VCE Literature is, in my opinion, one of the most enthralling subjects on offer. Not only does it grant you with extensive writing freedom, but it too allows you to contemplate and relish in those big philosophical questions. Understandably, this fluidity and abstraction can be daunting. Especially when you have to move the thoughts from your own head onto the page. But rest assured, Lit students. Here are some easy “dos” and “don’ts” for Section A and Section B that seek to put your mind at ease.
Literary Perspectives (Section A)
Include an introduction. Although not necessary for Section B, an introduction in Section A will foreground the chosen theory/perspective, start to unpack critical points of conflict within a text, and clarify an overarching interpretation. By establishing these elements early, both yourself and examiners will find it easy to follow one coherent, well-justified essay. Like any other introduction, ensure that it is full of zest and punchy goodness.
Centre arguments around snippets of critical, scholarly readings. That is, when you find a noteworthy piece of literary criticism in either a peer-reviewed article or dissertation, think of all the evidence in your text that either supports or opposes this assertion. In no time, you’ll have the skeleton of an insightful, crafty paragraph ready to go. Even better, this method will keep the focus on your own voice; not that of the scholar.
Incorporate close analysis features. Given that this essay is more closely aligned with an English-style piece, many students overlook the need for intimate language engagement. This is a mistake. Literary elements such as paradox, allusion, juxtaposition or narrator point of view (e.g., free and indirect discourse) should still form the foundation of arguments. Naturally, of course, the extent of this close analysis will not be equal to that required in Section B.
Provide a history lesson on your chosen theory/perspective. Rather, use your extensive knowledge of the theory/perspective to generate depth and breadth in argument. It may be useful to write yourself a list of questions, which encompass the main concerns of your theory/perspective. You can then answer these questions as you become more and more familiar with your text, and hence develop a highly nuanced and relevant literary interpretation.
Neglect the prompt. Most of the time, prompts for this essay will be fairly broad as they must complement multiple theories/perspectives. So long as you take note of the key words and implicit statements embedded in the prompt, and respond to these in the introduction, examiners will understand your own original interpretation. However, if you disregard these features altogether, you run the risk of producing a joltingly foreign essay.
Solely focus on your own interpretation. Challenge. It is crucial that you acknowledge and then challenge the opposing viewpoints of literary critics. Oftentimes this skill can be difficult and even intimidating. But if you can address and reconcile only a small number of conflicts in your essay, examiners will be impressed. They will appreciate your own interpretative confidence.
Close Passage Analysis (Section B)
Be playful. Although it may seem disconcerting, VCE Literature in itself is a body of work. So, when you are studying a poem, listen to the sounds, feel the textures and smell the scents. If you are studying a play, envisage the faces of actors, sense the atmosphere and appreciate audience reaction. This experimentation will strengthen your association with the text, and perhaps most importantly, animate your own writing.
Use language as your ultimate starting point. As a Year 11 studying VCE Literature for the first time, I found this especially overwhelming. I used to think, “How can you possibly pick your starting point when there is so much language choice?” Year 12 me soon learnt to pick the quote (across the three passages) that was most relevant to whatever argument I was making. Even if it was blatantly obvious and not as subtly clever as I’d liked, I still chose it. This starting point will precipitate a dot-to-dot effect across the passages, where you can easily link quotes and ideas. Trust me, it works.
Remember views and values statements. Although textural language is at the core of this essay, you are still required to zoom out and consider the main intention of the author/playwright/poet/director. This tells examiners that you are aware of the text’s construction and its resultant significance. Try and do this at least once in every paragraph.
Depend on ridiculously complex vocabulary. I’m sure you’ve heard this time and time again. But it still happens and still weakens essays. In VCE Literature, sophistication comes from the quality of ideas. If you can develop well-substantiated and highly original ideas, success will be sure. This is not to say that a snazzy lexicon isn’t important. It is. However, you must first be familiar with certain words before applying them. To ensure appropriate familiarity, I recommend establishing a text-specific word bank.
Discount the power of short sentences. A common misconception amongst students is that a long sentence with multiple clauses speaks sophistication. This is not always the case. In actual fact, there is sometimes greater skill in sharper, more laconic utterances, because you are required to articulate ideas in the most succinct way possible. But more than this, the crisper the sentence, the more likely the sentence will stick with the examiner and make an impact.
Construct an interpretation that is predicated upon distant passages. That is, work with the puzzle sitting in front of you. Of course, insights from the wider text can inform your reading, and be entwined with views and values statements. This, however, should not be your focal point. After having studied your text for several intensive weeks, or even months, examiners expect fresh and authentic perspectives, regardless of the passage combination.