Planning for HL English Essay

Text Preference: Atonement by Ian McEwan

Ideas for Lines of Inquiry:

To what extent does Briony occupy an antagonistic role in Atonement? [A]

How does perspective influence the reader’s experience in Atonement? [B]


[A] Introduction: Subjectivity of the work, establishment of metafiction that actively attempts to deceive and lie to the reader.

Part 1: Briony’s introduction as an unreliable

Reflections on Poems

In analysing poems including PlayroomScript for Child Services, and Microaggression Bingo, I think I got a glimpse into a deeply troubled life, faced by the author in a home (America) that she simultaneously belongs to and is estranged by. The cultural incongruence between a Pakistani heritage and and the American world, combined with poems chronicling her sexual awakening and clumsy stabs at adulthood, created an interesting conflict that sparked questions regarding maturity, sexuality, culture, and privilege. Playroom, the crucible of most of our analysis, was enjoyable in its aggressive tone and flippantly sexual overtones, especially in the crude juxtaposition between children’s toys (Barbies and Beanie Babies) and the sexual acts that the author’s prepubescent self force them to conduct sparked some pretty interesting debate in our class.

Tension in “Atonement”, Chapters 1-2

Extract (pg. 11-12):
Briony knew he had a point. This was precisely why she loved plays, or hers at least; everyone would adore her. Looking at the boys, under whose chairs water was pooling before spilling between the floorboard cracks, she knew they could never understand her ambition. Forgiveness softened her tone.

‘Do you think Shakespeare was just showing off?’

Pierrot glanced across his sister’s lap towards Jackson. This warlike name was faintly familiar, with its whiff of school and adult certainty, but the twins found their courage in each other.”

Within the extract, Ian McEwan uses purposely melodramatic terms to not only indicate Briony’s passion for the performance of The Trials of Arabella, but also to construct tension in the scene, perhaps foreshadowing some future calamity occurring in the play’s performance. The vast, sweeping statements made by Briony (e.g “Everyone would adore her“) reflects not only her childlike naïveté, but also her expectations for the play, especially seeing its auspicious performance would coincide with the return home of her brother, Leon. Indeed, her position as playwright appears to gift her with something of a messianic complex regarding her cousins; she resigns herself to the fact they “could never understand her ambition“, and allows the virtue of forgiveness to soften her tone towards her cousins; her expectations are high as ever, despite her appearing to calm down towards her cousins. Additionally, the description of Jackson’s name as “warlike” (though apt) further emphasises the tension of the scene; Briony’s paranoia regarding her cousin’s performance of her play causes her to analyse even superfluous aspects of her cousins (e.g their names).

The significance of the ending of “Home Fire”; Eamonn

The tragic conclusion of Home Fire serves not only as a climax to the novel, and a culmination of all the various plot threads set into motion (Parvaiz’s radicalisation, exodus to join ISIS, and eventual murder in Istanbul, Aneeka’s relationship with Eamonn, and Eamonn’s turbulent relationship with his father), but as a statement on each character; an authorial comment on the course that each character has taken in the novel. Eamonn’s development and actions as a character are significantly commented upon especially; his death at the hands of a terrorist attack represents both his defiance of his father and the clash of cultures between his clearly westernised, British worldview and a heavily radical Islamic perspective, both of which are recurring themes throughout the novel.

Eamonn’s defiance of his father in his departure to Karachi cannot be understated as a pivotal turning point in his character; throughout the novel, Eamonn has been a staunch defender of his father’s controversial hardline policies on muslims, occasionally to the detriment of his human relationships, especially with muslims such as Isma and Aneeka. Indeed, Aneeka’s dispute with Eamonn (pg. 92) rises from this fundamental familial divide between the two; with Karamat Lone as his father, Eamonn cannot help but defend his father’s actions, despite perhaps understanding that they may veer towards a hardline stance. Eamonn turns to his father as both a source of comfort and as a role model, and struggles to gain his approval throughout the novel; much to his chagrin, Karamat has always viewed Eamonn’s sister as a more reliable, perhaps even “acceptable” child. To an extent, Eamonn’s defiance of his father’s order to cut off ties with Aneeka, and his subsequent departure to Paksitan, was a manifestation of this desire to prove himself to his father; to send a message. Terry, Eamonn’s mother, comments on this, stating Eamonn left England to “prove to his father he had a spine”.

Another fundamental aspect that lends significance to Eamonn in the conclusion of Home Fire is definitely the clash of cultures that occurs once Eamonn arrives in Pakistan. As a Pakistani-naturalised-British, Eamonn has inherited the characteristic of a stranger to what could be defined as his “birth culture” from his father, sardonically nicknamed the “Lone Wolf” due to his apparent rejection of his Pakistani-Muslim roots in favour of a political career steeped in conservatism. Eamonn’s departure to Karachi, more than just a gesture of his love for Aneeka, or a puerile bid for approval from his father, was an extension of the estrangement; Eamonn wishes to reconnect with the culture that he has never been familiar with, yet would seem to be “born with”. The very same culture that his father has taken a hard-line on, unwilling to compromise in his political tenure. This unfamiliarity manifests itself in the ending itself, with him not defending himself from the terrorists fastening the suicide vest to his chest because “he’s in a new place, he doesn’t want to offend, he allows himself to be embraced” (pg.273-4). He is, perhaps foolhardily, stepping into a world unfamiliar, and, by virtue of its Islamic culture, some would argue, diametrically opposed, to his own. Nonetheless, empowered by this newfound bravery in defiance of his father, his departure would result in his eventual, tragic, end.

Guiding Question: Antigone and Home Fire

•In what ways does the author offer insights and challenges into religious and cultural practices?

•To what extent does the impact of the text shape our implicit perception of a troubling world?

•How does understanding of context (social/political/historical/cultural) influence or shape our understanding of the text and its implications?

•How do elements of the contemporary novel shape our understanding of the concepts within the text?

Feedback and Reflection on English Practice Essay

The core of the feedback our class has discussed on improving our English practice essays is to find a sort of golden mean between various extremes; for instance, minding our word-count, we need to strike a balance between having enough points to provide a lengthy and varied essay, analysing a range of aspects of the question, and having few enough points to fully explore and deeply analyse, without including an excessive amount of bare-bones points. Additionally, whilst including external, well-researched sources supporting your argument or offering a different perspective on your essay question can be a great asset, it is also beneficial to improving the depth of your essay to question and deeper explore the sources; are there any parts of the work that they neglect to mention? Do you agree or disagree, and why? This running theme of finding a “golden mean” between the various extremes of essay-writing is one that I need to get to terms with, seeing as there are many aspects that need to be perfectly balanced to deliver an appropriately balanced essay (e.g giving adequate context for the work you are exploring whilst not drowning the reader in obsolete or excessive information that is irrelevant to the text).

Personally speaking, what I need to work most on is to focus on a greater degree of three-dimensionality within my essay; I did not include adequate foreground (background information) on Burgess, the author of the work, in my introduction, and, additionally, I did not continue to cite the author throughout the text, not “grounding” it by constantly looping it back to the author and the question. Additionally, I should have focused more on the “time and space” aspect of Nadsat as an argot; why did Burgess create it, but also how did he create it, and in what context did it exist. Doing so would show a greater degree of understanding and confidence in the text. Additionally, whilst I did cite a secondary source (an analysis), I should have explored it or questioned it further, instead of using it as a support for my preexisting argument.

Doc – Feb 14 2020 – 10-51 AM (1)

Reading The Reader

“The Reader” has been, thus far, an interesting read for Literature. It follows the story of a certain Michael Berg, and his romance with the 36-year-old Hanna Schmit. The book touches on themes such as the corruptive nature of relationships, the impact of sexuality on youth, and, ultimately, acts as a coming-of-age story. Despite being taken aback by its initial forwardness and how unabashed it is in its own sexual descriptions, I find that, ultimately, there as some hidden meaning within the text. Unfortunately, I haven’t finished reading it, so that meaning is out of my grasp.

How does “The Importance of Being Earnest” challenge Victorian values of identity?

In The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde challenges the Victorian ideals of “decency” and personal identity by portraying the character of Jack/Ernest as one constantly living a double life. Though introducing himself as Ernest to Gwendolen (which, it is later revealed, is his actual name), his “real” name is Jack, and much of the drama of the play revolves around him attempting to be re-christened to change names (hence, also referencing the title of the play, “The Importance of being Ernest“). The duality of his character, with him constantly living a double life as Jack to some people, and Ernest to others, challenges the Victorian values of transparency and decency in identity by showing a deeply deceitful and untruthful character. “The cleverness of the multiplicity of the character of John/Jack/Ernest Worthing is not simply a farcical conceit […]” (The Importance of Being Out, pg. 15), indeed, it is simultaneously a source of comedy, a plot device, and a critique of society’s expectation of transparency and truthfulness.

How are Victorian characters’ identities represented in the opening of the play?

In the first act of The Importance of Being Earnest, several characters are established as almost satirical, or at least parodic, caricatures of the traditional values of the time. Chiefly among them is Algernon, who, in stark contrast to what one would assume to be puritanic values of the time, seems to revel in cynical debauchery, often espousing absurdly crude statements such as “The only way to behave to a woman is to make love to her, if she is pretty, and to someone else, if she is plain.” and, upon hearing that Jack has come to town to propose to Gwendolen, “I thought you had come up for pleasure? I call that business.”. All these statements establish him as an outlier; a man living with few constraints who seems to draw pleasure from disregarding social norms and disrespecting the traditions of the time concerning marriage and sexual normalcy. Similarly cynical, Lady Bracknell is also established in the first act as a domineering, assertive woman, equally jaded with the idea of marriage, stating that “I hadn’t been there since her poor husband’s death. I never saw a woman look so altered; she looks quite twenty years younger.”. Equally so, she seems attached to societal norms, telling Jack that “[The cloak-room] could hardly be regarded as an assured basis for a recognised position in good society.”, referring to Jack’s unfortunate circumstances of birth.