Introductions for Essays on Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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