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HTML vs. Other Web Programming Languages: A Comparative Guide
In the world of web development, HTML is a foundational programming language that forms the backbone of every website. However, there are other web programming languages out there that offer different functionalities and advantages. In this comparative guide, we will explore the differences between HTML and other popular web programming languages, allowing you to make an informed decision about which language is best suited for your web development needs.
I. HTML – The Building Block of Websites
HTML, or Hypertext Markup Language, is the standard markup language used to create the structure and layout of web pages. It provides a set of tags and attributes that define how content is displayed on a website. Unlike other programming languages, HTML does not possess complex logic or interactivity capabilities; instead, it focuses on organizing and presenting information.
However, HTML’s simplicity also means that it lacks certain advanced features required for dynamic websites or complex applications. This leads us to explore other web programming languages that offer more robust functionality.
III. PHP – Powering Dynamic Websites
PHP is known for its versatility and compatibility with various databases, making it an ideal choice for developing content management systems (CMS), e-commerce platforms, and other data-driven websites. It provides powerful features like session management, file handling, and database connectivity.
Moreover, PHP integrates seamlessly with HTML, allowing you to embed PHP code within HTML files. This combination of server-side processing and HTML rendering makes PHP a popular choice for building complex websites that require frequent updates or personalized content.
IV. Python – A General-Purpose Web Programming Language
Python is a versatile programming language that can be used in multiple domains, including web development. With frameworks like Django or Flask, Python offers a robust environment for building scalable web applications.
Python’s simplicity and readability make it an excellent choice for beginners in programming. It emphasizes code readability and follows clean syntax conventions that are easy to understand.
In addition to its ease of use, Python boasts a vast ecosystem of libraries and frameworks that simplify common web development tasks such as handling HTTP requests, managing databases, or implementing authentication systems.
Ultimately, choosing the right combination of languages will depend on the complexity of your project, your familiarity with the languages, and the specific features and functionalities you require. By understanding the differences between HTML and other web programming languages, you can make an informed decision that aligns with your goals and objectives in web development.
This text was generated using a large language model, and select text has been reviewed and moderated for purposes such as readability.
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Go ahead and tilt your mobile the right way (portrait). the kool kids don't use landscape....
- What Is a Comparative?
- What Are You Expected To Cover? (Comparative Criteria)
- School Assessed Coursework (SAC), Exams and Allocated Marks
- How To Prepare for Your Comparative SAC and Exam
- How To Write a Comparative Essay
1. What Is a Comparative?
Comparative is also known as 'Reading and Comparing', 'Comparative Essay' and less frequently, 'Compare and Contrast'. For our purposes, we'll just stick to 'Comparative'.
As its name may indicate, a Comparative is when you analyse and write on two texts, comparing their similarities and differences. In VCE, there are 8 pairs of texts Year 12s can choose from (or more accurately, your school chooses for you!). The most popular combination of texts include novels and films, however, plays also make it onto the list.
When you start doing Comparative at school, you will move through your texts just as you have for Text Response (except...instead of one text it's actually two) - from watching the film and/or reading the novel, participating in class discussions about similar and different themes and ideas, and finally, submitting one single essay based on the two texts. So yep, if you've only just gotten your head around Text Response, VCAA likes to throw a spanner in the works to keep you on your toes!
But, don't worry. The good news is all of your Text Response learning is applicable to VCE’s Comparative, and it's really not as hard as it might first appear. Here's a video I created introducing Comparative ( I've time-stamped it to start at 0:55 - when the Comparative section starts - thank me later! ).
2. What Are You Expected To Cover? (Comparative Criteria)
What are teachers and examiners expecting to see in your essays? Below are the VCE criteria for Comparative essays (sourced from the VCAA English examination page ).
Note: Some schools may express the following points differently, however, they should all boil down to the same points - what is necessary in a Comparative essay.
a) Knowledge and understanding of both texts, and the ideas and issues they present
Society, history and culture all shape and influence us in our beliefs and opinions. Authors use much of what they’ve obtained from the world around them and employ this knowledge to their writing. Understanding their values embodied in texts can help us, as readers, identify and appreciate theme and character representations.
For example: Misogyny is widespread in both Photograph 51 and The Penelopiad , and both writers explore the ways in which females deal with such an environment. Photograph 51 is set in the 1950s when women begun to enter the workforce, whereas The Penelopiad is set in Ancient Greece, a period when women were less likely to speak out against discrimination.
b) Discussion of meaningful connections, similarities or differences between the texts, in response to the topic;
More about this later in 4. How To Prepare for Your Comparative SAC and Exam, Step 2: Understand both your texts - as a pair (below) .
c) Use of textual evidence to support the comparative analysis
While you should absolutely know how to embed quotes in your essay like a boss , you want to have other types of evidence in your Comparative essay. You must discuss how the author uses the form that he/she is writing in to develop their discussion. This encompasses a huge breadth of things from metaphors to structure to language.
For example: "The personification of Achilles as ‘wolf, a violator of every law of men and gods', illustrates his descent from human to animal..." or "Malouf’s constant use of the present voice and the chapter divisions allow the metaphor of time to demonstrate the futility and omnipresence of war..."
To learn more about metalanguage, read our What Is Metalanguage? post.
d) Control and effectiveness of language use, as appropriate to the task.
When examiners read essays, they are expected to get through about 12-15 essays in an hour! This results in approximately 5 minutes to read, get their head around, and grade your essay - not much time at all! It is so vital that you don’t give the examiner an opportunity to take away marks because they have to reread certain parts of your essay due to poor expression and grammar.
3. School Assessed Coursework (SAC), Exams and Allocated Marks
Comparative is the first Area of Study (AoS 1) in Unit 2 (Year 11) and Unit 4 (Year 12) - meaning that majority of students will tackle the Comparative SAC in Term 3. The number of allocated marks are:
- Unit 2 – dependant on school
- Unit 4 – 60 marks (whopper!)
The time allocated to your SAC is school-based. Schools often use one or more periods combined, depending on how long each of your periods last. Teachers can ask you to write anywhere from 900 to 1200 words for your essay (keep in mind that it’s about quality, not quantity!)
In your exam, you get a whopping total of 3 hours to write 3 essays ( Text Response , Comparative, and Language Analysis ). The general guide is 60 minutes on Comparative, however, it is up to you exactly how much time you decide to dedicate to this section of the exam. Your Comparative essay will be graded out of 10 by two different examiners. Your two unique marks from these examiners will be combined, with 20 as the highest possible mark.
4. How To Prepare for Your Comparative SAC and Exam
Preparation is a vital component in how you perform in your SACs and exam so it’s always a good idea to find out what is your best way to approach assessments. This is just to get you thinking about the different study methods you can try before a SAC. Here are my top strategies (ones I actually used in VCE) for Comparative preparation that can be done any time of year (including holidays - see How To Recharge Your Motivation Over the School Holidays for more tips):
Step 1: Understand each text - individually
This doesn’t mean reading/watching your texts a specific amount of times (though twice is usually a recommended minimum), but rather, coming to an understanding of your texts. Besides knowing important sections, quotes, themes and characters (which are still important and which you should definitely know), here are some other matters which are also necessary to consider:
- Why has it been chosen by VCAA (out of literally millions of other books)?
- Why are you reading it (especially if it’s an old text, and how it’s still important throughout the ages)?
- Why did the author write it?
- What kind of social commentary exists within the text (especially on specific issues and themes)?
These kinds of questions are important because quite often in this area of study, you’ll be defending and interpreting your own ideas alongside the author’s. When you find a solid interpretation of the text as a whole, then no essay topic will really throw you off - because you’ll know already what you think about it. Moreover, because you’re comparing two texts in this section, understanding a text and being specific (e.g. 'both texts argue that equality is important' vs. 'while both texts A and B agree with the notion of equality, A focuses on ____ whereas B highlights ____') will help your writing improve in sophistication and depth.
If you need any more tips on how to learn your texts in-depth, Susan's (English study score 50) Steps for Success in Text Study guide provides a clear pathway for how to approach your texts and is a must read for VCE English students!
And, if you're studying texts you hate (ugh!), you'll also want to check out Lavinia's guide which teaches you how to do well even when you hate your texts .
Step 2: Understand both your texts - as a pair
Avoid simply drawing connections between the texts which are immediately obvious. When writing a Comparative, the key strategy that'll help you stand out from the crowd is the CONVERGENT and DIVERGENT strategy . I discuss this in more detail below, under 'eBooks'.
We'll use George Orwell's Animal Farm and Shakespeare's Macbeth as an example ( don't worry if you haven't studied either of these texts, it's just to prove a point ). The most obvious connection simply from reading the plot is that both Napoleon and Macbeth are powerful leaders. However, you want to start asking yourself more questions to develop an insightful comparison between the two men:
For example: In Macbeth and Animal Farm a common theme is power
Q: How do they achieve power?
A: In Animal Farm , Napoleon is sly about his intentions and slowly secures his power with clever manipulation and propaganda. However , Shakespeare’s Macbeth adopts very different methods as he uses violence and abuse to secure his power.
Q: How do they maintain power?
A: Both Napoleon and Macbeth are tyrants who go to great length to protect their power. They believe in killing or chasing away anyone who undermines their power.
Q: What is the effect of power on the two characters?
A: While Macbeth concentrates on Macbeth’s growing guilty conscience and his gradual deterioration to insanity, Animal Farm offers no insight into Napoleon’s stream of consciousness. Instead, George Orwell focuses on the pain and suffering of the animals under Napoleon’s reign. This highlights Shakespeare’s desire to focus on the inner conflict of a man, whereas Orwell depicted the repercussions of a totalitarian regime on those under its ruling.
Check out our comparative scene analysis of The Longest Memory & The 7 Stages of Grieving for another example of understanding texts as a pair!
Step 3: Know your comparative words
Having a list of comparative words will help you understand your texts as a pair, and helps make your life easier when you start writing your essays. Here's a list we've compiled below:
- At the same time
- In addition
- In parallel
- Compared to
- Despite that
- Even though
- In contrast
- On the contrary
- On the other hand
Feel free to download the PDF version of this list for your own studies as well!
Step 4: Understand the construction of your texts
Besides comparing ideas and themes, and having an understanding of what the text says, it’s also imperative that you understand HOW the texts say it. This type of analysis focuses on metalanguage (also known as literary devices or literary techniques). When you get technical with this and focus on metalanguage, it brings out more depth in your writing.
You could start asking yourself:
- What kind of description is used?
- What kind of sentences are used?
- Are they long and winding or rather short and bare?
- Are they dripping with adjectives or snappy?
- What is the structure of the text?
- Does one begin with a prologue/end with an epilogue?
- Is the text continuous or divided e.g. through letters or days or parts?
- Does the text end at a climax or end with a true finality?
- What reoccurs throughout the text? (specific lines, symbols or images)
These kinds of understanding are important as they are evidentiary material for your arguments. What you say and believe the authors have said, as well as how you believe the texts differ, may rely heavily on these techniques. You'd then translate this analysis to develop your arguments further in your essay. For example:
His depiction of Chapel serves as a subversion of the conventional type of slave; he is 'half a slave, half the master' and belongs to 'another way of life'. His defiance and rebellion against the dictations of society is exemplified through his speech, which consists of rhythmic and poetic couplets, filled with flowery language; which ultimately challenges the idea of illiterate slaves.
Step 5: Read and watch Lisa's Study Guides' resources
Doing this study all by yourself can be rather daunting, so we've got your back. We specialise in supporting VCE English students by creating helpful videos, study guides and ebooks. Here are some just to get your started:
We create general study advice videos like this:
We also create Comparative pair-specific videos:
If you prefer learning through videos, check out our entire YouTube channel (and don't forget to subscribe for regular new videos!).
Our awesome team of English high-achievers have written up study guides based on popular VCE texts. Here's a compilation of all the ones we've covered so far including current and older text pairs:
Bombshells and The Penelopiad
I Am Malala and Pride
Reckoning and The Namesake
Reckoning and The Namesake (Quote Analysis)
Ransom and Invictus
Ransom and The Queen
Stasiland and 1984
Stasiland and Never Let Me Go
Stasiland and Never Let Me Go (yes this is a different guide to the one above!)
The Crucible and The Dressmaker
The Crucible and The Dressmaker (Understanding Context)
The Crucible and Year of Wonders
The Hate Race and Charlie's Country
The Longest Memory and Black Diggers
The Longest Memory and The 7 Stages of Grieving
The Penelopiad and Photograph 51
Tracks and Charlie's Country
Tracks and Into the Wild
Tip: You can download and save the study guides for your own study use! How good is that?
And if that isn't enough, I'd highly recommend my How To Write A Killer Comparative ebook. What's often the most difficult part of Comparative is finding the right examples and evidence to ensure that you're standing out against hundreds of other students studying VCE.
Unlike Text Response where there are over 30 texts for schools to choose from, Comparative only has 8 pairs of texts. This means that the likelihood of other students studying the same texts as you is much higher. And what does that mean?
It means that your competition is going to be even tougher. It's likely the character or quote you plan to use will also be used by other students. So, this means that there needs to be a way for you to differentiate yourself. Enter my golden CONVERGENT and DIVERGENT strategy .
This strategy can be used for any example you wish to use, but by approaching your example with the CONVERGENT and DIVERGENT mindset, you'll immediately be able to establish a unique perspective that should earn you some bonus marks.
If you've ever had a teacher tell you that you needed to ‘elaborate’, ‘go into more detail’, or ‘more analysis’ needed in your essays - this strategy will help eliminate all those criticisms. It will also show your teacher how you are comfortable writing an in-depth analysis using fewer examples, rather than trying to overload your essay with as many examples as possible because you barely have anything to say about each one.
To learn more about the CONVERGENT and DIVERGENT strategy, get a free preview of this study guide on the Shop page or at the bottom of this blog.
Step 6: Brainstorm and write plans
Once you've done some preliminary revision, it's time to write plans! Plans will help ensure you stick to your essay topic, and have a clear outline of what your essay will cover. This clarity is crucial to success in a Comparative essay.
Doing plans is also an extremely time-efficient way to approach SACs. Rather than slaving away hours upon hours over writing essays, writing plans will save you the burnout and get you feeling confident faster.
I've also curated essay topic breakdown videos based on specific VCE texts. In these videos, I explore keywords, ideas and how I'd plan an essay with corresponding examples/evidence.
Step 7: Get your hands on essay topics
Often, teachers will provide you with a list of prompts to practice before your SAC. Some teachers can be kind enough to nudge you in the direction of a particular prompt that may be on the SAC. If your teacher hasn’t distributed any, don’t be afraid to ask.
We have a number of free essay topics curated by our team at LSG, check some of them out:
I Am Malala and Made In Dagenham Prompts
Ransom and Invictus Prompts
Stasiland and Never Let Me Go Prompts
The Crucible and Year Of Wonders Prompts
The Penelopiad and Photograph 51 Prompts
Psst...see these fully annotated sample essays where we show you exactly how we analysed the prompt, brainstormed our ideas and created a plan for our essay:
Comparing Photograph 51 and The Penelopiad: Essay Topic Breakdown
Ransom and The Queen: Comparative Essay Topic Breakdown
The Longest Memory and Black Diggers - A Comparative Essay Breakdown
Step 8: Write essays
Yes, sad but it’s a fact. Writers only get better by actually writing . Even if you just tackle a couple of essays then at least you will have started to develop a thinking process that will help you to set out arguments logically, utilise important quotes and time yourself against the clock. It will help you write faster as well – something that is a major problem for many students. With that said, let's get into how to write a Comparative next.
5. How To Write a Comparative Essay
Comparative essay structure.
Here are a couple of resources to get your Comparative essay structure sorted. Firstly a video (time-stamped at 1:38) :
Secondly, jump over to Sarah's (English study score 47) Compare the Pair: A Guide to Structuring a Reading and Comparing Essay post where she delves into two different types of Comparative essay structures.
Comparative Essay Example
In an introduction, you're expected to have the following:
- Context (or background)
- Both authors' (or director's) names
- Both text titles
- Main arguments
Here's an example from Mida (English study score 43), in her post The Longest Memory and Black Diggers - A Comparative Essay Breakdown :
The hopes and dreams of oppressed individuals can be fulfilled to a certain extent. This degree of fulfilment, however, can ultimately become restricted by the entrenched beliefs and dictations of society; and thus, this process of fulfilment is presented to be difficult and rare to achieve. In Fred D’Aguiar’s novella, The Longest Memory , the hopes and dreams for equality and racial acceptance is revealed to coerce oppressed individuals to subvert social norms, all in an attempt to gain liberty and fairness. Similarly, Tom Wright’s play, Black Diggers , explores the collective yearning of oppressed Indigenous Australians who seek to gain a sense of belonging and recognition in society. Both D’Aguiar and Wright expose how the obstacles of social inequality, deep-rooted prejudice and beliefs can essentially restrict the fulfilment of such desires and dreams.
Try to keep your introduction to the point. There's no need to prolong an introduction just to make a set number of sentences. It's always better to be concise and succinct, and move into your main body paragraphs where the juicy contents of your essay resides.
Most of you will be familiar with TEEL learnt in Text Response. TEEL can stand for:
- Topic sentence
- Linking sentence
If your teacher or school teaches you something slightly different that's okay too. At the end of the day, the foundations are the same.
In Comparative, you can still use TEEL, except that you'll be making comparisons between the two texts throughout your paragraph.
The below example adopts the 'Alternate' Comparative essay structure where the first part of the body paragraph focuses on Text 1 ( The Longest Memory ) and the second half of the body paragraph focuses on Text 2 ( Black Diggers ).
The ambitions of the oppressed are achieved to a certain extent. However, they are not maintained and thus become restricted due to the beliefs and conventions entrenched in society. D’Aguiar asserts that a sense of liberation can indeed be achieved in the unjust system of slavery, and this is demonstrated through his characterisation of Chapel. His depiction of Chapel serves as a subversion of the conventional type of slave; he is 'half a slave, half the master' and belongs to 'another way of life'. His defiance and rebellion against the dictations of society is exemplified through his speech, which consists of rhythmic and poetic couplets, filled with flowery language; which ultimately challenges the idea of illiterate slaves. D’Aguiar also associates the allusion of the 'two star-crossed lovers' in regards to the relationship between Lydia and Chapel; who were 'forbidden' to 'read together'. Despite this, the two characters take on a form of illicit, linguistic, sexual intercourse with each other, as they 'touch each other’s bodies in the dark' and 'memorise [their] lines throughout'. Here, D’Aguiar illustrates their close intimacy as a form of rebellion against the Eurocentric society, who believed such interrelation between blacks and whites was 'heinous' and 'wicked'. The individualistic nature of Chapel is also paralleled in Black Diggers , where Wright’s portrayal of Bertie expresses the yearning for a sense of belonging. Just like Chapel, Bertie desires free will, and he decides to 'fight for the country'. This aspiration of his however, is restrained by both his Mum and Grandad; who in a similar manner as Whitechapel, represent the voice of reality and reason. Wright employs the metaphor of the Narrandera Show to depict the marginalisation and exclusion of Aboriginal people, as they will never be 'allowed through the wire', or essentially, ever be accepted in Australia. This notion of exclusion is further reinforced through Bertie’s gradual loss of voice and mentality throughout Wright’s short vignettes, as he soon becomes desensitised and is 'unable to speak'. Here, Wright seems to suggest that the silenced voices of the Indigenous soldiers depict the eternal suffering they experienced; from both the horrors of war, but also the continual marginalisation and lack of recognition they faced back home. Consequently, D’Aguiar and Wright highlight how the ambitions of young individuals are limited by the truths and history of reality, and are essentially rarely achieved.
Conclusions should be short and sweet. Summarise your main points while comparing the two texts (just as you have throughout your entire essay).
D’Aguiar and Wright both illustrate oppressed individuals fighting against the beliefs and conventions of society; in order to gain their freedom and achieve their hopes and dreams. However, both reveal the harsh truths of reality that ultimately inhibit and restrict the capacity of people’s ambitions. D’Aguiar and Wright compel their readers to try and grasp an understanding of the past of slaves and Aboriginal soldiers, in order to seek remembrance and closure of this fundamental truth. They both convey the need for memories and the past to never be forgotten; and instead remembered and recognised in history.
For further detail from Sarah (English study score 45), read her advice on 5 Tips For A Mic-Drop Worthy Essay Conclusion .
If you're looking for more A+ Comparative essay examples, then you can also get your hands on any of our LSG study guide ebooks. Each study guide has 5 comparative essays, all fully annotated so you can see into the mind of a high achiever. These comparative essay examples also adopt different essay structures (block, alternating, and integrated) so you can see all three in action.
Ransom & The Queen
The Crucible & The Dressmaker
The 7 Stages of Grieving & The Longest Memory
I Am Malala & Pride
Photograph 51 & My Brilliant Career
This blog guide is fantastic to get you started - there are certain strategies you can implement to ensure your Comparative essay wows your examiner and gives you an A-grade ranking. These strategies have been adopted by high-achievers in the past few years and have resulted in student achieving study scores of 45+. Make sure you don't miss out on these strategies by accessing a free sample of our How To Write A Killer Comparative ebook. In the meantime, good luck!
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. Click below to get your own copy today!
Unsure how to study for your Comparative SAC or exam?
- Learn LSG's unique CONVERGENT and DIVERGENT strategy which has helped hundreds of students achieve A+ in their assessments
- Includes sample A+ essays with EVERY essay annotated and broken down on HOW and WHY students achieved A+ so you reach your goals quicker
- Different types of essay structures broken down so you understand what to do and what not to do with confidence
- Learn how to stand out from other students with unique points of comparison
For a detailed guide on Comparative, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Comparative.
Why Is the Context Important?
Understanding the context of the texts you are studying is essential if you are to satisfactorily respond to any prompt ( learn about the 5 types of prompts here ). Not only does it provide an insight into the society of the time and their views and values , it also allows for greater awareness of the characters’ motivations, resulting in a richer discussion in your essays. Discussing the context of the texts also makes for an ideal comparison which can be incorporated in the introduction as well as the body paragraphs. Moreover, context paragraphs are a great tool to have up your sleeves, as they can easily be adapted to almost every essay question, a real asset when attempting to write an essay in an hour.
In this blog post, I will be giving a brief overview of the contexts of the play The Crucible by Arthur Miller and Rosalie Ham’s The Dressmaker . Further down , I have also provided a sample paragraph as an example of a way in which I would go about writing a context paragraph in response to an essay prompt concerning the two texts. Both of these texts are set in fascinating and significant eras of human history so I invite you to conduct your own research after reading this!
At first glance, the town of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 and Dungatar, Victoria in 1950s Australia have little in common; however, both towns exist in stifling geographical isolation, allow myopic and parochial outlooks to flourish, and maintain an irrational but overwhelming fear of ‘the other.’
The Crucible, Arthur Miller
The Crucible is set in 1692 in Salem. The provincial, conservative town was established by English Puritans who, fearing persecution, fled from a Britain dominated by The Church of England. The first Puritans to arrive in Salem faced brutal conditions, including 'marauding Indians' and living on a 'barbaric frontier' that lay close to the 'dark and threatening…virgin forest' that they believed to be the 'devil’s last preserve'. In order to overcome these challenges, the people of Salem were forced to unify and remain diligent. In order to ensure efficiency, a strict and rigid way of life was adopted, where work and prayer were championed and individual freedoms and pleasures abhorred. Though this harsh way of life did allow the Salemites to stay alive, it forced them to suppress various natural human emotions such as joy and anger, so as to not detract from work and prayer. Further, the town had limited their interaction with the outside world, compelling them to instead be constantly surrounded by each other. This hazardous combination of repression of emotions and interaction with only a small pool of people spurred private jealousies and vengeance within the townspeople, and it is here that the play commences.
The Dressmaker, Rosalie Ham
In contrast, Ham’s novel takes place in 1950s rural Australia, in the fictional town of Dungatar. Despite being set centuries after The Crucible , Dungatar is rife with the same parochialism (great word to use for both texts, referring to a limited/ narrow outlook), resentment and gossip as Salem. The town’s physical isolation - it is surrounded by 'wheat, yellow plains' and seems to be a 'dark blot shimmering on the edge of flatness' - corresponded with their metaphoric isolation from global events, creating an intense fear of ‘the other’. Further, similarly to The Crucible , the stark physical isolation ensures that each individual’s social interactions are limited to the town’s small population, fostering a breeding ground for narrow-mindedness and prejudice. Ham’s description of the way 'the crowd screamed with lust, revenge, joy, hate and elation' after a local football match win reveals the underlying emotions of the town, repressed behind a veneer of respectability and perceived moral propriety. All it takes is a stimulus, which arrives in the form of outcast Tilly Dunnage, to uncover the malicious undertones of the provincial town.
Example Context Paragraph
During VCE, I tended to use my first paragraph (in response to an essay prompt) as a way to explore the context of the texts I was studying, and relate the context to the essay prompt being addressed ( learn more about the different types of essay prompts here ). In this case, the prompt I have responded to is:
Compare the ways in which The Crucible and The Dressmaker portray divided societies.
I was able to adapt much of this paragraph below to whatever essay prompts I came across.
The geographical isolation of rural, parochial towns can breed a kind of myopia amongst inhabitants and promote binary thinking. Salem is situated on the 'edge of wilderness’, with the 'American continent stretching endlessly West’. The 'dark and threatening' forest which ominously surrounds the town is believed to be 'the last place on earth not paying homage to God’, inciting the irrational fear that 'the virgin’s forest was the Devil’s last preserve' (1) . To combat the imminent threat of the 'marauding Indians' upon their arrival in Salem, the Salemites maintained that 'in unity…lay the best promise of safety’, and hence were governed as 'an autocracy by consent' (2) . Similarly, in The Dressmaker , the town of Dungatar 'stretches as far as the silos' and is described as a 'dark blot shimmering on the edge of flatness’. 'The green eye of the oval' is a physical representation of the town’s predilection for prejudice and endorsement of slyly watching others (3) . The stifling insularity experienced by both towns perpetuates a paucity of culture and 'parochial snobbery’, as well as fostering austere social expectations (4) . The totalitarian regime that governed Salem and their 'strict and sombre way of life' conditioned the people of Salem to repress natural human emotions so as to conform to the conservative and rigid values of society. Indeed, Miller’s description of the 'small windowed dark houses struggling against the raw Massachusetts winter' alludes to the Salemites’ dogmatically narrow-minded outlook and their repression of any individuality. Hence, despite the veneer of propriety upheld by Salem’s 'sect of fanatics’, the town is rife with hidden resentments and 'long-held hatreds of neighbours' (5) . Whilst moral respectability and piety conceal the true sentiments of the people of Salem, clothing is the mask for the 'liars, sinners and hypocrites' of Dungatar (6) . Though on the surface the town appears respectable, the true desires of 'the sour people of Dungatar' are revealed through their desire 'to look better than everybody else’. Their lack of connection with the outside world forces their constant interaction with one another and means that 'everybody knows everything about everyone' (7) . Thus, Miller and Ham postulate that geographical isolation inevitably forges unyielding social norms that repress human emotions and pits individuals against each other (8) .
Annotations (1) In these two sentences, I’ve provided the geographical context of Salem. (2) My description of the geographical location is followed quickly by describing the town’s beliefs and values, which have a large impact on the social context. (3) Here, I’ve used the geographical context as a metaphor to explain the social context of Dungatar. (4) I’ve described a similarity between the two towns - remember to use lots of meaningful comparisons in all paragraphs ( LSG’s CONVERGENT and DIVERGENT strategy is a useful strategy for this). (5) I’ve detailed how the societal expectations and values of the Salemites (the people of Salem) can impact the behaviour of the characters. (6) Here, I’ve outlined a subtle difference (or divergence ) between Dungatar and Salem. (7) Once again, I’ve related the townspeople’s values and beliefs, as well as the physical context, to their behaviour. (8) I’ve ended with a meaningful comparison between the intent of the two authors.
Looking for more? Check out our other blog posts on The Crucible and The Dressmaker :
The Crucible by Arthur Miller
The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham
Comparing The Crucible and The Dressmaker
1. 'The fantasy never got beyond that—I didn't let it—and though the tears rolled down my face, I wasn't sobbing or out of control. I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be.'
Compare how a perceived sense of control shapes characters in both Never Let Me Go and Stasiland .
2. Compare how the texts explore the importance of memory in defining identity.
3. 'To conform is to be safe and to survive.'
Compare how this idea is examined in both texts.
4. 'I'll have Hailsham with me, safely in my head, and that'll be something no one can take away.' (Never Let Me Go)
Compare how these texts explore the consequences of denying history for affected individuals.
5. Compare how Never Let Me Go and Stasiland examine what it means to be human.
6. Compare how both texts explore the influence of being an outsider on one's understanding of society and their place in the world.
7. 'This society, it was built on lies – lie after lie after lie.' ( Stasiland )
Compare what the two texts say about wilful ignorance in society.
8. 'It is impossible to be free when you are unaware of your confines.'
Compare how the two texts explore freedom and confinement.
9 . 'When I got out of prison, I was basically no longer human.' ( Stasiland )
'Poor creatures. What did we do to you?' ( Never Let Me Go )
Compare how Never Let Me Go and Stasiland explore how humanity can be irreparably broken.
10. Compare how these texts examine the sacrifices required for societal progression and change.
11. Compare what the two texts say about the inevitability of change and being forgotten.
12. Compare the ways these texts explore the influence of different types of human relationships on the individual.
13. 'Things have been put behind glass, but they are not yet over.' ( Stasiland )
Compare how Never Let Me Go and Stasiland demonstrate differing attitudes towards reality and the past.
14. Compare what the two texts suggest about the factors which shape an individual's world view.
15. 'We took away your art because we thought it would reveal your souls. Or to put it more finely, we did it to prove you had souls at all.' ( Never Let Me Go )
'...a soul buckled out of shape, forever.' ( Stasiland )
Compare how Never Let Me Go and Stasiland explore the concept of souls in relation to one's identity.
The scariest part of the EAL exam, while might not be the most daunting task, is probably getting your head wrapped around an unfamiliar language analysis task under time condition. Jargons and difficult terms might be used, and some articles tend to not be so straightforward making this task more challenging for EAL students. This blog post aims to alleviate this fear for all EAL students as much as possible and better your performance in the end-of-year exams. After reading this, I'd highly recommend our Ultimate Guide To Language Analysis as you study for your next SAC or exam.
To understand and analyse an article well, you will need to know the writer’s contention well, identifying whether they are for or against an idea. Most language analysis articles are written on an issue, which is why it is important to spot what the issue is and the writer’s stance. Most of the time, the writer’s contention is found at the beginning of the article, in the title, though there are times it is found at the end of the article. Sometimes, skimming through an article might be sufficient for you to find its main point.
Spotting and understanding arguments, on the other hand, might be much more difficult as they can be found anywhere within the articles and the number of arguments contained varies from articles to articles.
The good news is, there is no right or wrong answer in English so there is no need to be too worried about whether what you are writing is ‘precise’ or not. In order to look for arguments and ‘chunk the reading passage’ in the most efficient way, you should be paying attention to the ways the writer tries to structure the article (e.g. paragraphs, headings and subheadings if there are any, etc). More than often arguments can be found at the beginning of paragraphs (writers might also use that good old T opic- E vidence- E xample- L inking structure in drafting their piece) and sometimes two consecutive paragraphs focus on one singular argument.
Also, arguments should be specific and support the writer’s contention. For instance, if the contention is ‘technology ameliorates Americans’ standards of living’, the arguments might be something along the lines of ‘it is beneficial as it improves efficiency in workplace environment’ or ‘it allows people to communicate easily’. Trying to make an educated guess on what the arguments might look like will definitely help if you already know the contention of the article.
Language barriers might be an issue if the writer uses technical terms related to an unfamiliar area (e.g. an article about “pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis”, a lung disease caused by a certain type of dust, might pop up – highly unlikely but thank me later if it does come up). This is why dictionaries are there to help us and they are a must-have coming into EAL exams and SACs. You are allowed to bring bilingual dictionaries as well, so make sure you have a good set of dictionaries that you can bring into SACs and exams. Regardless of how fluent you are, there is still a possibility that they use one if not more than one unfamiliar term in your language analysis articles.
However, it is not always difficult to guess the meaning of the word without using the dictionary (time restraints!!) by looking at the sentence as a whole. The location of the words within a sentence might allow you to make a reasonable guess of what type of words it is or what it might mean. If it is the subject or object of the sentence, it is either a pronoun, a noun or a name. If the word is after a subject, it is likely to be a verb which describes an action! To familiarise yourself with sentence structure further, read my guide on The Keys To English Fluency and Proficiency .
Answering Reading Comprehension Questions
Section C, Question 1 requires students to write short answers, in note form or sentences, which altogether will make up of 50% of the marks in Section C. I am not sure about you but for a lot of students, getting good marks for Question 1 is much easier than getting good marks for Question 2, which requires you to write a full language analysis essay. This is why it is important that you are able to maximise your marks in this question because they are purported to be easier marks to get! Some of the questions will ask the students for factual information but more difficult questions will require to think about that is contained in the text and make an interpretation based on your understanding.
1. Question words
To know what sort of answer you are expected to give before looking for details from the article, you need to be familiar with question words.
WHO - A particular person or group of people impacted by an incident or involved in a situation
WHAT - This really depends. It might require you to give out information about something or to identify reasons for the writer’s opinions (which is good it might make it easier for you to find the writer’s arguments)
WHEN - The timeframe within which an issue or event occurred (date, day, etc)
WHERE - The location of an event
WHY - The reasons for something
HOW - How a problem can be resolved
2. Direction words
Unfortunately, not all questions in this section have “question words” and examiners usually give out questions that are broader using “direction words” or “task words”, making this section more challenging for students. EAL is not the only subject that requires students to know their direction words well so it is definitely worthwhile learning these words to improve your performance. These are the most common direction words used in Section C (see below!).
Giving information about something or to identify the writer’s opinions
This requires you to give out information in your own words and elaborate
Students will be required to find what is asked from the article and write them down in the briefest form possible
Usually in note forms – to answer this you need to identify what is asked and briefly noting them down
Retelling something in a succinct and concise ways in your own words, it should only be enough to highlight key ideas
Finding evidence from the text to justify a statement or opinions
3. Marks allocation
Another super helpful tip is to pay extra attention to the marks allocation of the questions. It usually gives you a fairly accurate indication of how much you should write. The general rule of thumb would be that the number of marks tell students how many sentences or points they should be making.
Identify the reasons why the writer loves travelling (2 marks)
Students should be writing down 2 reasons why the writer loves travelling
The editor strongly opposes the use of plastic bag. Support this statement (3 marks)
In this case, it is probably best to find 3 pieces of evidence from the article that justify the statement stated to make sure you do not lose any marks by not writing enough.
4. Sample Questions And Response
My own response and annotation of Question 1 and Section C of the 2017 EAL exam is below. I really hope it would give you guys a better idea of what is expected from EAL students.
Time Management Tips
Look at the comprehension questions during reading time.
I usually used my reading time skimming through the article, looking at the questions and flip back and forth the booklet to look for answers for the questions at the back. The reason why this was the first thing I did was because they often contain clues of what the arguments might me. Questions such as “give three reasons why the editor thought technology is beneficial” will help you immediately identify some key ideas and arguments in the article.
Look for key features instead of analysing and finding techniques straight away
I also used the reading time to find the contention, determine what type of article it was and the source, etc. The following acronym might help you! I often tried identifying all of the features below as it also helped me plan my introduction within reading time.
For a detailed guide on How to Write an A+ Language Analysis Introduction, check out our advice here .
Set out a detailed time management plan for your essay the night before the SAC or exams (or earlier if possible)
Be strict with yourself, know your writing speed and know how long it takes you to write a paragraph.
Stick with one introduction’s structure/ format
If you are used to writing an introduction that, for instance, starts off by introducing the issue, title of the piece, author, and then the contention, tone, audience then stick with it, or memorise it if you do not have the best writing speed or just do not work well under time pressure.
Whether or not (issue) is an issue that garners much attention in recent media. In response to this, (author) writes a (form) titled “(title)” to express his disapprobation/endorsement of (issue) to (audience). By adopting a (tone word 1) and (tone word 2), (author) asserts/ articulates/ contends that (contention) . With the use of an accompanying visual, the writer enhances the notion that (contention) .
Not be way too thorough with annotation
When it comes to performing well under time condition, perfectionism might hinder you from best maximising your marks! Everyone learns differently and has different approaches to this task but it is probably better if we do not spend way too much time annotating the article. While it is important to scan through the article and identify important persuasive techniques, sometimes it is more than sufficient to just circle or highlight the technique instead of colour-coding it, writing down what its effects on the audience, labelling techniques. Don’t get me wrong, these aforementioned steps are important, but there is no point writing that information down twice because you will be repeating those steps as you write your essay anyway! I’d recommend trying out different annotation techniques and see what works for you, but for me minimalism served me well.
Create your own glossary of words
Sometimes, it takes too much time just sitting down staring at the paper deciding what words you should be using. We’ve all been there, worrying if you have repeated “highlight” or “position” way too many time. Memorising a mini glossary might solve this issue and save us writing time. I have included a sample glossary for you to fill in, hopefully it helps you as much as it did me! It might be a good starting point for you.
Convincing the audience to… persuade, position, propel, compel, galvanise, etc
Highlight the idea that… underscore, enhance, fortify, bolster, etc
Evoke (an emotional response)... elicit, garners, etc
The writer uses … employs, utilises, etc
The writer criticises … critiques, lambastes, chastises, condemns, denounces, etc
At the end of the day, regardless of how many tips you have learned from this blog, it would not be enough to significantly improve your marks unless you practice frequently. Knowing how long it takes you to write the introduction, or each paragraph will better enable you to finish the essay within the time set and allow you to spend a bit of spare time proofreading your essay. If you are aiming for A+’s, writing every week is probably the best piece of advice I can give because without enough practice, your performance under pressure cannot match up to your usual performance.
As non-native speakers living and studying in Australia, we would want nothing more than to improve our English skills both for the comfort of living in an English-speaking country and our career prospects. This blog aims to change the belief that only the naturally talented language learners can do well in the EAL exams and helps ESL speakers better their writing skills.
Contents of this study guide:
- Knowing Your Sentence Structure
- Expand Your vocabulary
- Build Your Own 'Essay Formulas'
1. Knowing Your Sentence Structure
I cannot stress how important it really is to really know your sentence structure and grammar because, without a solid understanding of how it is supposed to be structured, grammatical errors can easily be made which will preclude you from articulating your ideas in the clearest manner possible.
Simplest form: Subject + Verb + Object
Example: Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible (S) is (V) an allegory for the McCarthyism trials (O).
While not all sentences have objects, it is not a sentence without a subject and a verb that goes with that subject. Sometimes you can have more than one subject or more than one objects:
Variation 1: Subject 1 + Subject 2 + Verb + Object or Subject 1 + Verb + Object 1 + Object 2
Example: Both To Kill a Mocking Bird (S1) and V for Vendetta (S2) present (V) a strong protagonist (O1) that advocate for their beliefs.
Example: The eponymous character Medea (S1) is (V) a diatribe against the patriarchal society (O1) and a paradigm of Hellenic women (O2).
Dependent clauses and linking phrases can also be added to improve the flow of your writing and enrich your ideas. They can also be used to ensure that your writing remains concise and coherent.
Variation 2: Clause + Subject + Verb + Object or Subject + Verb + Object + Clause
Examples of dependent clauses:
- In addition (C), Brooks (S) also demonstrates (V) the ways in which individuals can start questioning their ideology in time of crisis (O).
- Set in a patriarchal society (C), Women of Troy (S) warns (V) the audience of the detrimental consequences of wars and the ways in which innocent bystanders are affected by them (O).
- As the story unveils (C), it (S) becomes (V) more difficult for the audience to sympathise with the titular character (O) due to his many flaws (C).
Examples of linking words:
EMPHASIS: Undoubtedly, Particularly, In particular, Specifically, Especially, Obviously, Clearly
ADDITION : Additionally, In addition, Furthermore, Also, Plus, Moreover, Besides
CONTRAST : Unlike, Nevertheless, On the other had, Conversely, Despite, In spite of, Whereas
It never hurts to have some sentence structured memorized if you are not yet fluent. For instance, have a few sentence formulas for each essay type that will be in the exams.
- In particular, the protagonist (verb) (object), which enables the audience to (verb).
- This thereby (verb) the audience to (verb).
- While the character (verb) (object), the audience still (verb) as (pronoun) (verb).
- From the outset of the (text type), the writer presents (character’s name) as (adjective), (verb +ing) the audience to (verb).
- This is epitomized/ exemplified through the way in which the writer (EVIDENCE), seeking to (EFFECTS ON READERS) through (TECHNIQUE)
- By (TECHNIQUE + EVIDENCE), the writer (ARGUMENT e.g. fortify the notion that technology is more beneficial than detrimental ), thereby (EFFECTS ON THE AUDIENCE)
- So as to (ARGUMENT e.g. amplify the cataclysmic effects of such behaviours on the society), the write (TECHNIQUE) This in turn/ thereby/ therefore (EFFECTS ON READERS) as EVIDENCE e.g. the writer posits _______).
- Compounding this notion with (TECHNIQUE) the writer ARGUMENT) in order to (EFFECTS ON THE AUDIENCE) as the (EVIDENCE e.g. term “slaughter” invokes connotations of brutality and destruction).
- This notion is bolstered/ fortified/ augmented/ amplified/ accentuated/ magnified through (TECHNIQUE/EVIDENCE).
2. Expand Your Vocabulary
While it is sometimes helpful to memorise words from glossaries found on the Internet, it is not the most the effective way to thoroughly improve your vocabulary. In fact, learning words from a glossary or dictionary by heart can often lead to students misusing the words due to their misinterpretation of the new words.
From what I’ve seen from my and other students’ experience, the best way to upgrade your word bank for your essays is to slowly word up from what you already know. Start off with a simple paragraph and you will see your writing get better after every time you edit or rewrite your paragraphs.
Avoid generic verbs
Words like “make” or “create” should be avoided at all cost because there are often words with connotation that can replace generic terms. For instance, instead of saying “the writer makes the audience sympathise with the characters, you can say “the writer compels the audience to sympathise with the characters”. Replacing words like “make” with words like “compel” improves your writing because unlike the first sentence which only mentions how the audience feel, the second sentence also focuses on the writer’s intention as the writer is using force or pressure to ensure the audience feels obliged to sympathise with the characters. It is always better to expand your vocab from what you already know rather than learning completely new words with new meanings you have never seen before.
Know the word’s connotations
Most English words have really clear connotation. An example of this would be how the term “slaughter” invokes connotation of brutality and destruction while the term “kill” does not evoke as many feelings within the reader.
Use strong adjectives
This is a way to avoid using generic adverbs such as “very” and “extremely”. “Exquisite” is a much more poetic sounding term than “very pretty” and “daunting” is better than “hard”. Having descriptive and expressive words at the back of your head will enable you to write paragraphs that will resonate within the readers, and by extension, boost your EAL results. I would highly recommend you build your own personal word bank for each of the writing section and re-use those words as many times as possible so those words stay engrained in your mind, making it much easier for you to look for words to write under exam condition.
It is also important to note that there is no fast-track way to improve your writing because memorizing a deck of vocabulary flashcards or a Quizlet topic will not get you what you want regardless of how good your memory is. Out of all the ‘fancy’ words that you learn from a glossary like that, you will probably only remember and use 1 or 2 of them. Vocabulary exercises will help you much more! You need to spend time practice using the words for them to be deeply engrained in your knowledge, which will in turn enable you to instinctively come up with better words to use.
If you’ve got a bit of extra time every week to work in your vocabulary, I recommend using the following books:
- Cambridge English Vocabulary in Use ( Elementary or Intermediate ): This book is suitable for students whose English is not yet fluent and proficient. Each of the topic only has a small group of words and there are short exercises that allow you to better remember the words.
- Cambridge English Collocation in Use (Intermediate) : This book is suitable for mostly everyone because collocations not only will help you show off your English but will also improve your flow and coherence. For instance, “commit a murder” is a collocation, a group of words that go well together. It is not ideal to replace “commit” with anything else because “make a murder” just does not sound right.
- Sadlier Vocabulary Workshop (Level D to Level H): This series of books are not for ESL learners. They aim to strengthen native speakers’ writing skills and vocabulary, which thereby means that they are much more difficult. If you are already fluent and proficient, I highly recommend these books because they have a range of reading comprehension exercises that focus on a group of words and offer you heaps of exercises to practice that particularly group of words in different context as well! (Kill two birds with one stone because this will definitely help you nail that Section C short answer task!)
However, I do understand if you do not have the luxury of time, year 12 is hectic and is never a breeze. If that is the case though, try doing the following steps after finishing every of your essay.
1. Write that one “perfect” essay – doesn’t matter if you take days to finish it
2. Have it marked by your teacher/ tutor and read their feedback
3. Edit your essay/ rewrite them where you take into account people’s feedback – look at sample essays while you work on that one essay
4. Get feedback again!
5. Look at your newly improved essay and highlight all the points and vocabs that your teacher considered as good
6. Write your second essay while trying to use those good points and vocab that you had from your previous essay, you will find that you will not take you way too much time. You can also re-use the structure of your introduction to save time coming up with a new one. Just be careful with your coherence and relevance
7. Repeat the process again!
Well, that’s how I did it do keep in mind that it is merely a suggestion, but everyone is different in away so please do find what works best for you.
English grammar is often seen as one of the more challenging one due to it having so many tenses and irregular cases. However, if you know how to break it down, it is not that scary because there are actually only 13 tenses and future, past and present tenses. Plus, in our EAL exams, we rarely need to use any other tenses aside from the present tenses anyway.
Also, it is important to pay attention to your subject verb agreement. While it is not a common error for EAL students, many students make careless errors such as this under time pressure. You would be surprised how rusty your writing can get when you are trying to write 700+ words within an hour! If your subject is singular, your verb must also be singular. Compare the following sentences:
WRONG: Hecuba and Helen is both responsible for the Fall of Troy.
CORRECT: Hecuba and Helen are both responsible for the Fall of Troy.
The main takeaway message is that if grammar is not your thing, you should definitely not try to overcomplicate things and because fluency and simplicity are much better than errors and verbosity.
4. Build Your Own ‘Essay Formulas’
In other words, you can try ‘rote-learning’. It saves time and it can ensure that the quality of your writing under exam conditions match up to your actual ability. It worked really well for me as a safe guard because I have a history of freaking out and underperforming in exams. Having pieces of analysis and paragraphs structure at the back of my head definitely saved me whenever I felt sick or overly stressed in SACs and exams.
WARNING: While it saves you so much time and guarantees better outcomes for some people, you should be extra cautious if you decide to use this as a way to tackle the essay sections in the EAL exams because you can also easily fall into the trap of writing essays that sound memorised. This is merely a suggestion different people learn differently – this is what I and some of my peers did and it worked well for us but it does not mean that it will guarantee you an A+.
For each Area of Study, I have a revision document that contains the following:
- Introduction ‘formula’
- Sample paragraph
- Super extensive word bank (my own thesaurus)
- Practice essays and sample essays
For example, prior to my text response SAC on Euripides’ play Medea, I prepared a writing formula that can be applied to all of my Medea essays that look something like this:
Introduction: Set in a patriarchal society, Euripides’ tragedy Medea expounds the intricate concepts of (theme) through the (characterization of the protagonist/ depiction the norms that pervade the Hellenic society/ vilification of Jason/ victimization of Medea/ portrayal of Medea as the archetypal woman). In particular, he _________________________ , which enables the audience to _____________ . While (argument 1) and (argument 2), (challenge the prompt). Ultimately, Euripides presents an acerbic critique on _________ .
For each of the section, I also have a mini thesaurus of words that I often use. This is just an example. I recommend creating one by yourself that has around 5-10 words in each row if that is possible!
Persuade: compel, propel, manoeuvre, prompt, galvanise, etc
Strengthen: fortify, enhance, bolster, etc
Highlight: underline, underscore, accentuate, emphasise, etc
Tell: insinuate, assert, purport, articulate, etc
Wondering what VCAA examiners might be looking for in a high-scoring essay? Each year, the VCE EAL Examination Reports shed light on some of the features that examiners are looking for in high-scoring responses for the Listening and Language Analysis sections of the EAL exams. Let's go through 5 key points from the reports so that you know how to achieve a 10/10 yourself.
For advice on how you can apply the VCE EAL Examination Reports to strengthen your skills in the listening section, see Tips on EAL Listening .
Tip #1 Analyse How the Overall Argument Was Structured
Let’s take the 2017 VCAA EAL Examination Report as an example:
‘The highest-scoring responses analysed argument use and language in an integrated way. Some responses used a comparative approach that analysed arguments and counter arguments from both texts in the same paragraph. However, only comparatively few responses focused on how the overall argument was structured .’
So how do we write about/analyse ‘how the overall argument was structured’?
To save time during the exam, we can adopt templates that can help us transfer our thoughts into words in a fast and efficient way. You can construct your own templates, and you may want to have various templates for various scenarios or essays. Below, I have provided a sample template and I’ll show you how you can use this template in your own essays.
(AUTHOR)’s manner of argument is proposed in real earnest in an attempt to convince the readers of the validity of his/her proposal of...by first…and then supplying solutions to...(DIFFICULTIES), thus structuring it in a logical and systematic way.
The above template ONLY applies to opinion pieces that satisfy these 2 rules:
- The opinion piece commences by presenting the ‘bad effect/consequence/situation’ of the topic
- The opinion piece supplies the solution to resolve the ‘bad effect/consequence/situation’ of the topic
For example, say the author, John White, contends that plastic bags should be banned and does so by:
- commencing the piece with the fact that plastic bags can travel long distances by wind and water. They litter our landscapes, float around in waterways, and can eventually end up in the oceans, ultimately polluting the ocean and posing a threat to marine animals
- then supplies solution to ban plastic bags
When we use our template here, the intro may look like this - note that I’ve bolded the ‘template’ parts so you can clearly see how the template has been used:
John White’s manner of argument, proposed in real earnest in an effect to convince the readers of the validity of his proposal of banning plastic bags by first exposing the deleterious nature of these bags to our environment and natural habitat and then supplying solutions to ban plastic bags, putting it in effect in a logical and systematic way.
Head to Introductions for EAL Language Analysis for more templates and guidance on how to nail your Language Analysis Introduction.
Tip #2 Keep the Listening Answer Succinct
The 2019 VCAA EAL Examination Report states:
‘Students are encouraged to use the key words in the questions as a focus for their listening...Short-answer questions require concise and precise answers. Responses that demonstrated understanding provided what was asked for without including extraneous information .’
Some students tend to add unnecessary information in their answers. Although the answers are correct, they will NOT earn you any extra marks. Listening answers should NOT be a mini essay. Writing irrelevant information will not only waste time but may also compromise the accuracy and overall expression of your response.
Tip #3 Practice Makes Perfect
The examination reports frequently point out that students struggle with identifying and describing the tone and delivery. For example, the 2017 VCAA EAL Examination Report states:
‘Identifying tone and delivery is challenging for students and emphasis on this is needed...Students are encouraged to use the key words in the questions as a focus for their listening’.
The good news is, just like most skills, listening and identifying the tone can both be improved with practice. In fact, VCAA acknowledges the importance of daily practice as well.
‘Students need to develop their critical listening skills both in and outside of the classroom. They are encouraged to listen, in English, to anything that interests them – current affairs, news, documentaries and podcasts can all be useful.’ (2017 VCAA EAL Examination Report)
Practicing listening does not necessarily mean sitting down and doing Section A questions; it can be as simple as talking with classmates, teachers, neighbours, friends from work, church, etc.
Take a look at our EAL Listening Practice and Resources for a comprehensive list of external resources for practicing listening and a step-by-step guide on how to use them!
Tip #4 How To Formulate a Cohesive Response?
VCAA encourages us to write answers that make sense to the reader and are grammatically correct. Make sure you do address, and ONLY address, what the question is asking, because marks will not be rewarded for redundant information.
‘Short answer questions require concise and precise answers. Responses that demonstrated understanding provided what was asked for without including extraneous information . Expression skills need to be sufficiently controlled to convey meaning accurately. ’ ( 2017-2019 VCAA EAL Examination Report )
HINT: This may sound super simple, but a lot of EAL students struggle with it. If you do, you are definitely not alone. Some students seek to use complicated words and/or sentence structures, but we should not compromise clarity over complexity.
Tip #5 Use a Range of Precise Vocabulary
VCAA acknowledges the importance of sophisticated vocabulary. This phrase ‘a nalysis expressed with a range of precise vocabulary’ has been repeatedly used to describe high-scoring essays in the examination reports from 2017 onwards
Below is a list of commonly misspelled, misused and mispronounced words. If you don’t know the meaning of a word, check out Collins Online Dictionary for definitions OR you can use a physical copy of the Collins Dictionary (which you are allowed to bring into the exam and SACs).
Words That Look the Same/Have Super Similar Spelling:
- Abroad vs. Aboard
- Adapt vs. Adopt vs. Adept
- Affect vs. Effect
- Altar vs. Alter
- Angel vs. Angle
- Assent vs. Ascent vs. Accent
- Aural vs. Oral
- Baron vs. Barren
- Beam vs. Bean
- Champion vs. Champagne vs. Campaign
- Chef vs. Chief
- Chore vs. Chord
- Cite vs. Site
- Compliment vs. Complement
- Confirm vs. Conform
- Contact vs. Contrast vs. Contract
- Contend vs. Content
- Context vs. Content
- Costume vs. Custom
- Counsel vs. Council vs. Consul
- Crow vs. Cow vs. Crown vs. Clown
- Dairy vs. Diary
- Decent vs. Descent vs. Descend
- Dessert vs. Desert
- Dose vs. Doze
- Drawn vs. Draw vs. Drown
- Extensive vs. Intensive
- Implicit vs. Explicit
- In accord with vs. In accordance with
- Later vs. Latter
- Pray vs. Prey
- Precede vs. Proceed
- Principal vs. Principle
- Sweet vs. Sweat
- Quite vs. Quiet
For an overview of the EAL study design plus tips and tricks for reading comprehension, time management and more, check out The Ultimate Guide to EAL .
The Lieutenant is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response .
Grenville’s novel follows the life of protagonist, Lieutenant Daniel Rooke in his journey with the first fleet. Rooke’s primary conflict is his choice between his moral conscience and duty as a soldier. Because he is aware from an early age that he is out of step with the world, he tends to be more reasonable in his way of dealing with conflict. His final response to his inner conflict is to stand strongly by what he believes.
The Lieutenant at its core is a journey of self-discovery as Daniel Rooke navigates the immoral waters of British imperialism and its impact on the indigenous Australians. Becoming closer to Tagaran, Rooke attempts to bridge cultural barriers through the transformative power of language. Rooke observes the scissions created by violence and the perhaps misplaced Western superiority and is perpetually torn between his moral intuitions and his obligations and duty as a Lieutenant.
TIP: Have an understanding of the historical context behind The Lieutenant as well as the real life people that Grenville loosely based her novel off of. This means having a grasp on the first fleet, the British colonisation of Australia and important figures such as Bennelong.
Tip: i have included some examples from the text but this list is by no means exhaustive, occasionally there is a repetition of examples. it’s important to remember that examples are versatile and can be applied to many different themes and ideas. feel free to add and explore how other examples might enhance these themes..
Language dictates commonality and communication, yet to Rooke he discovers that central to the power of language is the willingness to cooperate, patience and respect. Throughout Grenville’s novel, however, it is clear that language can not only dispel the lasting vestiges of misunderstanding but it can also form the basis for racism and violence. It is through our language itself that reveals our biases.
The language of racism
- Weymark refers to the Indigenous men during their first encounter as “mister darkie” etc. each a patronising euphemism concealing his arrogant notions of superiority
The limitation of language to accurately portray and convey a moment
- “what had passed between Tagaran and himself had gone far beyond vocabulary or grammatical forms” (pg186)
The language of violence
- “what it said was I can kill you. He did not want her to learn that language. Certainly not from him” (pg224)
- “Violence had an enlivening effect. As long as someone else was the victim it made the blood pump, gave the world an edge of glamour” (pg239)
- “ Gamekeeper. He wondered whether that word had killed Brugden” (pg240)
- “The gun is the only language the buggers will understand” (pg241)
- “war was a species of conversation” (pg108)
Assumed cultural superiority of British empire
The hierarchical nature of British Society stands in diametric opposition to the community-oriented system employed by the Indigenous Australians. This hierarchy defines their people by their contributions to “Her Majesty” and shames and “punish[es]” all those who fail to comply with the loose morals and violence condoned by the British colonists. This notion is elucidated through the exploitation of the natives and the nations reliance on oppression and servitude to maintain its imperial status, put simply: their strength is an accident arising from the weakness of others. It is on this foundation that Grenville explores the violent treatment of the natives by the British and even their treatment of their own people.
- “In the world of Church Street, Benjamin Rooke was a man of education and standing and a father to be proud of. At the Portsmouth Naval Academy a mile away, he was an embarrassment” (pg6)
- “So we punish…. Every man is the same. If he steals, he is punished… It was interesting to hear that magnificent idea – the product of hundreds of years of British civilisation – spelled out so plain”(pg195)
- This was justice: impartial, blind, noble. The horror of the punishment was the proof of its impartiality. If it did not hurt, it was not justice.” (pg197)
- “By god they are savage… Dirty too, look at the filth on them”
- “they may be savages, we call them savages. But their feelings are no different from ours”
- Weymark resorts to derogatory name calling, urging on “my black friend” and “Mister Darkie” in his base supplications
Power of conscience
The morality that is ingrained in Rooke from the onset aligns quite naturally with our own moral standards. Yet Grenville encourages readers to explore the difficult choice between morals and disobedience. Rooke faces such a choice. To obey an order to accompany an expedition to capture or kill six indigenous men, this forms the central conflict of Grenville’s novel. As elucidated through both Rooke and Gardiner, moral acts that defy the expectations and “orders of Her Majesty” are deeply frowned upon.
- “But Rooke, think: this is not a request, it is an order” (pg246)
- “…spell out the consequences of refusal.” (pg248)
- “… the service of humanity and the service of His Majesty were not congruent” (pg249)
- “I am sorry to have been persuaded to comply with the order. I would not for any reason ever obey a similar order” (pg285)
- “your orders were a most gravely wrong thing, I regret beyond my words my part in the business” (pg285)
Violence is central to the operation of imperialists as the British tightens its grip on the Indigenous Australians. Grenville emphasises that the power sought out by the British empire will always come at the expense of the natives. Violence and force are used to assert power, confirm boundaries around usurped land, promulgate fear and discourage resistance. The gun becomes a symbol of the violence and force of the settle and they show little intention of relinquishing the dominant position that the gun affords them.
- The punishment for the mutineers of the Renegade reinforces Rooke’s understanding of institutional power and violence as one lieutenant is hanged in a gruesome spectacle and the others dispatched into a nameless void.
- Weymark is determined to affirm his dominance and establish the white man as a powerful force
- Brugden’s increased freedom with a weapon results in violence towards the natives which culminates in the kidnapping of the two native men who are “grabbed” against their will
- Brugden’s unchecked brutality, and Gilbert’s excessive use of force, highlights the colonialists’ use of violence as a means of achieving their goal
Duty, service, obedience and the military life
Conforming to the pressures of the British Empire, Rooke joins the marines and complicitly serves without attempting to question the morality behind his actions. Importantly, he joins the marines not out of patriotic pride, but because he believes it will aid him to pursue his academic curiosities and steer away from violence. Yet it only brings him closer to the reality that lurks behind the ostensibly moral quest of British imperialism.
Tip: whilst the lieutenant focusses on rooke’s experiences, you can’t neglect the minor characters in the novel, they are there for a reason think about how these characters are similar or different, how their stories contribute to grenville’s overall message and their relationship with the central protagonist rooke. , daniel rooke.
- Lieutenant on the first fleet
- Struggles to articulate his thoughts and emotions as he is afraid of being “out of step with the world”
- From a young age, Rooke’s interactions with others has made it clear to him that he is different. As such this dictates his response to conflict: blaming himself or withdrawing. His connection to Tagaran through mutual empathy demonstrates his ability to overcome conflict through mutual respect
- Rooke is bound by duty to Her Majesty yet finds his missions in conflict with his innate instinct for moral righteousness
- “quiet, moody, a man of few words”
- “he had no memories other than of being an outsider”
- Captain on the first fleet
- Stands in contrast to Rooke in every respect
- Storyteller that is obsessed with his narrative
- Ignores the cruelty and violence of the Imperialist expedition in favour of an interesting story
- Blinding opportunism that undermines his integrity
- His tendency to gloss over the violence committed in the name of Her Majesty reflects his loyalty to the expedition
- “man whose narrative was so important to him”
- “a storyteller who could turn the most commonplace event into something entertaining”
- Connects with Rooke through their mutual love for learning and language
- Tagaran voluntarily engages with Rooke in his quest to understand their language, this surpasses the clumsy and mandatory lessons imposed on Boinbar and Warungin.
- “Forthright, ferless, sure of herself, she looked to him like a girl who had already mastered whatever social skills her world might demand”
- “a clever child like Tagaran was the perfect choice: quick to learn, but innocent. Curious, full of questions but only a child”
- Gardiner acts as a foil character to both Silk and Rooke, sharing the same trials and tribulations as Rooke however responding differently than Silk
- Rooke’s friendship with Gardiner establishes the grounds for their later discussions on language, the treatment of the natives and the imperialist machine as Gardiner sets an example of the consequences of going against the duties required of him
- Brugden is portrayed as an essential element of colonising and the survival of the British fleet. As an embodiment of violence, Grenville suggests that integral to the operation of imperialism is crude and unwavering violence
- “Brugden, out there in the woods, that powerful chest… He would be an efficient killer”
- “Something had happened out there in the woods about which Brudgen was remaining silent”
- “The prisoner, taller than anyone else, his powerful frame half bursting out of its thread bare check shirt…”
Lancelot Percival James
- Family of slave owners, product of the empire
- Rooke’s inability to understand James is symbolic of his values not aligning with that of the British empire. It foreshadows his later conflict with the value of the empire
- James symbolises the derision of the British hierarchy
- “Gamekeeper! The word suggested the society that Lancelot Percival James had boasted of at the Academy… But New South Wales was no gentleman’s estate… and the gamekeeper was a criminal who had been given a gun” (pg91)
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Interesting Points of Analysis
- Why is Silk obsessed with documenting the first fleet? What does he seek when he writes?
Rooke’s job as an astronomer
- Initially signing up for the first fleet as an astronomer, Rooke’s job is supposed to be observing comets and stars yet when he arrives he is tasked with a multitude of laborious tasks that hinder his astronomical work. In what ways does this act as a microcosm for the imperialist mission in Australia?
VOCAB: microcosm - a situation or event that encapsulates in miniature the characteristics of something much larger.
Rooke’s life in Antigua
- Why did Grenville include this section? What does it add to Rooke’s journey? Why does Rooke choose to do this?
Third Person Omniscient Narration
- Written from Rooke’s perspective, whose opinion do we hear the least of? And what unique perspective does Grenville’s choice of narrative perspective offer us?
- Grenville’s language reflects Rooke’s love for language. Her choice of imagery reveals Rooke’s way of seeing the world. For example, “crescent of yellow sand like a punctuation mark” accentuates Rooke’s tendency to observe his world as a linguist might and highlights Rooke’s deep connection with language. Likewise, Rooke’s perception of a gun that speaks a language that “does not require listeners” emphasises his natural tendency to think as a linguist. Grenville does not write in an overly complex, dense or poetic way in order to mirror Rooke’s tendency to view things logically
How does the setting that Rooke finds himself in mirror or parallel the emotions that he experiences?
- Naval Academy (Portsmouth)
- “just another world that wrenched him out of shape”
- “sucked out of his spirit and left a shell being”
- “closed in on itself”, “narrow”, “squeezed tightly”
- Sydney Cove
- “There is nowhere in the world that I would rather be”(pg97)
- "On the northern shore, high dark prows of headlands hung over the water, the sombre woods pressing down into their own reflections. To the south the land was lower, each bay and promontory shining with the glossy leaves of mangroves. Now and then between them a crescent of yellow sand was like a punctuation mark” (pg89)
TIP: Just like the minor characters I mentioned before, meaning and themes come from all aspects of a novel not just plot points and major characters. By including niche examples such as the setting or the narrative perspective, you can demonstrate that you have a really thorough understanding of the text!
This video’s takeaway message focuses on tackling essay prompts that include quotations. The extra quote with the prompt can seem superfluous, but often, they can provide hints about how to tackle or challenge the essay topic. It is there for a reason, and if you are familiar with the quote, I would recommend that you try to incorporate it into your essay!
Before we unpack today’s essay topic, let’s have a look at background information.
Kate Grenville’s The Lieutenant explores the commonality of the human spirit amidst tumultuous conflict during the First Fleet’s arrival in Australia in 1788. Drawing upon the true experiences of William Dawes, a British astronomer and one of the lieutenants to travel with the First Fleet, Grenville crafts a work of fiction inspired by Dawes’ “two little blue notebooks” detailing his growing understanding of the Aboriginal language Gadigal and his conversations and connection with Patyegarang, a young Aboriginal girl.
The ability for two individuals from completely different worlds to transcend their differences in order to share cherished moments and understandings together is exemplified in The Lieutenant , alongside the rife external and internal conflicts which threaten such relationship.
Today’s prompt is:
“But a man could not travel along two different paths.”
How does Grenville explore Rooke’s conflict of conscience in The Lieutenant?
Start off with focusing on the keywords in this prompt, especially the phrases that resonate with you for Steps 1 and 2 of brainstorming (which I have previously covered in other essay topic breakdowns.)
In particular, let’s have a look at the phrase “conflict of conscience” as this captures the essence of the prompt and what you will need to discuss in your essay.
Conflict of conscience suggests internal conflict, which implies that we will 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.
Conflict itself is a central theme of The Lieutenant , however, it is important to recognise that this topic considers conflict through the narrower lens of ‘conflict of conscience’. This means that in your discussion, the relevance to the prompt is crucial to keep in mind to ensure you are actually answering the question!
But first, let’s analyse the quote:
“But a man could not travel along two different paths”
This quote alludes to Rooke’s realisation regarding the reality of his identity, not only as Tagaran’s friend or “kamara” but also as a soldier or “Berewalgal". The resignation and recognition of the impossible – that is, for Rooke to continue attempting to appease both ‘sides’ without making critical decisions about who and what he ultimately valued more - is evident in this quote. Hence, this quote refers to the conflict of conscience he experiences and provides us with an insight into not only his character but also conflict itself.
Why is it not possible for a man to travel along two different paths?
What would happen if he tried?
Why was this realisation important for Rooke, especially for his character and development?
These are the kinds of questions coming to mind upon seeing that quote alone, which all provide hints as to how I might tackle this prompt.
Now that we have looked at a few ideas related to the question, we’ll now move into potential paragraphs for this essay.
Paragraph 1: Grenville’s utilisation of Rooke’s perspective in detailing his thought processes, observations and realisations reveals the facets of Rooke’s character contributing to his internal conflicts.
Remembering this is a ‘how’ prompt, we want to be analysing ways in which Grenville explores Rooke’s conflict of conscience. In this paragraph, I have chosen to focus on the raw and intimate expression of his inner thoughts and consciousness as the ‘how’ aspect.
The detailed perspective reveals Rooke’s naivety in assuming the possibility of maintaining a peaceful connection with Tagaran and the Aboriginal community amidst turbulent and violent times. Consequently, it highlights his realisations regarding the morality of the conflicts he is involved in, and how despite one’s admirable intentions, “a man could not travel along two different paths” without facing dire consequences for their actions.
Questions I might ask myself here include: why does Rooke initially try to deny the reality of his situation? What does his preference for a peaceful and accepting approach towards the Indigenous Australians suggest about his approach to conflict?
This cognitive dissonance ultimately contributes to his internal conflict between the value he places in his connections with Tagaran and her community and in his duties and obligations as a lieutenant. As readers, we come to realise the duality of this conflict in Rooke’s mind through the limited omniscient third person perspective, which provides us with an insight into Rooke’s shifting understandings of Indigenous people, conflict and even himself.
I would then continue unpacking these changing understandings, especially ones relevant to his character which reveal his internal conflicts further.
Paragraph 2: In addition, the stark contrast between Rooke’s approach to his conflict of conscience and other soldiers’ approaches underscores the rationale behind his actions and the stakes ineluctably linked with his choices and morality.
This paragraph’s analysis revolves around Grenville’s inclusion of a host of different characters and outlooks - from Indigenous Australians to intransigent Colonial perspectives. I would emphasise the importance of juxtaposition between these different perspectives as it elucidates the values and beliefs underpinning each individual’s choices, especially during conflict.
Although the core of the essay discusses internal conflicts, highlighting the connection between internal and external conflict would add another layer of complexity to your essay. Rooke’s conflict of conscience results in his permanent departure from Australia, and fleshing out the ramifications of dissent and opposition towards other Colonials is key in demonstrating your understanding of the complex and intertwined nature of conflict.
Paragraph 3: Through the detrimental implications of Rooke’s initial conflict avoidance, Grenville’s focus on his subsequent self-awareness to unite his morals and his actions highlights the strength of his character to resolve his internal conflicts to prevent further perpetration of injustice towards the Aboriginal population.
Here, I am having a closer look at how Rooke's encounters with his conflicts of conscience and the repercussions of his actions in attempting to take a ‘middle-ground’ stance catalyse his development as an individual - in particular, how it solidifies his moral stance and his decision to act in a manner that reflects his beliefs.
By showing Tagaran how to load the gun but not how to fire it, or by accepting the navigator role but distancing oneself from the group, he endeavours to avoid conflict with either ‘side’. However, passivity is a stance within itself, and in the case of the treatment towards Indigenous Australians, Rooke’s silence in not rejecting the actions of other “Berewalgal” inevitably enables injustice to continue.
It is only through his understanding that non-committal actions also incriminate him as a perpetrator that his choice to sacrifice his Colonial obligations for taking an active stance to fulfil his moral obligations comes to light. This reveals the role that internal conflicts may have in inciting powerful change and realisations in an individual.
The complexity of internal conflict can be difficult to discuss, but by using the quote provided in the prompt and asking yourself questions about the implications of the quote, we are able to delve into and construct a sophisticated understanding of The Lieutenant and of conflict itself.
LSG-curated sample essay topics for The Lieutenant
Now it's your turn! Here's a list of essay topics for your studies:
- The Lieutenant demonstrates how an individual's true self emerges in the face of conflict.' Discuss.
- ' The Lieutenant shows the catalysts for miscommunication and misunderstanding between the First Fleet and the local Aboriginal population.' Discuss.
- ' The Lieutenant presents a society where sustained, amicable relations between the "Berewalgal" and the Aboriginal population were impossible.' Do you agree?
- “But a man could not travel along two different paths.” How is Rooke's conflict of conscience explored in The Lieutenant ?
- 'Rooke's own differences furthered his understanding of and connection with Tagaran.' Discuss.
- "You did not learn a language without entering into a relationship with the people who spoke it with you." How is this concept explored in The Lieutenant ?
- "The intention of evil was there which is all that God see when he looks into our hearts." 'Grenville explores the importance of intention over action in The Lieutenant .' Discuss.
- Why are Rooke's realisations about and outlook on the world an anomaly?
- ' The Lieutenant explores how social change can only happen with dissent and non-conformity.' To what extent do you agree?
- How does Grenville construct morality in The Lieutenant ?
- 'Rooke discovers that exploration of the self is crucial in shaping one's sense of identity.' Discuss.
- 'It is easier to resist change than to enable it.' How does The Lieutenant demonstrate this idea?
- 'In The Lieutenant , it is the individual who determines what is possible and what is impossible.' Discuss.
- "If he were to go back to that night on the sand of Botany Bay, would he make the same choice again, knowing that this was where it would lead him...?" How does Grenville explore how and why difficult choices are made?
- 'Intransigence and a sense of superiority ultimately prevent unity in New South Wales.' Do you agree?
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When Lisa suggested that I blog about what teachers want in their students my immediate response was “Don’t we all want the same things!” We want our students to exhibit the insight and dedication that signals a top class learner. Additionally, it is obvious that teachers want students who are interested in the subject. Interested students make interesting lessons.
However, in my pondering on this question I have realised that for me students who are willing to engage with the text and commit to the task are always preferable.
Especially in English your teachers are looking for your willingness to explore your own ideas rather than rehash what others think. Your fresh perspective is welcome in a world where it’s all been said before… (and again!)
Another thing I like to find in a student is a unique style. There’s something sincere and credible about writing that speaks with its own distinct timbre, its individual structure and its authentic voice. This is the sort of writing that has you wanting to read on rather than doggedly plodding along to the end wishing that they had stuck to the lower word limit.
I can be a touch (*ahem*) pedantic and traditional in my views. I mean I love a page that is neatly written in a legible well-formed hand. There’s no chance of missing your meaning when your teacher can see what you’re saying. And something I instil in my students if they have not come to me already equipped with it is the ability to write on alternate lines only – I need a place to comment. You need a place to edit and this layout guards against sensory overload for your marker. Being willing to pay attention to apparently trivial details like this is the difference between a good student and a top student.
10 popular questions from VCE students answered by a VCE teacher
1. My teacher says I have problems with my expression. What can I do to fix this?
Lisa has already posted one of the best ways to fix your expression: that is to read it aloud. The natural rhythms of your expression will be clearer to you and you will find that your ‘mouth’ often makes corrections as you articulate your prose.
Another excellent way to find your voice is to read quality writing. Make it a habit to read a few pages every day. You can use the books on the VCE reading lists, you can go to your local library, find classics online and look at the opinion columns in the city newspapers. The more you read the better you will be at phrasing your ideas succinctly.
2. Teachers often say, “you need to develop your essay more”. What does this really mean?
This means that you look beyond what the topic statement or prompt demands that you address and explore what it invites you to consider.
Too many students are content to skim along the surface of the text. Take a deep breath and dive right into the depths of the ideas and points of views that are proposed in each text.
Formulate your own ideas and then develop them: explain and elaborate. Pick a thematic concern in one of your texts and follow its progress through the text; that way you will understand it with greater awareness of the author’s intentions.
3. In regards to Text Response, should students be ready to write on both their texts for the exam?
I would encourage students to be prepared for both texts. Apart from the extra analysis practice you get by preparing for both texts, you can never be 100% sure that you have adequately covered all options for the type of reading and responding topic you may face.
However, if you know your text intimately, if you have explored its nuances thoroughly and are so familiar with its narrative that it’s like your best friend then, yes, going into the exam with the plan of responding to one text will be possible.
4. Is it important to make my essay ‘sound’ good by using ‘sophisticated’ language?
One of the criteria for a successful response and a regularly commented upon aspect of a successful essay is your ability to show “strong language skills”.
Having a broad vocabulary base – a word bank – will enable you to express your ideas fluently and with eloquence. Additionally, used appropriately (no Malapropisms please like the student who wrote that “parents these days pamper to their children’s every desire”) some sophisticated words will add gloss to your piece. Think of BIG words as the seasoning of your essay – there to enhance, to titillate your reader to continue, not to overpower her. This is definitely a case where “less is more”. A little advanced vocabulary adds depth and interest; too much and meaning is sacrificed to effect.
5. In regards to Writing in Context, which is the easiest form to score well in? (for example: short story, essay, poem, speech etc.)
Note: This question is no longer relevant to the current English study design.
No one form is easier than another – it depends on the strength of the individual student. Find your strengths and cater to them. Perhaps you are skilled at taking a stance and validating that position with reasoned and logical rhetoric. If so then you should consider a form of the persuasive genre. If you are an adept storyteller with a flair for creating believable characters then opt for a type of creative response.
The way to excel is more about your authenticity as a writer rather than the type of text you produce.
6.In regards to Writing in Context, would it be best to stick to a conventional essay structure or write in the form of a hybrid? (for example, merging creative with expository writing.)
This reminds me of how subjective the marking process can be. I’m not a fan of hybrids, although according to the assessors’ comments there have been some successful results by students who choose to take this approach.
I think the hybrid type of response is better suited to the practiced, confident and polished writers amongst you.
Again, your score won’t depend on the form in which you decide to write your piece but on the degree to which you satisfy the criteria.
7. How should I prepare for the exam?
You should prepare for the exam by reading and rereading, watching and watching again, thinking and challenging those thoughts. You should do this until you come to a point where you know the text so thoroughly that you are equipped with enough knowledge about the text to enable you to respond to any topic with finesse.
You should discuss the texts with your friends, your fellow students, your teachers and your tutors.
You should look at study guides and compare your ideas to those you find in the many guides available.
You should brainstorm topics and write some full-length essays under exam conditions.
8. During the exam, ideally which essays should be approached first, second and last, and why?
There’s no set way of doing the exam. Some students like to attack the part of the exam that they are most confident about first – that can save valuable time for the more challenging section. Do it the way that you feel more comfortable with.
Others find it more useful to do the hardest first and get it out of the way. One successful student I know wrote half of each essay in order and then went back and finished each. Only attempt this approach if you are super confident about your voice and your capability for each section.
9. How can I avoid ‘retelling the plot’?
Only tell the story when it is essential for explanation and elaboration. A great tip was passed on to me by a student who attends one of the bigger boys schools: to test if you are telling the story see how many of your sentences express an opinion – the key word here is opinion, obviously.
Assume that your teachers and markers know the text and use the events from your selected novels, plays or films to validate your ideas. You are required to make relevant textual reference in your discussion as a means of evidencing your thoughts, so you cannot omit all elements of the narrative – just be fussy about what you include.
10. How can I make my conclusions more interesting?
A conclusion should be just what its name implies – it should show the position that you have reached having explored the topic (question, statement, media text). One of the most tedious ways to conclude is the one in which you summarise what you have already written. Another no-no is the restatement of your introduction.
You should make your conclusion show what you have deduced after your exploration of the required task. It is appropriate and useful to comment on authorial message in the conclusion. Just this one amendment from the tired old approach will raise your score.
This guide was written by a past VCE teacher who wishes to remain anonymous. Thank you ‘VF’ for your expert advice!
Don't forget to also check out Our Ultimate Guide to Oral Presentations for everything you need to know for Oral Presentations.
There are a plethora of controversial issues in the current Australian media that may be perfect for your 2017 oral presentation! Below are just a few ideas to get you started on your way towards acing that SAC. Remember, pick a topic that you’re passionate and enthusiastic about. Don’t forget that there is no ‘right’ opinion, however, make sure you offer a distinctive argument, even if it means adopting an alternative point of view. Good luck!
- Should the Australian Government ban the wearing of the burka in public?
- Should the homeless be banned from Melbourne’s CBD? (Robert Doyle proposal)
- Should the Australia Government continue to fund the Safe Schools Coalition?
- Should gay marriage be legalised in Australia?
- Should the date of Australia Day be replaced/changed?
- Treatment of asylum seekers in detention centres (especially women and children)
- Is enough action being taken to diminish the sugar industry propaganda to minimise obesity?
- Should on – site pill testing be mandatory at all public events?
- Cultural insensitivity in Australia
- Is the development of technology and social media encouraging narcissism in young adults?
- Victoria’s legal system
- Stem cell research
- Is the development of technology and social media encouraging the sexualisation of boys and girls?
- Drug testing and drug control in Australia (Bourke Street attack)
- Fake news being published by researchers to the media
- Should Victoria’s juvenile justice system be improved by the Government?
- Do students learn as effectively with ebooks compared with traditional, hardcopy books?
- Should security footage of detention centres be released?
- Is Australia becoming an alcohol and sugar driven society?
- Has the notion of privacy been compromised in the 21st century? (internet, technology, terrorism)
Before you start writing your oral presentation, you can't miss our A+ tips that have helped hundreds of students get perfect marks in their SAC. Stand out from others with confidence now .
Updated on 11/12/2020
Nine Days by Toni Jordan is currently studied in VCE English under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response .
- Main Characters
- Themes, Ideas and Values
- Literary Devices
- Essay Topics
Essay Topic Breakdown
1. summary .
Jordan’s novel traces the tumultuous lives of the Westaway family and their neighbours through four generations as they struggle through World War II (1939-45), the postwar period of the late 1940s and 50s, the 1990s and the early 2000s. Composed of nine chapters and subsequently nine unique perspectives of life, their family home in Rowena Parade, Richmond, becomes the focal point for Jordan’s exploration of femininity, masculinity, family and Australian society.
2. Main Characters
'Mr. Husting always says first impressions count' (p. 5)
'Mr. Husting holds his other hand out flat and instead of an apple there’s a shilling.' (p. 6)
'I own the lanes, mostly. I know the web of them, every lane in Richmond.' (p. 21)
'When they put me in the grave, I know what it’ll say on the stone, if I get a stone, if they don’t bury me like a stray cat at the tip' (p. 29)
'I didn’t say goodbye to Dad! On account of a book' (p. 158)
'This photo won’t be out of my sight from now on. You’ve given me my sister back, Alec.' (p. 260)
'THE SHADOW CANNOT BE DEFEATED!' (p. 145)
'The toughest gang in Richmond! And they want me, Francis Westaway!' (p. 155)
'I see a purple jewel hanging on a gold chain. It’s a beaut, the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen…There’s no way I’m sharing this. It’s mine.' (p. 174)
'Do you understand how sensitive a reputation is? It’s up to me to be respectable. I’m the eldest. It’s my responsibility.' (p. 200)
'Ma sitting with her dress lifted up to her face, Connie on her knees beside her, holding her arms, cooing soft like Ma is a baby.' (Kip, p. 35)
'We women do what’s expected. You [men] can do almost anything you care to think of.' (p. 280)
'It seems that all my life I’ve had nothing I’ve desired and I’ve given up having desire at all. Now I know what it feels like to want and I will give anything to have it' (p. 285)
'I thought we’d have more time than this. We’ve only just made it.' (p. 290)
'Those moments, when [Kip] reminds me of Tom. I have to leave the room. The fury rises up my legs and up my body like a scream and it’s all I can do not to let it out.' (p. 212)
'We all die alone' (p. 212)
'This is not how I imagined it to be. Children. Mothering.' (p. 212)
'And for things like this, for girls like Connie and saving her future, there is a respectable woman who runs a business in Victoria Street' (pp. 221-222)
'I’d never of done it with boys but Connie, she was different.' (p. 239)
'we’re respectable people.' (p. 218)
‘Kipper’s old man…dropped off the tram in Swan Street somewhat worse for a whiskey or three and hit his head. Blam, splashed his brains all over the road. A sad end.’ (Pike, p. 24)
‘As a girl I had plenty of suitors, but none like Tom. Best behaviour in front of my father, children all brought up in the church by him.’ (p. 212)
‘The parcel is for Stanzi: inside is an old-fashioned coin, dull silver, with a king’s head on one side. It has a silver chain threaded through a hole in the middle. Stanzi looks like she’s about to cry.’ (Alec, p. 254)
‘She doesn’t mean to be hurtful. She is worries for me, that’s all…if she really thought I was in terrible trouble, she would be gentler.’ (Charlotte about Stanzi, p. 126)
‘the oblivious insouciance of the entitled’ (p. 51)
‘I say the question over and over: should I keep the baby?’ (p. 142)
‘The herbs are evidence of an understanding of our place in the universe…an acknowledgement of the delicate balance in our bodies…’ (p. 116)
‘There was only one place I could go: my sister’s’ (p. 124)
‘They contain all the hopes of the human spirit, all the refusal to quit, to keep believing people can feel better’ (p. 116)
‘Yet here I am. Away from home in a world of strangers. Alone. Forgotten.’ (p. 241)
‘This waiting for my life to start, it’s driving me mental.’ (p. 244)
‘I don’t sketch. Instead I concentrate on the scene the scene in front of me so I can remember it later.’ (p. 251)
‘All the things I remember, everything about my life, our family, my childhood: it’s all real because Libby knows it too.’ (Alec, p. 273)
‘I can see both sides.’ (p. 80)
‘Just let me kiss you, Connie. I’d die a happy man.’ (p. 284)
Ava and Sylvester Husting
‘If we have to send boys to fight…it’s layabout boys with no responsibilities, the Kip Westaways of the world, who ought to be going.’ (Ava, p. 102)
‘That shilling. Our little secret. Gentlemen’s honour.’ (Sylvester, p. 8)
‘You’re a good girl, Annabel.’ (Mr. Crouch, p. 177)
‘I’d like to compliment their dresses, but I don’t know what to say.’ (p. 190)
‘He is killing himself, I know that. I won’t have him for much longer.’ (Annabel, p. 207)
‘No mother, no brothers. Working your youth away, looking after an old man.’ (p. 179)
3. Themes, Ideas and Values
‘Family house, family suburb, family man’ (Charlotte about Kip, p. 140)
‘Stuck here…looking after your old man. You should have a family of your own by now.’ (Mr. crouch to Annabel, pp. 178-179)
The theme of family is a recurring one that develops over time. Jordan’s inclusion of other families such as the Crouches, the Churches, the McCarthys and the Stewarts stands in contrast to the Westaways. The juxtaposition of family life in this way allows the reader to see how such factors like wealth, class and reputation can affect the family dynamic especially within the war period. The idea of family is strained by the pressures of war because with many families' sons and husbands away it left the other family members to adopt other roles - not only physically, but the conventional emotional roles of traditional families of the time are redistributed, specifically within the Westaway household. Jordan postulates that the role family plays in providing emotional/physical support is of far greater importance than the necessity to abide by society's idea of what family should look like.
Women and Reproductive Rights
‘I tell her about shame and the way it’s always the women who wear it. I spare her nothing. I say loose women and no morals and I say bastard and I say slut.’ (Jean, p. 220)
‘You don’t have to have it, you know.’ (Stanzi, p. 132)
‘Your body, your choice…That’s what our feminist foremothers fought for’ (p. 134)
‘What if he wanted to know his child, doesn’t he have the right?’ (pp. 133-134)
Jordan highlights the controversial issues of premarital sex, abortion and the rights of women within the mid 20th and early 21st century. Indeed, it is this theme of women that becomes inextricably linked with the effect of a damaged reputation. When Connie falls pregnant, Jean implores that she has an abortion, in secret of course, in order to preserve her and her family’s reputation within the small community. The issue of abortion is later revisited when Charlotte becomes pregnant in the 1990s, where the contrast between the time periods becomes evident; while unplanned pregnancy is greatly stigmatised in the 1940s, the 1990s offers Charlotte a far wider array of options. It is through Jordan’s depiction of the two cases – Connie’s horrific backyard abortion, and Charlotte’s adjustment to parenthood – that she suggests the perceptions and attitudes towards morality, reputation and women have shifted over time, emphasising the importance of reproductive rights in the development of women.
‘I remember coming home from school once, crying. I would have been around six or seven. I was picked last for some team. That was me, the kid without a father.’ (Alec, p. 262)
‘”Westaway,” Cooper says. “Get in. For once in your life, do not be a pussy.”’ (p. 267)
Within the parameters of her text, Jordan articulates how men conform or reject masculine tropes in an effort to fit into society. Toughness, bulling and unsavory activity are presented as the characteristics of a man through such depictions of Mac and his gang. In its connection to the war period, the novel partly focuses on the notion that in order to be classified as a man he must first go through struggle and hardship as presented in the group of strangers taunting Jack, ultimately bullying him into certain ideals of masculinity which prove toxic and consequential - Jack dies as a result. It is Jordan who advocates for a balanced personality of both ‘masculine’ and 'feminine’ characteristics as suggested in the character development of Kip; evolving, learning and devising a true meaning of what it means to be a man outside of its conventional brutality.
Attitudes Towards Asia
‘She is with a customer or sweeping the floor with a broom made from free-range straw that died of natural causes or singing Kumbaya to the wheatgrass so it is karmically aligned.’ (Stanzi, p. 50)
‘The fear of the Nips coming made him a better man.’ (Annabel, p. 178)
‘always wanted to go to India [to study yoga] at a proper ashram.’ (pp. 132-133)
‘She makes her eyes go big and round like some manga puppy’ (p. 264)
Through both overt and subtle language, Jordan makes reference to the attitudes towards Asia which were prevalent at the time, specifically within the war period that saw many Australians ‘[fearing] the nip’. The derogative slang used for the Japanese represents a lack of understanding and fear (the bombing of Darwin and attack on Sydney left many feeling particularly vulnerable to the Japanese). Exacerbated by the fact that Japanese culture was not widely understood and was often misrepresented, the Japanese were stereotyped as brutal and inhuman. Over the course of the novel, attitudes towards Asia dramatically shift especially within the early 1990s of Stanzi and Charlotte's generation. The philosophical ideas of the east are often referenced by characters like Charlotte as she draws on them to make sense of her own complex life. The novel sees another shift in ideology represented through Alec as his generation's perception turns to a more commercial view. Asian culture has earned a place in mainstream media and western life without such gruesome and violent connotations as were previously held during the time of World War II.
4. Literary Devices
- Throughout her perspective driven text, Jordan makes many references to classic novels which help create a literary context for the narrative and lend themselves to the evolution of the characters throughout the course of the text.
- Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers – Kip’s characteristic trait of heroism when he sees the gang waiting for him and says ‘on-bloody-guard, d’Artagnan’ (p. 22)
- Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn – both coming-of-age stories about young men struggling within a tough world, only getting by on their wits and strength.
- Brontë sisters' Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights – their reference is used in discerning a customer’s knowledge on the texts, but reveals only a surface level understanding due to the novels carrying a certain cultural value.
- Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels – referenced by Jack Husting in relation to his adventures in the country. Its use pertains to how Jack feels out of place in his home town after leaving a boy and returning a grown man.
- A historical novel that plays with ideas of placing invented characters into a reconstructed world of the past.
- Uses elements of both realism and impressionism to create the text.
- A strong focus on everyday life within a particular society with reference to real historical detail.
- Incorporates a logical and strong foundation of context that can be easily digested and believed by the reader.
- Can use an omniscient narrator (all-knowing).
- Each chapter offers detail and presents a vivid interpretation of specific events.
- Sensory experiences are emphasised by the use of descriptive and poetic language.
- The linear flow of the narrative is disrupted by its construction in a non-chronological order, thereby forcing the reader to piece the whole narrative together at the end.
- Varied depending on the character’s perspective and time of perspective.
- Language is used to historicise each chapter through use of slang, colloquialisms, formal and proper English.
- The novel revolves around the Westaway’s family home in Rowena Parade, Richmond over the course of four generations.
- Rather than them move or the location change it evolves, paralleling the growth and evolution undergone by each of the Westaway family members.
- Inspired by a photograph in the collection of Argus war photos held at the State Library of Victoria, Jordan uses this image capturing a private and intimate moment to establish the premise for each of the book's chapters.
- Titled Nine Days and composed of nine unique perspectives on life at a given time, Jordan offers insight into the emotional livelihood of each narrator and attaches both intimate and historical significance to their stories.
5. Essay Topics
- Toni Jordan’s Nine Days describes a world in which life in the 1930s and 40s was much harder than life in the 21st century. Do you agree?
- In Nine Days , older Kip’s point of view is very unrealistic. To what extent do you agree?
- Toni Jordan’s Nine Days shows us people can choose whether they end up happy or not. Discuss.
- The mood by the end of Nine Days is ultimately uplifting and positive. Do you agree?
- There is more tragedy in Nine Days than there is joy. To what extent do you agree?
- Nine Days , by Toni Jordan, shows the best and worst of Australian culture. Discuss
- Jordan suggests that appreciation of family is integral to personal happiness. Discuss.
- 'Your body, your choice.' What do the different experiences of Connie and Charlotte reveal about changing societal attitudes towards women?
- There are many characters who are largely hidden figures within the text. What significance is produced by including and excluding different perspectives?
6. Essay Topic Breakdown
Whenever you get a new essay topic, you can use LSG’s THINK and EXECUTE strategy - a technique to help you write better VCE essays. This essay topic breakdown will focus on the THINK part of the strategy. If you’re unfamiliar with this strategy, then check it out in How To Write A Killer Text Response because it’ll dramatically enhance how much you can take away from the following essays and more importantly, your ability to apply this strategy in your own writing.
Within the THINK strategy, we have 3 steps, or ABC. These ABC components are: Step 1: A nalyse Step 2: B rainstorm Step 3: C reate a Plan
THINK How-based prompt: How does Nine Days explore the relationship between the past and the present ?
Step 1: Analyse
This is a ‘how’ essay prompt, so in our planning, we need to identify the ways in which the author accomplishes their task. When analysing your question it is important to know what the question is asking of you, so make sure you highlight the keywords and understand their meaning by themselves and in the context of the question. For example, this question is not just asking about the past and present, but rather the connection between the two - so if you discussed the past and the present separately you wouldn’t be answering the question.
Step 2: Brainstorm
Brainstorming is different for everyone, but what works for me is focusing on the key idea, which here would be the relationship between the past and the present, and listing my thoughts out. Not all the ideas will be as equally relevant/good, but I like to have things written down to then improve or simply not use in favour of other ideas.
Past → Present: Westaway family home, the house changes as the family grows Past → Present: Connie’s tragic abortion compared to Charlotte’s options in the 1990s, women’s rights evolving over time Past → Present: Melbourne becoming more multicultural, Alec’s chapter reveals how Melbourne has changed compared to chapters set in earlier times Past → Present: Kip teaching Alec to cherish those in front of us after seeing Connie’s picture Past → Present: Second World War contrast to 9/11 and war in Afghanistan
Now that I have all my ideas listed out I choose my strongest three to flesh out. There are different things that make an idea strong, but the things I consider are: - Do I have enough evidence to support this idea? - Is the idea substantial enough to turn into a whole paragraph? - Do I have an author’s views and values statement? - Can I include context or metalanguage into this idea?
Using the questions above, I decided to use the following ideas: - Westaway family home, the house changes as the family grows (symbolism) - Kip teaching Alec to cherish those in front of them (focus on characterisation) - Melbourne becoming more multicultural (can talk about historical context)
Step 3: Create a Plan
Contention: Through the use of setting and characterisation, Jordan’s Nine Days reveals how the past and present are interconnected. P1: Westaway home embodying the familial connection P2: The past is not completely separate from the present, it teaches us lessons that are pertinent to contemporary life (Alec) P3: Melbourne becoming more multicultural
If you found this helpful, then you might want to check out our A Killer Text Guide: Nine Days ebook which has an A+ sample essay in response to this prompt, complete with annotations on HOW and WHY the essay achieved A+! The study guide also includes 4 more essay topic breakdowns and sample A+ essays, detailed analysis AND a comprehensive explanation of LSG’s unique BBT strategy to elevate your writing!
Stories We Tell is a different beast to anything many of you will have encountered previously in your English studies. This blog is a continuation of the above Stories We Tell YouTube video so make sure you watch it first!
With interviews, archival footage, extradiegetic film and sound elements alongside recreated scenes, the documentary can seem very overbearing and convoluted upon first viewing. However, once you have a holistic understanding of the text a plethora of opportunity for high-level analysis and discussion presents itself. Stories We Tell is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response .
To begin, watch our introduction covering background and themes below:
Stories We Tell centres around director Sarah Polley attempting to piece together her family history. While she endeavours to understand who her mother Diane was and finally learn the identity of her biological father, Director Polley also poses a number of questions to viewers surrounding the nature of the truth and the importance of stories in our lives. The film is comprised of interviews with Diane’s loved ones, home movies from the Polley family, extra-diegetic newspaper clippings, recreated Super 8 footage and excerpts from other productions - all of which contribute to Sarah’s inquisition into the notion of truth, and demonstration that how a story is told can shape how it is received.
NB: I have used ‘Sarah’ when discussing Sarah Polley as a character, and ‘Polley’ when describing her as the director.
The idea of the truth, and what comprises it is a constant question being answered through the documentary. Before exploring Polley’s depiction of the truth, it’s important that we fully understand what the truth is. One definition characterises it as the burden of confirming with fact or reality, and with this in mind it becomes easier to appreciate and analyse the intricacies of Stories We Tell . Polley creates a distinction between universal truths - which are accepted by all as fact, and subjective truths which can vary on individual interpretations. For example, Michael conflicts with the rest of the family while discussing his relationship with Sarah after Diane’s passing. Mark details Michael’s obsession with “playing solitaire” , Susy depicts the house as one of “complete and utter disuse” , while Joanna observed him “smoking all day” and perceived Sarah as “just a little kid who nobody was looking after.” Michael, however, has fond memories of his time spent with Sarah - he believed he was “lucky to have her to look after as well as himself” , called their time together a “great period” - eventuating in him feeling “closer to [Sarah] than any of the other children.”
Individual recollections of Michael’s actions and demeanor during this period belong to each storyteller, and form the basis for what they consider to be the ‘truth’ regarding Michael and Sarah’s relationship. By presenting contrasting accounts of the same event, Polley reveals her stance on the idea of truth - being that it is entirely subjective and open to interpretation, centred around the perceptions of each individual at any moment in time. It is entirely possible that Michael did “smoke all day” and feel a sense of increased “close[ness]” with Sarah, but due to the variability of the human memory, this is impossible to state with any certainty - illustrating the fallible nature of universal truths.
Stories and how they are told are a constant factor during the documentary - beginning with the title, ‘ Stories We Tell’ and concluding with Geoff’s admission that he and Diane did sleep together during their days acting in Montreal. For example, Polley’s use of the inclusive ‘we’ signifies her interest in storytelling on a grand scale; not merely the stories she unravels onscreen. As a result, one can argue that her purpose for the documentary extends far beyond the action captured onscreen and in fact involves Polley encouraging others to share their own stories - enabling them to “create shape out of mess” as she has done through the presentation of her own family story.
By placing Geoff’s confession at the conclusion of the documentary (and casting doubt on all of the discoveries she has made throughout Stories We Tell) Polley emphasises how storytelling allows a “clearer picture” of the past to develop - as he had previously denied any sexual history with Diane, labelling them just friends. As such his admission of a relationship with her symbolises the manner in which the truth can be “refracted” over time, leading to many “shifts and fictions” while clouding “what really happened.” Therefore, Polley reveals how storytelling can provide some semblance of closure to us, in a world where the truth is “ephemeral” and “difficult to pin down.”
While Polley undoubtedly utilises Stories We Tell to express her views on truth and storytelling, fundamentally it remains a story of the Polley family, and what holds it together. The narrative begins with the ‘storytellers’ providing loving, yet somewhat conflicting recollections of Diane as Polley seeks to understand who she was. Family members buoyantly describe her as “infectious” and “enthusiastic” , while friends paint a more mysterious picture of Diane as a “woman of secrets” , alluding to her alleged infidelity. The closeness of the Polley family is evident throughout their discussion of Diane’s first marriage, universally criticising the outcome of the court case in which she was labeled “ unrepentant ” for “ allow[ing] her desire for a career to overtop her “domestic duties” - resulting in Diane losing custody of John and Susy, which proved to be a major strain on Diane and the family.
Despite this closeness, Mark expresses his disappointment in Diane following the confirmation of Harry being Sarah’s father - detailing the she “broke the rules” and “broke a kind of taboo” when she had the affair. This is the only real example of any member of the family disapproving of Diane’s past - indicating Polley’s desire to demonstrate that families are not perfect, and bring their own faults and shortcomings. In spite of this, however, their care the family shows for one another is clearly demonstrated through their interviews with Polley, highlighting to the audience that by staying close, families can better cope with the trauma of losing a loved one and in time, be able to honour their memory by sharing their stories.
Putting it all together
While analysing the themes in isolation can provide a good foundation for success studying Stories We Tell , looking at how they interact and interrelate enables students to demonstrate their higher-order skills. Truth, storytelling and family are intrinsically linked - for example: Polley’s presentation of conflicting accounts and recollections of Diane demonstrates the complexity of her family, while showcasing her stance on the inability of individuals to find universal truths. As a result of this, the importance of storytelling is highlighted as a means to provide some understanding of our past - and how it affects us in the present and shapes who we are. Including different interpretations of the text and the context in which Polley grew up and created the text can also help to improve your writing to A+ standard - and this will be covered in the blog post that acts as a continuation of this video! *end video*
Following on from the video, the content below is an expansion upon Stories We Tell .
Author views and values
One of the golden rules of A+ essay writing is to understand that everything contained within the text is seen to be a deliberate choice by the author. With this in mind, we can start considering how Polley’s choice to include certain snippets or position footage in a particular way highlights her views.
The truth is ephemeral - can it ever be known?
Throughout Stories We Tell , Polley continually emphasises the impossibility of knowing a truth with absolute certainty. Her stance is shaped by the clouded nature of her paternity and family history, exemplified within the text by the varying accounts of Diane’s personality. Portraying her as “infectious” and “enthusiastic”, Polley captures Diane dancing - cleverly lighting up her face, thus symbolising her warm nature. However, juxtaposing this is Deidre’s assertion that Diane was a “woman of secrets” - bolstered by Polley’s recreation of a covert phone call in which Diane ponders the identity of Sarah’s biological father. Through her presentation of contrasting recollections of her mother, Director Polley showcases the relativity of truth within her own family, inviting the audience to question the meaning of truth in their own lives, highlighting that “you can never get to an answer.” As a result, Stories We Tell predominantly displays the impossibility of one knowing a singular truth.
Subjective truths can be found
Continuing the theme of ambiguity within her synthetic documentary, Sarah Polley demonstrates that individuals can develop their own interpretations of the truth, in spite of her stance on the validity of singular truths. Within Stories We Tell, Polley illustrates this by depicting the contrasting recollections of Michael’s relationship with Sarah as a child. Supporting Joanna’s assertion that Sarah was “just a little kid that nobody was looking after”, Polley ironically captures a full shot of Michael in the middle of the couch, portraying him as a distinctive presence in the scene in spite of Joanna’s belief that Michael isn’t present in Sarah’s life. Conversely, Michael recalls his time with Sarah as “a great period in [his] life” - a claim reinforced by Polley, via recreated Super 8 footage of the pair assembling a snowman, symbolising their construction of a new beginning following Diane’s death. Through this interaction, Polley portrays Michael as a compassionate and loving father - juxtaposing this with Joanna’s description, revealing to her audience the ability of individuals to find subjective truths - encouraging them to do so in their own lives in spite of searching for universal truths.
The importance of stories
Building on her depiction of the truth as fallible, Polley thus emphasises our need to tell stories, illustrating how they allow one to better understand themselves, their families and the world around them. Within Stories We Tell, unearthing the ‘story’ of Diane takes centre stage for a majority of the production, and Polley hints towards this goal via her inclusion of Bon Iver’s folk ballad Skinny Love. The line “pour a little salt, we were never here” plays on the use of salt to heal wounds - implying that the storytellers aim to ‘heal’ their pain felt from Diane’s death via telling “the whole story” they have developed from their memories of her. Moreover, the phrase “who the hell was I” addresses Polley’s attempt to “form [Diane]” by piecing together the various second hand accounts and layers of connected stories from her loved ones - allowing her to ascertain a clearer understanding of her family history. Polley utilises stories to “[clear] up...the smoke” in her past,” praising the idea that such tales shed a light on areas of confusion and uncertainty - while also allowing one to “[cope]” and make sense of their heritage. Through her demonstration that stories enable individuals to move past the “small and large details that vary”, Polley prompts the audience to seek more information about their own families, and relay their own family stories.
Throughout the documentary, Polley demonstrates, both explicitly and implicitly, a number of her inherent values. Drawing upon these, referring to them in your essays and (most importantly!) connecting them to your analysis of the text is a great way to get ahead of the pack and maximise your marks both in your sac and the exam.
NB: Much of the excerpts contained here are analysing specific scenes/motifs, and then linking such thinking to the theories listed below. I found this to be a coherent and structured way of including this deeper level of thinking in the publication of my own essays!
Feminist lens on the social values of 1960’s Canada
By depicting extradiegetic footage of Diane singing Ain’t Misbehavin, Director Polley provides a feminist commentary on the dominant social values of 1960’s Canada; the lyrics “I walk the streets to balance the sheets” and “what is an honest girl to do” metaphorically representing the perception of Diane by the court and wider society - denied “custody” of her children due to her “adultery.”
By inserting a newspaper clipping criticising Diane’s choice to let her “desire for a career” to supercede her “domestic duties”, Polley illustrates the difficulties faced by aspirational women in such a restrictive society - condemning the treatment of her mother while calling on female viewers to continually campaign for equality of opportunity in their societies.
Outlining the fact that Diane was not considered “ladylike”, Polley sardonically ridicules the “controlling” nature of such rigid gender stereotypes and their effect on Diane losing her children - exhibiting her desire to empower her female audience to “save [themselves]” from similar situations and “ma[ke] a choice to live.”
Postmodernist interpretation of the truth
As I’ve discussed at length in this blog post, Polley continually reminds us as an audience that the truth is not set in stone and is in fact a flexible, relative concept. Such a line of thinking directly correlates to the postmodernism literary theory - notable for being hostile to absolutes such as truth, and not creating a text in isolation.
Polley continually blurs the line between fact and fiction within Stories We Tell - an ode to the postmodernist school of thought she is following. Depicting recreated Super-8 footage capturing herself directing the actress Rebecca Jenkins who ‘plays’ the ‘role’ of the younger Diane, Polley seeks to somewhat deceive her audience as to what is real and what is derivative - prompting the audience to “consider what was real and what wasn’t… in their own minds.” As a result, she seeks to promote the validity of the postmodernist critical theory, prompting philosophical discussions between individuals about the variability of memory and whether any absolute truths can ever be truly known.
Another feature of postmodernism in literature is the relationship between one text to another. In her creation of Stories We Tell , Sarah Polley exacerbates this relationship, including a number of extradiegetic elements such as newspaper clippings, emails, songs and segments from other productions in order to add greater meaning to the documentary. For example, Polley presents her email exchange with Harry, illustrating her desire for the story to include “everyone’s point of view”, as it is only then that the “whole picture” can be established. While reciting the email aloud, Polley delicately pauses when articulating that the story must include “[her] experience, [Harry’s] experience” and her “family’s [experience]”, emphasising her desire to give “equal weight” to all versions of the story.
In my experience studying the text, this documentary can be interpreted two ways:
1. as a self-reflective memoir following the journey of Sarah finding her father and gaining a more mature understanding of her mother, or;
2. A philosophical and, at-times political commentary on the way stories are told and the nature of truth. Both interpretations (and others you find or develop through your own viewing) are great to use in your writing, just ensure that they are relevant to the specific prompt/idea you are discussing!
Let's dive into each a little further:
1. Stories We Tell is a commentary on how stories are told - specifically, how the way a story is told can shape how it is received and the meaning one can draw from it
Upon first glance this point may seem rather convoluted, and several viewings of the text are necessary to fully engage with this line of thinking. Essentially, this centres around the idea that the different forms, mediums and extradiegetic elements present in the documentary can significantly influence how we as an audience react to the story that is being told.
The best way to explain this is to acknowledge the level of credibility and the associations attached to each individual medium used to tell the story.
For example, what impact does the newspaper clipping (detailing her custody battle and fight for equality in a restrictive society) have on our sympathy for Diane? Does the sense of credibility and validity drawn from an upstanding publication such as a newspaper elicit a greater sense of trust and acceptance of fact from viewers - therefore making us as an audience more inclined to view her in a positive light? Conversely, are viewers more accepting of Diane’s affair with Harry following testimony from those who witnessed her unhappiness with Michael first hand - her friends and family?
Moreover, in spite of her declaration that “equal weight” will be given to all experiences, does Polley’s use of Michael as narrator and his constant presence in the formal setting of a recording studio provide his version greater significance than Harry’s - who notwithstanding his involvement in the story as Sarah’s biological father, is resigned to providing his interview somewhat informally in a home setting, in the same vein as the rest of the storytellers?
Feel free to apply this line of thinking to other aspects of the text - such a deeper engagement with the philosophical ideas of the text are far more likely to score highly, as opposed to shallow pieces that merely discuss the storytellers in isolation - and not what they represent.
2. Stories We Tell is a commentary on the ephemeral nature of truth
The notion of truth seems to be just as much of a theme through this blog as it is in the documentary!
This is for good reason, however, as I found this to be the primary theme running through Stories We Tell , through the journey to discover Sarah’s paternity, the affair and conflict over whose story it is to tell. Truth affects a number of other ideas within the texts, such as storytelling, intertextuality, the variability of memory, production and identity - thus, using the ephemeral nature of the truth to explain why certain ambiguities exist in Harry’s “faulty” recollections, for example is an excellent way to show a greater depth of understanding of the interrelationships in the documentary.
Essay Topic from the 2018 VCAA Exam:
“To save all hurt, why not leave things as they are?”
Why does Sarah not “leave things as they are?”
This prompt does not ask you to discuss a specific theme or character - instead it guides you toward providing an analysis on Sarah Polley’s purpose for creating Stories We Tell. While authorial intent should always be included in any text response essay, it is essential that the purpose is central in response to this type of prompt - essentially, providing points of discussion as to why Sarah is unable to “leave things as they are.”
1. Unable to leave things as they are - wanted to question the concept of traditional family structures, by contrasting the influence of biological connections and emotional relationships on her development.
I discussed the effect of both Harry and Michael on Sarah’s development - concluding that while both of them had a significant role to play in her becoming the woman she is today, Michael’s influence was significantly stronger. Polley implies this by giving him a greater voice in the documentary through his role as the narrator.
2. Unable to leave things as they are - wanted to comment on the ephemeral nature of the truth in our lives.
Central to this paragraph is Polley’s use of recreated Super-8 footage. Using three prime examples (the opening scene with Diane and Michael crossing the bridge, Polley directing the actress that ‘plays the role’ of Diane in recreated footage, and the staging of Diane’s funeral) I aim to display Polley’s postmodern perspective on the truth and how this is conveyed through her deliberate creation of Stories We Tell.
3. Unable to leave things as they are - Emphasise the importance of storytelling in our lives to gain some understanding of the past.
Due to her depiction of the truth as a “mystery of nothingness”, Polley highlights the role that stories play in our lives. Within Stories We Tell, Polley attempts to understand herself by recreating Diane’s story on screen - allowing her to create “shape out of mess” and form a clearer picture of how she became who she is. Moreover, Polley also reveals how stories enable individuals to maneuver through the “wreckage” of the truth and “recreate the past.”
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!
For some context, backstory and a plot summary of both Ransom and The Queen , head to an earlier post Understanding Ransom and The Queen . This may help with your understanding of the essay prompt later in this post. And if you need a refresher on what the Comparative is, see our Ultimate Guide to VCE Comparative .
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.
Breaking Down the Prompt: THINK
Whenever you get a new essay topic, you can use LSG’s THINK and EXECUTE strategy , a technique to help you write better VCE essays. This essay topic breakdown will focus on the THINK part of the strategy. If you’re unfamiliar with this strategy, then check it out in How To Write A Killer Text Response .
Within the THINK strategy, we have 3 steps, or ABC. These ABC components are:
Step 1: A nalyse
Step 2: B rainstorm
Step 3: C reate 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 how the text creators (Frears and Malouf) convey tensions between one’s public and private life, using the quote to help us do so.
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.
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!
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How to Write a Comparative Essay: Structure & Tips
A comparative essay may be something you are unfamiliar with in your schooling journey so far, the structure of the essay as a whole should be quite familiar to you. As you already know, having the correct structure and practices when writing is vital to having a good end product. This article will build on what you already know and teach you some new skills in how to write a comparative essay.
What Is a Comparative Essay?
A comparative essay is an essay that contains an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. What makes a comparative essay different to other essays is that it compares and contrasts two different texts.
A comparative essay is usually completed by students in years 10, 11, and 12 undertaking General English. However, students in other English subjects and younger grades can also be asked to write comparative essays, or students may have similar assessments in other subjects, such as writing a history essay.
Comparative Essay Structure
In a comparative essay, much like other essays, there is your introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. There are a few different ways you can structure your essay, but these elements stay the same.
- Introduction: In the introduction of a comparative essay, you should include; an overview and brief synopsis of the texts you are comparing, your thesis statement, and an outline of your arguments.
- Body paragraphs: The body paragraphs of your comparative essay contain all of your evidence and arguments, this is by far the longest part of your essay. This is where you actually compare and analyse the texts.
- Conclusion: Your conclusion should not introduce any new information, but rather summarise your arguments and restate your thesis.
How to Write a Comparative Essay Introduction
As mentioned above, your introduction should include: an overview and brief synopsis of the texts you are comparing, your thesis statement, and an outline of your arguments. A good practice to see if your introduction is long enough is to have your introduction be 10% of your total word count – so an 800-word essay would have an 80 word introduction.
Your introduction is the first thing people are going to read, so make sure it addresses the overall question clearly and succinctly. The easiest way to do this is in your thesis statement.
How to Write a Body Paragraph for a Comparative Essay
In the body of your essay you should have around two to four paragraphs. Each of your paragraphs should only surround one argument or idea that supports your thesis.
There are two different ways you can structure the body of your essay, you can either:
- Compare and contrast both texts in the same paragraph for each idea, or,
- Dedicate paragraphs to each text individually.
Both of these methods are perfectly acceptable, but there are limitations to both. For option one, it is important to remember you should be evenly analysing both texts, not favouring one over the other. It is also essential to remember for this option, to analyse in enough depth to support your argument. For option two, it is crucial that you are still comparing both texts. An easy way to do this is to us comparative language such as: however, conversely, in contrast, similarly. This is to ensure you are still meeting the requirements of the genre and task.
How to Write a Comparative Essay Conclusion
As mentioned above, your conclusion should not bring up any new arguments but should summarise everything you have said up to that point. This includes restating your thesis and arguments. Much like your introduction, it is good practice to have your conclusion be approximately 10% of your overall word count.
Comparative Essay Writing Tips
- Create an outline : A well-structured outline helps you stay focused and ensures that your arguments flow logically from one point to the next.
- Always link back to your thesis statement.
- Reference as you go , do not leave it to the last minute.
- Emphasise differences and similarities : Make sure to clearly highlight the differences and similarities between the two subjects.
- Use specific examples : Use concrete examples to illustrate your points and make your writing more persuasive.
- On the contrary
- In the same way
- Compared to
- In contrast
- On the one hand … on the other hand.
- Work with others to edit and refine your work , this may be using the support of an English tutor, or joining a study group.
- The best way to work towards getting an A in English is drafting! Write a first draft as soon as possible – it is easier to edit than a blank piece of paper!
- Proofread and edit : Finally, make sure to proofread and edit your essay for grammar, spelling, and clarity.
Excel in Your Comparative Essay Writing!
The best way to improve your writing, whether it be comparative essays or any kind of essay, is to use the resources available to you. You can ask your teacher for help, form a study group with your friends and help each other, or you can get a tutor to help you!
Need a helping hand writing a comparative essay? A Team Tuition is here to help. With our tried and true tutoring methods, we can help you write impressive essays with our at-home and online tutoring. Find a tutor near you today!
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Writing a comparative essay
This week, Insight writer and English teacher Melanie Flower outlines steps you can take to write your best comparative essay.
The comparative essay is still a relatively new element of VCE English, only becoming part of the Study Design in 2016. However, while the Area of Study is new, your essay should still have a clear and largely familiar structure, with an introduction, body and conclusion. Last year every topic in Section B of the VCE English examination included the word ‘compare’, and it is essential to note that the comparison of texts is the central requirement for this response, even if the word does not explicitly appear in the topic.
The comparative essay can be tackled in a variety of ways, and it is worth experimenting with different approaches throughout the semester to find the one that suits your strengths.
Read the topic carefully
Make sure that you understand exactly what the topic is asking you to do. The topic might invite a broad thematic comparison, which requires a thoughtful understanding of the ways a particular theme is explored in both texts. Other topics focus on an aspect of the texts’ construction, such as characterisation or setting, and require you to show an understanding of the texts’ form and genre.
You could also encounter a topic that contains one or two quotes. This type of topic necessitates a very thorough knowledge of your texts, as you need to recognise the context of each quote, identify the key ideas being addressed in each, and understand how these ideas are explored in both texts.
Give roughly equal weight to each text
Each text pairing has been carefully chosen to offer points of comparison, in terms of both similarities and differences. While you may have a preference for one text over the other, it is essential that you do not allow this to limit the scope of your discussion. One easy way to make sure that you are addressing both texts equally is to balance every point, example or quote from one text with an equivalent from the other. This can be done in the planning stages, giving you a wealth of material to use in your essay.
Choose your preferred structure
The broad structure of a comparative essay is already very familiar to you, and consists of an introduction, several body paragraphs and a conclusion. The introduction should include a clear contention that alerts the reader to your response to the topic, as well as the main ideas your essay will explore. It must contain references to both texts. Similarly, your conclusion should summarise the points you have made and leave the reader with a clear understanding of your position on the topic. These elements are common to all analytical text response essays. The difference in a comparative response is in the way the body paragraphs are structured and organised. You essentially have two basic options for the body: the block approach or the woven approach.
- The block approach: This approach involves devoting a paragraph or two to each text, examining the ways each of them address the ideas raised by the topic. The final body paragraphs pull this material together and discuss the similarities and differences between the texts’ approach to the central ideas explored in the essay. This structure appears straightforward, but it can be challenging to maintain a strong connection between the texts when discussing them in isolation. A careful use of linking words is essential to ensure that the essay is cohesive and the comparison of texts remains at the fore.
- The woven approach: Using a more sophisticated structure, the woven essay draws evidence from both texts within each body paragraph. Topic sentences focus on an aspect of the ideas raised by the topic rather than on individual texts or characters, leaving you free to explore material from both sources in the paragraph. It can be challenging to move between two texts, although with practice, this will become easier. One useful strategy is to begin your discussion of a particular idea with a sentence addressing text 1. Then start the next sentence with a linking word or phrase that leads to a statement about text 2’s perspective on the same idea. A third sentence links both texts, adding an overall position statement. This approach allows you to move smoothly between the texts while also engaging in deep analysis of their ideas.
Focus on differences as well as similarities
We tend to be very alert to similarities between texts, which are usually relatively simple to identify; however, often the most interesting discussion will devolve from a consideration of the differences. These provide an opportunity to explore contrasting situations and points of view, thus demonstrating your engagement with both the texts and the ideas they present.
Use linking words and phrases
When moving the discussion between texts, regardless of the overall essay structure you have chosen, use appropriate linking words and phrases to maintain fluency and cohesion. These links help your reader to understand the connection between the ideas you are discussing, whether they are similarities or contrasts.
Phrases that you can use to discuss similarities include:
similarly, likewise, in the same way, also, along similar lines, in the same fashion .
Phrases useful for indicating contrast include:
in contrast, on the other hand, unlike (text 1), regardless, however, conversely, on the contrary, nevertheless .
Used purposefully, these words and phrases help guide your reader through your discussion, ensuring that they understand the relationship between the texts and the ideas explored in your response.
Explore a range of elements
To add depth to your response, consider a variety of textual elements in your discussion. While the topic may prompt you to focus on character or theme, your response will have more depth if you are able to draw other aspects of the texts into your discussion. You could note the impact of the narrative voice, reflect on how structure shapes a reader’s responses, consider the influence of genre on the texts’ construction, or acknowledge differences in style or authorial purpose. All of these elements provide you with opportunities to consider the texts as constructs, leading to a more complex and sophisticated analysis.
The comparative essay is a challenging, but ultimately satisfying, opportunity to explore intertextual connections. By considering the different perspectives offered by carefully paired texts, you can enrich your understanding of both texts and draw new meanings from them. Ultimately, the best way to find an essay style that works for you is to experiment. Try a few different approaches, note the feedback you receive from your teacher, and use this to finetune your approach. Remember that examiners are not looking for a single, standard essay format. They are interested in your ideas and your genuine responses to the texts, and whichever structure best allows you to present these is the most appropriate structure for you.
Need help with your comparative essays? Insight has two Insight Sample Essays for each List 2 text comparison for English. Each high-level essay features annotations with assessor comments identifying the elements of the essay that work and areas for improvement, as well as tips on how to approach the essay topic and appropriate strategies for analysis.
Insight Sample Essays are produced by Insight Publications, an independent Australian educational publisher.
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Analysis versus recount: what’s the difference?
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The Comparative Essay
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What is a comparative essay?
A comparative essay asks that you compare at least two (possibly more) items. These items will differ depending on the assignment. You might be asked to compare
- positions on an issue (e.g., responses to midwifery in Canada and the United States)
- theories (e.g., capitalism and communism)
- figures (e.g., GDP in the United States and Britain)
- texts (e.g., Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth )
- events (e.g., the Great Depression and the global financial crisis of 2008–9)
Although the assignment may say “compare,” the assumption is that you will consider both the similarities and differences; in other words, you will compare and contrast.
Make sure you know the basis for comparison
The assignment sheet may say exactly what you need to compare, or it may ask you to come up with a basis for comparison yourself.
- Provided by the essay question: The essay question may ask that you consider the figure of the gentleman in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations and Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall . The basis for comparison will be the figure of the gentleman.
- Developed by you: The question may simply ask that you compare the two novels. If so, you will need to develop a basis for comparison, that is, a theme, concern, or device common to both works from which you can draw similarities and differences.
Develop a list of similarities and differences
Once you know your basis for comparison, think critically about the similarities and differences between the items you are comparing, and compile a list of them.
For example, you might decide that in Great Expectations , being a true gentleman is not a matter of manners or position but morality, whereas in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall , being a true gentleman is not about luxury and self-indulgence but hard work and productivity.
The list you have generated is not yet your outline for the essay, but it should provide you with enough similarities and differences to construct an initial plan.
Develop a thesis based on the relative weight of similarities and differences
Once you have listed similarities and differences, decide whether the similarities on the whole outweigh the differences or vice versa. Create a thesis statement that reflects their relative weights. A more complex thesis will usually include both similarities and differences. Here are examples of the two main cases:
While Callaghan’s “All the Years of Her Life” and Mistry’s “Of White Hairs and Cricket” both follow the conventions of the coming-of-age narrative, Callaghan’s story adheres more closely to these conventions by allowing its central protagonist to mature. In Mistry’s story, by contrast, no real growth occurs.
Although Darwin and Lamarck came to different conclusions about whether acquired traits can be inherited, they shared the key distinction of recognizing that species evolve over time.
Come up with a structure for your essay
Note that the French and Russian revolutions (A and B) may be dissimilar rather than similar in the way they affected innovation in any of the three areas of technology, military strategy, and administration. To use the alternating method, you just need to have something noteworthy to say about both A and B in each area. Finally, you may certainly include more than three pairs of alternating points: allow the subject matter to determine the number of points you choose to develop in the body of your essay.
When do I use the block method? The block method is particularly useful in the following cases:
- You are unable to find points about A and B that are closely related to each other.
- Your ideas about B build upon or extend your ideas about A.
- You are comparing three or more subjects as opposed to the traditional two.
How To Structure A Comparative Essay (VCE English Tips)
The comparative essay, in only its second year of being on the VCE English syllabus, is a cause for confusion for many students and teachers alike. Read on for one simple way to structure a comparative essay.
This can be structured in much the same way as a text response essay. Here, the only difference is that you will need to introduce both texts. Do not forget to make use of comparative language, which is an element of the VCAA criteria, which requires that students discuss "meaningful connections , similarities or differences between the texts”. Your introduction must address your overall contention, specific to the prompt, which should be an idea or concept running through your essay.
Aim for around two to four body paragraphs, which should be developed using breadth and a wide scope of ideas. A good way to construct these paragraphs is to base each around a premise or main idea, and you will explore both texts through the lens of this premise.
You can choose either to compare both texts throughout the paragraph, or to go into depth in one text and then transition into exploring the other. No matter which method you choose, make you mention to which extent the two texts are similar or different (it's not enough to say "they are different" or "they are similar").
Relate the end of your body paragraph back to the overall contention, bringing both texts explicitly into focus.
Like the intro, this can be very similar to a text response conclusion! Make sure to be clear and concise, and sum up your main points from your body paragraphs. Aim to end with a strong, clear point of analysis, shining new meaning on both texts.
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Writing a Comparative Essay: New Study Design
Some tips on writing a comparative essay (books pairs) , Dr Jennifer Minter (English Works Notes)
In a comparative essay, you will be assessed on your ability to compare and contrast shared themes in two texts. These themes typically focus on concepts such as identity, conflict, guilt, personal growth, defiance, power, authority, individual freedoms etc.
Similarities and differences You will need to identify similarities and differences in these two texts.
To do well, you will need to be analytically precise with regards to the author’s key message and their views and values. For example, what do we mean by “visionary” leadership. What are its traits? What are its consequences? If a character has a driving sense of ambition/lust for power, you will need to analyse what really defines this ambition or lust. What are its consequences and effects? How does it transform key characters? What are the similarities and what are the differences in its manifestation in both texts?
For a comparative style language analysis essay: See Chapters 7 and 8 ( Arguments and Persuasive Language: analysing and presenting opinion-based texts ) for comparative paragraph-styles and a comparative essay structure.
Make the comparison stand out. What does this mean?
- set up your paragraph with a comparative reference to viewpoints, and a comparative reference to argument basis.
- sum up with a comparative “call to action” sentence
- Use cross-referencing techniques.
A comparative-style paragraph: it is important to set up your (comparative) paragraph with a shared idea/concept. You will start with obvious similarities, generally on a broader scale and then move to more specific similarities and/or differences.
- Firstly, investigate the idea, person(s) or issue in Text A. Keep unpacking a certain aspect of this central idea and give examples and quotes. Be as precise and concise as possible.
- Secondly, investigate the idea, person or issue in Text B. Show similarities (and/or differences) with regards to Text A.
- Use model sentences that set up, and draw attention to, the comparison. “Likewise, X also shares the view that…” Z (Text B) also reflects the X’s mindset. He, too believes that…
- You will need to show an ability to clearly identify, and unpack/analyse the author’s key views, values and concepts and their implications as succinctly as possible. Work on condensing sentences and paragraphs to their essential points. Every word, every phrase and every sentence counts. Avoid generic/generalised statements that waste space.
- You will need to show an ability to zoom in on the most important examples of evidence and show a deep and complex interpretation.
- You will need to be able to summarise/analyse very succinctly these key moments. Avoid storytelling, so use the author’s narrative devices, where possible. You need to do as much as you can, with less.
- Practice writing shared paragraphs; some with a broader focus and some with a narrower and more specific/precise focus.
- Awkward phrases: work on sophistication of expression. Avoid clumsy verb phrases. Use nominals. Work at incorporating quotes into the grammatical construction of your sentence. Use a combination of short, snappy sentences and longer sentences. Do not lose control of the subject. See Notes on Improving Expression.
Write a one-page summary of the “most important” or key points/issues in the text and do a dot-point list of the author’s views and values and attitudes to main themes.
Often an essay topic relates to two different aspects: the author’s support for honourable people and their honourable values: and the author’s disapproval of the dishonourable people and their dishonourable views/values. In this case, think of your essay as a compare and contrast style: with the first half (2 paragraphs) focussing on one side of the equation (2 texts) and the other half, focussing on the contrasting side (2 texts)
- For example, see a Sample of Ideas-related work.
- See a sample of comparative paragraphs: the individual versus the state
- See Writing a Text Response Essay
- Please see sample paragraph plan relating to specific texts: justice and abuse of power
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