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VCE Literature Notes

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Vincent Chiang

Author'
Vincent!Chiang!graduated!from!Melbourne!Grammar!School!in!2010!with!an!ATAR!of!99.85.!!!!!!!!!!!!
He!received!a!Study!Score!of!50!and!a!Premier's!Award!in!VCE!Literature.!
Vincent!can!be!reached!by!emailing!vincent@connecteducation.com.au.!

Contents'
Introduction!...............................................................................................................................!2!
Literary!Criticism!101:!What!are!we!actually!doing?!.................................................................!2!
Introduction!...........................................................................................................................!2!
The!Question!of!Authorship!..................................................................................................!3!
Interpreting!a!Text!.................................................................................................................!4!
Objectives!of!VCE!Literature!......................................................................................................!5!
Language!Engagement!...........................................................................................................!6!
"Reading!the!Text!in!the!Essay!and!the!Exam!......................................................................!7!
How!To!Analyse!Language!.....................................................................................................!9!
Dealing!with!the!Passages!...................................................................................................!12!
Suggested!Structure!................................................................................................................!14!
Introduction!.........................................................................................................................!14!
Passage!Analysis!..................................................................................................................!15!
Interpretation!......................................................................................................................!17!
Back!to!the!Overall!Essay!.....................................................................................................!18!
Conclusions!..............................................................................................................................!19!
Sample!Essays!..........................................................................................................................!20!
Hamlet!.................................................................................................................................!20!
Emma!...................................................................................................................................!26!
Frankenstein!........................................................................................................................!33!
Wolf!Notes!...........................................................................................................................!35!
Exam!Preparation!....................................................................................................................!37!
Introduction!.........................................................................................................................!37!
What!needs!to!be!prepared?!...............................................................................................!37!
Revising!the!Text!as!a!Whole!...............................................................................................!37!
Making!Notes!.......................................................................................................................!38!
External!References!and!Interpretation!Building!................................................................!39!
Writing!Practice!Essays!........................................................................................................!39!
Planning!Passages!................................................................................................................!40!
Before!and!During!the!Exam!................................................................................................!41!
Conclusions!..........................................................................................................................!42!
Sample!Interpretation!Notes!...................................................................................................!43!
Hamlet!.................................................................................................................................!43!
Emma!...................................................................................................................................!49!
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what!the!text!is!conveying;!instead,!we!analyse!the!actions!of!the!characters,!the!symbolism!of!the!
text,!and,!in!some!cases,!even!the!kinds!of!emotions!evoked!by!the!text!as!we!read.!!From!all!of!this,!
we!then!infer!the!various!messages!or!ideas!embedded!within!the!text.!
So!in!this!sense,!students!should!be!aware!that!in!explaining!a!work!of!literature,!what!is!actually!
being!explained!is!a!sort!of!communicative!act!!that!is,!explaining!the!message!being!told!from!
author!to!reader.!!As!such,!a!powerful!interpretation!will!also!utilise!this!within!its!language;!
mentioning!the!reader!and!the!author!in!some!sense!is!necessary!for!this!act!of!explanation!to!make!
sense!(see!the!sample!essays!or!continue!reading!for!examples!of!this!in!action).!
The!Question!of!Authorship!
Of!course,!at!this!point,!it!is!worth!bringing!up!the!actual!nature!of!the!author,!its!intentions,!and!the!
significance!of!said!intention!within!the!tradition!of!literary!criticism.!!For!much!of!its!history,!literary!
criticism!has!often!had!a!certain!fascination!with!the!author!as!a!figure!inseparable!from!the!text;!
indeed,!to!the!average!person,!it!is!a!common!criticism!of!literary!criticism!that!much!of!what!is!said!
about!a!work!is!completely!incongruous!with!what!the!author!intended.!
More!recently,!however,!this!textaauthor!relationship!has!become!increasingly!problematised.!!
Famously,!critics!in!the!mida20th!century!in!particular!attacked!the!idea!of!interpreting!a!work!in!
relation!to!its!authors!intention,!citing!such!an!act!as!literary!biography!rather!than!literary!criticism:!
after!all,!why!bother!talking!so!much!about!a!text,!if!one!could!simply!ask!the!author!what!it!
meant?!!Even!more!broadly!speaking,!however,!challenges!to!the!significance!of!authorial!
intention!have!cited!the!fact!that!we!do!not!necessarily!consider!a!speechmakers!intentions!in!
making!a!speech!in!interpreting!the!meaning!of!the!speech:!if!a!speechmaker!communicates!their!
idea!clearly,!then!the!speech!is!successful!to!their!intention,!and!if!the!idea!is!miscommunicated,!
then!the!speech!simply!fails!to!do!so.!!This!has!no!effect!on!what!listeners!will!actually!get!out!of!the!
speech!as!an!entity!in!and!of!itself.!!The!same!notion!can!easily!be!applied!to!literature!as!well:!
somebody!may!be!trying!to!convey!a!certain!feeling!through!a!poem,!but!that!does!not!mean!that!
that!is!what!the!poem!is!actually!about!to!a!reader.!
I!mention!all!of!this,!because!within!VCE!Literature,!there!is!perhaps!too!much!of!a!tendency!on!
students!behalf!to!fall!back!on!the!authors!life!or!circumstances!as!a!means!of!interpreting!their!
work!(no!doubt!in!part!due!to!the!way!the!Views!and!Values!SAC!is!designed).!!A!powerful!
interpretation,!at!least!within!the!VCE!Literature!context,!should!try!its!best!to!avoid!this!pitfall;!after!
all,!examiners!are!prone!to!awarding!originality!as!much!as!anything!else,!and!so!a!particularly!
creative,!insightful!interpretation!of!a!text!which!does!not!fall!back!upon!the!authors!life!will!be!
especially!well!received.!
This!is!not,!however,!to!say!that!the!author!is!completely!irrelevant!within!the!VCE!course.!!For!
examiners,!there!is!an!expectation!that!students!will!still!be!aware!of!the!social!context!from!which!a!
literary!text!was!produced:!Jane!Austen!criticism!must!still!be!aware!of!Regency!England,!Greek!
Tragedy!criticism!of!Ancient!Greece,!and!so!forth.!!Indeed,!it!is!generally!frowned!upon!at!VCE!level!
to!incorporate!interpretations!of!a!text!which!were!not!conceivable!conceptually!at!the!time!of!the!
texts!production!!there!is!simply!no!scope!here!(unlike!perhaps!in!the!real!world!of!academic!
criticism)!for!a!reading!of!Shakespeare!as!a!Freudian!psychoanalyst.!!This!is!not,!however,!!to!say!that!
ideas!which!have!gained!credence!after!the!release!of!texts!cannot!be!utilised!in!relation!to!a!text:!

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How!to!Analyse!Language!
Often,!students!struggle!most!with!actually!identifying!specific!language!devices!and!technical!
features!within!their!passages.!!This!section!is!intended!to!provide!a!general!introduction!to!what!are!
likely!to!be!the!most!useful!and!widely!applicable!elements!of!analysable!language!for!students.!
Fundamentally!speaking,!methods!of!analysing!language!can!be!divided!into!what!three!modes,!
which!will!be!dubbed!for!the!purposes!of!this!guide!technical,!melodic,!and!construction.!
Technical:!
The!term!technical!here!refers!to!methods!of!language!engagement!which!rely!on!identifying!specific!
techniques!or!language!devices,!such!as!metaphor,!symbolism,!and!so!forth.!!In!engaging!with!
how!these!techniques!have!been!used,!students!utilising!this!method!of!language!analysis!should!
attempt!to!tease!out!how!specific!techniques!have!been!used!to!elicit!a!certain!aesthetic!or!
intellectual!reaction!from!the!reader:!what!is!this!metaphor!reminding!me!of,!how!do!I!feel!in!
reaction!to!it,!and!what!idea!is!placed!into!my!head!as!a!result?!!Students!who!are!familiar!with!the!
Using!Language!to!Persuade!essay!task!in!VCE!English!should!be!aware!that!the!process!in!this!case!is!
similar!to!the!one!there;!in!this!case,!however,!students!are!expected!to!analyse!how!language!
positions!readers!to!interpret&a&specific&meaning!in!the!text,!as!opposed!to!how!it!positions!readers!
to!a!certain!argumentative!perspective.!!!
Listed!below!are!some!common!techniques!and!explanations!of!how!they!can!be!utilised!for!
analysis:!
Imagery!!Engaging!with!imagery!is!essentially!as!easy!as!asking!what!kind!of!picture!does!this!
word/do!these!words!paint!in!my!mind!when!I!read!them!and!writing!down!the!answer.!!Of!course,!
the!resulting!picture!should!then!be!related!to!a!particular!idea,!or!perhaps!a!particular!mood,!
which!the!passage!is!trying!to!capture!in!relation!to!something.!!!
Metaphor/Symbolism!!Engaging!with!metaphor!and!symbolism!is!essentially!an!extended!form!of!
dealing!with!images;!in!this!case,!students!are!analysing!the!relationship!between!one!particular!
word,!action,!or!image,!with!another!idea!within!the!broader!scheme!of!the!text.!!Essentially,!the!
difference!between!analysing!imagery!and!analysing!metaphor/symbolism!is!that!the!latter!is!more!
abstract,!and!so!it!may!be!advisable!at!times!for!students!to!engage!with!the!different!layers!of!
meaning!for!any!given!metaphor/symbol.!!!
Irony!!Most!students!seem!to!understand!to!some!extent!what!irony!is!about;!however,!few!are!
able!to!clearly!define!it.!!In!fact,!there!are!three!distinctive!forms!of!irony,!and!students!should!be!
careful!to!use!them!appropriately:!
1.!Dramatic!irony!!the!most!common!form!of!irony,!dramatic!irony!is!when!the!
audience/reader!of!a!text!understands!the!meaning!of!a!certain!line!or!action!differently!to!
how!a!character!in!the!text!does,!due!to!the!audience!possessing!knowledge!that!the!
character!does!not!possess.!!This!can!in!particular!draw!attention!to!the!ignorance!of!
characters,!or!perhaps!heighten!the!audiences!sympathy!for!a!character!if!they!are!unaware!
of!a!certain!negative!occurrence!which!has!taken!place!around!them.!

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P9DInterpretation&from&Passage&C&
Obviously,!these!paragraphs!are!likely!to!be!shorter!than!those!in!VCE!English.!!Generally!speaking,!it!
is!recommended!that!a!paragraph!is!around!130a150!words,!although!this!will!obviously!vary!from!
essay!to!essay!as!well.!!!
Also!note!that!there!is!no!introduction!or!conclusion.!!In!the!Close!Analysis!(at!any!level),!it!is!not!
necessary!to!introduce!or!conclude!the!concepts!to!be!discussed:!instead,!students!are!encouraged!
to!immediately!engage!with!the!passage!itself,!right!from!the!beginning!of!the!essay.!!!

Specific!Paragraph!Outline:!
Superficially,!the!outline!provided!above!implies!that!the!essay!is!dominated!by!two!main!types!of!
paragraphs!!Passage!Analysis!and!Interpretation.!!Whilst!this!is!true,!there!are!particular!
nuances!in!both!types!of!paragraphs!which!must!be!addressed.!!!

Passage!Analysis:!
Essentially,!the!Passage!Analysis!segment!of!this!essay!structure!is!where!the!student!should!do!the!
majority!of!their!language!engagement.!!With!that!said,!however,!writing!the!Passage!Analysis!
paragraphs!is!not!simply!a!matter!of!engaging!with!language!at!random:!instead,!each!paragraph!
should!revolve!around!a!certain!idea!which!a!myriad!of!language!devices!allude!towards.!!!
Students!should!also!ensure!that!the!two!Passage!Analysis!paragraphs!for!each!miniaessay!do!not!
overlap.!!Generally!speaking,!any!given!passage!will!have!at!least!two!major!ideas!worth!analysing,!
and!will!have!more!than!enough!literary!devices!to!engage!with!for!two!paragraphs!worth!as!well.!!!
In!terms!of!a!sentenceaby!sentence!outline:!
Opening!sentence(s):!Outline!the!main!idea!of!the!paragraph.!!If!this!is!the!first!paragraph!of!the!
threeapart!miniaessay,!outline!which!passage!is!being!dealt!with.!!If!this!is!the!first!paragraph!of!the!
essay,!make!sure!to!mention!the!texts!title.!!!
Example:!
Passage&One&encapsulates&the&state&of&Denmark,&centralising&Claudius&and&his&plots&
in&order&to&illuminate&the&uncertainty&prevalent&throughout&the&entirety&of&Hamlet.&
Whilst!this!sentence!may!sound!like!it!is!merely!summarising!the!passage,!it!is!also!functioning!in!
other!ways.!!The!latter!part!of!the!sentence!in!order!to!illuminate!the!uncertainty!prevalent!
throughout!the!entirety!of!Hamlet!signposts!to!the!examiner!that!the!paragraph!will!be!engaging!
with!various!language!devices!which!deal!with!the!notion!of!uncertainty.!
Next!few!sentences:!Engage!with!the!language.!!Begin!by!mentioning!a!specific!literary!device!and!
quote,!analyse,!and!then!draw!towards!meaning.!!Remember!again!to!focus!on!the!relationship!
between!writer!and!reader.!!If!this!is!the!first!paragraph,!try!to!reference!at!least!one!(if!not!both)!of!
the!other!passages.!!Aim!to!have!at!least!one!interapassage!link!every!two!paragraphs.!!!

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recorded!for!the!later!purposes!of!establishing!and!further!developing!interpretations.!!Even!if!the!
student!is!using!the!study!guide!approach,!it!may!be!worthwhile!to!write!down!dot!points!which!
come!to!mind!as!the!student!reaacquaints!themself!with!the!narrative.!!Students!may!also!find!it!
helpful!to!underline!within!the!text!specific!language!features!which!may!stand!out!for!the!passage!
analysis!component!of!the!Close!Analysis.!!Finally,!it!is!well!worth!students!time!to!pick!out!passages!
which!look!extremely!important!and/or!likely!to!appear!on!the!exam,!and!to!make!a!list!of!them.!

Making!Notes!
Somewhat!intuitively,!students!should!be!making!two!sorts!of!notes:!notes!for!language!
engagement,!and!notes!for!interpretation.!!Realistically!speaking,!the!latter!is!going!to!be!far!more!
demanding!and!timeaconsuming!in!terms!of!construction,!and!students!should!be!well!aware!of!this!
fact!before!approaching!their!noteamaking!process.!!!
To!begin!with,!students!working!on!language!engagement!notes!should!make!a!list!of!common!
literary!devices!and!linguistic!constructions!which!may!appear!throughout!a!text.!!Generally!
speaking,!there!will!be!aspects!of!language!which!apply!to!most!texts,!such!as!irony,!symbolism,!
metaphor,!imagery,!and!so!on.!!These!sorts!of!common!devices!should!be!immediately!listed,!and!
students!should!furthermore!make!a!list!of!the!most!prominent!examples!of!them!within!the!text,!
giving!references!to!where!they!occur!precisely!and!what!sort!of!function!they!have!in!eliciting!
meaning.!
Once!this!is!done,!students!should!begin!to!look!for!more!advanced,!textaspecific!devices.!!These!
sorts!of!devices!may!be!more!easily!analysable,!and!they!may!also!be!more!difficult!to!analyse.!!
Nevertheless,!these!devices!should!be!considered!a!trump!card!of!sorts,!as!they!reflect!a!more!
sophisticated,!deeper!understanding!of!a!particular!texts!construction.!!As!an!example,!this!sort!of!
device!could!be!Jane!Austens!usage!of!dashes!and!punctuation,!or!Shakespeares!juggling!of!prose!
and!verse!within!his!characters!speech.!!Students!should!also!be!reminded!that!form!is!usable!as!an!
advanced!feature!of!the!text!which!may!be!worth!analysing,!and!it!is!even!recommended!that!
students!revise!concepts!such!as!theatricality,!the!structure!of!a!novel!or!of!a!poem!etc.!!!
Realistically!speaking,!this!amount!of!noteamaking!is!all!a!student!will!need!in!relation!to!language!
engagement.!!Interpretation,!however,!necessitates!a!much!more!laborious!approach.!!As!a!
preliminary!exercise,!students!preparing!their!notes!on!interpretation!should!outline!a!number!of!
major!themes!which!they!have!found!within!their!chosen!texts.!!Students!should!then!outline!a!
number!of!ideas!which!the!text!seems!to!suggest!in!relation!to!these!themes.!!One!way!of!doing!this!
is!to!refer!to!the!important!passages!list!that!the!Revising!the!Text!as!a!Whole!section!referred!
to:!what!kind!of!ideas!can!be!interpreted!from!these!passages!in!relation!to!these!themes?!!Using!
this!method!to!appropriate!ideas!is!effective,!in!that!on!the!exam,!students!will!have!to!reach!their!
interpretations!from!the!passages!anyway.!!!
Once!students!have!completed!this!task,!they!should!aim!to!save!all!of!the!ideas!(interpretations)!
which!they!have!collated!into!a!single!document.!!This!will!form!the!basis!of!their!notes.!!As!a!general!
rule!of!thumb,!students!should!probably!have!at!a!very!bare!minimum!five!distinct!readings!of!any!
given!text.!!Students!wishing!to!prepare!even!further!should!aim!to!prepare!variations!of!their!
interpretations,!which!may!be!more!appropriate!for!other!passages!and/or!sections!of!the!text.!!At!

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