Whenever you start analysing a text, it can get very overwhelming, very fast. Especially with Module A: Textual Conversations, where you’ll need to write not just one, but two texts. For me, those two texts were Atwood’s Hag-Seed (see Text Guide) and Shakespeare’s The Tempest (see Text Guide), so I’ll be referring to them throughout this article to demonstrate what I mean. So many questions arise – how do I talk about both? How much of both do I talk about? How deep do I need to go with each? What’s the best way to structure my paragraphs?
Summarised, this is the approach that I recommend with this unit in particular:
This might seem like a lot, but no worries, I’ll take you through each of the steps. Essay writing in English can take a surprising amount of time and thought. Some steps do take a little longer than others (steps 4-5 actually took me a few weeks or so of trial and error).
NESA likes to vary things up, but ultimately they’ll base their questions on the syllabus that they set. Plus, it’s a very good tactic to understand and adopt specific terms (bolded) that NESA has used within your own essays.
As you can see in the table above, NESA talks a LOT about how you can analyse the similarities and differences between the two texts with a LOT of fancy words. Out of all the four paragraphs, I definitely think paragraphs one and two give you a lot of starting points for where to begin.
The most important takers from analysing the syllabus would be these two points:
Be sure that you know the difference between these two.
Let’s place this in the context of movies and films. A ‘reimagination’ would be a film that is inspired by the original source, and at best the events of this film would be very loosely based on the original plot.
Meanwhile, a ‘reframing’ would be synonymous to an ‘adaptation’. In this adaptation, there will inevitably be some differences caused possibly by their different formats, contexts and/or settings to name a few. Ultimately though, they would be very similar in message and plot.
This particular part of the dot point asks you to consider if certain parts of the texts have been reimagined or reframed. You are not explicitly required to give a definitive answer about whether the entire text is reimagined or reframed, but you can certainly explore this further if you would like! For me, based on my interpretation of the texts, I concluded that Hag-Seed was a reframing of The Tempest, with specific characters/events which were reimagined.
The word ‘context’ appears quite often – so take this as a hint from NESA! For example, when looking at The Tempest and Hag-Seed, we are comparing a Jacobean-era play with a contemporary novel – hence their audiences, writers and contexts are just so very different to each other. Thus, the different concerns of the 1600s and 2000s will inevitably shape the tone, plot and message of these texts. Since authors such as Shakespeare and Atwood used their work to present commentary and insight into the topical issues of their times, it only makes sense that we must firstly explore the social landscapes where these texts are formed within.
You will come to realise that English isn’t just about applying quotation, technique and effect. Rather, it’s a unique segue between history, philosophy and fiction, a kind of language vehicle which delivers a carefully crafted message from the writer straight to you.
As seen from above, context and its effect on a story’s creation and reception is key to this module. It is important to understand not only the context, influences and contemporary social landscapes of the respective authors, but for ‘Textual Conversations’, it is important that you can highlight the similarities and differences between the two contexts.
The rubric also offers hints on what you might focus on about their particular contexts; for example, what are some certain issues, values, assumptions or perspectives within their contexts and texts? This could include the issue of feminism, the religion/role of religion, the value/virtue of forgiveness, etc. In the end, the context that you provide to the examiner in your essay should only strengthen whatever point you present, so it is important that you carefully consider this!
Now that you understand what NESA is looking for and have researched the context behind each book, it’s now time to get reading! And yes, I know there are – hypothetically – a sizeable number of you who may have passed past exams with flying colours without ever touching your prescribed book. However, it is now more important than ever that you at least skim through the book. Why? The new HSC is geared to be more unpredictable in the sense that memorised and regurgitated essays won’t cut it anymore. Just take that question about love in The Crucible for 2019 Common Module exam. Hence, get to know your text a little more, get comfortable with the events and themes of the text!
When you do this step, it is a great time to simultaneously be on the look-out for important quotations and themes. As you read, you will begin to notice patterns in the writing, and from these patterns you will start to pinpoint a few vague themes along which your final points and thesis may involve.
One danger of noting down important quotes as you skim is that it’s easy to get bogged down in every analyse-able quotation with a technique present, and eventually ending up with ten plus pages of quotations. To avoid this, we only want to keep or make note of those quotations which either cover a more complex argument, or which can be analysed with great depth. Typically, these quotations appear in key moments or turning points in a story, so be alert around those areas for potential candidates.
After you’ve finished the texts, and have a few vague themes and some quotations, it’s time to fine-tune your ideas! This step doesn’t sound like much, but it is actually surprisingly difficult and time-consuming.
A common mistake that people make is that they never specify their themes. For example, if you decide that you want to explore the theme of revenge, it’s a great theme but you cannot leave it simply at that. You want to narrow down your theme so that it is specific. If you stated something along the lines of ‘the theme of revenge is explored in (text)’ more questions than answers are provided – will you be exploring the power of revenge as motivation? The danger of revenge? The destructive nature of revenge? The inability for people to not desire revenge? The list goes on. So before you move on, take some quality time to figure out what exactly it is about the theme that you want to hone in on and talk about.
If you ever find yourself stuck about what exactly you want to talk about for a theme, I find it useful to reflect on myself. I think it’s good to ask yourself why you became interested in this theme in the first place. For example, I’m interested in the philosophy of Absurdism, so this perspective will inevitably affect how I view these texts and the world around me. Once you figure that out and use your personal interests/views, you will not only have a unique argument, but you will also be more interested and invested in your essay!
Once you’ve finally nailed down your key themes and arguments, see if there is a common thread that ties them together. Do all of your arguments prove something correct or wrong, do they challenge particular notions, do they involve a particular motif? This step can also be quite tricky, so remember to be patient and accept that your thesis will continue to be refined with time and practice. Also, make sure you can support your thesis with relevant context.
Finally, we have reached the last step! Now, you would’ve done so much to get to this point – you would’ve had to analyse the syllabus, research the contexts behind both texts, read through both texts, notice key themes and quotations, refine your arguments and construct a thesis that ties everything neatly together. You’re almost there – now, you will need to practice shaping your thesis and points to different essay questions, and in this process your points and thesis are highly likely to change in some shape or form!
As they say, practice makes perfect. You never know you’re wrong until you do a question and realise you’ve been wrong, so take this step as time to experiment, as a time where you can flop and fail and have no negative consequences at all.
If you’re short on time, instead of writing full-blown essays, try planning an essay response where you use dot-points to shape your thesis and points to answer the question. This is a good strategy that I found myself using throughout the HSC. It is important that you have a clear picture of how you can manipulate and shape your points, and it is important that you can be flexible no matter what topic is thrown at you.