VCE English/English as a Second Language Study Design
Units 3 and 4: 2008 Support Material
The following collection of writing samples is provided for teachers and students as further support in VCE English/ESL Area of Study 2 – Creating and presenting, Units 3 and 4. The samples are not exemplars or templates.
The samples were written by teachers of the new VCE English/ESL study at the end of Semester 1 2008; the teachers wrote each text within a short timeframe, as if doing an in-class task. The samples therefore reflect some of the ways in which students can respond in Area of Study 2 when creating their own written texts. There are many ways that students might explore ideas and/or arguments encountered in their study of texts from Text list 2 as they undertake writing tasks in the coursework. The collection of samples reflects a diversity of approaches to the writing. The collection also illustrates various ways in which the Written Explanation can be used to allow students to reflect on language use and to explore ideas.
From each text and its Written Explanation, it is possible to extrapolate a prompt for use in preparing students for the examination; possible prompts are indicated in bold.
In School-assessed Coursework tasks, the piece of writing does not have to be based on a prompt, and students do have to provide a Written Explanation. In the examination, students’ writing is based on a prompt, and students are not invited to write an Explanation.
Area of Study 2, Outcome 2
The writers of the following samples were ‘drawing on ideas and/or arguments suggested by a chosen Context’ to create a written text for an anthology of writing for an adult audience, discussing and analysing ‘in writing their decisions about form, purpose, language, audience and context’ (Outcome 2). Their specific task was to create ‘one sustained written text…with a written explanation of decisions about form, purpose, language, audience and context’ (Study design, pages 28 and 32). The chosen form of each piece is noted in its heading.
Context: The imaginative landscape
Text: Robert Frost poetry (Mending Wall)
Task: Write a personal reflection
Personal reflection on an experience
In his poem Mending Wall, Robert Frost describes the neighbourly relations of two farmers who share adjoining land and must, every now and then, repair a stone wall that marks their boundary. The speaker, the owner of an apple orchard, is somewhat disdainful of his neighbour, whose land is planted with ordered rows of pines. Nevertheless, he knows the value of ‘good neighbours’ and though he would goad his friend who he thinks of as rather too fastidious about mending a wall which keeps nothing in (‘my apple trees will never get across /And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him’), he submits to the sentiment that ‘Good fences make good neighbours’. Central to the poem is the idea that the neighbours inhabit quite different worlds despite their common ground, and each experiences the same land in their own way. The nourishing image of the apple (‘I am all apple’) with its connotations of sweetness and health is set against the brooding stiffness of the pine (‘he is all pine’) and it is very easy to align oneself with the speaker and see the neighbour as ‘an old stone age savage’. But there is a hint of respect too, in the tone of the speaker – respect for the dogged determination shown by the neighbour, to do things in ways that are consistent with tradition. It is this grudging respect that leads the speaker to go along with the ritual of mending the wall.
This idea of people having quite different experiences of the land they call their ‘place’ is alive and well in my world too. Living next door to a large block of flats, my family has to deal with many more neighbours than most. On several occasions now, our household has been the centre of un-neighbourly disputes which have revealed that our view of the landscape, in this instance, of a garden, is quite at odds with that of others. It’s true, our garden is a bit wild for a city garden. It rambles, ivy is uncontrolled despite half-hearted effort to keep it in check, trees flow over fences. But my Mum’s vegetables and herbs and roses all mixed in together bring some admiration from visitors. So I have become used to the idea that ours is a lovely garden. In the far back corner there is a very large, very old peppercorn tree with a chook pen underneath. It takes four children spreading their arms wide to circle the trunk. I climbed this tree when I was younger, and from the high platform built by my dad, I could count the spires of four churches and the minaret of one mosque. I could leap back fences with my eyes and finally rest them on the tall tall buildings of the city.
The owner of the flats next door was grumpy with us as children. He complained when we used our skate boards on the expanse of concrete at the front, we were not allowed to play sevens against the brick wall with a tennis ball, and he scooted us away if he saw us with a basketball. We might have had plenty of space in our own back yard, but we did not have the good playing surfaces that his flats offered, with not one piece of earth exposed to the light. It should have seemed logical then, that one day he would complain about the trees along our boundary line – dropping leaves into his spouting, for example; overreaching the fence – and the peppercorn at the back cracking the corner of his building. ‘If you want garden like that, go live in the country’, I heard him tell my parents.
Then one day my parents received a lawyer’s letter demanding the removal of the peppercorn tree, and war was waged. We kids joined in – and I remember one game of timing how long we could occupy his territory before we were sprung. We kept records and celebrated our feats. We spied on the hapless old man and his wife, and were brazenly rude.
I don’t need to tell the details of the ‘negotiations’ that followed, nor of my parent’s distress as what they thought of as an outrageous suggestion grew into a court case which lasted for days. There were no winners. The evidence was disputed by opposing expert witnesses, and the magistrate’s attitude challenged our assumption that any right thinking person would see the case as we did. The tree stayed. The cracks were fixed. The court costs were astronomical. No-one could honestly claim glory.
In recent times I have begun to think of that court case as opening my eyes, and furthermore, I have become aware that our family’s view of the world, and of landscape in particular, is just that – a view of the world. This is a pretty scary thought. The British thought they were free to develop a settlement in Australia – but is that because they simply couldn’t imagine the consciousness of the Australian Aborigines? And what about my family? Should we have been so sure of ourselves, and of our views about land use?
In Malouf’s ^ , Jim Saddler enlists to fight in the war because he realises that if he doesn’t ‘he would spend his whole life wondering what had happened to him and looking into the eyes of others to find out’. He had to see the war for himself, and that altered his consciousness irrevocably. Like the speaker in Robert Frost’s poem he is aware that he sees what he knows. My neighbours were immigrants from southern Italy who worked without break to establish themselves in their new world. They were no strangers to vegetable plots, or to beauty, or to the love of a small plot of land. But here in Australia they knew that a block of flats with a concrete drive was a sign of success; they saw what they knew – concrete as a sign of ‘self-improvement’; they had a view of land use that was very different from ours.
I’m now thinking that my neighbour’s behaviour is explicable, even if I don’t like it. If the court case led me to this position, I was certainly blind to it at the time. But reading Robert Frost, I admire that grudging respect for another person’s experience of the world they inhabit, I admire the way he accepts the other person’s different perceptions within their shared landscape.
In this piece I set out to explore an idea that we’ve discussed in class as we have been thinking about The imaginative landscape. It is an idea that first emerged in our discussions as we watched the opening sequence of Ten Canoes (a supplementary text chosen by our teacher for The imaginative landscape). When viewing that film it becomes clear that the landscape we inhabit is an integral part of our consciousness, and thus of our way of seeing and experiencing our world. The camera is held high over the landscape in the opening sequence, moving across it so that the features beneath appear like a dot painting. Our perspective is altered. This idea, that if we want to understand another’s view of the world, we must do all we can to step into their consciousness, helped us to think about Fly Away Peter, and several of Frost’s poems. In this writing, I am using this idea to help me reflect on a past experience in a new way.
My piece is based on my retelling of a personal experience. In the anecdote, I tried to enliven the anecdote by using dialogue and interesting verbs as Malouf does in ^ (‘scooted us away’, ‘climbed’, ‘leaped’). As the events in my anecdote become more tense, I used shorter sentences to enhance the sense of tension (‘There were no winners … The tree stayed. The cracks were fixed. The court costs were astronomical.’) The piece is framed by a short discussion of Mending Wall as my introduction, and a reflection on the central meaning that connects my experience with two of the texts we studied, as my conclusion.
Context: Whose reality?
Text: The Shark Net, A Streetcar Named Desire
Task: Write a persuasive essay
We all need to see our version of our reality reflected back to us by others. It takes an exceptional person to retain their understanding of their identity when others question it, deny it or even set out to destroy it. Many of us cannot withstand such an assault on our sense of self, submitting to the strong, dominating personalities who want to shape the world in their own image. However, it is not only others who have the capacity to bring our fragile sense of reality undone; maintaining one’s self belief also requires withstanding the doubts of self.
Confusion about our identity and self doubt can arise when those to whom we look to validate our perception of who we are refuse to confirm this perception. Blanche du Bois believes herself to be a Southern belle. She is cultured, sensitive, self-indulgent, vain, yes, but her sense of who she is depends very much on having the image she has of herself confirmed. From Belle Reve, she has journeyed to a place which in her terms ‘only Mr Edgar Allan Poe! – could do … justice [to]!’ Blanche’s world is one of art, poetry and music, a place where refinement and ‘tenderer feelings’ are worth cultivating. This is not the world that she has entered. From the opening scene we see Blanche so out of place in a world in which everyone else is so at ease. The audience sees her appear in a white suit, pearls, white gloves and a hat, very incongruous in the cosmopolitan city of post-World War II New Orleans. She only asks that those she looks to for protection and support accept her version of her life. As she so blithely sings ‘It wouldn’t be a paper moon if you believed in me’. But Stanley and ultimately Stella refuse to see her this way. As Stanley says, ‘Wasn’t it all okay? Till she showed here. Hoity-toity, describing me as an ape’. Stanley sees her as the hysterical intruder into his home, encouraging disloyalty in his wife and he has to destroy her. There is no way that the Blanches of this world stand a chance against the Stanleys.
People like Stanley have no problem in asserting their view of the world and their place in it, even when questions arise from others that could lead to some self questioning. ‘Stanley’s the only one of his crowd that’s likely to go anywhere,’ argues Stella. To Blanche he is bestial. The Shark Net’s Royce, or Roy, another World War II veteran, far removed from the Southern USA, also asserts his version of reality on those around him. He cares not that those close to him might suffer as a consequence, as he is ‘Mr Dunlop’. ‘“I’m a Dunlop man,” he’d proudly say to people,’ and his wife plays her role as Mrs Dunlop, propping up and supporting her man. Two personas emerge. There is Roy who is ‘usually all right’. But young Robert states that ‘the one to look out for was Royce. Royce was Roy when agitated’. The young boy dutifully recalls events surrounding his father. What is witnessed is a man around whom the family has to watch themselves, a man who is a hypocrite, who stands for one way of life, but who indulges in another life completely, taking the moral high ground, but quickly and secretly reading The Mirror before burning it. This is the man who boasts of his flying low over Dorothy’s house, spelling out messages of love. What he had buzzed, to Robert’s uncle, not his mother was ‘TIT’ and ‘BUM’. Just as Stella has to believe in her man, ‘I couldn’t believe her story and go on living with Stanley’, so Dorothy stays with Royce. There are several incidents when it is clear that Dot is far from happy. Robert tells her, unwittingly, of the lift that his father gave to a buxom, ‘quite old’ woman, which ends in a row and his father never forgiving him. There is the comment that she hurls to Robert that what he has done in fathering a child is worse than adultery. Even when she is buried, the funeral is an all Dunlop affair and Robert feels that ‘they were burying Mrs Dunlop’. Dorothy has ceased to live her own life, so totally consumed is she in the roles imposed on her by others and accepting of the reality of her husband’s views. It is not Robert alone who contributes to her unhappy life. As an adult Robert comes to see his father for the man he is; he wonders if he wants the blessing of his oldest child when he re-marries. Robert states, ‘We’ll be there’. Neither Royce, nor Stanley seems to suffer when their concepts of who they are challenged. They stand firm and seek endorsement. They each receive it.
It is not only others, however, who question our concept of who we are. Perhaps it is more difficult to withstand the doubt within oneself. Robert Drewe writes his memoir, linking the crimes of the serial killer Eric Cooke to his own story. The memories of his youth are infused with the guilt that he feels for having been instrumental in his mother’s death. Is he a murderer he asks himself, and the doctor who is far from reassuring. His failure to abide by the teachings of the Moral Agent lead to his girlfriend’s pregnancy. He describes his marriage as ‘a celebration of flagrant immorality’ from his parent’s point of view. His concept of himself having contributed to his mother’s death weighs heavily and provides him with insight into the mind of the killer Cooke. There is sympathy for a man who has lived his life as a social outcaste, who dies without his family even noting the time. It is Robert who is ‘watching the clock’. Robert prefaces the memoir with a quote from Ionesco, ‘You can only predict things after they have happened’. Looking back on his life, he now thinks he sees a boy who could have been more observant, the signs were all there. So keen was he to live his own life that he failed to really consider what the effects might be on those that he loved. Even though his mother seems to do little more than hover on the margins of the pages, we sense Drewe’s insistent remorse. As a young boy, he did not really know his parents. He is aware that his mother also had different personas, Dot and Dorothy and there is the growing realisation that Dorothy has suppressed Dot in order to be a wife and mother, according to the dictates of husband and society. His taking her so much for granted, his failure to be the son that he now feels he could have been, lead to the depiction of himself as in need of finding out who he really is. There is the feeling that he will be able to get back in touch with himself in the last line of the memoir as he sets out with the sunset at his back across the desert.
To hold firm to our sense of who we are when others question us and seem determined to shape us into who they want us to be takes great strength. Often people crumble when assaulted by those whose view of themselves and their world is one that has been established more firmly. Sadly it sometimes takes a stranger, rather than a loved one, to quell our self doubts. At other times we are the ones who doubt ourselves and the structures that we have set up for ourselves may indeed be shaken and found wanting. Our view of our world, our place in it and our belief in ourselves is indeed a fragile one, but nevertheless it is one worth questioning and confirming. Ultimately to see our belief in our reality reflected back from others is important for our mental well being.
I chose to write an essay that would enable me to explore the difficulty of maintaining one’s sense of self and of one’s reality in the world in which one lives. I was questioning what happens to those whose belief in themselves, and in the reality of their own ‘world view’, is undermined by others. Who are able to withstand this assault on self? When are people most vulnerable to self doubt – perhaps in times of social/physical dislocation and in marriage? Why might it be women, rather than men? Do time and place affect one’s ability to firm up one’s sense of self? What happens also when one doubts oneself? My reading of A Streetcar named Desire and The Shark Net was suggesting to me that one’s sense of who one is, is important to one’s emotional well being and is constantly being threatened. Often those who are in most need of self examination are firmly attached to their version of who they are and never allow self doubt.
Both texts are looking at families who have been dislocated and this may explain in part why there might be a vulnerability in some characters that reveals a crack enabling others to cast doubt on who they are. Drewe’s father and Stanley both had a very clear concept of who they were and where they fitted in their world, whereas the women seemed to be forced to reinvent themselves and this led to unhappiness. Stella is prepared to sacrifice her sister’s sanity to preserve her own world. Dot does very much the same, sacrificing herself to be what others want her to be, only rarely showing that there is another self, no less real, but mostly hidden. I wanted to explore this idea.
I was also aware from reading both texts that self doubt can be equally corrosive.
I have chosen to argue my case by closely examining the characters in the two texts. Are we sympathetic to Blanche or to Stella? How does an audience respond to Stanley? I wanted my audience, which would include readers from18 to 40, to think carefully about their view of themselves and how that view might impinge on others’ views of themselves. I wanted readers to think carefully about some of the sacrifices that we might be requiring from others so that they fit into our concept of who they should be.
Those reading the essay who may have felt sympathy for Stanley or Royce Drewe might think about their effects on the women and children in their lives with a little more understanding. Overall, however, I wanted readers to reflect on who they are and to have the confidence to analyse and to protect that important sense of themselves, valuing the rights of others to do so too.
Context: Exploring issues of identity and belonging
Task: Write a newspaper article
Shared humanity across the divide
Ever seen a bully taunt a pacifist? Ever seen someone big-noting himself in front of his friends by humiliating someone they know won’t fight back? I have lived with the Pennsylvania Amish people all my life, and I want to tell you about Daniel.
Daniel was a bully’s victim. Daniel is a big, athletic, good-looking fellow who could easily hold his own in any fair contest of physical strength. He could swat a braying idiot and rid himself of the irritation in a moment. But Daniel, when confronted one day by just such a braying idiot, sat there smouldering, letting the fellow taunt him and dot his face with ice-cream.
Daniel allowed this to happen because he is Amish – committed, unwavering and completely secure in his sense of himself and his beliefs. Part of him – his baser self – cried out to respond physically, brutally. But Daniel maintained his integrity and turned the other cheek. It helped that we were there too, watching and vicariously experiencing his mortification. He knew that we would celebrate his restraint later when we had returned to the farm, just as we would mourn any failure of his to uphold our teachings.
Human beings are innately social. They want to belong to communities and have allegiances to groups. They develop group identity by distinguishing their group as separate from others. Many tourists visit the Pennsylvania town where Daniel’s incident occurred, to peer at we Amish, to
treat us as though we are exhibits, to invade our privacy, insult us and sometimes to assault us. They are mesmerised by our ‘otherness’ – our ‘strange’ costumes, our ‘different’ language, the old-fashioned technology that we cling to, our ‘quaint pacifism’ – and have no respect for, or perhaps no inkling of, our human feelings.
For all of us, whether we are Amish or anything else, much of our identity, our sense of who we are in our own and other people’s eyes, is dependent on the groups to which we belong and those from which we are excluded. However, each of us also has a sense of ourself as an individual or separate being, one with an inner core, a heart of hearts so private that it is impossible for others to ever really know it for sure. Discovering and crystallising this innately personal identity is a formative process and one that can occupy much of adolescence and early adulthood. A difficult time for teenagers and their families, adolescence is when we emerge from the formative influence of our family to establish ourselves as independent people. Teenage growth pains reflect the need to experiment with different identities. Such experimentation is often acted out through allegiances to different groups, and it enables teenagers to explore who they are and what is important to them as individuals. We all need to weigh up whether the values of a certain group are aligned with our own values, as we know them to be, in our heart of hearts.
People who live within the Amish community in Pennsylvania do not escape this process. After all, if we never have a sense of the need to weigh up whether or not what a group offers us is worth what it demands from us, whether it is in synch with what we know in our heart of hearts to be our most cherished values and beliefs, aspirations and dreams, then we are living an unexamined life.
Sometimes it is possible to abdicate from one’s group and, as an individual, cease to follow the cultural practices with which the group is associated, casting off anything that identifies you as part of the group, changing your name and appearance as well as your ways of living. Individuals who are members of strongly-focused groups such as the Amish, do face dilemmas if they decide to opt out of the group like this. In opting out, they suffer a brutal change in their identity, even if they try to deny that.
Many people try to blend into the amorphous mainstream, reckoning that the likelihood of them ‘being themselves’ is greater if they do not identify with minority or marginal social groups. Many people do this as a way of avoiding prejudice, because groups such as the Amish do tend to attract prejudice – I know quite a lot about that! I doubt that blending into the mainstream is the way to fulfilment though; the people I have known who opt out of a strongly-focused group such as ours seem to suffer a great deal.
Sometimes situations unexpectedly arise that make even confident and secure people question their sense of themselves, who they are and what they stand for. These situations can cause a crisis of conscience, when a person has to weigh up the cost of honouring values and commitments or behaving in ways that contradict those things. Being dotted with ice-cream mightn’t do it, but if the fact of belonging to one group precludes you from expressing aspects of your identity that you desperately want to nurture, then you have decisions to make about your identity and your deepest values and desires, to examine your heart of hearts.
Daniel has been through it. He had questioned his religious beliefs. He rejected his family’s teachings and way of life. He left the community in Pennsylvania, swapped his plain clothes for more fashionable garments and completed a degree in Engineering at a University in Canada. But he returned to us of his own free will after a long period examining his heart of hearts. He found that he could not accept the brashness and commercialism, the greed and competitiveness of modern Western society. In the city he felt assaulted by the headlong pace. He was alienated by the rudeness of the people, their self-absorption, and the violence that always seemed to threaten. When he came back he knew who he was and what his values were and he was able to live honourably and happily, achieving a great sense of fulfilment.