Posts Tagged ‘Comparative Study’

The role of women:

  • “Caroline Beaufort possessed a mind of an uncommon mould.” (p26)

  • “the guardian angel of the afflicted” (p29) – Shelley reflects contextual values by portraying women as angelic helpers of men

Victor’s idyllic childhood with perfect parents

  • “Harmony was the soul of our companionship” (p32) – an example of romantic relationship that Victor has experienced first hand but fails to achieve for himself or to provide to his creation. [see post on Playing God in Frankenstein and Blade Runner]

Victor’s passion, however, is for knowledge, not love

  • “I was more deeply smitten with the thirst for knowledge” (p32)

  • “I delighted in investigating their causes. The world was to me a secret which I desired to divine.” (p32) – “smitten” “delight” “desire” – romantic imagery but Victor’s passions are misplaced

Clerval as a foil to Victor

  • “deeply read in books of chivalry and romance” (p33)

  • “occupied himself with the moral relations of things” (p34) – highlighting that Victor did not consider these at all

  • It is the loss of companionship that allows Victor to lose his moral compass, “I, who had ever been surrounded by amiable companions…I was now alone.” (p43)


  • “Natural philosophy is the genius that regulated my fate” (p35) – “genius” here could mean spirit

  • “immutable laws of Destiny” (p39) – note the personification of Destiny through the use of capitalisation

  • “chance – or rather evil influence, the Angel of Destruction – led me first to M. Krempe, professor of natural philosophy.” (p44) – it seems to me that Victor’s continual references to fate are an attempt to avoid responsibility for his actions.


  • “Sir Isaac Newton is said to have avowed that he felt like a child picking up shells beside the great and unexplored ocean of truth.” (p36) – for a neat contextual link to Blade Runner,

“The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean. On this shore, we’ve learned most of what we know. Recently, we’ve waded a little way out, maybe ankle-deep, and the water seems inviting. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return, and we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” – Carl Sagan, Cosmos[first published 1980]

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Essay planning in an exam situation can be tricky. You need to ensure that your essay answers the whole question; however, you’re also pretty pressed for time. In the HSC, taking five minutes to plan is worth it and the first part of your planning time should be spent breaking down the question. Here are some examples of how breaking down the question can give you an essay plan.

2009 Area of Study: Belonging, Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson and The Rabbits by John Marsden and Shaun Tan

“Understanding nourishes belonging … a lack of understanding prevents it.”

Demonstrate how your prescribed text and ONE other related text of your own choosing represent this interpretation of belonging.

Break down

  • Understanding nourishes belonging.
    • The persona in ‘I died for beauty’ finds belonging through a shared understanding of art (shown through the metalepsis of truth and beauty).
    • The bilbies in The Rabbits understand and therefore belong within their landscape (shown through their shape, which echoes the natural swirls of the setting).
  • A lack of understanding prevents belonging
    • The persona in ‘What Mystery Pervades a Well!’ is alienated from her surroundings through a lack of understanding (alternative: gender distance due to mutual lack of understanding).
    • The bilbies and the rabbits are unable to co-exist harmoniously due to language and cultural differences that prevent understanding.
  • A lack of understanding can lead to a different type of belonging.
    • The persona in ‘I had been hungry all the years’ fails to grasp the attraction of belonging to a community but finds a different type of belonging with nature.
    • Rather than learning to belong in a landscape they don’t understand, the Rabbits reshape the landscape and commodify it to belong to them.

2010 Module A: Texts in Time, Frankenstein and Blade Runner

Analyse how Frankenstein and Blade Runner imaginatively portray individuals who challenge the established values of their time.

Break down:

  • What are the “established values” of the times?
    • Industrialisation (progress and ownership) and Enlightenment (rationality) versus Romanticism (spirituality and Nature) and Morality (compassion and kindness).
    •  Capitalism (commodification and profit) and Technological advancement (pushing boundaries) versus Environmentalism (nature and conservation) and Ethics (humaneness).
  • Which “individuals” are “challenging” them? How and why?
    • Victor Frankenstein challenges traditional morality by usurping the role of god as creator, he does this because of hubris.
    • Eldon Tyrell challenges ideas of conservation and ethics by creating disposable genetically engineered “replicant” slaves, he does this for profit.
  • What are the consequences of these challenges?
    • For Victor the consequences are personal, the death of his family, friends, and himself.
    • For Tyrell the consequences are global, the destruction of the natural world, as well as personal.

2010 Module B: Critical Study of Texts, Hamlet

‘Shakespeare’s Hamlet continues to engage audiences through its dramatic treatment of struggle and disillusionment.’

In the light of your critical study, does this statement resonate with your own interpretation of Hamlet?

Break down

  • Who struggles? What with?
    • Hamlet struggles with the task of revenge laid on him by the ghost because of the conflict between his duty and his personal ethics.
    • Ophelia also struggles with the conflict between her role as a daughter and a sister (and the contextual expectations of woman) and her feelings for Hamlet.
    • Modern audiences continue to relate to this struggle because the conflict between family obligation and personal beliefs is a universal human concern.
  • Who is disillusioned? What with?
    • Hamlet is disillusioned with what he sees as a corrupt world; the corrupt court of Denmark is a microcosm of this.
    • Political and moral corruption are ongoing concerns that resonate with a modern audience.
  • What is the ultimate consequence of this struggle and disillusionment?
    • Tragedy.

Asking a few brief questions to draw out the key ideas in the question is a worthwhile use of your precious exam time if it means answering the whole question with a sustained, structured response.


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If you’re having trouble grappling with the “similar content” in the Module A elective Texts in Time, these articles may help.

Worldspace in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner

This article, by Evan L. Wendel, not only helps students to focus on the relevance of each text’s setting, it is also a wonderful example of essay structure with integrated paragraphs.

Frankenstein‘s Futurity: Replicants and Robots

Jay Clayton’s contribution to the Cambridge Companion to Frankenstein is impressive in scope. You’ll need to scroll down to the section entitled The Replicant’s Tears (page 5 of the pdf or 88 if you’ve grabbed the book) for Module A specific stuff, but if you want a more general understanding of the ongoing relevance of Frankenstein, the entire chapter is worth a read.

The Evolutionary Relationship Between Man and Technology

This article by Magar Etmekdjian focuses on context and the way in which Blade Runner can be viewed as an extension of Frankenstein. It very helpfully refers back to the module rubric as well.


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One of the “big questions” explored in the comparative study of Frankenstein and Blade Runner is, “what does it mean to be human?”

This question is not only integral to developing an understanding of both texts but also so broad and ephermeral as to be almost useless. Let’s pin it down by rephrasing, “what are the qualities that distinguish a human being from artificial life forms?” or, for this particular study, “what are the qualities that, if present in artificial life forms, would force us to consider them human?”

  • humans imagine – humans have the capacity to not only remember the past but to imagine the future or to imagine alternate worlds. This capacity for imagination is integral to the next three points…
  • humans are mortal… and aware of it – the capacity to imagine a different world means the capacity to imagine a world without ourselves in it. It is this awareness of the fragility of human life that makes it so significant and important, not only to each individual but also as a subject of literary endeavour. It the awareness of their own mortality that drives the replicants to Earth in Blade Runner.
  • humans have empathy – the ability to imagine ourselve in the position of others–not just other humans, but also other sentient beings–is one which is developed through relationships but also through reading. The great irony in Blade Runner is that while the replicants are identified by their inability to empathise with animals, it is the humans who lack empathy for each other and for the replicants.
  • humans create – since the cave paintings in Lascaux, human beings have been driven to create works of art; and even before the invention of language and art, humans were procreating, seeking immortality for their genes through their children. The irony in Frankenstein is that Victor seeks glory through his unnatural creation and this eventually results in the destruction of any hope of having children when Elizabeth is murdered.
  • humans seek relationships – we are, above all, social creatures. The need to understand and be understood, to love and be loved, is at the heart of the human experience. It is this need that drives the creature to beg Victor for a mate in Frankenstein and empowers Deckard and Rachel to seek a life together in spite of not knowing how much time they have.

Most of the examples in this list seem to point to the humanity, and humane-ness, of the artificial life forms in each text. If you can articulate a response to this paradox, you are well on the way towards developing strong responses to this module.

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A reading journal is a useful tool for all students and an essential one for student undertaking Extension 1 and Extension 2. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

Read Widely this includes reading fiction and non-fiction, newspaper and journal articles, blogs, short stories, novels, and poetry. It also includes viewing films and television, looking at paintings and photographs, and listening to music. Let each text lead you to the next one. For example, reading a Neil Gaiman novel might lead you to reading his graphic novels and picture books, you might also find the music of Amanda Palmer, his wife and, through their Twitter feeds, the novels, music, and films they admire. If you’re stuck, Amazon Lists and GoodReads might help.
Explore Form and Genre one of the complaints that I’ve heard repeatedly from the Extension 2 co-ordinators at school is that students are intending to write a short story but all they read is novels. Acknowledge that textual forms differ in their structure, not just their length. Here’s a list of short story writers I recommend: Archie Weller, Roald Dahl, Isaac Asimov, O. Henry, Saki, William Gibson, Arthur C. Clarke, Joanne Harris, Philip K. Dick, Brian Caswell, Tim Winton, Nam Le, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Angela Carter, Chinua Achebe, Graham Greene, Henry Lawson, and Susannah Clarke. Similarly, if you’re writing free form poetry or putting together a short film, make sure the form and genre within which you’re working is a focus of your reading and viewing.
Make Predictions Don’t read passively; be active. If you think you’ve worked out whodunnit, write your idea in your reading journal; if you think you know what will (or should) happen next, write it down. This is particularly important if you’re doing a genre study. Make predictions based on your knowledge of the genre and highlight texts that subvert the conventions.
Make Connections Connections between texts are at the heart of HSC English, whether they be thematic (Belonging, History and Memory, Conflicting Perspectives), chronological (Texts in Time, Exploring Connections, Romanticism, After the Bomb, Navigating the Global) or generic (Crime Fiction, Science Fiction, Life Writing). While reading, look out for connections between what you’re reading and other texts you have read or studied. Don’t limit yourself to what you’re reading for – an article about Life Writing could become a related text for History and Memory. Look out for connections between what you’re reading and your own experiences as well. Note these down.
Respond Creatively Your reading journal shouldn’t just be a series of “I read this and this is what I thought about it.” Rewrite endings, use interesting quotes as stimulus for poems, short stories, and other short pieces, draw diagrams and pictures, find images to illustrate ideas; argue with your texts, put their characters (or authors) on trial – interrogate them. Write what you feel as well as what you think. Try this exercise to get you started: choose a text then, using each of the five senses, describe it: what does it look, smell, taste, sound, feel like?
Respond Analytically Your reading journal is another opportunity to practise your structure response writing. Using the key ideas in the syllabus for your course/module/elective, compose structured integrated paragraphs using the texts you’re currently reading. Writing explications (linear explanations of techniques and meanings) is another good strategy for engaging analytically with texts.

Avoid Recounting This list was originally going to be divided into dos and don’ts but there’s really only one don’t: don’t recount the plot of what you’re reading. There are two reasons for this. The first is that it’s boring. Plot recounts are boring to write and even more boring to read. The second reason is that it’s a bad habit. If you practise recounting the plot in your journal, chances are you’ll replicate that practice in your responses and exams.


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Here is how I would approach Paper 2:

Tactic Time (mins) Count Down Clock
Reading Time
Read the questions for Modules A, B, and C. Make sure you check that you read the correct questionfor your elective/text. 5 2h
Writing Time
Annotate the question for Module A and plan your response, including a strong thesis statement and between two and four main supporting points. Remember the focus of this module is CONTEXT. 5 1h55m
Write your Module A essay. 35 1h20m
Annotate the question for Module B and plan your response, including a strong thesis statement and between two and four main supporting points. Remember the focus of this module is RECEPTION. 5 1h15m
Write your Module B essay. 35 40m
Annotate the question for Module C and plan your response, including a strong thesis statement and between two and four main supporting points. Remember the focus of this module is REPRESENTATION. 5 35m
Write your Module C essay. 35 0

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Looking at Module A responses recently, I have noticed something strange: students understand the context of Frankenstein, they have a handle on Romanticism, the Enlightement and the effects of Industrialisation; however, they don’t get the context for Blade Runner. There are some vague references to globalisation and capitalism but no real evidence of the values underpinning those movements. I think that it’s possibly because many teachers (like me) grew up in the 80s and so we assume that part of history is common knowledge. It’s not. Students completing the HSC this year were born in the early 90s and 1982 is outside their experience (and, let’s be honest, their interest). Here are some points to help rectify this problem.

The Cold War: Although it broke out into “hot” wars throughout the 20th Century (Korea and Vietnam being the most obvious examples) the Cold War consisted mostly of spying and tense international relations between the US and the USSR. It also manifested in the Space Race, the over-emphasis of western nations on capitalist policies and their continued interference in the politics of developing nations. The tone of this period of history was pessimistic, with the constant threat of nuclear war hanging over the world. This pessimism about the future of the human race and of the planet is clearly seen in Blade Runner.

Globalisation: this is a term which refers specifically to the unification of economies through free trade. It can also be used to describe the shrinking of the world through media and communication technology. Its effects can be seen in Blade Runner in the Chinatown scenes, where the movement of peoples and languages across borders is evident.

The Reagan Doctrine: Ronald Reagan was President of the US from 1981 to 1989. His policies were shaped, at least in part, by the Cold War, and so included funding anti-Communist groups overseas  (like the Taliban – oops) and being aggressively pro-capitalist.

Thatcherism: Margaret Thatcher (who famously said, “No woman in my time will be Prime Minister” ) was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990. She was aggressive in her economic policy, which involved prioritising the control of inflation over the control of unemployment; and limiting the power of trade unions. Many people saw this attitude as being “money over people”. To understand more about the potential of Thatcherism see…

Alan Moore was not a fan of Thatcher or her politics.

One of the main practical outcomes of both Reaganism and Thatcherism, was Deregulation. This is the removal of government controls on corporate activities. Usually the justification was “free market competition”. The consequences of deregulation can be seen in Blade Runner in the unrestrained commercialisation of not only our planet but the offworld colonies. The looming presence of the Tyrell Corp over the government offices is a visual representation of the power shift which took place during the 1980s. It was during this time that many companies went multinational, thus breaking down national boundaries, furthering globalisation and the disempowerment of governments.

A useful word to use for this worldview is Neoconservatism. The main values associated with Neoconservatism are competition (in the free market sense of competition between corporations, free of government interference), economic freedom and traditional “family” values. In some ways, Neoconservatism is the natural child of America’s puritan past and its focus on the Protestant work ethic.

Another consequence of the deregulation of corporations and the commodification of everything is Environmental damage and its reactor, the Environmentalism. The fear of irreversible environmental damage is clear from Philip K. Dick’s 1968 source novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

The message that is explicit in the novel and implicit in the film is that the destruction of natural habitats, and the animals that live in them, is ultimately dehumanising. The key to passing the Voigt-Kampf test is demonstrating empathy with animals. This is almost ironic as the corporation that administors the test is probably one of the corporations responsible for the utter destruction of nature. The potential for mass extinctions due to human interference became a real concern for a number of people by the 1980s.

Technological Innovation. In the 1980s scientific progress had moved from the industrialisation of the 19th Century to a new medium: information. Innovation of this time focused on computers and software. The ’80s were the era of the personal computer (for the first time people had computers in their homes) and of arcade gaming. The replicants can be seen, perhaps, as just another consumer gadget, like a PC.

Space Exploration was also huge. American had won the Space Race in 1969 when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the surface of the moon but there was more to explore. In 1977 NASA launched Voyager 1, a probe designed to visit the outlying planets of our solar system and continue beyond. It also carries a “golden record” designed to convey information about the human race to any extraterristrial life the probe may encounter. Space exploration was the antidote to the pessimism of the Cold War. In Blade Runner the optimism of colonising new worlds is undermined as they are necessary refuges from the polluted ruin of Earth rather than symbols of human endeavour.

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It is strange to be reminded that Jane Austen’s classic romance, Pride and Prejudice, was published (sans zombies) just five years before the first edition of Mary Shelley’s gothic horror tale, Frankenstein. The contemporary social upheaval caused by the competing ideologies of the Enlightenment, Industrialisation and the Romantic Movement is evident in Shelley’s text but can seem invisible in Austen’s more restrained social novel. Austen, however, was not unaware of social injustice and three key issues are relevant to an understanding of her novels.

1. Enclosure. By th19th Century, almost all arable lands in England had been enclosed,by hedges or fences, restricting their use as pasture to the owners. Prior to this, much land had been available for grazing to the landless poor. One of the consequences of enclosure was to increase the number of seasonal labourers requiring poor relief. In Pride and Prejudice, this allows Darcy to be held up as a more generous land owner than others (and his housekeeper to brag about him to Elizabeth). Although enclosures began as early as the 13th Century, it was really during the Industrial Revolution, when land was increasingly commodified, that the practice became dominant.

2. Entailment. The Bennet sisters’ desperate situation is due in part to entailment laws. The purpose of these laws was to ensure the line of succession for important houses. The reality of them was that the owner was unable to sell or bequeath their estate. It was, instead, entailed to the legal heir. The result of such laws was often families who were impoverished by debt in spite of being in possession of impressive estates or, as in the case of the Bennet sisters, women being left at the mercy of, often distant, male relatives. The abolishment of individual entails was made simpler in 1833 but it was only in 1996 that the law was abandoned altogether.

Military Meritocracy. Although during the Regency it was still common practice for a young man to purchase a commission (that is, an officer’s rank) in the Army or the Navy, it was during this period that the military in England (particularly the Navy) began to reward meritorious service with rank – both military and social. This allowed landless gentlemen to improve their social standing and aspire to more profitable matches. Perhaps the best example of this in Austen is Captain Wentworth in Persuasion, who becomes wealthy and a socially acceptable match for the daughter of a Baronet, through his service in the West Indies. The social signficance of the soldiers quartered at Meriton in Pride and Prejudice is another example.

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A study of context can be arduous, particularly for students not enamoured of history; however, an understanding of a text’s context—along with its audience and purpose—is integral to developing an understanding of the text. With modern texts this is easier, the context is similar to your own, but it is much more difficult when it comes to a context that is far removed in either time or space. Elizabethan England is a particularly complex and turbulent context to study but it is also one of the most important because it’s Shakespeare’s.

There is one Shakespeare play in each module of the current Advanced English HSC Syllabus.

Area of Study: As You Like It
Module A: Richard III (with Al Pacino’s Looking For Richard)
Module B: Hamlet
Module C: Julius Caesar

Understanding the political, social and personal context surrounding the plays you study can help you in a number of ways. The texture of the world can influence the texts produced within it. As You Like It can seem simple if you don’t know that the original Rosalind would have been a boy actor, playing a girl who is pretending to be a boy. Hamlet’s delay makes more sense in the context of the religious anxiety of the Reformation. The ghosts and portents that foretell the death of Julius Caesar echo the eclipse that some believe signalled the end of Elizabeth’s reign. The demonisation of Richard III becomes a clear political move when one understands the family relationship between the Tudors and the House of Lancaster.

But how do you learn all this stuff? Enter American author Bill Bryson and his biography of William Shakespeare.

Bill Bryson’s biography of Shakespeare is a comprehensive guide to Shakespeare’s life, Shakespeare’s world and Shakespeare scholarship. Bryson shot to authorial fame with his travel writing about journeys in England, America and Australia. His Shakespeare reads like a travelogue to Elizabethan England. Bryson neatly weaves known facts, supported by historical and literary evidence, with speculation and educated guesses.

The book is structured chronologically, beginning with an introduction to the world into which William Shakespeare was born and ending with the speculation surrounding the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays.

Read this book before the Trials. It will strengthen your contextual and scholarly understanding of your Shakespeare text.

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While (re)reading Frankenstein it is worth asking the question, “who is telling this story?”

The structure of the novel is layered. There are a few different visual representations that can help us to understand how it works.

The first is a series of concentric circles…


…with the Creature’s story in the centre, then Victor’s, then Walton’s letters. You may like to add the overheard De Lacey story as an extra layer in the centre.

Another one, that my students came up with, is a stack of books…

…with Walton’s letters at the top and bottom and the other stories wedged in between.

The final image, and my favourite (again, an idea from my students) is this…

Walton is the moon to Victor’s Earth while the Creature is the sun around whom all stories revolve.

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