Introductions for Essays on Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

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Burial Rites by Hannah Kent Year 12 English AOS1 Unit 3 Reading & Creating Texts

For students studying mainstream English in Year 12, consider these two Introductions to essay prompts regarding Burial Rites by Hannah Kent that may help you with your essay writing for Section A: Analytical Response to a Text in the VCE English Exam.

Look carefully at the Introductions and pick off the main topic sentences to include in your body paragraphs and conclusion in the structure of your essay.  Stick to these ideas without going off track so that you will be able to write a well structured and precise essay in the exam.

Essay Prompt #1:“This valley is small and she had a reputation for a sharp tongue and loose skirts”.  Burial Rites explores how a society measures an individual’s worth.  Discuss.

Quote: Dagga, Mistress at Undirfell told Toti this quote chapter 4, p.92


19th century Iceland was a conservative society deeply divided by class with power residing in the hands of a relatively few men dominated by an uncompromising religious ethos and traditional gender expectations.  It is clear in the novel Burial Rites by Hannah Kent that the measures Icelandic society used to value an individual’s worth are based on prejudice, ignorance and bias, cruelly stereotyping people according to gender and social status.  Kent explores how society as a whole did not look favourably upon women of low social standing who were ‘too clever’ or who deviated from their conventional roles as an obedient wife or daughter.  According to Kent, the protagonist Agnes Magnusdottir struggled against the limitations and expectations forced on her by society, some of which are due to her gender and others that are the consequence of her position as a landless servant.  In a conservative context Agnes is viewed as ‘different’ by many who know her and she is resented for the perceived airs she gives herself.  This is apparent in the quote which represents the negative opinion of Agnes by Dagga, Mistress at Undirfell.  The text examines how many characters view Agnes’ qualities and her worth in both negative and positive ways that set her apart from her peers.  The fact that Agnes is ‘different’ makes it easier for people to believe the worst and contributes to the stereotypical perception that she must also be a ‘murderess’.  Ultimately Kent allows Agnes to go on a figurative journey that involves reclaiming her worth as an individual at least in the eyes of Toti and the family at Kornsa with whom she establishes a connection.

Essay Prompt #2 “Discuss the ways in which Kent manipulates the reader’s compassion for her characters”.


19th century Iceland society harshly judges those on the margins.  In her novel Burial Rites Hannah Kent cautions readers about stereotyping those individuals confined to a marginalised position in society through no fault of their own.  Kent criticises the harsh religious and social policies of the patriarchal institutions that stereotype Agnes as a murderer.  In order to manipulate the readers’ compassion for her characters the author compares the binary of evil characters against the good to develop our empathy for those who support Agnes.  Then she takes Agnes, Toti and Margret on a spiritual and emotional journey transforming them at the start of the novel from a judgemental mindset to value compassion at the end of the novel.  By encouraging readers to recognise the ambivalence of Agnes’ crime she suggests that there are often extenuating circumstances that need to be considered before judging her guilty.  As Agnes divulges her personal stories of her life to Toti, Margret and the family at Kornsa, she searches for forgiveness and compassion in her listeners.  Kent is able to manipulate the readers to view those characters with kindness as the listeners develop and change responding to Agnes’ emotional demands.  The ultimate journey towards compassion is shown in the cathartic and confessional aspect of Agnes’ story telling mission that gives her a renewed passion for life.

The Road to Rankin’s Point in Island by Alistair MacLeod

Image result for pictures of cape breton nova scotiaThe Road to Rankin’s Point – Perspective of the Story with Quotes 

For students in Year 12 studying the text Island: Collected Stories by Alistair MacLeod, one of the main short stories is ‘The Road to Rankin’s Point’.  Below is a perspective of the story utilising quotes that can be incorporated into your essay as evidence to back up your topic sentences. Page numbers referred to in this summary are from the Vintage Books Edition 2002.

Timeline = 1970’s

Characters = Grandmother 96 & Calum 26

Setting = Cape Breton, isolated farm at the end of Rankin’s Point, in need of repair and the opposite of the wider world, many people have left the area with remains of ruins where houses once stood, she rejects modernity, but the sense of place is significant to the grandmother, it is the place of her ancestors.

Themes = tradition, transition, belonging & death

Grandmother = is strong and independent, rejects the world, rejects change, self sufficient, is happy to keep being the same as she has for decades.  She has glimpsed the world like the nursing home that her family want to move her to, she hates and rejects it, but also fears it in many ways because it is not part of her life, it’s not her home.  She has a limited vision of the world beyond her farm and the road beyond it means nothing to her.  She sees as far as the next island Prince Edward Island but for her that’s the end of the world.  She sees her farm, the town and the island and nothing else.  Her individual strength to survive and not take life easily but work hard at it is clear.  She dies alone but it is the way she wants it to end.  Her death brings the end of an era.

The family wanting her to move = her children ask the same question every year “What are we going to do about grandma?”  This question intrudes on her way of life.  The family think they are doing the best for her but don’t realise they are not.  The reunion photo is really fake trying to show everyone is happy but they are not.  The world has moved on but the grandmother through her old age and unwillingness to leave refuses to change.  The family hope Calum can convince her to move but he is dying of leukemia at 26.  The grandmother hopes he is her saviour from moving that he will help her with the farm.

Descriptions = use the good quotes below to incorporate in your essay:

The road to Rankin’s Point = The road needs repair but it is not part of the wide world.  “At the village’s end [the road] veers sharply to the right … begins to climb along the rocky cliffs that hang high above the sea” p.145-146

Getting to the grandmother’s house = The house is isolated, not connected to the modern world.  “At the wall’s base and at the road’s end nestles my grandmother’s tiny farm; her buildings and her home.  Above this last small cultivated outpost and jutting beyond it out to see is the rocky promontory of Rankin’s Point.  It is an end in every way” p.146  Significant as it is also the grandmother’s end with her death.

Where the grandfather died = “The sharp, right-angled turn and its ascending steepness has always been called by us ‘The Little Turn of Sadness’ because it is here that my grandfather died so many years ago on a February night…” p.148

Grandmother’s house = the porch is “filled with tools and clothes and items from the past” p.155.  In the kitchen the grandmother sits at her table drinking her tea.  She is staring out the window that looks upon the sea“ p.155  Three black and white border collies raise their eyes.  They lie about the floor.  “One is under the table, one against the wood box at the stove and the third beside the grandmother’s chair” p.155  She has homemade biscuits and tells Calum “Get yourself some biscuits from out of the tin” p.157

Grandmother’s violin = “It is a very old violin and came from the Scotland of her ancestors” p.158.  She plays “Never More Shall I Return” a lament of the MacCrimmons her husband’s clan.  This clan was able to play music and had a gift for foreseeing their own deaths.  This is significant because the grandmother dies that night.

Grandmother’s experience of death = She has had a lot of her family die before her, her husband, 3 brothers and 3 sons.  Calum thinks that the grandmother must be lonely “How lonely now and distant these lives and deaths of my grandmother’s early life.  And how different from the lives and deaths of the three sons she has outlived” p.160

Nature descriptions = “Outside the window the blackbirds and cowbirds hop with familiarity around the brindled cows” p.161  “A single white tailed hawk glides silently back and forth” p.161

Grandmother dresses before the party = “… She leans to one side and combs [her hair] away from her body” p.162  “She fastens a brooch of entwined Scottish thistles to the collar of her recently ironed dress” p.162

Wanting Calum to stay with grandmother = “Oh stay with me Calum and I will tell them so when they come.  You can make a good life here for all of us.  I have left you everything in my will” p.164

The advantages the family think of the nursing home = “The advantages of the nursing home are privacy and being with people near her own age and not having to worry about meals” p.166

Getting through the party and the solution = the grandmother dances and thinks “If I can only hang on for another little while, I can win this.  I will not be defeated” p.171  She is resilient  and strong “No one has ever said that life is to be easy.  Only that it is to be lived” p.172  Tension mounts but the grandmother tells her family “I hope none of you are worrying about me.  Calum has said that he is going to stay here with me and now everything will be just fine” p.172  The grandmother smiles as they all leave as “if she has played her great trump card and looks about her in temporary triumph” p.173

Calum tells grandmother “It is no good Grandma.  It is not going to work because I am going to die” p.174  Grandma says “Don’t be silly.  You are only 26.  Your life is just beginning” p.174  When the grandma realises the serious nature of Calum’s illness she is tearful “Oh Calum.  What are we going to do?  What is to become of us?” p.175

The Collie dogs howl where the grandmother lies dead on the road = The night is still but the lonely coastline that leads from Rankin’s Point as “the howls of the three black and white border collies” come across from “The Little Turn of Sadness” p.177.  Grandmother “… lies in the middle of the road at the spot where the little brook washes over the roadbed before the steepness of the final climb” p.178  “The twinning Scottish thistles are still pinned to the colour of her dress.  This is the ending that we have”.  She cannot “see Prince Edward Island now nor ever will again” p.178

Language Analysis Years 11/12 Brief Summary

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For students studying VCE Years 11/12 English here is a very Brief Summary of what to look for in Language Analysis:

  1. What’s the issue? = Briefly state the big issue behind the articles (1-2 sentences maximum) and why the issue has provoked a various range of opinions.
  2. Who is the author? = Knowing the author you can work out their stakeholders/audience they are appealing to and their style of language used
  3. What is the main contention of each article/cartoon/photo? = annotate each article and cartoon/photo so you are clear on your techniques & examples
  4. What are the argument strategies used?
    1. Is it a positive or negative approach to the subject
    2. Logically based on reason or highly emotive based on appeals
    3. Techniques = are they clearly set out = use examples of them in your analysis
    4. Typical examples = rhetorical questions/facts/stats/credible witnesses/appeals/repetition/inclusive language/emotive language
  5. Tone = must include tone in your Introduction
    1. Is the tone positive or negative in its approach
    2. Does the tone start off optimistic and then change = why = you must recognise the change = how does the tone affect the audience = how is the audience positioned to agree with the writer
  6. Preparing to Write the Essay & Comparing the Texts/Visuals
    1. Look at each article and how do they agree or disagree with each other
    2. If there is a photo or cartoon is it a separate document to the other 2 articles = it could be a stand alone with its own viewpoint = if it has its own view then you MUST include the photo or cartoon in a paragraph on its own explaining the visual techniques that position the reader to agree with them = some cartoons satirise one article and promote the other = in this case you must compare/contrast the cartoon along with the articles
  7. Writing the Essay
    1. Briefly in no more than 1-2 sentences state the main issue under debate
    2. Introduction = one brief paragraph introducing the main contentions of each article/cartoon/photo = must include their tones
    3. The Block Approach = each article handled separately = compared later (or use the Integrated Approach = use the approach your school prefers)
      1. Article1 = one brief paragraph outlining the main contention = separate paragraphs ( approx. 2) thereafter with the arguments/techniques/how audience is positioned
      2. Article 2 = one brief paragraph outlining the main contention explaining how this article agrees or disagrees with article 1 = separate paragraphs (approx.2) thereafter with the arguments/techniques/how audience is positioned
      3. Article 3/Photo/Cartoon = one paragraph outlining the main contention explaining how this visual agrees or disagrees with articles 1 & 2 = or it could have a stand-alone viewpoint of its own = point out the visual techniques/how audience is positioned
      4. Conclusion = one brief paragraph outlining the articles & visual contentions and how they agree or disagree with the main issue under discussion



Construction of Meaning & Author’s Agenda in Texts

Analytics Text

Why is Construction of Meaning, Structure and Author’s Agenda Important in Analytical Texts?

Students studying VCE Years 11/12 Mainstream English must complete essays for assessment in SACs and the exam in AOS1 Reading & Creating Texts and Reading & Comparing Texts.  In order to achieve a high mark for essays students need to interpret the texts analytically which includes understanding the implications of how the author constructs meaning and structure in a text and then explain what the author’s purpose or agenda was in writing the text.  If you just write about the narrative only you are NOT answering the key criteria of AOS1.

Assessment Key Criteria for Analytical Essays in AOS1

Looking carefully at the Assessment Criteria for Analytical Essays you will find the following specifics that MUST be in your essays:

  1. Understanding of the text includes
    1. Provide context for text & introduce text with clear links to question
    2. Identify genre & discuss its elements
    3. Demonstrate knowledge of characters & relationships, themes & central ideas of text
  2. Interpretation of the text in response to the topic
    1. State your contention clearly providing relevant discussion on key elements of question
    2. Use quotes to support your ideas
    3. Consider how characters portray a specific theme or idea
    4. Explore the complexity of each character and their role in the text
  3. Discussion and analysis of the ways in which the author constructs meaning and expresses views and values
    1. Consider specific elements of the text, structure, different narrative voices
    2. Identify author purpose in creation of text and construction of a character
    3. Make use of qualifying language about author intent
    4. Use examples of symbols/motifs/style/form
    5. Discuss the role of language specific to text
  4. Use of evidence in response to the topic
    1. Discuss action of text in relation to settings, time text is written
    2. Consider different ways key ideas/themes are portrayed
    3. Consider religious values of characters and actions of characters in relation to central ideas
    4. Use relevant quotes as evidence to support discussion in a range ie. dialogue, themes, structure, characters
  5. Control of the features of an analytical essay and use of relevant metalanguage
    1. Use appropriate metalanguage to identify textual features
    2. Use topic sentences in paragraphs, structure the essay
    3. Refrain from using narrative but use analysis
    4. Refrain from using quotes to narrate
  6. Expressive, fluent and coherent writing
    1. Use a range of appropriate analytical verbs, connectives, sentence starters and structures for your discussion
    2. Avoid informal language
    3. Proof read carefully to eliminate spelling/grammatical/punctuation errors

HOW does the Author Construct Meaning and Structure in a Text?

When reading texts to construct meaning, readers increase their understanding by recognising the craftsmanship of the writing and the choices the author made to portray the topic in a certain way.  Readers go beyond the literal [factual] meaning of the words to find significant and unstated meanings and authors rely on their reader’s ability to do so.  The reader’s mind then pieces together evidence to make sense of the text as a whole.

Essentially the reader needs to find out in the texts how the author:

  1. Sees something: their views ie. his/her opinion, perspective, way of thinking, impression or observation.
  2. Thinks about something: their values ie. his/her principles, morals, ethics or standards.
  3. Ways the author uses to construct the text:
    1. type of text
    2. setting
    3. style of writing and language
    4. narrative structure and plot
    5. social and historical context
    6. characters and their relationships
    7. themes, issues and values in the text
    8. symbolism and imagery

WHY the Author Writes his Text is his/her Purpose or Agenda

Depending on the purpose, authors may choose all different sorts of writing formats, genres and vernacular [language].  There are 3 main categories of author’s purpose:

  1. To Persuade = the author’s goal is to convince the reader to agree with the author.
  2. To Inform = the author’s goal is to enlighten the reader about real world topics and provide facts on those topics.
  3. To Entertain = authors write to entertain with a goal of telling a story.

Also consider the Big Picture behind Why the author wrote his/her story.


English Exam Revision Preparation for VCE Year 12

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The English Exam for VCE Year 12

The English exam on November 1, 2017 is a 3 hour exam divided into 3 sections covering Section A: Analytical interpretation of a text, Section B: Comparative analysis of texts and Section C: Argument and persuasive language.

The First 15 Minutes is Reading Time

The first 15 minutes of the exam is dedicated to reading time and you are not allowed to write anything during this time.  Look at Section A and Section B prompts for your specific texts and mentally pick a prompt that you know you can answer.  Then move on quickly to Section C and read the language analysis article or articles and visual texts.  Use this time to annotate in your mind what are the persuasive techniques used and the main contention and if the visual texts endorses the article or opposes it.

Section C: Language Analysis

As soon as the 15 minutes reading time is up, go straight to Section C: Language Analysis and prepare to annotate the texts.  Read over the articles again while annotating the texts and be careful with your time, allow yourself 3-5 minutes only with annotation.  Then get straight into writing your analysis.  Be careful that you do not write YOUR opinion about the topic.  You are writing what THE AUTHOR thinks, his argument, not yours.  Don’t forget how important his argument and persuasive techniques are to POSITION the READERS.

Timing During the Exam

Remember that the English exam is 3 hours, but out of that time 15 minutes is reading time.  Divide your time carefully between the 3 sections in the exam and stick to it.  I suggest that you allow yourself 50 minutes to write each essay. Try to give yourself about 3-5 minutes at the end to proof read and check spelling.

If you find that your 50 minutes is up and you are still writing one of the essays, then to conclude just use dot points.  At least the assessors will know where your essay was headed at the end rather than a blank page with absolutely no conclusion. The assessors are really good but definitely they are not mind readers so at least give them something to read instead of nothing.

If you have time at the end of the exam in the 5 minutes left, go back to those dot points you did not finish and see if you can make them into sentences that are more cohesive.

Practice Past Exam Papers

Remember that the Study Design for VCE Year 12 for 2017 is the first year of assessment so you will not find Section B: Comparative text prompts in past exam papers.  You may find those texts you studied as single texts that may have been previously in Section A. Look at those prompts anyway, every bit is good practice.  Also check the VCAA Past Exam Reports that assessors give their advice on Sections A and Section C.  Look at the language analysis in those previous exams and use them as your practice analysis pieces, noting carefully the assessors comments.

Don’t Stress, Believe in Yourself, Revise Carefully

You have worked all year towards this exam along with your other subjects and the best advice I can give you is to not stress.  Believe in your own abilities. For the remaining time before the exam focus on revising carefully by brainstorming plans that will answer the prompts.  Learn quotes related to themes and characters that will be used as your evidence in essays.  Practice language analysis articles from past exams and also think about topics in the media over the last 6-12 months that may be used in the exam.  Often language analysis is based on a topic from the media for example ‘Changing Australia Day Date’.  This topic is just an example only it may NOT be in the exam.

Good Luck for the Year 12 English Exam

I send all my very best wishes to every student sitting VCE Year 12 English on November 1, 2017.  In particular, good luck to every one of the VCE Year 12 students I have tutored this year.  It has been a privilege to teach you.