Year 12 English Literature Summer Tasks 2015

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There is a wealth of evidence which shows that students who are widely read, achieve higher grades than those who do not. Past experience here at Samuel Whitbread has proved that, in English Literature (and Language) at A Level, there is a clear correlation between the breadth of reading a student has undertaken and ultimate grades. Shockingly, every year, there are students who opt to study English at A Level who claim not to read at all . Without fail, these students struggle to accomplish the written tasks to the same standard as their peers who are keen readers of a variety of texts.

The benefits of reading are huge: not only does it increase your fluency in spelling, punctuation and grammar (since you unconsciously pick up correct English usage) but also you are exposed to a wide range of writing forms and styles. For example, you will find it extremely difficult to analyse the similarities and differences in different texts if you have no experience of different styles and genres. Similarly, you need to read historical articles and critical theory to enhance your argument and achieve the higher bands in your coursework.

You will be given a list of set texts to answer for your coursework question and the exam. However, the more confident you are with the different writing techniques and narrative structures, the easier you will find comparing, analysing and re-creating texts. If you intend to go on to University, whatever your course, then you will be expected to read widely in order to increase your subject knowledge.

It really is foolish to embark upon an English course with the attitude that “I’m not really a reader” – NOW is the time to change that and become one. The tasks you are expected to undertake are designed so that you will encounter a range of genres and build a portfolio fiction beyond the range you have encountered so far; furthermore, you will be expected to research and collate contextual and critical readings of texts.

Your teachers WILL check you have undertaken these tasks and this will highlight your commitment to the course.

Enjoy your reading, have a happy holidays!

Essay Texts and Topics Complete ONE of these essay questions based on your reading of ONE of the texts. Your essay must not exceed 1500 words and should include information regarding the social, cultural and historical context of when the texts were produced. You must include quotations, analyse the language and explore the different responses of the reader. Finally, try to include literary terms in your analysis (please see Glossary of Poetic and Literary Terms).

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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  • How does Gatsby represent the American dream? What does the novel have to say about the condition of the American dream in the 1920s?

OR

  • Compare and contrast Gatsby and Tom. How are they alike? How are they different?

OR

Beloved by Toni Morrison

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  • Discuss the ways in which beloved conveys the threat or presence of death.

OR

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams

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  • Explain Williams’ use of motifs, names and stage directions. How does that help our understanding of the characters?

OR

  • Compare the relationships between Brick, Maggie, Big Daddy and Big Momma throughout the play. How are they alike? How are they different?

Introduction to Literary Criticism – these tasks are OPTIONAL For this section, you need to read, then print and keep, a selection of literary criticism in a portfolio. You will be expected to produce this for your teacher. You should continue to add to this as the course progresses.

  1. Read ‘Schulz: Why I Despise The Great Gatsby’ by Kathryn Schulz. Highlight and summarise the main points of her argument:  http://www.vulture.com/2013/05/schulz-on-the-great-gatsby.html
  2.  Read ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: Tennessee Williams’s southern discomfort’ by Michael Billington and explain his views on previous stage adaptations of the play: http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2012/sep/30/cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof
  3. Read ‘The Literary Merits of Potter’ by Ryan Britt. Highlight and summarise the main elements of both sides of the argument presented. Furthermore, post a comment at the bottom of the webpage explaining your opinion of whether ‘Harry Potter’ should be considered as English Literature: http://www.tor.com/blogs/2011/06/genre-in-the-mainstream-the-literary-merits-of-potter
  4. Research and collate two separate pieces of literary criticism on your favourite novel.
  5.  Find at least one piece of literary criticism for each of the set texts for the course.
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Year 12 English Language Summer Tasks 2015

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There is a wealth of evidence which shows that students who are widely read achieve higher grades than those who do not. Past experience here at Samuel Whitbread has proved that, in English Literature and Language at A Level, there is a clear correlation between the breadth of reading a student has undertaken and ultimate grades. Shockingly, every year, there are students who opt to study English at A Level who claim not to read at all . Without fail, these students struggle to accomplish the written tasks to the same standard as their peers who are keen readers of a variety of texts.

The benefits of reading are huge: not only does it increase your fluency in spelling, punctuation and grammar (since you unconsciously pick up correct English usage) but also you are exposed to a wide range of writing forms and styles. For example, you will find it extremely difficult to analyse the similarities and differences in different texts if you have no experience of different styles and genres. Similarly, you need to read historical articles and critical theory to enhance your argument and achieve the higher bands in your coursework.

If you intend to go on to University, whatever your course, then you will be expected to read widely in order to increase your subject knowledge. It really is foolish to embark upon an English course with the attitude that “I’m not really a reader” – NOW is the time to change that and become one.

The tasks you are expected to undertake are designed so that you will encounter a range of genres and build a portfolio fiction beyond the range you have encountered so far; furthermore, you will be expected to research and collate contextual and critical readings of texts.

Your teachers WILL check you have undertaken these tasks and this will highlight your commitment to the course.

Enjoy your reading, have a happy holidays!

Essay Texts and Topics

Complete ONE of these essay questions. Your essay must not exceed 1500 words and should include information regarding the social and cultural context of the issues. You must include quotations, analyse the language and explore the different responses of the reader or the opinion of the author. Finally, explain your own opinions on the subjects, based on any independent research you have done.

ANSWER EITHER

Question 1 on American English (AmE)

OR

Question 2 on Standard English and Varieties

OR

Question 3 on Political Correctness

Question 1

 Read Text A, below, and Text B. Text A is an article published on the website MailOnline in 2010. Text B is a response sent in by a reader.

  • Analyse and evaluate how these two texts use language to present ideas about the influence of American English.
  • Evaluate these ideas about the influence of American English and argue your opinion of the topic. (45 marks)

Text A

Say no to the get-go! Americanisms swamping English, so wake up and smell the coffee

By MATTHEW ENGEL

Last updated at 10:01 PM on 29th May 2010

It happened early this month, shortly after the first cuckoo. I heard it, I swear I heard it. The first get-go of spring. It was on the BBC Breakfast programme on May 11: a presenter was wittering, and distinctly said that something-or-other had been clear ‘from the get-go’.

From the what?

Actually, I know all about the get-go or, worse still, the git-go. It’s an ugly Americanism, meaning ‘from the start’ or ‘from the off’. It adds nothing to Britain’s language but it’s here now, like the grey squirrel, destined to drive out native species and ravage the linguistic ecosystem.

We have to be realistic: languages grow. The success of English comes from its adaptability and the British have been borrowing words from America for at least two centuries.

Old buffers like me have always complained about the process, and we have always been defeated.

In 1832, the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was fulminating about the ‘vile and barbarous’ new adjective that had just arrived in London. The word was ‘talented’. It sounds innocuous enough to our ears, as do ‘reliable’, ‘influential’ and ‘lengthy’, which all inspired loathing when they first crossed the Atlantic.

But the process gathered speed with the arrival of cinema and television in the 20th Century. And in the 21st it seems unstoppable. The U.S.-dominated computer industry, with its ‘licenses’, ‘colors’ and ‘favorites’ is one culprit. That ties in with mobile phones that keep ‘dialing’ numbers that are always ‘busy’.

My dictionary (a mere 12 years old) defines ‘geek’ as an American circus freak or, in Australia, ‘a good long look’. We needed a word to describe someone obsessively interested in computer technology. It seems a shame there was never any chance of coining one ourselves.

Nowadays, people have no idea where American ends and English begins. And that’s a disaster for our national self-esteem. We are in danger of subordinating our language to someone else’s – and with it large aspects of British life.

And so, hi guys, hel-LO, wake up and smell the coffee. We need to distinguish between the normal give-and-take of linguistic development and being overrun – through our own negligence and ignorance – by rampant cultural imperialism.

We are all guilty. In the weeks after 9/11 (or 11/9, as I prefer to call it), British journalists, and I was one of them, solemnly reported that the planes had been hijacked by men waving box-cutters, even though no one in Britain knew what a box-cutter was. Very few of us bothered to explain that these were what we have always called Stanley knives.

But it is time to fight back. The battle is almost uncertainly unwinnable but I am convinced there are millions of intelligent Britons out there who wince as often as I do every time they hear a witless Americanism introduced into British discourse.

Stand up and say you care. Feel free to write with your favourite horrors. Come out of the closet. Or better still, the cupboard.

EL’S TERRIBLE TEN

HOSPITALISE (or worse still hospitalize): It’s bad enough going to hospital, without being accompanied by this hideous word.

FAZE:It doesn’t faze me (even when it’s spelt ‘phase’), especially as it’s useful in Scrabble. It’s just downright irritating.

MOVIES: Can we please watch a film? Or go to the pictures? Or the flicks?

TRUCK: It deserves to get run over by a lorry.

A HIKE: Is a nice walk in the country, not a wage, price or tax rise.

THE FINGER: If I cut you up on the motorway, would you mind showing your feelings by sticking up two fingers, the British way? Thank you.

DO THE MATH: No, do the maths, for Heaven’s sake.

ROOKIES: In Britain, they are big birdies, not newcomers.

OUTAGE: An American power cut, now in use in a newspaper near you. I always read it as ‘outrage’.

MONKEY WRENCH: An adjustable spanner, if you please.

Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk. 2010. [Accessed 20th July 2011].

Text B

Mr Engel, Please be assured that you are not alone! My pet hate is the way that any pc is configured to US English as standard. Of course it can be told to use UK English but mine have always had a tendancy to reset to US. Any other language can be removed from the memory but American is there for good. If anyone can tell me a reliable way to purge it from my pcs PLEASE post: everything I’ve tried so far says it will remove it at the next reboot but it never does.

– Harry, Huddersfield, 30/5/2010 00:49

Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk. 2010. [Accessed 20th July 2011].

Question 2

Read Text C, below, and Text D. They are from The Queen’s English Society website and argue the need for an English Academy.

  • Analyse and evaluate the ways these two texts use language to present their ideas about the use of English.
  • Evaluate the ideas of the Queen’s English Society and argue your opinion of the topic. (45 marks)

Text C

Why The QES is PRESCRIPTIVIST

 The Prescriptivists prescribe how the language should be used. They insist on the application of certain time-proven rules of usage that have developed over the ages and have been found to give the language form and style.

The Descriptivists describe how the language is used. They consider to be correct anything that is said or written. For them, if that is how the language is generally used at any given time, that is deemed to be correct English.

So fundamentally, for the Descriptivists, any liberty that is frequently and widely enough taken with the language is acceptable. The power of numbers carries the day regardless of the effect. It is fairly obvious to anyone with a “feel” for the language that the “prescriptivist” version is immeasurably less clumsy and more elegant. However, the barrier between the “descriptivist” and “prescriptivist” perception is not impermeable. Through a process of osmosis, the “prescriptivist” language, in time, absorbs elements of the “descriptivist”. This is what is loosely called the “evolution” of the language. The question is, how rapidly should this process be permitted to occur? The answer to this question is, in other languages, provided by academies of the language. Unfortunately, English has never had any such academy and that is the omission that The Queen’s English Society hopes in time to make good.

Now where does the QES stand on this issue? Consider for one moment the name of the Society — The Queen’s English Society. It is not a society that is concerned with English in all its many registers, forms and varieties although it does, for the sake of completeness, devote space to considering American English, Other English and Foreign English. This society promotes “The Queen’s English”. What is the Queen’s English? It is a form of cultured English considered to be that used by the English Monarch — formerly The King’s English, currently The Queen’s English and, at some time in the future, it will probably again become the King’s English. Certainly, our present Monarch does the language justice and Prince Charles will, if he succeeds her, continue to do so. Whether this style of English will survive the reign of Prince William is something that only a future generation will know for his speech currently carries heavy overtones of the relatively new Southern English accent known as Estuary or Essex English.

The fact remains that the QES defends The Queen’s English and therefore prescribes that style of usage. That is why even learned linguists cannot necessarily subscribe to the principles of the Queen’s English Society if they are “Descriptivists” at heart. But the QES cannot change its approach or its whole purpose would be lost and it does, at least, as it stands, provide a yardstick by which other forms of English can be measured. That is why it deserves to have “Academy” status. Once established and recognised as such, it will, from that position of authority, be able to consider how the language can be cautiously allowed to evolve in order to absorb into its accepted usage some of the innovations and deviations proposed by the “Descriptivists”.

Source: http://www.queens-english-society.com/prescriptivist.html

Text D

THE PEOPLE’S ENGLISH

IGNORANCE OR CARELESSNESS?

The Queen’s English Society devotes considerable time and effort to promoting the use of good English. It also bemoans the decline in educational standards. This is not a vain endeavour. The standard of English among the populace gives cause for grave concern.

While the Rogues’ Gallery aims to name and shame public figures, trend-setters and others who should know better, this page simply provides a number of examples of the absolutely appalling level of English used by “ordinary” people. A very revealing source of such language is the “Letters to the Editor” section on the Internet sites of some of the popular British tabloid newspapers.

It may be argued that some of the errors are just “typos” – typing errors – and that the writers would have known that they were wrong had they only reread their text. And there lies one of the reasons for the shoddy standard of written English. People are far too careless and do not reread what they have written. Everyone – even the most accomplished person – is prone to committing errors when writing but the educated person will pick up and correct those errors on rereading the text. Indeed, the author of this piece (and of many other contributions to this site) found many typos and spelling mistakes on rereading his own work which, by careful spell-checking and scrutiny, he removed before publication. This is nothing to be ashamed of – it is normal, to err is human – but to let such errors pass is inexcusable.

However, many of the worst errors are not misspellings but are gross grammatical errors – breaches of the very basic rules of English that any child should have learnt at school by the age of 15. Yet the letters that are published presumably come from persons well over that age. No-one expects or requires average citizens to be literary geniuses but a minimum level of respect for the conventions of the language – and for the readers can be expected! If a statement is worth making, it is worth making in a clear, correct and coherent manner – or it should not be made at all for the message will be lost in the medium!

Example

Original Version

how many poor hardworking people have through no fault of their own had their homes repossed in the past 12 months? how many elderly people during last winter went cold because they could’nt afford their gas bills? GREED is the word i think we are all looking for, GREED GREED GREED one of the seven deadly sins, i work many hrs on minimum wage to pay my way in this crappy country and im so glad i can sleep at night knowing that i am an honest person

Corrected version

How many poor hardworking people have, through no fault of their own, had their homes repossessed in the past 12 months? How many elderly people during last winter went cold because they couldn’t afford their gas bills? GREED is the word I think we are all looking for, GREED GREED GREED, one of the seven deadly sins. I work many hours on a minimum wage to pay my way in this crappy country and I’m so glad I can sleep at night knowing that I am an honest person.

Explanation:

 Too lazy to capitalise the 1st letter of a sentence or the pronoun “I”. Spelling. Apostrophe problems: im (I’m) and could’nt (couldn’t). And punctuation just does not exist in this writer’s world

Source: http://www.queens-english-society.com/peoplesenglish.html

Question 3

Read Text E, below, and Text F. Text E is an extract from an article published in The Daily Telegraph in 2008. Text F is an article published in the Daily Mail in 2009.

  • Analyse and evaluate how these two texts use language to present their ideas about the events and issues they report.
  •  Evaluate these ideas about politically correct language and argue your opinion of the topic. (45 marks)

Text E

The phrase Old Masters is sexist, authors and students are told

Publishers and universities are outlawing dozens of seemingly innocuous words in case they cause offence.

Banned phrases on the list, which was originally drawn up by sociologists, include Old Masters, which has been used for centuries to refer to great painters – almost all of whom were in fact male.

It is claimed that the term discriminates against women and should be replaced by “classic artists”.

The list of banned words was written by the British Sociological Association, whose members include dozens of professors, lecturers and researchers.

The list of allegedly racist words includes immigrants, developing nations and black, while so-called “disablist” terms include patient, the elderly and special needs.

It comes after one council outlawed the allegedly sexist phrase “man on the street”, and another banned staff from saying “brainstorm” in case it offended people with epilepsy. However the list of “sensitive” language is said by critics to amount to unwarranted 5 10 15 20 25 censorship and wrongly assume that people are offended by words that have been in use for years.

Prof Frank Furedi, a sociologist at the University of Kent, said he was shocked when he saw the extent of the list and how readily academics had accepted it.

“I was genuinely taken aback when I discovered that the term ‘Chinese Whisper’ was offensive because of its apparently racist connotations. I was moved to despair when I found out that one of my favourite words, ‘civilised’, ought not be used by a culturally sensitive author because of its alleged racist implications.”

Prof Furedi said that censorship is about the “policing of moral behaviour” by an army of campaign groups, teachers and media organisations who are on a “crusade” to ban certain words and promote their own politically correct alternatives.

He said people should see the efforts to ban certain words as the “coercive regulation” of everyday language and the “closing down of discussions” rather than positive attempts to protect vulnerable groups from offence.

Source: adapted from Martin BeckfordThe Daily Telegraph, 15 September 20087 H/Jan12/ENGA3

Text F

EU bans use of ‘Miss’ and ‘Mrs’ (and sportsmen and statesmen) because it claims they are sexist

Using ‘Miss’ and ‘Mrs’ has been banned by leaders of the European Union because they are not considered politically correct.

Brussels bureaucrats have decided the words are sexist and issued new guidelines in its bid to create ‘gender-neutral’ language.

The booklet warns European politicians they must avoid referring to a woman’s marital status. Instead of using the standard titles, it is asking MEPs to address women by their names.

And the rules have not stopped there – they also ban MEPs saying sportsmen and statesmen, advising athletes and political leaders should be used instead.

Man-made is also taboo – it should be artificial or synthetic, firemen is disallowed and air hostesses should be called flight attendants.

Headmasters and headmistresses must be heads or head teachers, laymen becomes layperson, and manageress or mayoress should be manager or mayor.

Police officers must be used instead of policeman and policewoman unless the officer’s sex is relevant.

The only problem words that do not fit into the guidelines are waiter and waitress, which means MEPs are at least spared one worry when ordering a coffee.

They have reacted with incredulity to the booklet, which has been sent out by the Secretary General of the European Parliament.

Scottish Tory MEP Struan Stevenson described the guidelines as ‘political correctness gone mad’.

He said: ‘This is frankly ludicrous. We’ve seen the EU institutions try to ban the bagpipes and dictate the shape of bananas, but now they seem determined to tell us which words we are entitled to use in our own language.

‘Gender-neutrality is really the last straw. The Thought Police are now on the rampage in the European Parliament.

‘We will soon be told that the use of the words “man” or “woman” has been banned in case it causes offence to those who consider ‘gender neutrality’ an essential part of life.’

West Midlands Conservative MEP Philip Bradbourn is calling on the Secretary General to reveal who authorised the publication of the booklet and how much it has cost.

He described it as ‘a waste of taxpayers’ money’ and ‘an erosion of the English language as we know it’.

‘I will have no part of it. I will continue to use my own language and expressions, which I have used all my life, and will not be instructed by this institution or anyone else in these matters,’ he said.

‘I shall also expect the many translators who sit in the European parliament to translate accurately the language I use. I find this publication offensive in the extreme.

‘The Parliament, by the publication of this document, is not only bringing itself as an institution into more disrepute than it already suffers, but it is also showing that it has succumbed to the politically correct clap‑trap currently in vogue.’

Source: Daily Mail online, 16 March 2009

Of Mice and Men – Exemplar essay of Curley

Part (a)  How does Steinbeck present the character of Curley in this extract? Refer closely to the passage in your answer.

Part (b)  In the novel as a whole, how are violence and hostility portrayed? How do these link to the economic and social conditions of 1930s America?

curley analysis

Part A)

In the extract, Steinbeck uses vivid description of Curley’s physical appearance, speech, personality and the reactions of other key characters to present him as a character whom the reader immediately dislikes. Curley’s status as the boss’s son is emphasised by his clothing; he wears “high-heeled boots” as a reflection of his high status on the ranch. Steinbeck uses the phrase “tightly curled” to describe his hair, a description which aptly represents his personality too – a tightly coiled, volatile character who is always ready to spring into violent action.

Curley’s speech is blunt and direct, even to characters like George and Lennie, whom he has yet to meet. His first piece of dialogue is a direct question which requires a response from the others – “Seen my old man?” – which places him in control of the environment. He then asserts that he will try to “catch” the boss. The use of the verb “catch” here, whilst slang, implies that Curley is a predatory character, always looking to catch others out verbally and physically.

Upon encountering George and Lennie, Curley’s personality is revealed to be guarded yet simultaneously aggressive. Steinbeck uses the adverb “coldly” to suggest that he is emotionally uncaring. Curley’s aggressive stance causes Lennie to “twist with embarrassment.” As the reader has been positioned to empathise with the innocent Lennie over the last chapter, Curley’s actions towards him make him instantly dislikeable. The reader is told that Curley is a boxer, and he continually seems to carry himself in a guarded manner – the phrase “stiffened and went into a slight crouch” describes a boxer’s stance. However, it is clear that Curley guards himself not only against physical threat but also emotional connection – Steinbeck describes his glance to Lennie as “calculating and pugnacious”. Curley evidently sizes Lennie up as a potential physical threat (which links to why he steps “gingerly” towards Lennie – he is clearly wary of Lennie’s size and strength) but also subsequently alienates the other characters through his actions.

George’s attitude towards Curley is typical of that of many of the other males on the ranch – “say, what the hell’s he got on his shoulder?” Steinbeck intends for the reader, too, to perceive characters through the lens of George’s perspective, and as George judges Curley as superior and cruel, so too does the reader. This links to Candy’s assessment of Curley, who laments that he “won’t ever get canned ‘cause his old man’s the boss.” Curley’s entitlement alienates him from other characters on the ranch, so perhaps in some ways he is not dissimilar to other characters in the novel who exist as ‘loners’. However, Curley is different in that his callous personality is the cause of his own isolation.

Part B:

Curley’s callousness is emblematic of an era of American society in which life was cruel and often vicious; in the novel, this is certainly true for working class males. Whilst many male characters are aggressive and chauvinistic, some characters demonstrate more progressive attitudes. The era of violence and mistrust in 1930s America was a product of the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression, which left many young men out of work and poverty-stricken. The resulting boom in itinerant work indirectly leads to the entitled attitudes of landowners such as the boss and his son, Curley, as well as the aggressive and isolated attitudes of the workers themselves, such as Carlson. George states that “guys like us got no family”, suggesting the isolation of many males in his and Lennie’s position. Carlson and Candy are the best examples of generational isolation – Carlson’s results in violence; he taunts Curley (“you’re as yella as a frog belly”) over his cowardice, is obsessed with his “luger” and even shoots Candy’s dog, simply because “he stinks” and is old and useless. On the other hand, Candy’s forced isolation leads to depression and weakness (“they’ll can me when they got no more use for me”). In both cases, the harshness of the characters’ society leads them to become emotionally deprived. This is emphasised by Steinbeck’s choice of the last line of the novel – “Now what do you suppose is eatin’ them two guys?” – in which he demonstrates how Carlson is so affected by society’s harshness that he cannot recognise George’s obvious emotion at having shot his best friend.

Male attitudes to sex and females are also shown to be damaging throughout the novel. Again, Curley is the prime example of this. His reaction to his wife’s death is not one of mourning, but of anger and the excitement of vengeance – “I know who done it… I’m gonna get him.” This is indicative of the chauvinistic attitudes towards women in the 1930s, who were viewed as sexual objects by men and, after marriage, as property. Indeed, Curley only ever refers to his wife in those terms, not naming her and, thus, dehumanising her. Other references to females in the novel are similarly chauvinistic. The male workers travel to “cat-houses” in town (popular during the Great Depression amongst migrant workers) to “get it all out of their system.” The fact that males simply use females as sexual gratification and as a means to stave off loneliness implies how little they are valued by males in society.

However, attitudes of characters such as George and, in particular, Slim, suggest that male attitudes can be more progressive than those defined by a cruel society. George takes care of Lennie like a brother or a father, thus demonstrating more love and care than the majority of male characters in the novel. Slim notes how “I hardly ever see guys travel together”, a statement which holds historical accuracy, mainly due to the unstable nature of itinerant work. Slim, too, is compassionate and caring towards his workers and even to the marginalised characters like Curley’s wife and Crooks. He is one of the few characters to pay Curley’s wife a compliment (“Hey, good lookin’”) and addresses Crooks not by a racial slur, but by his name. Even though Slim holds authority as the “prince of the ranch”, he has a balanced attitude towards this authority, and values kindness above aggression and violence. In many ways, the description of Slim as an old-fashioned rancher and cowboy, complete with “Stetson” and “bullwhip”, present him as the last survivor of a better time for American males, in which skills and character were valued ahead of the scramble for labour and physical dominance brought on by the Great Depression.

The Woman in Black – AQA Literature Past Papers

Please find below all of The Woman in Black questions from the AQA Literature exam. As you can see, the questions focus on a range of topics, including themes, characterisation, setting, structure and narrative perspective. In your exam there will be a choice of two questions on this novel; you must answer only one. If you are sitting the higher paper you will just see the two questions. In the foundation paper, you will find an additional set of bullet points to support you (see below).

It is really important that you spend no more than 45 minutes on your one question, leaving enough time to answer the question on Of Mice and Men or To Kill a Mockingbird. Within this short time frame, you should aim to write 3-5 analytic paragraphs answering the question.

How to answer the question:

  • You will be asked to closely analyse the methods and techniques used by Hill to create a particular atmosphere, describe an important setting, convey a particular theme or present an interesting character. It is imperative that you think carefully about why Hill has chosen specific words and images, and the effect this creates in the reader. For this question, really ZOOM IN on the connotations of language and feelings presented.
  • To achieve the highest marks, you will have to ZOOM OUT and explain how different parts of the novel link to the question. Furthermore, you can explore how Susan Hill uses literary conventions from the Gothic genre and how this creates tension for the modern reader.

The question is marked out of 30, with four marks being awarded for accurate and sophisticated spelling, punctuation and grammar. Therefore, please ensure that you edit your work in the final few minutes of the exam, correcting simple mistakes.

Finally, feel free to attempt any of the following questions and add your response in the comments section. I will happily mark all answers and provide you with feedback.

Sir

Enjoy!

 

  1. How effective is the first chapter, ‘Christmas Eve’ in introducing characters and ideas which are important to the novel as a whole?
  2. Write about two places in the novel where setting is important to the story.
  • Describe these places and briefly say what happens in each of them.
  • Say why they are important to the story, explain the atmosphere of each place and what the writer wants the reader to think or feel.
  • Explain how successful she has been. Give your reasons.
  1. Explore how Hill creates fear in the chapter ‘Whistle and I’ll Come To You’?
  2. How does Susan Hill explore the theme of revenge in this novel? You should make detailed reference to Christian beliefs and moral attitudes Of the time and the language used to express these ideas in the novel.
  3. Arthur Kipps is both the narrator and a central character in the ghost story. How does he change from the young lawyer about to travel to Crythin Gifford to the middle-aged step-father who feels compelled to write his story?
  4. Consider Kipps’ role in The Woman In Black and how effectively Hill portrays him.
  5. Choose two of the following characters and write about their importance in the novel:
  • Mr Bentley, Mr Samuel Daily, the landlord Of the Gifford Arms, Keckwick.
  • Write about their role in the novel, referring to what they say or do.
  • Write about what Kipps thinks about them.
  • Write about what you think about them and their role.
  1. Why do you think Susan Hill called her story ‘The Woman In Black’? How effective is it as a title?
  • Write about the appearance and the importance of the ghost in the story.
  • Write about religious beliefs at the time.
  • Explain your feelings about what she does and her intentions.
  1. A critic described ‘The Woman In Black’ as a ‘rattling good yarn, the sort that chills the mind as well as the spine.’ What methods does Hill use to create suspense and tensions in the novel?
  2. Write about two episodes in the novel that you think are frightening.

Write about:

  • What happens
  • The techniques used by Hill to frighten the reader.
  • Why you think these events are important.
  1. Near the start of the novel Arthur Kipps says ‘l did not believe in ghosts.’ How does Hill show the way Arthur changes during the novel?

Write about:

  • What happens to Arthur and how these things change him
  • The methods Hill uses to show the changes in Arthur.

 

SAMPLE ESSAY ANSWER: How effective is the first chapter, ‘Christmas Eve’ in introducing characters and ideas which are important to the novel as a whole?

The first chapter introduces the narrator, Arthur Kipps, during a happy, family occasion, on Christmas Eve. Initially, the language used to introduce him is filled with positive images of “happy, festive” times, his “lightening heart” and his oneness with his natural surroundings. Yet there are clues from the very first that he may have a less than happy past: his home bears the name ‘Monk’s Piece’, which has connotations of monastic solitude, suggesting he may have chosen it to shut himself away from the world, whilst ‘Piece’ is also a homophone for ‘Peace’ suggesting he has sought peace in his life at this place. When he refers to “the long shadows cast by the events of the past”, the reader is immediately intrigued as to what these may be: the metaphor of shadows implies something dark and unpleasant, whilst ‘long shadows’ suggest that this is in the distant past, something that has troubled him for many years.

Kipps’ description of his wife, Esme, and his step-children, introduce the theme of family bonds and the security and happiness one finds from these. Kipps comments how he enjoys “the happy company of my family” and how they give him “an uprush of well-being”. This is most likely a familiar feeling for the reader but we are also aware that he has been widowed earlier and this makes us wonder whether his dark shadows are somehow linked to his first wife. The idea of family bonds is repeated later when Hill introduces the tragic tale of Jennet Humfrye, torn from her son’s life and kept away from him, unable to share the mother-child bond. As the story unfolds, the reader cannot help but notice the difference between Kipps’ happy family life and that of the woman in black. Kipps too suffers the agony of losing those dearest to him though he finds a second chance at happiness with Esme, even though it can never be as deeply fulfilling as that first marriage and his own blood-child.

In this chapter, Hill also outlines the archetype of the Victorian gothic ghost story when Kipps describes the family telling traditional ghost stories, including the “inner locked rooms”, “footsteps creaking on staircases”, “swirling mists and sudden winds” and “curses upon heirs”. She later invokes all of these features in her novel, so that the reader becomes immersed in the genre she has set out for us to explore. Those already familiar with the genre, will already be expecting the pleasurable thrill of fear from this type of story and the methods of bringing suspense to the page. She also uses this to underline that Kipps recognises in these Stories, an element of reality that he alone can relate to, being “set apart” and “an outsider” since he has experienced these things for himself. Hill describes the “rising flood of memory”, a metaphor for the build-up of suppressed terror that he has never been able to address since losing Stella and Joseph. Although the reader does not know his story, this acts as a signal that he will shortly allow us to hear his tale.

Another theme that is introduced in this chapter is that of good and evil and how the power of religious belief can bring peace. Kipps, struggling to compose his emotions in this chapter, is driven to prayer, “a simple, heartfelt prayer” and also recalls a poem of religious significance, which helps to calm him. This is later echoed when, having left Eel Marsh House he contemplates the events he witnessed there and realized “there were forces for good and those for evil doing battle together.” Whilst the novel is intended to reflect the flourishing Christian ethos of its time-setting, it also invites the reader to decide whether good and evil, right and wrong, are simple black-and-white concepts.

As we investigate the morality of Jennet’s enforced separation from her child, then we begin to question whether the Christian belief of the time, that a child born out of wedlock should be taken from its ‘sinful’ mother, was a morally right one or not.

By opening the story at Christmas time, with its focus on the family and togetherness, the events that unfold in Kipps’ story are all the more contrasted as they focus on families torn apart and the inability to forgive, a most un-Christian sentiment.

The IGCSE Language Exam (Reading)

good luck The CIE IGCSE (0522) English Language reading paper is fast approaching. Please do not panic, as you will be thoroughly prepared to succeed in this exam, due to the inspirational teaching of the English department and the countless hours of revision you have completed!

In addition to a series of short posts on each question of the exam, this piece is a general introduction to the paper, a guide to what to expect in the exam and how to revise for it.

THE EXAM

This exam is a ruddy long one: 2 hours to be precise. Your paper is marked out of a total of 50 marks, with 40 marks available for reading and understanding two extracts, and 10 marks available for the accuracy and sophistication of your writing. Because this is an English Language exam, I’m afraid we can’t run away from the fact they will be assessing your ability to use English correctly. Therefore, a high proportion of the ten marks are rewarded for correct spelling, punctuation and grammar.

For both Paper 1 (Core) and Paper 2 (Extended), you are required to read two non-fiction sources (these are usually a travel article, an excerpt from an autobiography, a journal entry, etc.). I highly recommend that you spend at least 15 minutes reading these sources, after you have read what each question is asking you. This will give you a greater chance of identifying the necessary features for each question. In the Extended paper especially, these texts will be quite lengthy and probably rather dull. However, you must make sure you read each text fully and annotate as you go along. The Extended paper is split into just three questions. On both papers, it is imperative that you answer all the questions on the exam. Here’s a breakdown of the extended questions on Paper 2:

  1. Retrieval of information and inferring meaning (what the text is about)
  2. Analysis of language techniques (what are the thoughts and feelings of the writer and the effect language has on the reader)
  3. An informative and factual summary

The Core paper tests exactly the same skills, but question one is broken down into Parts A-G, combining elements of inference and language analysis. Question two on the Core is identical to the first question on the Extended paper, testing your understanding of what you have read and your ability to synthesise. Sometimes you are asked to explain in your own words or find key details. This tests your ability to skim read a text, scan for details and make inferences. Question three on the Core paper is identical to the Extended paper.

As English teachers, we always encounter the age-old question of ‘How long do I have to write for each question?’ Well young folk, we recommend that you spend around 40 minutes on question 1, 25 minutes on question 2 and 35 minutes on question 3 (leaving enough time to re-read the extracts and proof read your work).

KEY TIPS FOR ANSWERING EACH QUESTION

To achieve spiffing results in this exam, you will need to demonstrate your ability to read for meaning and understand the nuances of language. When reading the two extracts, be sensitive to the atmosphere being created and show appreciation of the feelings of any characters in your response. This means you need to don your detective hat, retrieve the most important information by highlighting the details and picking up on clues in the passage as you read. In each question, you are rewarded not only for identifying relevant material in the passage but also for development of those ideas and use of supporting detail. Some ideas might be quite subtle and implied. This means that you will need to infer meaning and read between the lines in order to write a convincing response. When you are preparing to write your answer, ensure that you understand exactly what the question is asking of you. It will really help you to highlight the material you are going to use in the text – using a pencil so that you can change your mind if you need to. Next, draw up a quick plan in order to organise the ideas you’ve found into a logical structure before you start writing your response.

Each question will tell you exactly what you need to focus on. For example, in question one you are given bullet points to remind you what should be included; in question two you are given two specific paragraphs to analyse, as well as a particular theme within them; and in question three you are given a particular focus to plot your own bullet points and summary. Please ensure you have covered what is asked of you. These bullet points and paragraphs can also help you to structure your answer. Be careful: select the most appropriate material for each section and do not repeat yourself. Do not drift away from the text. For example, in question one you are asked to synthesise the extract and infer meaning about a character/experience; this is not an asking you to write a narrative or short story.

Everything you write must be directly connected to the passage and be supported by references to it. In question one and three (b), you will be asked to use your own words. Embedding technical terms and short phrases from the passage here and there when you are giving details within your answer is fine. However, do not life large quantities of text, as this does not demonstrate your ability to understand meaning, just you can copy like a parrot. A stupid parrot.

Essentially, you should try to use your own words as far as possible when the question asks it of you. Furthermore, before you start writing, you will need to decide on the appropriate tone to use – you will decide this based on the audience outlined in the question and the purpose of your writing. In question one, you might even be writing in character in a different context. However, you can expect that you will have to write in a reasonably formal style – after all, this is an English exam, not PE.

You also need to give some consideration to the genre you have been asked to write in for question one. Even if the task is to write a letter to a relative or a journalistic article, still use a formal tone but do not worry about the presentational devices (letter head, address, newspaper columns, etc). Authenticity is key: try to imagine that this is a real situation (as far as possible) To achieve an A* in this exam, you must ensure think beyond just using some of the rhetorical devices you have been taught. Remember to use sophisticated language, ambitious punctuation and use a variety of different sentence types and starters. Show flair and originality by using satire and irony. Be creative; be impressive.

HOW TO REVISE

Many students think that you can’t revise for this exam. Many students who think this fail the exam, epically. The easiest way to revise for this exam is to read, read and read some more non-fiction stuff. Choose a newspaper article, a blog, a travelogue and identify and evaluate the different devices used for effect. Try becoming the character and write about your experiences using synonyms and creative devices. Brush up on your knowledge of word classes and descriptive language techniques – especially the more complex ones such as pathetic fallacy/plosives/juxtaposition/etc. Zoom in on specific words and explore the different connotations one can infer from the lexis used. Think about the different interpretations from different audiences. Then try to summarise the article in your own words, after highlighting at least fifteen different key pieces of information.

Next, there are a variety of different websites out there to help you revise (far better than this one, of course). Here are a few I recommend: https://bbaenglish.wordpress.com/category/english-language//, http://www.bbc.co.uk/skillswise/english, and http://milneenglishaccident.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/IGCSE  – also, there are many helpful videos on YouTube (just type in ‘CIE Reading Paper/Extended/Core’)

Finally, attempt as many past papers as you possibly can in exam conditions. Make sure you are strict with your timings and have no distractions. All past papers can be found here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/7llnxxwy068e798/AABt9iC-LerkmrHrqLVg4Ri_a?dl=0

If you would like to receive feedback for your answers, please do not hesitate to waft it under your teacher’s nose – we really do like this! Well that’s it for the content and summary of your exam.

Watch this space over the next few days for different posts for each question and the style of the exam. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Enjoy revising!

Sir

Improving Your Writing – With a Little Help from George Orwell

In distant days of the Spice Girls, Nintendo 64s and fluorescent shell suits, one could very easily bimble their way through the English GCSEs, without giving any consideration or two-hoots to what makes for good writing. Now however, as the grammatically incompetent Bob Dylan once quoth, ‘The Times They are A-Changin’. With marks being awarded in most subjects for the quality of written expression, it is imperative that we try to remedy the situation. Therefore, this short tract, with a little help from George Orwell, will try to highlight the importance of writing eloquently and prepare you for life as a lexical champion.

I have already written on the different parts of speech and thus I presuppose that you can identify nouns, adjectives, clauses, metaphors and so on. Therefore, I will begin with Orwell’s celebrated rules of good writing before adding my emendations and additions.

The first requirement of writing is that it should be readily understandable. Clarity of written expression follows clarity of thought. If you can develop this process through excellent oracy, then so much the better. Think what you want to say, then write it as plainly as possible. Consider George Orwell’s six elementary rules from his wonderful work, Politics and the English Language:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

 (ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. Let us consider each pontification and explore how they can be beneficial to our writing.

On Metaphors:

“A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image,” stated Orwell. Much of our language is built on metaphors without our being aware of it. As Alex Quigley explains, “Metaphors are essential for good writing. They provide the backbone to rhetoric. They are the stuff of imagination and they transform our stories. They can illuminate information and make explanations comprehensible. In short, they are essential.”

However, we need to be careful when using them. Dead metaphors can add subtlety and sophistication to your writing, but outworn metaphors should be avoided like the plague. James Geary argues that we use six metaphors a minute. His interesting and entertaining TED talk on the power and magic of metaphors can be viewed here:

On Short Words:

Use them. They are very easy to spell and even easier to understand. Do not waffle when brevity will suffice. Do not overuse polysyllabic lexis to sound like a fancy-pants. That is all.

On Unnecessary Words:

Upon occasion, additional words can add nothing but length to your writing. When using adjectives, ensure that they make your meaning more precise and be cautious of those you use to make it more emphatic. For example, very is often used to add greater detail, but leaving it out can sometimes offer more meaning and create a deeper effect. Try this: ‘He was smelly’ may have more force than ‘He was very smelly’.

Furthermore, never use three words when two spiffing ones will suffice. Remember this apology from parliamentary draftsman, Blaise Pascal ‘I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter’. Proofreading and a brutal edit will make your writing concise and formal. If possible, cut out subordinate clauses and take the shortest route to the end of the sentence. Do not pass go; do not collect £200.

Finally, we come to needless repetition and tautology. Some examples include: A major disaster could have been sparked off when Morris hit the dance floor”, “The bunny died of a fatal dose of laughing gas” and “Mr Fothergill kept it from his friends that he was going on a secret and unexpected journey.” I like Mark Twain’s comments on the subject when he exclaims, “I do not find that the repetition of an important word a few times–say, three or four times–in a paragraph troubles my ear if clearness of meaning is best secured thereby. But tautological repetition which has no justifying object, but merely exposes the fact that the writer’s balance at the vocabulary bank has run short and that he is too lazy to replenish it from the thesaurus–that is another matter. It makes me feel like calling the writer to account.”

On Active, Not Passive:

The passive voice invariably hides information and sounds pompous. If unsure of the difference, please see this slide:

active and passive

On Jargon and Foreign Phrases:

Avoid them as much as possible. Language from the office, bureaucracy, legal system, boring Science teachers, media trash, techy geeks, and those ruddy squaddies, should be ignored and replaced with plain and understandable expression. Keep it simple, stupid. Furthermore, do not get me started on the supercilious folk who like to drop in the odd Latin or French phrase to sound snooty. Shakespeare captures this perfectly in his bombastic and arrogant braggadocio, Pistol, when he screams “Si fortuna me tormenta, spero me contenta” to bemused prostitutes. The beautiful irony is that it’s a garbled mixture of Italian, French and Spanish, and means absolutely nothing. Shakespeare uses it to demonstrate the foolishness and faux intelligence of the character.

I hope the key messages of Orwell remain with you and help improve your writing. The more you are aware of your expression and the implicit decisions we make when trying to communicate, the more you write with clarity and sophistication.

How to write good...

Or not?

 

English Awards 2014 – Alexa Greer (Y11)

When Alexa was choosing her A Level options, I believe I may have offered her everything available to persuade (read: bribe) her to opt for one of our English subjects offered. Fortunately, after the promise of providing her with cake every lesson and the next school building named in her honour, Alexa decided that both Language and Literature would suffice. Alexa is one of the rare students who is just exceptional at absolutely ruddy everything, often frustrating her proud yet envious teachers with her sheer brilliance. Alexa has been an enthusiastic, hard-working and high achieving student of English throughout all her Whitbread years. Always succeeding with an air of humility and humbleness, she worked incredibly hard to achieve her A* in Literature and should be very proud of attaining 100% in all components of her English Language GCSE; a truly remarkable feat. Her writing, which has always been a pleasure to read, is concise, sophisticated and her vocabulary developed. An exceptional example of this can be found in her Literature essay below, which scored 40 out of 40. Although she would hate for me to state so, Alexa is one of the finest English students in Whitbread history, and I look forward to her success in the future.

‘Brand, burn up, bite into its grace’ (The Laboratory)

The speaker in the Laboratory by Robert Browning and Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare’s Macbeth are both disturbed characters, but the speaker is more so. Discuss.

Firstly, the authors of these two works portray disturbed characters through guilt (or lack thereof). Before the murder of Duncan, Lady Macbeth attempts to push away any potential guilt about killing another human being by saying ‘stop up the access and passage to remorse’, implying that she knows that what she is planning to do is wrong and she expects to feel bad later, yet she believes that her quest for power is more important than simple human emotions. In contrast, Speaker displays no such expectations of remorse as she asks the apothecary ‘which is the poison to poison her, prithee?’ The repetition of ‘poison’ suggests a certain level of excitement, as if she thinks the whole idea of murder is an enjoyable game. This repetition also draws attention to the word ‘poison’, making it apparent that Speaker has a fascination with the method of death, not just the possible rewards gained upon the task’s completion, unlike Lady Macbeth, who upon first impression may seem as disturbed as a character can get, but in this case is outdone by Speaker.

After Macbeth has become king and Lady Macbeth is queen, the guilt she has tried so hard to keep under control takes over and her true feelings spill out as she sleepwalks. While imagining that Macbeth is by her side, Lady Macbeth admits that ‘all the perfumes of Arabia could not sweeten this little hand’. It could be argued that this scene is the weakest we see Lady Macbeth, and it is only in this scene that any character describes any part of her as feminine; she describes her own hand as ‘little’, a typically female characteristic. Finally she thinks of herself as feminine, when she is no longer strong and is too evil to be redeemed, which shows her disturbed nature in her disgust for her own sex, as although the inferiority of women was a commonly held view at the time Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, this extent of self-loathing because of it would have been unusual. The Laboratory finishes before any killings take place, but at the end, Speaker talks of her plans to ‘dance at the King’s’ once the deed is done. Even before the killings, Lady Macbeth never expresses such a blasé attitude towards the act of murder, whereas Speaker goes so far as to say that she wants to party, completely unaffected, demonstrating her extremely disturbed nature.

Love, one of the main themes in almost all literary texts, is somewhat put on hold in Macbeth and the Laboratory. Lady Macbeth’s feelings towards Macbeth are in no way romantic and she only uses him to gain power; after she has been informed of Macbeth’s potential to rule Scotland and she starts to come up with a plan, she spares not a though for Macbeth as she thinks about how Duncan will meet his end under ‘[her] battlements’. Since Macbeth is the man and Lady Macbeth should look up to him, this immediate dismissal of him proves that Lady Macbeth is disturbed. At the other end of the scale of ‘love’, Speaker is completely obsessed with Partner, so much so that she is unable to place any blame about his unfaithfulness on him, instead focusing her anger on Woman, whom Speaker believes has ‘ensnared him’. Speaker’s disturbed nature is enhanced by the delusion that Partner is weak and needs to be freed by her.

Lastly, the two’s dastardly characters are made all the more intense by their connections to the apparent devious nature of women. Their cruelty is part of this theme. Lady Macbeth is the epitome of cold calculation and believes Macbeth to be weak because he is ‘too full of the milk of human kindness’. To her, the ends more than justify the means – as long as the ends include her gaining power – and kindness is an obstacle that needs to be overcome. ‘Not that I bid you spare her the pain’ is one line in which Speaker’s own brand of cruelty is abundantly clear. Her sadistic satisfaction in imagining her victim’s pain and suffering as she dies shows how, while Speaker cares about the means just as much (probably more than) the ends, the particular way in which she wants the means to be carried out is disturbing, rather than just.

In the Jacobean era, when Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, people wholeheartedly believed in witchcraft and the evil associated with it was, in their minds, completely real. Women had always made up the vast majority of the accused of this then-crime, so seeing Lady Macbeth say ‘come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts’ would most definitely have had a negative effect on public opinion of her character. Some probably equated her with evil. In the Victorian times, when Browning wrote the Laboratory, though the government no longer punished so-called witches, there were still communities whose beliefs in the occult had not quite dissipated. In the poem, Speaker compares the apothecary’s laboratory to a ‘devil’s smithy’, yet she is still there, watching him work. This displays her somewhat demon-like nature, as no person with pure intentions would want to be in a place linked with the devil. As her enjoyment of this experience is revealed just a short time after she makes this comparison, it is obvious that she knows how terrible what she is doing is but she still derives pleasure from it.

The accepted views of masculinity and femininity were similarly rigid in both the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries; men were powerful and women were subservient (or else they would have been punished). Lady Macbeth, a strong female character, actually shared this view and even asked for spirits to ‘unsex’ her so that she could gain power. Extreme, perhaps, but she had been brought up in a world dominated by male leaders, with women in the background, so the only way to fulfil her desires would have been to be a man, as even women called queens and ladies (including Lady Macbeth herself) only had their titles because they were married to men with the equivalent status. The way her mind has been twisted to believe totally in her own gender’s inferiority makes Lady Macbeth a disturbed character to us in the twenty-first century, but to people living in Shakespeare’s time, it would have been very strange if she did not. The Laboratory, written 238 years after Macbeth, was still published in a period of gender inequality, even though the current monarch was Queen Victoria. When Speaker says that a certain poison ‘never will free the soul from those masculine eyes’, she is saying that Woman must have man-like features because she holds power over Partner. However, the way in which Speaker describes her plan to kill all parts of her victim’s femininity as she says ‘her breast and her arms and her hands, should drop dead’ implies that she values femininity, because she wants to remove it from Woman so that all that’s left is a masculine corpse, and the way in which she insults Woman’s character and then calls her eyes ‘masculine’ proves that, while Speaker recognises the fact that men hold the power, she actually thinks women are better. Feminists are still fighting to be heard today, and in Browning’s time they were almost unheard of, making Speaker a rather disturbed character due to her nonconformist views.

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.”

English Awards 2014 – Millie Morris (Y13)

At Whitbread, our pupils are wonderful at achieving exceptional English results. Their teachers however, are rather pants at celebrating these successes. Therefore, in a series of short posts, I will be embarrassing all the truly splendiferous students by showing their work off like a proud papa placing a drawing of an ambiguous splodge of paint on the fridge door.

Millie Morris is an outstanding all-rounder. Her results last week read like a Scouser trying to placate a fracas: A… A… A…  A student of both Literature and Language, Millie demonstrates outstanding analytic skill and wonderful creativity. For years she has continuously impressed teachers with her well-constructed and perceptive arguments and produced poetry and short stories that could be published in an instant. Furthermore, fully armed with her plethora of highlighters and colourful gel pens, Millie’s notes during lessons are some of the finest examples of contemporary art.

In addition to academic excellence this year, Millie has also had great success in the coveted Lancaster Writing Awards. With hundreds of entries from exceptionally gifted sixth formers across the country, Millie came second in the fiction category. This is a truly phenomenal achievement, and it gives me great pride to post her outstanding short story below.

 

The Runaway Orphan

London, 2093 AD

I’m running away. Away from the camp, away from the ghost of my mother, and towards Cole. My time is up – I am scared and tired but I have no alternative – today is the day of my 16th birthday.

They tell you, when you’re younger, it’ll never happen to you. You’ll stay with a loving family who’ll pay for your upkeep, and, when the time comes, your usage tax. They skirt around the topic, move onto other things. “This isn’t on the curriculum.” “None of you are orphans, so it don’t matter.” They don’t mention what happens when your parents can’t afford to pay the tax, although everybody knows.

My mother couldn’t pay. She was reaching old age and the end of her use, her tax increased and she was killed. I was there. There was blood.

I shut it out, ignored it, was taken to an orphan camp but I was dangerously close to the end of my “free” childhood. No investors. No other option but to get rid of me. So I ran.

I stumble on a rock, lose my footing and fall, arms flailing madly, into the thick ashy mud at my feet. I scramble up, using my sleeve to rub the dirt away from my eyes and mouth and stare around at my surroundings. London city. Destroyed, but still beautiful. It’s own kind of poetry.

To my right is the stinking, polluted river they call the Thames. England’s great water motorway, I remember being told. I rack my brains but for the life of me I can’t remember what a motorway is – maybe the great expanse of murky water, dancing like dirty, liquid diamond would mean a little more to me if I could. I doubt it.

I stare at my camp-issue watch, bright lights still twirling in front of my eyes. It’s 7:45 pm – I’ve been alive for two hours, 42 minutes longer than they had planned. I wait for the feeling of success to fill me – I’ve achieved the impossible, I deserve elation, excitement. None comes. Why do I not experience the delighted relief the characters in the books I read always feel? Have I not passed the climax, achieved my goal? Surely there is only the resolution to come. I curse the names of Tolkien, Doyle, Rowling. Perhaps my life does not qualify for the adventure story I took it to be. I squeeze my eyes shut, willing the feeling into existence.

Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”

I do not like the dark. The darkness brings other things. Resting behind my eyelids, assaulting me when I close my eyes, are the people I’ve lost. My mother and father, Cole, Mo, 321, 453. Others whose names and numbers I can’t remember. All  but Cole were gone because their usefulness ran out, and nobody could pay the tax required to justify them using this world’s hopelessly limited resources. Cole simply disappeared.

When I first arrived at the camp, the leaders were optimistic that I’d get an investor. Intelligent, healthy despite my asthma, and not too noisy. My obsession with books and my advanced use of language, they said, would only be minor drawbacks. But it soon became clear that despite my low tax and high usefulness level, the investors who initially showed interest disappeared with weak excuses. I scared the first one off with a metaphor; the second one spotted my copy of Northern Lights;  the third left bellowing profanities after I answered the question “What’s your favourite colour?” with “that orange colour Cole’s hair turned in the sunlight, like the edges of the rays themselves”. Poetic or creative language is seen as rebellious – I learnt that soon enough.

But word travels quickly within the upperclass, and there were no more interested investors. Apparently, the merits of paying my tax and thus getting a share of any salary I make was not enough to warrant the rumours now surrounding me. So I ran. Cole must have managed it, how else had he disappeared? I had a theory he had set up camp, was waiting for other orphans or penniless people to join him. I figured he’d head to central London, as it was a wasteland, stripped of it’s capital city status after the London Raids – London rebelled. And it had been subdued.

I had been walking for almost 15 hours and I needed to rest. It was growing dark, and I wanted to be asleep before night fell entirely. My footsteps had become slow, my feet sinking deep into the black mud before I pulled them out again with a great sucking sound. I figured that the grassy patches were no longer helping muffle my steps and altered my path so I was walking on the cracked, ashy slabs of stone I assumed were once a path following the course of the river. I kept my eye out for a place to rest.

I took refuge in a small concrete shelter with smashed windows but a stable roof. I stared out at the huge metal wheel it stood by – bigger than anything I’d ever seen: magnificent, muddy, murky glass pods stationed at regular intervals around it. Despite its size, it remained standing and likely structurally sound, a metal sentry to the collapsing buildings surrounding it. I fell asleep taking guesses as to its purpose.

I was shivering when I awoke, late at night, the darkness almost tangible, covering and caressing my eyes with its inky black hands. I did not like the dark. I sat up, letting my eyes adjust and soon the dark veil obscuring my vision lessened, as though fabric was switched from velvet to lace. There was a cold wind rushing through the empty window panes, but aside from its howling I could hear nothing. I stood up. I blinked. I could still see very little by the light of the moon – only dark shapes that unnerved me. I did not like the dark.

I thought of Dickens, of Poe. The darkness that concealed potential attackers also hid me from them. But before I could help myself my thoughts had turned to The Tell-Tale Heart and The Raven and I heard the lone sound of a bird’s caw overhead, echoing around the abandoned city and I screamed. I covered my mouth a second later. I did not like the dark.

Then, methought, the air grew denser.”

The bird’s call unnerved me. I had heard nothing of life for so long in this wasteland I assumed no animal dared inhabit it. For the first time, I felt as though there was a hostile presence on my tail. I wasn’t alone in London tonight.

I swung my small bag of provisions over my shoulder and edged out of the little building, cursing my scream, cursing the bird for frighting me. Anyone could have heard me. Somebody did.

In the darkness, I had missed them. They stand only a short walk from my resting place. Four of them: tall, dark, Governmental figures. And standing in the middle of them? Cole.

Relief, pain and confusion flash through my mind in quick succession. I don’t know what to do or what it means but he is standing there. My brother. My flesh and blood, alive.

I can’t find my voice. Words, always my comfort and my weapon, have failed me. A hoarse whisper, barely my own, murmurs “Cole?”

“482.”  He says. It’s wrong. Too businesslike. My number, not my name. He  gestures to the man next to him. I don’t understand the motion. My heart is screaming at me to move closer and greet him and little is stopping me. I feel as though my brain hasn’t caught up yet; my thoughts are jumbled, panicked. I take a step towards him. I cover the rest of the distance without noticing.

I throw myself into his arms, crying, before my brain can warn me otherwise. I feel his hands in my hair, his lips at my ear, urgent. “I’m sorry.” He whispers. My brain catches up.

I turn and there’s a gun at my head. One shot only to kill the runaway orphan.

And my soul from that shadow that lies floating on the floor

Shall be lifted – nevermore!”