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The Crucible Final Essay

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Basaad Mhyyal

In the period immediately following the end of World War II, American theatre was transformed by the work of playwright Arthur Miller. Miller tapped into a sense of dissatisfaction and unrest within the greater American psyche because he was profoundly influenced by the depression and the war that immediately followed it. His dramas proved to be both the conscience and redemption of the times; allowing people an honest view of the direction the country had taken.1 Miller has his own concept of tragedy as a modern playwright. He believes that tragedy may depict ordinary people in domestic surroundings instead of talking about a character from a high rank, a king or a queen. Miller’s main concern lies in dramatizing the whole man as he is part of a family and as he is part of a society. In this paper, The Crucible is going to be considered in detail as one of the major tragedies of Arthur Miller. Miller’s The Crucible is based on the events surrounding the 1692 witch trials of Salem, Massachusetts. Miller used that event as an allegory for McCarthyism and the Red Scare, which was a period of time in which Americans were in fear of communism and the government blacklisted accused communists. The play was first performed on Broadway on January 22, 1953. The reviews of the first production were hostile, but a year later a new production succeeded and the play became a classic. The play in the present time is often studied in high schools and universities because of its status as a revolutionary work of theatre and as a document to political events of the 1950s. This play is regarded as one of the best plays of the modern age, due to its deep and captivating plot.2 Miller’s The Crucible is essentially a critique of McCarthyism and the communist scare of the 1950s. Miller saw the parallels between the witch hunts and the McCarthy trials, and found the witch trials to be a compelling vehicle for discussing modern events. The play is a great tragedy, but remains a tragedy for the modern times. The characters in this play suggest what Miller tries to show his readers the lessons from the witch hunts which still apply.3 After performing, the audience is convinced that this play remains relevant and powerful in the twenty-first century. This play can be related to the contemporary world events. It shows the willingness of human beings to blame anyone but themselves. It reinforces the belief that humans are not ready to take responsibility for their actions and would rather find a scapegoat. Miller went back to American history and dug up the records of the Salem witchcraft trails and created his own characters based on the few facts of “known behavior” of the persons involved. The result is a powerful indictment of mass hysteria and savage fury born of terror and superstition. In John Proctor, the tragic hero of The Crucible, Miller has created one of the few heroes of modern drama. A blunt, honest man, but neither an exceptionally good nor a complicated one, Proctor grows with the pressure of circumstances. Like most of Miller’s heroes, Proctor asks to preserve the honour of his name, his right to face himself and his children without apology. However, when a society has gone mad, such a simple reasonable desire makes a man on enemy of the state.4 This paper deals with Arthur Miller as a great playwright of tragedy. It consists of an introduction and two sections. The first section tackles Miller’s concept of tragedy and his view about the common man. Then, section two deals with The Crucible as Miller’s special tragedy and the conclusion reflects what is found out in this paper.

the crucible final essay

Jared Robinson

Mahmoud Reza Ghorban Sabbagh

Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is one of the most controversial American plays in the 20th century. Although it deals with the Salem witchcraft trials in the 17th century, Miller intended it as an allegory about McCarthyism and as a basis for the censure of political issues after WWII. Being aware of the readers’ acquaintance with the events of Salem witchcraft trials, Miller chose the 17th century historical context in such a way that the readers understand the political circumstances of their own time through equating those religious schemata with the political ones a couple of centuries later. This paper tries to shed light on the fact that the readers’ awareness of the political conditions of the time can be enhanced by their familiarity with religious conditions of the period of confrontation with witchcraft. To that end, the article addresses the historical context of The Crucible adopting a cognitive point of view. It subsequently distinguishes the opposing discourses (dominant...

International Journal of Psychosocial Rehabilitation,

arunakumari s

The Crucible, a play by Arthur Miller, was an adaptation of the Salem witch trials, which took place in the American province of Massachusetts Bay in 1692 and 1693. In the Crucible's play, all characters are all based on real people who lived in Salem. Although there are several similarities to our own time in the play, it is full of ideas and attitudes that were unique to Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692. To clearly understand the play, some knowledge of Salem is required. As a result, the following information discusses essential Puritan beliefs and customs, as well as history including its historical Salem witch trials. In particular, Miller's use of such Salem witch trials to critique upon this McCarthy trials in the 1950s discussed all these things throughout this paper.

pawan sharma

The present study attempts to examine the relationship of husband, John Proctor, and wife, Elizabeth Proctor, in Arthur Miller's play The Crucible (1953) by clarifying how their use of language in communicating with each other reflects the nature and the development of their tensed relationship. Their relationship, though personal, yet it has been influential in setting in motion the disastrous events which upset the whole community of the 1697 Salem, Massachusetts. Speech act theory associated with the work of J. L. Austin (1962) and John Searle (1975) is employed to reveal 1) a failure of communication between the two at the beginning of the play due to their troubled marital life, 2) a true rapprochement achieved by them near the end due to their long suffering during the witch hunt and also to Elizabeth's essential honesty and courageous self-awareness. Her heroic integrity forces her husband to face the truth and soon he makes his final noble choice i.e. death with ho...

rabbia rani

Psychoanalytic Study of Abigail's Mind In Arthur Miller's Play ''The Crucible'' Rabbia Rani M.A English U.O.S (M B DIN) Abstract: The present research explores the psychoanalytic study of Abigail's mind in Arthur Miller's play ''The Crucible''. This drama is about the Salem witch trial of 1962, in North America. .As it is clear like daylight that 'Crucible' is a container in which we melt the things to purify the purity of the people. This research suggest Abigail's mind under the umbrella of Psychoanalytic study. Sigmund Freud is the pioneer of psychoanalysis theory. He divides mind into three parts; Id, Ego, Super Ego. As Sigmund Freud discloses that ‘’the mind is like an iceberg, it floats with one –seventh of its bulk above water”. Abigail prefers id. It prevails 98 percent in our mind. Id is the only part that is present spontaneously in our mind. It subsist with carving, yearning, longing, ambition and fascination, impulses particular our sexual and aggressive drives. The findings of the present research is about Abigail’s personality has a confrontation between id and super- ego. Although, she follows id because her parents does not give love and affection to her and she wants to gets love and affection from hideous way. Keywords: Id, Ego, Super- Ego, Naive, love and Affection, Neurotic

Petra Tesarova

The critical essay treats the question of a coerced confession such as it is often practiced in the famous Arthur Miller's play The Crucible (1952) about witch trials in Salem Village, Massachusetts.

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Writing help, paraphrasing tool, the crucible - free essay samples and topic ideas.

The Crucible is a dramatic work by Arthur Miller that explores the hysteria and injustices of the Salem witch trials. Essays on this topic could delve into the various thematic elements of the play, its historical accuracy, and its critique of McCarthyism. Furthermore, discussions could extend to the character analysis, the play’s enduring relevance, and its place within the broader context of American literature and historical drama. A substantial compilation of free essay instances related to The Crucible you can find in Papersowl database. You can use our samples for inspiration to write your own essay, research paper, or just to explore a new topic for yourself.

Power and Authority in the Crucible

In Arthur Miller’s captivating play, The Crucible, the Salem Witch Trials were examined during 1693 and 1694. Through this play, we can see how powerless people have become powerful. This essay will be describing the trasition from powerless to powerful or the other way around, based off of the Salem Witch Trials. Empowerment plays a crucial role in the development of a powerful person. The audience realizes that the role of adversity has helped the powerless to become powerful. In […]

The Crucible Final Essay

Arthur Miller believes that the idea of tragedy is often misinterpreted. Many people believe that in a tragedy a person in the play must die unexpectedly for the person that they love. He sees that In “The Crucible” his intention was not to rewrite the history of the Salem Witch Trials but to create characters to show how people were falsely accused and have been hung as a result. He also shows characters who are very courageous. Within his quote […]

John Proctor the True Tragic Hero

Every tragic hero has an encouraging future until some fatal flaw or lapse in judgement shrouds all of their actions, leading to their eventual demise. In Arthur Miller's The Crucible, John Proctor is no exception to this statement; he succumbs to his death because of a failure in reasoning. Another one of John's characteristics that leads him to be labeled as the tragic hero of The Crucible is his relatable tragic flaw, which is also known as his hamartia. In […]

The Crucible the Effect of Salem on Reverend Hale

Arthur Miller's The Crucible is a play that takes place in the 1690's during the infamous witch trials. Reverend Hale, a minister from East Hanover, is sent to Salem to exercise his expertise on the demonic arts and witchcraft. When Hale arrives in Salem, he discovers the town in total calamity. Hale is sent to help remove the source of this chaos but is dragged in instead. In the play, Reverend Hale's change from immensely confident to defeatedly remorseful becomes […]

Differences between the Crucible Movie and the Play

The famous play The Crucible by Arthur Miller and the movie The Crucible may share the same name but have many differences, whether it's the characters and how they act, or the way the scene changes, or in this example how the completely focus the story on something else. There was many additional scenes, or moods, in the movie that was not expressed in the play. Starting with Abigail being naked in the woods and not Mercy, then Abigail's feelings […]

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The Transformation of John Proctor

Stressed is a feeling that one can sense throughout Arthur Miller's famous play called The Crucible. The whole town of Salem, Massachusetts, is stressed because of the frightening witchcraft, however, each character also has to deal with their own individual stress for various reasons. John Proctor is one of the characters suffering from stress because he initially refuses to admit his sin of adultery which would cause his good reputation to go down the drain. In The Crucible, through the […]

Why is Abigail to Blame in the Crucible

In the play, The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, the author argues/ implies that people can be easily manipulated by fear. The character, Abigail has many faults. In this paper I will explain if Abigail deserved the blame for the outcome. I will also support my argument with evidence from the play. Abigail has so many faults. Some of her faults are she craves attention, affection, interfering with others relationships, selfish, manipulative, and an amazing lair. She craves attention by influencing […]

How is Reputation Shown in the Crucible

Reputation is the way that other people perceive you. Integrity is the way you perceive yourself. Abigail wanted to protect her reputation and Integrity so, she went around Salem and accused others of being involved with witchcrafts. A bad reputation on others can result in social or physical punishment. In The Crucible, people in Salem used accusations of witchcraft to destroy the reputation of their enemies. Abigail Williams lies and manipulates her friends and the entire town causing innocent people […]

John Proctor’s Evolutions

Arthur Miller's The Crucible is a morality play that examines religious and political fervor, mob mentality, and hypocrisy. While some characters realize that the proceedings are anything but just, others never think about them critically. John Proctor evolves throughout the play, from sinful to pure. His many dilemmas drive his evolution, which makes the point that someone who is having their own personal battle can still be an example for someone else. Arthur Miller illustrates John Proctor as a tragic […]

The Crucible is an Sllegory of the Red Scare

Section I: Introduction Arthur Miller's, The Crucible, is an allegory of the Red Scare that impacted society mentally, physically, and spiritually. The play displayed a series of abnormal occurrences that followed a similar social and political fallout that was seen prior in the seventeenth century. It was also a means to represent the ridiculous and mob-mentality constructed accusatory atmosphere that suffocated the 1950's during which it was written. The play itself, The Crucible, follows the tragic historical events that took […]

Symbolism in the Crucible

What does The Poppet, John Proctor and Witchcraft? Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose. In Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible, it focuses on chaos of the Salem Witch Trials. In the play, young Abigail Williams had an affair with her former employee, John Proctor. As a result, John's wife, Elizabeth, fired Abby thus placing a wedge between the married couple. Abigail, not one to be scorned, set out to make matters right. […]

John Proctor in Arthur Miller’s Drama

John Proctor is the protagonist in Arthur Miller's drama about witchcraft in Salem, The Crucible. He is a well-regarded man in the community who commits adultery and is found guilty of witchcraft. Throughout the play, he is strongly conflicted between the desire to act upon self-interest and the desire to be a moral man. This contrast encompasses Miller's message that one must search within oneself to do what is right and not what is expedient. There are many instances in […]

About Witchcraft in the Crucible

The Crucible is mainly about witchcraft. Witchcraft is the practice of magic, especially black magic. With this magic you can use spells and the innovation of spirits. People have gone insane believing that witchcraft is happening in their town. People start accusing others for witchcraft and once that is said, your life's on the line. Victims have to go through court and then later on the guilty people are in the process of being hung. Their is a movie based […]

John Proctor’s Pride in the Play the Crucible

A tragedy is an event that leads to one's affliction and downfall. That’s the case in the play The Crucible by Arthur Miller. The Crucible took place in Salem, MA in the 1960s. It's about how a group of girls dancing in the forest led to a full-on witch trial investigation. This play is an allegory which means its a story told on two levels. The first time period is the Salem Witch Trials and the second is the time […]

The Crucible as an Allegory to McCarthyism

Arthur Miller's The Crucible seems to be historical fiction at first glance; it is, in its simplest state, a dramatic retelling of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. However, a close reading of the play leads us to conclude that The Crucible deviated from the real historical narrative accuracies quite a bit. This is not a failure of storytelling or a symptom of laziness on Miller's part; it is rather a symptom of the artistic liberties taken by Miller in […]

7 Deadly Sins in the Crucible

The Crucible is a play based on the Salem witch trials that happened in 1693, in Massachusetts. This play was written by Arthur Miller. The characters in the play portray some of the actual people who were afflicted during the trials. Many of the characters represented some of the Seven Deadly Sins. The Seven Deadly Sins are pride, envy, lust, anger, sloth, gluttony, and covetousness. This play is full of sinners and full of sinful nature and all seven of […]

John Proctor a One Man Show

Just as the heart and brain are part of human anatomy, sinful nature and desire are woven into the DNA of the natural man. One of the most notorious examples of people acting based on their own greed and sinful desires is the Salem Witch Trials. The quiet Puritan town of Salem, Massachusetts erupted into chaos and hysteria in 1692 when several girls accused various members of the community of conspiring with the devil. Most of the people entangled in […]

The Hunger for Power and an Impact on a Person’s Life in the Crucible

Power doesn't corrupt people, people corrupt power (William Gaddis). Puritanism was a powerful religious, social, and political order in New England colonial life. In a Puritan society, humans wanted to reform the Christian church and believed that the devil had servants that worked for him on Earth. Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible, explains the persecution of persons falsely accused of being witches in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692. The play portrays power and how that power shifts among the characters. It […]

The Crucible and the Conflicts the Characters

Selfishness is one of the many evils in a man or a woman, perhaps is the worst. The evil or vengeance a person wants to payback often has something that'll come back to you if it's done. In the book called, The Crucible, by Arthur Miller uses the character to shows flaws, that actions have consequences. The cause and effects of the characters had done something and in return, something is good or bad. John Proctor's flaw is lust; he […]

Similarities and Difference the Crucible Play and Movie

Over many years many movies have been based upon famous plays or even books. Sometimes these movies succeed in exaggeration of the plays images and thoughts for the play or book. The play by Arthur Miller, The Crucible and the movie have many similarities and differences. These all help change the plot, characters, and mood for the play which have been set into the movie. For starters, usually a movie is far different from the play or book it originally […]

Fear and Misinformation in the Crucible

In the Crucible, the Salem witch trials was shown in a fictional matter. But still had inspiration from the real event and the hysteria known as the Red Scare. In the book, it shows how fear and misinformation can cause major repercussions, hysteria, and cause a whole town to turn on each other. In this essay, I will identify who gets blamed for what happened in Salem. I also will defend the main antagonist Abigail Williams. Firstly, in Act 1 […]

What Kind of Hero was John Proctor?

We all know that John Proctor was a hero, but what kind of hero was he and why was he this kind? John was a tragic hero, because in the play The Crucible John gave up his life so that his wife could live. When John Proctor died, everyone in Salem was sad. This happened more towards the end of the play when Proctor ripped up the confession he signed. John's choice to do this was an example of purity […]

About a Dramatized the Crucible by Arthur Miller

It is a dramatized and partially fictionalized story of the real life Salem Witch Trials that took place in Salem, Massachusetts during 1692- 1693. Many innocent people were wrongfully accused of witchery and put on trial for things that they didn’t commit. Many of those people were punished simply because they didn’t want to confess to lies and weren’t going to be manipulated. Some characters of the play include John Proctor who is often referred to as the protagonist, and […]

Tituba and other Social Outcasts in the Crucible

The Crucible is a play that's about the Salem Witch Trials which took place in Massachusetts Bay Colony during 1692. A town minister named Reverend Samuel Parris discovered his young daughter Betty Parris age 10 as well as his niece Abigail Williams dancing in the forest with other girls and a slave named Tituba. Young Betty falls into a deep sleep after being discovered by her father. Rumors surfaced that the girls were playing around with witchcraft. Families and other […]

The Crucible as an Allegory of the Witch Trial

With more than 200 people accused and 20 people executed, the Salem Witch trials became a serious case that lasted throughout history inspiring authors like Arthur Miller to write a play based on this issue. Miller wrote The Crucible as an allegory of the Witch Trials to compensate for the problems that he faced during the Mccarthy Era. His main goal was to present the issues of the Hollywood ten to the public; in order to do so, Miller changed […]

One of the Main Characters in the Play “The Crucible”

In the play The Crucible by Arthur Miller, John Proctor, one of the main characters in his mid-thirties, was overly prideful in his name and reputation. To start, John Proctor had a previous affair with a 17- year- old girl named Abigail. When John revealed this to his wife Elizabeth, whom he has three sons with, she was very upset and on the edge. So, when Abigail was put on trial for previous accusations, Elizabeth wanted John to go testify […]

How Fear for a Penalty Can Destroy a Community

Puritans believed that the Bible was God's true law that it provided a plan for living, and that those who didn't follow would be cruelly punished for sins they had committed. However, their religion was so strict that it caused Puritans to have a very narrow range of acceptable behavior. The Puritans cared more for moral behavior and they took their laws from the Bible, rather than English precedent. In Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible seems to be the corrupting […]

About Risks in the Crucible

The Crucible has many significant themes, but the risks and rewards that go along with having power and greed are proven in how Arthur Miller portrays his characters. One of the characters, Abigail shows how being selfish and power hungry gets her nowhere. Miller also shows how the whole community supports that men are more powerful than women. Then lastly, Reverend Parris is more concerned with his reputation than his own family. Although many of the characters have influence within […]

The Court of Salem in the Crucible

The Crucible is a play written by Arthur Miller based on the Salem Witch Trials that took place around the late 1600’s. During this time period, in Salem especially, it is very important that the people of the community were holy and lived according to God’s will. For example, you must know your Ten commandments in order to keep bad suspicions off your back. Although, even that will not be enough if you are accused of conjuring the devil. In […]

Women in Salem in the Crucible

Here in the play, John Proctor is attempting to appeal to the logistical aspect of the issue at hand, which is that many innocent women in Salem have been accused and arrested for witchcraft. He is characterized by his honesty, bluntness and is an overall good man, except for one issue. He’s a lecherer. He had an affair with Abigail Williams while she was working in his home. She no longer works there, and John has tried to get the […]

Related topic

Essay About The Crucible Have your morals and values ever changed after you went through a tough situation? Character development is defined as the collective observable changes in an individual’s defining characteristics over the course of a narrative. Characters in a play, book, or even a TV show are faced with tough situations that are hard to overcome. Many times, these tough situations change the character’s perspective on life. In the play, The Crucible, John Proctor faced many challenges that ultimately altered his view on life. In Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, John Proctor undergoes several changes as he grapples with personal and moral dilemmas. John Proctor develops over time from immoral to remorseful. In the beginning of the play, John Proctor is described as immoral. He committed adultery in a very strict religious community. John is also very stubborn when it comes to religion. This accusation can be explained with the quote, “I have trouble enough without I come five mile to hear him preach only hellfire and bloody damnation” (Miller, 16) which proves that Proctor did not think very highly of Reverend Parris’ sermons. He would not go to church because he felt as though God did not exist anymore and that Reverend Parris was not a very religious man, so he should not be listening to him. John Proctor even said, “I say, I say, God is dead!” (Miller, 71) which tells us that he does not think God exists anymore. This was very frowned upon in the Salem village. By the end of the play, John Proctor can be seen as a remorseful man. He feels very bad about cheating on his wife with Abigail. Proctor even begins to change his views and opinions about Abigail. Proctor says, “She thinks to dance with me on my wife’s grave! And well she might, for I thought of her softly. God help me, I lusted, and there is a promise in such sweat. But it is a whore’s vengeance, and you must see”(Miller, 66). He begins to see Abigail for who she really is. Proctor has displayed the virtue of courage by the end of the play because he is sticking up for what he believes in and he is not being a hypocrite anymore. Proctor’s decision to finally tell the truth about everything resolves his conflicts because he is not holding anything in anymore. In Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, John Proctor undergoes several changes as he grapples with personal and moral dilemmas. John Proctor develops over time from immoral to remorseful. John realized that owning up to his mistakes was the best thing that he could do for himself. This was a major theme for the play, The Crucible. Arthur Miller wants readers to realize and understand that everyone makes mistakes no matter how good of a person they may be. The most important thing is that you own up to your mistakes and that you will actually learn from them.

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Essays on The Crucible

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The Themes of Revenge, Power of Lies and Reputation in "The Crucible" by Arthur Miller

John proctor - a tragic hero in the crucible, "the crucible" by arthur miller: fear is something to be feared, self-reflection, responsibility for mistakes, and the power of integrity in "the crucible" by arthur miller, let us write you an essay from scratch.

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Character of Abigail Williams in The Crucible

Causes and effects of john proctor and abigail williams' affair, analysis of the character of john proctor in the crucible by arthur miller, analysis of john proctor as tragic hero in "the crucible" by arthur miller, get a personalized essay in under 3 hours.

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Review of The Key Themes of "The Crucible" and "Year of Wonders"

The theme of society's power in the crucible and death of a salesman, "the crucible" as an allegory of the "red scare" of the 1950s in america, review of the play "the crucible" by arthur miller, the themes of lies, revenge, and cries of witchcraft in "the crucible" by arthur miller, depiction of envy in the crucible play, reverend hale's evolution in "the crucible" by arthur miller, role of abigail williams in the crucible by arthur miller, uncertain political agendas: a look at historical figures in atwood and miller, the "weights" of the world: a central motif in "the crucible" by arthur miller, the image of mccarthyism and mass hysteria in the crucible, john proctor from "the crucible": character analysis.

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A Study of People and Politics in The Crucible and Citizenfour

The idea of conscience in "the crucible" by arthur miller, the impact of power on abigail williams in the crucible by arthur miller, the changing temper of john proctor in the crucible, a play by arthur miller, the crucible versus mccarthyism: a comparative analysis, reverend parris's traits of selfishness in the crucible, the theme of lie in "the crucible", a play by arthur miller, breaking down the value of 'subtext' in the crucible by a. miller and much ado about nothing by w. shakespeare.

January 22, 1953, Arthur Miller

Play; Tragedy

Abigail Williams, Reverend John Hale, Reverend Samuel Parris, John Proctor, Elizabeth Proctor, Thomas Danforth, Mary Warren, John Hathorne, Giles Corey, Rebecca Nurse

McCarthyism allegory, which stands for the American prosecution of people accused of being communists.

Intolerance, Puritanism, Reputation, Hysteria, Goodness, Judgment

Historical reference to the Salem witch trials, which became a mental mirror of political hysteria.

It is based around a fictional story that speaks of Salem witch trials that take place in the Massachusetts Bay Colony with the young village girls being accused of witchcraft. As the girls are being caught by the local minister after being seen with the black slave named Tituba, one of the girls falls into a coma, which is seen as witchcraft. This Salem witch trial acts as the allegory of people being accused of Communist views.

One of the key themes in The Crucible is the aspect of goodness because every character in the book is concerned about religious factors and the ways how they will be judged by God after they die. It brings out a distorted view in terms of how far a person can go by accusing others or giving prompts of someone’s being wrong or bad. As the topics of conspiracy and being a silent witness clash in the book, it shows various comparisons of the Bay Colony to post WW2 society and the influence of the Communists. It can be approached as a reflection that one should use when thinking of what being honest and “finding one’s goodness” means.

FBI wanted the author to change one of his screenplays to make his script PRO-American by not making gangsters look like Communists. Miller's friends were also persecuted as they were asked to name those people they knew who could be the Communists. Miller tried to use as many facts as he could when speaking of Salem in 1692. The linguistic that is used in the play was converted to various speech patterns that have been used in the past and the territory. The Crucible did not have Broadway success in the beginning. Arthur Miller's passport was denied in Europe as he was told to leave since his views were against the national interests. The play has turned Salem into a popular tourist destination.

"Until an hour before the Devil fell, God thought him beautiful in Heaven." "I speak my own sins; I cannot judge another. I have no tongue for it." "It is rare for people to be asked the question which puts them squarely in front of themselves." "A child's spirit is like a child, you can never catch it by running after it; you must stand still, and, for love, it will soon itself come back." "We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law!"

It is an important subject when writing about inconsistencies and judgment in our society. The Crucible is a great reflection of various political agendas, religion, and social bias. Reading through the play, we are also looking at ourselves, which is why the book can be compared to any social injustice or any act where stereotypes have been used. You can use this book as a way to implement quotes when comparing anything from cheating to honesty.

Abigail Williams, the main protagonist, had an affair with John Proctor.

1. Salisbury, N. (2004). In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692. By Mary Beth Norton.(New York: Knopf, 2002. 436 pp. $30.00, isbn 0-375-40709-X.). (https://academic.oup.com/jah/article-abstract/91/1/201/762359) 2. Andrews, D. (2003). Mary Beth Norton, In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002. vii 436 pp. ISBN 0-375-40709-X. Itinerario, 27(2), 177-179. (https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/itinerario/article/abs/mary-beth-norton-in-the-devils-snare-the-salem-witchcraft-crisis-of-1692-new-york-alfred-a-knopf-2002-vii-436-pp-isbn-037540709x/6A82CB362650054F3A059109B7C04FAA) 3. Budick, E.M. (1985). History and Other Spectres in Arthur Miller's The Crucible. Modern Drama 28(4), 535-552 (https://muse.jhu.edu/pub/50/article/498714/summary) 4. Popkin, H. (1964). Arthur Miller's" The Crucible". College English, 26(2), 139-146. (https://www.jstor.org/stable/373665) 5. Curtis, P. (1965). The Crucible. Critical Review, 8, 45. (https://www.proquest.com/openview/5dd8ecd8022057c725bea9b694347a10/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=1817655) 6. Gerstle, G. (2017). American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century. Princeton: Princeton University Press. (https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/9781400883097/html#APA) 7. Miller, T. (2023). The Crucible: McCarthyism and a Historical View of Witch Hunts. Humanities. (https://owlcation.com/humanities/The-Crucible-McCarthyism-and-a-Historical-View-of-Witch-Hunts) 8. Aziz, A. (2016). Using the past to intervene in the present: spectacular framing in Arthur Miller's The Crucible. New Theatre Quarterly, 32(2), 169-180. (https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/new-theatre-quarterly/article/abs/using-the-past-to-intervene-in-the-present-spectacular-framing-in-arthur-millers-the-crucible/8B437FE241799B43CF0F11838CC4D7E1) 9. Martin, R.A. (1977). Arthur Miller's The Crucible: Background and Sources. Modern Drama 20(3), 279-292. (https://muse.jhu.edu/pub/50/article/502227/summary)

Relevant topics

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The Crucible by Arthur Miller

October 23, 2020

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‍ This blog was updated on 23/10/2020.

2. Historical Context

3. Character Analysis

5. Symbols and Motifs

6. Quote Analysis

7. Sample Essay Topics

8. Essay Topic Breakdown

The Crucible is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response .

The Crucible , Arthur Miller’s 1953 realist play, is based on the historical events of the 1692 Salem witch hunts. Although partially fictionalised, it depicts the very real consequences of false accusations based on blind religious faith , as Miller displays the dangers of such baseless rumours. However, the play was written during another type of witch hunt: McCarthyism in 1950s America. This was a political movement in which Senator Joseph McCarthy attempted to control the spread of Communism by placing any Communist sympathisers on a blacklist. This resulted in a widespread fear of Communist influences, and a political hunt similar to the Salem witch trials began, as civilians attempted to escape their own charges by accusing other innocent individuals of treason. Thus, given the historical context of the time, Miller uses The Crucible as an allegorical warning for the audience against the dangers of McCarthyism in 1950s America. 

These concepts will be fully unpacked later, but it is important to keep these key notions of hysteria, accusation and blind faith in mind as you study the text. These are the fundamental ideas that the play is based upon, and also the elements which make The Crucible hugely relevant in our society today. One could even say that the development of technology has made it easier for false allegations and social rumours to spread - leading to drastic consequences specific to the 21st century, such as the leaking of critical government information and cyberbullying. Not to mention, the anonymity of technology has enabled individuals to start modern-day witch hunts as a nameless, faceless user behind the comfort and security of their screens!

Historical Context

In varying degrees, every work of literature reflects its historical context , or the social and political conditions that shaped its time period. The Crucible is a four-act play, which presents a dramatised and partially fictionalised depiction of the 1692 Salem witch trials. It was also published in 1953, at the height of the Second Red Scare, or the heightened fear of Communist influences in America. As such, the play is not merely a play based on historically accurate events, but also an allegory of the disastrous consequences of McCarthyism.

Character Analysis

John proctor.

Proctor is a strong and hardworking farmer, respected by those in Salem for his power and independence. Possessing a “sharp and biting way with hypocrites”, Proctor is the symbol of autonomous leadership in the play, acting as another source of social authority to the theocratic leaders of the Puritan Church. He is the protagonist of the play, but a flawed individual - while he has great strength of character, he is also presented in The Crucible as an adulterous husband, who is openly defiant of his church. As such, he is described by Miller as a kind of “sinner” - one who experiences an internal moral conflict within himself. Proctor undergoes much personal growth during the plot of the play, redeeming his name and obtaining “goodness” by choosing moral honesty over freedom. This ultimate act of courage symbolises the importance of integrity and honour , and represents the “shred of goodness” in his character. 

Elizabeth Proctor

Although described by Abigail as a “bitter woman”, Elizabeth is the quiet yet resilient wife of Proctor. Her husband’s affair with Abigail renders her resentful towards the former and jealous of the latter, resulting in a wounded and fragile marriage. Her humility is made evident as she blames herself for Proctor’s infidelity, believing she erred in keeping a “cold house”. In tandem with this icy imagery , Miller utilises Elizabeth as a symbol of honesty and strict moral justice , despite it often being mistaken as “coldness” by others - Proctor asserts that Elizabeth’s justice “would freeze beer”. Despite this, Elizabeth proves herself to be a caring source of support for her persecuted husband, believing him to be “a good man”, and ultimately breaking her characteristic honesty in the hopes of his freedom. Her extreme courage is ultimately made evident by her willingness to lose Proctor to the hangman’s noose, rather than for him to lose his moral virtue by signing his name to lies. 

Abigail Williams

Described as “a wild thing”, Abigail is a beautiful, yet manipulative and deceptive adolescent with “an endless capacity for dissembling”. Still in love with Proctor after their brief affair, she lies to the court and condemns Elizabeth as a witch, in a desperate, jealous attempt to win him back and take Elizabeth’s place as his wife. Abigail is the ringleader of the girls, and the progenitor of the false rumours that spiral into the witch hunt. Thus, she embodies falsehood , in a stark contrast to Elizabeth, who is a symbol of truth. Her violent nature is made evident in the play, as she threatens the girls with physical violence and “smashes Betty across the face” in an effort to silence her. Despite this, Miller makes clear that Abigail is a victim of psychological trauma , as she is revealed to have borne witness to the violent death of her parents - partly explaining her disturbed and devious nature. 

Mary Warren 

Mary Warren is a sullen, sensitive and easily manipulated servant of the Proctor household. Her volatile nature makes her an easy target for Abigail, who manipulates her into betraying the Proctors by planting a poppet in Elizabeth’s room, which ultimately becomes the leading evidence in her sentencing. Mary is a symbol of mass hysteria , as her easily exploitable nature and weakness in spirit represent the irrationality of those who are quick to believe rumours, such as the persecutors of the Salem witch hunts, as well as the accusers of the McCarthy era. 

Susanna Walcott, Mercy Lewis, Betty Parris

Referred to as “the girls” throughout the play, these young individuals are manipulated by Abigail to falsely convict Elizabeth and numerous others as practicers of witchcraft. All of these girls possess a common fear of Abigail, and carry out her orders in an attempt to evade their own punishment at her hands. Thus, Miller uses them to emphasise his allegory of the McCarthy trials , in which numerous people accused others of Communism based on their own fear of being charged by the Court. 

Mass Hysteria

Mass hysteria is one of the most significant themes of the play, as Miller depicts the entire town of Salem engulfed by the superstition of witchcraft and devil-worship. The community-wide fear of consorting with the devil is shown to overwhelm any kind of rational thought . As one rumour created by Abigail and the girls leads to dozens of incarcerations and executions in a matter of days, The Crucible depicts the “perverse manifestation of panic” that can occur from unsubstantiated fear . Miller uses this illustration of hysteria to show the effects of a strictly repressive Puritan society . Although some residents of Salem manipulate the witch hunt for their own benefit, such as Abigail, the majority of the townspeople are launched into the terror-fuelled “fever” by their genuine belief that the devil is running amok in Salem. The strict theocracy of the town thus exacerbates the crisis, as joining the accusatory crowd becomes a religious necessity ; a virtuous “plane of heavenly combat between Lucifer and the Lord”. As such, the play demonstrates how uncontrolled religious fervour can lead to the collective indoctrination of “black mischief”, where panic clouds all reason. 

Judgement in The Crucible encompasses three meanings; the legal, personal, and spiritual . The legal judgement in the play is depicted as superficial - mainly illustrated through the characters of Hathorne and Danforth, the theocratical Salem court does not carry out real justice due to its dogmatic focus on its reputation . This is depicted by Danforth’s stubborn refusal to free the innocents accused, due to his belief that it would lead to a tainted esteem of the court. Thus, Miller suggests that the more important judgement is personal - exemplified by the character of Proctor. Believing himself to be a “sinner” against his own “version of moral conduct”, Proctor throughout the play shows limitless remorse and self-hatred for the hurt he has caused Elizabeth by his affair with Abigail. Miller shows the importance of forgiveness through self-judgement , as Elizabeth assures Proctor that there is “no higher judge under Heaven” than Proctor himself, and he ultimately is able to forgive himself and see the “shred of goodness” within him by the end of the play. Furthermore, The Crucible depicts the town of Salem overcome by the fear of God’s judgement, or what Proctor calls “God’s icy wind” . The events of the play unfold due to the town’s collective fear of the higher power of an “Almighty God”. As Hale proclaims, “Before the laws of God we are as swine!”, Miller showcases the extent of the fearsome “power of theocracy” in circumstances of confusion and hysteria .

The events of the Salem witch trials detail various types of accusation. Although all are disguised as the dispelling of witchcraft, the false allegations depicted in the play are carried out with a range of different motives . For example, Abigail’s accusation of Elizabeth as a witch is described to derive from a “whore’s vengeance” due to her passionate jealousy of Elizabeth’s position as Proctor’s wife, and Abigail’s wish to take her place. Similarly, Rebecca Nurse’s charge of “murdering Goody Putnam’s babies” is due to the Putnams’ resentment and jealousy of her numerous children, while they themselves have lost babies “before they could be baptised”.  In contrast to this, the accusation of Martha Corey, Giles' wife, of witchcraft is motivated by Walcott’s desire for revenge , as he resents her for the unhealthy “pig he bought from her five years ago”. Thus, his actions are calculative rather than passionate - a cruel attempt to get “his money back”. In his employment of the play as a historical allegory , this depiction of the blind following of rampant accusations depicted in The Crucible represents the similarly irrational proceedings of the McCarthy trials, many of which were carried out without substantial evidence. 

Honour and Integrity

Honour is one of the most prominent themes in the play, as the majority of the characters strive to maintain their reputations in society . Miller depicts a community in which private and public characters are one and the same, and the consequences of the obsessive desire to uphold the esteem of their name. For example, although Proctor has the chance to undermine the girls’ accusations by revealing Abigail as a ‘whore’, he does not do so in order to protect his good name from being tarnished . Likewise, Parris at the beginning of the play threatens Abigail and the girls due to his fear that hints of witchcraft will threaten his already precarious reputation in the church and banish him from the pulpit. Furthermore, the judges of Salem do not accept any evidence that could free the innocent accused, as they uphold a false reputation to honour the Puritan church. Despite this, Miller shows the importance of prioritising personal honour over public reputation through the character of Proctor. As he ultimately makes the valiant decision in Act IV to refrain from “signing lies” and thus uphold his name, he is able to redeem himself from his previous sins and is able to die with righteousness.

By the way, to download a PDF version of this blog for printing or offline use, click here !

Symbols and Motifs

The crucible.

A crucible is a ceramic or metal container in which metals, chemicals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures. As such, Miller in the play employs the violent imagery of a crucible to symbolise the severe and challenging test of the Salem witch hunts . As spoken by Danforth in Act III, “We burn a hot fire in here; it melts down all concealment”, the motif of the crucible represents the merciless nature of both the Salem and McCarthy court proceedings , and their dogged determination to convict, despite the lack of substantial evidence. Crucibles are often used for the chemical process of calcination, during which particles are heated to high temperatures in order to purify them - removing any volatile substances from the compound. As such, Miller also suggests that societal challenges such as those depicted in the play can lead to situations in which the good can be separated from the evil ; as the town is split into those who are “with this court or…against it”, the witch hunts illustrate the distinction between the individuals who possesses moral integrity and those who manipulate the situation for their selfish pursuits . 

In Act III, Abigail and the girls plant a poppet, or doll, in Elizabeth’s house, in an attempt to frame her as an individual guilty of witchcraft. As Abigail stabs the doll with a needle in its stomach before leaving it on Elizabeth’s shelf, she is able to pretend that her own stomach is injured from Elizabeth’s practice of voodoo with it. The poppet is a symbol of childhood and girlhood , and the play’s depiction of it as a tool for malicious revenge represents the loss of innocence and pretence that arises out of the witch hunts . Miller illustrates the danger of mass hysteria , as he depicts the young group of girls, led by Abigail, become manipulated into condemning innocent townspeople to death; thereby losing their innocence and moral virtue . The poppet is also employed as a symbol of deception , as it emphasises the fact that the Salem persecutions are based on lies and falsehood . As the court ignores Elizabeth’s outraged protests that she has not kept a poppet since she was a little girl, Miller chastises a justice system which values convenient deceit over the cumbersome truth . 

Although traditionally associated with knowledge and truth, the motif of paper in the play symbolises morality and individualism . Paper first appears in the play as the judicial list naming the condemned, then as a document of proof outlining Proctor’s alleged crimes as a practicer of witchcraft and agent of the devil. As such, paper initially symbolises the false accusations that run rampant in Salem , and the destructive consequences of such on the lives of the accused innocents. This idea is furthered by Miller’s depiction of the signed, “seventy-two death warrants” of innocents, illustrating paper as a symbol of the unjust punishment and corruption within the Salem court . It is only when Proctor refuses to sign the testimony or have his false confession “posted on the church door”, that the symbol of paper begins to serve as a motif of heroism . As Proctor ultimately refuses to “sign [his] name to lies”, then “tears the paper and crumples” the document denouncing him as a devil-consorter in Act IV, Miller portrays paper as a mode for personal redemption in the face of blind injustice . This advocating for personal salvation is supported by the character of Hale, who undergoes a similar transformation. Although initially described as an intellectual whose paper “books are weighted with authority”, this religious authority loses its value throughout the tragic events of the play, as the injustices of the court lead him to lose his “great faith” in God. Ultimately, like Proctor, Hale is only able to gain personal redemption through his realisation of the immoral nature of the court and his attempts (albeit unrealised) to save the remaining incarcerated innocents from the fate of the gallows.

Quote Analysis

"There are wheels within wheels in this village, and fires within fires!”

Ann Putnam speaks this line when she admits to interrogating Tituba about the possibility of witchcraft having caused the early deaths of her seven infants. The audience can perceive her hysteria , as she begins to fear that the rumours of devil worship in Salem may be true, and that she may also lose her last surviving child, Ruth. Her sense of paranoia works to foreshadow the mass hysteria that is to overwhelm the town. This quote is also a direct reference to the prophet Ezekiel in the Bible , who compares his vision of God in his chariot to a gyroscope - an instrument of stability and balance. As such, Mrs. Putnam’s allusion to God is a direct reference to the rigidity of the Puritan value s in Salem, disguised as a creed of “unity” , when in reality it’s the root cause of social paranoia and resentment . The quote also illustrates that she believes that there are more complex and intricate forces present in Salem - the “deep and darkling forces” as described by Miller - which work to determine the fates of the townspeople. Combined with its fire imagery , this quote effectively foreshadows the drama that will unfold in the Salem court, in which Abigail and the girls will invent invisible spiritual forces to accuse innocents, in a court of “hot fire”, acting to “melt down all concealment”. 

“We cannot look to superstition in this. The Devil is precise; the marks of his presence are as definite as stone.” 

Hale says this to Parris when he first arrives in Salem from Beverley, after he is asked to inspect Betty for signs of witchcraft or possession by the devil. Although Parris is already convinced by the rampant rumours in the town of the existence of the devil and its effect on his daughter, Hale (being a professional “investigator of witchcraft”) is more meticulous in his examination of such a “strange crisis”. By calling the devil “precise”, Hale depicts his true and unflinching belief in its existence, representing the inflexible Puritan mindset . This quote is integral to understanding Hale as a character, and thus the nature of his disillusionment later in the play, as it reveals that Hale does not believe in witchcraft due to the mass hysteria and paranoia of the town, but because he possesses genuine and resolute faith in every word of the Bible . As this faith is shown to “bring blood” later in the play, Miller displays the dangerous “power of theocracy” , as the audience perceives Hale becoming radically disillusioned in his religion and world view. 

Sample Essay Topics

1. “For twenty week he preach nothin’ but golden candlesticks til he had them!” Are the leaders of the community misguided in The Crucible ? Discuss.

2. Miller uses fire and ice imagery in The Crucible to denounce the nature of humanity. Discuss.

3. ‘In The Crucible , the characters make decisions based solely on their emotions’. Do you agree?

Now it's your turn! Give these essay topics a go. For more sample essay topics, head over to our The Crucible Study Guide t o practice writing essays using the analysis you've learnt in this blog!

Essay Topic Breakdown

Whenever you get a new essay topic, you can use LSG’s THINK and EXECUTE strategy , a technique to help you write better VCE essays. This essay topic breakdown will focus on the THINK part of the strategy. If you’re unfamiliar with this strategy, then check it out in How To Write A Killer Text Response .

Within the THINK strategy, we have 3 steps, or ABC. These ABC components are:

Step 1: A nalyse

Step 2: B rainstorm

Step 3: C reate a Plan

Theme-Based Essay Prompt: In a theocracy, law and religion are bound together. What are the benefits and challenges of this depicted in The Crucible ? 

Step 1: analyse .

Here, we are asked to examine the benefits and challenges of a theocratic system , as depicted in The Crucible . Thus, we must consider both the positive and negative aspects of the binding of law and religion . It is a good idea to delegate two paragraphs to the challenges and one to the benefits , due to the fact that Miller wrote the play with the authorial intention of denouncing the repressive rigidity of its government - this means it is easier to think of negatives rather than positives. 

Step 2: Brainstorm

Let’s break down the term ‘ theocracy ’, as this is the focus of this essay topic. The play shows us various effects of such a system, but what does it actually mean? A theocracy is a form of government in which a religion (in this case, Puritanism) is recognised as the supreme ruling authority . Thus, as mentioned in the essay question, in a theocracy the rules of religion are treated as the law . Now, think of some of the words , phrases or key ideas you think of when you conjure up Salem’s version of theocracy. This may include:

  • Strictness of Puritan values
  • Unity vs. individualism
  • Exploitation of the name of the church for personal gains 
  • Societal repression
  • Superfluous power given to the court
  • Opportunity for individuals to reform 
  • Social vs. individual redemption
  • Disillusionment

Step 3: Create a Plan

When planning an essay, it is easy to let yourself go off track, discussing another point that is not quite relevant to the topic given. To prevent this from happening, always keep the topic firmly in your mind - glance at it periodically throughout your planning if needed, and check that every body paragraph that you are planning directly relates back to the topic and answers what it is asking . So, keeping the topic and its focus on theocracy firmly in mind, I chose to approach this essay with the following structured plan: 

Paragraph 1 : The Salem theocracy leads to the unjust exercise of power , resulting in a tragedy . 

  • Here, our focus is on the overarching injustices that the theocratic nature of the government allows to occur . 
  • Focus on the fact that it is because religion is the law , that the crime of witchcraft (believed to be a crime against God) is so severely punished (by death!). 
  • Also discuss that it is due to the rigidity of the theocracy that any slight divergence from a complete adherence to Puritanism is perceived as a crime . 
  • Examples of this include the witch hunt itself, and the victimisation of innocents who are condemned to be executed for crimes that they did not commit. 

Paragraph 2: The town’s theocratic belief in God is exploited by individuals who use it for their own personal gain .

  • Our job here is to highlight the selfish natures of certain individuals, who take advantage of the townspeople’s theocratic mindsets to utilise the town’s mass hysteria for their own motives . 
  • Examples of such characters include Abigail and Parris , who participate in the witch hunt out of vengeance and fear respectively.

Paragraph 3: However, the theocratic nature of the government allows opportunity for reform, and the ability to distinguish between morality and immorality.

  • Here we are discussing the benefit that arises out of the theocracy, namely the idea that the tragedy that results from such allow certain individuals to be enlightened and reformed .
  • Emphasise the fact that the theocracy does lead to disastrous effects , but it is from this hardship that we are able to distinguish the characters of good from the characters of evil. 
  • An example of a character who undergoes reform is Hale , who becomes simultaneously disillusioned and enlightened by the tragedy of the Salem persecution.
  • An example of an individual revealed by the events of the play to be ultimately immoral is Danforth , who refuses to change and reform , despite realising the injustice and cruelty of his actions. 

If you find this essay breakdown helpful, then you might want to check out our The Crucible Study Guide where we cover 5 A+ sample essays with EVERY essay annotated and broken down on HOW and WHY these essays achieved A+ so you reach your English goals! Let's get started.

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the crucible final essay

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  • Learn how to brainstorm ANY essay topic and plan your essay so you answer the topic accurately
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the crucible final essay

All the Light We Cannot See is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response .

Breaking Down an All the Light We Cannot See Essay Prompt

We've explored themes and symbols and provided a summary of the text over on our All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr blog post. If you need a quick refresher or you’re new to studying this text, I highly recommend checking it out!

Here, we’ll be breaking down an All the Light We Cannot See essay topic using LSG’s THINK and EXECUTE strategy , a technique to help you write better VCE essays. If you’re unfamiliar with this strategy, you can learn about it in our How To Write A Killer Text Response study guide.

Without further ado, let’s get into it!

‍ ‘In All the Light We Cannot See there is a fine line between civilised and uncivilised behaviour.’ Discuss.

Step 1: Analyse

Taking a look at this prompt, the first thing to note is that it is theme-based. Specifically asking about the line that separates civilised and uncivilised behaviour within the novel, this prompt focuses directly on the theme of human behaviours and how you ultimately interpret the fine line (i.e. seamless, difficult, changing, manipulative) between such ideas. Fundamentally, you have to discuss how this theoretical line drawn between the contrasting behaviours is explored within the novel in various ways throughout Doerr’s examination of humanity. 

The question tag of Discuss is the most flexible type of prompt/topic you will receive, providing you with a broad and open-ended route to pretty much discuss any ideas that you believe fit within the prompt’s theme of uncivilised and civilised behaviour. Although this may seem hard to know where to start, this is where Step 2: Brainstorm , comes into play. You can read through LSG’s Question Tags You Need To Know section (in How To Write A Killer Text Response ) to further familiarise yourself with various ways to tackle different prompt tags.

If you’re not sure what it is meant by ‘theme-based prompt,’ take a look at The 5 Types of Essay Prompts. 

A fundamental aspect of writing a solid Text Response essay is being able to use a diverse range of synonyms for the keywords outlined in the prompt. Our keywords are in bold. When you are brainstorming, if any words pop into your head, definitely list them so you can use them later. You may want to have a highlighter handy when unpacking prompts so you can do just this!!

‍ ‘In All the Light We Cannot See there is a fine line between civilised and uncivilised behaviour .’ Discuss.

  • How people have grown up determines the civil and uncivilised behaviours shown by individuals of different backgrounds and childhoods - Bastian is symbolised as the eagle that circles the youth camp, which is an uncivilised /unwanted form of hawk-like behaviour . This compares to Fredrick's love of birds as a young boy which makes him a softer character. - Bernd had ‘no friends’ as a child - showing his isolated past - which could be described as the reason he leaves his father and goes off to join the Hilter Youth ‘just like the other boys.’ (find this analysis in the chapter ‘The Death of Walter Bernd’)
  • There is a fine line that Doerr draws between the stereotypes of women and their ability to remain civilised despite being suppressed by uncivil livelihoods and experiences. - Jutta is characterised as a strong and independent woman instead of the traditional ‘pretty girl in a propaganda poster’. Society expects most women to stand on that side of human behaviour and representation however she defies this.
  • The strength of women to cross/overcome the line of uncivilised behaviour is significant within the sexual abuse and misconduct driven by soldiers. Can remain true to oneself despite the horrific behaviours a woman faces. - The role of women on the homefront (i.e. Fredrick’s Mother) highlights the stark contrast between men fighting and thinking about the ‘men they killed’ and mothers who put on a ‘fake smile to appear brave’ (the line between barbaric behaviours of many soldiers and caring/loving behaviours of those on the homefront) - women and their sacrifices is an important topic here
  • It is one’s ability to adapt to change that draws the line between civil and uncivilised behaviours . - Marie Laure’s ability to look past being a ‘blind girl’, and move on from this hardship. She adapts to the ‘changing times’ around her despite others who are suppressed in such an environment (e.g. Etienne and his ‘dread’).
  • The game of flying couch is a symbol of escaping the uncivilised world around them (metaphorical line of the human imagination). - Werner is predominantly overwhelmed by the world around him, which reflects his inability to no longer ask questions as he did as a young boy. Instead, he succumbs to the uncivilised world of death and destruction as he is unable to change. 
  • Symbolic use of Werner’s ‘soft covered notebook’ in epilogue - symbolises his loss of perspective and wonder of the world,
  • Ultimately it is this line that makes the human existence so unique

After having brainstormed all the ideas that came to mind, I’ll be approaching the essay prompt with the following contention. 

In a world where society is grounded by behaviours both civil and uncivil, there is a clear distinction between humanity's response and representation of these behaviours.

Coming up with a clear contention allows you to put together a cohesive and strong essay that answers all aspects of the prompt question. 

Now, onto developing our topic sentences for each paragraph!

P1: Embedded within Doerr’s nonlinear narrative*, the environment in which individuals have grown up consequently influences their behaviours later in life.

*A nonlinear narrative is a storytelling technique Doerr uses to portray events out of chronological order. 

P2: Encompassing the social paradigms that pervade a woman’s existence, the strength and civilisation of females allow them to traverse a line of unjust behaviours that suppress them.

P3: In essence, it is the human response to change that divides individuals from ultimately displaying civil or uncivil acts in the world.

The art of recognising the ephemera of the human existence is painted by Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See as a fine line between behaviours of civilisation and extreme brutality (1) . In the inordinate scheme of history, Doerr fosters the dichotomy between those who remain socially aware and others who are marred by desolation as a reflection on one's past. Further subverting the traditional depiction of women in a ‘war story’, the strength of women is established as a key turning point for individuals to escape barbaric behaviours and cross the line to civilisation. Fundamentally, however, it is the overall response to change that crafts human behaviours that Doerr underpins within society (2) .

Annotations ‍ ‍ (1) it is important to include synonym variation in your opening sentence to ensure that it does not look like you have just copied the prompt and placed it on your page. This idea should be carried out throughout your essay - vary your words and try not to repeat anything, this will ensure you are clear and concise!

(2) In order to improve the flow of your writing, the final topic sentence of your introduction can be a concluding statement on why/how the topic is OVERALL expressed within the novel. When you formulate your contention, it is not enough just to state it, you must also provide reasoning as to why you are writing from this point of view or how you came to this conclusion. For example, my final topic sentence here is a concluding sentence about how I believe a fine line between uncivilised and civil behaviour has an influence throughout the entire novel and Doerr’s intention, one’s response to change. As you read on, you’ll also see that this sentence relates to my final paragraph, thus linking together ideas throughout my essay.

Embedded within Doerr’s nonlinear narrative, the environment in which individuals have grown up consequently influences their behaviours later in life. The initial illustration of the ‘smokestacks hume’ and the ‘black and dangerous’ imagery (3) of the war paints a clear picture of the destruction and trauma that individuals have lived amongst, thus why people were ‘desperate to leave’. Empathising with an ‘old woman who cuddles her toddler’ on the streets, Doerr laments how young individuals who end up ‘surg[ing] towards one cause,’ which this toddler may similarly grow up to do in the Hitler Youth, directly reflects the ‘intense malice’ of their childhood. This idea that one’s past affects the future behaviours of a generation is further captured within the chapter ‘The Death of Walter Bernd’ (4) , which outlines how Bernd’s upbringing with ‘no friends’ promotes him to ‘just leave’, in order to experience something new, despite knowing this something new would bring unjust decisions into his life. Becoming ‘just like the other boys’, Doerr suggests that the line between civil and uncivil behaviours is so thin (5) that a mere need to escape one’s past is enough to create feelings of negativity and at worst death. Encapsulating the darkness that prevails over such individuals, the symbolism of Bastian’s ‘sharp eyes’ (6) poetically describes the eagle that circles the youth camp where Doerr seeks to paint a metaphorical cruel depiction of Bastian as a harmful hawk. Underpinning the fine line between human behaviour, Fredrick’s ‘love of birds’ is ‘so beautiful[ly]’ representative of his respectful nature and approach to life while Bastian’s immersion in ‘the self interest of the world’ ultimately explains how his fallacious behaviour towards others is embodied by his environment within the war. Overall, the behaviours displayed by humanity are a reflection of past experiences and how they shape the individual.

Annotations (3) Imagery is a key aspect of All the Light We Cannot See and goes hand in hand with the vast symbolism Doerr uses within his novel. When including imagery, it is great to include a few related quotes; however, you must then ensure you analyse and delve into how this technique (imagery) demonstrates the idea you are writing about. In this case, the imagery of the chimneys and foggy/dirty air illustrates the desolate environment individuals lived in during the war.

(4) This chapter is something not many students analyse or touch on so if you’re looking to add some spice to your writing I would definitely take a look and see what you can extract from some of those more unique and nuanced chapters!

(5) Referencing the ‘fine line’ continually throughout your essay ensures that you are staying on track and not talking about topics away from the prompt. 

(6) Symbolism is very important in All the Light We Cannot See . The use of the quote ‘sharp eyes’, really shows that you have considered not only how Doerr simply explores the behaviour of each character but also the physical interpretations of how individuals may demonstrate a certain persona within the novel. This focus on character description on top of dialogue adds extra layers to your writing. 

Encompassing the social paradigms that pervade a woman’s existence, the strength and civilisation of females allow them to traverse a line of unjust behaviours that suppress them. Instead of characterising Jutta as a ‘pretty girl in a propaganda poster’, whom the soldier will ‘fight and die for’, Doerr proffers the unconventional humanisation of women on the home front to pay tribute to the power of staying true to oneself (7) . Despite facing the barbaric reality of ‘sex crazed torturers’, Doerr illuminates Jutta’s capacity to ‘look them in the eye’ rather than shy away from them as a meditation on her own morals of (8) ‘what is right’. The tragic nature (9) of such abuse is specifically chronicled by Doerr to concatenate (10) the continual brave behaviours Jutta portrays even when succumbing to the line that attempts to draw women away from strength and independence. Further referencing her desire to ‘lock away memories’ of the past in her life after the war, the novel posits the importance of women during a period of inordinate history as a powerful force that remained civil even in times of ‘absolute blackness’. From the perspective of Fredrick’s mother, Doerr seeks to display how her ‘fake smile to appear brave’ outlines how many mothers and women had to remain strong for their children, such as Fredrick with brain damage, even though they were so close to falling into a world of sorrow and isolation. A clear segregation between soldiers who thought about ‘the men they killed’ and women who were made to ‘feel complicit in an unspeakable crime’ (11) they did not commit overall affirms the sacrifices women made during the war and without such sacrifices and strength the thin line between behavioural acts would be broken.

Annotations (7) Here I have included an analysis of Doerr’s message - what he is trying to say or show within his novel. Ultimately an author has a message they seek to share with the world. Providing your own interpretation of certain messages the author may be attempting to send to his readers adds real depth to your writing, showing that you are not only considering the novel itself but the purpose of the author and how this novel came to explore the fundamental ideas of the essay prompt.

(8) This quote directly relates to the keyword: civilised behaviour. Finding quotes that are also specific to your prompt is crucial to producing an essay that flows and has meaning. 

(9) The use of adjectives within the essay paints the picture of whether an act is civil or uncivil which is ultimately what we are attempting to discuss from the prompt. Here the phrase ‘tragic nature’, underpins the essence of unjust behaviours shown by the soldiers.

(10) Concatenate - link/connect ideas together

(11) Comparing aspects within the novel is a great way to show your understanding and how the same theme or idea can be shown in many different ways. 

In essence, it is the human response to change that divides individuals from ultimately displaying civil or uncivil acts in the world. Established by Marie Laure’s characterisation as a ‘blind girl’ who can ‘project anything onto the black screen of her imagination’, Doerr illuminates her ability to adapt to the ‘changing times’ around her. She is seen to be ‘carried away by reveries’ rather than a plethora of voices who ‘forgo all comforts’ and ‘eat and breathe nation’. Through the chapter and make-believe game ‘flying couch’ (12) , Marie’s nature to ‘surrender firearms’ with Etienne in their imagination is a symbolic adoption to escape the world around them, hence the uncivilised society they are learning to live in. Doerr’s congruent imagery of Etienne’s changing voice of ‘dread’ to ‘velvety’ as he becomes intertwined within ‘Marie’s bravery’ underpins the ability for individuals to seamlessly cross the line from a lack of cultured behaviour to a world of hope and prosperity. Contrasting this, however, Werner, an individual who was initially curious about ‘how the world works’, is so ‘overwhelmed by how quickly things are changing around [him]’ that his ‘interest in peace’ is stripped away and no longer exists due to his inability to change with a changing world. Doerr, therefore, laments the transmogrification of his character as a reflection of his uncivil thoughts and ideals as a soldier, ultimately resulting in his loss of ability to ask questions. This idea places emphasis on Volkheimer receiving Werner’s ‘soft covered notebook’ in the epilogue (13) where the translation of the book’s title ‘Fragen’ - to ‘ask’ in English - is symbolic of the moment Werner decided to ‘work, join, confess, die’ he immediately lost the open mind and curiosity he once had. Ultimately, the dichotomy between these two lives and their opposing character transformations resembles the line between remaining calm or acting out of haste when subject to change.

Annotations (12) Analysing not only the game but the whole meaning behind chapters and why Doerr has given them certain names is an interesting avenue to take. Here ‘flying couch’ not only underpins the imagination of Marie Laure but also symbolises freedom and bravery within just the name itself.

(13) The analysis and evidence used from the epilogue is a crucial part of this paragraph and is significant to Doerr’s novel. Unpacking All the Light We Cannot See , there is a lot of evidence and juicy ideas you can draw from the beginning and end of the novel. Here I have almost analysed the meaning of Werner’s ‘soft covered notebook’ to the bone; however, this adds a lot of depth to your writing as I’m sure your ultimate goal is to make your essays as unique as possible?!

As a project of humanism, Doerr seeks to portray a fine segregation in people's behaviours as the microcosm (14) of what makes the human existence so unique. Following the journeys of individuals who even ‘see a century turn’’ the novel displays how one’s past has an immense influence on how their future values, actions and behaviours grow and develop. Further subverting the stereotypical representation of women living in a war, Doerr establishes an acknowledgment of their roles and strength in the face of cruel situations. Ostensibly, it is the human capacity to adapt to change that marks the difference between what is just and unjust in a society that weighs both on a very unstable scale. 

Annotations ‍ ‍ (14)   Microcosm - a community, place or situation regarded as encapsulating in miniature the characteristics of something much larger.

If you find this essay breakdown helpful, then you might want to check out our All the Light We Cannot See Prompts blog post. You can have a go at those essay prompts and feel free to refer back to this essay breakdown whenever you need. Good luck!

We’ve explored historical context, themes, essay planning and essay topics over on our Like a House on Fire by Cate Kennedy blog post. If you need a quick refresher or you’re new to studying this text, I highly recommend checking it out!

[Video Transcription]

Hey guys, welcome back to Lisa's Study Guides. So this week I have another essay topic breakdown for you. So eventually I'm going to get through all of the VCAA texts that are on the study design, but we're slowly going to get there and are just want to say yet again, even though this one is like a house on fire, I am really glad if you've clicked on this video and you're not necessarily studying it because as always with all my videos, I try to give you an overall message for you to take away that can be applied to any single text. So that is the same for this particular text today. And so even though the takeaway message for this video is quite specific to short stories, it's still an important consideration for any text that you're studying. Ideally, you want to use a diverse range of evidence for any text, but in particular, for short stories, you don't just want to rely on a small handful, but to try and make links between the different short stories. So let's see what that means on the other side of this quick overview of the text. Like a House on Fire is a collection of short stories by the author, Cate Kennedy, and unlike a lot of other texts on the study design, this book portrays a lot of very domestic situations, which seems fairly boring compared to some of the other texts that other students might be doing. However, I'm really excited about this text because the short stories are great. Not because they have groundbreaking premises, which they don't, but because of how effortlessly and deeply emotive they are. So the domestic scenarios actually help us relate to the characters in the stories and empathize with the complexity of their experiences. The essay topic we'll be looking at today is in Like a House on Fire, Kennedy finds strength in ordinary people. Discuss. Here, the term which you really have to think about is strength. We already know that she depicts the story of ordinary people, of people like you or me, or even just people we may know, but does she find strength in them? It could be physical strength, but more often than not, it might be other types of strength. For instance, the mental strength it takes to cope with intense pressure or the emotional strength it takes to make a difficult choice or action. It's important to think about how they might actually apply throughout the book. In this sense, our essay will have essentially two halves. The first two body paragraphs we'll look at scenarios of intense pressure, be it through the loss of control in one's life or a domestic situation which has become emotionally tense. The last two body paragraphs will then consider the types of strength that Kennedy evinces in these stories. And we'll contend that she does find strength in the characters who face a difficult decision, but that she also finds a lot more strength in the characters who managed to cope with their situation and grapple with the tensions in their lives.

Paragraph one

In many of her stories, Kennedy portrays characters who experience powerlessness. This loss of power can come a number of ways. For instance, both Flexion and Like a House on Fire tell the story of men who have injured their previously reliable bodies and have thus been rendered immobile. But they also tell the story of their respective wives who have lost some control over their lives now that they have to care for their husbands. On the other hand, there are the kids in Whirlpool whose mother insists that they dress a certain way for a Christmas photo. Her hand on your shoulders, exerting pressure that pushes you down. Kennedy's use of second person really makes you feel this pressure that keeps you from going out to the pool you so desperately desire to be in. Evidently powerlessness is an experience that comes in many shapes and forms in several stories.

Paragraph two

In addition to this, Kennedy explores other emotional tensions across the collection, subverting the idea that the home is necessarily a safe sanctuary. This is where she really goes beyond just the idea of powerlessness, but actually jumps into scenarios that are much more emotionally complex. In Ashes for instance, we see the homosexual protagonist struggle with feeling useless and tongue tied, embarrassed by the floundering pause between his mother and himself. There is a significant emotional hurdle there, which is particularly poignant given that mothers are usually considered a source of safety and comfort for their children. Kennedy's story of domesticity actually subvert or question what we might think of the domestic space shared by family members. If you have the Scribe edition of the book, the artwork on the cover would depict a vase of wilting flowers, an empty picture frame, and a spilt cup of coffee. These are all visual symbols of an imperfect domestic life. A similar rift exists between husband and wife in both Five Dollar Family and Waiting, the women find themselves unable to emotionally depend on their partners. While Michelle in Five Dollar Family despises her husbands startled, faintly incredulous expression, an inability to care for their child, the protagonist in Waiting struggles to talk about her miscarriages with her husband who is already worn down as it is. Kennedy takes these household roles of mother, son, husband, wife, and really dives into the complex shades of emotion that lies within these relationships. We realize through her stories that a mother can't always provide comfort to a child and that a husband isn't always the dependable partner that he's supposed to be.

Paragraph three

However, Kennedy does find strength in some characters who do take a bold or courageous leap in some way. These are really important moments in which she is able to show us the strength that it takes to make these decisions. And she triumphs however small or insignificant that can be achieved. A moment that really stands out to me is the ending of Laminex and Mirrors, where the protagonist rebelliously smuggles a hospital patient out for a smoke only to have to take him back into his ward through the main entrance and therefore get them both caught. She recounts this experience as the one I remember most clearly from the year I turned 18. The two of us content, just for this perfect moment. And their success resonates with the audience, even though the protagonist would have lost her job and therefore the income she needed for her trip to London, Kennedy demonstrates her strength in choosing compassion for an elderly patient. Even the sister in Whirlpool, who wasn't exactly kind to the protagonist in the beginning, forms an unlikely alliance with her against their mother, sharing a reckless moment and cutting their photo shoot short. Bold leaps such as these are ones that take strength and therefore deserve admiration.

Paragraph four

However, more often than not, Kennedy's stories are more about the strength needed to simply cope with life, one day at a time. She explores the minutiae of her characters lives in a way that conveys the day to day struggles, but also hints at the underlying fortitude needed to deal with these things on a daily basis. In Tender, the wife feels as if everything at home is on the verge of coming apart since her husband is only able to cook tuna and pasta casserole for their kids. However, when she must get a possibly malignant tumor removed, her concern of whether there'll be tuna and pasta in the pantry just in case, demonstrates her selfless nature. Kennedy thus creates a character who is strong for others, even when her own life at home is disorderly and her health may be in jeopardy. The strength of gritting one's teeth and getting on with things in spite of emotional tension is a central idea across this collection, and many other examples are there for you to consider as well. And so we come to the end of our essay. Hopefully going through this gives you an idea of how to cover more bases with your evidence. Remember that you don't have to recount lots and lots of events, but it's more important to engage with what the events are actually telling us about people. This is particularly important for prompts like this one, where it heavily focuses on the people involved. That is it for me this week, please give this video a thumbs up. If you wanted to say thanks to Mark, who has been helping me write these scripts up for a lot of the text response essay, topic breakdowns. If you enjoyed this, then you might also be interested in the live stream coming up next week, which will be on Friday the 25th of May at 5:00 PM. I'll be covering the topic of analyzing argument for the second time, just because there's so much to get through. I'll also be announcing some special things during that particular live stream. So make sure you're there so you're the first to hear it. I will see you guys next week. Bye.

Like a House on Fire by Cate Kennedy

How To Get An A+ On Your Like A House On Fire Essay

Close Analysis Of 'Cake' From Like A House On Fire

When it comes to studying a text for the text response section of Year 12 English, what may seem like an obvious point is often overlooked: it is essential to  know your text . This doesn’t just mean having read it a few times either – in order to write well on it, a high level of familiarity with the text’s structure, context, themes, and characters is paramount. To read a detailed guide on Text Response, head over to our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response .

Authors  structure  their texts in a certain way for a reason, so it’s important to pick up on how they’ve used this to impart a message or emphasise a point. Additionally, being highly familiar with the plot or order of events will give you a better grasp of narrative and character development.

It’s also a good idea to research the  life of the author , as this can sometimes explain why certain elements or events were included in the text. Researching the  social and historical setting  of your text will further help you to understand characters’ behaviour, and generally gives you a clearer ‘image’ of the text in your mind.

The  overarching themes  of a text usually only become apparent once you know the text as a whole. Moreover, once you are very familiar with a text, you will find that you can link up events or ideas that seemed unrelated at first, and use them to support your views on the text.

For each  character , it is important to understand how they developed, what their key characteristics are and the nature of their relationships with other characters in the text. This is especially crucial since many essay questions are based solely on characters.

With all this said, what methods can you use to get to know your text?

Reading the text itself:  while this may seem obvious, it’s important to do it right! Read it for the first time as you would a normal book, then increase the level of detail and intricacy you look for on each consecutive re-read.  Making notes ,  annotating  and  highlighting  as you go is also highly important. If you find reading challenging, try breaking the text down into small sections to read at a time.

Discussion:  talk about the text! Nothing develops opinions better than arguing your point with teachers, friends, or parents – whoever is around. Not only does this introduce you to other ways of looking at the text, it helps you to cement your ideas, which will in turn greatly improve your essay writing.

External resources : it’s a good idea to read widely about your text, through other people’s essays, study guides, articles, and reviews. Your teacher may provide you with some of these, but don’t be afraid to search for your own material!

1. Summary 2. Themes 3. Symbols and Analysis 4. Quotes 5. Sample Essay Topics 6. Essay Topic Breakdown

Alice Munro is a Canadian Nobel-Prize-winning author of short stories , and Runaway , first published in 2004, is a collection of eight such stories (though kind of actually only six, because three of them are sequential). These stories examine the lives of Canadian women throughout the last century, but not all of them are necessarily realistic to what daily life actually looks like. Rather, Munro uses borderline-supernatural events (which some critics say feel staged or contrived) to shed light on the tensions and challenge s of gender in modern life.

This can mean that some of the stories are quite hard to follow; they go through all these twists and turns, and the lines between stories start blurring after a while. Let’s go through each in a bit more detail before jumping into our analysis.

2. Story-by-Story Characters and Summary

The titular story is about a woman Carla , her husband Clark , their goat Flora , and their elderly neighbour Sylvia Jamieson . There are many runaways in the story: Carla ran away from her middle-class home to marry Clark, Flora the goat literally runs away, a scandalous lie about Sylvia’s late husband gets a bit out of hand, and now Sylvia is helping Carla run away once again, this time from Clark. Few of these runaways are really very successful: this story is really interrogating why and how.

Chance/Soon/Silence

The next three stories are sequential, and revolve around Juliet , a well-educated classicist who is working as a teacher in the first story, ‘Chance’ - it is set in 1965 and she is 21. In this story, she meets her lover Eric Porteous on a train, then finds him again six months later. Eric is sleeping around with a few women in light of his wife’s declining health and eventual passing, but by ‘Soon’ he and Juliet have settled down and had a baby together - Penelope .

‘Soon’ focuses more on the relationship between Juliet and her parents, in particular her mother Sara . Juliet feels a bit out of place now at home, and feels guilty about not being more present for Sara. In turn, ‘Silence’ depicts her own daughter running away from her. Juliet returns to her studies and only hears about Penelope’s life through a chance encounter with a friend who reveals that Penelope is now a mother herself.

The next story is about Grace , an older woman revising the family home of her husband Maury Travers . Their marriage never had a lot of passion in it really - Grace was always more interested in Maury’s family - but both of them were just doing what was expected of them. The contrast comes from Maury’s brother Neil , a doctor who accompanies Grace on a hospital trip when she cuts her foot. This trip becomes longer and more sensual, feeling adulterous even though very little actually transpires between them - the story raises questions around what counts as cheating, and what marriages should entail. 

‘Trespasses’ is slightly deliberately disorienting from the start (which is actually the end of the story). We go on a flashback in the middle to learn about a father, Harry , and his daughter Lauren . One day when moving house, Lauren finds a cardboard box - Harry explains that it contains the ashes of a dead baby who he and his wife Eileen (Lauren’s mother) had had before Lauren. This leads to Lauren questioning if she was adopted, which is further complicated by Delphine , a worker at a hotel who seems to think Lauren is her biological daughter. The ending (which was teased at the beginning) is the evening of confrontation between the four characters where the truth is finally revealed. 

Conversely, ‘Tricks’ has a more linear plot to follow. Robin is a carer for her asthmatic sister Joanne , but she’s taken to watching Shakespeare plays in the next town once a year. One year, she meets a European clockmaker Danilo who plans to meet her next year when she is back in town - but this doesn’t go to plan at all. It’s only 40 years later that Robin finds out Danilo had a twin brother, which is why the plan had gone downhill.

The last story in the collection is arguably the most complex, and it’s broken into 5 parts to reflect that complexity. It follows Nancy as she ages from a fresh high school graduate to an old woman by the end of the sequence, including her marriage to the town doctor Wilf . Importantly, the stories also cover her friendship with Tessa , who has the supernatural powers mentioned in the title. However, by the third story, Tessa has been abandoned in a mental hospital and she has lost her powers. Throughout the stories, we also see Ollie , Wilf’s cousin (or a figment of Nancy’s imagination according to this analysis), who seems to be responsible for Tessa’s demise.

Let’s start tracing some of the common themes between the stories.

A key theme explored throughout many of the stories is marriage and domesticity . There’s a strong sense that it’s an underwhelming experience : it doesn’t live up to expectations and it particularly dampens the lives of the women involved. Nancy’s marriage to Wilf in ‘Powers’ only happens because she feels guilty - 'I could hardly [turn him down] without landing us both in…embarrassment' - but, as a result, she loses her fun, intellectual streak as he tells her to put down her book, 'give Dante a rest'. A similar fate befalls Juliet, who gives up her study in the process of becoming married.

 Marriage is also sometimes explored as a deliberate choice , even if it might have unintended consequences - for example, Carla’s marriage to Clark is described as a life that she 'chose'. This interpretation is more unclear though, and is contradicted in other stories like Passion, where Grace’s marriage is described as 'acquiescence ', acceptance without protest. It’s even contradicted to some extent in the same story: Munro compares Carla’s marriage to a 'captive' situation, where she might’ve chosen to enter the marriage, but after that has little say in how it goes.

This sounds a bit trite, but the title is a key theme as well - just not necessarily in the physical sense . Consider all of these different definitions and how they pop up in the stories. In ‘Runaway’, Carla and the goat run away, but also the lie Carla tells Clark about Leon, a runaway lie that taints his relationship with Sylvia completely. Some runaways are described as accidents - 'she – Flora – slipped through' - while others are much more deliberate. The question here is how much control we actually have over our own lives . Not a lot, it would seem.

The other side of runaway/s is to think about who the victim in each runaway is. Does somebody run away because they are 'in a bad situation, the way it happens', a victim of circumstance , or do they run away because they feel guilty , or because they’re abandoning someone else, the true victim of being left behind? Carla does seem like more of a victim of circumstance with good reason to run away, but think about Nancy leaving Tessa behind in ‘Powers’: ‘“I’ll write to you”, she said…she never did.’

This question about who the real victim is might be the hardest to answer for ‘Silence’. Juliet’s daughter abandons her, but it’s not like there’s a strong history of positive mother-daughter relationships in their family: Juliet wasn’t able to give Sara what she needed ( 'she had not protected Sara') and in turn isn’t able to quite give Penelope what she needs either (Penelope having a 'hunger for the things that were not available to her in her home '). At the same time, Penelope’s abandonment does feel quite callous and inexplicable , even if Juliet feels like it’s what she deserves; Munro suggests at the end of the story that a reunion would be an 'undeserved blessing[]'. The intertextuality with Aethiopica reveals Juliet’s good intentions, her similarity to the 'great-hearted queen of Ethiopia', but it doesn’t quite give us the satisfaction of a neat resolution either.

Ethics and Morality

Finally, Munro’s stories also raise questions around morality . Besides what we’ve already covered - adultery, runaways - there are further questions raised around parenthood , particularly in ‘Trespasses’. Harry seems to share a bit too much information with his child, who really doesn’t need to know about the dead baby just yet. Lauren is 'not short of information', and it’s worth questioning where that boundary should be for a child of her age.

But not all ethical questions have simple answers : as in ‘Tricks’ they can sometimes just have 'outrageous', cruel punchlines that don’t reveal themselves for decades. Munro doesn’t necessarily have all the answers on this one. She brings up complex moral situations but does not pass judgment on any.

4. Symbols & Analysis

Greek elements.

Throughout the stories, Munro brings in a few elements of Greek mythology or literature . The intertextuality in ‘Silence’ is one example, drawing on the classical text Aethiopica , but there are a few more scattered throughout the stories: the constellations of Orion and Cassiopeia in ‘Chance’ and an oracle-like figure in Tessa, a main character in ‘Powers’. All of these elements have some significance:

  • Cassiopeia is known for her arrogance and vanity, which parallels with the way Juliet detaches herself from her life ('she had made herself into a rather superior, invulnerable observer' - despite her very real vulnerabilities)
  • Orion is known for his forbidden romance with the virgin goddess Artemis, which parallels with Eric’s romance with Juliet (Juliet being relatively inexperienced with men herself, with all of her experiences being 'fantasy')
  • Oracles in mythology are like mouthpieces of the gods who can prophesy about the future. They were often women, so oracles were unusually influential in their male-dominated societies. The question is whether this parallels with Tessa at all: even though she has these supernatural powers, are there other forms of power she might lack instead?

In general, intertextuality is a way to enrich a text by drawing parallels and linking characters to existing stories or archetypes. Here, Munro uses classical texts to add dimension to her characters in a way that is almost-but-not-quite commentary. Pre-existing Greek myths are a way for us to see what’s really going on .

(Rail)Roads and Transit

The other symbol that comes up a few times in the stories is roads or railroads - basically places where runaways might happen . ‘Chance’ is set in the middle of a train journey, ‘Tricks’ involves a couple of train journeys, ‘Runaway’ maps the roads leading in and out of Carla’s home, and almost all of ‘Passion’ takes place on the road. If we broaden ‘places where runaways might happen’ to include planes as well, then we can add ‘Powers’ and ‘Silence’ to the list.

All of these spaces are what might be called liminal - they’re ‘in-between’ spaces with an air of suspense about what can happen. It’s probably most prominent in ‘Passion’, where Grace describes the events of that road trip as a 'passage” in her life, both physically and metaphorically. In general though, they’re the settings where the wildest and most significant events tend to happen.

  • 'She—Flora—slipped through.'
  • 'She (referring to Carla) chose this life with Clark.'
  • 'She is just in a bad situation, the way it happens.'
  • 'She saw him as the architect of the life ahead of them, herself as the captive, her submission both proper and exquisite.'
  • 'She might be free.' - this is the second last line in the story. Note the ambiguity here (and through all these quotes, to be honest) about which ‘she’ is being referred to (Carla, Flora or even Sylvia)
  • 'Juliet was twenty-one years old and already the possessor of a B.A. and an M.A. in classics.'
  • 'The problem was that she was a girl. If she got married—which might happen…—she would waste all her hard work.'
  • 'She had made herself into a rather superior, invulnerable observer.'
  • '…the two of them (referring to Sara and Juliet) intertwined. And then abruptly, Juliet hadn’t wanted any more of it.'
  • 'But she had not protected Sara. When Sara had said, soon I’ll see Juliet , Juliet had found no reply. Could it not have been managed?…She had put everything away.'
  • Penelope supposedly had a 'hunger for the things that were not available to her in her home.'
  • 'Penelope does not have a use for me.'
  • 'She hopes as people who know better hope for undeserved blessings, spontaneous remissions, things of that sort.'
  • Grace, watching a movie with Maury, felt 'rage…because that was what girls were supposed to be like. That’s what men - people, everybody - thought they should be like. Beautiful, treasured, spoiled, selfish, pea-brained. That was what a girl should be, to be fallen in love with.'
  • 'It was not in her nature, of course, to be so openly dumbfounded, so worshipful, as he was.'
  • 'Describing this passage, this change in her life, later on, Grace might say - she did say - that it was as if a gate had clanged shut behind her. But at the time there was no clang - acquiescence simply rippled through her.'
  • Lauren 'had been brought up to believe that children and adults could be on equal terms with each other.'
  • 'How could she be sure that they had not got her as a replacement? If there was one big thing she hadn’t known about, why could there not be another?'
  • 'Forgive us our trespasses' - note the ambiguity of ‘trespasses’ (does it mean sins as in the prayer, or overstepping boundaries, or both?)
  • 'Some of the best-looking, best-turned-out women in town are those who did not marry.'
  • 'A means to an end, those tricks are supposed to be.'
  • 'I couldn’t stand for the poor man (referring to Wilf) to have had two girls turn him down’
  • 'I used to have a feeling something really unusual would occur in my life, and it would be important to have recorded everything. Was that just a feeling?'
  • 'She could be upset to see you leave without her. So I’ll give you an opportunity just to slip away.'
  • 'He has nearly forgotten that he ever believed in her powers, he is now only anxious for her and for himself, that their counterfeit should work well.'

Having great quotes is one thing, but you also want to make sure you know How To Embed Quotes in Your Essay Like a Boss !

6. Sample Essay Topics

  • What does Runaway teach us about romance?
  • Carla, Grace and Tessa are more similar than different in terms of their relationships with the men in their lives. Do you agree?
  • How does Munro contrast younger and older women in Runaway ?
  • What does the setting contribute to the overall effect of Runaway ?
  • 'Forgive us our trespasses.' What types of boundaries are created and overstepped in Runaway ?

7. Essay Topic Breakdown

Whenever you get a new essay topic, you can use LSG’s THINK and EXECUTE strategy , a technique to help you write better VCE essays. This essay topic breakdown will give you a brief glimpse on the THINK part of the strategy. If you’re unfamiliar with this strategy, then check it out in How To Write A Killer Text Response .

‘Forgive us our trespasses.’ What types of boundaries are created and overstepped in Runaway ?

This quote is from ‘Trespasses’ and captures the double meaning of the word as both overstepping physical boundaries and sinning in the moral or religious sense . It’s likely we’ll want to talk about both interpretations - physically trespassing but also encroaching on boundaries in immoral ways. Note that the prompt also includes the action words ‘created’ and ‘overstepped’, meaning that there’ll be a pretty diverse range of examples that we’ll need to use to answer this prompt comprehensively.

Let’s start with physical boundaries : Carla’s marriage and the fences on her property and the US-Canada border in ‘Powers’ come to mind. Then, we’ve got non-physical boundaries: emotionally as in ‘Chance’ and ethically as in ‘Trespasses’. This is where we start getting into whether these boundaries are created or overstepped .

Clark creates boundaries for Carla and her attempts to break free from them are unsuccessful. The border in ‘Powers’ is more of an excuse for Nancy to neglect Tessa, a boundary she creates and never makes the effort to overstep. Finally, the ethical boundaries in ‘Trespasses’ are overstepped from the get-go. How can we synthesise these ideas into one essay?

I think the trick with questions like this is not to just allocate different types of boundaries and/or different action words to each paragraph. Try to think of creative ways to string these ideas together that also build towards a bigger picture or overall contention about the text as a whole. This example plan explores physical and emotional boundaries but makes a bigger argument that they are often associated with regret in Munro’s stories.

‍ Paragraph 1 : Physical boundaries are both the most intentional and the most difficult to overstep.

  • Carla’s farmstead is isolated and bordered by roads; her marriage to Clark and her life on this farmstead is likened to a 'captive' situation, with Clark being the 'architect' of it all
  • Munro ends Runaway on a pessimistic note about Carla’s ability to leave this boundary: 'She might be free'
  • International borders also constitute physical barriers, and these are used by Nancy in ‘Powers’ to avoid responsibility; because this is an active decision (‘“I’ll write to you”, she said…she never did.’), it’s a barrier that never really gets broken. Similar to Penelope in ‘Silence’

Paragraph 2 : Munro’s stories, however, focus more on emotional boundaries , and the way these are applied varies greatly. This variation underscores their complexity .

  • Emotional boundaries when created can prevent intimacy: Juliet 'ma[kes] herself into a rather superior, invulnerable observer' so as to avoid commitment. These boundaries come back to bite when she has a daughter
  • Conversely, they cause a great deal of harm when overstepped: for example, ‘Trespasses’ sees 'crazy and dangerous' adults toy with the life of a child, constantly assuming that she 'can take it' when in fact this is not the case

Paragraph 3 : Regardless, Munro’s characters often come to regret the boundaries they erect or overstep.

  • Carla’s ambivalence about her marriage is tinged with regret either way: when she’s there, she wants to escape, and when she escapes, she questions if she has 'anything left in [her]'
  • Juliet reflects on the boundaries she puts up between herself and Penelope and realises that 'spontaneous remissions' between them are undeserved and impossible
  • In ‘Powers’, Nancy struggles with the guilt of abandoning Tessa: many years later, she still wants to 'open [the past] up' and understand her motives. However, it is too late, and the boundaries are already there
  • Munro does not suggest that boundaries are inherently good or bad, but her stories show how they can be sources of regret when treated improperly

Runaway is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Creative Response. Check out Audrey's blog on how to approach Runaway as a Creative Response for more.

For a detailed guide on Creative Response as a whole, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Creative Writing .

Picture this: you’re sitting down at your desk, fumbling your fingers, inspecting the new stationary that you convinced yourself you needed for year 12, resisting the urge to check your phone. Your text response SAC is in two weeks. You’re freaking out because you want, no, need an A+. You decide to write a practice essay for your English teacher. Practice makes perfect, right? You stay up for hours, pouring your heart and soul into this essay. The result? B+. Where did I go wrong?

That’s where I come in! Writing an A+ essay can be really tough without examples and specific advice. Before reading on, make sure you've read our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response and Golden Age blog so you are up to scratch.

In this article I will be explaining some basic dos and don’ts of writing an essay on The Golden Age , providing a model essay as an example. At the end of this blog is also a video based on another essay prompt to help you prepare for your Golden Age studies!

The following prompt will be referenced throughout the post;

‘The Golden Age’ shows that everyone needs love and recognition. Discuss.

Planning: the silent killer of A+ essays

I’m sure your teachers have emphasised the importance of planning. In case they haven’t, allow me to reiterate that great planning is compulsory for a great essay . However, flimsy arguments aren’t going to get you an A+. The examiners are looking for complex arguments , providing a variety of perspectives of the themes at hand. From the above prompt, the key word is, ‘discuss’. This means that you should be discussing the prompt, not blindly agreeing with it . Make sure you don’t write anything that wouldn’t sit right with London. ‍

Don’t plan out basic arguments that are one-dimensional. This may give you a pass in English, but won’t distinguish you as a top-scoring student.

For example:

  • Paragraph 1: The children at TGA need love and recognition.
  • Paragraph 2: Ida and Meyer need love and recognition
  • Paragraph 3: Sister Penny needs love and recognition.

The above paragraphs merely agree with the statement, but don’t delve into the many aspects of the novel that could contribute to a sophisticated essay.

Do create complex arguments, or paragraphs with a twist! If you can justify your argument and it makes sense, include it in your essay. There are many ways that you could answer this question, but my plan looks like this:

  • Paragraph 1: Frank Gold yearns for mature, adult love, not recognition from onlookers or outsiders
  • Paragraph 2: Ida Gold does not seek recognition from Australia, but love and validation from herself
  • Paragraph 3: Albert requires love from a specific kind of relationship – family, and Sullivan may view love from his father as pity which he rebukes

See the difference?

The introduction:

How to start your essay off with a bang.

Personally, I always struggled with starting an introduction. The examiners will be reading and marking thousands of essays, so if possible, starting your introduction with something other than Joan London’s ‘The Golden Age’… is a great way to make you stand out from the crowd. Having a strong start is essential to pave the way for a clear and concise essay. You could start with a quote/scene from the text! This is not essential, but it’s a great way to mix things up. This is my start:

Perhaps nothing exemplifies the power of love and recognition more than the bond between Albert Sutton and his older sister, Lizzie, in Joan London’s ‘The Golden Age’. Many of London’s characters exhibit suffering that requires compassion and support to heal and grow, to distinguish present from past. However, London explores the perspectives of such characters from different aspects of trauma, and emphasise that love and recognition do not always work to heal and mature. Frank Gold, the novel’s resident “sneaky” boy who adjusts to newfound life in the Golden Age Convalescent Home seeks love as an adult, rather than eliciting sympathy as a supposed victim. Here love and recognition are unsuccessful in amending Frank’s troubles when given from the perspective of an outsider, a judgemental onlooker. In a similar sense, Ida Gold seeks recognition not from Australia, who she views as a ‘backwater’, but validation in herself after having been ousted from her Hungarian identity. London, however, makes sure to emphasise the impact that Sullivan has on Frank Gold’s life. Sullivan, a boy only a few years older than Frank, seems content with his future, with his fate, despite his sacrifice of rugby and conventional life.  There is a lacking sense of urgency for love and recognition in Sullivan’s life, rather, it appears that Sullivan accepts his fate, regardless of his father’s sympathy or support. Thus, London explores a myriad of ways in which love and recognition may or may not heal wounds inflicted upon individuals.

Remember, there are many other ways you could start your essay.

The body paragraphs: To TEEL or not to TEEL?

I’m sure you’ve heard of TEEL countless times since year 7. Topic sentence, evidence, explanation, link. The truth is that these elements are all very important in a body paragraph. However, following a rigid structure will render your essay bland and repetitive. It is also extremely important to note that you should be using evidence from multiple points in the text , and you should be making sure that your paragraphs are directly answering the question . Write what feels natural to you, and most importantly, don’t abuse a thesaurus . If you can’t read your essay without rummaging for a dictionary every second sentence, you should rewrite it.  If vocabulary isn’t your strong point (it definitely isn’t mine!), focus on clean sentence structure and solid arguments. There’s nothing worse than you using a fancy word incorrectly.

Don’t overuse your thesaurus in an attempt to sound sophisticated, and don’t use the same structure for every sentence. For example:

Prematurely in the paperback London makes an allusion to Norm White, the denizen horticulturalist of The Golden Age Convalescent Home…

That was an exaggerated example generated by searching for synonyms. As you can see, it sounds silly, and some of the words don’t even make sense. I mean, “denizen horticulturalist”…really?

Do mix up your paragraph structure! If vocabulary is your weak point, focus on clean language.

Here’s mine:

Early in the novel, London makes reference to Norm White, the resident groundskeeper of The Golden Age Convalescent Home. Norm White hands Frank Gold a cigarette, “as if to say a man has the right to smoke in peace”. Here, there is a complete disregard for rule and convention, an idea that London emphasises throughout the text. This feature provides a counter-cultural experience for Frank, pushing him to realise that he is a strong human being rather than a mere victim. This is a clear contrast to the “babyishness” of the home, and is used as evidence of true humanity in an era where society judged upon the unconventional. Frank yearns for a traditional Australian life after his trauma in Hungary; “his own memory…lodged like an attic in the front part of his brain”. Hedwiga and Julia Marai’s caring of him pushed him towards fear and reluctance to trust, yet also pressured him to seek acceptance in a world that ostracises him for his Jewish heritage and polio diagnosis. This here is why Frank desires a mature, adult connection – love that regards him as an equal human being. Frank seeks Elsa’s love and company as she too loathes being reduced to a victim, an object of pity. Frank thereafter uses humour to joke of his wounds; “we Jews have to be on the lookout”. Elsa sees “a look in his eyes that she recognised”, thus their bond enables both characters to heal. London alludes that Frank requires love and recognition not from the perspective of a sorrowful onlooker, rather he longs to be recognised as a mature adult.

To learn more about using the right vocabulary, read 'Why using big words in VCE essays can make you look dumber'.

The conclusion: closing the deal

I firmly believe in short and sharp conclusions. Your body paragraphs should be thoroughly explaining your paragraphs, so don’t include any new information here. A few sentences is enough. Once again, write what feels natural, and what flows well.

Don’t drag out your conclusion. Short and concise is the key to finishing well.

Do write a sharp finish! Sentence starters such as, “Ultimately…” or “Thus, London…” are great.

Although trauma is often treated with love and compassion, London details different perspectives on this idea. Whilst Frank Gold requires a specific kind of recognition, Ida and Meyer seek validation in themselves and their relationship, whilst Sullivan is at ease with his fate and does not yearn sympathy from his father.

‍ To learn more about A+ essays, you should also have a read of 10 easy English points you're missing out on .

I'll finish off by giving you an exercise: brainstorm and write up a plan for the essay topic shown in the video below. I'd recommend you do this before watching Lisa's brainstorm and plan. That way, you can see which of your ideas overlapped, but also potentially see which ideas you may have missed out on. Good luck!

  • Introduction to William Wordsworth and Romanticism
  • Key Features of Romantic Poetry
  • Poetic Analysis Examples

1. Introduction to William Wordsworth and Romanticism

William Wordsworth was a British poet and primary co-founder of the Romantic literary movement. He strongly believed that the poetry of the nineteenth century was much too fast-paced and too mindless to be able to evoke a meaningful message to the reader. Contending that ‘all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling,’ he wished to pioneer Romanticism to create a genre of poetry that reminded the reader of the very essence of humanity.

As such, Wordsworth and fellow poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge founded a new style of poetry through their co-written 1798 Lyrical Ballads , a collection of poetry which attempted to unite the human condition with the tranquility of nature. 

As a resident of England’s picturesque Lake District, Wordsworth enjoyed becoming one with nature by wandering through the neighbouring hills, moors and lakeside views, while mentally composing poems inspired by its glorious elements. 

William Wordsworth: Poems Selected by Seamus Heaney is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response .

2. Key Features of Romantic Poetry

The Romantic movement of poetry was founded during the Industrial Revolution, a period in which people were growing farther from the serene comfort of nature and closer towards modern mechanisation and mass manufacturing. As such, a primary characteristic of Romantic poetry is nature, as poets attempted to remind humanity of its meditative respite, and the comfort it could provide in the backdrop of the pollution that accompanied the growing industrialisation of England. 

Wordsworth was a pantheist and believed that God was within every aspect of the natural world. In addition to this, he categorised himself as an ardent ‘worshipper of nature’. Thus, much of his poetry explores nature in a sacred and religious sense, presenting goodness and naturalness as synonymous - aptly displaying his belief of nature as a living, divine entity that could only to be ignored at humankind’s peril. 

Emotionalism 

Romantic poetry subdues reason, intellect and the scientific truth in order to place more focus on the ‘truth of the imagination’. As a result of the harsh rigidity and rationality of the Enlightenment era, all human sentiments, from melancholiness to hopefulness, were celebrated by Romantics as important instruments in poetry to remind the common people of sentimentality in a modern and intransigent era. 

As Romantics believed that these feelings allowed one to look deeper into one’s self, the theme of powerful emotions constructs the very essence of Romantic poetic poetry. As a result of this, rather than placing much importance on sense or sensibility, much of Wordsworth’s poems scrutinise his own effusion of feelings and the universal truths that these help him discover, speaking as the characteristic Romantic poet occupying a sentimental place of alienation.

Rebellion and Individualism

The Industrial Revolution oversaw the creation of distinct class differences between the extremely wealthy class of businessmen, and financially struggling workers and entrepreneurs. Poets, like all other artists, were forced to become increasingly independent and needed to rely on their unique vision and style in order to succeed in their gradually declining line of work. The Romantics subsequently began to view themselves as heroes who challenged and overcame the social challenges that arose; as champions of independence and self-awareness. As such, Romantic poetry often features characters or symbols of valiant heroism, as the poet acts as a visionary figure in his work, like a prophet telling of poetic self-awareness. 

The Sublime

In accordance with their celebration of human emotions, Romantics also became fascinated with the literary conception of ‘the sublime’, a mental state that Classical authors such as Longinus defined as ‘physical, moral, intellectual, metaphysical, aesthetic, spiritual, or artistic greatness’ that is of such magnificence that it cannot be measured. 

The Romantics explored these extraordinary experiences in their poetry, describing the power of such sublime experiences on one’s senses, mind and imagination. Wordsworth expressed in his essay that a sublime experience is what occurs when one’s mind attempts to attain ‘something towards which it can make approaches but which it is incapable of attaining’. For example, his biographical poem, The Prelude recounts his ascent of Mount Snowdon and the sublime emotions he experiences as a result of its powerful atmosphere. 

Many have viewed Wordsworth’s view of the sublime as the Romantic standard, as his poetry focuses equally on both the alluring and devastating aspects of such sublime experiences. His work focuses on the intertwined pleasure and terror that is generated as a result of such experiences, and how either end of the spectrum is ultimately beautiful and inspiring.

Context is really important when engaging with a text in VCE English, so be sure to read Context and Authorial Intention in VCE English .

3. Poetic Analysis Examples 

Example passage 1.

Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife: Come, hear the woodland linnet, How sweet his music! on my life, There's more of wisdom in it.
And hark! how blithe the throstle sings! He, too, is no mean preacher: Come forth into the light of things, Let Nature be your teacher.

This passage, taken from Wordsworth’s Tables Turned; An Evening Scene on the Same Subject , is a primary example of a poem displaying the Romantics’ propensity and reverence for the natural landscape.  

Thematic Analysis

The speaker of the poem contrasts the ‘endless strife’ of book-learning to the spontaneous and liberal method of learning through interacting with nature. The description of the ‘woodland [linnet’s]’ song as ‘sweet’ music evokes an image of heavenly bliss associated with the charms hidden within nature. That ‘there’s more of wisdom in’ such nature works in tandem with this, as the speaker asserts that the natural landscape is able to teach a lesson of a magnificence incomparable to the monotony of the ‘dull’ studying thorough book-learning. 

The speaker’s evocation of ‘blithe’ emotions through sound is continued in the second stanza, in which ‘the throstle’ delivers another divine ‘song’ in an attempt to entice the reader. The speaker furthers his advocation for natural learning through a condemnation of route learning, as he attacks teachers of such as ‘mean preachers’. The directly following use of a pun emphasises this contrast, as the ‘light of things’ symbolises both the enlightenment that will accompany nature’s teaching, as well as the literal ‘light’ of nature underneath the sun. 

The final line of the passage summarises the speaker’s persuasion aptly, as the phrase, ‘let nature be your teacher’, rings similar to a passage which can be found in the Bible; the speaker thus implies that the natural world is the all-superior entity and source of knowledge that one should take lessons from. 

Stylistic Analysis

The rhyme and the rhythmic beat of the poem give it a sound comparable to a nursery-rhyme. This works in tandem with the Romantic viewpoint that great poetic language should be simple, accessible and conversational; as understandable to the common people as a nursery rhyme is to a child. This similarity also works in accordance with the authorial message of the poem, that nature should be a universal ‘teacher’, as nursery rhymes are often employed as enjoyable sing-songs that educate children on a moral level. As such, Wordsworth here strengthens his viewpoint through his poetic words; that nature should be a mentor to all. 

Example Passage 2

‍ For thou art with me here upon the banks  Of this fair river; thou my dearest Friend,  My dear, dear Friend; and in thy voice I catch  The language of my former heart, and read  My former pleasures in the shooting lights  Of thy wild eyes. Oh! yet a little while  May I behold in thee what I was once,  My dear, dear Sister! and this prayer I make,  Knowing that Nature never did betray  The heart that loved her; 'tis her privilege,  Through all the years of this our life, to lead  From joy to joy… Therefore let the moon  Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;  And let the misty mountain-winds be free  To blow against thee: and, in after years,  When these wild ecstasies shall be matured  Into a sober pleasure; when thy mind  Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,  Thy memory be as a dwelling-place  For all sweet sounds and harmonies; oh! then,  If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,  Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts  Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,  And these my exhortations! Nor, perchance—  If I should be where I no more can hear  Thy voice, nor catch from thy wild eyes these gleams  Of past existence—wilt thou then forget  That on the banks of this delightful stream  We stood together; and that I, so long  A worshipper of Nature, hither came  Unwearied in that service: rather say  With warmer love—oh! with far deeper zeal  Of holier love. Nor wilt thou then forget,  That after many wanderings, many years  Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs,  And this green pastoral landscape, were to me  More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake!

This passage is taken from the final section from Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey , a critical work in Wordsworth’s poetic career. Tracing the growth of his mind in different periods of time, the poem is a condensed, spiritual autobiography of Wordsworth himself as it views his younger self from the perspective of his older self, weighing the sense of ‘loss’ suffered against the belief that the years have brought him ‘abundant recompense’. 

After recalling his experiences with nature over his formative and adult years, the speaker now addresses his younger sister Dorothy, as he gives her heartfelt advice about what he has learnt. Here, Dorothy becomes a ghost of his former self, as he hears ‘the language of his former heart’ when she speaks and perceives his ‘former pleasure’ in the ‘soothing lights of [her] wild eyes’. 

The speaker depicts his loyalty to nature and its reflective loyalty to him, by the expression that ‘nature never did betray [his] heart’ that loves Dorothy, and this is the reason they have been living from ‘joy to joy’, lending nature a role of salvation. 

The speaker then directly addresses the moon as a kind of separate entity, in order to ask it to bless his sister by shining on her ‘solitary walk’, so that when she is an adult her mind may become a ‘mansion for all lovely forms’. This is an ode to the harshness of the society at the time, in which the privileged businessmen and factory owners possessed a monopoly over British wealth, and accompanying prejudices clouded social judgement. As such, the speaker expresses his desires for his beloved sister to be exempt from such hardship that he was once subjected to, so that she can enjoy ‘sweet sounds and memories’ without experiencing the vexations of an unrelenting human society. 

The conclusion of the poem is cyclic, as it takes the speaker back to the ‘green pastoral landscape’ of the beginning of his meditations. This symbolises the omnipresent timelessness of nature. As the speaker muses upon his ‘past existence’, he wishes to convey his own reverence for nature to his beloved sister, as he expresses that she will not forget the ‘steep woods and lofty cliffs’ upon which he first understood and respected nature. 

The language utilised in this poem is lucid and natural, characteristic of Romantic poetry. The simplicity of the words chosen by Wordsworth effectively communicate the honesty of his own emotions towards nature. The elevated blank verse structure furthers this simplicity, as its familiar and easy tone is like that of a comfortable heartbeat or pulse that runs throughout one’s body in a serene state of mind. 

Ultimately, the unconstrained and liberating tone of the poem, in accordance with its free blank verse structure emphasises Wordsworth’s belief that nature is within our very selves. Just as the poem runs smoothly and continuously, akin to a human pulse, Wordsworth suggests that nature too runs within everyone as an incessant heartbeat, necessary in order to experience a ‘warmer’ and ‘holier’ love for this universe.

This blog was updated on 23/10/2020.

3. Part 1: Plot

4. Part 1: Quotes and Analysis ‍

5. Themes, Motifs, and Key Ideas

6. Character Analysis

7. Structure

8. Sample Essay Topics

9. Essay Topic Breakdown

The Dressmaker is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response .

Set in Dungatar, a barren wasteland of traditionalism and superstition, isolated amidst the rapidly modernising post-World War II Australia, acclaimed author Rosalie Ham’s gothic novel, The Dressmaker , provides a fascinating window into 1950s Australia. I find it to be one of the most intriguing texts of our time - managing to weave together a historical narrative with humour, wit, and modern-day social concerns regarding patriarchy, class, and the effects of isolation.

The Dressmaker is one of those texts which reinforces why studying English can be so great when you give it a proper chance. This subject isn’t just about studying books and writing essays, it’s also about learning new insight you’ll carry with you throughout your life. Specifically, The Dressmaker offers real insight into some of the most pressing issues that have been around for centuries - how communities respond to crisis, why certain groups are marginalised, and how we should respond to tyranny and intolerance. Ham’s novel is layered with meaning, character development, and a moving plot which really helps us reflect on who we are as people. Not every book can do that - and, seemingly, on a surface level, you wouldn’t expect a novel about fashion and betrayal to do it either. But somehow, it just does, and it’s what makes The Dressmaker one of my favourite books of all time.

Before we move on to looking at The Dressmaker’s plot and delving deep into analysis, it’s really important to understand the main historical context which underpins the novel. By ‘historical context’, all we mean here is the factual background which tells us why Rosalie Ham wrote her novel, and why she chose the particular setting of Dungatar. After all, Dungatar is a fictionalised community, but its references to post-World War II Australia are very real. The main message I want you to take from this section is that understanding 1950s Australia is essential to understanding Dungatar.

Australian Geography and the Great Depression

Before we delve into talking about this historical theme, I’d like to first acknowledge that Australia was colonised against the wishes of its First Nations peoples, and also recognise that sovereignty was never ceded. This discussion broadly reflects the experiences of colonised Australia because that is the frame which Rosalie Ham provides. However, at Lisa’s Study Guides, we acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which this study guide was written, edited, and published, and pay our respects to elders past, present, and emerging. 

Ham’s fictional setting of Dungatar is a perfect example, as it is placed in the Australian Outback. The ‘Outback’ doesn’t exactly have any borders, so which regions of Australia count as part of the 'outback' will be slightly different from person to person. A general rule to help us understand the Outback is that it is way out in the centre of the country, far away from urban Australia. Its main industry is pastoralism, which refers to the grazing of cattle, sheep, and other species such as goats. This is a tough lifestyle, and as such small towns and a lot of room for livestock is preferable. These communities are often isolated, and don’t really communicate with the outside world unless it’s about trading their livestock into the cities. Isolation tends to create its own culture, practices, and social standards. For Dungatar, we see massive economic divides and strict expectations around the role of men and women. For instance, the McSwineys live in absolute poverty, yet Councilman Evan and his family are relatively wealthy. Most of the women in the town either care for children or stay at home, reflecting the outdated idea that it is the role of the man to work, and the role of the woman to be a homemaker. As much as we can look at these ideas and realise how flawed they are, for Dungatar it is a way of life to which they’ve stuck for decades. Changing this way of life would be dangerous for them because it means they have to completely reconsider the way they live.

Part 1: Plot

  • Myrtle Dunnage arrives in Dungatar after many years, seeking to care for her mother Molly Dunnage. 
  • Myrtle, who now wishes to be known as Tilly, reconnects with Sergeant Farrat, Dungatar’s eccentric local policeman who is doing his evening lap in the town. He takes Tilly through the town and up ‘The Hill’, which is where Molly lives. 
  • While Tilly is caring for Molly, mental and physical illness causes her to believe that Tilly is an outsider who wishes to poison her. Tilly perseveres in order to shower, feed, and clothe the woman, as well as clear out the house.
  • The perspective changes to Sergeant Farrat, who is patrolling the town centre a day later. He sees a returned William Beaumont sitting in a car. Moving into Muriel and Alvin Pratt’s General Store, Farrat claims to be buying fabric for his house. Their daughter Gertrude, who is reading a fashion magazine, realises that the material he is buying fits with the latest skirt designs across Australia.
  • After learning about Mr Almanac’s pharmacy, the footballers move into Purl and Fred Bundle’s pub. 
  • The readers are introduced to the McSwiney family, who with Edward and Mae as the father and mother, have 11 children. They’re said to live in the tip at the edge of town. 
  • The following weekend Tilly and Molly leave The Hill to attend the football match played in Dungatar between the two neighbouring towns, Itheca and Winyerp. Lois Pickett and Beula Harridene give her an immediately negative reaction, taking offence when Molly questions whether their cakes are poisoned.
  • After getting medicine from Mr. Almanac and his assistant Nancy, Tilly and Molly run into Irma, his sickly wife. Her arthritis makes mobility difficult, and as such she is found sitting on the bank of the river, where she asks Tilly not to let the town know that she had been cooking meals for Molly in Tilly’s absence.
  • Nancy and Sister Ruth Dimm are shown to be having a secret relationship in the back of the phone exchange building before the perspective moves back to Buela Harridene, who demands that Sergeant Farrat investigate the McSwiney children for supposedly pelting her roof with stones.
  • Tilly sits on the riverbank, remembering her memories and trauma in Dungatar, with the crucial event being when Stewart Pettyman attempted to headbutt Tilly, but she moved out of the way, causing him to ram into a wall, snap his neck and die.
  • Marigold and Evan Pettyman are introduced to the audience, with Marigold being a nervous individual who is put to sleep by Evan with pills every night and sexually assaulted.
  • Following Dungatar’s victory in the grand finale, which sends frivolity and celebration throughout the town, a package arrives for Tilly. Ruth reads through all its contents after picking its lock whilst Tilly reluctantly meets with Teddy, who continues to visit her. 
  • Tilly and Molly visit the Almanacs for dinner, wherein Tilly’s medicine causes Irma’s pain to disappear. Although Mr Almanac is unpleasant – stating that Tilly can never be forgiven for Pettyman’s death – the night moves on, Tilly returns home and is visited by Teddy yet again. 

Part 1: Quotes and Analysis ‍

“She used to have a lot of falls, which left her with a black eye or a cut lip.”

Here, Ham subtly hints that Irma Almanac’s injuries were not solely due to ‘falls’, as it is also said that once her husband grew old the ‘falls’ progressively ceased. Abuse of women is common in Dungatar, and it is almost expected that women will be subservient to men and do as they demand.

“His new unchecked gingham skirt hung starched and pressed on the wardrobe doorknob behind him.”

Sergeant Farrat subverts social expectations placed upon 1950s men by adoring feminine fashion. However, the fact that he is forced to hide his passion reveals how, in conservative towns such as Dungatar, individuals are forced to suppress their true selves in order to fit in with the broader population. There is no room for individuality or creative expression, as this is seen as a challenge to Dungatar’s social order and the clear separation between the roles of men and women.

“What’s the point of having a law enforcer if he enforces the law according to himself, not the legal law?”

Buela Harridene pretends to care about the enforcement of the law, but her true concern is bending the law to her own will to make those who step outside of their socially defined roles suffer. She is at odds with Sergeant Farrat as he seeks to control the townspeople’s worst instincts, yet people like Buela ensure that vengeance, rumour, and suspicion are still the defining features of Dungatar.

“Well let me tell you if he’s got any queer ideas we’ll all suffer.”

Although this specifically refers to William Beaumont, it alludes to the broader picture that the people of Dungatar believe that any outside ideas fundamentally threaten everything about the way they live. Even before Beaumont has opened his mouth, he is already a threat since he may have witnessed another way of living disconnected from Dungatar’s conservatism.

If you'd like to see the all Chapter plots, their analysis, along with important quotes, then have a look at our The Dressmaker Study Guide.

Themes, Motifs, and Key Ideas

Isolation and modernisation.

One of the central conflicts in The Dressmaker is between the isolated town of Dungatar, and the rapidly modernising surroundings of post-depression 1950s Australia, as we established in Historical Context . Ham uses this dichotomy (meaning when two opposing factors are placed right next to each other) to question whether isolated communities like Dungatar really have a role in the modern world . 

Our clearest indication that Dungatar is not only traditionalistic, but absolutely reviles change and outside influence , is right at the start of the novel, when a train conductor laments that there’s “naught that’s poetic about damn [progress].” Here, we see the overriding contention of Rosalie Ham’s novel - that because a community like Dungatar has been isolated for so long, it has become absolutely committed to maintaining its traditionalism at all costs. There are more symbolic reflections of how stagnant the town has become, such as the fact that Evan Pettyman, the town’s elected Councillor, has been in the role for multiple decades without fail - or that the same teacher who ostracised Tilly as a child, Prudence Dimm, is still in charge of the town’s school. 

Social Class

The Dressmaker speaks extensively about social class. By class, what I mean is the economic and social divisions which determine where people sit in society. For instance, we could say that the British Royals are ‘upper class’, whilst people living paycheque to paycheque and struggling to get by are ‘lower class’. 

It's also important to introduce the notion of a classist society. A classist society is one where all social relations are built on these aforementioned economic and social divides - in other words, everything you do in life, and everything you are able to do , is built on where you sit in the class structure. 

For The Dressmaker , the question then becomes - "how does class relate to Dungatar?" Well, Dungatar is one of the most classist societies around, where societal worth is explicitly based on one’s position in the class structure.

Femininity, Fashion, and Patriarchy

By now, you’ve probably realised that The Dressmaker ’s title is significant. Fashion and ‘dressmaking’ are absolutely essential to understanding the life of Tilly Dunnage, and how she interacts with the people of Dungatar . We’ll go into this further, but Ham specifically delves into the power of fashion as a form of expression which empowers people and their femininity , yet she also examines how, in a community like Dungatar, fashion nonetheless ends up being entirely destructive.  Dungatar and Femininity

The idea of femininity describes, on a basic level, the ability of a woman to express herself independent of any man. Others would describe femininity in more definitive terms, but it’s really in the eyes of the beholder. What’s explicitly clear, however, is  that, in order to suppress femininity, women in Dungatar are repressed and kept under the control of men. Marigold Pettyman is raped by her husband, Evan Pettyman every night, while the “ladies of Dungatar…turn their backs” when they see the Councillor coming - knowing his crimes, but being too afraid to challenge him. Above all else, Dungatar exists within a patriarchal framework, which is one where men hold structural power and authority, and that power relies on keeping women silent and subservient. In such a society, the role of women in Dungatar is vacuous (meaning that they don’t have any real purpose) - they frill about, spread rumours, and otherwise have no set roles other than to be obedient to their husband. 

Fashion as Empowerment

Within this context, Rosalie Ham explores the power of fashion to empower femininity, and, even if it’s in a limited sense, give the patriarchy its first real challenge. Gertrude is a perfect example, as Tilly’s dressmaking sees her eventually transform at her wedding, even though she is initially described as a “good mule” by Sergeant Farrat; symbolically being stripped of her humanity and beauty by being compared to an animal. However, Gertrude becomes the spectacle of the town at her wedding, wearing a “fine silk taffeta gown” and presenting an elegant, empowered image. The townspeople even note that Tilly is an “absolute wizard with fabric and scissors”, and, with the use of the word ‘wizard’, it becomes evident that the women of Dungatar are absolutely unaccustomed to having any form of expression or individuality - a patriarchal standard which Tilly challenges through her work. 

Think also about Sergeant Farrat. Even if he isn’t a woman, he nonetheless is able to embrace his feminine side through fashion. Indeed his “gingham skirt” and secretive love of female fashion is utilised by Ham to demonstrate that, even in a patriarchal settlement like Dungatar , fashion is immensely empowering and important.

Fashion and Destruction

However, as always, Ham elucidates that there too exists a dark side to fashion in a town like Dungatar. Ultimately, the women of Dungatar, in their elegant dresses, end up looking like a “group of European aristocrats’ wives who had somehow lost their way”. What this quote tells us is that, despite a temporary possibility for empowerment, the women of Dungatar did not fundamentally change their identities. As “aristocrats’ wives”, they are still tied to a patriarchal system in which, even if they were better dressed, nothing was ultimately done to overcome their tradition for rumour, suspicion, and ostracising outcasts. Indeed, this becomes most evident at the Social Ball, where, despite wearing Tilly’s dresses, her name is “scrubb[ed] out” from the seating list - symbolically expressing a desire for Tilly’s modernising, urban, outside influence to be removed from Dungatar, even as they simultaneously wear her dresses! 

Tilly Dunnage 

Tilly, or Myrtle Dunnage, is the protagonist of The Dressmaker , and an acclaimed dressmaker trained in Paris . Analysing Tilly requires an understanding that she believes she is cursed: starting with being exiled from Dungatar after the accidental death of Stewart Pettyman, and then finding her “seven month old” baby Pablo “in his cot...dead”, as well as witnessing the deaths of Teddy and Molly. In her own words, she is “falser than vows made in wine”, and does not personally believe she can be trusted. This pessimistic perspective on life inspires Tilly to adopt an incredibly individualistic understanding of the world; believing that the only way for her to survive is embracing her individual worth and rejecting toxic communities. Indeed, although Tilly initially arrived in Dungatar to care for her mother - a selfless act - the town spiralling into vengeance only confirmed Tilly’s pessimism. Her modern dressmaking ultimately could not change a fundamentally corrupt community predicated on “nothing ever really chang[ing]”, and therefore the maintenance of a culture of rumour and suspicion . Indeed, in “raz[ing Dungatar] to the ground”, Rosalie Ham reminds us that Tilly is an unapologetically individually-focused person, and will not tolerate anyone, or anything, which seeks to make her conform to the status quo and repress her individuality.

Molly Dunnage 

Molly Dunnage is Tilly’s mother, a bedridden, elderly woman whose sickness drives Tilly back into Dungatar. Molly is commonly known as ‘Mad Molly’ by the townspeople, but what this hides is the fact that Molly was not born mentally insane. Rather, after being “tormented” by Evan Pettyman into having his illegitimate child and seeing Tilly exiled from Dungatar, the malicious actions of the community drive her into insanity. Even in her incapacitated and crazed state, Molly holds such love for Tilly that she attempts to stop her engaging with the community, and thus the symbolism of Molly “dismant[ling] her sewing machine entirely” was that, due to her experiences, she did not believe that the people of Dungatar would ever accept Tilly, either as a dressmaker or a person . Molly’s death is ultimately a pivotal event, and awakens Tilly to the fact that only “revenge [could be] our cause”, and thus that Dungatar is fundamentally irredeemable.

Teddy McSwiney 

Teddy McSwiney is the eldest son of the McSwiney family, Dungatar’s poorest residents. Teddy is a unique case, as although he’s a McSwiney, he is noted for being incredibly well-liked in the town - even going so far as to be described by Purl as the town’s “priceless full forward” in Dungatar’s AFL team. Nonetheless, as we discussed under the Social Class theme, Dungatar remains an unashamedly classist society, and as such, despite Teddy being valued in his usefulness as a footy player and the “nice girls lov[ing] him”, he “was a McSwiney” - discounted from the town’s dating scene or any true level of social worth. Teddy becomes essential to the plot when he and Tilly spark a budding romance. Whereas the majority of Dungatar rejects Tilly or refuses to stand against the crowd, Teddy actively seeks to remind Tilly of her worth - saying that he “doesn’t believe in curses”. However, his death after suffocating in a “sorghum mill” reiterates a sad reality in Dungatar; it is always the most vulnerable townspeople who pay the price for classist discrimination, ostracisation, and suspicion.  

Sergeant Farrat 

Sergeant Farrat is one of The Dressmaker’s most interesting characters. On the surface, he’s nothing but a police officer who manages Dungatar. However, Farrat’s position is far more complex than meets the eye - as a police officer, he is entrusted with enforcing the “legal law”, yet must also contain the influence of malicious individuals such as Buela Harradine who would otherwise use the enforcement of that law to spread slander about individuals like the McSwineys, who she considers “bludgers” and “thieves”. Despite Dungatar’s complications, Farrat considers the townspeople “his flock”, and this religious, Christ-like imagery here tells us how he is essentially their protector. Farrat is, in essence, entrusted with preventing the townspeople from destroying themselves (by now, we all know how easily the townspeople slide into hatred and division!). Here’s the interesting thing though - at the same time Sergeant Farrat is protecting Dungatar, he is also personally repressed by its conservative standards. Rosalie Ham establishes Farrat as a man with a love for vibrant, expressive, female fashion, and from his “gingham skirts” which he sews in private to his time spent with Tilly while she sews, Ham demonstrates to us that Dungatar’s conservatism affects everyone. Even though he tries to defend Tilly as the townspeople descend on her after Teddy’s death, Tilly destroys his house along with Dungatar anyway - signalling that, no matter how hard Sergeant Farrat tried to reconcile his position as protector of Dungatar and his own person, the town could not be saved.

The Dressmaker is written in the Gothic style, which means it combines romance with death and horror, particularly horror of the emotional kind. The Dressmaker is divided into four sections, each named after a type of fabric Tilly uses in her work. You can use these in your essays to show how important dressmaking and fashion is to the plot’s progression, especially considering each section starts with fabric. The four types are:

A fabric made from cotton or yarn, with a checkered shape. Gingham is often used as a ‘test fabric’ in designing fashion or for making tablecloths. This gives it a rustic, imperfect feel signifying Tilly’s return to her hometown and complicated past. The name is thought to originate from a Malay word meaning ‘separate’, mirroring Tilly’s feelings of isolation from the rest of Dungatar. In this section of the novel, Sergeant Farrat also buys gingham fabric to secretly make into a skirt, symbolising how the town is still rife with secrets and a disparity between the public and private personas of its inhabitants. 

2. Shantung

A fabric used for bridal gowns. Gertrude is married in this section and her dress, which Tilly makes, is the first instance where the town witnesses her work. Shantung originates from China, matching this notion of exoticism and foreignness which seeing the dress spreads among the townspeople. 

A fabric noted for its ability to be used for a wide variety of purposes. This is the section in which the ball occurs and a variety of Tilly’s dresses are unveiled for the town to see. 

A richly decorative fabric made with threads of gold and silver. Brocade is used primarily for upholstery, drapery, and costumes. This is a reference to the costumes of Dungatar’s play, the climax of the novel which occurs in this section.

1. “They looked like a group of European aristocrats’ wives who had somehow lost their way.” Fashion is both liberating and oppressive. Discuss.

2. How does Rosalie Ham represent the power of love throughout The Dressmaker?

3. Gender repression is rife in The Dressmaker . To what extent do you agree?

4. “Damn progress, there’s naught that’s poetic about diesel or electric. Who needs speed?” What is Ham’s essential message about progress in The Dressmaker?

Now it's your turn! Give these essay topics a go. For more sample essay topics, head over to our The Dressmaker Study Guide to practice writing essays using the analysis you've learnt in this blog!

Theme-Based Prompt: Rosalie Ham’s The Dressmaker condemns fundamentally oppressive communities. Discuss.

We’ve got a theme-based prompt here, which really calls for your essay to be explicitly focused on the theme at hand. That means that we shouldn’t stray from the idea of ‘oppressive communities’. Keep it as the centre of your essay and look at how events relate to this idea - we’ll break it down more in Step 2 so you can properly explore it.

Because there’s a ‘Discuss’ qualifier added to the end of the prompt, a clear and concise contention is really important. What you’re being asked to do is, again, stick with the topic frame. That means that going for the usual “two agree, one disagree” structure is decent, but I wouldn’t suggest it as the most efficient way to go. Instead, what you’ll see that I do with this essay is ‘discuss’ how the topic is present throughout all three of our arguments.

Let’s start by breaking down the key words of the topic.

We have the idea of an ‘oppressive community’, which refers to communities that are built on marginalising certain individuals so the majority can maintain power . This is quite a clear reference to Dungatar, but expect that most essay questions for The Dressmaker won’t directly reference Tilly or the town, even if they’re quite clearly talking about them. Something for which you should look out – don’t let the wording phase you!

The addition of the word ‘fundamentally’ doesn’t change that much, but what it does tell us is that the essay is asking us to agree that Dungatar is oppressive to its core. In other words, its ‘fundamentals’ are based on oppression. I would not recommend trying to disagree with this basic premise, as it means you’re going against the topic in a ‘Discuss’ prompt which, as we discussed above, isn’t the best option in my view.

One of the most logical ways to approach this topic is a chronological structure. By that, what I mean is following the text in the order events occur; before Tilly’s arrival, during Tilly’s time in Dungatar, and the consequences that arise after they make her an outcast once again.

This way, you can stay on topic and look at how Dungatar is oppressive even before Tilly shows up again, how that ramps up as she establishes her dressmaking business, and what Ham’s final message is on rejecting oppressive communities and embracing individual worth.

If you find this essay breakdown helpful, then you might want to check out our The Dressmaker Study Guide where we cover 5 A+ sample essays with EVERY essay annotated and broken down on HOW and WHY these essays achieved A+ so you reach your English goals! Let's get started.

1. Dissecting the prompt

2. Essay Topic and Body Paragraphs Breakdown

3. Resources

Like A House On Fire  is currently studied in VCE English under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our  Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response .

Dissecting the Prompt

Dissecting a collection of short stories can be very challenging due to the many characters involved, and the different themes. But what most students don’t realise is that almost all the stories in the anthology have common and overlapping themes. And that’s what you need to focus on when you’re building your essay. I’m going to go through one essay topic to demonstrate how you’re expected to dissect and plan the essay. This is how I planned my essays ate the beginning of the year when I was still struggling with writing an essay on short stories and wanted everything to be clear to me before I start writing so that I know exactly what I will be covering. 

Although many of the characters in like a house on fire are dealing with physical and emotional pain, it is their resilience that will be remembered by the reader. Do you agree?

So first of all, you need to highlight all the important aspects of this question.

Although many of the characters in like a house on fire are dealing with  physical and emotional pain , it is  their resilience  that will be remembered by the reader. Do you agree?

Now that we have highlighted the important parts that the question is inviting us to discuss, we know that we need to mention characters who are dealing with physical and emotional trauma yet rise above their tribulations, leaving the readers hopeful and optimistic. In doing so, you’ve pretty much discussed everything the prompt wants you to, but you can always go one step further and have a rebuttal paragraph. What I mean by that is: find a character who is faced with physical or emotional trauma yet gives up and becomes trapped in his/her imperfect reality. That way you show the assessor your knowledge of the text because you show them that even though Kennedy focuses on the resilience of her characters, she also sheds light on the reality that some people don’t have the strength to recover from such traumas.

Detailed Plan

What I personally do after dissecting my prompt is have a plan of what I’m going to be covering in each paragraph. The aim for a high scoring essay is to cover 5-6 short stories, if you chose to cover only 3-4 then from my experience the maximum you can score is an 8/10.

I’m going to split my essay into three sections each covering a certain aspect of my prompt.

First paragraph

Which characters struggled with physical trauma yet rose above it? 

1. In ‘Flexion’, Kennedy explores the pain and anguish Frank feels as he fights his injury, determined not to let it destroy him through her use of linguistic imagery whereby the slimily of Frank ‘[clawing] himself up onto the machinery’ as he is ‘growling like an animal’ depicts the sheer resolve that he exhibits as he tries to overcome the physical pain and handicap that threaten his independence. Thus, his resilience becomes admired by the readers who realise that despite almost dying, he chooses to alter his imperfect circumstances.

2. In the eponymous story ‘Like a House on Fire’, the unnamed protagonist suffers from a herniated disc that hinders his ability to carry out his role as a husband and a father yet he chooses to alter his imperfect reality by working his ‘teeth gritted way up the stairs’ not once but twice, in hope of finding a solution to the stagnation taking place in his own marriage.

Second paragraph

Which characters struggled with emotional trauma yet rose above it? 

1. In ‘Waiting’, the protagonist is waiting in a cold clinic whereby she will be told that she has suffered yet another miscarriage. Despite the harrowing pain she feels and the feeling of something ‘ebbing away’ leaving her once again without a ‘viable’ child, she chooses to move forward and declares that she is ‘not a martyr, just someone who sees what need to be done and does it’.

2. Michelle in ‘Five-Dollar Family’, has to adjust all her dreams of Des becoming the perfect father and boyfriend when she realises, he’ll be going to jail. Thus, Michelle’s epiphany that ‘she is got everything this baby needs now’ and no longer sees any value in Des allow for self-growth and ultimately the ability to cope with single parenting.

Third paragraph

Which characters are unable to show resilience and become prisoners of their imperfect circumstances? 

1. In ‘Sleepers’, Ray becomes a sleeper in his own life in the aftermath of his break up. Unlike many of the short stories in the collection, Sleepers is one that does not end with the optimism of a new start but rather ends with Ray being trapped again in his life waiting ‘to take what was coming to him’ thus signifying the damage his loneliness has cost him; whereby his life has become a series of lethargic and meaningless events.

After planning which stories, we want to discuss in the essay, we can now begin the writing process. So essentially the most important part of writing your essay is planning it and making sure you understand properly what you need to answer in your essay.

Later in the year when you are doing EAL/English practice papers, it is quite unrealistic for you to create such a detailed plan considering the time restrictions. So, I will run you through how I planned my essay in an actual exam situation.

So just like we did with the detailed plan, we highlight the important parts of the question that will need to be discussed in the essay.

Then you need to think of the stories that represent physical pain yet the characters rise above their tribulations:

2. Like a House on Fire

Then you need to think of the stories that represent emotional pain:

2. Five-Dollar Family

Then you need to think of the rebuttal story whereby the characters suffer but do not exhibit resilience:

1. Sleepers

So essentially in the short plan you just outline the stories that you would like to mention and split them up according to which aspect of the prompt they will be answering rather than actually writing dot points on each one. So your plan becomes less detailed but rather just an outline so you stay on track and do not ramble.

If you found this essay breakdown helpful, then you might want to check out our Like a House on Fire Study Guide which includes 5 A+ sample essays with EVERY essay annotated and broken down on HOW and WHY these essays achieved A+ so you reach your English goals!

By the way, to download a PDF version of this guide for printing or offline use, click here !

VCE Text Response Study Guide

Like a House on Fire Essay Topic Breakdown

Close analysis of 'Cake' from Like a House on Fire

'Cake' from Like a House on Fire YouTube Video

The Ultimate guide to VCE Text Response

5 Tips for a mic drop worthy essay conclusion ‍

This blog covers choosing the perfect topic for your next Oral Presentation. To get a better overview of what's expected of you in Oral Presentations, writing up your speech, and speech delivery, check out Our Ultimate Guide to Oral Presentations.

The following is the LSG criteria that will ensure you find an interesting topic!

Step 1: Select a topic that has appeared in the media since 1 September of the previous year

Getting started on this first part can be tricky, especially if you want to choose something a bit more original or fresh.

In any case, the first thing you need is an event . An event in the VCE English context is anything that happens which also generates opinionated media coverage —so, it’s not just an event but it has to be an event that people have published opinions about, and they have to have been published since September 1.

You might wonder why we don’t go to the issue straight away. Here’s a hypothetical to illustrate: if you asked me to name an issue, the best I could probably come up with off the top of my head is climate change. However, if you asked me to name an event, I’d pretty easily recall the Australian bushfires—something much more concrete which a) has generated specific and passionate opinions in the media; and b) can easily be linked to a wider issue such as climate change.

So where do you find an event? If you can’t think of a particularly interesting one right away, you could always try Wikipedia. Seriously, Wikipedia very helpfully has pages of things that happened in specific years in specific countries, so “2019 in Australia” might well be a starting point. The ABC news archive is also really helpful since you can pick dates or periods of time and see a good mix of news events from then.

I wouldn’t underestimate your own memory here either. Maybe you attended the School Strike for Climate and/or you feel vaguely disappointed in the government. Maybe there was something else happening in the news you remember (even though it is often about the environment these days). It doesn’t have to be from the news though—maybe there was a movie or TV show you watched recently that you have thoughts about. You could really do a speech on any of these, as long as you suspect there might be recent, opinionated media coverage .

Only once you have an event should you look for an issue . This will be a specific debate that comes out of the event, and can usually be framed as a “whether-or-not” question. The bushfires, for example, might generate debate around whether or not the Australian government is doing enough to combat climate change, whether or not Scott Morrison has fulfilled his duties as Prime Minister, whether or not it’s appropriate to discuss policy already when people are still grieving. All of these issues are going to be more current and more focused than just ‘climate change’, so pick one that resonates for your speech. In the next couple of sections, I’ll offer you a list of 2019-20 issue-debate breakdowns (i.e. topic ideas!).

Most importantly, choose an event/issue that is interesting for you . You’re the one who’s going to deal most intimately with this event/issue - you’ll have to research multiple sources, come up with a contention and arguments, write the essay, present the essay - so make it easier for yourself because you’re going to be spending a lot of time completing all these steps. Besides, an inherently interesting topic means that you’ll showcase your opinions in an authentic way, which is incredibly important when it comes to presentation time.

Step 2: Filter out the boring events/issues

“Your aim of this entire Oral Presentation SAC is to persuade your audience to agree with your contention (whatever that may be) based off the issue you’ve selected.”   -The VCAA English Study Design

Next, you’ll need use this test to see whether or not your topic will stand up to the test of being ‘interesting’ enough for your audience. My first question to you is: who is your audience?

Is it your classroom and teacher? Is it a handful of teachers? If you don’t know, stop right now and find out. Only continue to the next question once you’re 100% certain of your audience.

Once you know who your audience is, ask yourself: Does this event and issue relate to my audience?

This question matters because “your aim of this entire Oral Presentation SAC is to persuade your audience to agree with your contention (whatever that may be) based off the issue you’ve selected.” This means that what you say to your audience and how they respond to your speech matters . Even if your assessor isn’t counting exactly how many people are still listening to your speech at the end, everyone knows a powerful speech when they’re in the presence of one - it hooks the audience from start to end - and an assessor, consciously or subconsciously, cannot deny that the collective attentiveness of the room has an influence on their marking of your Oral Presentation.

That’s why you should choose a topic that your audience can relate to. This is just my personal opinion, but I don’t find a speech on the Adani Coalmine (broad issue = climate change) as interesting and engaging as School Strike For The Climate (broad issue = climate change). That’s not to say that I’m for or against the Adani Coal Mine, but I know that if I’m speaking to a crowd of 17-18 years olds, the School Strike For The Climate would be a better choice because it’s going to hit a lot closer to home (1) (perhaps some of those in your audience - including yourself - have attended one of those strikes).

To extrapolate this idea further, I try to avoid topics that have too many unfamiliar words for my audience. For example, I recall one year when one of my students decided to take a stance on pain medications and that they should be restricted to only over-the-counter in pharmacies. Have I lost you already with the ‘over-the-counter’? Yeah, I have no doubt that some of you are unfamiliar with that word (don’t stress, I didn’t know it either when I was in school). On top of this phrase, she used words like ‘Schedule A’, ‘Pharmaceuticals Benefits Scheme’, ‘Medicare rebate’, ‘opioids', ‘subsidised’, and other words that aren’t part of the usual vocabulary of her audience. I’d take heed because in order to captivate the audience’s attention, they need to understand what you’re talking about. As soon as there’s something they don’t understand, it becomes much harder for them to follow your speech, and before you know it, Sarah, the class sleeper is taking her afternoon snooze and the others are struggling to keep their eyes open! Having said all that, if you have an equivalent jargon-heavy topic like pain medications that really does interest you, then go for it. Just bear in mind that you’ll need to explain any new vocabulary during your speech to keep your audience’s attention.

Keen to learn more? My How To Write A Killer Oral Presentation eBook continues on this same path, covering the next steps in your Oral Presentation journey!

the crucible final essay

  • Access a step-by-step guide on how to write your Oral Presentation with simple, easy-to-follow advice
  • Read and analyse sample A+ Oral Presentations with EVERY speech annotated and broken down on HOW and WHY students achieved A+ so you reach your goal
  • Learn how to stand out from other students with advice on your speech delivery

Sounds like something that'd help you? I think so too! Access the full eBook by clicking here !

It’s time your conclusions got the attention they deserve! So grab a massive piece of chocolate, a glass of water and prepare to be taught about the beginning of the end (of your essay, that is).

Having a rushed conclusion is like forgetting to lock your car after an awesome road trip- that one rushed decision could jeopardise the whole experience for your assessor. A mediocre conclusion is the same as powering through a 500 metre race then carelessly slowing down seconds before the finish line! Dramatic comparisons aside, the way you choose to end your text response either leaves the marker with a bad taste in their mouths or increases your chance of hitting a home run. On the other hand, if you’re feeling discouraged by how your essay has shaped up to be, having a killer conclusion could set you up for a pleasant surprise.

5 Tips for a mic-drop worthy conclusion

1. make a plan for the conclusion.

It has been said many times, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” and it could not be more true when it comes to crafting a killer conclusion. By setting a few minutes aside before even beginning your essay to plan everything out, you get to see the necessary elements which you will want to address in your conclusion. In simpler terms, an essay plan reminds you of your contention and your main points, so that you are able to start gathering all of your arguments and create the perfect concluding paragraph. Planning for each paragraph sets you up for a win as you begin to refine key ideas and explore the many ways of expressing them, which is crucial for a conclusion.

2. Don't tell the reader you are concluding!

Time and time again I have seen people fall into the trap of using phrases such as “in conclusion” or “in closing”. The person marking your work may be blown away by the majority of your response, then reach those rotten words and will reconsider this thought. Being this ‘obvious’ with opening a conclusion does not earn any points. In fact it’s simply not sophisticated. The main reason many students are tempted to begin in such a clumsy way is that they don’t know how to begin their conclusion. If you are having difficulty to start and experiencing a bit of writer's block, simply go back to your essay plan and start to unpack the contention - it’s that easy! Rephrase your answer to the actual essay question.  In most cases, you can just cut out those nasty little words and the opening line of your conclusion will still make perfect sense.

3. Rephrase, not repeat

The definition of a conclusion is literally to “sum up an argument”, thus your last paragraph should focus on gathering all of the loose ends and rewording your thesis and all of your arguments. It’s great to reinstate what you have said throughout the body of your response but repeating the same phrases and modes of expression becomes bland and bores the reader. Instead, aim to give them a fresh outlook on the key ideas you have been trying to communicate in the previous paragraphs. All it takes is a little time to change the way you are saying key points so that the conclusion does not become tedious to read. Conclusions are there to unite all of your points and to draw a meaningful link in relation to the question initially asked.

4. Keep things short and sharp

Your closing paragraph is NOT for squeezing in one or more ‘cool’ points you have- no new points should be brought into the conclusion. You should focus on working with the arguments and ideas that have ALREADY been brought up throughout your response. Introducing new arguments in that last paragraph will cause a lack of clarity and may cause the paragraph to become lengthy. A long conclusion will slow down the momentum of your piece and the reader will begin to lose interest and become impatient. Having a clear aim before writing your conclusion will help avoid a lengthy paragraph as your final thoughts will be more concise and refined.

5. The last line is where you get to really shine

Your closing sentence is the ultimate make or break for the entire essay so it is a shame to see many responses ending awkwardly due to students running out of time or becoming lazy with that final sentence. Last words are so important but don’t spend too much time on it! One awesome way to finish is with a very well thought-out phrase which summarises your contention one last time. Imagine dropping the mic after the final sentence of your essay, your conclusion needs to be stronger.

If you need further help on Text Response (including essay structure), check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response .

Wondering what VCAA examiners might be looking for in a high-scoring essay? Each year, the VCE EAL Examination Reports shed light on some of the features that examiners are looking for in  high-scoring responses for the Listening and Language Analysis sections of the EAL exams. Let's go through 5 key points from the reports so that you know how to achieve a 10/10 yourself.

For advice on how you can apply the VCE EAL Examination Reports to strengthen your skills in the listening section, see Tips on EAL Listening .

Tip #1 Analyse How the Overall Argument Was Structured 

Let’s take the 2017 VCAA EAL Examination Report as an example: 

‘The highest-scoring responses analysed argument use and language in an integrated way. Some responses used a comparative approach that analysed arguments and counter arguments from both texts in the same paragraph. However, only comparatively few responses focused on how the overall argument was structured .’

So how do we write about/analyse ‘how the overall argument was structured’? 

To save time during the exam, we can adopt templates that can help us transfer our thoughts into words in a fast and efficient way.  You can construct your own templates, and you may want to have various templates for various scenarios or essays. Below, I have provided a sample template and I’ll show you how you can use this template in your own essays.

Sample Template

(AUTHOR)’s manner of argument is proposed in real earnest in an attempt to convince the readers of the validity of his/her proposal of...by first…and then supplying solutions to...(DIFFICULTIES), thus structuring it in a logical and systematic way.

The above template ONLY applies to opinion pieces that satisfy these 2 rules:

  • The opinion piece commences by presenting the ‘bad effect/consequence/situation’ of the topic 
  • The opinion piece supplies the solution to resolve the ‘bad effect/consequence/situation’ of the topic 

For example, say the author, John White, contends that plastic bags should be banned and does so by:

  • commencing the piece with the fact that plastic bags can travel long distances by wind and water. They litter our landscapes, float around in waterways, and can eventually end up in the oceans, ultimately polluting the ocean and posing a threat to marine animals
  • then supplies solution to ban plastic bags 

When we use our template here, the intro may look like this - note that I’ve bolded the ‘template’ parts so you can clearly see how the template has been used:

John White’s manner of argument, proposed in real earnest in an effect to convince the readers of the validity of his proposal of banning plastic bags by first exposing the deleterious nature of these bags to our environment and natural habitat and then supplying solutions to ban plastic bags, putting it in effect in a logical and systematic way.

Head to Introductions for EAL Language Analysis for more templates and guidance on how to nail your Language Analysis Introduction. 

Tip #2 Keep the Listening Answer Succinct 

The 2019 VCAA EAL Examination Report states: 

‘Students are encouraged to use the key words in the questions as a focus for their listening...Short-answer questions require concise and precise answers. Responses that demonstrated understanding provided what was asked for without including extraneous information .’

Some students tend to add unnecessary information in their answers. Although the answers are correct, they will NOT earn you any extra marks. Listening answers should NOT be a mini essay. Writing irrelevant information will not only waste time but may also compromise the accuracy and overall expression of your response. 

Tip #3 Practice Makes Perfect

The examination reports frequently point out that students struggle with identifying and describing the tone and delivery. For example, the 2017 VCAA EAL Examination Report states:

‘Identifying tone and delivery is challenging for students and emphasis on this is needed...Students are encouraged to use the key words in the questions as a focus for their listening’. 

The good news is, just like most skills, listening and identifying the tone can both be improved with practice. In fact, VCAA acknowledges the importance of daily practice as well. 

‘Students need to develop their critical listening skills both in and outside of the classroom. They are encouraged to listen, in English, to anything that interests them – current affairs, news, documentaries and podcasts can all be useful.’ (2017 VCAA EAL Examination Report)

Practicing listening does not necessarily mean sitting down and doing Section A questions; it can be as simple as talking with classmates, teachers, neighbours, friends from work, church, etc. 

Take a look at our EAL Listening Practice and Resources for a comprehensive list of external resources for practicing listening and a step-by-step guide on how to use them!

Tip #4 How To Formulate a Cohesive Response?

VCAA encourages us to write answers that make sense to the reader and are grammatically correct. Make sure you do address, and ONLY address, what the question is asking, because marks will not be rewarded for redundant information. 

‘Short answer questions require concise and precise answers. Responses that demonstrated understanding provided what was asked for without including extraneous information . Expression skills need to be sufficiently controlled to convey meaning accurately. ’ ( 2017-2019 VCAA EAL Examination Report )

HINT: This may sound super simple, but a lot of EAL students struggle with it. If you do, you are definitely not alone. Some students seek to use complicated words and/or sentence structures, but we should not compromise clarity over complexity.  

Tip #5 Use a Range of Precise Vocabulary 

VCAA acknowledges the importance of sophisticated vocabulary. This phrase ‘a nalysis expressed with a range of precise vocabulary’ has been repeatedly used to describe high-scoring essays in the examination reports from 2017 onwards

Below is a list of commonly misspelled, misused and mispronounced words. If you don’t know the meaning of a word, check out Collins Online Dictionary for definitions OR you can use a physical copy of the Collins Dictionary (which you are allowed to bring into the exam and SACs).

Words That Look the Same/Have Super Similar Spelling:

  • Abroad vs. Aboard
  • Adapt vs. Adopt vs. Adept
  • Affect vs. Effect
  • Altar vs. Alter
  • Angel vs. Angle
  • Assent vs. Ascent vs. Accent
  • Aural vs. Oral
  • Baron vs. Barren
  • Beam vs. Bean
  • Champion vs. Champagne vs. Campaign
  • Chef vs. Chief
  • Chore vs. Chord
  • Cite vs. Site
  • Compliment vs. Complement
  • Confirm vs. Conform
  • Contact vs. Contrast vs. Contract
  • Contend vs. Content
  • Context vs. Content
  • Costume vs. Custom
  • Counsel vs. Council vs. Consul
  • Crow vs. Cow vs. Crown vs. Clown
  • Dairy vs. Diary
  • Decent vs. Descent vs. Descend
  • Dessert vs. Desert
  • Dose vs. Doze
  • Drawn vs. Draw vs. Drown
  • Extensive vs. Intensive
  • Implicit vs. Explicit
  • In accord with vs. In accordance with
  • Later vs. Latter
  • Pray vs. Prey
  • Precede vs. Proceed
  • Principal vs. Principle
  • Sweet vs. Sweat
  • Quite vs. Quiet

For an overview of the EAL study design plus tips and tricks for reading comprehension, time management and more, check out The Ultimate Guide to EAL .

Theme vs. Motif vs. Symbol

Themes, motifs and symbols are different kinds of narrative elements - they’re parts of a story that help to shape its overall effect. However, even though they’re words we use all the time in our English studies, it isn’t always easy to tell the difference!

This post will take you through some definitions , give you some examples and show you how you can use them in essays too. Let’s start with the broadest of the three…

What Is a Theme?

A theme is an idea or a subject that an author wants to explore. Themes appear throughout a work, and they’re often abstract ideas rather than concrete images that you can explicitly identify. Themes usually appear in interactions: for example, a parent reuniting with a child might evoke the theme of parenthood or family, an experience of discrimination might evoke the theme of prejudice or racism, a character facing a difficult choice might evoke the theme of morality or conflict, and so on. As you might be able to see, themes can require us to read between the lines because they are usually implied.

What Is a Motif?

A motif is something a bit more specific. Rather than an abstract idea, we’re looking for a concrete object (usually physical items, but also potentially sounds, places, actions, situations or phrases) that returns time and time again throughout a text. This repetition of motifs helps to create structure for a text - it can tether parts of the story to or around a central image. Because motifs are often linked to a theme , they can also serve as a reminder of that theme’s importance. For example, if the central theme was family or parenthood, the author might create a bird’s nest outside a character’s room; as we watch the bird and the chicks grow throughout the text, parallels are also drawn back to the theme.  

What Is a Symbol?

You can think of symbols as motifs minus the repetition . It’s the more default word we use when referring to an object that represents an idea, and unlike a motif, symbols only need to appear once to have an impact. They can simply tell us more about a character or situation in that instant, at that specific time, rather than being a parallel or recurring throughout a text. However, they’re still identified in a similar way to motifs: symbols are also concrete objects and they’re still connected to themes. 

Examples of Themes, Motifs and Symbols

Here are some text-specific examples for a closer look at these terms: 

Theme vs. Motif vs. Symbol

Check out our Macbeth , Rear Window and The Great Gatsby blog posts for more on these texts. If you’re studying other texts, have a look at our list of text guides in The Ultimate Guide to Text Response .

Identifying and Using Themes

Themes usually come across in interactions , and a possible first step to identifying them is thinking about if an interaction is good or bad, and why. For example:

In Rear Window , one of the neighbours berates everyone else for failing to notice their dog’s death.

This is a bad interaction because:

  • a dog dying is never any good
  • it tells us that none of these neighbours are looking out for or really care about each other
  • someone may have killed the dog

The theme we might identify here is duty. The film might suggest that we have a duty to look out for our neighbours (without sacrificing their privacy) or to do our part to keep the neighbourhood safe from potential criminals.

Another example might be:

In The Great Gatsby , the Sloanes invite Gatsby over for dinner without really meaning it.

  • it tells us how nasty the Sloanes are
  • Gatsby still seems to be a misfit despite his wealth
  • Tom is at best complicit in the Sloanes’ insincerity 

The themes here might be society, wealth and class . This interaction shows us where these characters really stand with regard to these categories or ideas. Because he is ‘new money’, Gatsby cannot understand or fit in with the cruel and disingenuous customs of ‘old money’.

Most interactions in a text will fit into a theme somewhere, somehow - that’s why it’s been included in the story! Try to identify the themes as you go , or maintain lists of interactions and events for different themes. Because themes are so broad, they’re useful for guiding your understanding of a text, particularly as you’re reading it. They also provide a great foundation for essay planning since you can draw on events across the text to explore a certain theme.

Identifying and Using Motifs & Symbols

While themes can generally appear in texts without the author needing to make too much of an effort, motifs and symbols have to be used really consciously . A lot of interactions might just be natural to the plot, but the author has to take extra care to insert a symbol or motif into the story.

To identify either, pay attention to objects that might feel unusual or even unnecessary to the scene at first - from the examples above, Gatsby showing Daisy his shirts might seem like a strange detail to include, but it’s actually an important symbol in that moment. Then, you go into the brainstorming of what the object could represent - in this case, Gatsby’s newfound wealth. Symbols in particular often appear at turning points : the relationship between two characters might take a turn, an important sacrifice might be made or perhaps someone crosses a point of no return - all of these are potential plot points for the author to include symbols. For motifs , look more for repetition . If we’re always coming back to an image or an object, like Daisy’s green light or Lisa Fremont’s dresses, then it’s likely that image or object has significance.

Symbols and motifs can be more subtle than themes, but they will also help to set your essay apart if you find a way to include them. You’d usually include them as a piece of evidence (with or without a quote) and analyse what they tell us about a theme. For example:

‍ On the surface, Gatsby appears to be financially successful. Over several years, he has acquired many material belongings in order to demonstrate his great wealth. For example, Fitzgerald includes a scene featuring Gatsby tossing his many ‘beautiful’ shirts onto Daisy, who sobs as she admires them. This display of wealth represents the superficial natures of both characters, who prize material belongings over the substance of their relationship.

You don’t need a quote that’s too long or overpowering ; just capture the essence of the symbol or motif and focus on what it represents. This is a really good way to show examiners how you’ve thought about a text’s construction, and the choices an author has made on what to include and why. To learn more about text construction, have a read of What Is Metalanguage?

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