Saturday, 11 March 2017

Poetry Comparisons

I've been working on poetry comparison using the anthology poems from EDUQAS this week with some of my Year 11 students.  

Regardless of the exam board that you are studying, I would advise approaching the comparison question in the same way.

1.  Pick out 3 points per poem that answer the question.  We were looking at how conflict was shown in 'Dulce' and another poem.  We chose Mametz Wood.  

2.  Write these in a table - see my example below.  You put the 3 points for each side by side and see how they match up.

3.  When you write, follow each row of your table in order to create a comparative paragraph.  

4.  Remember, you are always being assessed on how you select quotes and analyse them, with language/structure terminology, for how they impact on the reader.  You should be able to work through each paragraph that you write and underline the examples of language/structure features that you have named.  You should also be able to see the word 'reader'.  I still use the PEACE model to do this -

ANALYSIS (with language and structure terminology)
EFFECT (on the reader)

5.  Make sure each paragraph ends with a clear comparative comment.

The one thing I haven't done in my answer is compare directly the devices that the poets have used.  This is my target for improvement next time!  Watch this space.

QUESTION: (b) Choose one other poem from the anthology in which the poet also writes about conflict. Compare the presentation of conflict in your chosen poem to the presentation of conflict in Dulce Et Decorum Est. [25]


Conflict has left the soldiers exhausted and vulnerable
In the conflict, the soldiers were fragile
Horror of conflict
Horror of conflict
It is not ‘sweet and fitting’ to die in conflict (fighting for your country)
The orders given by commanders in the conflict seemed unfair

In Dulce Et Decorum Est, Wilfred Owen presents the British soldiers fighting in WW1 as exhausted and vulnerable. He writes, “Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots/But limped on, blood-shod.” The full stop at the end of the short sentence, ‘Men marched asleep’, creates a caesura, highlighting how exhausted the men were. The metaphor implies that the men were so tired, they seemed like they were asleep whilst they marched. Also, the verb ‘limped’ seems to suggest that the men’s feet were hurting from losing ‘their boots’, but they carried on regardless, even though they were ‘blood-shod’. The adjective ‘blood’ connotes how injured their feet were. Owen seems to be drawing attention to the appalling conditions the men were fighting in during WW1 to his reader. The equipment was often poor and second-hand, meaning that uniforms didn’t always fit correctly. This would leave the soldiers exposed and vulnerable in the conflict. In Mametz Wood, Owen Sheers also appears to draw the reader’s attention to the vulnerability of the soldiers, although the soldiers he depicts are skeletons, viewed in their graves long after the conflict of WW1 has ended. Sheers writes, “the relic of a finger, the blown/and broken bird’s egg of a skull’. He uses metaphors to suggest that the soldiers were fragile, their bones were ‘relics’, a delicate object from the distant past; their skulls ‘blown and broken bird’s egg’. The voiced plosive alliteration here, coupled with the enjambment on ‘blown’, mimics spitting out words, as though the fragility of the bones horrifies the writer and should horrify the reader too. Both Owen and Sheers present the British soldiers as weak in conflict; even the strongest men would have been tested by the conditions depicted in Dulce and the weapons that were being used in WW1.

Furthermore, both poets show the horrors of conflict in their respective pieces. Sheers writes, “their jaws, those that have them, dropped open’. Some of the skeletons that he sees in the grave are missing jaws, he uses caesura on ‘those that have them’ to try to convey the horrific injuries that some of the soldiers were subjected to when they died. The verb ‘dropped’ presents the ones who do have jaws as open-mouthed. This looks like singing, yet they have died screaming. This will present the violence of the conflict to the reader. Owen also shows violence, yet his soldier’s suffering is depicted at the time of the conflict, not long after his death. He ‘plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.’ The list of vicious verbs connotes the pain that the man was in, yet Owen was ‘helpless’ to do anything about it. Owen was writing at the time of the war about things that he witnessed when fighting in the conflict. This contrasts to Sheers, who is a modern poet writing about WW1 as a memorial, to try and remember those who died and the sacrifices that they made. He chooses to use the images that he has seen of the conflict in his poem, which is focused on the remains of the bodies, nearly 100 years after the war was being fought. The reader is still shown the horror of the suffering experienced in the conflict in both poems though, even if the method is different.

Finally, both poems convey some anti-conflict sentiment. Owen overtly states ‘The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est/Pro patria mori’. He is telling his reader, who he addresses directly with the second person pronoun ‘you’ in the final stanza, that he does not believe the Latin motto, that ‘sweet and fitting it is to die for your country’. The images of suffering connote that death in conflict can be violent, slow and painful. Sheers also seems to be unhappy with the way that WW1 was fought, although he does not state this as clearly as Owen. Sheers writes, ‘across this field where they were told to walk, not run’. His writing here is less figurative. He writes simply ‘they were told to walk not run’. The simple verbs, ‘walk’ and ‘run’, are juxtaposed; the comma creates a caesura on ‘not run’, emphasising that they were not allowed to run. This line suggests to the reader that the commands given were unfair, that even as the soldiers advanced on the ‘nesting machine guns’, they couldn’t run, making them easy targets. In WW1, the soldiers fighting in the conflict were already ill-equipped to cope with battling against modern weaponry, such as the machine guns in the poem. This left them very exposed to harm. That they were told they couldn’t even ‘run’ would seem cruel, as though the men were being given no chance to survive. Both poets seem to have anti-conflict sentiment in their poems, even though they were writing them 90 years apart.

Monday, 6 March 2017

GCSE English Literature: A Few Thoughts on Mr Hyde

The first time the reader encounters Mr Hyde is when he tramples the girl in the street. It is worth noting that this occurs ‘about three o’clock of a black winter morning’. It was ‘all as empty as a church.’ Stevenson’s novella is of the Victorian Gothic, a late nineteenth century reawakening of the earlier Gothic genre popularised decades before by writers such as Mary Shelley and Ann Radcliffe. One trope of the gothic is to create isolated settings. In Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’, for example, she uses mountain ranges, country estates and the frozen landscape of the North Pole. The reason why this is used is straightforward: isolation means the characters are alone with nobody to hear them scream. Remote settings are still used in horror nowadays; characters will often find themselves somewhere away from other people where monsters can easily prey upon them. Stevenson’s problem arises from trying to create the same Gothic scares in the much busier setting of London. He needs to make his victims isolated and vulnerable to attack from the Gothic monster; this is hard to do in a bustling urban setting. He does the next best thing – he sets Hyde’s attacks at night. By creating empty streets, Stevenson has made a lonely place and left the wandering girl, or Mr Carew in a later chapter, weak.

Hyde is small in stature, ‘a little man who was stumping along eastward.’ The verb, ‘stumping’ has connotations of awkwardness. Stevenson implies that Hyde struggles to move in a normal way, yet he is powerful. He tramples the girl ‘like some damned Juggernaut’. The choice of simile here is worth remembering as a key quote when you revise. A juggernaut is a powerful, overwhelming force. It is possible to argue that this is from the animal instinct that Hyde is driven by. He seems to have brute strength. If you have studied the novella in class, you should be aware of Freud’s ‘Three parts of the psyche’, the id, ego and super-ego. However, these are more modern terms for what is going on in Stevenson’s book as Freud wrote about these in the 1920s. Jekyll and Hyde was published in 1886. You can still use id and ego as these are accepted terms for what Stevenson was writing about – the ‘primitive duality of man’.

It is also worth noting that Jekyll and Hyde (1886) was published two years before Jack the Ripper began his murder spree in Whitechapel (1888): be very careful if you want to suggest that Stevenson was influenced by this. He wrote the book before the murders took place! However, Jack the Ripper is still indicative of the concerns of the novella, from a modern reader’s perspective. Stevenson was concerned with the idea that the Victorian Gentleman could have suppressed, antisocial desires and then two years later, a Victorian Gentleman (we know that he was well dressed, fed his victims expensive grapes and rode in a carriage) literally ripped open prostitutes in some of the most brutal murders in British history. Stevenson was not influenced by these - it is impossible - BUT the Ripper murders are an enactment, in real life, of the very issue Jekyll and Hyde was about. The ‘primitive duality of man’.

The strange thing about Hyde’s appearance is that it seems wrong, yet there is nothing an observer can pinpoint that makes them believe this. Mr Enfield said, ‘He is not easy to describe. There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable. I never saw a man I so disliked, and yet I scarce know why. He must be deformed somewhere; he gives a strong feeling of deformity, although I couldn’t specify the point.’ He is unable to articulate how Hyde is ‘deformed’. Possibly because Hyde’s deformity is not physical, it is mental: he exists without ego and super ego. He has no moral code to shape his behaviour. This is what is lacking in him, rather than a physical absence.

The thing I find most interesting in Hyde’s presentation is how he makes those around him react. When he tramples the girl, Enfield notes, ‘I had taken a loathing to my gentleman at first sight.’ But, strangely, so had the doctor who was on the scene, ‘I saw that Sawbones (slang for Dr) turned sick and white with he desire to kill him.’ Enfield admits he felt the same. When Poole speaks to Utterson later in the narrative, he relays when he saw Hyde, ‘there was something queer about that gentleman – something that gave a man a turn – I don’t know rightly how to say it, sir, beyond this: that you felt it in your marrow – kind of cold and thin.’ People who see Hyde seem to struggle to articulate him: they can’t use their words to describe how he looks or how he makes them feel. I wonder if this is because he is appealing to the animal instinct in them? This is about the observer’s id, their inability to apply social rules to the creature they are faced with. They react to Hyde in instinctual ways: they want to hurt him or run from him, both id-driven impulses. Is Stevenson suggesting, then, that if one gentleman should embrace his animal instinct, that we, as animals too, will start to behave in similar ways? It almost infects the people who come into contact with him. The doctor turned ‘sick and white’ at the urge he felt: to hurt Hyde back. His moral code – that of the Victorian Gentleman – was pushed to the limit by encountering Hyde. He felt ‘sick’ because he felt it at all: it was his own instinct trying to force to the surface, beyond the limits of his self- imposed, socially acceptable behaviour. Ultimately, what I’m trying to say is that Hyde seems to bring out other people’s animal instincts too. We see their own ‘primitiveness’.

A checklist for you on what was expected from a Victorian Gentleman:

The Victorian Gentleman

  • Well educated - from the aristocracy or professional roles.
  • Moral – there had been a revival of the chivalric code during this period. Gentlemen were supposed to be honourable and conduct themselves well. Chivalry, courage and kindness to everyone.
  • Well presented – be properly dressed and well groomed. 
  • Appropriate manners – use the correct social etiquette.
  • Self-restraint – behave appropriately, do not act on impulses.
  • Wealthy – build wealth and keep it. Be wise and thrifty.
  • “Keep up appearances.” Charles Dickens. It is all about a gentleman keeping a good reputation and his honour.