Why Compare ‘Never Let Me Go’ and ‘Things We Didn’t See Coming’?

This Resource is for Year 12 English students studying Unit 4 AOS:1 Reading & Comparing Texts in the Victorian VCE Curriculum for 2023 the dystopian novel ‘Never Let Me Go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro and the dystopian collection of stories ‘Things We Didn’t See Coming’ by Steven Amsterdam.


Novels ‘Never Let Me Go’, by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005), and ‘Things We Didn’t See Coming’, by Steven Amsterdam (2009), offer thought-provoking views into alternative realities so close to our world that the parallels are obvious.  Advances in medical treatments through gene therapy, and experimentation with cloning, are current issues where technological capability is, at times, ahead of the ethical considerations and restraints.  Similarly, the Covid-19 pandemic, the environmental impact of climate change, the rise of oppressive political regimes, and the divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ are also much-debated topics in our own society.

Why Compare these 2 Texts?

Whilst these are two quite different novels, they both have young first-person protagonists who are exploring the worlds in which they live, searching for meaning and exploring their identities within this context.  They form close friendships, fall in love, and create a sense of family and belonging.  They also face loss, betrayal, and existential crises of a very real kind.

Speculative/Sci-fi or Dystopian Fiction?

Set in a parallel present or recent past, both novels can be categorised as speculative, sci-fi or dystopian fiction.  The societies created in each text are recognisable to readers, even quite ordinary in the case of ‘Never Let Me Go’, but with a twist that jolts readers to question occurrences that might have once seemed acceptable by giving us a different viewpoint.  In the case of ‘Things We Didn’t See Coming’, we start somewhere familiar (Y2K panic) then are soon catapulted into an environmental catastrophe and a pandemic (Covid-19 or plague similarities) —although not beyond the bounds of belief—and the resulting social and political chaos.  As with most speculative fiction, the texts ask ‘what if…?’ and try to answer it with their narratives.

Questions Survival

Each text leads us to question what we are prepared to do to ensure our survival, collectively and individually.  Both novelists position readers to see that human beings will ignore what they know is right, that they will bend their values and change their moral belief systems to get what they want, or need, to survive.  Would you be prepared to steal, lie and cheat to meet you and your family’s needs? Would you be prepared to sacrifice the lives of other beings for your own?

What Makes us Human?

The novels, however, also come back to ideas about what makes us human.  What is the essence of our ‘humanness’?  They both suggest that what humans need above all is to belong, to find a tribe to protect them and to know who they are.  Most times, these tribes are beneficial, but they can also be exclusive, divisive and threatening.  The texts offer views of each of these.  Mostly, however, each novel shows the importance of family or the need to belong to a family by whatever definition you give to this.

How much can we Control?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us came to recognise that we can only control what we can control.  Both of these novels celebrate this idea.  Whilst the characters cannot control everything around them, what they do show is their resilience, their ability to adapt and change like the narrator of ‘Things We Didn’t See Coming’, or their ability to find the positives in the people around them like Kathy in ‘Never Let Me Go’.  This is all we can control.

Narrative Perspective & Style

Both have 1st Person Perspective of the Protagonist

Both novels are written in the first person, from the perspective of the protagonist.  Amsterdam’s unnamed narrator relates events in a fairly straightforward manner with not a great deal of internal monologue.  The dialogue is narrated as it happens, and is often direct dialogue, related without any commentary from the narrator.  It is written in the present tense and the readers are positioned to feel a close affinity with the narrator as he progresses through episodes of his life.  Perhaps because of the nature of the discontinuous episodic structure, he is rarely shown to think back over his life to past events.  Readers observe the way that the pragmatic narrator moves forward to deal with the next thing and then the next.

Contrastingly, readers meet Ishiguro’s narrator, thirty-one-year-old Kathy H. at a crucial moment in her life and in a state of emotional reflection, and all that is revealed is filtered through her memories. Written in the past tense, in a nonlinear time scale of memories Kathy uses a conversational and colloquial tone with use of analepsis (flashbacks) and prolepsis (flash forwards).  However, the novel often positions readers to feel less sure of the accuracy of the naïve Kathy’s interpretation of the people and events of her past.  In a sense, even though Kathy is recalling her own past, the author makes it clear that she is, at times, an unreliable narrator.  Her interpretation of Ruth’s motives, for example, are somewhat naïve.  Further, Ishiguro sometimes gives us Tommy’s dialogue as a differing perspective, but this perspective is also filtered through Kathy’s fond memories.  The narration of ‘Never Let Me Go’ is complex and invites further consideration as do the writer’s intention.

Structure & Questions in ‘Things We Didn’t See Coming’

Image result for Book cover for Things We Didn't See Coming

In ‘Things We Didn’t See Coming’, the episodic structure of 9 stories /discontinuous narrative/ gaps can make it a frustrating read for those readers who might want a continuous narrative with neat resolutions.  The first story ‘What We Know Now’ takes place on December 31, 1999 and the other stories are progressively later.  For the most part, each new chapter opens a new episode without any reference to the events or people who were in the previous one.

The novel asks a number of ‘what if’ questions which it attempts to answer:

  • What if climate change immediately impacted our country?
  • What if the country and city divide became political?
  • What if the planet was overcome by a plague of insects?
  • What if a virus wiped out the majority of the population?
Unnamed narrator/protagonist in all 9 storiesOtis narrator’s father in ‘What We Know Now’ & ‘Best Medicine’ storiesCate narrator’s mother in ‘What We Know Now’ story
The grandparents of narrator in ‘What We Know Now’ & ‘The Theft That Got Me Here’ storiesLiz & Jenna are mother and daughter who protagonist meets in ‘Dry Land’ storyMargo is narrator’s love interest in ‘Cakewalk’, ‘Uses for Vinegar’& ‘The Forest for the Trees’ stories
Juliet is corrupt politician in ‘The Forest for the Trees’ storyJeph 14-year-old orphan who has the narrator as a guardian in ‘Predisposed’ storyKaruna interviews narrator in ‘The Profit Motive’ story

Structure & Questions in ‘Never Let Me Go’

See related image detail. Never Let Me Go (by Kazuo Ishiguro) | Never let me go, Books you should ...

In ‘Never Let Me Go’ the novel is divided into 3 parts, with further chapter divisions.  Part 1, chapters 1-9 is set in Hailsham.  Part 2, chapters 10-17 is Life after Hailsham.  Part 3, chapters 18-23 is Kathy’s life as a carer.  The novel starts in ‘England, late 1990’s’ following narrator Kathy H. as a thirty-one-year-old carer who is about to become a donor and explores her memories of the past. 

The novel asks a number of ‘what if’ questions which it asks the readers to consider their answers:

  • What makes us human?
  • What rights must all humans have?
  • What does an individual ‘owe’ society?
  • How we live our lives in order for it to be meaningful?
  • Why we should fight to ensure equality amongst all humans?
  • Why is organ trafficking unethical?
  • Is human cloning the future or is it unethical, just playing God?
Kathy H. narrator/protagonistRuth best friend of Kathy at HailshamTommy student at Hailsham/has relationship with Ruth & later Kathy
Chrissie & Rodney veterans of the CottagesMiss Lucy guardian at HailshamMiss Emily head guardian at Hailsham
Madame Marie-Claude founder of Hailsham and collects creative work of students for her galleryMiss Geraldine guardian at HailshamKeffers looks after maintenance at The Cottages
dystopian societyhumanity & compassionhuman nature
forms of power & controlconformity & acceptancesurvival
identity & freedomdangers of technologyInformation & knowledge
love & friendshipfamilyfear, hope & despair
empathy & compassionimpact of politics on peoplebildungsroman
love & relationshipspersonal agencymemory, the past & time
fate, free will & choicescience without ethicsindividual versus society
science fiction versus realismmanipulation of truthexploitation & inequality
constant surveillancedehumanisationcorporate domination
The Importance of ConnectionThe students support each other through childhoodThey drift apart in adulthoodThey revisit their close bonds when the donations beginRelationships can sometimes be destructiveWe need connection to others to surviveAt the end of our lives, connection mattersWhile we may drift apart from those we love over the course of our lives, both authors emphasise the importance of connections during hard times
Memories & The PresentThe past can be a refugeThe details of the past can be hazyWe can get trapped in our memoriesThe past can be irrelevant, or at worst, a burdenThe present is what matters  While memories of the past can offer us safety and comfort, they cannot protect us from the present or our futures
Power & ControlPower structures exist that keep people in their place in societyThere is little point in struggling for controlPower structures are ambiguous and temporaryWe have control over our own lives  In the face of ever-changing and increasingly authoritarian power structures, the only control we have is over how we live our lives
Ethics & MoralityIn the future we will be forced to make increasingly difficult ethical choicesWhat is a life worth?What is human?Difficult circumstances lead to tough moral decisionsThere is rarely any clear ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ for every situationBoth authors reveal how difficult moral and ethical situations impact entire nations and individuals
Hope & DespairThe clones are capable of hope despite the knowledge of their fatesHumans are hopeful, even in the face of impending deathSome people fear the future and they may be proved rightSome people are willing to do whatever it takes to surviveIn the face of our mortality, both authors demonstrate that life is filled with moments of both hope and despair

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How to Compare Ransom by Malouf and The Queen by Frears

This Resource is for students in Year 12 studying ‘Ransom’ in comparison to ‘The Queen’ in AOS1: Unit 4, Reading & Comparing Texts, Analytical Text Response, in the Victorian VCE 2023 Mainstream English Curriculum

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The Queen

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Comparing Ransom &
The Queen


Each of the texts, Stephen Frears’ film ‘The Queen’ and David Malouf’s novel ‘Ransom’ offers a re-interpretation of an aspect of history. ‘The Queen’ revisits Princess Diana’s death in 1997, and ‘Ransom’ retells a section of Homer’s ‘The Iliad’. While the texts are different in style, content, nature and form, they are linked by common issues, themes and ideas such as family, grief, leadership, authority, power and change. Both Director and Author aim to offer a new understanding of their respective historical stories by re-imagining the role and function of their chosen characters and social milieus.

Both texts explore the impact that the death of a famous person has on rulers, and on ordinary people. The texts show that rulers may be invested with authority in their public roles, but their personal lives and their bonds of family are resolutely human in nature. The nature of extreme grief, and the difficulty of dealing with it, is central to each narrative.  Most important of all, each text investigates the different ways in which rulers may be perceived by their people, and how they may hold or exercise power, and the ways in which old certainties invariably need to make way for changing values in new times.  Finally, each text emphasises that rulers are often under as much control as the ruled.

Why Compare Ransom and The Queen?

Public Figures in Contemporary Society

Public figures, especially leaders such as politicians and royalty are often victims of ridicule and harsh criticism in our contemporary society. Prime Ministers, Presidents, and members of Royalty, are under constant public scrutiny in many societies. There are expectations of leaders in the way they manage their working and personal lives, and they have to fulfil the impossible expectation of pleasing everybody. Whilst leaders and royalty do receive money for their efforts, this only serves to place more pressure on those expectations.

Important Issues are Raised in Both Texts

In comparing David Malouf’s novel ‘Ransom’, set in Ancient Greece, and Stephen Frear’s film ‘The Queen’, set in the 1990s, many important issues are raised. What do we expect from public figures? How has the changing world impacted on our expectations of leaders and royalty, in particular? Furthermore, both texts involve the ‘retelling’ of history and the past, which requires interpretation and carries with it, ethical implications.

Both Texts Deal with Death and Grief

Both texts deal with death and grief on a personal and global scale and challenge us to consider what are the acceptable protocols and when is it time to challenge these protocols and traditions. In the case of ‘The Queen’, it is clear that the perspective offered is that the British Royal family were judged harshly as not responding appropriately and ‘humanely’ to the death of Princess Diana, who was one of the most admired, followed and loved ‘public figures’ of all time. Her death in 1997 came out of the blue and plunged millions into grief and shock.

Personal Grief in a Public Dimension

In Malouf’s reimagining of a section of ‘The Iliad’, Priam’s personal grief over the death of his son forces him to take action that went against the usual protocol or behaviour of a King at that time. ‘The Queen’ and ‘Ransom’ explore the nature of personal grief and its public dimension, which affects others. Whilst the film explores the harsh criticism that the Royal Family received in trying to maintain the traditional rules of the monarchy, Malouf’s novel reveals the criticism King Priam received in taking risks and stepping out of the boundaries of his role.

The two texts suggest that grief is real and powerful, and that death must be honoured and grieved appropriately, or else there will be bitter consequences. This is a relatively new and modern understanding, with the increasing availability of grief counselling, grief literature and public memorials.

Change and Risk Taking is Challenging

In the film ‘The Queen’ and the novel ‘Ransom’, change and risk taking are seen as challenging and controversial, but also essential to move forward and not stagnate. While Malouf has reimagined how Priam would be challenged to change and take the opportunity to stop ‘thinking in the old way’ and ‘try something new’, the Queen in 1997 did struggle to keep up with changes in society. She is disturbed to realise that ‘the way we do things in this country’ is changing and the Queen is obliged to embrace change in order to manage the events surrounding Princess Diana’s death.

The Relevance of the Monarchy in Modern Britain

For a long time, there have been many people questioning the relevance and validity of the monarchy in a country such as Britain, where the monarchy has been a figurehead for a long time. This suggests ongoing debate about what the Royal family represents and how they go about doing these things. At the same time there are many devoted fans and believers in the monarchy, who want things to continue as they are. What is the compromise?

We can also look at how things were in 1997 and how they are now, with the Queen’s death in 2022 and a new monarch Charles III on the British throne. In comparison to the film, the Royal Family demonstrated public grief at the death of Queen Elizabeth II. May be they learnt their lesson from the inaction of 1997 what the public really wanted to see from their royals was a showing of actual grief instead of sticking to protocol and tradition.

Similarities in Ideas in the Texts but the Approach is Different

While there are similarities in their ideas, the film and the novel, the approach each text takes to exploring these is different. At the heart of the film is an appraisal of the way that Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Queen coped with the social and political ramifications of Princess Diana’s sudden death. The central focus of the novel is the impact of grief on leaders, soldiers and ordinary people, precipitated by the contentious deaths of each of Patroclus and Prince Hector. In ‘Ransom’, readers are encouraged to empathise with, and understand, those whose emotions are intense and whose lives are altered as a result. The film, in contrast, offers a critique of the Royal family’s initial lack of public response to the Princess’ death, as they concentrate instead on adhering to the protocols and traditions of the institution of the monarchy. The film shows the Queen ignoring advice from her new Prime Minister and her son, and underestimating both the power of her ex-daughter-in-law (and of the media that had created her image) and the needs of the grieving British people.

Malouf’s Characters Show Pain and Emotion

Malouf’s characters are in pain, and their emotion is the engine of their deeds; any behaviour they engage in to enact and define that pain is acceptable. Their grief and anger seem to excuse any behaviour. Another key idea explored in the novel is the question of who controls the narrative and how it is controlled. Consider carefully the impact of Malouf’s writing style and the way in which he conveys the characters’ desire to control not only what is happening around them, but the future stories that will be told about them and the decisions they make. In highlighting the ephemeral [short-lived] nature of control, Malouf prompts readers to consider that it is hard to be in charge and to make proper decisions when in the midst of roaring emotions. The novel also considers the fragility of the link between identity and performance.

‘The Queen’ Asserts Tradition and Stability Over Emotions

Frears presents characters in the film that assert tradition and stability over emotions. No matter the situation, for royalty, the old ways must remain. The public reaction to Princess Diana’s death, and the new Prime Minister Blair’s approach to fulfilling his own leadership role are seen as threats to the power of the monarchy. Yet, Frears reveals how the swing and push of events force the older royals to change, and shift their position, at least on the outside. Personal emotion for the royal family is demonstrated to be perpetually guarded unless within the privacy of spaces far away from public scrutiny. Like Malouf, Frears explores a number of ways of projecting power, and offers a view of the precarious nature of power, whether one is in an inherited or democratically-elected position of leadership, or in the public gaze of the media as Diana is.  Consider how viewers are positioned by Frears to feel sympathy and empathy (or not) for the central characters and reflect on the significance of his directorial decisions.

Each Text is Examining Individuals’ Responses to Recognisably Human Events

Regardless of the privilege, tradition and tropes [figures] of power which shape the identity and public role of the protagonists of both texts, each individual leader’s innate humanity is illuminated in the varying ways that they respond to grief.  Both the novel and the film concur about the idea of the importance of the need to be able to overcome individual, personal hurt, for the sake of the greater good.

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Judgement Theme Comparison in ‘The Crucible’ by Arthur Miller and ‘The Dressmaker’ by Rosalie Ham

This Resource is for Year 12 English students studying Unit 4 AOS:1 Reading & Comparing Texts in the Victorian VCE Curriculum for 2023.  Judgement is an important theme comparison between the play ‘The Crucible’ by Arthur Miller and the novel ‘The Dressmaker’ by Rosalie Ham.

What Kind of Judgement is in Both Texts?

  • Legal judgement in insular and conservative societies
  • Religious judgement in The Crucible and the role of punishment
  • Social judgement is a pervasive and destructive force in Salem & Dungatar
  • Self-judgement with both protagonists harshly judging themselves based on their pasts
  • Inter-personal judgement of protagonists with blame, guilt and need for atonement

Who is Judged in The Crucible?

  • Tituba, Goody Osborn = lower class, vulnerable women
  • John Proctor = by the court, by himself, by his wife Elizabeth
  • Innocent individuals = Rebecca Nurse

Who is Judged in The Dressmaker?

  • Tilly = by herself, by the community – blamed for Stewart Pettyman’s death
  • Molly = by the community – for having an illegitimate baby (Tilly)
  • Dungatar community – for secrets & fashion

Who Judges Others?

The CrucibleThe Dressmaker
The Court / Danforth = the lawSergeant Farrat = the law though he is lax
The Church / Reverend Parris / PuritismMr Almanac / Beula Harridene = self-appointed judges
Salem society judges each other = outcasts are judged first then no one is beyond judgementDungatar = the towns people judge each other by secrets kept, fashion and appearances

Who is Not Judged in The Crucible?

  • The Court in Salem is above reproach = Judge Danforth used black & white hypocritical thinking hanging innocent people “a person is either with this court or must be counted against it, there can be no road between” (Danforth)
  • Arthur Miller’s authorial intent is to point out the hypocrisy of the Court in Salem in an allegory for the Communist witch hunts in 1950’s America
  • Innocent people were hung in Salem like Rebecca Nurse who sacrifices her life for moral integrity that was lacking in the witch trials “another judgement waits us all” Rebecca is judged by her Christian beliefs

Character Focus Similarities of Protagonists Regarding Judgement – Note Different Endings

The Crucible – John ProctorThe Dressmaker – Tilly Dunnage
Protagonist of the playProtagonist of the novel
Non-conformist – farmer against strict Puritan rulesNon-conformist – outcast where she lives & through fashion & born illegitimate
Religious judgement – can’t say 10 Commandments / works on the Sabbath – all counts against him in Salem’s Puritan societyLegal judgement – as a child allegedly murdered Stewart Pettyman
Social & self-judgement – had indiscrete affair with Abigail – but trying to redeem himself & atoneSocial & self-judgement – blames herself for Stewart’s death – her guilt is a ‘black thing’ inside her she cannot escape it (p.184)
Self-judgement & atonement – ending is honourable & nobleSelf-judgement & revenge – ending is destructive & justified punishing the town

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Compare how ‘The Longest Memory’ and ‘The 7 Stages of Grieving’ explore the notion of betrayal

This resource is for Mainstream English Year 12 Students in the Victorian VCE Curriculum studying the Comparative Texts ‘The Longest Memory’ and ‘The 7 Stages of Grieving’.

Below is a Draft Essay Plan how to answer the notion of betrayal in both texts.

Quotes Included in Prompt:

Quote #1 “I want to keep you alive, that is all.  I do not care about your happiness; your life is everything to me.” (The Longest Memory p.135 ‘Forgetting’)

Quote #2 “I might be related, she answered, I never knew my family – maybe I could meet my real family and if not, I get to have a good cry, anyway.” (The 7 Stages of Grieving p.47 Scene 7)

Prompt:  “Compare how the two texts portray the theme of betrayal”.

Define betrayal = It refers to ideas around disloyalty, faithlessness and the breaking of trust.  It is concerned with not keeping your word and with giving up your integrity. 

NOTE TO STUDENTS = Quotes must be included in your analysis of the prompt.

Comparative Text Essay Structure

  1. Introduction = Main Contention & Message of Authors
  2. Body Paragraph 1 = Cause/Accept Prompt / Topic Sentence / Text 1 Evidence & Explanations / Transitional Sentence from Text 1 to Text 2 / Text 2 Evidence & Explanations / Link back to topic
  3. Body Paragraph 2 = Response/Develop Prompt Further / Topic Sentence / Text 1 Evidence & Explanations / Transitional Sentence from Text 1 to Text 2 / Text 2 Evidence & Explanations / Link back to topic
  4. Body Paragraph 3 = Consequences / Topic Sentence / Text 1 Evidence & Explanations / Transitional Sentence from Text 1 to Text 2 / Text 2 Evidence & Explanations / Link back to topic
  5. Conclusion = Sum up briefly / Message of Authors

Suggested Draft Introduction / Main Contention / Message of Authors

Fred D’Aguiar’s ‘The Longest Memory’ and Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman’s ‘The 7 Stages of Grieving’ explore issues around the betrayal of individuals and groups because of complicated ideas around racial superiority and discrimination.  The writers explore the injustices that both African American slaves and Australian Indigenous people faced from groups that they should have been able to trust, but who breached that faith.  In ‘The 7 Stages of Grieving’, the audience gains an overview through fragments of Indigenous history from the ‘Dreaming to Reconciliation’.  In doing so, they can see the continuous anti-Aboriginal prejudice that individuals and institutions have used to betray the Indigenous community, destroying their families and leaving them with deep sorrow and grief. In contrast, ‘The Longest Memory’ explores one plantation over a shorter period of time.  However, the effects of betrayal still leave nothing but grief and tragedy in its wake in the novella.  Both texts demonstrate that when people or institutions that should have everyone’s interests at stake, instead choose the interests of only one group, the results are devastating.

Body Paragraph 1 focus = individuals betray others / include quote #1 with explanation

Body Paragraph 2 focus = groups and institutions betray by choosing the interests of one group over the other

Body Paragraph 3 focus = how the disloyalty and breaking of trust affects individuals and generational distress / include quote #2 with explanation

Suggested Draft Conclusion / Message of Authors

Whitechapel’s betrayal of his son in the opening scene of ‘The Longest Memory’ shocks both the readers and the other characters.  While Whitechapel offers the explanation, he wanted to protect Chapel from further harm.  More significant is the chain of broken trust in the overseer and Mr Whitechapel that such an injustice is carried out.  The novella points to a much broader social and political responsibility and guilt for the unfairness of Chapel’s brutal death.  On a similar note, ‘The 7 Stages of Grieving’ also points to a breaking of trust in the social and political sphere where institutionalised racism that began with the invasion in 1788 has continued to recent times.  The play posits that the whole society is responsible to atone for the lack of trust and the injustices committed against indigenous Australians.  Both texts demonstrate how whole societies that practice racism and injustice must atone for their self-interest and broken trust that caused generational trauma.

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The Hate Race and Charlie’s Country Comparative Texts

This Resource is for Year 12 English students studying Unit 4 AOS:1 Reading & Comparing Texts in the Victorian VCE Curriculum for 2023.  Racism is an important theme comparison between the memoir ‘The Hate Race’ by Maxine Beneba Clarke and the film ‘Charlie’s Country’ by Rolf de Heer.

Why Compare ‘The Hate Race’ and ‘Charlie’s Country’?


Maxine Beneba Clarke’s memoir ‘The Hate Race’ and Rolf de Heer’s film ‘Charlie’s Country’ explore the shifting experiences of racism in Australia. The texts foreground the complex and traumatic impact of racism on individuals, as well as the broader social ramifications of institutionalised racism. Beneba Clarke and de Heer shine a light on the corrosive and unexpected impacts of racism, and the way that this can shape an individual’s experience of the world around them. The texts reveal fundamental truths about the role of racism in contemporary Australia.

A comparison of ‘The Hate Race’ and ‘Charlie’s Country’ offers insight into the common experiences of people of colour, whilst also highlighting the unique experiences of First Nations people. The texts focus on modern day events, dispelling any notions of the elimination of racism in modern Australia. They share a grounding in the historical evolution of racism on both national and global scales. They offer insight into two very distinct geographical locations, again revealing the varied manifestations of both institutional and interpersonal racism.

The pain that is central to the experience of the protagonists in both texts is reflected through the prisms of the memoir and film respectively. Beneba Clarke’s work chronicles the experience of a child through the reflective lens of an adult. Conversely, de Heer’s film showcases the cumulative impact of racism on an adult.

‘The Hate Race’ Memoir is an Autobiographical Work

‘The Hate Race’ is an autobiographical work, a factual yet subjective narrative of events, experiences and emotions from the author’s own life. Specifically, the book is a memoir, since it does not reflect on Clarke’s whole life but on a particular and significant period of it – her childhood. The narrative illuminates how this period would inform the rest of her life (as suggested by the Prologue and Epilogue) when the adult Maxine undergoes experiences intertwined with the discrimination she faced for years as a young person. The book can also be considered a form of bildungsroman or ‘coming of age’ narrative that charts the social, emotional, and psychological growth and development of its protagonist.

‘The Hate Race’ situates the experience of an individual childhood within a broader social landscape. Beneba Clarke’s use of the memoir form allows her to paint a vivid picture of the social and historical forces that shaped the experiences of the author and her family. ‘The Hate Race’ offers an account of an Australian childhood that is distinctly recognisable—a fact that makes the characters’ experiences of racism all the more uncomfortable and undeniable.

The Title ‘The Hate Race’

The title signifies for minorities in Australia, life is constantly akin to a race. There is no rest, no comfort, and no sense of home when your mind is preoccupied with all the ways you don’t belong. Being denied a firm sense of self, and constantly being forced to justify one’s own existence is not easy, and becomes a ‘race against time’ to see who can cope and rise above, and who will be swept away along with the tide. If people of colour stop running, they run the risk of being consumed by the hatred themselves and become so cynical and disillusioned that they forget their culture and accede to the Anglocentric, white majority.

Structure of ‘The Hate Race’

The text follows a largely chronological structure, which has the effect of simulating the cumulative nature of Maxine’s experience of racism. There is an acute sense of the role that racism plays in ensuring childhood and adolescence are experienced differently by children of colour. The carefully placed layers of trauma may not have been fully comprehended by the author as a child, but the adult Beneba Clarke reflects the depth and extent of her wounds through a story told ‘just so’ (p. 3). The chapters of the memoir offer vignettes; seminal moments from Beneba Clarke’s childhood to reflect unflinchingly the toll on a life lived as a person of colour in Australia. Again, as Beneba Clarke notes in the text’s acknowledgements, these memories are about a ‘very specific’ (p. 257) aspect of her life. Racism alone is not her life story, but equally her life story cannot be told without understanding racism.

‘Charlie’s Country’ Film is a Fictional Drama

In contrast to ‘The Hate Race’ which is a factual memoir, ‘Charlie’s Country’ is a fictional drama that incorporates some details from life and some elements of the story that comes from the life of the main actor protagonist Charlie played by David Gulpilil. However, de Heer did not want the film to be interpreted as ‘being about one particular (real) individual’ but rather as ‘being about issues much more widespread, much more representative of many individuals’ (de Heer 2014). In this way, ‘The Hate Race’ and ‘Charlie’s Country’ approach some of their common themes from different directions. While the autobiographical genre of ‘The Hate Race’ concentrates on ideas central to the protagonists’ life, ‘Charlie’s Country’ is more interested in the impact of broad issues on an individual.

Rolf de Heer’s ‘Charlie’s Country’ is a stark, fictional film that adopts many of the hallmarks of documentary filmmaking; this is a film that aims to heighten consciousness about the plight of Aborigines impacted by the Australian Government’s intervention, in 2007, in the Northern Territory. The injustice of institutionalised racism is at the heart of this collaboration between Rolf de Heer and David Gulpilil. Their film focuses on the life of one Aboriginal man, Charlie, whose struggles to find a way to live in the modern world whilst staying true to his cultural identity are constantly thwarted by local, white authority figures.

The Title ‘Charlie’s Country’

The title of the film reflects a simple reality – this is Charlie’s country. Rather than a ‘country’ de Heer speaks of the Indigenous notion of connection to and respect for one’s traditional lands and country. Nurturing this connection is a sacred responsibility and the film reminds us that, despite Charlie’s many trials and tribulations, the land on which he lives is truly his own.

Structure of ‘Charlie’s Country’

The film adopts a chronological structure, tracking Charlie’s decision-making in regards to his attempts to regain meaning and purpose in his life as he tries to return to a more traditional way of relating to his environment. The structure of the film is also circular, Charlie ends up back in the place where he began, and seems in a similar state of something like static, confined despair. There is little sense that his journey has been moving forward, rather the places he finds himself (bush, hospital, prison) seem a series of sideways stumbles with no plan or intention. This echoes Maxine’s journey in ‘The Hate Race’, which begins and ends in the adult Clarke’s life, with matching scenes of discrimination, suggesting that her experiences repeat themselves over and over.

Charlie’s Country can be divided into 3 parts:

  • Part 1 – Intervention
  • Part 2 – Bush
  • Part 3 – Jail
Common Themes in ‘The Hate Race’ and ‘Charlie’s Country’
Racism & bullyingDiscrimination– institutional versus interpersonalIdentity – personal and national
PrejudiceGrowing up black in a white countryIntergenerational disadvantage
BelongingResilience & resourcefulnessHopelessness & lack of agency
RepressionGap between generationsPower of language & culture
Struggle of being an outsiderFriendshipTrauma & hate

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