Literary Genre 2016: Sample Answers

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Below you will find partially completed answers for two previous Leaving Cert Comparative questions on Literary Genre.

  1. Q.1 “Authors make use of a variety of techniques to shape memorable characters.” Identify and compare the techniques used to shape one or more memorable characters in at least two texts you have encountered on your comparative course. (70)

Literary genre is a fascinating area of study. It allows us readers to observe the craft of each of these authors as they use a variety of techniques to bring each text to life for us. For me, there is no doubt that one of the most effective ways of achieving good story telling is to create characters that come alive on page, stage or screen. The author’s ability to shape characters that will live long in the mind is at the heart of the three texts that I studied as part of the comparative course.’ Foster’ by Claire Keegan, ‘Death of a Superhero’ (DOAS) directed by Ian Fitzgibbon, and ‘A Doll’s House’ (ADH) by Henrik Ibsen all feature characters that in one way or another illuminate their respective texts.

All three texts, to one extent or another, rely on narrative perspective to bring some of these memorable characters to life on the page.  Although the characters in ‘Foster’ are far from dramatic, in their own way they are certainly fascinating – and identifiable, particularly from those of us from rural Ireland, despite the generation gap. Claire Keegan relies on the girl as a first-person narrator to bring these people and their varying personalities to life for us readers. Although this perspective can be limited, in that it doesn’t allow us much opportunity to pick up on the inner thoughts of the other characters, the girl’s keen eye still tells us an awful lot. In her initial journey she comments on the village where her father ‘lost our red shorthorn in a game of forty-five’, giving us a huge insight into the man that he is, and how their lives have been lived. Later the narrator tells us that ‘I want to say I’m afraid, but am too afraid to ask’, which presented me with a real understanding of how timid she has become, probably as a result of the difficulties in her family background. DOAS is also told from the point of view of one character. Although we don’t have the same access to his inner thoughts that he do with the girl in ‘Foster’, the narrative perspective in DOAS still allows us to watch as both Donald and many of those closest to him develop as characters in the text. The close-up view allows us to see him in particular evolve and grow as he comes to terms with his illness. We see him as he finally lets the anger loose in Adrian’s house and begins the process of accepting his cruel fate. From then on we are witness to many tender moments, including his sudden embrace of his mother and his concerns for both Shelly and his stressed father. The fact that the director presents many of these scenes in striking close-ups further adds to the overall effect.  ADH on the other hand – being a drama – offers a different narrative perspective again. Here not only dialogue, but stage directions, play a significant part in evoking and evolving the characters. Given the falseness of their lives, reading how Nora surreptitiously eats some Macaroons in the opening scene, I immediately got a sense of a central character who is living a highly contained and controlled life. All three authors take advantage of particular narrative perspectives to create striking characters that add greatly to the different texts.

Dialogue is also a hugely significant technique utilised by the authors to create memorable characters in all three texts. In ‘Foster’, we see the ignorance of Dan, with his harsh parting sentiment to his daughter, to ‘try not to fall into the fire, you’, contrasted with the kindness of Kinsella who calls her ‘petal’ and tells her not to ‘be afraid.’ Even though it was meant in a derogatory way, what summed up John Kinsella’s character best for me was the horrible neighbour Gertrude’s description of him as ‘softhearted’. Edna’s kindness and patience is also captured in the dialogue, when she tells the girl ‘that there are no secrets here’, and we see how she cares for the girl almost from the start when she tells her that ‘if you were mine, I’d never leave you in a house with strangers’. Dialogue is of equal importance for characterisation in DOAS. Donald’s affectionate description of his mother as a ‘mental control freak’ tells us as much about him as it does about her. We finally have a chance to see the real Donald, the vulnerable but compassionate individual that lay beneath the angry exterior. Later we see the strength of his personality when he tells Shelly as he nears his end that he wants her ‘to come to this spot’ when things are not going well for her. The empathy apparent is in striking contrast to the cold uncaring depressive Donald that we meet in the opening scenes. Even though there is a greater directness to the speech of these affluent Dubliners than the rural inhabitants of ‘Foster’, both texts heavily lean on direct speech to help create memorable characters. Dialogue also plays an equally significant role in ADH. Here we get to understand Nora as a character and her life by the titles her husband has for her: names like ‘song bird’, ‘lark’ and ‘squirrel’.  From my perspective it clearly shows the trapped and patronised nature of her existence, with little personal freedom or expression available to her. Here again, the characterisation is aided greatly by the effective use of dialogue, something that is central to all three texts.

The titles of all three texts also have an important role to play when it comes to beginning the process of creating memorable characters. The first impression we form of a text and the characters that inhabit it is often based on the titles that we are confronted with. This is certainly the case with ‘Foster’ where from the title I immediately had the impression of a living situation of a temporary nature, and already I had begun to wonder as to who the character that was likely to find themselves in that situation might be. It also ties in with one of the central ideas of the text – that when somebody comes from a situation of coldness and neglect, even a short stint in a home where love and kindness are standard, there is still an opportunity for a character to really blossom; and this is certainly the case when it comes to the girl and her time with the Kinsellas in ‘Foster’. DOAS is also a text where the title has particular significance in terms of how we see the main character. At the very beginning the dark superhero animated sequences seem a bit like an escapist fantasy for Donald. It is difficult at that stage to see this angry, suicidal young man as a superhero. However as the text progresses and we start to see the real Donald emerge – kind and caring in the face of terrifying adversity – we can finally start to see him as an authentic superhero. I was genuinely in awe of the way he more or less faces down death, refusing to allow his life to be poisoned by the crippling fear that impending death would generate in most people. Certainly by the end, the title seems perfectly apt for the type of memorable character that Donald turns out to be. Surprisingly, ADH has an equally appropriate title when it comes to giving us an impression of the central character and the life she leads. Nora is the ultimate doll, a plaything for her controlling husband; and just like the doll is expected to be confined to the limitations of the eponymous doll’s house, Nora too is trapped by the restrictions of both the house and the society in which she exists. It is this conflict that is at the centre of both her character and indeed the narrative itself. Overall, I found it pretty extraordinary just how significant a role the titles of each text played in helping get a perspective on these fascinating characters

PP#4 Setting influences characterisation

PP#5 Imagery influences characterisation

PP#6 Suspense influences characterisation

It is rare that a memorable narrative is created without a memorable character being created and that is certainly the case in all three texts that I studied as part of my comparative course.  The authors excelled in creating diverse and fascinating individuals, using a variety of different techniques. I was pleased to get the chance to see up close the craft that goes into good storytelling – and in particular to good character creation. The result is that Donald especially, as well as Kinsella, the girl – and even Nora – will certainly live long in the memory for me.

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2012 Literary Genre

  1. (a) With reference to one text on your comparative course, discuss the author’s use of setting (or settings) as an effective feature of good story telling. (30)

(a) There are a number of features that contribute to effective story telling in any narrative. Everything from characterisation to dialogue to suspense can play a crucial role. In the case of the texts that I studied for my comparative course, setting was a feature that a played a distinctive and significant part in making the texts so memorable. The first text where the author’s use of setting was centrally important was in ‘Foster’ by Claire Keegan.

One area of ‘Foster’ where setting was of central importance was in how the plot unfolded. The story is ultimately one of the diverse effects positive and negative environments can have on the development of an individual. It appeared to me that the shockingly casual way that the girl is offloaded on the Kinsellas ‘without ever mentioning that he would come back for me’ tells its own story of a world where after her mother has dealt with the never-ending tasks of the day, there is little time left to give her daughter the time and affection she needs; while Dan is more preoccupied with his gambling and drinking. It seemed to me that it is the conflict between the two settings – the one of poverty, neglect and dysfunction; and the one of ‘money to spare’, warmth and love – that is at the heart of this memorable story.

‘Foster’ is a text where setting also has a significant effect on the characterisation.

PP#3: Setting adds to suspense

PP#4: Setting influences dialogue

PP#5: Setting helps convey themes

PP#6: Setting helps create atmosphere

  Having studied and enjoyed Claire Keegan’s ‘long short story’ over a period of time, it became clear to me that of the many features that contributed to it being such a powerful story, setting was particularly effective.

(b) With reference to two other texts on your comparative course, compare how the authors use settings as an effective feature of good story telling.  (40)

(b) The significance of setting as an effective feature of good story telling was even more apparent in the other two texts I studied as part of my comparative course. These two texts –  ‘Death of a Superhero’ (BR), directed by Ian Fitzgibbon, and A Doll’s House (ADH) by Henrik Ibsen – were typical examples of how essential setting can be when it comes to creating stories that are both engaging and original.

The most effective role that the setting played in both texts was the manner in which both plots were heavily influenced by the environments in which they were set. In DOAS, we are immediately introduced to a strange mix of contemporary affluent Dublin and the dark foreboding apocalyptic world of Donald’s troubled mind. Both worlds serve as something of polar opposites – one focused on the life that Donald has left and the other preoccupied with keeping death at bay. Both parts – representing his struggle with both living and dying – were central to the plot of the text. The animated sequences of dark cityscapes were a part of the film that I really enjoyed; and they were particularly effective in helping us map the landscape of Donalds’s anguish as he battled with his mortality. Although the setting of ADH couldn’t appear to be more different than DOAS, it still proved to be of central importance to the plot of the text. I really felt that when everything else is stripped away the story is one of an individual (Nora) struggling to break free from the massive limitations imposed by the world in which she lived. It is all about the ‘little songbird’, breaking free from her most ‘sacred duties’. This sense of the central character locked in a struggle is common to both texts and crucial to each plot. So despite the huge contrasts between both settings, in each case the author is similarly effective in using setting to further the plot in both DOAS and ADH.

The setting of a text is also hugely effective in the development of the characters; and in both texts this is clearly the case. In DOAS………

PP#3: Setting adds to suspense

PP#4: Setting influences themes

PP#5: Setting helps convey dialogue

PP#6: Setting helps create atmosphere

Short closing paragraph

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English@BanagherCollege

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