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The ETA has very helpfully put together a list of aspects of belonging. The list includes:

belonging through place

belonging through kinship

belonging through shared experience

belonging through shared culture

belonging through global networks

belonging through textual engagement

To this list my students added belonging through shared purpose, as this helped them to include many of their own experiences, including their experience of the HSC English classroom, to their resources for this study.

Remember to think outside the obvious as well. Belonging is also a word for a piece of property.

Please do not think that these are the only aspects of belonging you can refer to in your responses. They are a useful starting place but you must develop your own theses about belonging based on your own experience and texts. You can use these aspects in three main ways:

Section I: a common one mark question early in the first part of Paper One is “what aspect or type of belonging is represented or portrayed in this text? The ETA list can often supply you with an answer. For example, the poem “We Are Going” by Oodgeroo Noonuccal portrays belonging through place (more specifically, the connection between Indigenous Australians and country) and the loss of that belonging due to white settlement.

Section II: I mentioned in my last post that it is important for creative responses to have a thesis. The ETA list can help you to develop one. Which type of belonging does your character long to experience? Does he/she achieve it? How does the character feel about the outcome? For example, one of my students composed a lovely story about a gap year student feeling out of place in a remote African village but coming to terms with his isolation through a kinship ceremony, which made him feel connected to the tribe. His thesis was that one type of belonging could overcome a sense of not belonging.

Section III: when approaching your core and related texts, a good first question to ask is: which aspect of belonging (or not belonging) is portrayed here? For example, Emily Dickinson’s poetry often conveys the poet’s lack of shared experience and perspective with the people around her and her kinship with nature. Peter Skrzynecki’s poetry delves into the displacement felt by immigrants as well as their connection to their homeland and to those who have shared their experiences.

Remember when exploring ideas of belonging that NOT belonging is always implied as well. In a later post I will explore various forms of and words for not belonging to assist students in making their responses more fluent and elegant.

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Step Two: Write

The only way to get better at writing is to write. Preparatory writing for HSC English falls into four main categories: notes, personal responses, analytical responses, creative responses.

a. Notes. This includes annotations and notes on your texts (this should, ideally, be done during the second reading), summaries of chapters, poems, acts and brief records of class discussions and teacher talk. Notes can be in any form that works for you. Try lists, flow charts, mind maps, colour coding, illustrations etc.

b. Personal responses. Before you take detailed notes on the techniques in your texts or attempt an analytical response you need to clear up in your own mind what you think about the text. A personal responses is just that: personal. Try to compose personal responses in full sentences as I have often found some gems in my own personal responses which I have then been able to use in an analytical or creative response. If you’re having trouble getting started with a personal response consider the following prompts:

did you like the text? do you think you were the intended audience?

did anything in the text connect with your own life or experience?

were there any phrases or words that you found clever, funny, jarring…?

did you understand what the composer was trying to achieve?

c. Analytical responses. Practice questions abound and are easy to find online. Your teacher will no doubt also be plying you with questions to work on. If you do get stuck, google your module focus and quotes. eg. Belonging Quotes. The results can be used as inspiration for writing your own questions, theses and creative responses. They can also help you to clarify your own ideas about the focus of the module. Writing a practice analytical response doesn’t always mean sitting down and banging out a handwritten essay in a strictly timed forty minutes, although you should certainly do this as often as possible before the Trial HSC. Other useful exercises are:

write five thesis statements addressing five different questions in ten minutes.

write the introduction, making sure you attack the question explicitly, clearly state your thesis and introduce your texts in a meaningful way.

write a page in ten minutes.

write one body paragraph, attacking the question through one of your texts. Give yourself five to ten minutes to do this.

d. Creative responses. These don’t just have to be about Belonging. Composing a creative response for a module can help you to approach it from a different angle. For example, an exercise where you write a dialogue between Roy Batty from Blade Runner and Frankenstein’s Creature can help you to delve more deeply into the characters and develop empathy for them.

Some other ideas to try

put a quote about belonging (or history and memory, or conflicting perspectives) into the mouth of a character as a starting point.

recount an experience of your own that relates to one of the themes or scenes in your text.

use your shared knowledge of texts to engage the reader. eg. “No one would look at me, I felt just like Frankenstein’s creature.”

write a piece of fanfiction for one of your texts.

In the HSC your creative response needs a thesis so practice making a point in your creative writing. The best works make the reader think and reconsider their views.

When you have finished a piece of writing, creative or analytical, ask your teacher to look at it and give you some feedback, either written or during a short chat. If your teacher is swamped, ask a parent, older sibling or friend to read it. Then–now this is the hard part–take in the criticism and have another go. Your writing and your marks will love you for it.

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The composers of Frankenstein and Blade Runner both use non-human characters to shine a spotlight on the human experience. In addressing questions related to these texts we must ask ourselves, what are the fundamental needs, experiences and desires shared by human beings? We are all born, we all need nurturing, we all desire to know the answers to questions such as, ‘why am I here?’ ‘what is my purpose?’ We all want companionship at different levels, from acquaintances to friends to romance and sexual fulfillment. We are all aware, at some level, that we will one day die and we all fear that end of our existence, yet we all hope that something of ourselves, whether it be children or achievements or just moments in time, will live on after we are gone.

Thinking about these issues in relation to the characters and themes in key moments of both texts will help you to deepen your understanding of the texts and the module. Focus on scenes that have resonated with you as reader and viewer. Spend time reviewing them and journalling your responses. The more engaged you are with the texts and concepts of a module, the better your responses will be and, more importantly, the more you will enjoy it.

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Biblical allusion is a key technique in both texts for the Comparative Module: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Blade Runner directed by Ridley Scott. In an increasingly secular and multicultural country, it can no longer be assumed that students know the bible verses being alluded to in various texts. Here are some suggested verses and associated notes to help you out.

Matthew 6:22-23

The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness.

Of course eyes are a key motif in both texts. It is the creature’s eye opening that disgusts Victor. And it is Roy’s eye surveying the city (Los Angeles = City of Angels) at the beginning of the film. The above verse is one of the sources of the saying “the eye is the window to the soul”.

Unto the last generation

This phrase is used so often in the Bible I won’t bother to list all the references. Victor uses it to describe who will benefit from his creation: “all mankind to the last generation” (p4).

Deliver us from evil (part of the the Lord’s Prayer)

The creature says to Victor, “Yet it is within your power to recompense me, and deliver them from an evil.” This reinforces the notion that Victor is playing god.

Isaiah 14:12-15

“How you are fallen from heaven,
O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’
But you are brought down to Sheol,
to the far reaches of the pit.

First of all, isn’t that a beautiful piece of poetry? This passage is probably actually about Babylon but, since the Mediaeval period has been taken to describe Lucifer’s fall from heaven. This works beautifully with our texts in a number of ways. The Creature says to Victor, “I ought to have been thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel” (p118). The Prelude to Frankenstein quotes from Paradise Lost (check out Book 2 of Milton’s epic for a deeper understanding), which was clearly inspired by this chapter in the bible. Finally, Roy’s confrontation with Tyrell and subsequent death can be seen as an allegory of Lucifer’s challenging of god’s authority.

There is, of course, far more to it than that. In the film Roy can be linked with the prodigal son, Adam and–at his death–the crucified Christ. Key place names include (the already mentioned) Los Angeles and, in Frankenstein, ArchAngel and St Petersburg. Victor talks about Paradise and Providence. He describes his mother, Caroline, as a “guardian angel”. The Tyrell Corp building is a pagan pyramid, while the Swiss Alps are pictured as “domed” cathedrals.

Then there is the theological question raised by both texts: do the created beings (Frankenstein’s “daemon” and the replicant Roy Batty) have souls?

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Section One of Paper One is a great opportunity to gain marks quickly for a small amount of writing. Knowing how to address questions quickly and accurately can really save you precious exam time and save your poor writing hand as well. The best way to get good at these types of questions is to practise.

A few tips before you start:

  1. Tone is usually an emotion. The tone of a piece is NEVER “depressing” but it might be meloncholy or even just sad. The other way to think of tone is in terms of tone of voice. If the piece was to be read aloud, what kind of voice would the reader use?
  2. The word HOW in a question is asking you to identify a technique. EG Q: How does the composer create this tone? A: The composer creates a nostalgic tone through the use of the garden seat as a metaphor for the old man’s life <insert supporting quote here>.
  3. Each mark in a question equals one thing that the question wants. If it’s a three mark question it wants three things, it’s up to you to identify what those three things are. The exception is the last question which is usually worth five or six marks. This should be a mini essay.

Non-Fiction: Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
It may be asked how far I extend the doctrine of the modification of species. The question is difficult to answer, because the more distinct the forms are which we consider, by so much the arguments in favour of community of descent become fewer in number and less in force. But some arguments of the greatest weight extend very far. All the members of whole classes are connected together by a chain of affinities, and all can be classed on the same principle, in groups subordinate to groups. Fossil remains sometimes tend to fill up very wide intervals between existing orders.
Organs in a rudimentary condition plainly show that an early progenitor had the organ in a fully developed condition; and this in some cases implies an enormous amount of modification in the descendants. Throughout whole classes various structures are formed on the same pattern, and at a very early age the embryos closely resemble each other. Therefore I cannot doubt that the theory of descent with modification embraces all the members of the same great class or kingdom. I believe that animals are descended from at most only four or five progenitors, and plants from an equal or lesser number.

Questions

  1. What is the purpose of this extract? (1 mark)
  2. Which aspect of Belonging is being discussed? (2 marks)
  3. What are the connotations of Darwin’s ideas for human communities? (3 marks)

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I have been thinking about which texts I would use for this Area of Study. I have been intermittently reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. Intermittently because of its heartbreaking nature. I need other texts with lighter subject matter in between bouts of pure grief and the deeper joy that comes after. It is a wonderful but also a difficult text. Dave’s interior monologues as his mother dies are pure agony to read because they are so realistic. His easy going relationship with his younger brother swings between self indulgence and intense concern. I won’t write any more about this book because I don’t think I can analyse its eclectic techniques effectively within the confines of the Area of Study.

A shorter text which I think will work well is Primo Levi’s Iron, Potassium, Nickel. It, too, is a memoir, chronicling Levi’s experiences from working at the Chemical Institute in Italy, through the exploitation of his skills by his enemies, to his seeing out the war in a concentration camp. The other text I’m thinking of is one of Shaun Tan’s picture book. The Arrival would be good, but so would The Red Tree, The Lost Thing or Tales from Outer Suburbia. The images from the Belonging WebQuest is an excellent place to get started with an analysis of Shaun Tan’s work and I’ve really enjoyed exploring it.

An unusual suggestion which came up during a search I was doing yesterday is The St Crispin’s Day Speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V. The aspect of Belonging being portrayed is shared experience, in this case; war.

Being Shakespeare, this has lots of great language techniques to analyse, which is what I’m looking for in a related text.

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During discussion in class today a student asked, “isn’t that the one where they randomly burst into song?” He was, of course, referring to one of my chosen appropriations, the Bollywood film, Bride and Prejudice (see previous post for an example of a musical number from the film). This got me thinking about the links between the cultural context of a text, the values portrayed (and questioned) in the text and the narrative and stylistic conventions of the genre. Characters randomly burst into song because it is a Bollywood film, not because it is an appropriation of a Jane Austen novel.

Similarly, Bridget Jones chronicles her weight loss and gain and smoking and drinking habits as well as the ups and downs of her love life, not because she is supposed to be a modern Elizabeth Bennett but because she a single woman of a certain age. What she shares with Lizzy (and with Bride‘s Lalita) is the pressure to marry and to marry well. In all three texts marriage equals social mobility, something that is valued across the three texts and their cultures.

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