Understanding Characters in Texts Years 11/12 English

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Year 11/12 students studying Mainstream English texts in AOS1: Reading and Creating Texts and Reading and Comparing Texts, need to look carefully at the characters in their texts to be able to write an analytical interpretation for their SACs and the final English exam.

Understanding Characters in Texts

Characters generate the action of narratives /plays / films so they engage us as readers / viewers by their roles in the stories and we often become emotionally engaged by their fortunes and misfortunes, their aspirations and challenges.  If we understand the characters we come a long way to understanding the themes and values presented in the text and how the author constructs meaning.

What Do We Need to Know About Characters?

To build an understanding of characters it is a good idea to create a list of information about them that includes:

  1. Their name and age that spans the narrative
  2. If they are a protagonist (main character) or minor character
  3. Where they live or if they move around in the narrative
  4. If there is a description of what they look like (will be able to see a physical appearance if in a play or film)
  5. Their main personal qualities, attitudes and values, decisions and choices made, life experiences (which may change as the narrative develops)
  6. Relationships with other characters and interactions with others
  7. Key allies and enemies
  8. Key events in the narrative that affect their lives ie. crisis points or resolution

How Do Characters Respond at Crisis Points in the Narrative or Change as Events Unfold?

Characters can be tested at crisis and turning points in the narrative and are forced to make choices and decisions, which in turn reveal their true priorities and aspirations.  Difficult choices and decisions that characters make in narrative texts are closely linked to ideas and values.

Like real people characters are not static but develop and adapt sometimes changing dramatically.  Important changes should be noted such as a shift in the way a character thinks or interacts with another, a transformation of the way they think of themselves and a change in their own beliefs and values.

The Importance of Narrative Viewpoint

The narrative viewpoint determines what we know about the characters and how we as readers relate to them.  Narrative viewpoint perspectives are:

  1. First Person Narrative Voice = Where a character uses the first person ‘I’ gives an inside account of events but limits the reader’s knowledge to one person’s perspective.
  2. Third Person Narrative Voice = Where the voice is located outside the text and uses ‘he, she, they’ to give a more detached and objective account. In effect the reader is put in a position of observer rather than participant.  May be an ‘omniscient’ or all knowing narrator which allows the reader to know the thoughts and feelings of as many characters as the author wishes.  This narrator encourages the reader to form their own judgements and see complexities in issues.

Characters in Non-Fiction

In a non-fiction narrative the author portrays real people rather than imaginary ones and so they have to stick to the real facts and may be even have photographs of the characters in the text.  However, the author’s own attitudes towards the characters can affect the way the reader interprets those characters.  In effect readers are subjected to the feelings of the author about the character and sometimes these feelings can be extremely subjective.

Characters in Drama and Films

Characters portrayed by actors in plays and films are obviously conveyed visually and by sound as much as the words in their dialogue.  In this way other elements help to make viewers understand a character either by visual elements such as costumes, sets, facial expressions and body movements.  Conveying meaning can be shown through directors stage directions, mise en scene, camera angles, sound tracks, music as well as the actors own style and how they represent the character they are portraying.

Identifying Themes, Ideas and Values of Characters

It is really important to identify the main themes, ideas and values of characters so you can respond to the perspective of the author through their characters and also explore the ‘big picture’ the text is trying to explore.

  1. What is a Theme?

Themes are more general terms that the author is either showing clearly or inferring by implication repeated throughout the whole text.  These general themes can be perspectives explored in texts such as:

growing up gender issues
love family
injustice prejudice
war power
  1. What is an Idea?

An idea reflects on part of the theme and is the author’s message about the topic.  Think of an idea as part of the big picture that the text uses as its conduit to explore the main theme.  You can discuss different ideas and characters highlighting through their difference how people are and see the world.  Ideas can reflect the discoveries, emotions, conflicts, and experiences of a story’s main character.  They are commentaries about the way the world works and or how the author views human existence.

  1. What is a Value?

These make up our belief system.  Values are beliefs that guide our behaviour. Values define what we accept as good, right or acceptable.  We may have our own personally thought-out and constructed values but many of the values we accept are socially or culturally constructed.  Characters embody values through their thoughts, feelings and attitudes, beliefs and actions.  Values that are generally held by society:

honesty loyalty
patriotism tolerance
integrity justice
equality respect for others
compassion responsibility

See also my earlier Post on Construction of Meaning in Texts for AOS1

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.


AOS1 Unit 2 Reading and Comparing Texts Gattaca and 1984

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In AOS1 Unit 2 Reading and Comparing Texts for some students in Year 11 Mainstream English they will compare the film Gattaca directed by Andrew Niccol with the novel Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell. Other students may consider studying a comparison of Nineteen Eighty Four with Stasiland by Anna Funder.

In this brief analysis I will concentrate on comparing Gattaca with Nineteen Eighty Four using the 1997 DVD edition of the film directed by Andrew Niccol and the 2011 edition of the book published by Penguin Books.

Brief Framework to Compare Gattaca and Nineteen Eighty Four


Gattaca = Science fiction genre, thriller along with some film noir elements such as dark lighting, shadows & angled camera shots.  The film has a dystopian view of genoism.

1984 = Dystopian literature & social criticism genre, a fiction novel based on a dystopian futuristic totalitarian state.


Gattaca = The movie was released in 1997 and has a premise of being set in the not too distant future with film qualities of rockets launching and old black cars with a futuristic sound.

Costumes are neat, distinctively 1950’s, reflecting a uniform society that is bleak and sterile where perfection is desired and imperfection discriminated against.

The Gattaca Aerospace Corporation is where Vincent and Irene work.

1984 = Published in 1949 the novel’s setting is in 1984, 35 years into the future.  Airstrip One, London, in Oceania is a futuristic totalitarian state described in a grim tone in chapter 1 scoured by a ‘vile wind’ (p.3) with run down apartments that lack functioning facilities.

Everywhere was a poster with an “enormous face” and the words “Big Brother is Watching You” (p.3).

Winston Smith works in the Records Department in the Ministry of Truth for the Party whose leader is Big Brother.

Writer’s Meaning

Gattaca = The opening quotations of the film set the scene for the debate of technological advancement versus natural order “Consider God’s handiwork, who can straighten what He hath made crooked” Ecclesiastes 7:13.  Niccol presents the moral and ethical ramifications of genetic engineering in the film.

He exposes an authoritarian regime in power where society is divided into classes with the elite ‘Valids’ being genetically superior race who wield the power and the ‘In-valids’ are the bottom of society, powerless and unable to escape the status cast upon them.

Gattaca is a selfish, egotistical society where worth, relationships and status is decided by DNA and rights of individuals are meaningless concepts.

The most powerful meaning of Niccol is the story of one man’s courage to achieve his dream despite his imperfections.

1984 = In writing 1984 George Orwell’s main goal was to warn of the serious danger totalitarianism poses to society.  He goes to great lengths to demonstrate the terrifying degree of power and control a totalitarian regime can acquire and maintain.  In such regimes, notions of personal rights and freedoms and individual thought are pulverized under the all powerful hand of the government.

Witnessing such regimes in Russia and Spain and the rise of communism, Orwell believed in the potential for rebellion to advance society.

In creating the dysopian society of 1984 Orwell gave the world a glimpse of what embracing a totalitarian system like communism might lead to if allowed to proceed unchecked.


Gattaca = Gattaca is a film and as such is subjected to a ‘running sheet’ of the action which can be broken into 28 sections: (1) Opening titles, (2) The not too distant future, (3) Ten fingers, ten toes (4) The natural way, (5) The unspoken contest, (6) Discrimination down to a science, (7) The DNA broker, (8) Becoming Jerome, (9) The interview, (10) The Hoovers, (11) Cavendish club, (12) Invalid, (13) The eyelash, (14) Irene’s confession, (15) A close call, (16) Random checkpoint, (17) Blood from the vein, (18) The dance, (19) Who is Vincent?, (20) The morrow, (21) Irene’s warning, (22) The investigator’s visit, (23) An overlooked specimen, (24) the confrontation, (25) The other side, (26) Travelling too, (27) For future reference, (28) Going home.

1984 = The novel is divided into 3 parts and chapters.  Part 1 introduces Winston Smith and describes the oppressive world that he inhabits.

Part 2 depicts Winton’s relationship with Julia and how they take more risks actively seeking to join the Brotherhood to bring down the Party.  This section ends with them being arrested by the Thought Police.

Part 3 shows what happens to Winston as he is tortured by O’Brien inside Room 101 of the Ministry of Love.

The final section shows Winston submitting to the Party after his subsequent torture and thus removing any shred of resistance within him.

The final chapter demonstrates the triumph of the Party over Winston as he sits in the café and declares “He loved Big Brother” (p.342).  Any hope of resistance against the regime is gone.

The Society

Gattaca = The future world of Gattaca, based on the science of genetic discrimination, offers a hostile world for those who believe in a natural birth classifying those individuals “Invalid” owing to the inferior nature of their random birth.

In this futuristic science fiction thriller, Andrew Niccol creates a science dictatorship, whereby human aspiration is repressed in favour of genetic perfection.

Society is strictly divided into the Valids and Invalids where there is an entrenched discrimination caused by genetic engineering.

1984 = The society of 1984 is highly controlled and segmented.  The Inner Party along with the Thought Police maintain control over the Outer Party and Proles by a surveillance system (telescreen) monitoring all citizens at all times.

The Inner Party members have access to all luxury goods and can turn off their telescreens but the Outer Party members and Proles experience scarcity of commodities.

The society is also in a constant state of war with a changing enemy.

Point of View

Gattaca = Born an Invalid Vincent’s struggle, is to fly to Titan, Saturn’s moon as a First Class Navigator working for Gattaca Aerospace Corporation but he must change his identity and borrow the DNA of a Valid to achieve his dream.  Vincent is a determined and courageous protagonist who refuses to accept his limitations.

Is there hope?  Yes, there is hope that Vincent can overcome the system of control, oppression and discrimination.  On his personal and dangerous journey he achieves his dream but also realizes the value of human fraility and imperfections.

Director Andrew Niccol celebrates the power of self-belief to inspire individuals to scale the heights of their dreams.

1984 = Winston hates the reduced circumstances of his life; he is afraid of the Party but takes the risky move of writing in his diary ‘Down with Big Brother’ which is the beginning of his struggle to rebel against the Party.  He questions the existing social and political system and helps readers recognize the negative aspects of the dystopian world through his perspective.

Is there hope?  No, there is no hope for Winston as the Party is in absolute control and remains so.  His efforts are useless and ultimately he is tortured into submission.  His dream that the Proles may provide some hope to overthrow the Party and therefore hope for humanity is eliminated in chapter 7.

The individual cannot overcome discrimination and oppression.  Big Brother is all powerful.


Gattaca = Vincent Freeman = Protagonist, born genetically inferior as an Invalid with a heart defect, could not keep up with his Valid brother Anton, was set to die at 30.  In order to achieve his dream of becoming a navigator at Gattaca he becomes a ‘borrowed ladder’ and uses a Valid man’s DNA to circumvent the genetic system.

Anton Freeman = born genetically perfect as a Valid he was always praised and admired by his parents and had all the privileges Vincent lacked.  Security Chief at Gattaca in charge of the Mission Director’s murder.  Cannot accept that Vincent could become part of Gattaca.

Jerome Eugene Morrow = born a Valid but tortured by his failure at coming ‘second’ he is confined to a wheelchair after failed suicide, gives his DNA and identity to Vincent, realizes his potential through Vincent.

Irene Cassini = born a Valid but does have a flaw in a weak heart, she is cool and aloof and in control of her emotions until she falls in love with Vincent who challenges her to accept his Invalid secret allowing him to complete his dream.

1984 = Winston Smith = Protagonist, late 30’s, an unhealthy man, a lowly placed worker in the Outer Party.  Is afraid of the consequences of standing up to authority but rebels in a political act that results in his torture and destruction of any resistance to the Party.

Julia = younger than Winston, works in the Ministry of Truth in a mechanical job.  She hates the Party and rebels against it as much as possible and is adept at subverting the restrictions of society.  Becomes Winston’s lover but when tortured betrays him.

O’Brien = a member of the Inner Party, a powerful figure who tricks Winston into believing he is a member of the Brotherhood who are supposed to be dedicated to overthrowing the Party.  However O’Brien reveals himself to be a loyal Party member when he has Winston and Julia arrested.  He has them tortured breaking down any of their resistance against the Party.

Big Brother = is the public face of the Party that watches over the citizens of Oceania from posters and telescreens.  Accompanying the posters is the slogan “Big Brother is Watching You”.  He embodies the surveillance state that monitors every moment of society.

Mr Charrington = owner of the antique shop where Winston buys his diary, coral paperweight and later rents the upstairs room for the liaisons with Julia.  He is actually a member of the Thought Police and was in disguise to inform on Winston.

Control in a Totalitarian State

Gattaca = Surveillance by genetic DNA testing of blood, saliva, urine and cells on all citizens.

Complete data base of DNA genetic blue print of all citizens kept by the Police.  Police strike terror into people when they swoop on the Invalid quarters and in the restaurant when people flee in tear.  People’s liberties are infringed at will with random testing of all people at any time of day or night in the community and in the workplace.

Job interviews are by blood or urine testing.

There is no line drawn against genetic engineering.

Gattaca presents a society where perfection is worshipped and anyone less than that is not acceptable and discriminated against.  Society is divided into a class system of Valids who have opportunities and Invalids who are denied legitimate status as members of society.

Technology and science reign supreme, humanity takes second place and genoism becomes endemic.

1984 = Constant fear by surveillance, manipulation and control through use of telescreens, Thought Police, the slogan ‘Big Brother is Watching You’, informers/spies even children in families to betray signs of illegal thoughts against the Party.

Eradication of words and use of ‘Newspeak’ and ‘Doublethink’ along with propaganda to manipulate language and communication to control individual questioning and thought.

Constant changing of records makes memory impossible and truth is according to what the Party says.  Along with fear of unending war with alleged enemies to create anxiety so no one will attempt to overthrow the system.

Control of emotions and love/loyalty is for Big Brother. During the ‘Two Minutes of Hate’ emotions of hate are then directed to the state designated enemy Goldstein.

Fear of interrogation and torture by the Party in Room 101 is disincentive for citizens to break the law.

Major Themes

Gattaca = Control, oppression & discrimination in a dystopian society, individual versus society, technology versus fate/natural order in search of perfection, courage & heroism determination, morality & ethics, science versus religion, human flaws/imperfections versus genetic engineering, facets of identity, the notion of an imposter and lack of individuality in a world of uniformity.

1984 = Control, oppression and discrimination in a dystopian society, language & communication, language as mind control, philosophical viewpoints, political power, dangers of totalitarianism, warfare, violence, torture, technology, psychological manipulation, physical control, repression, rebellion, control of memory and the past, control of information and history.


The Secret River by Kate Grenville Analysis for Year 11 English 2017


For students studying Year 11 Mainstream English in 2017, The Secret River by Kate Grenville will be studied under Area of Study 1, Unit 1: Reading and Creating Texts.

All pages numbers referenced in this brief analysis are taken from the 2013 edition of The Secret River by The Text Publishing Company (front cover shown above).

Genre and Historical Setting of The Secret River

The Secret River is a historical fiction novel with the characters’ stories told within the larger context of the social, cultural and political surroundings of the early colonial settlement of NSW from 1806 onwards.

Each of the 3 landscapes in the text traces protagonist William Thornhill’s life from London, Sydney and Thornhill’s Place and the different kinds of conflict that arise.

The narrative is a story of colonisation, identity and the relationships between settlers, the land and the Aborigines – it’s a story of belonging, ownership and ultimately the bloodshed that results when a people is displaced.  In The Secret River, the land represents money and a future for the characters of English descent which contrasts sharply with its meaning for the Indigenous Australian characters.  For the Indigenous Australians the land represents their capacity to survive in the present, their future and their past.

The setting of colonial NSW becomes important to the main characters that are caught up in the historical narrative of the settlement and conflict.  It is from Part 2 ‘Sydney’ to Part 6 ‘The Secret River’ that we witness the most obvious conflict between the Indigenous Australians and the white characters.  It is in this colonial setting of NSW that we see William Thornhill’s inner conflict through the complexities and challenges he faces and the extent to which conflict is all consuming.

Structure of The Secret River

Grenville adopts a traditional realist structure and framework of the narrative which is strictly chronological.  The novel is broadly divided into three main sections: those that deal with the characters’ experiences in London, Sydney and Thornhill’s Point.

Prologue: ‘Strangers’ = William Thornhills first encounter with Indigenous Australians

Part 1: ‘London’ = William and Sally’s earliest life in London

Part 2: ‘Sydney’ = Transportation to Sydney, colonial settlement in NSW 1806

Part 3: ‘A Clearing in the Forest’ = The Thornhills move from Sydney to settle Thornhills Point

Part 4: ‘A Hundred Acres’ = Potential for violent conflict with the Indigenous Australians becomes increasingly prominent as the settlers realise the Aborigines are not leaving the land.

Part 5: ‘Drawing a Line’ = The conflict between the settlers and the Indigenous Australians reaches the point where the Governor issues a proclamation that the settlers should shoot the black natives.

Part 6: ‘The Secret River’ = The incidents of theft and violence between settlers and Indigenous Australians climaxes in the poisoning at Darkey Creek and culminating in the massacre at Blackwood’s place.

Epilogue” ‘Thornhill’s Place’ = The epilogue is set 10 years after the massacre and it is pervaded by a sense of remorse by William Thornhill.

Relationship between Conflicts of Space, Place & Identity

The novel has important conflicts of space, place and identity and the relationship between the three which allows distinct comparisons to be made.  It is also important to note that intrinsic to these ideas is the notion of culture, especially the cross-cultural conflict that Grenville is primarily concerned with.  The division of the novel into these sections is clearly differentiated by location which is an important reminder that place is a significant factor in this text.  The structure of the novel also reminds us of another important theme – the importance of a sense of belonging.

Language and Dialogue of The Secret River

Grenville’s prose is designed to complement the historical setting with her characters adopting some phrases and words from the settings both in England and Australia.  Instead of using quotation marks for dialogue, Grenville uses italics so that her characters speak within the text instead of traditional line breaks.  Some of the terminology that Grenville uses was common to the era and often reminds the reader of the cultural background of the characters.

It is an interesting point with the dialogue that Grenville chooses not to use any Aboriginal languages in The Secret River.  Unlike her other novel The Lieutenant where interactions with Aboriginal characters were given in traditional Indigenous language of the Eora people, The Secret River is spoken through William Thornhill in English.  Therefore the focus is on Thornhill’s point of view and readers have no real access to the understandings and perspective of the Indigenous Australians in this text.

A significant distinguishing factor between the white settlers and the Indigenous Australians is not just in the lack of dialogue for the Aboriginals but their lack of names.  William Thornhill is given his surname as his identity but the Indigenous Australians are named by their appearance “old grey beard” and “the younger one”.  The difference in ways of naming highlights the ignorance of the English characters as well as allowing them to be detached from the characters that they are harming.

The Significance of the Title

The title could mean symbolically a river that has held secrets or aspects of Australia’s history hidden.  It could also refer to undercurrents in personal relationships.  The actual river is the Hawkesbury north of Sydney where Broken Bay hides the entrance and is the ‘secret river’ where William Thornhill finds his land.

Themes, Issues and Ideas in The Secret River

  1. Home and Belonging = are constant themes from Thornhill’s childhood in London to his old age in NSW. The need for a home and a sense of belonging are universal in the text implying that the values of love and personal identity are universal human values.  Through his love for the land Thornhill develops his own identity as “something of a king” (p.314) – a man with a home to which he can belong and in which in turn belongs to him.
  2. Ownership = what defines ownership is a major theme in this novel. It is actually the question of ownership that lies at the bottom of the conflict between the settlers and the Australian natives.  The English believed that by “marking” a piece of property with a crop they made it theirs.  The natives, on the other hand, had free rein of the land for decades before Australia was claimed for England.  They saw the settlers as taking over land that had been theirs for centuries.
  3. Conflict = this theme is developed in a variety of forms as between racial groups, between individuals, within families, between beliefs and actions, between dreams/aspirations and reality and between differing philosophies.
  4. Guilt = Despite all his success, Thornhill began to feel a sense of unforgiving guilt for his treatment of the natives. He is considered the richest man in the area, a dream desired since he was a child in poverty.  Yet his accomplishment came at a cost, for his family and himself.  He no longer spoke to Dick and his relationship with Sal grew apart.  Furthermore, Thornhill’s unresolved conflict with the natives is conveyed through his encounter with Long Jack.  He and Sal offer Jack help with food, clothes and utensils in hope of reconciliation between the two.  Jack slapped his hand on the ground and declared “This me, he said.  My place” (p.329).  In the end Jack ‘‘… never put on the britches or the jacket … the clothes lay out in all weathers decaying into the dirt” (p. 328).  The exaggeration of time interpreted through the words ‘never’ and ‘decaying’ forebodes that the time for reconciliation has yet to come for Thornhill.
  5. Clash of Cultures = the clash of civilizations that began when Captain Cook first stepped foot on the land that become known as Australia. Throughout the novel, Grenville juxtaposes British and Aboriginal understandings of several important social concepts: personal property, clothing, hunting and farming, family relationships, and relationship to the natural environment.  The incomprehension with which each culture regards the other leads to the majority of conflicts in the novel.  The British concepts of private property and settlement, backed up by the guns and might of the Empire, eventually win the battle between the two civilizations.
  6. Aboriginal Culture = Grenville presents Aboriginal culture as a lost idyll. Although the novel focuses on William’s journey from the gutters of London to Australian gentry, Grenville places almost equal weight on the Aborigines and their way of life.  She is careful to refute the label of savage that the settlers give to the Aborigines.  Grenville conveys the richness of their culture and their deep attachment to the land.  She contrasts the over-consumption of Western civilization with the Aborigines’ understanding of the delicate balance of nature.  Grenville suggests that the white settlers could have learned much from the Aborigines and, by extension, that the modern world with its disregard for the natural environment should open its eyes to the wisdom of native peoples.
  7. Social Hierarchy = the theme of social hierarchy and its levels of power runs throughout the novel. Beginning with William’s first visit to Christ Church through to the placement of the stone lions on the gateposts of Thorhnhill’s Point, Grenville explores the impact of social ranking on individual development.  The humiliation that William experiences as a waterman in London marks his character for life and informs the choices he makes throughout the novel.  He craves the thrill of wielding power over another person.  For William and the other settlers (the majority of whom are convicts), their status as white men gives them permission to look down on other human beings (the Aborigines), for the first time in their lives.  Their treatment of the Aborigines is informed by their understanding of how one should treat a racial and social inferior.
  8. Self Creation = the story of modern Australia is essentially a story of self-creation. The convicts sent from England were given the chance to receive a full pardon and start their lives over.  The Secret River tells the story of William Thornhill one of those first settlers who arrived in New South Wales as a convict and an outcast and who eventually carved out a place for himself in Australia’s incipient ruling class.  The structure of the novel reflects the importance of this theme.  Grenville opens the novel not with William’s youth in London but with his first night in New South Wales. She ends the novel with William sitting on the veranda of his grand house, Cobham Hall.  He has re-written the story of his life both physically and metaphorically.
  9. The British Class System = The Secret River examines how the harsh British class system of the 18th and 19th centuries condemned people like William to a life of crime. Grenville exposes the harsh choices that people of William’s class faced in order to survive.  It was not a question of good or bad but of starvation or theft.  In her chronicle of William’s life in London, Grenville wants the reader to understand that the convicts who first settled modern Australia were not bad, just desperate.  Australia has chaffed under its moniker as a land of convicts since its inception.  Grenville’s empathetic account of William’s life represents an attempt to embrace Australia’s convict past and give it a human face.
  10. The Disorientation of the Immigrant = through the character of Sal, Grenville explores the disorientating experience of the immigrant. While she works hard and rarely complains, Sal has a difficult time settling in to their new life in Australia.  The very trees with their greyish leaves tell her she is no longer at home.  Sal feels the wild continent pressing in on her from all sides, and she misses the smells and sounds of London.  While William thrives in the new land, Sal finds it harder to adjust because she did not suffer the same level of humiliation as William.  Sal clings on to her memories of Britain, recreating her life in London as much as possible.  Grenville uses Sal to explore the persistence of British culture in Australia and the lingering concept that Britain was ‘Home’.
  11. Fate vs Free Will = at first the poor life in London disempowers Thornwill but as he gets older he sees things happen to him independently of his choices. Ending up in NSW he tends to base his behaviour more on the idea of fate.
  12. Alternate Path of Australia’s Development = Grenville sets up two paths to the development of Australia, embodied in the characters of Smasher Sullivan and Thomas Blackwood.  Smasher Sullivan represents the path of racial, social, and physical domination of the Aborigines that the British did follow in their colonization of Australia.  Thomas Blackwood, on the other hand, represents the choice of peaceful co-existence that was originally available to the British colonists if they had not been blinded by racial prejudice and greed.  Grenville gives the reader a glimpse of the possible development of future generations of Australians through the character of Dick Thornhill.

‘Guilt’ in Grenville’s Trilogy

Grenville’s The Secret River (in 2005) was the first in a trilogy: it was followed by The Lieutenant (in 2008), and Sarah Thornhill (in 2011).  The theme of all three novels is guilt—the guilt of white Australia at its treatment of Aboriginal people.  Guilt poisons William Thornhill’s life, and that of his daughter, Sarah Thornhill.  In The Lieutenant, Daniel Rooke, based on the historical William Dawes, avoids guilt only by disavowing (to his face) the governor’s orders to capture and kill six of the local Cadigal people.

The Message of The Secret River – It’s Relevance in Australia Today

On first reading the text focus of The Secret River is its exploration of the conflict between convict William Thornhill and the local Dharug people – whose land he tries to settle on.  But on closer examination it seeks to make a deeper point, about the relationship of Australians to the past – in this case to the Aboriginal people who were here so long before us.  The climactic event of The Secret River, a massacre of Aborigines on the Hawkesbury River that, in the book’s chronology, is placed at some point around 1814, is intended to place readers in the reality of a situation that we know happened in many places in Australia’s early history.

Actress Ningali Lawford-Wolf explained that “This country has a black history and how they came to be here was through massacres”.  Director Neil Armfield of The Sydney Theatre Company said that the tale of racial divides are, in many ways, still present today.  “That’s the contradictory reality that we’re still living, that actually all First Nation people are dealing with – that there are two different notions of possession” Mr Armfield said.  Trevor Jamieson, a renowned Aboriginal actor, explained there are vivid similarities between past issues and those bubbling today.  Adapting the text for the stage as a play, writer Andrew Bovell, said “I don’t think we can understand who we are as a people, unless we understand who we were”.

Comparisons with The Secret River and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

It seems obvious that Grenville drew heavily on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness when she developed her protagonist William Thornhill in The Secret River.  In Heart of Darkness, protagonist Marlow acts as an impartial observer of the effects of the ivory trade in Africa.  His journey into the heart of Africa reflects his symbolic discover of his own self and human nature.  In effect Marlow sees the ‘heart of darkness’ (greed and evil) found in all men and suppresses this urge but others like Kurtz succumb to them.

When Marlow discovers Kurtz he has become so ruthless and greedy that even the other managers are shocked.  He refers to the ivory as his own and sets himself up as a primitive god to the natives.  He has written a seventeen-page document on the suppression of savage customs, to be disseminated in Europe, but his supposed desire to “civilize” the natives is strikingly contradicted by his postscript, “Exterminate all the brutes!”  Marlow is careful to tell his listeners that there was something wrong with Kurtz, some flaw in his character that made him go insane in the isolation of the Inner Station.  But the obvious implication of Marlow’s story is that the humanitarian ideals and sentiments justifying imperialism are empty, and are merely rationalizations for exploitation and extortion.

Similarly, in The Secret River, William Thornhill battles with his own conscience when facing challenges to decide on the ‘right’ course of action.  When faced with the poisoning of an entire camp of Aboriginal people at Darkey Creek culminating in the massacre of the Aborigines at Blackwood’s place, William weighs up his own safety and Sal’s happiness against his dislike for Smasher and his methods.

At the end of the novel William still feels regret at his involvement in the massacre so that readers gain the feeling that there is no satisfactory and lasting resolution to the conflict.  In this last section of the novel titled ‘Thornhill’s Place’ it is bitterly ironic as no amount of clearing, building, fencing, planting and killing of Aborigines will ever see Thornhill at peace with his surroundings.  Sitting on the bench at Cobham Hall where he could overlook all his wealth Thornhill felt that “… should have been the reward.  He could not understand why it did not feel like triumph” (p.334).

Both Texts Question “Who owns what?”

Both authors, Grenville and Conrad, highlight the controversy between the imperialistic attitudes of the English towards the natives in terms of possession of land with the same question “Who owns what?”  In Heart of Darkness British colonists saw no reason not to take land and resources in Africa that had not been claimed by either public or private ownership.  In The Secret River the white settlers were quite clear on the concept of “who owned what” in NSW: “There were no signs that the blacks felt the place belonged to them.  They had no fences that said this is mine.  No house that said, this is our home.  There were no fields or flocks that said, we have put the labour of our hands into this place” (p.93).  It was only Blackwood, a man of compromise who warned Thornhill against ‘taking up’ the land he obviously coveted.  Living in apparent harmony with the Aborigines, Blackwood advised Thornhill from the outset “When you take a little, bear in mind you got to give a little” (p.169).

Suggested Year 11/12 Oral Presentation Topics for 2017

Persuasive Speech Topics 2

Are you having trouble choosing a topic to present for your Oral Presentation in English for Years 11/12?

These are Suggested Topics Only – there may be more issues to consider closer to the date of the SAC:

  1. Is the ‘no jab no pay’ rule regarding child inoculation a fair rule set by the Federal Government?
  2. Should we ban greyhound racing in all States of Australia?
  3. The humanitarian crisis in Syria, should Australia take more refugees?
  4.  Why are children still abused and neglected in care in Australia today?
  5.  Do we need off-shore detention centres for refugees or is there an alternative?
  6.  Why is gender inequality still an issue in the world today?
  7.  What are the implications for Australia in electing Trump as President of the US?
  8.  How should we stop vicious thugs like The Apex Gang from terrorizing Victorians?
  9.  Is climate change a hoax or real?
  10.  Why are Indigenous Australians classified like people from a third-world country?
  11.  Should trophy hunting of animals in Africa be banned?
  12.  Is Australia’s border security policy justified?
  13. Is youth detention a growing problem in Australia and what are the solutions?
  14. What is the best solution to make our beaches safer from shark attacks?
  15.  Why is family violence still on the rise in Australia?
  16.  What are the causes and effects of racism in Australia?
  17.  Should we recognize gay marriage in Australia?
  18.  Should Australia have more renewable energy resources for the future?
  19.  What are we doing to reduce youth intoxication of alcohol in Australia?
  20.  Should sports betting advertising be allowed on Australian TV and sports arenas?

Tips on Oral Presentations for English Years 9-12

 JFK Giving Speech

A few tips on writing your speech:

  • Have a CAPTIVATING introduction sentence; use a short, clear and powerful sentence. You can even ask a rhetorical question of your audience to make them think right at the start.
  • RELATE to your audience so that it keeps them interested so they actually WANT to listen.
  • If you are taking on a persona, firstly study and UNDERSTAND your character. (A persona is how you present your speech, ie. in a friendly voice, a business type strictly formal speech or using lots of colloquial phrases).
  • Don’t forget your persuasive techniques. Use repetition and rhetorical questions, emotive language and inclusive language.
  • Remember that you are writing a SPEECH, not an essay. Instill your oral with emotion, varied tone and sentence lengths.

A few tips on your performance:

Memorise your speech

Always remember that practice makes perfect. Practice as much as possible; in front of anyone and everyone including yourself (use a mirror). Keep practicing until you can recite it.

As for cue cards, use dot points. Don’t just copy and paste whole sentences onto cue cards or else you’ll rely on them too much. Not to mention that it’ll be hard finding out where you are in the middle of your speech. Use “trigger words” so that if you forget your next point, you have something there.

Use your Powerpoint presentation to best advantage. Keep the images relevant to your speech. Have the images not too “busy” so that the audience are looking attentively at the screen and forget to listen to your speech. Make sure the presentation is on mouse click to the next slide or timed so you don’t have to fiddle around with the computer, but remember to keep talking.

But most importantly, if you mess up, keep going. Even if you screw up a word or suddenly forget your next point, just take a breath, correct yourself, and keep going. Do not giggle. If your friends make you laugh, don’t look at them.

Control your voice

Do not be monotone. Give it some energy; be pumped but not “I-just-downed-5-cans-of-Red Bull” pumped. Give it as much energy as it is appropriate for your speech. As you transition through various intense emotions such as anger, happiness and shock, your performance should reflect it. This is achieved in both your tone and your body language (moving around, not jumping around as that will distract from what you are trying to say).

Speak as if you believe in your contention – with passion. If you sound confident, then your audience will think, ‘wow, they sure know what they’re talking about’. Remember, confidence is the key.

Don’t rush through your speech and speak at a million kilometers an hour – or even worse; skipping half of your speech because you just want to get the hell out of there. Also, speak so that the teacher can actually hear you. More likely than not, they’ll be sitting somewhere near the back of the room. Don’t be “too quiet” master the art/power of projecting your voice. It actually does make a huge difference.

Be aware of your actions

Don’t just stand like a statue in one spot. Think about real life – do you know anyone that stands completely and utterly still when talking to you? Make sure you look around the room; you’re addressing everyone, not just one person. Don’t stare at your teacher; it freaks them out. You don’t even have to look at a specific place. Start off looking at the back wall… then as you go through the speech, naturally turn from one back corner of the room to the other. Also, try not to look down because it will make you mumble and be hard to understand or hear. Don’t try to look at your cue cards while they’re right up next to your body. Move it out when you need to have a GLANCE at them then go back to the audience.

Always make sure that you face the audience.

Use some natural hand gestures they don’t hurt either!

Take some long, deep breaths before you go on and tell yourself that you can do it!

How to Effectively Annotate Texts

 Image result for pictures of writing booksWhy Annotate Your Texts in Studying English?

Annotating texts is a powerful step in getting to know your text and optimising your essay responses. Keep in mind as a reader and annotator 2 important questions:

  1. “What is the author saying?
  2. How are they constructing their meaning/values in their text?”

Listed below are some helpful tips in learning how to annotate:

A Definition: To annotate means to add notes to a text where you provide extra comments or explanations (usually in the margins of the book).

Break up the text by using post flags to distinguish sections or chapters

Some texts are large and sections or chapters are not easy to recognise but a good way to identify the sections is to use post flags to break up the text. This will make scanning the book much easier later when you are searching for a specific passage for an essay.

Think of your text as a colouring book

One way is to use different coloured highlighters for different themes. Think of it as creating a trail for you to follow throughout the book. If you don’t like using highlighters, another simple way is to use coloured post flags to highlight certain pages where you can underline the themes with explanations at the top of the page.

Circle new vocabulary

Look it up and then write their definitions next to the word. Using higher level metalanguage in your essays is going to help to gain better marks.

Write notes in the margins or at the top of pages

Here you can summarise the chapters at the top of the page and then other significant points of a passage as you read through the text.

What are the best items to annotate?

  • Character descriptions & dialogues significant to the plot/character development
  • Historical, cultural, social and natural contexts relevant to understanding the text
  • Structure of the text, narrative voice/viewpoint, implications for the plot & characters
  • Themes, motifs & symbols that are connected to characters & plot and how these represent ideas or concepts that show the author’s values and meaning
  • Literary devices such as metaphors, similes and foreshadowing that show how the author constructs meaning and structure of the text
  • Plot changes, major events and how they affect characters and meaning of the text


Lantana the Film: A Brief Synopsis for Year 11 English

Lantana Movie - DVD (Australia) front image (front cover)

For Students in Year 11 English Studying the Film Lantana

Lantana is a 2001 film Produced by Jan Chapman and Directed by Ray Lawrence with the screenplay written by Andrew Bovell, which was adapted from his stage play Speaking in Tongues performed in 1996. Like novels and short stories, films can recount a fictional narrative using characters, events and settings. To study Lantana for Year 11 English it is advisable to view the movie in full at least twice so you can look carefully at:

  1. key scenes
  2. the opening and closing scenes
  3. the introduction of main characters
  4. turning points
  5. crisis points and
  6. the film’s climax

Look at the Film Style

Besides your focus on what actually happens in the film it is a good idea to notice the look and feel of the film in its style. Pay particular attention to the visual images of lightness and darkness. In a close analysis of the film style look at:

  1. Cinematography = shots in the film set up under instruction from the director to show various camera angles to create different effects = extreme close ups, close ups, medium shots, long shots, aerial shots, tilt down shots, tilt up shots and zoom shots
  2. Mise en scene = Literally means ‘staging the action’ referring to the visual elements within the frame of a shot ie. acting style, setting, costumes and lighting
  3. Sounds = Everything we hear in the film ie. music, dialogue, sound effects, voice-overs, for instance like the frequent sound of cicadas

It is important to identify the key elements of film style and how they work together to create an overall impact on the audience and how they tell a compelling story.

For Example Look Carefully at the Cinematography / Mise en Scene / Sounds in Scene 1 of Lantana which Sets up the ‘Mindscape of Terror’

The names of the key players are superimposed over a backdrop of Lantana, thick, tangled and in blossom. While the plant portends danger, it is also attributed criminal responsibility, both as the scene of Valerie’s death and through a play of alignment with Jane.

This opening shot of the Lantana is accompanied by the din of cicadas, which is a very familiar Australian setting, while visually thrusting us towards a deep, dark void. It evokes memories of the humid heat in which cicadas flourish and become noisy, and the rich sticky smells of plants in that climate. The frenzied chirping of cicadas and other creatures is used at an extremely high volume for effect on this occasion.

This unease and remembered discomfort is then rekindled throughout the film by the regular inclusion of the plant at the edges of sets, at the front of establishing shots, or as the scene of dramatic action. This is an archetypal beginning to a cinematic thriller, prefacing the narrative with the crime at its centre.

The camera slowly pans over the bloodied, bruised body of a woman wearing a wedding ring. The movement of the opening shot is significant, replaying an Australian cinematic convention in which the landscape appears to draw its victims into its depths or barren expanses. It is a tracking shot presented from the victim-character’s point-of-view and seems to follow the desire of that character into mysterious manifestations of landscape.

The camera then cuts away to Scene 2 with Leon and Jane engaging in urgent, impersonal sex. Death and sex are continuously juxtaposed in this manner, giving rise to a feeling of quiet desperation lurking within our everyday lives.

What is Lantana About in a Nutshell?

At first glance, Lantana looks like a murder mystery thriller, an essay in love or a darkly playful assertion of the role of coincidence and chance in our lives. In the opening scene, the camera delves into the undergrowth until it comes upon the dead body of a woman. We don’t know who she is or what happened to her, but it soon becomes apparent that this disturbing initial image is a premonition. One of three women, we begin to suspect; will end up dead in those bushes. Will it be Sonja Zat (Kerry Armstrong), the frustrated wife of an ill-tempered Sydney Police Detective? Dr Valerie Somers (Barbara Hershey), Sonja’s therapist, whose own marriage has been damaged by the murder of her young daughter Eleanor several years earlier? Or Jane O’May (Rachael Blake), who is having an affair with Sonja’s husband? The three seem to be more or less the same height and physical type, and each of them is shown wearing sheer black hose like those we have noticed on the dead woman. Which one is it and why?

These questions will generate plenty of dread and suspense before the answers become clear, but the real mystery of Lantana lies elsewhere. Although its short scenes are tense with danger and implication, and a barely suppressed violence courses through even the most casual snatches of dialogue, the film is not a whodunit or a thriller. The real danger, the real mystery, lies squarely in front of us, in the hurt and puzzlement of daily life. In fact the film takes a view of life in a modern city that is rigorously bleak without being entirely hopeless.

In pretending to be something like a detective story and then refusing the reassuringly balanced equations that the genre offers, Lantana manages to hold complexity and coherence in balance. It is a movie, primarily, about the paradoxes of contemporary marriage, in particular about the ways the most intimate relations engender — and indeed are based upon — secrecy and deceit. A corollary paradox is that honesty is only possible between strangers.

Such pessimism is neither glib nor easy, and the film does not entirely rule out the possibility of love or forgiveness. Nor do the filmmakers — or the actors — entirely overlook the comedy that selfishness, stupidity or desperation can be. All the characters are bundles of flaws and unclear needs, and they blindly collide with one another, setting off sparks of calamity and, occasionally, a glow of recognition.

The Characters are Linked by Proximity and Chance

The characters are linked by proximity and chance, knots in an invisible, shifting web in which work, family and social life intersect:

  1. The central figure is Detective Sergeant Leon Zat (Anthony LaPaglia), Sonja’s husband, who seems capable of only two emotions: morose self-pity and volcanic rage. Leon is a mass of contradictions; he loves his wife and family but is playing around with Jane. Mr. LaPaglia, with his dour presence, is able to suggest a range of feeling that has been drained from Leon by the onset of middle age. Leon carries disappointment around within him like the extra pounds he tries to jog away. His affair with Jane — ”a one-night stand that happened to last two nights” as he brutally puts it — is a desperate attempt to jolt himself into feeling. Sonja’s therapy sessions, which Leon doesn’t know about, serve an analogous purpose: they offer a chance to explore with a stranger the feelings she can’t voice at home.
  2. Sonja Zat is the linchpin that holds the Zat family together as a supportive wife and loving mother of her two sons.       While Sonja has concerns about her marriage she is willing to proactively seek advice from Dr Valerie Somers and enough commitment to try to work through the issues that trouble her. When Leon admits to his infidelity, Sonja forgives him which is testimony to her love.
  3. Dr Valerie Somers, for her part, becomes convinced that another of her patients, a young gay man named Patrick Phelan (Peter Phelps), is having an affair with her husband, John Knox (Geoffrey Rush). There is something superstitious about this idea, which Leon will later latch on to and something seductive as well. Even as she torments herself with the idea of John’s secret sexuality, the thought of him and Patrick together offers an explanation for their domestic misery as neat as the solution to a detective story.
  4. John Knox is Valerie’s husband, a professional academic, Professor of Law. He is a private and reserved man whose response to their daughter Eleanor’s death is diametrically at odds with his wife. He privately grieves his daughter by leaving flowers at the site of her murder. John resents Valerie’s emotional dependence and resists intimacy with her.       By admitting to being home on the night that Valerie went missing it shows the audience he is an equally flawed individual like the other characters in the film. He does love Valerie but admits that “sometimes love isn’t enough” (Scene 72).
  5. Jane O’May is in direct contrast to Sonja.       As the ‘other woman’ in the affair with Leon Jane does not invite our sympathy but we realise she is lonely and vulnerable. She is deliberately looking for new romantic options and joins the Latin dance class as a way to meet people. Jane is driven by disappointment as her marriage has not proved satisfactory, nor is her single status offering the opportunities she had hoped for. She envies Nik and Paula’s relationship and often looks out the window at the comings and goings of the house next door. The final image of her dancing by herself, cigarette in one hand and drink in the other, is testament to what Paula says to her “Haven’t you got anything better to do than spy on your neighbours?” (Scene 56).       The simple answer appears to be no.
  6. Pete O’May is separated from his wife Jane but he struggles with his life without her. The marital break is not of his choosing and he hopes for reconciliation but he is unwilling or unable to move on. Even when Jane asks him for help to mind the neighbours’ children late at night, Pete helps willingly, only to eventually drive away from his home a lonely figure.
  7. Paula D’Amato is a hard-working mother of three young children. Her life is not easy juggling extra shifts at the hospital to cope with her husband Nik being unemployed. Regardless of her considerable responsibility as the family breadwinner she is a contented woman, sustained by her own inner strength and a secure, loving relationship. She loves Nik unconditionally and is prepared to trust him without question. When Nik is a suspect in Valerie’s disappearance, Paula knows Nik had done nothing wrong, simply because ‘he told me’ (Scene 87), which sums up her absolute faith in her husband.
  8. Nik D’Amato is a good-natured, easy going man who loves his wife Paula and family. He is a committed family man who looks after the baby and continues job hunting while Paula works. When he is apprehended by the Police regarding Valerie’s disappearance he calls out for Paul as he needs the reassurance of her love and strength. His generosity gets him into trouble when he stops to give Valerie a lift.       Unfortunately for Nik when Valerie runs frantically into the bush he simply leaves her then disposes of her shoe. Once news of Valerie’s disappearance hits the news, Nik realises he is trapped and asks “Who was going to believe me?” (Scene 85).
  9. Claudia Weis is Leon’s Detective partner in the Police and as a result of their close working relationship, she understands him well. Claudia does not always approve of what she observes and does not hesitate to tell Leon so. She is equally blunt with regard to the marital hole Leon is digging for himself and although she covers for him about his relationship with Jane, she admires Sonja and resents being drawn into any deception.
  10. Patrick Phelan is a client of Valerie’s. He continually tests Valerie’s professionalism as a psychiatrist which in turn threatens her by his provocative manner. As Valerie is emotionally vulnerable she entertains the bizarre, and totally unfounded, suspicion that Patrick is having an affair with her husband John. Patrick sees love as “a contest” (Scene 26) with winners and losers. In the end his married lover goes back to his own family, leaving Patrick alone again.

Structure of Lantana

Certainly Valerie’s disappearance is the catalyst that drives the story line. Andrew Bovell said that “It is like a stone dropped into a still pond, the ripples circling out and affecting all that they touch”. The text commences with reference to her death and then goes back to explore the sequence of events that led to the accident so that the film creeps up on you and you find yourself haunted. However, the plot is also character-driven with a number of interacting narrative threads:

  1. Sonja and Leon’s marital dilemma
  2. Leon’s relationship with Jane
  3. Jane’s estrangement from Pete
  4. Eleanor’s murder and its impact on Valerie and John
  5. The Police investigation into Valerie’s disappearance
  6. Nik’s complicity in the case and its effect on his relationship with Paula
  7. Claudia and her mystery man’s blossoming rapport
  8. Patrick’s affair with his married lover and the way this impacts on Valerie

Significance of the Lantana Bush as a Motif in the Film

Lantana is a noxious weed that has small colourful blooms that hides dense, thorny undergrowth which intertwines itself with other plants and eventually smothers them. The bush is a symbolic motif of the tangled relationships the movie explores — marriage, chance acquaintanceship, the prickly bond between therapist and patient — is clear enough. The movie, accordingly, finds traps and snares beneath the most benign and ordinary interactions as writer Andrew Bovell uses the plant to represent the intertwined relationships in the film. Although the Lantana bush looks beautiful with its brightly-coloured flowers, in reality, it is dense and spiky and this represents how the relationships all look fine on the surface but really there are many factors that contribute to their failings. The epigraph promoting the drama says “It’s tangled”. The Lantana motif also represents the complexity of love itself, its possibilities, its permutations and its dense emotional threads.

Throughout the film the image of Lantana keeps reasserting itself. A common thread is the way in which Lantana hides secrets:

  1. The mystery of the woman’s body at the beginning
  2. The children’s game of hide and seek
  3. Valerie’s shoe
  4. Jane hides from Nik in the thick undergrowth
  5. Eventually when the mystery is resolved, the Lantana yields up its secrets in the form of the body of Valerie

Other Motifs and Meanings in Lantana

Lantana explores the ideals of trust, respect, truth and reality, honesty, love and loyalty, love and marriage, betrayal, yearning and loss through the lens of the many characters in the film. Even characters that are not obviously deceitful are forced into lies or half-truths. Nik lies to Pete about Jane, Claudia covers for Leon’s infidelity, Leon’s son lies to his mother about Leon’s message when he says “He’s sorry, he loves you and he wants you to stop being angry with him”. The film is deliberately constructed to help the audience draw out as much meaning as possible.

  1. Jogging / Running = Jogging or running appears at several key moments in the film. It is often symbolic of a character’s struggle for freedom or escape. Early in the film Leon is seen running, ostensibly to improve his fitness, or may be to impress his new lover. In a very real way he is running from his life and responsibilities, a run that is cut short by the sharp pains in his chest. Even when he is trying to set himself free he is constricted by tightness in his chest, as though his depression has a grip on him. Leon’s collision with another jogger is another reminder of the damage that he is doing to those around him on his quest for personal fulfillment.
  2. Dancing = Dancing appears in the film on many occasions:
  • The Latin dancing classes that Jane, Leon and Sonja attend
  • The Latin Dance Club that Sonja goes to
  • Jane and Sonja dancing together
  • Jane dancing by herself at the end
  • Leon and Sonja dancing together at the end of the film

In many ways dancing stands in for the lack of intimacy in the character’s lives. Sonja seeks the passion that no longer exists in her marriage but in the end Leon is able to rediscover his passion for Sonja and they dance together. Jane is also searching for passion and romance (something that was missing from her marriage). Dancing alone at the end of the film we are aware that Jane is yet to find fulfillment.

  1. Windows = Windows are used throughout the film to signify distance and separation. Jane is constantly watching her neighbours’ ‘happy’ lives unfold through her window but she is not able to participate in this which is an emotional barrier being signified by an actual one. Claudia’s mystery man is seen through the windows of the restaurant highlighting their separation. Then compare this to the end when they meet in the restaurant without any barrier. Valerie and John are kept from their absent daughter by the window at the bookstore but forced to look on and unable to reach her. Patrick is removed from his lover as he looks through the window onto his ‘happy life’ but it is the unattainable he can see but not touch much like Jane. Leon must walk through the windowed door to reach out to Sonja to finalise reconciliation.
  2. Jewellery / Clothing = Jewellery and clothing serve as reminders of things lost in Lantana, drawing out emotion from the characters. Jane’s earring is the first notable personal item, a memento of her past life with her husband Pete, the loss of it during a romantic tryst with another man gives an insight to the audience of the complicated nature of these characters’ lives. Pete also lingers over the pearl earrings when he revisits their home when Jane is out. Both Jane and Valerie’s wedding rings are highlighted at points during the film. Jane discusses cutting hers off as it is on too tight which represents her being unable to extricate herself from her marriage. The marriage has become a burden, a blight and something that needs to be surgically removed, like a cancerous growth. Valerie’s show is the only physical indication of her disappearance, a symbol of Nik’s guilty conscience and later a symbol for Jane’s suspicion as it dominates the sitting room when the Police visit to interview her.
  3. Meals / Eating = Characters very rarely sit together to eat a meal adding significance to the times that they do during the film. They are often times when the characters are able to be open and honest with one another or at least more so than at other times. The breakfast scene with Leon and his family at the start of the film paints him in a sympathetic light, placed at the nucleus of his family home, it would appear to be a moment or normality which is directly juxtaposed with his violence in apprehending a criminal in the next scene. Claudia dining alone at a booth with room for two seems to be waiting, searching for something meaningful to share her life and dinner with. The act of eating together takes on a symbolic value of family connectedness. This idea is further explored in the scene with Patrick’s lover who is sharing a meal with his family while Patrick looks on, isolated and alone.
  4. Cars = Of all the forms of transport, cars are the most isolated and separate from the outside world. Many of the film’s characters travel through the world cocooned inside their cars, disconnected from the world around them, often travelling at night, through the darkness, unable to see what is passing them by. Valerie is forever suggesting to John that they share a car, endeavouring to overcome the distance between them, her suggestions are mostly rebuffed, John preferring to make his own way through the darkness of their lives, he is already disconnected from her. The failure of Valerie’s car, it’s breakdown echoes her own personal, psychological breakdown, she is both literally and figuratively left scrambling around in the dark looking for the way to get ‘back home’. Leon’s final breakdown occurs in his car, it is a personal space where he is protected from the outside world yet he cannot protect himself from his own mistakes and problems, they are locked in with him, his isolation forcing him to face then finally. By getting into someone else’s car (the Latin dance teacher) Sonja is making a connection with another person, a connection which she is essentially uncomfortable with. Nik’s car becomes central to the narrative, it is always on the street / on display / being tinkered with, improved, much like Nik himself his car has nothing to hide. Nik’s car also becomes central to Valerie’s disappearance when he picks her up on a deserted back road.
  5. Recordings / Tapes = The inability of many of the characters in Lantana to communicate directly is emphasized by the use of recordings and tapes to convey important messages. Valerie and Sonja are unable to voice their concerns to their partners but are able to divulge their personal information through the medium of tape. Another symbol of the disconnection between the characters, the tapes serve to bring truth into otherwise confused and secretive situations.
  6. Trust / Deception = Characters in Lantana have an uneasy relationship with the concept of Trust. Sonja and Patrick place trust in Valerie to help them deal with their personal issues as a professional, yet in some way this trust is broken when she disappears. The issues that they come to see her about are to do with whether or not they can trust their partners. Valerie, despite counseling others on the issue, seems to be unable to form a bond of trust with anyone. She assumes her husband is having an affair, she assumes that Nik has an ulterior motive for taking her off the main road. Nik and Paula seem to be the only characters in the film whose relationship is based on trust. Paula’s assertion that Nik didn’t kill Valerie “because he told me” is a damning indictment on the other character’s inability to trust each other.
  7. Grief / Malaise = Both grief and death and grief in relationships are represented in Lantana. Valerie and John’s daughter, Eleanor was murdered several years before, and their marriage has disintegrated as a result of their lack of communication. Valerie has written a book on grief and lectures both publicly and to her patients, but is unable to communicate with her husband. Sonja is grieving for her lost marriage and the distance that has arisen between herself and Leon. Leon’s response to the death of his relationship is more of a malaise, an inability to feel, which drives him towards self destructive behavior and infidelity.
  8. Love / Yearning / Betrayal = Sonja states, in a session with Valerie, that she loves her husband, despite her belief that he is having an affair. For Sonja the pain would not be the affair but the silence that surrounds the affair. Jane has left her husband because she has “fallen out of love with him”. Paula and Nik appear able to weather anything that is thrown at them because they love each other unconditionally. Leon is still in love with his wife but is unable to express this to her until the end of the film. John feels betrayed by Valerie and her public outpouring of grief, his love for her is quiet and painful but very much existent. Patrick is caught out by love, a love that is doomed to end in emotional pain due to the circumstances of his partner.




Montana 1948 by Larry Watson: A Brief Synopsis for Year 11 English

Area of Study 1, Unit 2 – Reading and Comparing Texts

Montana 1948 a novel by Larry Watson is a text to be studied by Year 11 English students in Area of Study 1, Unit 2 – Reading and Comparing Texts. Students are asked to study 2 texts and produce an analytical response to a pair of texts, comparing their presentation of themes, issues and ideas. Students will be asked to investigate how the reader’s understanding of one text is broadened and deepened when considered in relation to another text. Students also explore how features of texts, including structures, conventions and language convey themes, issues and ideas that reflect and explore the world and human experiences, including historical and social contexts.

Comparative Texts – the Novel Montana 1948 by Larry Watson with the Play Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose

The most obvious difference in studying/comparing these two texts is that Montana 1948 is a novel and Twelve Angry Men is a play. In a novel the plot is the sequence of events in the text where the characters experience:

  • crisis points
  • climax
  • turning points
  • resolution

In a play the acts and scenes are also structured so that the characters are exposed to:

  • rising tension
  • leading to a climax
  • then a resolution

Therefore both forms of text rely on placing credible characters in dramatic situations, often involving conflict, in order to build tension and explore ideas and issues.

Students should pay particular attention to how the authors position their characters in the sequence of events mentioned above and the common thread in the underlying ideas of both texts. Try to choose at least one main specific idea or issue that will allow you to discuss both texts in detail as well as to compare and contrast them. The ideas, issues and themes in a text are what give it wider meaning and relevance. The details of what happens when, where and to whom are all critical, but exist within the world of the text.

Stick to the Themes, Issues and Ideas in the 2 Texts being Studied

A word of warning: stick to the themes, ideas and issues in the 2 texts being studied only. Be discerning using your points of comparison in the analytical text response essay. The context of the text is important but students must work with the ideas represented in the text and the ways authors convey the themes, issues and ideas in these texts. It is not an opportunity to go beyond the ideas in the text or draw into your writing much broader concepts.

What does Theme, Issue and Idea Mean?

  1. Theme = is the umbrella term for a key focal point in the text
  2. Issue = takes an angle of that theme
  3. Idea = presents a point of view on that theme

Texts being studied explore human experience so the themes, issues and ideas then become a vehicle for the human condition in the text and student’s exploration of that. Anchoring the notion of discussion to human experience and what we learn in each text and comparing those texts is important. In order to explore the themes, issues and ideas students might analyse:

  1. the differences between the narrative voice of a text
  2. or point of view
  3. or structural features
  4. or language features
  5. or characterisation
  6. or relationships between characters
  7. or between different protagonists or antagonists
  8. drawing on settings and key events that take place

Comparing Texts

When comparing the themes, issues and ideas in the texts, students need to ask “What is the authorial message coming through in the 2 texts? Look at comparing:

  1. different quotes from each text to look for what words come up in regards to similar themes, issues or ideas
  2. look at character comparisons, different values, reactions characters make and the different choices made
  3. scene analysis – compare a key scene or a series of scenes from one text and the other text
  4. look at tone, imagery and how the author is exploring this
  5. think of how you would link the above comparisons to a key theme and idea
  6. consider what ways this changes the way we see the characters, text, reactions and action of them
  7. How are readers positioned to see the issues in the texts?

In the end of your analysis you need to able to answer the question “How does one text reflect the theme compared to the other text?

Comparing the Central Theme of Montana 1948 and Twelve Angry Men

In comparing Montana 1948 and Twelve Angry Men an important theme which leads to a common thread of ideas and values is The Importance of Achieving Justice. The central theme in Montana 1948 is whether to choose justice or family loyalty. The central theme in Twelve Angry Men is the importance of a correct verdict that proves the justice system works. A common link between the two texts is prejudice that makes justice difficult to achieve.

How to Structure a Comparative Essay

There are 3 essay structures students can use to respond to the essay prompt related to both texts: a block essay is the most straightforward, block essay with a transition paragraph or block essay structured around the ideas discussed. With each essay it is important that you deal with both texts in detail and your response focuses on the ideas, issues or themes which are in response to the essay prompt. Each essay should have a structure set out clearly with an Introduction, Body Paragraphs (using the TEEL mode of structure) and a Conclusion.

The block essay with a transition paragraph is the essay structure I think gives the most comparisons of the texts including not only ideas, issues and themes but similarities and differences between the texts but it is the least confusing structure to master. Here is the structure:

Introduction: states your position/argument in response to the topic with brief reasons, referring to both texts
Body Paragraph 1 discusses ideas, issues and themes in text 1
Body Paragraph 2 is the Transitional Paragraph, which discusses similarities and differences between the texts
Body Paragraph 3 discusses similar ideas, issues and themes in text 2
Conclusion: discusses both texts in a concluding paragraph

Significance of Where Montana 1948 is Set

The novel Montana 1948 by Larry Watson is set in a small town in north-eastern Montana in the period just after World War II. Watson drew upon his background in North Dakota with his grandfather and father being the sheriff of Rugby, a small town similar to the fictional Bentrock in Montana 1948. Montana is the 41st State of America close to the border of Canada with its countryside barren and windblown and where cattle and sheep outnumber people by 100 to 1. The significance of the setting of Montana in 1948 is that it is not like the Wild West movies where the Indians wear war paint and ride the plains brandishing spears and tomahawks. Montana in 1948 is where dispossessed Indians are marginalised and are forced to live on reservations outside of town. It is where the white community thought the Indians were useless, non-functioning members of society with their culture not acceptable by white westernised ideas and learning. It is where women were oppressed living subordinate roles in an era before women’s rights were recognised. It is where men have the kind of power that leads to corrupt behaviour which is at the core of Montana 1948.

The Structure & Narrator in Montana 1948

Montana 1948 is a novel which reconstructs the events of one summer in 1948 in chronological order told by an adult narrator, David Hayden, who recounts events from the perspective of himself as a 12 year old boy and an adult. It is a story of a boy on the threshold of adolescence, awakening to maturity and finding that the adult world is complex and not always fair or just.

The novel is divided into 3 parts with a Prologue and Epilogue. The Prologue foreshadows the action and contributes to the building of suspense before the story begins. The Epilogue closes with the adult narrator summarising the aftermath of the summer of 1948. The action is divided into parts which mark the progression of events and end at a crucial point of development in the story:

  1. Part One ends with David aware that his father Wesley knows that Frank his brother is guilty of raping defenceless Indian women
  2. Part Two ends with Wesley’s realisation that now Frank is guilty of murdering Marie Little Soldier
  3. Part Three ends with the 12 year old David’s naive belief that his uncle’s suicide has solved all outstanding problems

Truth and Justice in Montana 1948

It is in a setting of racial prejudice that the dark coming of age drama is played out. It tells the story of how 12 year old David Hayden’s uncle is accused of the sexual abuse of Indian women and how the family must choose between loyalty and justice. Characters in the novel find themselves torn between finding and accepting the truth that Frank has sexually assaulted and killed the family maid Marie Little Soldier and then doing what is right. The decision by Sheriff Wesley Hayden to arrest his brother and uphold his duty to serve justice is at odds with protecting Frank and the family’s reputation. In fact truth and justice and acting with moral integrity present choices for the characters in Montana 1948. Each one deals with his/her own conscience in making these decisions.

Wesley’s dilemma of which master he should serve, family or the law is where much of the action of the novel revolves around. Should Wesley be loyal to his family versus justice for a minority group? The question readers need to ask is:- Would the town have reacted differently if the case of sexual assault had been against a white woman?

Gail Hayden is the one person in the novel who maintains the moral high-ground throughout. As a woman in 1948, Gail was on the cutting edge of her society because women were an oppressed powerless group at that time with a low status in society. Gail, however, is an intelligent, non-prejudiced, upright moral citizen who is a positive and protective role model for her family. In fact Gail is the only role model for David who does not appear to be racist towards Indians. The novel clearly shows that no white males in David’s world of Wild West Montana who are without racial prejudice.

Gail’s persuasion of Wesley that Marie Little Soldier has been sexually assaulted by Frank is at the heart of the story. She is the moral fibre that holds Wesley together when he begins to waiver and wrestles with his conscience. She is even willing to protect her family and justice when she waves a shotgun at Julian’s men as they come to set Frank free from the basement.

Complex Themes and Ideas in Montana 1948

Montana 1948 explores many complex themes that are aligned with particular characters. Below is a list of themes and ideas to help you:

the importance of family prejudice family feuds & disagreements growing up / adolescence
abusing power justice / injustice suicide opinions
guilt sexual harassment deceit law and order
loyalty bravery trust responsibility
racism innocence oppression discrimination
truth / lies / secrecy murder favouritism moral integrity

Is Justice Served?

We wonder whether justice is served at the end of the novel with the family feud. Frank committed suicide to save his reputation, however, Wesley and his family are left behind to deal with the reality of Frank’s actions. They are ostracised by the rest of the family, forced to leave their home and Wesley’s job as Sheriff. The real culprit has died and has been buried with all the honour that a hero would command. Justice has not been served and family loyalty has been compromised. There are no winners or losers when these two issues are opposed.

What Does this Novel Say About Society?

Some thought-provoking questions for students to consider when studying Montana 1948 are:-

  1. It is better to keep your mouth shut when you know the truth will hurt?
  2. When do you have to speak out against evil?
  3. Does justice mean jeopardising your family and future?
  4. Does power and influence wash you of your crime?
  5. Should we ignore our moral obligation for a more convenient and easier life?
  6. Is doing ‘the right thing’ the right thing after all?
  7. How much does what other people think matter?
  8. Is it worth it?
  9. Look at history, are people who stand up for what they believe in rewarded for their efforts, or crucified by the crowd?