Comprehension – Sample Answer (2011-Text 2)

Follow this link (2011.Text2.ManOnWire.2) and then read carefully through the answers below. It is important to note the following: 

– how the points you have extracted from your reading (pen in hand) of the text can be organised into a clear, coherent and relevant answer.

– how this 15 mark answer is structured: begins with an introductory sentence that addresses the terms of the question, then three clear point/paragraphs, followed by a concluding sentence.

– how each individual point/paragraph is structured: begins with a point(P) sentence that outlines the point that you intend to make in relation to the question; followed by some examples or evidence(E) to back up the point you have made; finally an explanation(E) sentence that explains the relevance of the evidence.

– how this particular answer incorporates the language of visual literacy (marked below in italics.)

– how personal response is included where possible.


(ii) In your opinion, what aspects of the tight-rope walking event are captured in the three images (A, B and C) that accompany this extract? Refer to all three images in your answer.


In my opinion there are a number of aspects of the tight-rope walking event captured in the images.

    Firstly, Image A, a close-up of Petit himself, presumably as he is preparing to attempt this extraordinary feat, is a fascinating photograph and one that I feel captures a little of the mindset of the kind of person who would attempt such a thing. In this image, where he does not appear to be expecting to be the subject of the photo, he has a look of steely determination – for me, the photo brilliantly captures the sense of a man on a mission; somebody who will not be deterred from achieving his goal. I was also surprised at the sheer size of the rope. Physically it must have been extremely challenging to even set up the tight-rope walk, dealing with dangerous cross winds, amid the massive skyscrapers of the New York skyline.

     The terrifying reality of what he is preparing for in Image A is brilliantly captured in the longer shot of Image B. What I liked most about this image was the contrast with Image A. Here, close to the centre of the image, Petit has been reduced almost to the ‘pencil mark’ Colum McCann refers to. The image really captures not only the bravado of the walker, but also what the ‘tight little theatre’ of people below were so fascinated by. The death-defying nature of what Petit was attempting is perfectly captured here as his tiny silhouette, ‘shaped dark against the grey of the morning,’ is outlined against the sky, with the vast city lying terrifyingly far below.

      Image C neatly gives us a sense of what Colum McCann is also trying to capture in his writing. The people with ‘their necks craned’ appearing to be ‘staring upward at nothing at all’. What interested me most about this medium crowd shot is how unemotional everyone in the image looks. I feel it captures perfectly the sort of morbid fascination that we see when people ‘rubber neck’ at car accidents, ‘torn between the promise of doom and the disappointment of the ordinary.’ These people have broken from their journeys to see a tight-rope walk – something that is completely out of the ordinary, however it is going to play out.

  All three images, in their own way, capture crucial aspects of this extraordinary tight-rope walking event, clearly a momentous moment in the history of the city.


Note largely the same structure for the answer below and although this time each individual paragraph contains a variation on the previous structure: feature, followed by examples, followed by effectiveness of feature in this particular case. This time the focus is on the features of the writer’s style – in this particular case using the Language of Narration (see here for notes).

(iii) Identify and comment on the effectiveness of at least three features of Colum McCann’s writing style in this extract.

I feel that there are a number of effective techniques that Colum McCann uses to brilliantly bring this moment in the city’s history to life.

  Firstly, he uses some very memorable images to vividly recreate the scene for the reader. He gives us a simple but memorable image of ‘a flying chocolate wrapper touched against a fire hydrant,’ as well as characterising the typical commuter crowd as the ‘leather of briefcases rubbed against trouser legs’. I also really liked the way he personifies the grime of the city as ‘bits of trash sparred in the darkest reaches of the alley-ways.’ These sort of descriptive details really bring the variety and energy of 1970s New York to life for the reader.

     I was also really impressed by the comparative imagery that McCann draws on to help evoke the scene this particular morning for us. Using the metaphor ‘dark toy’, the author captures something of the sense that what is happening is some kind of fantasy – that it is somehow too bizarre to be real. I also really liked the simile the author conjures for the figure of the tight-rope walker, so miniscule high above the city streets: saying he is ‘like a pencil mark, most of which has been erased.’ I felt though that the simile that he finishes with is the most memorable of all, describing Petit taking his first step on the rope as being ‘like a man preparing to enter warm grey water’ brilliantly captures the freakish calmness of this amazing daredevil. Comparative imagery of this quality really draws us into the very mood of the scene and leaves us feeling part of this dramatic moment.

     The author’s use of sound also really helps evoke the chaos of the city on that particular morning. We are told about the ‘everyday noises. Car horns. Garbage trucks. Ferry whistles.’ Anybody who has spent time in any city, never mind New York, will be familiar with the racket that is the soundtrack to the day’s activities. Colum McCann also uses onomatopoeia to evoke that racket, describing the ‘thrum’ of the subway and the umbrella tips that ‘clinked’ against the pavement. The one that stuck out for me though was when he described the ‘hush’ that settled over the cops as Petit emerged with the bar in his hands. It really lent weight to how in awe they were of what they were witnessing. McCann’s use of sound really gave a more three-dimensional feel to this dramatic occasion.

     The feature of McCann’s style that I felt was most unique was the large variety of verbs that he used. The people watching ‘gathered,’ ‘tilted,’ ’nodded,’ ’affirmed,’ ’watched’; while the cops in the World Trade Centre were ‘sprinting,’ whipping’ out badges, before ‘pulling’ into the plaza as the redblue ‘dazzled’ the glass. Later the walker emerges onto the rope and begins ‘jiggling’ the bar,’ ‘testing’ its weight, before ‘bobbing’ it up and down in the air. Meanwhile the drama is heightened by the mention that the ends of the bar ‘swayed.’ Rarely has a writer used verbs so evocatively to bring a scene so brilliantly to life for the reader.

    The variety and effectiveness of the techniques Colum McCann uses in this extract clearly show him to be a writer of some talent and it certainly illustrates why ‘Let the Great World Spin’ is an award-winning novel.




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