Posts Tagged ‘Literature’

Module B is the most traditional of the Advanced English modules. It’s the one where you study the text and look at different interpretations. The key idea here is how the text has been received in different contexts. I suggest organising your summary like this:

Key Idea or Theme

  • quote + technique + explanation
  • note on how this theme has been interpreted in different contexts

Example from Hamlet

Political Corruption

  • “unweeded garden” – metaphor (extended metaphor) – Hamlet feels that the world is decaying due to the political corruption in the Danish court
  • Elizabethan audience: king embodies state – corrupted state = Claudius’ guilt
  • Modern audience: blase attitude to political corruption due to pervasive cynicism.

Example from Cloudstreet


  • “the knife never lies” – personification – reinforces the role of superstition in Lester Lamb’s life
  • Can be inspire empathy or pity in the audience, depending on differing values

Five or six major themes with three or four quotes/techniques for each and you should have what you need to start writing practice responses. If you find yourself short on ideas for a response, go back to your summary and add more detail.


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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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The Preface is key to understanding the context of Frankenstein and Module A has a really strong focus on context. Unfortunately, the ugly edition chosen by the Board of Studies does not deign to include Mary Shelley’s Preface so it might be worthwhile finding another edition. I recommend the one from Vintage and have included a link to its Amazon page below.

When you read the Preface, consider Mary Shelley’s purpose in writing the novel. Remember that context can be historical (the Romantic movement and the French Revolution are both relevant here); social (questions surrounding the rights of men and women were important at this time); cultural (consider the importance of poetry and art as well as religion and the questioning of religion). Context can also be personal or biographical. Read and think about the story of the specific circumstances that inspired the writing of Frankenstein.

Here are some questions to help you get started with your study of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or, if you’re well into Module A, you could use them for revision.


Letter I

  • What is the effect of the epistolary novel?
  • Walton writes like a Romantic poet. Find at least three quotes where he describes sublime landscapes.

Letter II

  • How is the theme of isolation introduced here?
  • Walton only knows the sea through poetry and books. What is the significance of this for his character?

Extension: Read Mary Wollstonecraft’s Letters Written during a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark. How does the language compare with Walton?

Letter III

  • How does Shelley introduce the theme of men as divine beings here?

Letter IV

  • This is our first glimpse of the creature. How is he described? How is the creature contrasted with Victor? Write a list of the adjectives/adverbs used by Walton to describe the two characters.

Chapter I

  • Personal response: compare Victor’s childhood with your own. Would you describe his as happy or tragic?

Chapter II

  • How is Victor’s dangerous ambition foreshadowed here? (Think about the confrontational/antagonistic relationship between Victor and Nature and compared with the Romantic view).
  • How is the contrast drawn between Victor and his friend Henry Clerval?(Draw a table or venn diagram to show their similarities and differences).

Chapter III

  • What is the effect of the death of Victor’s mother on
    • Victor’s ambition?
    • Elizabeth?
    • The tone of the novel?

Chapter IV

  • Explain Victor’s ambition. How might it be seen, in a Romantic or Christian sense, as “unnatural”?

Chapter V

  • Compare Victor’s reaction to his creature with Walton’s earlier description.
  • How are the themes of isolation and sickness developed here?

Extension: look up William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience. List parallels with your reading of Frankenstein so far.

Chapter VI

  • What is the significance of Victor’s reconnection with Nature in this chapter?

Chapter VII & VIII

  • What responsibility does Victor bear for the deaths of William and Justine?

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The epigraph to Frankenstein reads:

Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould me Man, did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?”

This is Adam addressing his Creator in Book 10 of Milton’s Paradise Lost. This epic poem has been hugely influential, not just on Frankenstein or the Romantics but also on Western Christian thought.

Take a look at the powerpoint below. It is not comprehensive but it should give you some idea of the relevance of Milton’s great work to your study of both Frankenstein and Blade Runner.

Paradise Lost and the (post)Modern Prometheus

The image of Satan by Gustave Dore, like Milton’s text, emphasises the fallen angel, heroic rebel aspect of the character. His bat-like wings distinguish him from the angels of heaven but his pose is that of a victim and Dore has drawn him in the armour of a classical hero.

William Blake was one of the earliest of the Romantic Poets*. Nature was deeply spiritual to Blake and, as a child, he often saw visions, including one of a tree filled with angels. The bible, often mediated through interpretations such as Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s Inferno, was important to Blake in both a literal and an interpretative way. He, like many of his time, saw the French Revolution as a sign of the end of the world, as foretold in the book of Revelation. The image of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar** turned into a beast of the field, carries the same warning as Frankenstein and Blade Runner: there are serious consequences for humans who play at being gods.

Jacob’s Ladder, again by Blake, shows a Romantic interpretation of the vision of Jacob (one of the patriarchs of the Israelite nation) from Genesis chapter 28. Jacob saw angels ascending and descending on a ladder from heaven; this was, the bible tells us, a sign that through Jacob’s lineage, all the inhabitants of the earth would be blessed. This reminds me of Victor Frankenstein’s insistence that his creation would be of benefit to mankind (though I notice that neither the almighty nor Frankenstein explain exactly how their blessing will work). Like Dore’s Lucifer, Blake’s angels are classical figures, showcasing the abandon with which the Romantics mixed biblical and classical mythology.

The Romantics and their influences are key to understanding the context of not only Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein but also Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

If you have any specific questions relating to posts or resources, please ask in the comments. I’ll do my best to respond.

*The Romantic Poets can be thought of as two groups or generations: those who were old enough to experience the French Revolution (either first hand by visiting France or through the many political pamphlets written about it) and those of the subsequent generation. The first group includes Blake, Coleridge and Wordsworth; the second, Byron, Keats and Shelley.

**If you would like to read explore this story further it can be found in the biblical book of Daniel, chapters 2-4.

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The final aspect of belonging on the ETA list and the one my students have had the most difficulty with is belonging through textual engagement. Like all of the aspects, and the concept of belonging itself, belonging through textual engagement seems ephemeral to the point of meaninglessness. However, if you can master it and apply it to your texts it will help to enrich your responses.
Belonging through textual engagement has two parts to it:
the sense of belonging you feel when you really connect with the characters, themes or setting of a text.
the sense of belonging you feel when you find a person or group of people who share your appreciation of a text or texts.
Make a list of your favourite stories. Why are they your favourites? Do you relate to the main character? Do you want to be like him/her? Do you empathise with their plight? Or is it the setting that appeals? Is it a place you know or somewhere you think you could belong?
Now for the hard part… why do you feel connected with this text? Character, theme, plot and setting (the elements of story) are conveyed through words on a page and the effect of those words is often due to the use of techniques. What are the techniques that connect you to the text?
An example of belonging through textual engagement is the empathy we might feel for the persona of Dickinson’s poem ‘I had been hungry all the years’. The speaker of the poem feels awkward and out of place at the table. The use of slant rhyme (words that almost rhyme but don’t quite – “crumb” and “room”) conveys this awkwardness through language to the audience, creating a sense of empathy from the reader to the speaker.
Similarly, the gesture of rubbing the soil of a battlefield between his hands, repeated throughout the film Gladiator by the hero Maximus, reminds the audience that the general is actually a humble farmer, who wants nothing more than to return to his wife and son. This reinforces our sympathy for his plight and creates a connection between us and the text.
The second aspect of belonging through textual engagement is the connection we feel with others who appreciate the same texts. Consider the clubs that exist for fans of authors from Jane Austen to Neil Gaiman. As we know, texts are not limited to novels. I was, a long time ago, president of the ANU Slayer Society, a club dedicated to the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Some of my best friends at uni were people I met through that club. What is it about books, films and tv that bring us together? This idea might also be an interesting prompt for a creative piece.

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What does it mean to be human? This is the central question of the comparative study of Frankenstein and Blade Runner in the HSC. Other questions result. How far can we extend our concept of humanity? How inclusive can we be? Will artificial life ever be accepted into the human family?

Take a step back. We do not yet have the artificial life pictured by Mary Shelley and Ridley Scott but robotic modifications to the human body are not unknown. Watch this:

Aimee Mullins and her 12 pairs of legs

The phrase that strikes me most in this video is not the child suggesting that Aimee Mullins should fly (although that is pretty cool) but the friend who cries of Aimee’s variable height “that’s not fair!” Aimee Mullins, suffering a serious, in most societies debilitating and ostracizing, disability is the envy of her school friends. Far from being someone to be pitied, she is someone to be admired.

How far can it go? I am not in any way suggesting that Aimee Mullins is less than or more than or something other than human. She is beautiful and strong and a great role model for girls and boys alike.

Yet the question remains: how many body parts can be replaced before we no longer regard someone as fully human? A thumb-drive for a thumb? A video camera for an eye? A hydraulic arm? A clock-work knee joint?

Consider the “Ousters” of Dan Simmons’ epic sci-fi romances Hyperion and Endymion*. Humans, living for centuries in the dark spaces between the stars before the advent of faster than light travel, they modify themselves to fit their environment. The second wave of humans who preserve tradition among the stars are unable to see the Ousters as kin and so fail to accord them human rights.

How do your own ideas about creation and re-creation, about modification and evolution, affect your reading of the two core texts for Module A? Take some time to reflect in a personal response.

* I plan to write more about these wonderful novels in the context of the Extension 1 electives: Science Fiction, Romanticism and Crime Writing.

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The Area of Study Response, also known as Section 3 of Paper 1, is a particularly strange type of essay. In it, you are asked to synthesise ideas from a range of texts with your own personal response, addressing a specific question or statement, under an umbrella concept: Belonging. It’s not an easy thing to do but here are some hints to help you:

  1. Know your texts. This knowledge is demonstrated through quotes and close references, not through vague or sweeping generalisations;
  2. Engage with the question and the concept. Don’t just talk about the texts, try to develop a personal response to the idea of Belonging. This can be done through having a two part intro, the first part addressing the question/concept/issues raised, the second part introducing the texts. Continue this engagement throughout your response, which brings me to the next point;
  3. Develop an argument. The AoS is not a persuasive piece but having an argument can help to keep your writing focussed and structured. What is your own concept of Belonging? How has this been influenced by the portrayal or Belonging in your texts?
  4. Use the magic circle. Quote – Technique – Effect. Every body paragraph should do this at least once. Make clear and distinct links between the text being discussed, the technique used in the text and how that portrays an aspect of Belonging;
  5. Write clearly. Yes, English teachers love big words and complex sentence structures, but not when they obscure meaning. You are not James Joyce. Clarity is more important than verve (if you can have both, however, go ahead). Read your work aloud to check that it makes sense.

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