least at this point in the film, has yet to begin.
Meanwhile in Ransom, Priam’s journey of personal change is established immediately as he realises that he needs to move beyond this ‘brief six feet of earth he moves and breathes in'. The finite space he has become accustomed to now almost represents (and this may be an intense interpretation) a jail cell in which he as a father, as a human being, has been incarcerated in. He is ready to pursue a new identity beyond just that as a king. Both Ransom and The Queen showcase the sacrifices made by both leaders, and the rigid, almost-dehumanising expectations that are set upon them when they take reign. Both texts encourage their audience to empathise with the leaders, for the challenges they face in their unique positions.
The Queen Film Techniques
I created an in-depth video on the first 20 or so minutes of The Queen you'd might find helpful. Have a watch and see whether you missed out on any film techniques:
To begin with, we have this quote that is displayed at the very start of the film, and it says,
"Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,"
and it's spoken by Henry IV Part II. So, the Part II gives me an indication that this is a quote from some way in Shakespeare's texts. If I then go on Google and actually have a look and type up this quote, then I know for sure that it is indeed from Henry IV Part II, a text and play that was written by William Shakespeare. So, I'm telling you these things because this is actually how I would go on to learn information about the film. I don't just automatically know for sure that it is from this particular text that Shakespeare wrote up. So, I want to ensure that I'm right by going and having a look at Google.
Quotes at the start of any film, at the start of any book, usually have importance to them and they usually should give you an insight as to what's to come. And, for me, I find when I look at this particular quote, it definitely links to the themes of leadership, of motherhood, parenthood, and of perhaps the sacrifices that the queen has needed to make in order to lead her nation. So, with this particular quote, I would write it down somewhere and keep it in mind as you're watching the remainder of the film, because you'll see those themes come to life and have a better understanding of what this quote is talking about.
So, immediately, this film opens up with a news presenter talking about Tony Blair going to the election polls. It's displayed as footage on a TV screen. This gives us insight into a couple of different things. Firstly, it gives us context. The second thing is that it's displayed on a TV and it's broadcasted by a news channel. And, as you probably know, the media, the paparazzi, and just the entire culture of representing news during this time is something that will be heavily explored throughout this film. Especially because it may or may not have led to the death of Princess Diana.
So, again, contextually, it gives us an idea that around this time, the news media was quite overwhelming and omnipresent, which means that it was sort of just everywhere. It was always around. It's sort of no different from today, but there's a reason why they establish it as an opening shot. And that's just sort of give us as viewers an understanding that the news has a big play in what's going to happen in the remainder of this film.
So, I really liked the quote,
"We're in danger of losing too much that is good about this country, as it is,"
that's spoken by the painter, who's drawing a portrait of the queen. This, again, sort of establishes that idea of change immediately at the beginning of the film, or should I say, resistance to change. So, it's already sort of outlining the path that this film is about to take.
Again, I really like this quote,
"The sheer joy of being partial."
So, from the onset with the queen, I think it's important to understand that we don't villainise her, or at least the director doesn't villainise her. He portrays her as a human being, as somebody who is in this position of the queen, which has a lot of weight upon it. And you can tell that she's all glammed up and she's fulfilling her role as the queen, but she's admitting that she envies us as everyday citizens being able to vote, to be able to have an opinion, and just go to the booths. To me, this establishes her as somebody who I empathise with, or sympathise with even.
I think this part with the music in the background and how the queen breaks the fourth wall. So, the fourth wall is basically when any character inside a film actually looks directly at the camera, at you, as the audience. And, to me, this gives me a sense of joy. It makes me feel like it's quite funny, the way that she's looking at us, especially with the...and again, this sort of reiterates my idea that we're not supposed to look at the queen as some evil or some cold-hearted person who is unfeeling for Diana's death later on, but that she's just like one of us and she can participate in a joke and we come to see this in a little bit.
So, in the next scene, we have a wide shot of Buckingham Palace, and in the background, you can hear bagpipes playing. This is something called diegetic sound. Diegetic sound is when you have sounds that come directly from the world in the film. So, the bagpipes sort of establish this sense of tradition. Everything in the scene represents tradition. Buckingham, Palace, the flag, the bagpipes, and that as an early shot of this film sort of shows us the entrenched tradition that exists. That nothing has changed as of yet, and things as sort of going on as they've always had.
Again, Frears is trying to show us the human side of the queen. And so that's why we've got the shot of her waking up in bed. She's all cuddled up and snuggled up in warm and comfy bedding. And it shows that she's vulnerable, in a way. And this is important for us as viewers, as we come to understand her inner thoughts and feelings later on.
So, immediately when the queen wakes up, she has a pile of newspapers in front of her. That adds, again, to that sense of omnipresent media. It's all around us, at least in that period of time.
This time, we have archival footage. So, archival footage is footage that has been taken from that period of time and placed into this film. It adds to the film's sense of authenticity, the fact that it's based off historical offense.
I really like this shot as the queen and Robin walking down the hallway to meet Tony Blair. This is a great snapshot and a great mise-en-scene. And mise-en-scenes, basically, to me anyway, it's when you pause the screen and it's everything that's inside that shot from props, in the foreground, in the background, what the person is wearing, or what the characters are wearing. So, with this particular art, we can not only see the two characters, but we can also see everything that's in the background.
And again, this really adds that sense of tradition because you've got all these paintings from probably famous people back in the day, or ancestors of the monarchy, and then you've got Robin saying he's promising a constitutional shake up, the first one in 300 years, and the queen saying, "Oh, you mean he's going to try and modernise us?" This is a great juxtaposition between the new coming in versus the old.
When Robin makes the joke about Tony Blair's wife having a curtsy that's described as shallow, it's humorous, it's funny, and the queen laughs as a result. The humor that's speckled throughout this film, I think really helps to lighten up the situation, but also to again, show us that the queen is human and that she can enjoy a joke.
I think this is a great snapshot as well. So, we've got the camera looking down at Tony Blair and his wife. When a camera does look down at an object or character, it gives us, as the audience, a sense that that person or character is inferior or they're not in a position of control. And it ties in with the fact that this is Tony Blair's first day in Buckingham Palace as a prime minister and he's only just onboarding the role.
So, in terms of him versus the queen or the monarchy, which is symbolised by everything around him, the setting that he is encompassed in, it shows that he really isn't the one who's playing the field here. He's not the one who is in charge. I love that we've got one of the queen's men giving them rules on what they need to do.
So, we're slowly walking up the stairs towards the queen who is in position of power. So, the staircase is quite symbolic.
Another important thing to know is that Mrs. Blair is actually accompanying the prime minister this first time round that he goes to Buckingham Palace. It shows that he is nervous, he said it himself, but he's not entirely comfortable with his role yet. So he needs the support of his wife. This is in comparison with later in the film at the very end, actually, where Tony Blair goes to Buckingham Palace himself and conducts a meeting with the queen, very similar to the one that he's doing now.
This shot where we've got Mrs. Blair sitting opposite the guard at quite a distance adds to the sense of awkwardness, and it's paralleled with the sense of openness between the queen and the prime minister as well. So, it shows that we've got the old and the new sort of coming together and sort of not really gelling.
Something to keep an eye on is parallels in the film. It's always a really good idea to compare the start and end of this particular film, because we've got such similar scenarios in meaning at the start of the film and in meaning at the end of the film. What you'll notice in this particular scene is that they don't appear in the same shot. They sit opposite one another and one shot on Tony Blair, one shot on the queen, and it sort of goes back and forth. And that's to heighten that sense of distance between them. That sense of unfamiliarity. This is in comparison with the end of the film when we see the two of them walking down the hallway together, out into the garden as equal.
Here's another great shot. So, to add on the idea of the queen having more power versus prime minister, it's quite clear here as he sits down and asks for her hand.
I love the way that Mrs. Blair walks. She's sort of like half...I don't know how you would explain her stride, but it's obviously not one that is aligned with how the queen walks, which is quite poised and quite together. Rather, Mrs. Blair's walk is sort of frumpy, it's sort of bouncy, and her arms are sort of flailing around a little bit, and so adds to that sense of new, of change, of difference. And so that adds to the story of Tony Blair and his family and what he represents as something new and different and probably unwelcome for the queen.
So, that's it, that's my analysis of the first 10 minutes or so of this film. If you're interested in a more detailed film technique analysis, I've just written a killer comparative based on Ransom & The Queen. In this, I show you film techniques that I pick out throughout watching the film, how to analyze them, and also then go on to show you how they are used in A-plus essays. I'm so confident that this study guide will be able to help you improve your understanding of both texts and get you towards that A+ for your SAC and exams.
If you're curious about what's inside the study guide and want to see if it's right for you, head on over and read a free sample to see it for yourself. I hope it gives you something to launch off. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the description box below. I have plenty of resources for you guys down there as well if you needed help for your SAC and exams and I'll catch you guys next time. Bye.
Historical Footage and Context
Based on historical events, The Queen is interspersed with real archive television footage leading to, and following Princess Diana’s death. Frears incorporates these clips to help provide viewers insight on the politics, media culture, and public reaction in 1997.
Princess Diana’s introduction through archival clips at the beginning of the film highlight her as a vulnerable individual at the mercy of oppressive and intrusive tabloid newspapers. The sweeping pan of paparazzi on the night of Diana’s death serves to emphasise the obsessive media, who at the time, were paid in excess of one million pounds for taking photos of her. Moments of her kissing on a boat are revealed to the world without any respect for her privacy. This archival footage helps viewers understand the distressing omnipresence of the media, and the turn of the public against the paparazzi and media following Diana’s death.
Likewise, Malouf uses parts of The Iliad as foundations for his novel. The original tale, written during the 8th century BC, explores in detail Achilles’ refusal to fight for his leader Agamemnon, Patroclus’ role in the war, and also the disputes between the gods as they argue over the fate of mortals. By offering a retrospective of this historical story, Malouf invites readers to better understand the Trojan War and Greek mythology, and the impact the gods had on Trojans and Greeks.
For more discussion on literary and cinematic techniques, have a look at my A Killer Comparative Guide: Ransom & The Queen. In this in-depth study guide, Angelina Xu (ATAR 99.6, 46 English study score) and I also break down 5 essay topics, providing you explanations on how to brainstorm and plan each of these essays, then convert these plans into A+ essays complete with annotations! I've dropped some sample essay topics below for you to try at home yourselves:
5. Essay Topics for Ransom and The Queen
"I told him he shouldn't change a thing." (The Queen) Compare how Ransom and The Queen explore resistance to change.
Compare the ways the two texts explore the efficacy of different leadership types.
Compare the ways the two texts explore the importance of storytelling.
'Wordless but not silent.’ (Ransom) Ransom and The Queen explore how silence can be louder than words.
"Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” (The Queen) “...the lighter role of being a man.” (Ransom). Compare how the two texts show the burden experienced by those in leadership positions.
In your English class, you probably feel like your teacher is making stuff up. Moments where you think, “The author can’t possibly have meant that”. To your English teacher, the smallest details have major implications in interpreting the text.
In fact, you probably agree with jokes like this:
The Book: “The curtains were blue.”
What your teacher says: “The curtains represent the character’s depression.”
What the author meant: “The curtains were blue.”
Or even this one...
The disconnect you feel between yourself and the teacher is not just because your teacher is stretching for something to analyse. Whilst the author may have meant something different to what your teacher thinks, this doesn’t mean your teacher is strictly wrong. Context and the author’s intention are two complicated considerations in English, and a whole range of study is dedicated to it. At the VCE level you must consider the context your text was written in, and the author who wrote it, but this shouldn’t hinder your own unique interpretation of the text.
Your interpretation is more important than the author's intention
In 1968, Roland Barthes proposed a theory that has stuck with critics and academics of literature. “The Death of the Author” claimed that the biography, views, or intentions of the author are not a part of the literary object.
The text you are studying in English does not belong to its author, but to the reader, and what the reader decides to make of that text is valid, as long as it is backed up with evidence (as your teacher will say). Barthes’ original essay is complicated, but at a basic level, “The Death of the Author” says that the curtains are not only representative of the character’s depression but could also represent the character’s love of blue orchids.
When we read, we automatically apply our own experiences, biases, and understanding of the world to the text. As such, each person is likely to interpret a text in different ways. This is a major part of studying English, as the critic (you) is more important than the author’s original intention. The fact that a single text can give rise to multiple interpretations is the reason we study English; to debate these interpretations. When you are given an essay topic you are being asked for your opinion on one of these debates, not the author’s opinion on their own work. If you were reading The Fault in Our Stars and claimed it romanticised cancer, you would be participating in the literary debate, despite going against John Green’s original intentions.
In the modern age of mass media, the author is attempting to revive themselves. These are authors who attempt to dictate interpretations of their works after they have been published. The most famous of these is likely J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series. Rowling’s twitter page adds many pieces to the Harry Potter canon and Rowling offers her own interpretations of the text. To Rowling, her intentions are the only correct ways to interpret her texts, and as such she shares them frequently.
This is not true, however, for any author. Authors are not the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to the interpretation of their texts. Despite having intentions and opinions on their texts, there is also evidence which counters their interpretations.
When it comes to the debate surrounding the texts you study, you need to remember that the interpretation of the author is only one part of the debate. It is an opinion equal to everyone else involved in the debate. Imagine the author is on trial. They may have an opinion of the crime (or text), but so does the prosecution. You are the jury and must come up with your own interpretation of the crime. Whether it matches up with the author’s intentions or not does not matter, as long as there is supporting evidence within the text.
Context in VCE English
But what about the circumstances in which something was written? Every time you start a new text you are probably asked to research the time in which it was written, or what major political events may be relevant. Unlike the author, these factors are very important in interpreting a text.
For starters, a text may explicitly reference a certain event, and so understanding that event is key to understanding the text. An episode of the Simpsons may make fun of Donald Trump, and the writers assume we have the contextual knowledge to know who Donald Trump is, why he is important, and why the joke is funny. It is easy for us to understand this context because we live in the context.
If you’re studying texts from 200 years ago it becomes harder to interpret because we’re unfamiliar with the context. While you don’t have to know the context of your text perfectly, understanding the cultural beliefs and major events will help you consider the text objectively.
Researching the context of a text acknowledges that literature is a product of the culture and politics of its time. Its themes may still be relevant in the modern age, but it is difficult to fairly judge, critic, and interpret these texts if we do not consider the context in which it was written. A piece of literature will either follow or criticise the views and opinions of the time, and it is the responsibility of the reader to understand these views and determine where the text sits.
Okay, so the text is a reflection of the time from which it stems, and is separate from the author that wrote it? Not quite. Counter to “The Death of the Author”, the author is also a part of context, and this means certain parts of the author should be considered in interpreting a text.
If there is ambiguity in the meaning of a text, the author’s personal beliefs may clear it up. If a character of a certain race is stereotyped and mocked, the meaning of this may change depending on the race of the author. If an author stereotypes their own race, they might be criticising the way other people see them, whereas making fun of a different culture is most likely upholding racist or discriminatory belief systems.
So, what ARE the curtains?! What do they mean? Well, they're a metaphor, representing more than their literal role as curtains. But also, they’re just blue.
The truth is whilst context and the author are relevant, we should try to gain as much from the text as possible before relying on the context to guide our interpretations. While studying your texts, it is reasonable to apply modern standards to your interpretations.
Shakespeare’s plays are a tad sexist, and we’re able to criticise that, despite Shakespeare writing in a different context. For more on studying Shakespeare in VCE, read How to Approach Studying Shakespeare. But it would also be difficult to appreciate the meaning of texts without the context, especially when the text is a response to a major event. At the same time, we’re allowed to expand on what the author has written. We are not confined to what the author meant to say when we interpret texts. As an English student you have the opportunity to consider what each word may represent for the characters and how it influences your unique interpretation.
So, the curtains mean whatever you want them to mean. You can make reasonable assumptions about a text based on the context it comes from and from the author’s life, but you shouldn’t assume that something means nothing. Trivial things like the colour of curtains may not have been important to the author but allow us as English students to analyse and look deeper into the text, its themes, and the psyche of the characters.
In your SACs and exams looking at these small details and deviating from the author’s intentions is an easy way to stand out. Looking to get to that A+ level? Read How to Turn Text Response Essays from Average to A+. So, when your teacher says the curtains are a metaphor, consider what else could be a metaphor, and don’t assume the author has all the answers, or that there is only one interpretation.
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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