English Awards 2014 – Jess Fox (Y12)

Such was the quality of outstanding work last year, that it has taken me these past three months to determine which student should receive the coveted English award in Y12.

Nevertheless, after careful deliberation, deep discussion and much delay, the Award for Literary Criticism must go to Jess Fox.

Jess is another student of both Language and Literature, or ‘lifers’ as we like to call them. Jess’ analytic skill to extract the deeper meaning of a text is superb, often finding connotations and inferences from the tiniest device. When offering her insights to the class, I often have little else to say than “I didn’t think of that, and damn it I wished that I had.” Furthermore, her knowledge of literary techniques and stylistic features add another layer to her written expression, meaning that she not only looks/acts like a post-graduate student, she sounds like one too. Jess also has the extraordinary ability to inspire others to consider alternative interpretations of a text, especially existential, philosophical and feminist perspectives. Finally, in addition to the wonderful work she completes during her English lessons, her outstanding ability to laugh at all our terrible jokes with conviction and say ‘good morning’ and ‘thank you’ on a daily basis, means that she is a ruddy decent person.

A spiffing section from her truly splendiferous essay on war literature can be found below:

“With physical devastation, Hemingway takes a blunt tone, whereas Faulks uses emotive language to connect with the reader. Physical devastation is present in A Farewell to Arms when Henry is underneath a canvas-covered dying man, and refers to him as ‘the canvas above’. Hemingway’s dehumanisation of the injured man creates a harsh truth – that the man is dying, and cannot be saved; he makes him an inanimate object, represented by something else – perhaps as reference to the collective dead soldiers represented only as a war. The man is covered, which could represent people at the time turning a blind eye to death in favour of victory. Wilfred Owen uses this technique in ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’, when he describes the young boys as ‘like old beggars in sacks’ – both sacks and blankets suggest a covering of truth.

Faulks, however, captures physical devastation in the personification used to describe the young soldier Stephen encounters in the hospital – ‘a bundle of screaming blankets’. The contrast in the symbolised meaning of blankets – security and comfort – and the reality of pain shows that he’s being cared for, but he’s still in pain and still going to die; describing the boy as an inanimate object also foreshadows his death, when he too will become inanimate – maybe he was only seen as an object to begin with. Pat Wheeler states Birdsong ‘could do without much of this symbolism as the strength of Faulks’ writing lies in his lyrical prose’, and his prose is what makes the book appeal to the modern day reader, but the notable symbolism in Birdsong is arguably what makes the book; creating meaning and connecting the novel, whilst linking to the different views of the war itself. That being said, against Hemingway’s brevity, Faulks’ ‘lyrical prose’ is shown to be a way of influencing his audience; the use of emotive language – ‘screaming’ – is there to steer emotion and show the passive, modern day reader how bad it was, as they see and hear of violence almost on a daily basis, and can forget that to these soldiers, violence wasn’t a norm, but an extreme. Hemingway, however, writing just after the war, could be brief and just as shocking, as the reader knew what had happened – it was a recent memory, and the lack of emotion puts forward a broken, experienced narrator with it.”

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