Section C in Scholarship

This was a weak section in the prelims and I have added some comments from the 2009 Scholarship Assessment Report below.

Candidates need to have had the opportunity to spend more time discussing how to interpret questions in this section (thinking critically) and to be encouraged to consider the range of reading and thinking around classroom texts. Often candidates make very good arguments with completely unrelated texts, but generally not if they do more than working at a plot level. Texts need, therefore, to be “significant” to humanity in general in terms of style/characterisation/ideas/universality. Candidates should use three or four texts to prove their case. Too many merely give a “rapid romp” through a number of texts without coherently proving a case in response to the question.

Essays too often deal with “what” rather than “how/why”. Candidates should respond to the actual words in questions.

Texts which candidates used exceptionally well in section C included the following:

– Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

– The Road by Cormack McCarthy

– We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

– Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

– On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

– Into the Wild directed by Sean Penn

– V for Vendetta directed by James McTeigue

– On the Road by Jack Kerouac

– The Secret History by Donna Tartt

– Pierrepoint (The Last Hangman) directed by Adrian Shergold.

Often these texts worked best when candidates used them to counterpoint other more traditional texts (the taught material), and in the process created new (and unorthodox) understandings which they often expressed in highly fluent, creative language showing excitement, responsiveness, passion and sheer joy! These were a pleasure for markers to engage with and reward. Candidates should know their audience – markers are English teachers and like to be inspired to re-think and re-read on the basis of fresh new arguments and thinking.

I have read/viewed all of the texts above and would recommend them all.

Scholarship – Section B

In the Scholarship exam in Section B (Response to Literature) you are required to write a coherent and engaging essay in response to one of 13 topics. You need to use the topic as the focus for an in-depth discussion of a relevant text or texts. Your discussion should reflect independent thinking substantiated by frequent, appropriate and integrated references and / or quotations.  However, you must choose suitable texts.

Low level or other unsuitable texts which do not build credible arguments at this level should be avoided simply because students do not write well about them or reference them with perception; these include:

– Harry Potter books and films

– Lord of the Flies book and films

– The Bible (not a novel)

– The Aeneid/Odyssey (these are Classics texts, and mostly treated as such)

– The Lion King

– Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

– Jodi Picoult books offered as serious literature

– The Bucket List (film)

– “Chick-lit” as serious literature

– The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks (also a film)

– Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

– Shawshank Redemption.

Essay Interrupted

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Here is the complete Scholarship essay.

‘The subject of writing, for me, is how we manage – if we manage – to live together. That’s central to it.’ (Lauris Edmond)

How relevant is this statement to a range of texts you have studied?

Novels are essentially studies of humanity and thus often deal with core aspects of human society. One such core subject is the importance of community bonds and the overwhelming damage that can occur when an individual becomes isolated from those around them. Three novels that deal with such a theme are The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx, Triage by Scott Anderson and 1984 by George Orwell.

The protagonists in these novels are as different as the novels themselves but all share a common flaw – that of mental and physical isolation. Quoyle, brought up by an abusive family and entrapped in an equally abusive marriage, is unable to form lasting bonds with his fellow New Yorkers in “bedraggled Mockingbird”. Weighed down by his pathetically low self-esteem, “she did not say ‘Lardass’ but he heard it”, Quoyle is lonely, miserable and without hope. In Triage, Mark’s isolation comes about due to his guilt about his fellow war journalist’s death. His inability to discuss Colin’s death leads to a hail of lies and his eventual mental implosuin. Winston’s isolation, like Quoyle’s, stems from his environment rather than an event. Brought up in a society which forbids love and encourages the betrayal of child to parent, wife to husband, Winston is unable to fulfill his deep-seated need for companionship.

It is however, the changes in the protagonists which illustrate most clearly how essential and healing human relationships are. Quoyle and Winston are transformed by love, experiencing a dramatic improvement in quality of life – as Quoyle puts it “as if he found a polarised lens which deepened and intensified all seen through it”. The biggest change in Quoyle, at least , is mental. Despite little physical change, Quoyle is able to realise that his “great damp loaf of a body” is actually “strength rather than obesity”, implying that self-esteem is directly linked to acceptance-a point summed up by his gentle lover Wavey “It’s like you feel to yourself it’s all you deserve.”

The changes in Winston, with the exception of a healed varicose ulcer, are more difficult to observe. It is significant, however, that he values Julia above all else-as proved by O’Brien’s torture of him, as she is the last thing he clings to, and by his stated willingness to throw acid in a child’s face, spread veneral disease and so on over parting with her. Winston’s attitude towards Julia and the redemption experienced by Quoyle due to Wavey illustrate the esential part love and compainionship play in life.

Proulx, Anderson and Orwell all stress the importance of a genetic and geographical background in preventing isolation. Initially, none of the three protagonists have a clear base to fall back on-Quoyle and Winston know little about their families and Mark is constantly travelling.

It is clear that the dramatic changes in Quoyle and his new-found acceptance into a community are directly linked to his return to his ancestral homeland of Newfoundland. By discovering his past, Quoyle becomes grounded and able to move on. The homing desire of Quoyle’s aunt resposible for his move to Newfoundland – “As you get older you find the place where you started pulls at you stronger and stronger”-is mirrored in Triage by Talzani’s ” Homeland … we’re all just homing pigeons in the end” and provides insight into the rapid mental collapse of Mark and the unhappiness of Winston. Neither of these individuals are secure in their environments, which makes the burden of any additional isolation-whether mental or societal-far more difficult to bear.

To a large extent, the isolation of the population in 1984 is the method used by the Party to control them. By reducing the ties between parent and child, between husband and wife, the party ensures a lack of stable base for resistance to generate. The willingness of Winston and Julia to rebel once they have the support of each other and, ironically, O’Brien effectively illustrates this point.

Despite representing three different genres, The Shipping News, Triage and 1984 all use the negative and positive changes in their protagonists-whether Quoyle’s boost in self-esteem due to community bonds, Mark’s mental breakdown due to the isolating power of guilt, or Winston’s joy in the companionship of Julia-to illustrate the inability of humanity to cope with isolation and without an established psychological “homeland.”

Sample Scholarship Essay

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Here is an extract from student response to a scholarship question from the exploring issues in literature and language section. The essay was written in exam conditions.

‘The subject of writing, for me, is how we manage – if we manage – to live together. That’s central to it.’ (Lauris Edmond)

How relevant is this statement to a range of texts you have studied?

Novels are essentially studies of humanity and thus often deal with core aspects of human society. One such core subject is the importance of community bonds and the overwhelming damage that can occur when an individual becomes isolated from those around them. Three novels that deal with such a theme are The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx, Triage by Scott Anderson and 1984 by George Orwell.

The protagonists in these novels are as different as the novels themselves but all share a common flaw – that of mental and physical isolation. Quoyle, brought up by an abusive family and entrapped in an equally abusive marriage, is unable to form lasting bonds with his fellow New Yorkers in “bedraggled Mockingbird”. Weighed down by his pathetically low self-esteem, “she did not say ‘Lardass’ but he heard it”, Quoyle is lonely, miserable and without hope. In Triage, Mark’s isolation comes about due to his guilt about his fellow war journalist’s death. His inability to discuss Colin’s death leads to a hail of lies and his eventual mental implosuin. Winston’s isolation, like Quoyle’s, stems from his environment rather than an event. Brought up in a society which forbids love and encourages the betrayal of child to parent, wife to husband, Winston is unable to fulfill his deep-seated need for companionship.

Write a response to the essay so far. I will post part two tomorrow.

The Ballad of Calvary Street

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We have looked at ‘High Country Weather’, ‘Rocket Show’ and ‘The Ballad of Barney Flanagan’ in class this year. Last week I mentioned ‘The Ballad of Calvary Street’ which was written in 1960 and have posted the poem below.

Ballad of Calvary Street

On Calvary Street are trellises
Where bright as blood the rose bloom,
And gnomes like pagan fetishes
Hang their hats on an empty tomb
Where two old souls go slowly mad,
National Mum and Labour Dad.

Each Saturday when full of smiles
The children come to pay their due,
Mum takes down the family files
And cover to cover she thumbs them through,
Poor Len before he went away
And Mabel on her wedding day.

The meal-brown scones display her knack,
Her polished oven spits with rage,
While in Grunt Grotto at the back
Dad sits and reads the Sporting Page,
Then ambles out in boots of lead
To weed around the parsnip bed.

A giant parsnip sparks his eye,
Majestic as the Tree of Life;
He washes it and rubs it dry
And takes it in to his old wife –
‘Look, Laura, would that be a fit?
The bastard has a flange on it!’

When both were young, she would have laughed
A goddess in her tartan skirt,
But wisdom, age and mothercraft
Have rubbed it home that men like dirt:
Five children and a fallen womb,
A golden crown beyond the tomb.

Nearer the bone, sin is sin,
And women bear the cross of woe,
And that affair with Mrs Flynn
(It happened thirty years ago)
Though never mentioned, mean that he
Will get no sugar in his tea.

The afternoon goes by, goes by,
The angels harp above a cloud;
A son-in-law with spotted tie
And daughter Alice fat and loud
Discuss the virtues of insurance
And stuff their tripes with trained endurance.

Flood-waters hurl upoin the dyke
And Dad himself can go to town,
For little Charlie on his trike
Has ploughed another iris down.
His parents rise to chain the beast,
Brush off the last crumbs of their lovefeast.

And so these two old fools are left,
A rosy pair in the evening light,
To question Heaven’s dubious gift,
To hag and grumble, growl and fight:
The love they kill won’t let them rest,
Two birds that peck in one fouled nest.

Why hammer nails? Why give no change?
Habit, habit clogs them dumb.
The Sacred Heart above the range
Will bleed and burn till Kingdom Come,
But Yin and Yang won’t ever meet
In Calvary Street, in Calvary Street.

– James K. Baxter.

This poem also looks at the theme of the ugliness and sterility that Baxter saw behind the respectable front of New Zealand middle-class society in the 1950s. Note the use of religious references throughout the poem. What do they make clear about the life of the couple? Baxter had converted to Catholicism shortly before he wrote this poem so think about why he chose to use Calvary in the title.