Monday, 10 December 2012

Sample structure for a comparative answer.

Theme or Issue.
A theme is a unifying idea or motif repeated or developed throughout a work. This means that it must be one of the central concerns of the text. At it simplest, an issue means a topic of interest or discussion, but clearly what is meant is a topic that is consistently treated throughout the text.
There are a number of universal themes in literature and you’d be well advised to concentrate on a few of these for particular study. Each will apply in some form or other to any three texts you select, although of course you must be aware of precisely what aspects of the theme your texts explore. Here are three examples:
- Love or Relationships
What text does not, in some way or other, deal with love, the most intense, the most longed-for and the most vulnerable of all human aspirations and conditions? In fact, how a text interprets love is very often a key to understanding the entire work.
- Relationship Between an Individual and Society                                                            
A key theme in modern literature, where society is often seen as restricting the freedom of the individual.
-  Power
Another of literature’s essential themes, since all societies and all relationships are defined by questions of power: who holds it, who benefits from it, who suffers because of it, who are the powerless ?
  1. What are you being asked to do?
The marker is told to view each question as a task to be completed, the task here is to compare your texts under a certain mode of comparison. Regardless of the mode of comparison, the emphasis is always on you to compare your three texts (either to show the similarities/ differences between them). Looking at questions on the section from last year’s paper shows this:
‘Important themes are often expressed in key moments in texts.’

Compare how the authors of the comparative texts studied by you used key moments to heighten your awarenss of an important theme.
‘The main characters in texts are often in conflict with the world or culture they inhabit.’
In the light of the above statement, compare how the main characters interact with the cultural contexts of the texts you have studied for your comparative course.
You are thus always going to be comparing your three texts, using one of three modes of comparison to do so.

What do you need to have in these answers?
The markers look for you to make eight comparisons or more in your comparative answer. As with all answers on the Leaving Certificate English exam(s), your answer must contain the four qualities of Clarity of Purpose, Efficiency of Language use, Coherence of Delivery and Accuracy of Mechanics. Since your answer will always need these, you can prepare an answer structure for the comparative section containing these beforehand, as it can thus always be used for your answer. As shall be shown below, the only change that will need to be made to this answer structure in the exam are the paragraph topics you choose, based on the mode you compare your texts under.

The introduction brings about the first quality needed in your answer:
Efficiency of Language Use
This means using your language suitably for the task at hand. Included in this is your ability to structure your answer and your introduction is an important part of your answer structure. Any good introduction to a piece should tell its reader what it is about, and hence you should always place the following in the introduction to your comparative answer, to introduce your answer, in which you will compare your texts:
• What texts you are studying
• How you plan to answer the question
• What paragraph topics you will use to answer the question
We see an example of this in the following question:
‘Exploring a theme or issue raises interesting comparisons. Discuss.’
A suitable introduction would contain something such as:
‘The three texts I am studying are the novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (CI) by Mark Haddon, the drama Philadelphia Here I Come by Brian Friel and the novel Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Exploring a theme or issue in the above texts does raise interesting comparisons, and this is seen when looking at how differently the theme of escape is defined in the three texts, how the theme is presented humorously and tragically in the three texts, how significant characters in the texts contribute to the texts and how key moments in the text present interesting perspectives on the theme.’

Immediately the marker is introduced to the answer; he/ she will know what texts it is about, how you are going to answer the question and the paragraph topics that you will use to answer the question, in other words what the rest of the answer will contain.
As said, the marker is looking for eight comparisons as a minimum in your answer, so a suitable way to structure the main body of your answer is to have four paragraphs with you comparing your three texts in each. This means that in each paragraph you will have two comparisons, with four paragraphs thus adding up your eight comparisons. Such an arrangement will be a suitable structure for your answer, but also involves the second quality needed in your answer; Clarity of Purpose.

This quality involves you completing the set task, which as mentioned above is to compare your texts under a mode of comparison. The four paragraphs of your main body are where you will compare your three texts, with each paragraph focusing on a different paragraph topic. A suitable way of comparing your three texts with each paragraph topic is to contain the threefold method where you introduce each paragraph topic, explain how it compares your three texts, and then compare your three texts under the paragraph topic. The effect of this is not only are you comparing your three texts, you are explaining to the marker why your three texts can be compared as so to answer the question, as well as doing this in an organised fashion, which ties in with Efficiency of Language Use. An example can be seen when continuing with the question mentioned above, if we use the first paragraph to focus on how differently a theme is defined in the three texts mentioned.

Firstly, what must be introduced is the paragraph topic that is being used to answer the question:
‘As said, exploring a theme or issue raises interesting comparisons, and this is seen when viewing how differently or similarly the theme of escape is defined in the three texts I have studied.’
Immediately, as the introduction informed the marker of what the rest of the answer contains, the marker is shown what the rest of your paragraph will contain. Next, you need to show how this paragraph topic answers the question, here how the theme of escape being defined differently/ similarly provides interesting comparisons, perhaps through something such as so:

‘In the three texts we see how differently a theme can be defined; the theme of escape is defined as not only necessary, but also selfish, as well as cruel. The three texts show how escape can be viewed not only positively, but negatively also.’
The marker thus is shown why you are choosing this paragraph topic to answer the question; you are explaining how this paragraph topic, the definition of the theme, provides interesting comparisons. Now all that is left to do is to prove what you are saying does answer the question/ solve the task, by using comparisons to do so.

Comparing your three texts involves another quality needed; Coherence of Delivery.
The marker looks for your answer to consistently answer the question without disruption or interruption, hence when you are swapping from text to text you have to link them so that everything you mention answers the question. Doing so will not only keep your answering of the question consistent, it also completes the task asked of you here, to compare your three texts as the way to link your different texts together is through comparing them, with linking phrases. After introducing the paragraph topic to compare your three texts under and explain how it can do so, you then compare your texts. Sometimes there may be one text that contrasts from the other, sometimes all your texts will contrast, or they may all compare. Regardless of this, use linking phrases to link your text such as ‘Similarly’, ‘We see this again with…’, ‘There is a difference with..’, ‘More of the same is seen with..’, ‘In sharp contrast…’ etc.

We see an example when continuing the paragraph mentioned:
‘HF shows escape is necessary. Huck, believing his new home and surroundings are going to civilise him, leaves for fear of being changed. Already at the beginning of the book new ways are being imposed on Huck and disliking them, Huck leaves, as he is not suited to life in his new home. Similarly, PHIC portrays escape as necessary. Gar needs to escape to Ballybeg as if he does not, it is implied he will succumb to its monotonous ways, as has happened to all around him, such as his father. The extent to which Gar sees this is shown when Private Gar can humorously annotate the conversation between his father and the canon. CI differs from HF and PHIC in that escape is defined as selfish. Chris’ mother is selfish in that she leaves not only her disabled son as she cannot cope with the demands of raising him, but also leaves her husband to raise Chris alone, which we see him struggling to do throughout the text.’

As seen, even though different texts and different views of the theme are mentioned, they are all linked through the linking phrases, meaning that everything mentioned is essential to the answer; thus the paragraph is consistently answering the question and completing the task, to compare your three texts under a comparative mode.

Linking phrases also serve another function in your answer, to link your different paragraphs. All of your paragraphs will answer a question, and linking phrases ensure that the marker is reminded of their all serving the same function and thus their link to another. Like linking phrases were used above to link different texts, they can be used in the same way to link different paragraphs. For example, if we began a new paragraph for the question we have been answering, something such as so would suit:
‘Like the theme being defined differently or similarly, presenting the theme humorously or tragically raises interesting comparisons, as seen in the three texts I studied.’
The marker is thus shown that this paragraph will serve the same function as the last, and thus links your paragraphs, turning them into one answer, rather than separate paragraphs.

We need to return now to a quality mentioned earlier, Efficiency of Language Use. Throughout your answer structure (as shown above), you need to use your language suitably. As said, this involves a suitable answer structure (which has been shown above), but also includes the language you use. Several things should be noted:
• Comparative terminology is essential – linking phrases
• Short sentences – the marker prefers to read them rather than sentences which travel for a number of lines, as this makes for awkward reading
• ‘I’ needs only to be used, if asked for
Following the main body, all that is needed to complete your answer is the Conclusion. The function of the conclusion is to sum up what has been said. Here you should mention:
• The paragraph topics you used
• Your main answer, and how overall you compared the three texts
Such a conclusion for the answer we have been looking at would be:
‘As said, exploring a theme raises interesting comparisons. Examining how a theme is defined, its generic differences, its key moments and how significant characters contribute to it in the three texts mentioned show how a theme is not only similar, but radically different in different texts.’
The final quality needed, Mechanics of Language, require that when writing the above answer structured as so your spelling and grammar have few mistakes/ errors.

Such a structure can be used regardless of whatever mode of comparison you use to answer the question. So what are the modes on which you will have to compare your texts under using such a structure?

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