Posts Tagged ‘conflicting perspectives’

Poets in Partnership

Another source of insight into the relationship between Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes for Module C Conflicting Perspectives.

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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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One way to approach the concept of Conflicting Perspectives for Module C is through imagery and extended metaphor. Conflicting Perspectives are about how people standing in differently places, see things (events, personalities, situations) in different ways. You know what else people see differently depending on their perspective? Art.

This is “Ascending and Descending” by MC Escher. Depending on how you look at it, the figures are either climbing or walking down stairs. The staircase is also endlessly rising or falling; again, depending on your perspective. From this image we can draw two ideas (thesis statements):

  1. Conflicting perspectives are an inevitable part of the human experience (the figures are trapped within the staircase, heading in opposite directions).
  2. Conflicting perspectives are shaped by differing contexts (how you look at the image directs whether you see the figures as “ascending” or “descending”).

This is  Salvador Dali’s portrait of his wife, entitled “My Wife Nude”. This image shows a classic nude portrait of Gala, Dali’s wife, echoed by a Gala-shaped building in the background. This image also inspires two ideas about Conflicting Perspectives:

  1. Conflicting Perspectives are  shaped by both intimacy and distance (when viewed up close, Gala is Dali’s beloved wife; from a distance, she becomes a construct).
  2. Conflicting Perspectives can exist within an individual (it is Dali, the artist, who sees his wife in these two ways).

These images could be used as related material by students who are confident in visual analysis; or they could be used as extended metaphors to shape the ideas in an essay.

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The focus of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is on the following personalities, events and situations:

Personalities: Caesar; Brutus; Cassius; Antony; Calpurnia; Portia and Octavian.

Situations: the expanding Roman Empire; the failure of the triumvirate; the civil war resulting from Caesar’s death and the ultimate end of the Roman Republic.

Events: Antony offering Caesar the crown; the night of omens; Caesar’s assassination; and the battle at Philippi.

Julius Caesar is an essentially political play. An interesting approach to selecting related material would be to consider other political situations that have inspired conflicting perspectives (otherwise known as every political situation ever) and find some texts that portray different perspectives.

Good places to find texts include:

Texts can be articles, images, blog posts, news reports or even forum discussions (if they’re well written).  You can also usually find books, both non-fiction and fiction, about historical events and, if they were sufficiently interesting or significant, there may be a film. Here are some ideas to get you started searching (try to find something that interests you).

Personalities: Julia Gillard; Bill Clinton; Tony Blair; Margaret Thatcher; Idi Amin; Winston Churchill; Charles de Gaulle; Nelson Mandela.

Situations: The war in Iraq; the Suffragette movement; the Cuban Missile Crisis; the Indonesian invasion of East Timor; the fall of the Ottoman empire; the Apartheid regime in South Africa.

Events: The assassination of President Lincoln; the fall of the Berlin Wall; the coronation of Elizabeth I; the abdication of Edward VIII.

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The focus of Birthday Letters (or at least the poems selected for study) is on the following personalities, events and situations:

Personalities: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and, to a lesser extent, Otto Plath

Situations: The marriage between Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath and its subsequent breakdown.

Events: Seeing a photograph, eating a peach, destroying an heirloom sideboard, a trip to Paris, a wild ride on a runaway horse, Plath’s eventual suicide.

There have been other literary marriages and relationships that have been personality driven and tumultuous. Exploring some texts that portray conflicting perspectives about these relationships could be an interesting approach to this module.

Personalities: F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, writers, expatriots and icons of the roaring twenties.

Situations: Their whirlwind courtship, acrimonious marriage, F. Scott’s alcoholism, their literary careers, Zelda’s obsession with ballet, her struggle with mental illness.

Events: Zelda being admitted to a sanitorium and diagnosed with schizophrenia, F. Scott’s affair with Sheilah Graham, his death in Hollywood, Zelda’s death in a fire.


Nancy Milford’s fascinating biography of Zelda Fitzgerald. Well researched and, although sympathetic towards its subject, inclusive of other perspectives.

The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Allegedly Fitzgerald stole excerpts from his wife’s diaries and included them, verbatim, in this and other novels. When Zelda Fitzgerald drew on their relationship for her writing, F. Scott became enraged.

Article: Would you swap places with Zelda Fitzgerald? from The Guardian

A visual biography of the couple, which was created drawing on their individual albums and scrapbooks.

The Collected Writings of Zelda Fitzgerald, includes her novel Save Me the Waltz as well as semi-autobiographical short stories and magazine articles.

Given the theme of conflicting perspectives, these texts could also work for The Justice Game, Julius Caesar, Snow Falling on Cedars or the other core texts. I think they could also work for History and Memory, particularly The Woman Warrior or The Queen.

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For Birthday Letters, the approach I have suggested is to find texts with perspectives on the same personalities and situations as the core text (Hughes, Plath, their marriage, her suicide). The Justice Game is a different type of text. Although Robertson is undeniably a strong personality and there are certainly texts with conflicting perspectives on the cases discussed, related material that explores a contemporary issue works well for this text.

The criteria I am using to select issues and texts is as follows:

1. The issue must reflect a conflict between differing attitudes or value systems.

2. One of the suggested resolutions for conflicting perspectives on the issue must be a change in the law.

3. Texts which represent the issue must acknowledge (if only to dismiss) perspectives that conflict with the composer’s own.


Issue: The wearing of Burqas

(thank you to the Year 12s whose argument in the computer lab yesterday inspired the inclusion of this issue)

Summary: The reasons for opposing the wearing of the burqa range from its perceived status as a symbol of female oppression to security fears. France has banned it and other European countries are considering following suit.

Memoir: Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

News Report: Is Islam on Trial?

News Article: Muslim woman ‘right’ to question cops

News Article: Australia may use fingerprints to ID burqa wearers

Opinion Piece: Is that a feminist under your burqa?

There are many others, on both sides of this question. Use the Google News tab to get up to date articles and opinion pieces.

Issue: British Libel Laws

Summary: In 2008 author and journalist, Simon Singh, published an article in The Guardian, which criticised chiropractors. He was sued for libel by the British Chiropractors Association. This raised not only the question of free speech but also the out-dated nature of British libel laws.

Opinion piece: Beware the Spinal Trap (Singh’s original article)

Opinion piece: English Libel Law is a Vulture Circling the World

Press release: Update on BCA v Simon Singh

Blog post: Judgement: BCA v Singh (great legal perspective)

Issue: Boat People

Summary: Refugees sometimes come to Australia in boats (often small, unseaworthy, dangerous boats) looking for asylum. Due to popular and political pressure, these refugees are confined in remote detention centres or sent to nearby (or not so nearby in the case of Malaysia) countries as part of the so-called Pacific Solution. Some Australians feel that this treatment is inhumane.

Television series: Go Back To Where You Came From

Opinion piece: The lawful presence of ‘illegal arrivals’ on ‘illegal boat

Opinion column: You call this even-handed? Refugee series is strictly for the gullible.

Other issues worth exploring include: Julian Assange and Wikileaks; International Law and the War on Terror; Google Books and Copyright; Apple’s App Store and Censorship.

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Film: Sylvia. 2003. Directed by Christine Jeffs and starring Gwyneth Paltrow.

Although the film is extremely sympathetic towards Plath, her daughter, Frieda Hughes, refused to have anything to do with it (hence the lack of poetry in the film, as Frieda Hughes is also the literary executor of both her parent’s estates.

Novel: The Ballad of Sylvia and Ted by Emma Tennant.

This is a fictional recreation of the poets’ marriage using the images in their poetry as clues to the relationship. Interesting for this module as Tennant once again stretches poetic licence to the limit.

Poetry: Ariel by Sylvia Plath.

I am reluctant to advise using poetry in a module where your core text is poetry as I worry that it will make students appear “one trick ponies” to the marker. However, others (who probably know better than I) have said it’s ok. As Birthday Letters is pretty much a direct response to Ariel, the conflicting perspectives are clear.

Novel: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.

Semi-autobiographical novel chronicling the struggles of adolescence compounded by depression. I think of it as a kind of feminine version of The Catcher in the Rye.

Memoir: The Silent Woman by Janet Malcolm.

There are some great moments in this work and the author very helpfully outlines her goals, and her biases, at the beginning.


There are so many. Here’s a small selection:

Ted, Sylvia and Me by Al Alvarez

Ted Hughes, archives and alligators by Stephen Enniss

Son of poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes kills himself

On Ted Hughes’ ‘Last Letter’ to Sylvia Plath

When choosing a related text, my advice is to go with your strengths. If you do well with film analysis, choose a film. If you think you know poetry, choose a poem. If you like the structured prosaic nature of journalism, pick an article.

If you have any ideas you’d like to share. Comment on this post.





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One of the most interesting elements of Hughe’s brilliant poetry collection, Birthday Letters, is the way in which he appropriates Sylvia Plath’s poetic language in order to portray the conflicting perspectives within and about their relationship.

The most obvious example is Hughes’ poem ‘Sam,’ which retells the story of Plath’s disastrous ride, portrayed by Plath herself in the poem, “Whiteness, I remember”. White is a symbol and a motif in both poems but the tones are contradictory. There is an exhilaration to Plath’s recount of “the great run” and, to her, the ending is both “fear” and “wisdom”. In contrast, Hughes highlights the danger and chaos of the experience, “propellor terrors” sounding of “the clangour of iron shoes.” Hughes also points to the conflict within Plath herself, “your incredulity, your certainty.”

Although less obvious than the above comparison, Hughes’ “The Shot” can be read as a response to Plath’s “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus”. While Plath asserts, “Daddy, I have had to kill you,” Hughes inverts the image: “Your Daddy had been aiming you at God When his death touched the trigger.” Plath’s poetry is an attempt at self-empowerment and this is undermined by Hughes’ appropriation and subversion of her imagery and language. Compare these two lines:

A cake of soap, a wedding ring, a gold filling. – “Lady Lazarus” by Sylvia Plath.

A wisp of your hair, your ring, your watch, your nightgown. – “The Shot” by Ted Hughes.

In spite of her many allusions to the holocaust, Hughes suggests – in “Your Paris” – that Plath had no understanding of the realities of the war in Europe. Plath describes her suicidal body: “bright as a Nazi lampshade”. In contrast, Hughes describes Plath’s experience of the city as “American” while his own is “only just not German”.

In “Red” Hughes argues that red was Plath’s colour, it was she “wrapped around” herself. The images in this poem go beyond the visual to the religious, suggesting that Plath’s wearing of red was somehow prescient of her eventual (bloodless, it should be noted) suicide. In “Tulips” Plath rejects this image of herself. The tulips are painfully “too red”. Perhaps it was this self-inflicted pain that Hughes was objecting to when he argued “Blue was better for you…your kindly spirit.”

In order to understand the conflicting perspectives in Birthday Letters, it is necessary to explore some of Plath’s poetry from her final collection, Ariel. This helps to highlight not only the conflict between the couple but also the internal struggles of each poet.

Final note: This does not mean that Ariel is an appropriate related text for Module C. It is an addendum to your study of Birthday Letters. You should be looking at texts of different types (i.e. not poetry) that allow to discuss conflicts both within and between texts. For more on general approaches to Module C, see this post.

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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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