IBDP English A: Language & Literature

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  • WT1 HL S3 (Things Fall Apart)
  • The old course
  • Assessment (2020 exams)
  • Written tasks
  • WT1 Samples

The following Written Task is taken from Part 4. The student envisions a scene between Okonkwo and his father early in the novel Things Fall Apart. In fact, the student embeds the actual text from the novel at the start and end of the Written Task – in italics – to show the examiner where this fictional addition to the novel would take place.It is a smart move, as it not only contextualizes what he has written, but...

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IB English Language and Literature A HL: Written Task 2

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Related Papers

Cherise Stewart

hl essay things fall apart

International Journal of Development and Management Review

Uchenna Uwakwe

Md. M A H B U B U L Alam

Chinua Achebe's magnum opus Things Fall Apart reflects authentic presentation of the Igbo society. Various social, political, economic, religious, psychological and personal issues of the Igbo people have been put forward by the author in this ethnographic novel. Achebe has depicted these issues from the perspective of both an observer and a critic. The ethnographic depiction of the Igbo life indicates that Chinua Achebe has tried to maintain his objective stance in the novel. He is not biased at all. It is evident in his contrastive presentation of the culture and beliefs of the Igbo; in one hand, he presents the constructive and rational side of the Igbo, on the other hand, he highlights their follies and irrational beliefs too. Achebe as an original Igbo expectedly presents the riches and potentialities of the Igbo society. But at the same time he is not uncritical of the limitations of his society where he belongs to. The present study has dealt with Achebe's audacious attempt to present the limitations and follies of Igbo life in Things Fall Apart. Abstract-Chinua Achebe's magnum opus Things Fall Apart reflects authentic presentation of the Igbo society. Various social, political, economic, religious, psychological and personal issues of the Igbo people have been put forward by the author in this ethnographic novel. Achebe has depicted these issues from the perspective of both an observer and a critic. The ethnographic depiction of the Igbo life indicates that Chinua Achebe has tried to maintain his objective stance in the novel. He is not biased at all. It is evident in his contrastive presentation of the culture and beliefs of the Igbo; in one hand, he presents the constructive and rational side of the Igbo, on the other hand, he highlights their follies and irrational beliefs too. Achebe as an original Igbo expectedly presents the riches and potentialities of the Igbo society. But at the same time he is not uncritical of the limitations of his society where he belongs to. The present study has dealt with Achebe's audacious attempt to present the limitations and follies of Igbo life in Things Fall Apart.

Idil Journal of Art and Language

Cigdem Pala

Journal of Literature, Languages and Linguistics(JLLL)

Jean Damascene Ngendahayo

Things Fall Apart (TFA) is the novel written and published by Chinua Achebe in 1958 for recounting all social and cultural life and beliefs as well as the arrival of British Colonizers in the Igbo society of Nigeria. This paper aims at identifying the effects of the protagonist’s masculine perception in Things Fall Apart as the sign of Igbo society breakup. Okonkwo, the protagonist of the TFA is said in the whole novel and his different behaviors are still analyzed until now. This study elucidates the Okonkwo’s resistance against the British colonizers where he refuses to submit himself to them after slaying their messenger and prefers to die as a man by hanging himself, the act the Igbo society consider like an abomination. Along with that, the research analyzes how much Okonkwo scorns the women by considering them like weak people. Based on the analytical findings, this research reveals how his masculine perceptions portray the breakup of Igbo society socially and culturally as it has been noticed from TFA where he often blames those who behave like a woman among his clan members. The protagonist’s suicide openly exhibits the end of traditional Igbo society for the benefit of the British colonizers.

African Studies Review

Benjamin Ofori-Yeboah

IOSR Journals

African literature is a manifestation of African society, culture, historical and political experience. African literary artists therefore aim at among others, projecting their culture to the world. This is a feat that Achebe and his contemporaries have accomplished with admiration. Thus, an African artist functions in the African society as the recorder of the mores and experience of his people, society and the voice of vision of his time. These are the parameters for judging Achebe in his Things Fall Apart. Working through the canons of the Hallidayan Systemic linguistics and Stylistics, this exploration reveals specifically African admirable and commendable system of government, justice, religion, and respect for life, love and marriage, even before colonization. Though Achebe's hallmark is the revitalization, exposition and celebration of the African cultural heritage, he nevertheless reveals those intolerable aspects of his Igbo culture that needed to be eliminated without hesitation.

Sanjana S I N G H Rathore

African Literature has a long and rich history, dating back to ancient times when stories and myths were passed down orally from one generation to the other. In the 20th century, African literature appeared to gain recognition on a global scale, thanks to the works of writers such as Chinua Achebe, Ben Okri, Buchi Emecheta, and Wole Soyinka. One of the defining features of African literature is its focus on themes and issues that are central to African life and culture, such as colonialism, racism, identity, and post-colonialism. African literature often draws on traditional African storytelling techniques and incorporates elements of African languages and oral traditions.

International Journal of Languages Education

Bülent C Tanrıtanır


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ELA  /  11th Grade  /  Unit 2: Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart

Students read Chinua Achebe's widely acclaimed Things Fall Apart as they examine themes of identity, culture, and colonialism, analyzing the author's careful choice of words and symbolism.

  • Text and Materials

Key Knowledge

Unit summary.

Chinua Achebe, often called the father of modern African literature, has had an impact on readers around the world and on a generation of novelists who have come behind him. His tragic novel, Things Fall Apart , is one of the most widely-read books in the world. The novel’s message about colonialism is echoed and built upon by many of the non-European authors students will read throughout 11th and 12th grade English .

In this unit, students will examine how Achebe develops the complex themes of identity, culture and colonialism, and the individual and community throughout the novel. They will analyze his craft by looking deeply at character development, word choices, and symbols, examining how the author uses these devices to comment on the devastating impact of European colonialism on the culture and peoples of Africa. Along with the novel, students will read several articles and poems that will help to deepen their understanding of the author, the text, and the themes. They will be required to show their deep understanding of both the content and skills of the unit through a mid-unit essay and a unit test.

Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Book:  Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (Penguin Books, 2017)

Supporting Materials

Excerpt:  Igbo Culture and History by Don C. Ohadike

Book:  Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Book:  Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Algonquin Books, 2012)

Poem:  “Mango Seedling” by Chinua Achebe

Poem:  “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats

Article:  “Chinua Achebe, African Literary Titan, Dies at 82” by Jonathan Kandell (New York Times, 2013)

Article:  “How to Write about Africa” by Binyavanga Wainaina (Granta, 2006)

Speech:  “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s 'Heart of Darkness'” by Chinua Achebe

This assessment accompanies Unit 2 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Download Content Assessment

Download Content Assessment Answer Key

Intellectual Prep

Suggestions for how to prepare to teach this unit

  • Read and annotate the novel.
  • Take the final exam, including writing the essay.
  • Read all of the supporting texts for this unit.

Build Background Knowledge

  • A suggested article to build your background knowledge on Chinua Achebe is  "After Empire"  by Ruth Franklin (The New Yorker)

Essential Questions

The central thematic questions addressed in the unit or across units

  • Identity: In what ways are human beings similar across culture? In what ways does culture impact identity?
  • The Individual and Community: What is community? What holds it together? What tears it apart? What is the relationship between the individual and community? Why is maintaining balance in this relationship so important?
  • Culture and Colonialism: What is the impact of European colonialism on the characters in the novel? On the people and cultures of Africa?

Writing Focus Areas

Specific skills to focus on when giving feedback on writing assignments

Spiraling Literary Analysis Writing Focus Area

  • Developing a unique thesis statement to convey an idea about a text
  • Selecting the most relevant pieces of text to support an argument
  • Explaining accurately how the evidence supports the argument

Related Teacher Tools:

Grades 9-12 Composition Writing Rubric

Literary terms, text-based vocabulary, idioms and word parts to be taught with the text

Literary Terms

proverb, epigraph, theme, characterization, character motivation, conflict, mood, setting, tone, juxtaposition, foil, perspective, point of view, irony, satire, tragedy, tragic or fatal flaw

Roots and Affixes

ora- (orator, oracle) and ex- (exile, expedient), im- (impenetrable, impotent)

chapter 1: plaintive (6), prowess (8, 38); chapter 2: amiss (9), discern (9), potent (11), capricious (13); chapter 4: benevolent (26), repentant (31), abomination (31); chapter 5: morality (36), subdue (42); chapter 6: frenzy (47), taut (48); chapter 7: harbinger (56), copiously (56); chapter 8: valor (65), succulent (71); chapter 9: malevolence (79), specious (80); chapter 10: trifle (94); chapter 11: impenetrably (95), benumbed (107); chapter 12: prominent (119); chapter 13: lamentation (12), inadvertent (124), calamity (125); chapter 14: requisite (130); exile (133); chapter 15: fugitive (138), harbinger (139), abomination (141); chapter 16: derisive (146), callow (147); chapter 17: fetish (149), miscreant (152), effeminate (153), annihilation (153); chapter 18: convert (154), heathen (157), ostracize (159); chapter 20: indignity (175), wrath (177); chapter 21: dispensation (178), zeal (178), prestige (182); chapter 21: desecrate (186, 190), imminent (188), pacified (191); chapter 23: palaver (193), ominous (196), sonorous (196); chapter 24: vengeance (199), valor (203); chapter 25: superfluous (206)

Idioms and Cultural References

Text: colonialism (for context), harmattan (1, 5), share-cropping (22) 

There are a number of Igbo words and phrases used in the novel. Students should use the glossary at the back of the book for these Igbo words—they are italicized in the text.

Content Knowledge and Connections

Fishtank ELA units related to the content in this unit.

  • European colonization of Africa
  • Igbo culture
  • Chinua Achebe as a writer and social commentator

Future Fishtank ELA Connections

  • 12th Grade ELA - The God of Small Things
  • Purple Hibiscus — p. 1
  • Heart of Darkness — p. 8
  • “Chinua Achebe, African Literary Titan, Dies at 82”

Infer Achebe’s purpose(s) for writing Things Fall Apart.

Gather basic information about the Igbo people and the impact of European colonization on the Igbo.

  • “The Second Coming”
  • Things Fall Apart pp. 3 – 8

Predict the major themes of the novel.

Analyze the author’s characterization of the protagonist, Okonkwo.

Analyze the continued characterization of Okonkwo in chapter 2.

Describe how the author uses setting, nonlinear plot, and characterization to develop theme.

  • Things Fall Apart pp. 16 – 22 — Chapter 3
  • “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s 'Heart of Darkness'”

Identify examples of techniques Achebe uses to counteract Europeans’ simplistic stereotypes of Africans.

Analyze Achebe’s portrayal of women in chapter 4.

Trace Achebe’s development of Okonkwo’s tragic flaw.

Students will analyze how Achebe further develops Okonkwo’s hyper masculinity as a fatal flaw in chapter 5.

Explain how the author establishes the significance of the wrestling match to the people of Umuofia.

Analyze Okonkwo’s decision to disobey the Oracle and how this decision develops theme.

Analyze Achebe’s use of Obierika as a foil for Okonkwo.

Analyze the importance of children to the lives of women in Umuofia.

Explain the role of the egwugwu in the Umuofian judicial system.

Analyze the role of women in Umuofian society.

Explain how Achebe develops the theme of the individual and community in chapter 11.

Craft an essay that answers the prompt.

Analyze how Achebe develops the importance of strong and harmonious ties to the Igbo community.

Explain the development of Okonkwo’s tragic flaw in chapter 13.

Trace the author’s continued development of the importance of strong harmonious ties within a community.

Analyze the shift in tone toward the missionaries over the course of chapter 16.

Analyze the symbolism of fire as it relates to Achebe’s characterization of Okonkwo’s relationships.

Analyze how Achebe develops both the theme of community and colonization in these chapters.

  • Things Fall Apart — Chapter 20
  • “Mango Seedling”

Analyze the disagreement between Okonkwo and Obierika, explaining how Achebe uses it to build theme.

Analyze Okonkwo’s reaction to his village and the village’s reaction to Okonkwo.

Students will be able to analyze how Achebe brings the conflict to a climax in these chapters.

Analyze how the author develops Okonkwo’s character in chapter 24.

  • Things Fall Apart — Chapter 25
  • “How to Write about Africa”

Analyze Achebe’s use of irony and narration to communicate theme at the end of the novel.

Review major themes and events of the text in order to review for tomorrow’s exam.

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Common Core Standards

Core standards.

The content standards covered in this unit

Language Standards

L.11-12.4 — Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grades 11—12 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.

L.11-12.5 — Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

L.11-12.6 — Acquire and use accurately general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.

Reading Standards for Informational Text

RI.11-12.2 — Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.

RI.11-12.3 — Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequence of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact and develop over the course of the text.

RI.11-12.6 — Determine an author's point of view or purpose in a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective, analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness, or beauty of the text.

Reading Standards for Literature

RL.11-12.1 — Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

RL.11-12.2 — Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.

RL.11-12.3 — Analyze the impact of the author's choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).

RL.11-12.5 — Analyze how an author's choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

RL.11-12.6 — Analyze a case in which grasping point of view requires distinguishing what is directly stated in a text from what is really meant (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement).

Speaking and Listening Standards

SL.11-12.1 — Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11—12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

SL.11-12.2 — Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) in order to make informed decisions and solve problems, evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source and noting any discrepancies among the data.

SL.11-12.3 — Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used.

Writing Standards

W.11-12.1 — Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

W.11-12.9 — Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

W.11-12.10 — Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

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Things Fall Apart

October 4, 2020

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3. Sample Essay Topics

4. A+ Essay Topic Breakdown

Things Fall Apart is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response .

Things Fall Apart is set in a fictional group of Igbo villages called Umuofia, around the beginning of the twentieth century. The first half of the novel is dedicated to an almost anthropological depiction of Igbo village life and culture through following the life of the protagonist Okonkwo . Okonkwo is the greatest wrestler and warrior alive in the nine villages and beyond. He has dedicated his life to achieving status and proving his strength to avoid becoming like his father Unoka – a lazy, improvident, but gentle man. Weakness is Okonkwo’s greatest fear. After men in another village kill a woman from Umuofia, a boy named Ikemefuna is given to Umuofia as compensation and lives in Okonkwo’s compound until the Gods decide his fate. Ikemefuna quickly becomes part of Okonkwo’s family; he is like a brother to Okonkwo’s son Nwoye and is secretly loved by Okonkwo as well. Over the next three years, the novel follows Okonkwo’s family through harvest seasons, religious festivals, cultural rituals, and domestic disputes. Okonkwo is shown to be more aggressive than other Igbo men and is continually criticized and rebuked by the village for his violence and temper . When the Oracle of the Hills and Caves decides that Ikemefuna must be killed, Okonkwo is warned by a respected elder to have no hand in the boy’s death because Ikemefuna calls him ‘father’. However, afraid of being thought weak, when Ikemefuna runs to Okonkwo in hope of protection, Okonkwo delivers the fatal blow. Ikemefuna’s brutal death deeply distresses Nwoye who becomes afraid of his father. 

At the end of Part One, Okonkwo accidentally kills a clansman at a funeral after his faulty gun explodes and is exiled to his motherland, Mbanta. During his exile, British missionaries arrive in Mbanta and establish a church. Nwoye, disillusioned with his own culture and Gods after Ikemefuna’s death, is attracted to Christianity and is an early convert . This is a heartbreaking disappointment to Okonkwo. When Okonkwo and his family return from exile after seven years they find that the missionaries and colonial governors have established Umuofia as the center of their new colonial government . Clashes of culture and morality occur, and as the British make the Igbo more dependent on them through introducing trade and formal education, the Igbo way of life is continually undermined . When a Christian convert unmasks an egwugwu during a tribal ritual, a sin amounting to the death of an ancestral spirit, the egwugwu burn down the village church. The men who destroyed the church are arrested and humiliated by the District Commissioner, and Okonkwo beheads a court messenger at a village council in rebellion. When none of his clansmen rise with him against the British, Okonkwo realizes his culture and way of life is lost and commits suicide in despair. Suicide is a crime against the Earth Goddess, Ani , so Okonkwo is left to rot above ground in the Evil Forest, like his father Unoka – a shameful fate he spent his life desperate to avoid. The final paragraph, written from the perspective of the District Commissioner, reduces Okonkwo’s life to a single sentence about his death in his planned book The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of The Lower Niger . Achebe has filled an entire novel with evidence of the complexity and sophistication of Okonkwo’s individual and social life and the District Commissioner’s casual dismissal and belittling of him causes us to flinch with horror and dismay. This is a metaphor for the reduction of Igbo culture in the eyes of its colonizers.  

The title gives away the plot of the novel and anticipates the collapse of Okonkwo and his society. Things Fall Apart is about the connection between the tragic downfall of Okonkwo , who fate and temperamental weakness combine to destroy, and the destruction of his culture and society as the Igbo way of life is assailed by forces they do not understand and are unprepared to face . 

A Full and Fair Representation of Ibo Traditional Life

The first part of the novel presents the traditional world of the Ibo with specificity and vibrancy . The imbedded descriptions of the patterns of interaction, daily routines and seasonal rituals of Ibo life creates an overwhelming impression of community and shared culture. We see the established system of values which regulates collective life and how closely related this is to natural cycles and environments. The Ibo’s moral values are contained in sayings and stories, rituals and festivals. Achebe depicts a comprehensive and sustaining social, spiritual, economic, agricultural, and legal order. (Chapters to consider: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 10, 12, 19)

While Ibo society is marked by the internal coherence of its organization and the poetry of its rituals, this coherence is partially formed by the repression of the individual and the inflexibility of social norms. Achebe shows the violence, dehumanization, and discrimination vulnerable groups experience in Umuofia due to the rigid adherence to tradition and superstition. This includes the customary abandonment of newborn twins, the sacrificial murder of Ikemefuna in the name of justice, and the discriminatory caste structure that denies inclusion to the osu (Chapters 7, 18).

Obierika’s questioning of the stern logic of some customs suggests that many laws are enacted from a sense of duty and inevitability rather than from a firm conviction in their justice or efficacy (Chapter 13). The cultural demand for conformity places a huge moral and psychological burden on individuals who must reckon with the sometimes heartless will of the gods . This internal tension is epitomized in the character of Okonkwo, discussed below.  

Clash of Cultures

When the Ibo are confronted with rival institutions a mirror is held up to their society. Fall Apart honestly considers and reflects on Ibo practices, customs, values, and beliefs. The novel is a frank articulation of the nature of the African past and its relevance to the present and future . Achebe wants to illuminate Ibo culture to dispense with lingering colonial prejudices, but he is not sentimental or nostalgic for the past. Instead he is shifting through it to identify the valuable aspects of Ibo culture to bring into the future and help define Nigeria’s post-independence identity .

Achebe recognises that the colonial encounter which led, swiftly and seemingly inevitably, to the disintegration of Ibo culture revealed its profound weaknesses. Achebe suggests that with the arrival and contrast against another culture, a cultural reckoning was inevitable for the Ibo. However, cultural reckoning and revaluation is not the same thing as destruction and erasure . The British colonialists were a hostile force seeking cultural domination. By pointing out some of the weaknesses of the Ibo tradition, Achebe in no way excuses or justifies colonial domination or diminishes the pain and tragedy of the cultural erasure that occurred.

Colonial Domination

The anti-colonial position and purpose of the novel is powerfully clear. Achebe depicts the process of colonial initial establishment and the resultant cultural suspension of Ibo society. The British colonizers believed in their inherent cultural superiority and arrived in Umuofia with the intention to “bring civilization” (p.151) to Africa. They wanted to achieve full control by supplanting Ibo religion and culture with their own.

The British arrived quietly and non-confrontationally with their religion and the clans allow them to stay, misinterpreting their silence as peaceability . An Ibo proverb warns that there is danger in silence and nothing to fear from someone who reveals their motivations (Chapter 15). Obierika recognizes how the white man’s strategy disguised their intentions and gave them the freedom to grow and fortify. He explains the political consequences for the clan, now divided by the new religion, they can no longer act as one (Chapter 20). Without strength in unity, the Ibo are vulnerable to further encroachment of British control in their other institutions .

As only a small number of Ibo initially converted to Christianity, the church was only able to establish itself firmly in the villages because of the Ibo’s religious tolerance (Chapter 2, 22). Mr Brown learns about Ibo religion and his willful blindness to its complexity shows how the colonizers justified their colonial rule and imposition through labelling their subjects ‘primitive’ . Mr Brown understands that Christianity held no appeal for people well integrated in Ibo society, concluding that “a frontal attack on it would not succeed” (p.132) and thus introduces education as a new method of cultural displacement and erasure . Additionally, trade also increased the Ibo’s dependence on the introduced economy (Chapter 21).

From the very first introduction of the colonizers we understand that violence and fear were tools of oppression and dominance , forcing the Ibo to submit and keeping them unresisting (Chapter 15, 20, 23). Not only do the British impose foreign rule on the Ibo and judge them by standards they do not recognize, the District Commissioner’s personal brand of ‘justice’ is corrupt and hypocritical. When the elders are arbitrarily and falsely imprisoned, he tells them that what they have done “must not happen in the dominion of our queen” (p.141), combining personal corruption with a state apparatus of paternalism, hegemony, and occupation (Chapter 20, 23).

Dogmatic zealot, Reverend Smith, encourages fanaticism in his converts, motivating them to insult and humiliate the clan (Chapter 22). Under Reverend Smith’s wrathful guidance, the colonial agenda becomes transparently aggressive . The grief and pathos of the Ibo’s situation and collective trauma is displayed evocatively in the final episodes as Achebe depicts this painful moment of acute crisis (Chapter 22, 23, 24, 25).

A recurring thematic question in Things Fall Apart is to what degree the collapse of the Ibo and the downfall of Okonkwo are due to their own internal weaknesses or the whims of a pernicious fate . 

The Ibo understand fate to be in a dynamic and somewhat ambiguous relationship with personal agency . This is evident in their proverb “when a man says yes his chi says yes also” (p.20) which acknowledges and privileges the role of an individual’s choices in shaping their destiny (Chapter 4). The saying “as a man danced so the drums were beaten for him” (p.135) also relates this idea – fate is a response to one’s behaviour. Okonkwo is warned that killing Ikemefuna, his surrogate son, is the “kind of action for which the goddess wipes out whole families” (p.49).This demonstrates the clan’s belief that the goddess’s (or fate’s) punishments are not arbitrary but the result of individual action (Chapter 8).

Although there is an element of chance in Okonkwo’s gun accidentally exploding and killing someone, his exile carries the suggestion of just comeuppance in its echo of the guns failure to shoot when purposely aimed at Ekwefi (Chapter 5, 13). Likewise, although the arrival of the Christians was unexpected and chanced, Nwoye’s rejection of his father is traceable directly to Okonkwo’s choice to kill Ikemefuna (Chapter 7). The desertion of people injured by Ibo traditions is a blow to the clan that feels equally earned (Chapters 16, 17, 18).  

After his exile, Okonkwo believes his chi has turned against him (Chapter 14). He renunciates the wisdom of his elders by denying the active role he had in directing the course of events. His refusal to reflect on the connection between his actions and punishment reflect his fatal flaws: hubris and willful lack of self-knowledge. By refusing to self-analyze and self-correct, Okonkwo loses the opportunity of redemption. Comparably, the Ibo, despite believing in a relationship between action and fate, do not reflect on the cause of their kinsmen’s desertion to Christianity. Achebe provides numerous examples of the clan’s dogma and brutal traditions denying people such as Ikemefuna or twins control over their lives (Chapter 2, 7). It was the shortcomings of the Ibo social and religious order that made members susceptible to the attraction of a competing value system with a more articulated concept of individuality. The Ibo’s cultural lack of self-apprehension meant they could not adjust their traditions to save themselves .

However, just as Achebe shows how individuals in the clan are at the mercy of rigid overarching authority, he shows how the fateful forces of history constrain human agency . The British’s hostile intention to erase and supplant the Ibo way of life is a punishment greater than the Ibo deserve and a force stronger than they can rise to. In his description of the grief and trauma of colonial imposition, Achebe demonstrates his compassion and sorrow for the Ibo as they faced the sweeping and unforgiving forces of change in their moment of historical crisis . 

Sample Essay Topics

1. "Things Fall Apart demonstrates how the values and customs of a society help us to deal with the familiar but not with change." Discuss.

2. "Traditional ideas of honour dominate Okonkwo's life and finally they destroy him." Discuss.

3. "Nwoye knew that it was right to be masculine and to be violent, but somehow he still preferred the stories his mother used to tell." How does Achebe explore masculinity in Things Fall Apart ?

Now it's your turn! Give these essay topics a go. For more sample essay topics, head over to our Things Fall Apart Study Guide to practice writing essays using the analysis you've learnt in this blog!

A+ Essay Topic Breakdown

Whenever you get a new essay topic, you can use LSG’s THINK and EXECUTE strategy , a technique to help you write better VCE essays. This essay topic breakdown will focus on the THINK part of the strategy. If you’re unfamiliar with this strategy, then check it out in How To Write A Killer Text Response .

Within the THINK strategy, we have 3 steps, or ABC. These ABC components are:

Step 1: A nalyse

Step 2: B rainstorm

Step 3: C reate a Plan

Let's look at an essay prompt in this video below:

[Video Transcript]

In Things Fall Apart , women suffer the most and are victimised by men. Discuss.

Whenever you are breaking a prompt down. Ask yourself...

  • What are the key words/ ideas that you need to address?
  • Which theme is the prompt referring to?
  • Do you agree with prompt? Or do you disagree with it?

The keywords of this prompt would be women, suffer,, victimised and men. The prompt requires us to address the role of women in the text and the ways in which they suffer in a society that is pervaded by patriarchal values. It also asks us, ‘Who is to blame?’ Are men solely responsible for the maltreatment or are there other causes to their suffering? The word ‘most’ in this prompt is actually there to give us a bit of room for discussion. Yes, women do suffer, but do they suffer the most? Or do men suffer as well?

Now that we’ve thought about the prompt, we can move on to the second step of the THINK part of the THINK and EXECUTE technique. To find out more about this unique strategy, I’d recommend downloading a free sample of our How to Write a Killer Text Response eBook!

Now, before we write our ideas in beautiful topic sentences, it’s often easier to simplify everything first. One way to do this is to work out whether the paragraph agrees or disagrees with the prompt at hand. We could follow this structure…

‍ Yes, the prompt is true because X Yes, another reason it is true is X While it is true, it is limited by X

By elucidating the ways in which women are seen as inferior to their male counterparts, the writer establishes his critique on a society that victimises and oppresses women. From the outset of the book, Okonkwo is characterised as a violent man who ‘rules his household with a heavy hand’, placing his wives in perpetual fear. The frequent beating and violence fortifies the portrayal of him as a man who is governed by his hatred of ‘gentility and idleness’, further showing the terror that his wives are forced to be living in.

"Do what you are told woman. When did you become one of the ndichie (meaning elders) of Umuofia?"

He also sees his wife’s mere act of questioning as disrespect, as evidenced through the ways in which he implies that she is overstepping her role.

“There were many women, but they looked on from the fringe like outsiders"

This simile also shows how women are often marginalised and treated as outcasts, underlining the overarching yearning for social justice throughout the text. This pitiful image of women looking ‘on from the fringe’ also helps Achebe relay his criticism of gender double standards and the unfairness that Igbo women are forced to live with. Achebe’s sympathy for women’s suffering and condemnation of men’s mistreatment towards are also evident through his depiction of a society that normalises misogyny.

‘His mother and sisters worked hard enough, but they grew women’s crops… Yam, the king of crops, was a man’s crops’

The personification of the crops, in particular, the men’s crops, the ‘yam’, being the ‘king of crops’ establishes this gender hierarchy in yet another way. More specifically, the position of men in the social hierarchy is highlighted and the negative connotation attached to the ‘women’s crops’ undermine their hard work, rendering it in significant. While women are the main victims of Igbo gendered prejudice, Achebe does not disregard the undue burden that societal expectations impose on men.

‘He was afraid of being thought weak.’

Achebe explores the burdens of unrealistic expectations that are placed on both men and women. This quote exemplifies societal expectations on men to be strong, powerful and fearless leaders who never show emotions. Achebe’s sympathies regarding these expectations show us that this is an important critique in Things Fall Apart that we can analyse.

If you find this helpful, then you might want to check out our Things Fall Apart: A Killer Text Guide where we cover 5 A+ sample essays (written by a 50 study scorer!) with EVERY essay annotated and broken down on HOW and WHY these essays achieved A+ so you reach your English goals! Let's get started.

The Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response

How To Write A Killer Text Response Study Guide

How to embed quotes in your essay like a boss

How to turn your Text Response essays from average to A+

5 Tips for a mic drop worthy essay conclusion

With contributions from Lindsey Dang.

Get our FREE VCE English Text Response mini-guide

Now quite sure how to nail your text response essays? Then download our free mini-guide, where we break down the art of writing the perfect text-response essay into three comprehensive steps. Click below to get your own copy today!

hl essay things fall apart

Access a FREE sample of our Things Fall Apart study guide

  • Learn how to brainstorm ANY essay topic and plan your essay so you answer the topic accurately
  • Apply LSG's THINK and EXECUTE strategy across 5 sample A+ essays
  • Think like a 50 study scorer through advanced discussions like structural feature analysis, views and values and different interpretations and lenses - we've broken them down into easy-to-understand concepts that students of any level can replicate

hl essay things fall apart

Extinction by Hannie Rayson is usually studied in the Australian curriculum Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response .

[Modifed Video Transcription]

This is the prompt that I have decided to approach for this video and blog post:

Heather Dixon-Brown and Piper Ross’s dynamic is fuelled by competitiveness unique to the female experience in contemporary times. 

Let’s break it down!

Different Interpretations of Extinction

Today I’ll be talking about different interpretations of texts , specifically the feminist lens, which is a critical lens for you to know if you’re wanting to get those top marks. Even if you’re not there yet, and you want to amp up your essay, this is it. So keep watching (or reading)! 

I won’t be talking about the feminist lens in detail in this video/blog, but know that this is one of the must-know VCAA criteria points I discuss in my How To Write A Killer Text Response ebook. It is particularly relevant to Extinction because by viewing your text through a feminist lens, you’ll be able to get so much more out of your discussion. Think about it this way, you can wear all sorts of ‘glasses’ (i.e. lenses) when you’re reading a text: a feminist lens, a pro-sustainability lens, an ecocritical lens. If you were to put these lenses on, how would it change your interpretation of the text? By adopting this advanced way of approaching a text, you’ll undoubtedly wow examiners because you’re able to discuss your texts on a level that the majority of students aren’t even aware of! I touch more on feminist and ecocritical lenses at the end of the video above :)

How To Break Down This Extinction Essay Topic

Character-Based Essay Prompt: Heather Dixon-Brown and Piper Ross’s dynamic is fuelled by competitiveness unique to the female experience in contemporary times. 

Not sure what we mean by ‘Character-Based Essay Prompt’? Then, you’ll want to learn more about the 5 types of essay prompts here . 

Step 1: Analyse

This prompt specifies two characters – Dixon-Brown and Piper – and therefore mandates an in-depth discussion of them within your essay. However, it is important to be careful of focusing exclusively on the explicitly mentioned characters when given a character prompt. After all, while Dixon-Brown and Piper are both very important to Extinction, they are not the only relevant characters! In order to ensure that your discussion covers enough of the text, make sure your brainstorming stage includes the ideas and themes exemplified by the unmentioned characters , and how they relate to the ones that are specified. 

Step 2: Brainstorm

  • Agree to the prompt, but not entirely – Dixon-Brown and Piper do experience competitiveness between themselves, as two women in the twenty-first century, but it is not the only factor impacting their relationship dynamic
  • Female competitiveness in relationships and desirability – e.g. having sex with Harry without the other knowing (make sure to use DB’s quotes about competition!) 
  • Make this more specific – competition in terms of sex, sexuality and whether or not one is desired (can link this well to the young/old dichotomy) 
  • ‍ Young/old – related to female competitiveness, but more specific – tension between what is wanted and considered attractive versus what is no longer given value
  • ‍ Idealism/pragmatism – separate from the sphere of gender; has more of its roots in politics and contrasting schools of thought
  • Adopt traits from a feminist lens – focusing on women, power, relationships with men, when they can speak versus when they can’t, etc. 

Step 3: Create a Plan

Body Paragraph 1: Contemporary demands for female competitiveness undoubtedly underlie the dynamics between Dixon-Brown and Piper Ross.

  • Under the modern-day patriarchy , women are encouraged to compete over social resources – reputation , desirability , and, crucially to Extinction, one’s sex and sexuality against the context of men . Both women are attracted to Harry, and eventually, both engage in 'covert sexual relationship[s]' that 'compromise the integrity' of the tiger quoll project. Beneath the veneer of assertiveness, Dixon-Brown’s underlying insecurities expose her treatment of Piper as a rival.
  • Although she openly denounces Harry’s assumption that 'You thought I wanted to compete for your affections', she nevertheless demands to know if Harry is 'quite smitten with Piper'. Dixon-Brown tries to distance herself from such romantic bindings, insisting that she 'do[esn’t] need a relationship' and thus subconsciously pitting herself as Piper’s opposite – in other words, a competitor for the different instances of Harry’s affection. 
  • Rayson is quick to highlight and consequentially reject this modern female infighting, arguing that the insecurities as birthed from the patriarchy directly and unnecessarily demean the relationships between women.  ‍

Body Paragraph 2: The primary source of female conflict between Dixon-Brown and Piper is that of their incongruent ages; Rayson maintains that the tension between ‘younger’ and ‘older’ individuals contributes massively to the wider tenseness in their dynamic. 

  • Patriarchal values dictate that the value of a woman decreases with age : Dixon-Brown claims that Harry 'would prefer a younger woman', implying that her desirability has decreased with the increase of age.
  • The professor’s obsession with appearances and reputation as a woman is almost completely absent in Rayson’s consideration of Piper, who is actively pursued by both Andy and Harry throughout the play. She is 'adore[d]' by the former, and the latter is enthusiastic at the prospect of 'mak[ing] love like that…again' during Act Two, Scene One . Rayson attacks the systems of patriarchal value that have driven both women to resist and distrust each other in the first place.

Body Paragraph 3: Conversely, while the spheres of politics certainly overlap occasionally within feminism and the question of female competition, they nevertheless form a largely distinct motivation behind the conflict between Piper and Dixon-Brown.

  • Piper and Dixon-Brown’s dynamic is perhaps most aptly summarised in Act One, Scene Two , with the introduction of the Dixon-Brown Index. Dixon-Brown claims that 'five thousand' is the 'latest magic number' with which to determine what animal populations are most feasible to make conservation efforts towards. Piper criticises the index immediately, pointing out the ridiculousness of having it 'apply to every mammal on earth', regardless of any other relevant factors. To Piper, every animal life is 'worth saving', whether they be 'killer whales or teeny potoroos' – Dixon-Brown, by contrast, must 'liv[e] in the real world' and exists at the mercy of funding, of which there is 'only so much… to go around'. The tension within their dynamic thus bears this underlying current of idealism versus pragmatism, and persists even after the primary establishment of the tiger quoll project. 

For further reading see our Extinction blog post where we cover themes, characters, symbolism and more! And for more essay help, you'll definitely want to take a look at Risini's fully annotated Extinction essay.

If you're studying Extinction yourself, then LSG's A Killer Text Guide: Extinction study guide is for you! In it, we teach you to think like a 50 study scorer through advanced discussions on things like structural feature analysis, views and values, different interpretations and critical readings. Included are character breakdowns, a play summary, 5 A+ fully annotated essays and so much more!

Finding out that your school has selected to study a Shakespeare play as your section A text can be a pretty daunting prospect. If I’m honest, I wasn’t all too thrilled upon discovering this either...it seemed as though I now not only had to worry about analysing my text, but also understanding what Shakespeare was saying through all of his old-fashioned words. 

However, let’s not fret - in this post, I’ll share with you some Measure for Measure specific advice and tactics, alongside excerpts of an essay of mine as a reference. 

Before you start reading, How To Approach Shakespeare: A Guide To Studying Shakespeare is a must read for any student studying Shakespeare.

Historical Context 

Having a basic understanding of the historical context of the play is an integral part of developing your understanding of Measure for Measure (and is explored further in Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare ). For example, for prompts that open with “What does Shakespeare suggest about…?” or “How does Measure for Measure reflect Shakespeare’s ideas about…?” it can be really helpful to understand Shakespeare’s own position in society and how that influenced his writing. 

There’s no need to memorise certain parts of Shakespeare’s history - as that would serve no purpose - just try to gauge an understanding of what life was like in his time. Through understanding Shakespeare’s position in society, we are able to infer his stances on various characters/ideologies in the play. 

  • Measure for Measure is often regarded as an anti-Puritan satire. Although Shakespeare’s religion has been a subject of much debate and research, with many theories about his faith being brought forward, many believe that he was a secret Catholic. He is believed to be a ‘ secret’ Catholic, as he lived during the rise of the Puritans - those who wished to reform the Church of England and create more of a focus on Protestant teachings, as opposed to Catholic teachings. It was often difficult for Catholics to practice their faith at this time. 
  • Angelo and Isabella - particularly Angelo, are believed to embody puritanism, as shown through their excessive piety. By revealing Angelo to be “yet a devil,” though “angel on the outward side,” Shakespeare critiques Puritans, perhaps branding them as hypocritical or even unhuman; those “not born of man and woman.” Thus, we can assume that Shakespeare would take a similar stance to most of us - that Angelo wasn’t the greatest guy and that his excessive, unnatural and puritanical nature was more of a flaw than a virtue. 

Tips for Moving Past the Generic Examples/Evidence Found in the Play 

It’s important to try and stand out with your examples in your body paragraphs. If you’re writing the same, simple ideas as everyone else, it will be hard for VCAA assessors to reward you for that. Your ideas are the most important part of your essay because they show how well you’ve understood and analysed the text - which is what they are asking from you, it’s called an ‘analytical interpretation of a text,’ not ‘how many big words can you write in this essay.’ You can stand out in Measure for Measure by: 

1. Taking Note of Stage Directions and Structure of Speech

Many students tend to simply focus on the dialogue in the play, but stage directions can tell you so much about what Shakespeare was really trying to illustrate in his characters. 

  • For example, in his monologue, I would often reference how Angelo is alone on stage, appearing at his most uninhibited, with his self-interrogation revealing his internal struggle over his newfound lust for Isabella. I would also reference how Shakespeare’s choice of syntax and structure of speech reveal Angelo’s moral turmoil as he repetitively asks himself “what’s this?” indicating his confusion and disgust for his feelings which “unshapes” him. 
  • Isabella is shown to “[kneel]” by Mariana at the conclusion of the play, in order to ask for Angelo’s forgiveness. This detail is one that is easily missed, but it is an important one, as it is an obvious reference to Christianity, and symbolises Isabella’s return to her “gentle and fair” and “saint” like nature. 

2. Drawing Connections Between Characters - Analyse Their Similarities and Differences. 

Drawing these connections can be a useful way to incorporate other characters not necessarily mentioned in your prompt. For example, in my own English exam last year, I chose the prompt “ ...Power corrupts both Angelo and the Duke. Do you agree? ” and tried to pair Angelo and Isabella, in order to incorporate another character into my essay (so that my entire essay wasn’t just about two characters).

  • A favourite pair of mine to analyse together was Angelo and Isabella. Although at first glance they seem quite different, when you read into the text a little deeper you can find many similarities. For example, while Angelo lives alone in his garden, “succumbed by brick,” requiring “two keys” to enter, “nun,” Isabella, wishes to join the nuns of Saint Clare where she “must not speak with men” or “show [her] face.” Shakespeare’s depiction of the two, stresses their seclusion, piety and restriction from the “vice” plaguing Vienna. What’s important about this point is that you can alter your wording of it to fit various points that you may make. For example, you could use this example to prove to your assessor how Isabella’s alignment with Angelo signals Shakespeare’s condemnation of her excessive puritanical nature (as I did in my body paragraph below) or, you could use these same points to argue how Angelo was once indeed a virtuous man who was similar to the “saint” Isabella, and that it was the power that corrupted him (as you could argue in the 2019 prompt). 
  • Another great pair is the Duke and Angelo. Although they certainly are different in many ways, an interesting argument that I used frequently, was that they both were selfish characters who abused their power as men and as leaders in a patriarchal society. It is obvious where Angelo did this - through his cruel bribery of Isabella to “lay down the treasures of [her] body,” however the Duke’s behaviour is more subtle. The Duke’s proposal to Isabella at the conclusion of the play, as he asks her to “give [him her] hand,” in marriage, coincides with the revelation that Claudio is indeed alive. It appears that the Duke has orchestrated the timing of his proposal to most forcefully secure Isabella and in this sense, his abuse of power can be likened to Angelo’s “devilish” bribery. This is as, through Shakespeare’s depiction of Isabella, it is evident that she has little interest in marriage; she simply wishes to join a convent where she “must not speak with men,” as she lives a life of “strict restraint.” The Duke is aware of this, yet he demands Isabella to “be [his]”-  wishing to take her from her true desire and Shakespeare is able to elucidate Isabella’s distaste through her response to this: silence. By contrasting Isabella’s once powerful voice - her “speechless dialect” that can “move men” - with her silence in response to the Duke’s proposal, Shakespeare is able to convey the depth of the Duke’s selfishness and thus his similarity to Angelo.

We've got a character list for you in Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare (just scroll down to the Character section).

What’s important to realise about these bits of evidence is that you can use them in so many different prompts, provided that you tailor your wording to best answer the topic. For example, you could try fitting at least one of the above examples in these prompts: 

  • ‘Give me your hand and say you will be mine…’ The characters in ‘ Measure for Measure’ are more interested in taking than giving. Discuss. 
  • ‘More than our brother is our chastity.' Explore how Shakespeare presents Isabella's attitude to chastity throughout Measure for Measure .
  • ‘I have seen corruption boil …' To what extent does Shakespeare explore corruption in Measure for Measure , and by what means? 
  • ‘Measure or Measure presents a society in which women are denied power.’ Discuss.

How To Kick Start Your Essay with a Smashing Introduction

There’s no set way on how to write an introduction. Lots of people write them in many different ways and these can all do well! This is the best part about English - you don’t have to be writing like the person sitting next to you in order to get a good mark. I personally preferred writing short and sweet introductions, just because they were quick to write and easy to understand. 

For example, for the prompt...

“...women are frail too.” 

To what extent does ‘Measure for Measure’ examine the flaws of Isabella? 

...my topic sentences were...

  • Isabella is depicted as a moral, virtuous and pious woman, but it is this aspect of her nature that paradoxically aligns her with the “tyrannous” Angelo. 
  • Shakespeare explores the hypocrisy and corruption of Isabella as a flaw, as she deviates from her initially “gentle and fair” nature.
  • Despite exploring Isabella’s flaws to a large degree, Shakespeare does indeed present her redemption at the denouement of the play. 

...and my introduction was: 

William Shakespeare’s play, ‘Measure for Measure’ depicts a seventeenth century Viennese society in which disease, misconduct and licentiousness are rife. It is upon a backdrop of such ordeals that Shakespeare presents the character of Isabella, who is initially depicted as of stark contrast to the libertine populate of Vienna. To a considerable extent, ‘Measure for Measure’ does indeed examine the flaws of the “gentle and fair” Isabella, but Shakespeare suggests that perhaps she is not “saint” nor “devil,” rather that she is a human with her own flaws and with her own redeeming qualities. 

Instead of rewording my topic sentences, I touched on them more vaguely, because I knew that I wouldn’t get any ‘extra’ points for repeating them twice, essentially.  However, if you feel more confident in touching on your topic sentences more specifically - go ahead!! There are so many different ways to write an introduction! Do what works for you! 

Body Paragraphs 

This body paragraph included my pairing between Angelo and Isabella. My advice would be to continue to incorporate the language used in the prompt. In this paragraph, you can see me use the word “flaw” quite a bit, just in order to ensure that I’m actually answering the prompt , not a prompt that I have studied before. 

Isabella is depicted as a moral, virtuous and pious woman, but it is this aspect of her nature that paradoxically aligns her with the “tyrannous” Angelo. Where Angelo is “of ample grace and honour,” Isabella is “gentle and fair.” Where Angelo believes in “stricture and firm abstinence,” Isabella too believes that “most desire should meet the full blow of justice.” This similarity is enhanced by their seclusion from the lecherous society in which they reside. Angelo lives alone in his garden, “succumbed by brick,” requiring “two keys” to enter, whilst Isabella desires the life of a nun where she “must not speak with men” or “show [her] face.” This depiction of both Angelo and Isabella stresses their seclusion, piety and restriction from the “vice” that the libertine populate is drunk from. However, Shakespeare’s revelation that Angelo is “yet a devil” though “angel on the outward side,” is perhaps Shakespeare’s commentary on absolute stricture being yet a facade, a flaw even. Shakespeare presents Isabella’s chastity and piety as synonymous with her identity, which ultimately leaves her unable to differentiate between the two, as she states that she would “throw down [her] life,” for Claudio, yet maintains that “more than our brother is our chastity.” Though virtuous in a sense, she is cruel in another. Although at first glance, Shakespeare’s depiction of Isabella’s excessive puritanical nature appears to be her virtue, by aligning her with the “devil” that is Angelo, it appears that this is indeed her flaw. 

Conclude Your Essay by Dazzling Your Assessor!  

My main tip for a conclusion is to finish it off with a confident commentary of the entire piece and what you think that the author was trying to convey through their words (in relation to the topic). For example, in pretty much all of my essays, I would conclude with a sentence that referenced the entire play -  for example, how it appeared to be such a polarising play, with largely exaggerated, polarising characters/settings (eg. Angelo and the Duke, or the brothels that stood tall next to the monastery): 

Ultimately, Shakespeare’s play ‘Measure for Measure,’ depicts Isabella as a multifaceted character. She is not simply one thing - not simply good nor bad -  her character’s depiction continues to oscillate between the polar ends of the spectrum. Although yes, she does have flaws, so too does she have redeeming qualities. Though at times deceitful and hypocritical, she too is forgiving and gentle. Thus, as Shakespeare’s play, ‘Measure for Measure,’ does centre on polarising characters in a polarising setting, perhaps through his exploration of Isabella’s flaws alongside her virtues, he suggests that both the good and the bad inhabit us.

Measure for Measure is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response .

This blog was updated on 23/10/2020.

2. Historical Context

3. Part 1: Plot

4. Part 1: Quotes and Analysis ‍

5. Themes, Motifs, and Key Ideas

6. Character Analysis

7. Structure

8. Sample Essay Topics

9. Essay Topic Breakdown

The Dressmaker is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response .

Set in Dungatar, a barren wasteland of traditionalism and superstition, isolated amidst the rapidly modernising post-World War II Australia, acclaimed author Rosalie Ham’s gothic novel, The Dressmaker , provides a fascinating window into 1950s Australia. I find it to be one of the most intriguing texts of our time - managing to weave together a historical narrative with humour, wit, and modern-day social concerns regarding patriarchy, class, and the effects of isolation.

The Dressmaker is one of those texts which reinforces why studying English can be so great when you give it a proper chance. This subject isn’t just about studying books and writing essays, it’s also about learning new insight you’ll carry with you throughout your life. Specifically, The Dressmaker offers real insight into some of the most pressing issues that have been around for centuries - how communities respond to crisis, why certain groups are marginalised, and how we should respond to tyranny and intolerance. Ham’s novel is layered with meaning, character development, and a moving plot which really helps us reflect on who we are as people. Not every book can do that - and, seemingly, on a surface level, you wouldn’t expect a novel about fashion and betrayal to do it either. But somehow, it just does, and it’s what makes The Dressmaker one of my favourite books of all time.

  • Historical Context

Before we move on to looking at The Dressmaker’s plot and delving deep into analysis, it’s really important to understand the main historical context which underpins the novel. By ‘historical context’, all we mean here is the factual background which tells us why Rosalie Ham wrote her novel, and why she chose the particular setting of Dungatar. After all, Dungatar is a fictionalised community, but its references to post-World War II Australia are very real. The main message I want you to take from this section is that understanding 1950s Australia is essential to understanding Dungatar.

Australian Geography and the Great Depression

Before we delve into talking about this historical theme, I’d like to first acknowledge that Australia was colonised against the wishes of its First Nations peoples, and also recognise that sovereignty was never ceded. This discussion broadly reflects the experiences of colonised Australia because that is the frame which Rosalie Ham provides. However, at Lisa’s Study Guides, we acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which this study guide was written, edited, and published, and pay our respects to elders past, present, and emerging. 

Ham’s fictional setting of Dungatar is a perfect example, as it is placed in the Australian Outback. The ‘Outback’ doesn’t exactly have any borders, so which regions of Australia count as part of the 'outback' will be slightly different from person to person. A general rule to help us understand the Outback is that it is way out in the centre of the country, far away from urban Australia. Its main industry is pastoralism, which refers to the grazing of cattle, sheep, and other species such as goats. This is a tough lifestyle, and as such small towns and a lot of room for livestock is preferable. These communities are often isolated, and don’t really communicate with the outside world unless it’s about trading their livestock into the cities. Isolation tends to create its own culture, practices, and social standards. For Dungatar, we see massive economic divides and strict expectations around the role of men and women. For instance, the McSwineys live in absolute poverty, yet Councilman Evan and his family are relatively wealthy. Most of the women in the town either care for children or stay at home, reflecting the outdated idea that it is the role of the man to work, and the role of the woman to be a homemaker. As much as we can look at these ideas and realise how flawed they are, for Dungatar it is a way of life to which they’ve stuck for decades. Changing this way of life would be dangerous for them because it means they have to completely reconsider the way they live.

Part 1: Plot

  • Myrtle Dunnage arrives in Dungatar after many years, seeking to care for her mother Molly Dunnage. 
  • Myrtle, who now wishes to be known as Tilly, reconnects with Sergeant Farrat, Dungatar’s eccentric local policeman who is doing his evening lap in the town. He takes Tilly through the town and up ‘The Hill’, which is where Molly lives. 
  • While Tilly is caring for Molly, mental and physical illness causes her to believe that Tilly is an outsider who wishes to poison her. Tilly perseveres in order to shower, feed, and clothe the woman, as well as clear out the house.
  • The perspective changes to Sergeant Farrat, who is patrolling the town centre a day later. He sees a returned William Beaumont sitting in a car. Moving into Muriel and Alvin Pratt’s General Store, Farrat claims to be buying fabric for his house. Their daughter Gertrude, who is reading a fashion magazine, realises that the material he is buying fits with the latest skirt designs across Australia.
  • After learning about Mr Almanac’s pharmacy, the footballers move into Purl and Fred Bundle’s pub. 
  • The readers are introduced to the McSwiney family, who with Edward and Mae as the father and mother, have 11 children. They’re said to live in the tip at the edge of town. 
  • The following weekend Tilly and Molly leave The Hill to attend the football match played in Dungatar between the two neighbouring towns, Itheca and Winyerp. Lois Pickett and Beula Harridene give her an immediately negative reaction, taking offence when Molly questions whether their cakes are poisoned.
  • After getting medicine from Mr. Almanac and his assistant Nancy, Tilly and Molly run into Irma, his sickly wife. Her arthritis makes mobility difficult, and as such she is found sitting on the bank of the river, where she asks Tilly not to let the town know that she had been cooking meals for Molly in Tilly’s absence.
  • Nancy and Sister Ruth Dimm are shown to be having a secret relationship in the back of the phone exchange building before the perspective moves back to Buela Harridene, who demands that Sergeant Farrat investigate the McSwiney children for supposedly pelting her roof with stones.
  • Tilly sits on the riverbank, remembering her memories and trauma in Dungatar, with the crucial event being when Stewart Pettyman attempted to headbutt Tilly, but she moved out of the way, causing him to ram into a wall, snap his neck and die.
  • Marigold and Evan Pettyman are introduced to the audience, with Marigold being a nervous individual who is put to sleep by Evan with pills every night and sexually assaulted.
  • Following Dungatar’s victory in the grand finale, which sends frivolity and celebration throughout the town, a package arrives for Tilly. Ruth reads through all its contents after picking its lock whilst Tilly reluctantly meets with Teddy, who continues to visit her. 
  • Tilly and Molly visit the Almanacs for dinner, wherein Tilly’s medicine causes Irma’s pain to disappear. Although Mr Almanac is unpleasant – stating that Tilly can never be forgiven for Pettyman’s death – the night moves on, Tilly returns home and is visited by Teddy yet again. 

Part 1: Quotes and Analysis ‍

“She used to have a lot of falls, which left her with a black eye or a cut lip.”

Here, Ham subtly hints that Irma Almanac’s injuries were not solely due to ‘falls’, as it is also said that once her husband grew old the ‘falls’ progressively ceased. Abuse of women is common in Dungatar, and it is almost expected that women will be subservient to men and do as they demand.

“His new unchecked gingham skirt hung starched and pressed on the wardrobe doorknob behind him.”

Sergeant Farrat subverts social expectations placed upon 1950s men by adoring feminine fashion. However, the fact that he is forced to hide his passion reveals how, in conservative towns such as Dungatar, individuals are forced to suppress their true selves in order to fit in with the broader population. There is no room for individuality or creative expression, as this is seen as a challenge to Dungatar’s social order and the clear separation between the roles of men and women.

“What’s the point of having a law enforcer if he enforces the law according to himself, not the legal law?”

Buela Harridene pretends to care about the enforcement of the law, but her true concern is bending the law to her own will to make those who step outside of their socially defined roles suffer. She is at odds with Sergeant Farrat as he seeks to control the townspeople’s worst instincts, yet people like Buela ensure that vengeance, rumour, and suspicion are still the defining features of Dungatar.

“Well let me tell you if he’s got any queer ideas we’ll all suffer.”

Although this specifically refers to William Beaumont, it alludes to the broader picture that the people of Dungatar believe that any outside ideas fundamentally threaten everything about the way they live. Even before Beaumont has opened his mouth, he is already a threat since he may have witnessed another way of living disconnected from Dungatar’s conservatism.

If you'd like to see the all Chapter plots, their analysis, along with important quotes, then have a look at our The Dressmaker Study Guide.

Themes, Motifs, and Key Ideas

Isolation and modernisation.

One of the central conflicts in The Dressmaker is between the isolated town of Dungatar, and the rapidly modernising surroundings of post-depression 1950s Australia, as we established in Historical Context . Ham uses this dichotomy (meaning when two opposing factors are placed right next to each other) to question whether isolated communities like Dungatar really have a role in the modern world . 

Our clearest indication that Dungatar is not only traditionalistic, but absolutely reviles change and outside influence , is right at the start of the novel, when a train conductor laments that there’s “naught that’s poetic about damn [progress].” Here, we see the overriding contention of Rosalie Ham’s novel - that because a community like Dungatar has been isolated for so long, it has become absolutely committed to maintaining its traditionalism at all costs. There are more symbolic reflections of how stagnant the town has become, such as the fact that Evan Pettyman, the town’s elected Councillor, has been in the role for multiple decades without fail - or that the same teacher who ostracised Tilly as a child, Prudence Dimm, is still in charge of the town’s school. 

Social Class

The Dressmaker speaks extensively about social class. By class, what I mean is the economic and social divisions which determine where people sit in society. For instance, we could say that the British Royals are ‘upper class’, whilst people living paycheque to paycheque and struggling to get by are ‘lower class’. 

It's also important to introduce the notion of a classist society. A classist society is one where all social relations are built on these aforementioned economic and social divides - in other words, everything you do in life, and everything you are able to do , is built on where you sit in the class structure. 

For The Dressmaker , the question then becomes - "how does class relate to Dungatar?" Well, Dungatar is one of the most classist societies around, where societal worth is explicitly based on one’s position in the class structure.

Femininity, Fashion, and Patriarchy

By now, you’ve probably realised that The Dressmaker ’s title is significant. Fashion and ‘dressmaking’ are absolutely essential to understanding the life of Tilly Dunnage, and how she interacts with the people of Dungatar . We’ll go into this further, but Ham specifically delves into the power of fashion as a form of expression which empowers people and their femininity , yet she also examines how, in a community like Dungatar, fashion nonetheless ends up being entirely destructive.  Dungatar and Femininity

The idea of femininity describes, on a basic level, the ability of a woman to express herself independent of any man. Others would describe femininity in more definitive terms, but it’s really in the eyes of the beholder. What’s explicitly clear, however, is  that, in order to suppress femininity, women in Dungatar are repressed and kept under the control of men. Marigold Pettyman is raped by her husband, Evan Pettyman every night, while the “ladies of Dungatar…turn their backs” when they see the Councillor coming - knowing his crimes, but being too afraid to challenge him. Above all else, Dungatar exists within a patriarchal framework, which is one where men hold structural power and authority, and that power relies on keeping women silent and subservient. In such a society, the role of women in Dungatar is vacuous (meaning that they don’t have any real purpose) - they frill about, spread rumours, and otherwise have no set roles other than to be obedient to their husband. 

Fashion as Empowerment

Within this context, Rosalie Ham explores the power of fashion to empower femininity, and, even if it’s in a limited sense, give the patriarchy its first real challenge. Gertrude is a perfect example, as Tilly’s dressmaking sees her eventually transform at her wedding, even though she is initially described as a “good mule” by Sergeant Farrat; symbolically being stripped of her humanity and beauty by being compared to an animal. However, Gertrude becomes the spectacle of the town at her wedding, wearing a “fine silk taffeta gown” and presenting an elegant, empowered image. The townspeople even note that Tilly is an “absolute wizard with fabric and scissors”, and, with the use of the word ‘wizard’, it becomes evident that the women of Dungatar are absolutely unaccustomed to having any form of expression or individuality - a patriarchal standard which Tilly challenges through her work. 

Think also about Sergeant Farrat. Even if he isn’t a woman, he nonetheless is able to embrace his feminine side through fashion. Indeed his “gingham skirt” and secretive love of female fashion is utilised by Ham to demonstrate that, even in a patriarchal settlement like Dungatar , fashion is immensely empowering and important.

Fashion and Destruction

However, as always, Ham elucidates that there too exists a dark side to fashion in a town like Dungatar. Ultimately, the women of Dungatar, in their elegant dresses, end up looking like a “group of European aristocrats’ wives who had somehow lost their way”. What this quote tells us is that, despite a temporary possibility for empowerment, the women of Dungatar did not fundamentally change their identities. As “aristocrats’ wives”, they are still tied to a patriarchal system in which, even if they were better dressed, nothing was ultimately done to overcome their tradition for rumour, suspicion, and ostracising outcasts. Indeed, this becomes most evident at the Social Ball, where, despite wearing Tilly’s dresses, her name is “scrubb[ed] out” from the seating list - symbolically expressing a desire for Tilly’s modernising, urban, outside influence to be removed from Dungatar, even as they simultaneously wear her dresses! 

Character Analysis

Tilly dunnage .

Tilly, or Myrtle Dunnage, is the protagonist of The Dressmaker , and an acclaimed dressmaker trained in Paris . Analysing Tilly requires an understanding that she believes she is cursed: starting with being exiled from Dungatar after the accidental death of Stewart Pettyman, and then finding her “seven month old” baby Pablo “in his cot...dead”, as well as witnessing the deaths of Teddy and Molly. In her own words, she is “falser than vows made in wine”, and does not personally believe she can be trusted. This pessimistic perspective on life inspires Tilly to adopt an incredibly individualistic understanding of the world; believing that the only way for her to survive is embracing her individual worth and rejecting toxic communities. Indeed, although Tilly initially arrived in Dungatar to care for her mother - a selfless act - the town spiralling into vengeance only confirmed Tilly’s pessimism. Her modern dressmaking ultimately could not change a fundamentally corrupt community predicated on “nothing ever really chang[ing]”, and therefore the maintenance of a culture of rumour and suspicion . Indeed, in “raz[ing Dungatar] to the ground”, Rosalie Ham reminds us that Tilly is an unapologetically individually-focused person, and will not tolerate anyone, or anything, which seeks to make her conform to the status quo and repress her individuality.

Molly Dunnage 

Molly Dunnage is Tilly’s mother, a bedridden, elderly woman whose sickness drives Tilly back into Dungatar. Molly is commonly known as ‘Mad Molly’ by the townspeople, but what this hides is the fact that Molly was not born mentally insane. Rather, after being “tormented” by Evan Pettyman into having his illegitimate child and seeing Tilly exiled from Dungatar, the malicious actions of the community drive her into insanity. Even in her incapacitated and crazed state, Molly holds such love for Tilly that she attempts to stop her engaging with the community, and thus the symbolism of Molly “dismant[ling] her sewing machine entirely” was that, due to her experiences, she did not believe that the people of Dungatar would ever accept Tilly, either as a dressmaker or a person . Molly’s death is ultimately a pivotal event, and awakens Tilly to the fact that only “revenge [could be] our cause”, and thus that Dungatar is fundamentally irredeemable.

Teddy McSwiney 

Teddy McSwiney is the eldest son of the McSwiney family, Dungatar’s poorest residents. Teddy is a unique case, as although he’s a McSwiney, he is noted for being incredibly well-liked in the town - even going so far as to be described by Purl as the town’s “priceless full forward” in Dungatar’s AFL team. Nonetheless, as we discussed under the Social Class theme, Dungatar remains an unashamedly classist society, and as such, despite Teddy being valued in his usefulness as a footy player and the “nice girls lov[ing] him”, he “was a McSwiney” - discounted from the town’s dating scene or any true level of social worth. Teddy becomes essential to the plot when he and Tilly spark a budding romance. Whereas the majority of Dungatar rejects Tilly or refuses to stand against the crowd, Teddy actively seeks to remind Tilly of her worth - saying that he “doesn’t believe in curses”. However, his death after suffocating in a “sorghum mill” reiterates a sad reality in Dungatar; it is always the most vulnerable townspeople who pay the price for classist discrimination, ostracisation, and suspicion.  

Sergeant Farrat 

Sergeant Farrat is one of The Dressmaker’s most interesting characters. On the surface, he’s nothing but a police officer who manages Dungatar. However, Farrat’s position is far more complex than meets the eye - as a police officer, he is entrusted with enforcing the “legal law”, yet must also contain the influence of malicious individuals such as Buela Harradine who would otherwise use the enforcement of that law to spread slander about individuals like the McSwineys, who she considers “bludgers” and “thieves”. Despite Dungatar’s complications, Farrat considers the townspeople “his flock”, and this religious, Christ-like imagery here tells us how he is essentially their protector. Farrat is, in essence, entrusted with preventing the townspeople from destroying themselves (by now, we all know how easily the townspeople slide into hatred and division!). Here’s the interesting thing though - at the same time Sergeant Farrat is protecting Dungatar, he is also personally repressed by its conservative standards. Rosalie Ham establishes Farrat as a man with a love for vibrant, expressive, female fashion, and from his “gingham skirts” which he sews in private to his time spent with Tilly while she sews, Ham demonstrates to us that Dungatar’s conservatism affects everyone. Even though he tries to defend Tilly as the townspeople descend on her after Teddy’s death, Tilly destroys his house along with Dungatar anyway - signalling that, no matter how hard Sergeant Farrat tried to reconcile his position as protector of Dungatar and his own person, the town could not be saved.

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The Dressmaker is written in the Gothic style, which means it combines romance with death and horror, particularly horror of the emotional kind. The Dressmaker is divided into four sections, each named after a type of fabric Tilly uses in her work. You can use these in your essays to show how important dressmaking and fashion is to the plot’s progression, especially considering each section starts with fabric. The four types are:

A fabric made from cotton or yarn, with a checkered shape. Gingham is often used as a ‘test fabric’ in designing fashion or for making tablecloths. This gives it a rustic, imperfect feel signifying Tilly’s return to her hometown and complicated past. The name is thought to originate from a Malay word meaning ‘separate’, mirroring Tilly’s feelings of isolation from the rest of Dungatar. In this section of the novel, Sergeant Farrat also buys gingham fabric to secretly make into a skirt, symbolising how the town is still rife with secrets and a disparity between the public and private personas of its inhabitants. 

2. Shantung

A fabric used for bridal gowns. Gertrude is married in this section and her dress, which Tilly makes, is the first instance where the town witnesses her work. Shantung originates from China, matching this notion of exoticism and foreignness which seeing the dress spreads among the townspeople. 

A fabric noted for its ability to be used for a wide variety of purposes. This is the section in which the ball occurs and a variety of Tilly’s dresses are unveiled for the town to see. 

A richly decorative fabric made with threads of gold and silver. Brocade is used primarily for upholstery, drapery, and costumes. This is a reference to the costumes of Dungatar’s play, the climax of the novel which occurs in this section.

1. “They looked like a group of European aristocrats’ wives who had somehow lost their way.” Fashion is both liberating and oppressive. Discuss.

2. How does Rosalie Ham represent the power of love throughout The Dressmaker?

3. Gender repression is rife in The Dressmaker . To what extent do you agree?

4. “Damn progress, there’s naught that’s poetic about diesel or electric. Who needs speed?” What is Ham’s essential message about progress in The Dressmaker?

Now it's your turn! Give these essay topics a go. For more sample essay topics, head over to our The Dressmaker Study Guide to practice writing essays using the analysis you've learnt in this blog!

Essay Topic Breakdown

Theme-based prompt: rosalie ham’s the dressmaker condemns fundamentally oppressive communities. discuss..

We’ve got a theme-based prompt here, which really calls for your essay to be explicitly focused on the theme at hand. That means that we shouldn’t stray from the idea of ‘oppressive communities’. Keep it as the centre of your essay and look at how events relate to this idea - we’ll break it down more in Step 2 so you can properly explore it.

Because there’s a ‘Discuss’ qualifier added to the end of the prompt, a clear and concise contention is really important. What you’re being asked to do is, again, stick with the topic frame. That means that going for the usual “two agree, one disagree” structure is decent, but I wouldn’t suggest it as the most efficient way to go. Instead, what you’ll see that I do with this essay is ‘discuss’ how the topic is present throughout all three of our arguments.

Let’s start by breaking down the key words of the topic.

We have the idea of an ‘oppressive community’, which refers to communities that are built on marginalising certain individuals so the majority can maintain power . This is quite a clear reference to Dungatar, but expect that most essay questions for The Dressmaker won’t directly reference Tilly or the town, even if they’re quite clearly talking about them. Something for which you should look out – don’t let the wording phase you!

The addition of the word ‘fundamentally’ doesn’t change that much, but what it does tell us is that the essay is asking us to agree that Dungatar is oppressive to its core. In other words, its ‘fundamentals’ are based on oppression. I would not recommend trying to disagree with this basic premise, as it means you’re going against the topic in a ‘Discuss’ prompt which, as we discussed above, isn’t the best option in my view.

One of the most logical ways to approach this topic is a chronological structure. By that, what I mean is following the text in the order events occur; before Tilly’s arrival, during Tilly’s time in Dungatar, and the consequences that arise after they make her an outcast once again.

This way, you can stay on topic and look at how Dungatar is oppressive even before Tilly shows up again, how that ramps up as she establishes her dressmaking business, and what Ham’s final message is on rejecting oppressive communities and embracing individual worth.

If you find this essay breakdown helpful, then you might want to check out our The Dressmaker Study Guide where we cover 5 A+ sample essays with EVERY essay annotated and broken down on HOW and WHY these essays achieved A+ so you reach your English goals! Let's get started.

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Have you ever wondered how you can read your books so efficiently that you will be able to identify the most important passages, quotes, symbols, author’s views and values etc. all in one go? Well, I’m going to share some handy tips you can adopt while annotating a novel that will hopefully help you achieve this. Warning – if you are a reader who likes to preserve their books and keep them crispy clean, this study guide probably isn’t for you. However, keep in mind that annotating texts is a powerful step in getting to know your text and optimising your essay responses.

Before we get started, what exactly is ‘annotating’? To annotate means to add notes to a text where you provide extra comments or explanations (usually in the margins of the book). It is very much an activity for yourself, because it allows you to become an  active reader –  where you are engaged in thinking about the plot, themes, characters etc. as you are reading and jotting down key thoughts. As a result, active readers are more likely to become immersed in the story, absorb the ideas better, be more open-minded and therefore usually develop their own unique interpretation of the text. While annotating may not come so naturally to some of you, this guide below should definitely equip you with a good starting ground!

1. Think of your text as a colouring book.  Use different coloured highlighters for different themes. This way when you’re rummaging through your book to find a certain quote to support a theme, say you specifically only highlight ‘romance’ theme in pink, it’s much easier for you to find the pink than to look through a whole book highlighted all in green. Think of it as creating a trail for you to follow throughout the book. Creating a legend at the start of the book (for example, in the contents page) can help you keep track of which colour stands for which theme.

2. Circle new vocabulary.  Look it up and then write their definitions next to the word. Next, keep a word bank in a workbook or on a word document containing any words you’ve learnt. Now you’ve successfully killed two stones with one bird –  you’ve broadened your vocabulary and you’ve got a handy sophisticated vocabulary list you can always refer to when it comes to essay writing!

3. Write notes in the margins.  Here you can summarise the significant points of a passage without needing to re-read the whole thing again. Use a pencil rather than pen. If you don’t like writing on paper, you can always use sticky notes and stick them to the pages. However, avoid writing full comprehensive notes in the margins. You’re not trying to write another book inside the empty sections of a book. Use a separate workbook or a word document for that!

4. Be open to different interpretations.  Just because your teacher or a study guide interprets the text in particular way, doesn’t mean that you need to agree. If you see things from a different angle, that’s an advantage for you. Remember that you can be ambiguous with your ideas, understanding a certain character or theme from multiple perspectives offers you a variety of ideas that can be applied in your essay. This idea is echoed by English assessors in the VCAA 2013 Examination Report,

…students should be encouraged to have confidence in their own reading and demonstrate a personal understanding of their text, rather than relying exclusively on commercially produced material. All texts are complex works of art with a wealth of opportunity for exploration. There is no ‘expected’ response to a topic, and the most successful pieces were those that were thoughtful and fresh.

5. Got burning questions that pop up?  Don’t dismiss what you don’t understand! Put down a question mark and do some research. The better you understand your text now, the greater understanding you will have of events that occur later in the text.

6. Mark literary devices.  Symbols, metaphors, alliteration, assonance – the list goes on. Use shapes such as circles, triangles, squares and create a legend in order to keep track of the different literary devices that present themselves throughout the text. Bear in mind that the best essays always include a well-rounded discussion about the author’s choices in literary techniques and how they develop specific themes and/or characters.

7. Dog-ear important passages . Some key passages can be lengthy (spreading over several pages), and it can be a pain to highlight pages and pages of a book (it might too much for your eyes to handle too – ouch!) so instead, fold the corners of those pages down so that you know exactly where that key event occurs.

8. Find unique phrases/quotes.  You’ll come across the same quotes that are repeatedly mentioned in class, study guides and essays that other students have written. To stand out, you should try to find those quotes that are equally powerful but are somewhat overlooked or underrated.

9. Annotate study notes and study guides.  These notes are written by another reader who has developed their own ideas about the text – this doesn’t mean that you necessarily have to share the same ideas as there is always opportunity to disagree with another’s opinion. Draw smiley faces or frowns in areas where you agree or disagree. This can be the basis of an interesting discussion in your own essay.

10. Don’t be afraid to destroy that book!  Yes, it’s nice to have a book crispy and clean, but think of annotating as a way to own that book! Show that you know the in and outs of the text so well that if someone else were to pick it up, they would have no idea where to even begin! Having proper notes in the right places and annotations will make the biggest difference.

Keep in mind that annotating does not equal skimming (where you briefly speed-read through your text). If you’re planning to only flick through the book, you are probably not going to find those unique passages or under-used yet powerful quotes. Take it slow and easy!

Frankenstein is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response .

2. Historical Contexts and Setting

4. Feminist Interpretation

5. Sample Essay Topics

6. Essay Topic Breakdown

  • Frankenstein is a Gothic novel. The genre emerged in the eighteenth century, and was characterised by elements of mystery, horror and the supernatural. Such elements are manifested in the novel by Shelley’s use of isolated settings and dark undertones. Through her main plot of raising the dead to create a living creature, Shelley stays true to Gothic elements by allowing her characters to cross boundaries between mortal and supernatural worlds. 
  • The novel is told in the epistolary form - written in a series of letters. This effectively integrates the reader into the story by allowing them to feel as if they are receiving a personal account of the events of the novel, adding an element of immersion. 
  • Frankenstein is also a frame narrative, a form which examines the dark, internalised consciousness of each character that narrates the events of a story in each frame. Unlike in an omniscient narrative perspective, each storyteller is a character with concomitant shortcomings, limitations, prejudices, and motives.

Historical Contexts and Setting

  • Born in London, 1797, Mary Shelley was the only daughter of notable intellectual radicals. Her father, William, was a philosopher who condemned social institutions as corrupt and instead advocated for reason to guide people’s decisions. 
  • During the 18th century, the traditional and metaphysical understanding of the meaning of life were replaced by more secular ideologies. It was during this period that galvanism was born; Luigi Galvani’s experimentalism with electrical currents to stimulate muscle movement. Shelley took inspiration from this to form the crucial plot device of Frankenstein .
  • The context of Frankenstein was also the backdrop of the French Revolution. There has been critic speculation that Shelley’s creature is an emblem of the French Revolution itself – originally created in order to benefit mankind, but the abuse of which drives it to uncontrollable destruction. 
  • Thus, in Frankenstein , Shelley explores not only the scientific possibilities of human existence, but also the nature of man and self awareness of ambition. The novel is designed to make the reader wonder - is scientific exploration an exciting or terrifying thing? How much ambition is too much - and does having it offer more good or harm to humanity?

Pursuit of dangerous knowledge

Victor’s personal torment throughout the novel arises as a result of his attempt to surge beyond accepted human limits of science. Walton mirrors this pursuit by his attempt to surpass previous human explorations in his endeavour to reach the North Pole. Shelley evidently warns against such pursuits, as Victor’s creation causes the destruction of all those dear to him, and Walton finds himself critically trapped between sheets of ice, with only his deep loneliness to keep him company. A key difference between Victor and Walton’s fate, however, is that while Victor’s hatred of the creature drives himself into misery, he serves as a warning for the latter to pull back from his treacherous mission, proving just how dangerous the desire for knowledge can become.

Sublime Nature

The sublimity of the natural landscape is a typical Romantic symbol throughout the novel, as it acts as a source of emotional and spiritual renewal for both Frankenstein and his creature. Depressed and remorseful after the deaths of William and Justine, Victor retreats to Mont Blanc in the hopes that its grandness will uplift his spirits. Likewise, the creature’s ‘heart lightens’ as spring arrives, delivering him from the ‘hellish’ cold and abandonment of the winter. Such as this, nature acts as an instrument through which Shelley mirrors inherent similarity between Frankenstein and the creature. Nature is also constantly depicted as a force stronger than that of man, perceivable by its punishment of Frankenstein for attempting to violate maternal laws in his unnatural creation of the creature. As such, Shelley suggests that Frankenstein’s hubristic attitude towards nature ultimately results in his damnation.

Beauty and Monstrosity (Societal Prejudice)

The creature is rejected almost solely due to its hideously ugly physical appearance, standing at ‘eight feet tall’ and described as ‘a thing even Dante could not have conceived’. Prejudice against outward appearances becomes apparent throughout the novel, as despite educating itself and developing a ‘sophisticated speech’, the creature continues to be judged solely on its appearance and is shunned and beaten due to its repulsiveness. Shelley condemns the extent of this prejudice through the character of William, who, despite the creature’s belief that he is far too young to have ‘imbibed a horror of deformity’, demonstrates intense loathing at the ‘ugly wretch’. In stark contrast to this, the reader can perceive a prevalent social privilege of beauty, as numerous characters are favoured solely for their outward appearances. Safie, similar to the creature in that she is also foreign and unlearned in English, is admired for her ‘countenance of angelic beauty’. While the ‘demoniacal corpse’ of the creature is perceived by society as ‘a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled and whom all men disowned’, Safie’s beauty marks her as a cherished individual who ‘infuses new life’ into souls.

Victor’s obsession with creating life is shrouded in secrecy, and his obsession with destroying his creation remains equally secretive until his revelation to Walton near the end of the story. However, while Victor chooses to remain reclusive due to his horror and guilt, the creature is forced to do so merely by his hideous appearance. Despite this, the theme of secrecy also links the creator and creature through the character of Walton; in confessing to Walton of his crimes before he dies, Victor is able to escape this stifling secrecy that ruined his life, just as the monster desperately takes advantage of Walton’s presence to force a human connection, hoping to find someone who will empathise with his miserable existence as ‘a monster’. 

Feminist Interpretation

  • Frankenstein has been perceived by many as a feminist novel, as Shelley’s weak representation of women acts as a critique to patriarchal ideals of females.
  • During the eighteenth century, a woman’s finest characteristics were described by Rousseau himself: ‘The first and most important qualification in a woman is good nature or sweetness of temper.’ 
  • Thus, in Frankenstein , women are almost always perceived through a male’s perception. The women in the novel are thus excluded from all spheres; not given voices in telling their stories, nor truly figuring in the male characters’ romantic lives. 
  • Female representation is purposefully excluded from the novel in order to accentuate this flaw in society. As such, the women that do appear are symbols of the ‘ideal women’ of the eighteenth century - they are presented as reflections of their male counterparts; as mothers, daughters, sisters, or wives, rather than strong individual entities. 
  • It is important to note that most of Shelley’s idealised women in Frankenstein all die in the end, and the character traits that had defined them as idealised women were the cause of their deaths. For example, Caroline Beaufort dies directly as a result of her acting as a dutiful caregiver, and looking after Elizabeth when she contracts scarlet fever. By emancipating her from her stereotypical role as a woman through death, Shelley suggests that her Enlightened society must depart from this systematic oppression of the female sex.

Author's Views and Values

Frankenstein depicts a variety of Shelley’s views and values. Some ways to word these in an essay would be: 

  • Shelley suggests through Frankenstein’s downfall that an individual cannot succeed in isolation.
  • Shelley visibly condemns the misuse of intellect and scientific discovery for one’s own personal gain.
  • In Frankenstein , Shelley depicts the creature’s mistreatment to oppose the societal judgement that beauty is reflective of character. 
  • Shelley offers a moral edict that superfluous pride leads to downfall.
  • Shelley denounces the naïve ideals of revolution ideology through the tragic and violent consequences of Frankenstein’s discovery 

Whenever you get a new essay topic, you can use LSG’s THINK and EXECUTE strategy , a technique to help you write better VCE essays. If you’re unfamiliar with this strategy, then check it out in How To Write A Killer Text Response . ‍

Here are a few practice essay questions:

  • ‘In Frankenstein, the creature is shown to be more humane than its human creator.’ To what extent do you agree?
  • ‘Frankenstein often falls physically ill after traumatic events.’ Discuss the role of sickness in the novel.
  • 'Although Frankenstein is written by a woman, it contains no strong female characters.’ Discuss.
  • ‘Life, although it may only be awn accumulation of anguish, is dear to me and I will defend it.’ How does Shelley use paradox to show the complexity of the human condition?.
  • ‘In Frankenstein, suffering results when imperfect men disturb nature’s perfection.’ To what extent do you agree

Essay Topic 1 : 'Although Frankenstein is written by a woman, it contains no strong female characters.’ Discuss.

You could approach this topic in a character-based manner , and focus on three female characters: 

Paragraph One: 

  • Focus on how Shelley depicts women as merely weaker, sacrificial reflections of their male counterparts.
  • Margaret Saville, Walton’s ‘dear sister’, is only present in the novel through his narrative portrayal of her. She is described as the ‘angel [of] the house’, and while her brother is exploring to ‘accomplish some great purpose’, Margaret is at home, passively waiting for his letters.
  • Caroline Beaufort, Victor’s mother, is also only perceptible as the archetypal female, encompassing the roles of wife, mother, and daughter. After her father dies, leaving her as an ‘orphan and beggar’, Caroline is reduced to a damsel in distress in need of saving by Alphonse Frankenstein, who comes to her ‘like a protecting spirit’. 

Paragraph Two:

  • In this paragraph, you could focus on how females are valued primarily as objects of physical beauty, rather than individual human beings of autonomy.
  • Elizabeth is selected from the orphan peasant group merely due to her ‘very fair’ beauty. Thus, it is this ‘crown of distinction’ which affords Elizabeth her subsequent life of happiness in the Frankenstein household. However, beauty for women also induces objectification, as she is ‘given’ to Victor as a ‘pretty present’, and he views her as his ‘possession’ to ‘protect, love, and cherish’. 
  • Safie is also physically beautiful, with a ‘countenance of angelic beauty and expression’. It is this attractiveness of Safie which affords her marginalised power as a woman. Unlike the creature, who is rejected by the De Laceys because of his ‘hideous deformity’, the foreign Safie ‘[diffuses] happiness among’ the De Lacey household through her ‘exotic’ beauty.

Paragraph Three: 

  • Shelley’s deliberate exclusion of women from romantic and reproductive spheres in Frankenstein condemns the societal oppression of females.
  • Frankenstein encompasses an immense focus on male relationships. There exists an almost homosexual ‘brotherly affection’ between Walton and Frankenstein, as Frankenstein can be perceived as the figure fulfilling Walton’s ‘bitter… want of a friend’ and companion for life; something that would conventionally be found in a wife. 
  • Homosexual undertones are also evident in Frankenstein’s ‘closest friendship’ with Henry Clerval, who he treasures arguably more than Elizabeth. The murder of Frankenstein’s ‘dearest Henry’ exacts from him ‘agonies’ in the form of ‘strong convulsions’, as he subsequently falls physically ill for two months ‘on the point of death’. In contrast to this, the strangulation of Elizabeth is received by a brief period of mourning, implying that Frankenstein does not require as much time to grieve Elizabeth. 
  • Finally, the male creature and his assumption that a female creature ‘will be content with the same fate’ as himself further emphasises male dismissal of female autonomy. 

Essay Topic 2: ‘Life, although it may only be awn accumulation of anguish, is dear to me and I will defend it.’ How does Shelley use paradox to show the complexity of the human condition?’.

  • As the creature’s education by books teaches him contradictory lessons on human nature, Shelley portrays the acquisition of knowledge as a paradoxical double-edged sword.
  • Through intertextual references to the books through which the creature ‘[studies] human nature’, Shelley presents the paradoxical characteristics of mankind. 
  • Although The creature is propelled to suicidal thoughts of ‘despondency and gloom’ by Goethe’s Sorrows of Werther , the book also reveals his empathy, as he becomes ‘a listener’ to the ‘lofty sentiments and feelings’ of humanity. 
  • Plutarch’s Lives instils in him the ‘greatest ardour for virtue… and  abhorrence for vice’; two traits, the creature realises, that simultaneously and paradoxically manifest in society.
  • Milton’s Paradise Lost allows the creature to compares his rejection by Frankenstein with that of Satan by God. This results in his own paradoxical turn in character - as he subsequently declares ‘ever-lasting war against his ‘accursed creator’, ’evil thenceforth [becomes his] good’. 

Paragraph Two: 

  • Shelley purposefully pairs the grotesque physicality of the creature with potent verbal power to showcase his complex humanity. 
  • The creature’s humanity despite his ‘physical deformity allows him to be perceived by the audience as human rather than a ‘wretch doomed to ignominy and perdition’. 
  • For De Lacey, the hideous appearance of the creature is eclipsed by his eloquence, which ‘persuades [him] that [he] is sincere’. Shelley portrays through his initial acceptance of the creature that he is a ‘daemon’ only in appearance, and thus criticises the ‘fatal prejudice that clouds [the majority of society’s] eyes’. 
  • This idea is furthered as Felix’s perception of the creature’s ‘miserable deformity’ results in a ‘violent attack’ upon him. However, the creature abstains from defending himself out of human goodness - despite his capability to tear ‘[Felix] limb from limb’, the creature instead showcases his sensitivity. 
  • Thus, the paradoxical antithesis of the creature is the way in which human actions, such as those of Felix, diminish his own humanity and mould him into the monstrous animal his appearance presents him as. 

Paragraph Three:

  • The symbolism of fire and ice in ‘Frankenstein’ serves as a moral reminder of the paradoxical essence of human ambition. 
  • The motif of fire symbolises the seductive quality of scientific aspiration, as Frankenstein’s ‘longing to penetrate the secrets of nature’ is described as literally ‘warming’ his young imagination. Despite being life-giving, fire is also evidently death-dealing, as fifteen-year-old Frankenstein perceives a vicious storm during which lightning causes the destruction of an oak tree into a ‘blasted stump’ issuing a ‘stream of fire’. As such, the powerfully antithetical nature of fire complicates his ambition, as he muses, ‘How strange… that the same cause should produce such opposite effects!’.
  • In contrast, the motif of ice represents the perils of superfluous ambition. The icy sea of Mont Blanc serves as the backdrop of Frankenstein’s dialogue with his ‘filthy creation’. The creature utilises his familiarity to the icy climate to overpower his ‘master’; there is a disturbing reversal in roles as the creature forces Frankenstein to follow him into the ‘everlasting ices of the north’, and wishes for him to suffer ‘the misery of cold and frost to which [he himself is] impassive’. 
  • The paradox of fire and ice in Frankenstein culminates in the creature’s dramatic announcement of death by fire, surrounded by ice. This acts as a bitter and ironic parody of both Walton's and Frankenstein's dream of the fire, underscoring its tragic fatality. This is emphasised by the creature’s final words, ‘I shall ascend my funeral pile triumphantly and exult in the agony of the torturing flames… my ashes will be swept into the sea by winds’.

For more advice on Frankenstein , read Kevin's blog post on How to Nail A Frankenstein Essay.

The Importance of the Introduction

Updated 14/12/2020

  • Introduction
  • Definition of Metalanguage
  • Examples of Metalanguage in VCE English

1. Introduction

Although it appears on criteria sheets, many students never really understand the term  metalanguage . Strangely, it is something that is rarely addressed in classrooms. While the word may be foreign to you, rest assured that metalanguage is not an entirely new concept you have to learn. How come? Because you have been unknowingly using metalanguage since the very beginning of high school.

It's a word that is more and more frequently thrown around as you get more advanced in high school. And, it's something that becomes tremendously important in your final year of high school, because the more you include metalanguage discussion in your essays, the more intricate your discussion becomes and the more unique it also becomes.

So, let's find out exactly what metalanguage is.

2. Definition of Metalanguage

Metalanguage is  language that describes language .

So, instead of maybe using the word, "He was sad ", we might say something like, "He felt sorrowful " . The choice in words changes the meaning that is interpreted by the reader, just slightly, but there is still a difference. So, when it comes to studying texts or reading articles, and trying to analyze what the author is trying to do, we look at metalanguage as a way to help give us insight into the ideas that they're trying to portray.

The simplest way to explain this is to focus on part 3 of the English exam – Language Analysis. In Language Analysis , we look at the author’s writing and label particular phrases with persuasive techniques such as: symbolism, imagery or personification. Through our description of the way an author writes (via the words ‘symbolism’, ‘imagery’ or ‘personification’), we have effectively used language that describes language.

Now, if we look at the bigger picture, our analysis of an author’s language can be applied to Text Response, and even Reading and Comparing. To learn more about why metalanguage is important in Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response . Otherwise, for those interested in Comparative, head over to our Ultimate Guide to VCE Comparative .

3. Examples of Metalanguage in VCE English

  • Grammar and punctuation
  • Characterisation
  • Foreshadowing

For example

  • Achilles is  characterised as a foetus, for his position is ‘chin down, shoulders hunched’ as though he is inside a womb. ( Ransom , David Malouf)
  • In the first scene of All About Eve* , Mankiewicz foreshadows Eve's sinful and regretful actions, as a sorrowful expression is emphasized as she accepts her award

As you can see, the word 'foreshadows' pushes us in a new direction. Rather than just saying what has already happened or telling your teacher or examiner something that they already know, it forces you to actually analyze what's in front of you and to offer your own unique interpretation of why this metalanguage or why this technique has been used.

*If you happen to be studying this text, check out our All About Eve Character Profiles .

  • Mise-en-scene
  • Camera angles

When Terry leaves Friendly’s bar, the thick fog symbolises his clouded moral judgement as he decides whether he should remain ‘D and D’, or become a ‘rat’. ( On the Waterfront , Elia Kazan)

  • Stage direction
  • The miniature set Zac creates is designed with a white backdrop, symbolising his desire to wipe away reality since he ‘can’t stand real things'. ( Cosi , Louis Nowra)

In Medea , the motif of animals emphasizes the inhuman and bestial nature of Medea, highlighting how she defies natural norms.

This student has actually given us an analysis of why animal motifs are used. And that is to highlight how Medea defies natural norms, because of her inhuman and bestial nature.

4. Conclusion

As indicated earlier, you should be familiar with many, if not all the terms mentioned above. Take note that some metalanguage terms are specific to a writing form , such as camera angle for films. If you need help learning new terms, we have you covered - be sure to check out our metalanguage word banks for books and our metalanguage wordbank for films .

As you discuss themes or characters, you should try and weave metalanguage throughout your body paragraphs . The purpose of this criteria is to demonstrate your ability to understand how the author uses language to communicate his or her meaning. The key is to remember that the author’s words or phrases are always chosen with a particular intention – it is your job to investigate why the author has written a text in a particular way.

[Modified Video Transcription]

Hey guys, welcome back to Lisa's Study Guides. Today, I'm really excited to talk to you about metalanguage. Have you guys ever heard of metalanguage before? It's a word that is more and more frequently thrown around as you get more advanced in high school. And, it's something that becomes tremendously important in your final year of high school, because the more you include metalanguage discussion in your essays, the more intricate your discussion becomes and the more unique it also becomes. So, let's find out exactly what is metalanguage. Simply put, metalanguage just means language that analyses language. When authors write anything, we make certain decisions when it comes to writing. So, instead of maybe using the word, "He was sad", we might say something like, "He felt sorrowful". The choice in words changes the meaning that is interpreted by the reader, just slightly, but there is still a difference. So, when it comes to studying texts or reading articles and trying to analyse what the author is trying to do, we look at metalanguage as a way to help give us insight into the ideas that they're trying to portray.

Metalanguage comes in really handy, especially if you're somebody who struggles with retelling the story - I have a video on how to avoid retelling the story , which you can watch. Metalanguage essentially takes you to the next level. It prevents you from just saying what happened, and forces you into actually looking at how the ideas and themes are developed by the author through the words that they choose to use. So, let's have a look at a couple of examples to give you a better idea. I'm going to show you two examples. One uses metalanguage and one doesn't, and you'll see how a massive difference in how the student understands the text is really clear.

Number one, foreshadowing.

In the first scene of All About Eve , Mankiewicz emphasizes Eve's sorrowful expression as she accepts her award.

In the first scene of All About Eve , Mankiewicz foreshadows Eve's sinful and regretful actions, as a sorrowful expression is emphasized as she accepts her award. As you can see, as soon as we put in the word foreshadows, it pushes us in a new direction. Rather than just saying what has already happened or telling your teacher or examiner something that they already know, it forces you to actually analyse what's in front of you and to offer your own unique interpretation of why this metalanguage or why this technique has been used. So, in this case, it's foreshadowing. ‍ Let's have a look at another one, motif.

In Medea , Euripides commonly refers to animals when describing Medea's actions and temperament.

See how, in the first example, it was really just telling you what we might already know through just reading the book, but when it comes to the second example, this student has actually given us an analysis of why animal motifs are used. And that is to highlight how Medea defies natural norms, because of her inhuman and bestial nature. So, those are some examples of metalanguage. There are so many more different types of metalanguage out there...

For a detailed guide on Comparative, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Comparative.

In a previous video , we covered some of the themes found in both The 7 Stages of Grieving and The Longest Memory. I’d recommend that you watch that video first (or read it’s accompanying blog post if you prefer reading) because once you know some of the themes, you can get even more out of this video. In this video, we’ll be looking at a scene each from both The 7 Stages of Grieving and The Longest Memory , and trying to compare them a little bit. 

We’ll be applying the CONVERGENT and DIVERGENT strategy from LSG’s How To Write A Killer Comparative and exploring how ideas are developed in similar or different thematic directions in these texts. CONVERGENT ideas lead to similar conclusions and messages, while DIVERGENT ideas take us to different conclusions. If you’d like to learn more about this strategy which can help you build more insightful discussions of the text by finding unique points of comparison, then I’d recommend you check out the LSG’s How To Write A Killer Comparative study guide. 

The Play ( The 7 Stages of Grieving )

‍ Let’s go to scene 14 of the play - this should be the report of Daniel Yocke’s death in police custody. The woman recounts his death in a factual, impersonal style as if reading from a court report. She describes how the police pursued and arrested Yocke after he went out drinking with a group of friends, and how he was detained and taken to the watchhouse. He arrives without a pulse, but the report doesn’t go into detail about how that happened between his arrest and his arrival. The woman breaks into bursts of emotion toward the end of the scene.

While most of the play deals with issues that are universal and timeless for First Nations peoples, this scene looks at a specific real event . However, this doesn’t mean that this scene isn’t timeless - First Nations deaths in custody are still a major issue for which no police officer has been held legally accountable - but this scene chooses just one example out of several hundred. 

The emotionally detached tone makes the situation feel serious, but in a way, that distances us and the woman from the brutality and the violence of what must’ve happened. After all, how exactly was Yocke dead upon arriving at the watchhouse? How badly must the police have mishandled him for that to have happened? Along the way, there are little outbursts of emotion (like the little outburst of ‘people called him Boonie!’) and these remind us that the detachment belies the true significance of what happened - the needless loss of yet another Aboriginal person’s life. 

This has been such a persistent problem in our history - this scene happened in 1993, but even in today’s time we’re still dealing with the same problem. The institution of policing has been unaccountable and violent for decades, at least, and something desperately needs to change. 

The Novel ( The Longest Memory )

‍ Let’s go to the novel now and look at Chapter 6: Plantation Owners.

In this chapter, Mr. Whitechapel is talking to his peers about Chapel’s death in this clubhouse that his father had built for his own peers. Mr. Whitechapel is initially nervous that they’ll make fun of him, and they kind of do - they point out how hypocritical it is for him to think that he can treat the people he’s enslaved with humanity, and to stick to this argument even after Chapel had been whipped to death. At some point in this banter, he realises this physical violence is unjust and starts proposing ‘another way to organise the economy’ that isn’t slavery, but this draws even more mockery. He ultimately leaves feeling a little more convinced by the perspectives of his peers.

What does this chapter tell us, and how is it similar to the scene from the play?

Well, in both scenes, white men get away with murdering a Black man, and it comes down to socio-economic and institutional power. In this chapter, Mr. Whitechapel and his fellow enslavers all inherit significant wealth and extremely prejudiced attitudes from their fathers, and this creates not only pressure, but also a financial incentive, to conform to the system of slavery. He touches on the possibility of abolition, but this is seen as impossible - certainly, none of these men want to lose their power. 

Looking more closely at this chapter, we also see how Mr. Whitechapel is exactly the hypocrite that everybody says he is - it’s ridiculous for him to pretend he’s treating black people fairly when they are dying under his watch. He says he’s feeding enslaved workers adequately and treating them with respect, but none of this is actually going to protect them from violence, and none of this is going to level the playing field so that white enslavers are held accountable. Ultimately, Mr. Whitechapel isn’t seriously interested in making substantive changes to slavery in the name of morality; he is simply trying to save face. 

I’ve chosen these two scenes because they both illustrate the dynamics of race and power which pervade both texts, but these two scenes might not be the first ones that come to your mind as a pair that you can analyse together, and that’s totally fine! I encourage you to find your own scenes to compare because that’s what makes English powerful. If you, as a unique student, can compare two scenes that nobody else has compared, that’s going to give you an extra edge because you’re more likely to say something original. 

If you’re interested in finding more unique ways to compare these two texts, I’d recommend LSG’s The 7 Stages of Grieving & The Longest Memory study guide. I know there aren’t many resources out there for this text pairing, so what we’ve done at LSG is work really hard at ensuring that all the information in this study guide will actually be beneficial for you. We’re not here just to make you read more guides - we’ve really thought about what would be meaningful for you as a student learning this pairing. That’s why you’ll see that I’ve used some of the ideas mentioned in this video and turned them into an A+ essay, so you can see exactly how knowing this information translates into your SAC/exam.

There’s a free sample of the study guide you can check out to see if it’s right for you!

This blog was updated on 21/10/2020.

4. Character Analysis

6. Symbolism

7. Essay Topics

8. Essay Topic Breakdown

Così is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response .

Lewis is faced with a seemingly impossible task – to bring order to the chaotic world of the asylum – yet in the process of doing so, he develops hugely as a person. Although, it’s important not to take Lewis’ development at face value. His growth is used to highlight many of Nowra’s values on issues surrounding love, fidelity, madness and reality, just to name a few. It’s also important to look at the development (or lack of development) of other characters and think about why Nowra might have included them in the play. Luckily for you, Così is quite a short play and doesn’t have a huge cast of characters. However, this means that it’s even more important to get a great understanding of each character – they’re all there for a reason! 

To fully understand this text, you’ll need to move beyond analysing characters and dialogue and consider Nowra’s main messages. Così is essentially a social commentary, packed full of criticisms of conventional perspectives and values. Also, Così is full of symbols and imagery, which can help you score highly on your essays if you integrate them into your work. Lastly, it's vital to remember that Così is a play, not a book, and on top of that, it is a play within a play. This means that setting, structure and stage directions are all crucial, and make for a high-scoring essay.

Melbourne Mental Institution, Australia during the 1970s.

All of the action takes place inside a burnt-out, derelict theatre. This serves to create an atmosphere of confinement for the audience, encouraging them to reflect on the stifling experience of the patients.

Così is divided into two acts and nine scenes. The play is dominated by Lewis’ development . Act 1 highlights his uncertainty and distance from the world of the asylum. Whereas by Act 2, we see Lewis become more invested in the patients and the asylum, as his relationships with the other characters grow. Lewis’ development is symbolised through the changing imagery throughout the play, specifically fire and water.

Così also is a piece of metatheatre , which Nowra achieves through structuring it as a ‘play within a play’. Metatheatre means that the play draws attention to its distance from reality. This makes sense in relation to Così , as Nowra is continually encouraging his audience to accept their own reality instead of falling into escapism. Including Così Fan Tutte in Così also serves to highlight the difference in popular opinion between Mozart’s era and the 1970s, while emphasising the continuity of love. This contrast also helps Lewis to come to terms with his valuation of love over war, which is at odds with the common opinions of his society.

The line between reality and illusion is explored through the characters who are labelled as ‘insane’ as well as those considered ‘normal.’ Nowra demonstrates that reality is unique for each person, and often people may slip into illusions in order to avoid the truth. It is suggested that although they may not have been completely ‘normal’, those considered to be ‘insane’ still possess great insight that ‘normal’ people may overlook. Additionally, Così reminds the reader of the absurdities of a mental asylum shunned by society, which would only have added to patients’ instabilities, especially as families dealt with the matter secretly. Furthermore, the issue of love and fidelity that was valued so highly in Mozart’s era, is proven to still be relevant in our modern times. Ultimately, Così is a play that criticises traditional structures and views of society – whether they be asylums, university education or harsh stigma. Nowra encourages his audience to accept both the complexity of people and of life, which begins with accepting your own reality.

The protagonist of Così , Lewis is a new university graduate who has agreed to direct a play cast with patients from a mental institution because he needs money. At first, Lewis shares the same values as his friends Nick and Lucy -  that love is ‘not so important’ in the days of politics and war. During the time he spends with the patients, however, Lewis experiences a turning point in his understanding and perception of people. By the end of the play, Lewis learns to value love and friendship over war and politics, even stating that ‘without love, the world wouldn’t mean as much’. In emphasising the development of Lewis’ values away from the social norm, Nowra highlights the confining nature of society and the danger of its limited focus, which fails to recognise the value of love and companionship. 

Additionally, Nowra blurs the lines between insanity and sanity by portraying Lewis as a bridge between the ‘real’ world and that of the asylum. At the beginning of the play, Lewis states that his grandmother was in an asylum. However, despite knowing that ‘she had gone mad’, he reflects that ‘she was still [his] grandmother.’ This, alongside his passion for Julie, enables Lewis to see the patients as people, not their illnesses. Therefore, he subconsciously allows himself to be influenced by them, just as he influences them. This contradicts the traditional views surrounding the unproductivity of the mentally ill and instead highlights their value and worth. Therefore, Nowra warns against dismissing individuals who are mentally ill, instead highlighting their capacity to garner change and therefore be productive and valuable members of society.

Moreover, not only is Lewis involved in directing Così Fan Tutte, but he also finds himself playing the part of Fernando. This again further reinforces his role as a bridge between society and the asylum (and his connection to its patients), and he ends up embodying the role. Like Fernando, Lewis is unfaithful to his partner. While still in a relationship with his girlfriend Lucy, Lewis becomes intimate with a patient, Julie. Nowra uses his unfaithfulness as evidence of the indiscriminate nature of infidelity – it is not restricted only to women.

Finally, Così explores how Lewis deals with a hardship that he essentially created for himself – he signed up to direct the play. This links to Nowra’s view of the senselessness of war , which he views as a problem that mankind has created for themselves.

Girlfriend and roommate of Lewis, Lucy cannot understand why Lewis is directing a play about love when thousands are dying in the war. She has an affair with Nick, who shares similar beliefs – that politics and the Vietnam War protest are more important than anything else. The flippant nature with which she regards her affair with Nick as purely sexual is also reflective of her lack of value towards love. Thus, Nowra portrays Lucy as a personification of the societal norms of the 1970s – she is political, into free love and challenges traditional notions of femininity.

Furthermore, it is ironic that Lucy and Lewis have similar names. At the start of the play, Lewis allows himself to be influenced by Lucy’s values rather than his own, but by the end, Lewis’ true views prove to be very different from hers. 

Lucy also acts as a catalyst for Lewis’ change and development . She pushes him to ‘make a choice’ between the world of insanity and fidelity that represents truth for Lewis, or the world of sanity, free love and politics that Lewis comes to view as restrictive and stifling.

An experienced student director, roommate and friend of Lewis who is heavily involved in the moratorium (a protest against the Vietnam War). He promises to help Lewis direct Così Fan Tutte , however he quickly breaks this vow in order to spend time furthering his political career with Lucy. Lewis later discovers that Lucy and Nick are having an affair. Unlike Lewis, however, Nick views his relationship with Lucy as ‘only sex’, therefore suggesting his superficiality and lack of compassion . 

This superficiality is further shown through his obsession with the moratorium and his disinterest in Lewis’ Così Fan Tutte. He criticises Lewis for prioritising theatre over politics, stating that ‘only mad people in this day and age would do a work about love and infidelity.’ This suggests that what drives Nick is a desire to be seen doing the ‘normal’ and ‘right’ things, rather than an intrinsic belief that what he is doing is good. He views life as a series of transactions and values activities based on the immediate benefit that they bring him. For example, he admitted to helping Lewis with his direction only ‘so [Lewis would] help [him] on the moratorium committee’.  

Overall, Nick lives up to his label of being an ‘egotistical pig’ who ‘likes the sound of his own voice’. He is used by Nowra as a benchmark with which Lewis’ development is compared (i.e. we can see how much Lewis has developed by comparing him to Nick). For example, at the start of the play Lewis shares similar superficial values to Nick, admitting to only take the directing job for a bit of money; however, by the end of Così, he holds vastly different views than Nick.

Fidelity & Infidelity

According to Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte, fidelity is depicted as an ideal that is never achieved. Since ‘women are like that’ – the interpretation of ‘ Così fan tutte’ , Mozart supported the belief that men should simply accept that women will inevitably be disloyal in relationships. Nowra echoes this view of women through Lewis and Lucy’s relationship. While Lucy is ‘sleeping’ with Lewis, she is also triflingly ‘having sex’ with Nick. When Lewis discovers Lucy’s betrayal, she waves aside his shock, defending herself, ‘it is not as if we’re married.’ The revelation thus does prove Mozart right, that ‘woman’s constancy is like the Arabian Phoenix. Everyone swears it exists, but no one has seen it.’

Although the women in both Così Fan Tutte and Così are shown to be unfaithful, so are the men. While the men in Così Fan Tutte do not actively participate in adultery, they do fabricate their departure to the war and also disguise themselves as ‘Albanians.’ Their deception is also a betrayal to their wives. Meanwhile, Don Alfonso manipulates everyone. As seen in Così , Lewis is unfaithful to Lucy as he kisses Julie during rehearsals. Julie later reveals that she has a girlfriend who she would prefer to be with, confirming that both men and women are unfaithful in relationships, despite whatever values they may claim to have.

Nowra considers many perspectives of love and fidelity, without offering a definitive opinion. Instead, he explores the progression (or stagnation) of characters’ opinions on love and contrasts them to those of other characters, in the hope of highlighting its complexity . Nick and Lucy both view love as an indulgence that is incompatible with politics and secondary to life’s basic needs. Whereas Lewis claims, ‘without love, the world wouldn’t mean that much’. These differences between Nick and Lucy’s view on love and Lewis’, are major contributors to the deterioration of their relationships. Therefore, Nowra shows that communication and truthfulness are needed for healthy, and reciprocal, relationships.

Overall, while Così Fan Tutte presents love and fidelity as wavering, Nowra provides a more practical view of love. Nowra suggests that love is complex and cannot be fully understood or tamed , instead portraying it as akin to madness . As love is universal, this view ties in nicely with his non-judgmental perspective on madness and insanity.

Sanity & Insanity

The line between sanity and insanity is explored through the juxtaposition of the patients and society. In the 1970s, those who behaved abnormally were declared to be ‘insane’ and placed in mental institutions that were shunned by society. As scientific developments have now informed us, these environments often failed to assist their patients. The use of electric shock therapy, for example, frequently led to severe, long-term negative effects upon patients.

While the patients were viewed as ‘madmen’ by outsiders, Lewis soon discovers that they are, in many ways, ordinary people. Although each patient has a mental flaw, all possess interesting opinions and beliefs on different matters. Additionally, Nowra encourages his readers to view insanity as more complex than a diagnosis or something that can be fixed with a ‘coat of paint’. Instead, he suggests that insanity is imposed on people through the judgment of others .

Nowra also attempts to blur the lines between sanity and insanity to emphasize the indiscriminate nature of madness. This is seen through Lewis’ character, who consistently bridges the gap between madness and normalcy. For example, despite his ‘sane’ status, he is mistaken for a patient by Justin, joins Roy in imitating electric shock therapy, replaces Doug in the play, and stands with the patients against Justin.

Overall, Nowra portrays insanity as a matter of perspective , rather than an objective diagnosis. He refuses to define madness, instead depicting it as somewhere on the spectrum of human behaviour. In doing so, he critisises traditional perspectives of sanity and insanity and instead encourages his audiences to consider the complexity of madness. 

Reality & Illusion

The question of what is real or an illusion is weaved through the patients’ state of mentality. As shown through Ruth who struggles to pretend like she is having real coffee on stage, it is difficult for some to distinguish reality from illusion , even if it is clear to everyone else. For others, they may willingly refuse the truth and succumb to an illusion. Lewis deluded himself into believing that Lucy was faithful, when all signs (such as Nick residing in the same home and Nick and Lucy spending time together) indicated that Lucy was, in fact, blatantly disloyal. Much like Lewis’ protective delusion, Roy uses illusions of a happy childhood to shield him from facing his reality. This builds upon his tendencies to blame others for his behaviour – he is inherently unable to face the truth of his ‘insanity’ and so manipulates his reality to make it more bearable. 

Throughout Così, Nowra also explores the relativity of reality . For the patients of the asylum, pretending to give electric shock therapy to others ‘seems realer’ than ‘kissing and stuff’, whereas the opposite would be true in ‘ordinary’ society. However, Così also suggests that imagination has the capacity to empower . Through participating in the play, which is an illusory form of reality, the patients are able to explore their views on love and commitment.

Ultimately, the behaviour of characters such as Roy and Ruth encourages us to consider the reliability (or unreliability) of our own perceptions . Alongside this, Nowra stresses the importance of being able to accept your own reality , as he shows that characters who fail to do so, also fail to experience personal growth (e.g. Roy, Julie).

Burnt-Out Theatre

The setting of a burnt-out theatre depicts the miserable environment in which the patients of mental institutions are forced to live. As they are ostracised by the community, a lack of care and support is shown through the rejected and deteriorating theatre. The patients’ considerable enthusiasm highlights their unfortunate circumstances, since even a chance to spend their time in an old building performing a play causes much excitement.

Although we see the theatre being touched up with new lights and a ‘coat of paint’, it still remains derelict and run-down. Nowra uses this to symbolise the futility of surface-level treatments (such as medication and isolation) of mental illnesses, and how we should instead focus on seeing the person behind the illness.

However, Nowra also uses the theatre as a symbol of hope. Despite its desolation, it is in the theatre that Lewis feels safe to grow and develop . Additionally, Julie and Lewis’ kiss takes place on the theatre’s stage. The kiss itself represents Lewis becoming more comfortable with himself and his increasingly counter-cultural views.

Arabian Phoenix

The women in both Così Fan Tutte and Così are compared with the Arabian Phoenix. The mythical creature is a representation of women, beautiful and enchanting, capturing men such as the god Apollo with its voice. This reflects the power of women to attract men. Nevertheless, its rarity, as often commented on in Così , is linked with the seemingly infrequent loyalty demonstrated by women .

The frequent reference to the Arabian Phoenix throughout Così continually reinforces the play’s misogynistic undertone . Its rarity is likened to the absence of women’s fidelity, yet never male fidelity. Similarly, Nowra invites his audience to condemn Lucy’s unfaithfulness towards Lewis, yet we are not encouraged to feel the same way about Lewis’ unfaithfulness to Lucy.  

Light and Dark

The lights in Act 1, Scene 1 highlight Lewis’ entrance into a new world , where he befriends patients who will ultimately help him to learn and develop. At first Lewis, much like Lucy and Nick, possesses a ‘pitch black’ perspective of the world. This is a representation of their modern beliefs that circulate around politics and war. When the lights are turned on, Roy is present, demonstrating that the patients of the mental institutions are the source for Lewis’ changing perspective throughout the play. Nowra also uses the lights to represent the hope for change that Lewis brings to the patients, and vice versa.

Light is also used to directly juxtapose the chaos and desperation that darkness brings. Before Lewis entered the theatre, it was dark and derelict, symbolising the abandonment and hopelessness of the asylum’s patients. This desperation is viewed in another light during Julie and Lewis’ kiss (which takes place in the dark). In this instance, their desire for each other and the chaos that ensues is liberating for Lewis, as it enables him to come to terms with what he truly values.

However, Julie notes that the wards are ‘never really dark’ as ‘there’s always a light on in the corridor.’ In this sense, darkness symbolises autonomy and freedom , whereas light represents the constant monitoring and scrutinising that the patients are subjected to.

Essay Topics

1. Così contends that some things are more important than politics.

2. In Così, the ‘insane’ characters are quite normal.

3. The line between reality and illusion is often blurred.

4. Ironically, it is through the ‘madmen’ that Lewis learns what is truly important.

5. Nick and Lucy’s ‘modern’ value of free love is depicted to be a backwards belief. Discuss.

Now it's your turn! Give these essay topics a go. For more sample essay topics, head over to our Così Study Guide to practice writing essays using the analysis you've learnt in this blog!

Character-Based Prompt: It is not only Lewis who develops in Così , but other characters as well. Discuss.

Simply spot a character’s name and there you have it, it’s a character-based prompt. However, it’s important to recognise that your essay does not need to revolve around only the character(s) in the prompt but should also incorporate discussion of other major and minor characters as well. 

In this topic, it is important to incorporate other characters, such as the patients, into your essay, because they are crucial to Lewis’ development. To ensure that you stay on topic, it is best to include a paragraph (or paragraphs) that explore characters other than Lewis and their development. Also try and focus on different areas/types of development (i.e. not just Lewis’ changing values). 

Highlight Key Words :

It is not only Lewis who develops in Così , but other characters as well. 

Find Synonyms:

  • Develops: learns, grows, changes, flourishes, progresses, matures 
  • Così explores the development/growth of multiple characters, including Lewis. 
  • Lewis is the central catalyst that enables other character’s development to be seen (such as Ruth’s and Zac’s) 
  • However, we also see characters who fail to develop. This is either because they fail to accept their own reality (Roy) or they fail to accept the errors in their thinking (Lucy, Nick) 
  • Nowra also uses Lewis as the benchmark against which the development of other characters is measured. For example, Nick’s lack of development is highlighted through comparing his stagnation/unchanging ways to Lewis’ growth. 
  • Lewis’ development is facilitated by the patients. Nowra uses this to suggest the productivity of the mentally ill and challenge traditional stereotypes that label them as incapable. 
  • Through Lewis’ development, Nowra highlights the falsity in societal stereotypes of the mentally ill (i.e. Lewis’s views change from being discriminatory and stereotypical to more compassionate, and well founded.) 
  • Imagery and symbolism are used to represent development and growth (fire and water) as well as Lewis’ catalytic nature (light and dark). 

Step 3: Create a Plan 

Contention: Nowra encourages his audience to reconsider their perspective on the mentally ill by highlighting their capacity to not only change themselves, but enact change in others.

Topic Sentence 1: Through his exploration of Lewis’ changing ideals during Così , Nowra attempts to highlight the value of companionship and productivity of the mentally ill, which act to increase Lewis’ confidence when faced with adversity.

Examples: Lewis’ changing ideas on love and fidelity, Lewis’ changing levels of subservience to Lucy and Nick 


"Not so important."
"Without love, the world wouldn’t mean as much."
"They are coming to take me away, ha, ha."
"Not sing that."
"I said, don’t sing that song."

Linking Sentence(s): In contrasting Lewis’ meekness to his boldness, Nowra alludes to the personal benefits that personal growth can have. Additionally, he ultimately encourages his audience to view Lewis’ learning as evidence against the common notion of the unproductivity of the mentally ill, as we see Lewis’ development flourish during his time at the asylum.

Topic Sentence 2: Moreover, throughout Così we see Lewis develop a greater understanding of the complexity of madness due to his partnership with the patients. 

Examples: Lewis’ changing perspective of the patients, Lewis’ involvement with the patients beyond his role as director, fire and water imagery 

"Will go bezerk without their medication."
"Unable to believe he has found himself caught up in [directing]."
"Water drip[ping] though the hole in the roof."

Linking Sentence: Ultimately, through highlighting the development of Lewis’ views towards insanity, Nowra positions his audience to reflect on the complexity of madness and thus warns of the danger of stereotypes.

Topic Sentence 3: Furthermore, as an outsider, Lewis assists the patients in their development, acting as their connection to the real world and ultimately providing a space for them to grow and flourish. 

Examples: Juxtaposition of light and dark, Ruth’s development. 

"Chink of light."
"Burnt out theatre."
"Real coffee."
"Real cappuccino machine."
"Wasn’t [her], it was the character."
"Time and motion expert."

Linking Sentence: Ultimately, Nowra explores the learning and growth of characters in Così to not only highlight the necessity of a humanistic approach to treating mental illness, but also to illustrate the nature of mental health as a continuum, on which no one person needs to be stationary forever. ‍

If you find this essay breakdown helpful, then you might want to check out our Così Study Guide where we cover 5 A+ sample essays with EVERY essay annotated and broken down on HOW and WHY these essays achieved A+ so you reach your English goals! Let's get started.

5 Tips for a mic drop worthy essay conclusion ‍

  • Plot Summaries
  • Themes, Motifs and Key Ideas
  • Sample Essay Breakdown

1. Historical Context

To understand the works of Franklin and Ziegler, we are going to take a look at the historical contexts in which the texts were written. By doing this, we’ll establish a proper understanding of some of the language and concepts that you might have experienced in class. The three specific historical contexts that we will address are life in 1950s London , uncovering the enigma of DNA as well as 19th-century rural life in Australia . As you continue to read this study guide, you may wish to refer back to this section if you find some of the terminologies and references confusing!

Life in 1950s London (Photograph 51)

Photograph 51 is set during the 1950s in London. This was a challenging time for everyone, largely due to Britain’s impaired economy after the war, as well as the financial obligations of the nation to the United States. An iconic local feature of this time was the fact that the government encouraged everyone in the nation to grow food for themselves and their communities. Everywhere you looked, land was being used to farm crops! Indeed, people would grow food everywhere that they could because government rations were strictly enforced and the 1950s was a decade marked by the struggle for parents to find enough food for themselves and their children. This was a difficult situation in which to live and work. However, in this time after the Second World War, Britain experienced changes on a scale never experienced by the country before. The war had cost Britain its status as a nation of monumental power, and in the 1950s the nation was looking to rebuild itself. This was a period of enthusiasm and optimism, in which many technological and scientific developments were made. Computers became more sophisticated, and humanity deeply desired to explore the workings of the world.

Nonetheless, during this time of hope and progress, women were remarkably undervalued , and female professionals were often treated with contempt. We are provided with a snapshot of what this looked like in Photograph 51 . As a Jewish woman in the 1950s, Rosalind Franklin is depicted as a target for prejudice in the world around her. For example, she is not permitted to dine with her male colleagues at lunch, which renders her unable to engage in meaningful conversations with her colleagues and debate about their research and ideas. Additionally, despite the fact that she is just as qualified as Wilkins, he continually ignores her qualifications and achievements. We see this as he refers to her with the patronising nickname ‘Rosy’, which underscores the reality that he sees her as inferior to him. It is evident that the professional world was a challenging place for women and minorities during the 1950s in London. However, Rosalind Franklin was willing to persist with her important scientific work in this formidable social setting.

19th Century Rural Life in Australia (My Brilliant Career)

My Brilliant Career was published in 1901. This was the year when the Commonwealth of Australia was formed, as the colonies of Western Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales united as one nation. The text is set in areas around Goulburn in Australia in the 1890s, which is around 195 kilometres - or a two-hour drive - in the South-West direction of Sydney. To put it bluntly: Australia was a challenging place to live in in the 1890s. Take a moment to consider the harsh realities of life in this time and place. During this time, most of Australia was a rural environment and this was an era in which Australians were confronted with drought, economic hardships and high unemployment rates. Indeed, the period of prosperity during the 1850s gold rush was, unfortunately, coming to a close, international investment in Australia was devastatingly declining and the price of wool and wheat was dropping at a dangerous pace. The dire economic situation was certainly not helped by the long drought, which created a distressing situation for the agricultural industry. As we see in the text, Sybylla’s father is a dairy farmer, and her family lived through this unbearable summer heat, the harsh drought and the pain caused by dying livestock. Miles Franklin convincingly uses Sybylla and her family to illustrate the extent to which the adversity of the time had an impact on everyone and the fact that nobody could escape it.

During this period, many women had to take up jobs to support their families, due to the turbulent economic times. Having said that, this was a challenging environment for a woman to pursue a career. Marriage was seen as the only appropriate venture for a woman, and women were expected to marry as soon as they were able to. It was basically unthinkable for a woman to work and pursue a career unless she was working while she waited to be able to depend upon a husband for support. Those who chose not to marry were treated poorly by the world around them. In particular, women could be traded and bartered as labour, and we see when Sylblla becomes a governess to repay her family’s debt.

During this challenging time, it was becoming increasingly common for young women in Australia to publish books, with Miles Franklin being one of them. Nevertheless, Miles Franklin - officially born Stella Franklin - ensured that ‘Miss’ was excluded from her name on the cover of her text. Presumably, she did not want her readers to assume that My Brilliant Career was written by a woman, as this may have harmed sales. Despite this, it is undeniable that social perspectives surrounding gender roles were gradually shifting towards permitting women greater rights within society. For instance, women were eventually granted the right to vote in federal elections in Australia when the Franchise Act was passed in 1902. We see such a progressive attitude represented in the text through Sybylla. Despite the social expectations placed upon her, Sybylla has aspirations for her future. As part of her aspirations, she must choose between the traditional route of marriage to Harry Beecham or her plans to pursue a career. Through this, we see that Miles Franklin welcomes the potentiality for increased social freedom for women to pursue meaningful occupations. In defiance of what society expected of her, she wanted to do something with her life and have a meaningful career! Much like many women of the day in rural Australia, pursuing such a path was no easy task and she faced much opposition.

2. Plot Summaries

We’re now going to take a quick look at the plots of My Brilliant Career and Photograph 51 . However, I cannot overemphasise the importance of setting aside the time to read these texts in detail and annotate them for yourself. You may wish to use these summaries to refresh your memory about the plot, or to stay on track if you get lost or confused while you read! We’ll provide you with a general overview of what happens, with a particular focus on the key events in each text.

Summary: My Brilliant Career

My Brilliant Career is an Australian literary classic by Stella 'Miles' Franklin which is set in rural New South Wales in the late nineteenth century. The story is presented in an autobiographical format and depicts the life and travels of Sybylla Melvyn and her family. The novel is written in a fairly free-flowing format, which Sybylla unapologetically explains is the result of her life being unstructured and lacking a plot. At times you may be frustrated with Sybylla’s pessimism and cynicism . At other times, you may hold back tears as you reflect on the adverse circumstances she faces as she pursues her goals and strives to find purpose in her life.

The novel commences with Sybylla and her family living in Bruggabong. Sybylla is content with her life here, with the freedom to roam around and ride horses as she pleases. However, as the first chapter comes to a close, we are told that Sybylla’s father, Dick Melvyn, intends to sell his stations and move his family to Possum Gully. He hopes that Possum Gully will present him with greater financial opportunities through trading farm animals. Sybylla is frustrated by the move and perceives her family’s new home as boring and monotonous. At the same time, life is hard for her mother, who becomes increasingly critical of Sybylla who seems to be developing into a rebellious child. Dick inflicts a great deal of pain upon his family, as he spends too much time in town, loses money with every sale and becomes an alcoholic. The drought certainly doesn’t simplify matters, with the scorching heat taking a toll on Sybylla, her family and their animals.

Eventually, we learn that Sybylla’s grandmother has decided to take Sybylla to live with her in Caddagat. Sybylla enthusiastically agrees and celebrates the opportunity to experience life in a different location away from the difficulties of Possum Gully. Whilst in Caddagat, she lives with Grandma Bosser, Aunt Helen and Uncle Jay-Jay. During her time there, several men approach Sybylla with an interest in marrying her. The first is Everard Grey, a wealthy lawyer from Sydney with a keen interest in the performing arts. She is denied the opportunity to travel with him and he neglects her upon hearing this news. Frank Hawden, a farmhand to the family, is attracted to Sybylla, but she sharply rejects him due to his unsophisticated demeanour. Finally, she meets Harold Beecham of Five-Bob Downs. They enjoy spending time together and he brings out Sybylla’s playful side. They eventually become engaged. However, Sybylla never intends to marry him and only agrees to the engagement on the condition that it is kept a secret between the two of them. She shares to her audience that she intends to break off the engagement as a means of stirring up and confronting Harold. Eventually, Harold is forced to leave Five-Bob Downs due to his financial misfortune resulting in the loss of his property. However, he and Sybylla agree to maintain their engagement and commit to marrying after a few years. Having said that, Sybylla never really has any intention of marrying Harold, for she views marriage as restrictive and unnecessary controlling of her freedom to pursue her own life.

Shortly after Harold’s departure, Sybylla is confronted with the news that her father’s debt to Peter M’Swat means that she will be required to travel to Barney’s Gap to work as a governess for the M’Swat children. It would be an understatement to say that Sybylla is dissatisfied with this new state of affairs! She absolutely hates working for the M’Swat family! She finds that the house is filthy, the children are disobedient and she has very minimal personal space. All she wants is to go back and live with Grandma Bossier and Aunt Helen. However, her mother denies her this privilege, for she must repay her father’s debt. The experience at Barney’s Gap becomes so bad for her that she develops an illness due to the emotional strain that she experiences. Accordingly, Mr. M’Swat sends her back home to Possum Gully to be with her family.

Sybylla hardly receives a warm welcome from her parents. Her mother continually treats her as ungrateful, and her father’s drinking has had a significant impact on his demeanour. Her younger sister, Gertie, is sent off to live in Caddagat, and Sybylla feels as if Grandma Bossier, Aunt Helen and Uncle Jay-Jay have forgotten about her. To make matters worse, she feels as if Harold Beecham, who has been unable to return to Five-Bob Downs, is falling in love with Gertie. Eventually, Harold travels to Possum Gully. Sybylla is expecting her to ask Dick for permission to marry Gertie. But to her surprise, he actually intends to ask Sybyllla if she will marry him, even though she made it clear through her letters that she had no intention of doing so. For fear of hurting him and due to her view of marriage as restrictive, she rejects Harold again and sends him on his way.

And that’s basically the story! Sybylla concludes with some reflections on her position and purpose in life. She sees her purpose as completing the monotonous tasks that nobody wants to complete and she is thankful for the opportunity to earn her living through hard labour. Overall, we know that her ambition was to become an author, and this book is her final product as she writes about her various experiences.

Summary: Photograph 51

Photograph 51 is a play by Anna Ziegler which tells the story of the discovery of the structure of DNA. The title takes its name from the photograph taken by Raymond Gosling and Rosalind Franklin at King’s College in 1952. The play has been constructed by Ziegler with a bit of artistic license, and she herself admits that she has modified timelines, altered facts and events, and recreated characters. If we take a step back and look at the big picture, we have a great representation of events that makes some bold statements about injustice within the scientific community and society at large.

It is important to mention that this play is full of characters who break the fourth wall - a performance convention in which we usually imagine that there is a wall that separates characters from the audience when we watch a television show, movie or play. Ziegler has deliberately constructed this play in a manner where the characters that feature in the play provide commentary on the events to the audience. And this is how we start, with Rosalind directly speaking to the audience alongside Wilkins, Watson, Crick, Caspar and Gosling. Rosalind shares that the play will be about ‘powerful’ scientists accomplishing incredible feats. Shortly after this, our story begins (with frequent interruptions from the male scientists who want to bicker with each other and give their own commentary on the events).

Rosalind arrives at King’s College in London to work in the field of genetics. However, much to her surprise and dissatisfaction, she is told that she will be working on uncovering the structure of DNA. She also learns that she will be working with a doctoral student, Gosling, under the direction of Wilkins. Wilkins and Rosalind clearly don’t get along, and they are often fighting about something! Meanwhile, Gosling is clearly lower in the chain of hierarchy and awkwardly tries to have a say in matters.

Now, pay attention to this part, because it will be important for the end. Shortly after her arrival at King’s College, Rosalind goes to see a production of Shakespeare’s comedy, The Winter’s Tale . Ziegler doesn’t get into the details, but basically, this play features King Leontes and Hermione, his wife. Leontes murders Hermione upon suspecting her of unfaithfulness. In The Winter’s Tale , Leontes is able to pray Hermione back to life! Why is this significant to Photograph 51 ? Just remember for now that Rosalind can’t seem to remember who played Hermione in the London production, whilst she can recall who played Leontes. We may say that this represents the misogyny that Rosalind has internalised after facing a life of sexism from the world around her.

As Rosalind and Gosling work closely on taking photographs of DNA, Gosling urges her to go home and rest on several occasions. She refuses, as she wants to persist in her work! He also pleads with her to be careful around the beam, but she is reluctant to listen. It is clear that she disregards her health and well-being because she is fixated on the task at hand.

We are introduced to two other scientists, Watson and Crick, who are also competing in the race to discover the structure of DNA. Another character, Caspar, is introduced around this time. He’s a PhD student who is captivated by Rosalind’s work and writes to her for assistance with his research. He eventually finishes his PhD and obtains a fellowship at King’s College where he develops a close relationship with Rosalind.

Over the course of the play, Wilkins works progressively closer with Watson and Crick, and eventually shares Rosalind’s Photograph 51 with them. This image, having been captured and developed by Rosalind and Gosling, was crucial to their discovery of the double helical structure of DNA. Watson and Crick are also able to access Rosalind’s unpublished paper which details all of her findings.

Rosalind and Caspar are having dinner together and Rosalind admits to the audience that she has feelings for Caspar. However, she does not share this information with him. During this time, Rosalind has some pain in her stomach and it is revealed that she has cancer, with two tumours in her ovaries. It is likely that this came about due to her close work with X-rays. She becomes very sick and eventually dies at the age of thirty-seven.

We are informed that Watson, Crick and Wilkins all receive the Nobel prize for their work on uncovering the structure of DNA. Meanwhile, Rosalind receives no credit, even though her research was what helped them with their breakthrough.

In the final moments of the play, Rosalind and Wilkins talk about The Winter’s Tale . Wilkins shares that he saw her entering the theatre on the day when she saw the play, but he decided not to enter with her. He regrets this and it is clear that he has lived a life full of regret. Wilkins wishes he could bring Rosalind back to life, just as Leontes does with Hermione in Shakespeare’s play. However, he regrets that this is not possible and must carry on his life with guilt and regret for the decisions he has made and the way that he has treated Rosalind.

3. Themes, Motifs and Key Ideas

Through discussing themes, motifs and key ideas, we’ll gain a clearer understanding of some super important ideas to bring out in your essays. Remember that, when it comes to themes, there’s a whole host of ways you can express your ideas - but this is what I’d suggest as the most impressive method to blow away the VCAA examiners. We’ll be adhering to the CONVERGENT and DIVERGENT strategy. While this study guide doesn’t go into too much detail about using LSG’s CONVERGENT and DIVERGENT strategy , I’d highly recommend you familiarise yourself with it by reading LSG's How To Write A Killer Comparative .


Within Photograph 51 and My Brilliant Career , we are presented with characters with profound ambitions to overcome adverse circumstances. Indeed, both texts featured major and minor characters, who yearn to overcome their circumstances and make the most of their unfortunate situations. At the conclusion of My Brilliant Career , Sybylla questions the nature of 'vain ambition'. She reflects on the inevitability of death, and that all will die, regardless of one’s status as a 'king or slave'. Ultimately, Sybylla wants to be 'true' to herself, and in striving to do so, she finds contentment. Likewise, Rosalind is satisfied with 'painstakingly' trying to accomplish success by discovering the truth in her work. She is highly diligent, for she wants to discover the truth, and she will not permit herself to make a mistake. In doing so, she '[pays] attention to every detail'. However, as part of this, Watson and Crick are able to take advantage of her, and ultimately achieve success at her expense.

Rather insightfully, Caspar reflects that 'the things we want but can’t have are probably the things that define us'. This reflects the reality for characters across both texts. In particular, Rosalind has a deep 'yearning' for various things throughout Photograph 51 . This is not strictly for success in her research, for she admits that she yearns for friendships, peace, to be able to sleep well at night and for a deeper relationship with Caspar. Rosalind works diligently with her research, admitting that she doesn’t believe in 'laziness'. She regularly stays up all night, which likely contributes to her significant health complications. At the same time, this has an impact on her ability to form meaningful relationships with the people around her. Ultimately, she is not able to attain any of her aspirations, for her life is cut short by her unfortunate death. Likewise, Crick acknowledges that his ambitions in the scientific community have negatively impacted his relationship with his wife. Whilst he may have started out with the desire to 'support [his] family, to do science, to make some small difference in the world', it is clear that he became overwhelmed with his desire for success, and this has cost him dearly.

One of the most significant characters with aspirations in My Brilliant Career is Dick Melvyn. He clearly possesses great ambition at the beginning of the text, which motivates him to move his family from Bruggabrong to Possum Gully. However, this ambition for financial prosperity turns him into a man who is 'a slave of drink', as well as someone who is overall 'careless' and 'bedraggled in his personal appearance'. Indeed, his ambition has taken a challenging toll on him and the life of his family. Unlike Dick Melvyn, who has been harshly impacted by his ambition for success, the M’Swat family seem to be genuinely supportive of their children, and others outside of their family. This is evident in their care for the Melvyn family in their time of financial need. It is evident that a desire for success and 'the possession of money' does not necessarily lead to ruin.

DIVERGENT: Selflessness

The leading characters in My Brilliant Career and Photograph 51 differ in the extent to which they display selflessness as they approach life. Whilst Sybylla’s perception of her circumstances may not be entirely accurate, we can see that she approaches her despairing circumstances with ultimate altruism that leads her to neglect her own desires and focus on how she can be useful in serving the needs of others. At the conclusion of the text, Sybylla sees that she is most suited to 'wait about common public-houses to look after [her] father when he is inebriated'. She seems to be content to submit to her circumstances in order to look after the needs of her family. In contrast, Rosalind seems to be limited in her capacity to discern the needs of others, and the fact that others also require resources to complete their work. This is highlighted when Wilkins complains that 'she’s keeping [him] from [his] work'. Indeed, she seems to hoard 'all the best equipment'. Whilst Wilkins may be exaggerating the extent of the situation, this still highlights Rosalind's uncharitable approach to her work.

At the heart of these differences are the contrasting worldviews of the leading characters, and the way in which they each find meaning in life. Rosalind ultimately views society as opposed to her, and her response to this is to stand her ground tenaciously. She finds meaning in persevering and avoiding mistakes at all costs. In this approach to her world, she is able to justify her occasional cruel treatment of the men around her. On the other hand, Sybylla finds purpose in being able to fulfil a functioning role in the society around her. By the time the novel reaches its conclusion, she has essentially given up fighting for any of her own interests and seems to be content in serving the needs of those around her. This is evident when she rejects Harold for the final time. She notes that Harold is like a ' child pleading for a dangerous toy', and that '[her] refusal was for his good'. In doing so, she demonstrates selflessness, for she genuinely believes that she is acting in Harold’s best interest. The key contrast between Rosalind rejecting the assistance of Wilkins and Sybylla refusing to marry Harold is that Rosalind isolates herself and rejects others because she sees other people as unreliable, and sees that she will 'work best' if she works 'alone', whereas Sybylla rejects Harold for she believes she is acting for his good.

4. Sample Essay Breakdown

As with all our essay topic breakdowns, we'll follow LSG's THINK and EXECUTE strategy , as taught in our How To Write A Killer Text Response study guide. The LSG's THINK and EXECUTE strategy follows three steps in the THINK phase:

A nalyse ‍ B rainstorm ‍ C reate a Plan

Learn more about this technique in this video:

Theme 2 Prompt

This ‘discuss’ topic prompts us to evaluate the topic in light of My Brilliant Career and Photograph 51 and reach a conclusion. This is also a theme-based topic, relating to perception and self-awareness. Accordingly, it would be wise to ‘discuss’ how key themes CONVERGE and DIVERGE across our texts. With our given theme, we will need to consider what we mean by ‘perception’, how it occurs in both texts, and the conclusions we can draw from this that will feature in our analysis.

In order to address this topic, we need to consider the notion of perception and how this connects with self-awareness. Crucially, the topic prompts us to consider where characters think they have perceived their situation accurately, when in reality they have actually accepted a form of illusion or false perception. We want to broadly consider where this occurs, which will enable us to group characters together later on. We also want to address the reality that something usually occurs to cause a person to realise that they have been perceiving their reality incorrectly.

We will approach this topic with a chronological structure . This means that we are going to broadly consider 1) the behaviour of characters with a false perception of reality, 2) the nature of crises that cause someone to confront their perception of their world, and 3) how characters respond to such crises.

As we think of examples to include in each of our paragraphs, we need to also be considering CONVERGENT and DIVERGENT points of comparison. We can base these around the themes from the Themes, Motifs and Key Ideas section of LSG's Photograph 51 & My Brilliant Career study guide.

Paragraph 1: Living with a false perception of reality

  • At this point, we should discuss the CONVERGENT ideas analysed in the Themes, Motifs and Key Ideas section of LSG's Photograph 51 & My Brilliant Career study guide. We should make sure that we focus on Sybylla and Rosalind at the beginning of their respective texts. In particular, we can focus on the naivety of Sybylla and how this connects to her as an unreliable narrator, as well as how Rosalind’s steadfast determination causes her to lose sight of reality.
  • On top of this, we also want to draw connections between the themes and the minor characters of the texts. We mustn’t limit our discussion to one that centres solely around Sybylla and Rosalind, so we’ll take a look at Harold’s relationship with Sybylla, as well as Watson and Crick’s publication of false data.

Paragraph 2: Crises that confront a false perception of reality

  • Now we want to focus on the ‘middle’ sections of each of our texts. Take note: ‘middle’ doesn’t necessarily have to be exactly halfway through the book. However, it should be around the point where there is a significant turn of events. My Brilliant Career actually has a few of these, but we’ll focus on Sybylla having to travel to Barney’s Gap. In Photograph 51 , we’ll discuss Rosalind’s discovery of her cancer diagnosis.
  • As we trace our secondary characters, we’ll look at Harold’s financial troubles, as well as Watson and Crick’s ridicule due to their flawed model.

Paragraph 3: Responding to crises and evaluating a false perception of reality

  • As we conclude our essay, we want to discuss the impacts of the crises on our characters. For Sybylla, we’ll talk about how she continues in her naivety. However, the crisis does prompt Sybylla to evaluate some of her values. For Rosalind, she doesn’t really change her ways, however, it does give her more urgency. These are some of the DIVERGENT ideas that will feature in our discussion. We also need to address Watson and Crick, who end up taking an even more cunning approach to their work, which results in them achieving international recognition for their research.

Want to see the the fully written and annotated version of the essay we've just planned here? Check our A Killer Comparative Guide: Photograph 51 & My Brilliant Career. Not only can you find the full version of this essay, there are also 4 other (5 in total) full, A+ essays fully annotated, as well as more themes, analysed quotes, exploration of different interpretations and lenses and more!!

Measure for Measure is currently studied in VCE English under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response .


Ahh William Shakespeare. That guy. You’re probably thinking, “Great. More fancy language. Hasn’t he been dead for centuries? Why does he keep popping up in our English curriculum?”

At least, that’s how I reacted.

Shakespeare is actually a huge figure in the history of the English language, and really no high school English curriculum is complete without a mandatory dose of him. In fact, the current VCAA study design demands that one of his texts must be on the text list. What a legend.

Shakespeare doesn’t only influence our world in the classroom. The Bard coined many words and phrases that we use today. We can thank this playwright for “be -all, end-all”, “good riddance”, and my personal favourite, “swagger”.

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The Bard’s play “Measure for Measure” was first performed in 1604; over 400 years ago. So why do we still study his works today? In fact, the ideas and themes that are evoked in his plays are universal and timeless; pertinent to his contemporary counterparts, as well as today’s audience. Shakespeare’s plays are like soup (bear with me, this is going somewhere). One could say the playwright is a master chef; he mixes tales of the human condition and experience and asks us to question people and ideas. Everyone, regardless of their time, will gobble up the story.

So, what is this soup- I mean ‘Measure for Measure’ about? The play is known as a “problem play” and/or “tragicomedy”. That’s right, it’s both a tragedy and a comedy. Dire trials and tribulations are intertwined with humorous gags and jokesters. I guess Shakespeare couldn’t choose just one.  

‘Measure for Measure’ is also a problem play. Critic W.W Lawrence defined a problem play as one in which "a perplexing and distressing complication in human life is presented in a spirit of high seriousness ... the theme is handled so as to arouse not merely interest or excitement, or pity or amusement, but to probe the complicated interrelations of character and action, in a situation admitting of different ethical interpretations".

Ok, crazy, but he also said that "the 'problem' is not like one in mathematics, to which there is a single true solution, but is one of conduct, as to which there are no fixed and immutable laws. Often it cannot be reduced to any formula, any one question, since human life is too complex to be so neatly simplified.”

In short, a problem play presents lots of complications and issues that are open to different ethical interpretations. As in “Measure for Measure”, the “problem(s)” is/are not always solved.

So, what actually happens in this play that is problematic? What are our ingredients in this problem soup?


Get it? Cause soup is cooked in a pot. Sorry.

The Duke of Vienna appoints his deputy, Angelo, as the temporary leader. This Duke then pretends to leave town but instead dresses up as a friar to observe what happens in his absence. Angelo, strict and unwavering in his dedication to following the rules, decides to rid Vienna of all the unlawful sexual activity; including shutting down the brothels. Prostitutes like Mistress Overdone (pun alert) and her pimp Pompey are poised to lose their livelihoods. Laws against this activity exist, but they’ve gotten lax over the years. Angelo, a stickler for the rules, has Claudio arrested because young Claudio has gotten his engaged wife-to-be (Juliet) pregnant before they were officially married. Claudio is to be executed.

The virtuous Isabella, Claudio’s sister, is poised to enter a nunnery. Upon hearing of her brother’s arrest and sentence, she goes to Angelo to beg him for mercy. He hypocritically, in an absolutely dog move, propositions her, saying he’ll pardon her brother if she sleeps with him (with Angelo, not Claudio). She immediately refuses, being the religious and chaste woman that she is. At first Claudio is upset because he wants to live, but then he calms down and accepts death.

Luckily, the Duke (secretly dressed as a friar) helps in their sticky situation. He brews up a plan; Angelo’s former flame Mariana was engaged to him, but he broke off their engagement after she lost her dowry in a shipwreck. The Friar (Duke) plans to have Isabella agree to sleep with Angelo, but then send Mariana in her place. In theory, Angelo would pardon Claudio and be forced to marry Mariana by law.

The old switcheroo goes off without a hitch. But come morning, Angelo refuses to pardon Claudio, fearing he will seek revenge. The Duke, in collaboration with the Provost, send Angelo the head of a dead pirate (Ragozine) who died of natural causes. They claim that it’s Claudio’s head, and Angelo is satisfied, thinking him to be dead. Isabella is also told that her brother is dead and is encouraged by the Friar (Duke) to complain about Angelo to the Duke, who is returning home.  

The Duke makes a grand return to Vienna, saying he will hear any complaints immediately. Isabella tells her story, and the Duke feigns disbelief, despite having orchestrated the plan himself. In an act filled with more twists and turns than a Marvel movie, everything comes out; the Duke reveals he was a friar all along, Angelo is forced to confess, and Claudio is pardoned amongst other things. To top it all off, the Duke proposes to Isabella. Crazy!


It’s important to acknowledge what was going on in the world during the writing of a text. This may help give insight into why the author has included (or not included) some aspect of their work.

The Divine Right of Kings

This holy mandate states that a monarch derives his right to rule from the will of God and is not subject to earthly authority. The “king” or monarch is hence practically divine, and questioning his orders is also questioning god; blasphemy.

The Great Chain of Being/Class divides

This chain is a hierarchy of all life forms and matter in the following order:

  • Kings & Royalty
  • Commoners (Gentry, Merchants, Yeoman, Laborers)
  • Non-living things

Hence, alongside The Divine Right of Kings, this ideal gave monarchs huge power over their subjects.

In early 1600s England, there was a defined social hierarchy and class system. Everyone had a place in the hierarchy, and there was little movement between the classes. Within each class, men were considered superior to women.

Shakespeare encourages us to ask a few questions of our supposedly holy leader and his actions. According to the Divine Right of Kings, the Duke is god’s right-hand man, and thus all his decisions are holy and backed by heaven. However, the Duke is pretty shady when he plots his bed-trick plan with Isabella and Mariana. Is this deceptive behavior still holy? Furthermore, is it not sacrilege to pretend to be a holy friar when one is not truly a holy man?

Moreover, when the Duke assigns Angelo as his deputy, would this transform Angelo into a divine ruler too? Could he be divine, considering his cruel rule and despicable request to Isabella?

Women were considered subservient, lower class citizens then men. Alliances were forged between powerful families through arranged marriages of daughters. These girls may have received an education through tutors attending their homes (there were no schools for girls), but their endgame would be marriage, children and maintaining the home. Women and girls of a lower class did not receive any formal education but would have learned how to govern a household and become skilled in all housewifely duties. Impoverished and desperate women (Mistress Overdone) would turn to prostitution to stay alive.

Shakespeare perhaps highlights the struggle of women in his female characters; Isabella, Mistress Overdone, Juliet, and Kate Keepdown. Their futures appear bleak; Isabella is poised to enter a nunnery, Juliet’s husband (her only source of income and protection) is to be executed, while the brothels that facilitate Mistress Overdone and Kate Keepdown’s livelihoods are being closed down by Angelo.

Jacobean Audience

It was a tumultuous time when Shakespeare penned ‘Measure for Measure’ in 1604. A year earlier came the end of the 45 year long Elizabethan era and began the Jacobean era under the rule of King James. Since the late Queen Elizabeth had no direct heirs, King James of Scotland (a relative) took to the throne. Little was known by the English people of this foreign king.

Perhaps, as Shakespeare portrays the ruler in ‘Measure for Measure’ as clever and good-hearted, the Bard sought to appease the king by calming the people and encouraging them to trust in their new monarch.

The playwright characterizes the Duke as loving his people, but not enjoying being before their eyes and in the spotlight; much like King James, a quiet ruler who relished studying privately in his great library.

‍ Playhouses and Brothels

The general public (commoners) paid a penny (could buy you a loaf of bread back in the day) to see Shakespeare’s plays, standing in the “yard”; on the ground, at eye-level of the stage. The rich (gentry) paid 2 pennies for seating in the galleries, often using cushions. The really rich (nobles) could watch the play from a chair set on the side of the stage itself. Shakespeare’s plays were performed at the Globe Theatre. Playhouses in Shakespeare's time were often close to brothels, both in terms of their physical locations in the suburbs and the way they were viewed by some of polite society. Thus, Shakespeare's relatively sympathetic portrayal of sexual deviance in ‘Measure for Measure’ may also constitute a defence of other suburban entertainment—his plays—and a way to humanize lower classes who patronized them.


If you’re lucky enough to study this interesting piece, the study design requires you to prepare “sustained analytical interpretations…discussing how features of the text create meaning and using textual evidence to support (your) reasons”. Basically, you’ll be given a topic; this topic could surround themes, characters, etc., and you must write analytically.

While you may choose to structure paragraphs around themes, ideas or characters, make sure to embed some historical context in there; that’ll show the examiner that you’ve done your research and have a thorough and deeper understanding of why Shakespeare put this or that in. Talking about authorial intent in your analytical essay leads to a more in-depth analysis.

“Shakespeare portrays characters that are flawed as a result of pre-destined circumstances. These characters, such as bawd Pompey and prostitute Mistress Overdone, lived in a time when there existed strong class divides, and movement within the social hierarchy was rare. As per the “Great Chain of Being”, a contemporary religious dogma, there was a hierarchy of all living things and matter, from lofty God and his angels down through the ranks of men and finally to animals and non-living things. In some cases, attempting to move up the social ranks was even considered a blasphemous rejection of the fate chosen by God.”

- embedding historical context (The Great Chain of Being) into a paragraph that discusses characters being flawed because of their circumstances

“Shakespeare offers characters such as Isabella and The Duke who strive for self-improvement through understanding and temperance. Perhaps the playwright suggests that perfection is very difficult if not impossible to attain, even for a ruler like the Duke and a pure soul like Isabella. However, he posits that it can be strived for and that perhaps this attempt to become better is what truly matters.”

- talking about authorial intent - what is Shakespeare trying to tell us?

Think of it as an opportunity to make your very own soup! Add some themes, stir in character analysis, sprinkle in some quotes and serve with historical context and authorial intent. Just like with a soup, there’s got be a good balance of all your ingredients; test out different structures during the year to find what works for you. (Just try not to overcook it, like I have done with this soup metaphor). If you need more help, How To Write a Standout Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare Essay is for you!

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So, you see, there’s more to Shakespeare and ‘Measure for Measure’ than just fancy old language and iambic pentameter (What’s that? Well...). Keep on reading this blog post, where we’ll delve into themes, characters and symbols/motifs. In the meantime, let’s have a break. Grab a snack, a drink, and enjoy this tasty Shakespeare meme.

...Aaaaand we’re back!

Are you ready for part 2 of the Shakespeare train? Hop on board as we explore themes, characters and symbols/motifs. ‍ ‍

These are the major themes in ‘Measure for Measure’.

As you can see, the themes are interconnected. (Do you like the diagram? Made it myself :)) Why does this matter? Well, if you get an essay topic about Justice, for instance, you can also link it to Sexual and Gender Politics as well as Social Decay/Cohesion.

So, why is any one theme an important theme?

Which moments and characters are these themes related to?

Is there a link to historical context?

What are some key quotes?

What could be Shakespeare’s potential message? (Keep in mind that depending which pieces of evidence you look at, the Bard could be saying something different. In this piece, we’ll only discuss one or two authorial messages. The beauty of Shakespeare is that much is open to interpretation. You can interpret characters and ideas in so many different ways!)

Those are some great questions. Let’s explore some of the biggest themes...

Power and Authority

Power not only dictates the Viennese society, but we see it is a basis for moral corruption (I’m looking at you, Angelo!). The Duke is the leader of Vienna, ordained by God. He hands this power to his deputy Angelo, who misuses it in his request of Isabella. Now consider Isabella - she has power too, but a different kind… Also consider characters who have little to no power - Mistress Overdone, Pompey etc.

This theme could be linked to the Divine Right of Kings, the Great Chain of Being and Women.

  • “O, it is excellent to have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant” - Isabella when she pleads to Angelo to not kill her brother (Act 2, Scene 2, Line 130-132)
  • “He who the sword of heaven will bear should be as holy as severe” - The Friar (Duke) to himself, not happy with Angelo’s dog move (Act 3, Scene 1, 538-539)
  • “When maidens sue, men give like gods” - Lucio to Isabella, encouraging her to convince Angelo not to kill Claudio (Act 2, Scene 1, Line 87-88)
  • "Hence we shall see, if power change purpose, what our seemers be.” - The Duke lowkey suggesting that once Angelo gets power, he’ll change into something evil (Act 1, Scene 4, Line 57)
  • “Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall.” - Escalus is sneakily hating on Angelo. This quote shows that power and authority often involve corruption (Act 2, Scene 1, Line 41)

Perhaps Shakespeare is suggesting that power is a dangerous weapon and that in the wrong hands, it could be deadly.

Morality and Sin

This is an interesting theme. What defines sin? For instance, if Isabella sleeps with Angelo she’s sinning before God. But if she doesn’t, then she’s letting her brother die, which is not good either. Bit of a pickle that one. Some characters to consider include Isabella, Angelo, The Duke, Claudio, Lucio, the Provost…. jeez just about everyone! So many of the characters take part in questionable deeds. Was it immoral for the Duke to pretend to be a holy friar? Is Claudio’s sin of impregnating Juliet really punishable by death if both parties were willing, and no one else has been punished for the same “crime”? Are Pompey and Mistress Overdone being immoral in being in the prostitution business, if it’s the only way to survive?

Deep stuff man. This can be linked back to class divides, women and the contemporary playhouses/brothels.

  • “What sin you do to save a brother’s life, nature dispenses with the deed so far that it becomes a virtue” - Claudio begs his sister to sleep with Angelo (immoral, especially since she’s poised to enter a nunnery), saying that it’s for a good cause, and will actually be a virtue/good deed (Act 3, Scene 1, Line 146-148)
  • “Might there not be a charity in sin to save this brother’s life?” - Angelo asking Isabella to sleep with him and trying to paint the act as a charitable deed (Act 2, Scene 4, Line 65-66)
  • “I am a kind of burr, I shall stick” - Lucio, who represents sin and immorality in Vienna (we’ll talk more about this later in symbols/motifs) (Act 4, Scene 3, Line 182)
  • “To bring you thus together ‘tis no sin, sith that the justice of your title to him doth flourish the deceit.” - The Friar (Duke), encouraging Isabella and Mariana to do the dodgy bed-trick and trick Angelo (Act 4, Scene 1, Line 79-81)

Perhaps Shakespeare tries to tell us that there is a fine line between something moral and something sinful. Maybe he’s asking, “who are we to judge?”, since we all do questionable things sometimes. Everyone from the almighty Duke to a lowly prostitute has committed potentially immoral acts. Perhaps audiences are encouraged to be more understanding of others, and their reasons for these deeds.

Mmm, this theme ties in nicely with just about all of the others. How does one define justice? The play explores this idea; does justice mean punishment? Or mercy? How do we balance the two to deliver the right punishment/lack thereof? Characters that dispense justice include The Duke, Angelo (although they have differing ideas of justice) and Isabella. Since Vienna is a religious place, consider the divine justice system (ie. a perfect, flawless system meted out by God) and the earthly one (ie. the flawed, human justice system). Laws exist in an attempt to ensure justice. But does it always work? Consider also the Old and New Testament ways of thinking - the former strict and punitive, while the latter is more measured and merciful (see symbols/motifs below for more info).

This theme can be linked to the Divine Right of Kings, Great Chain of Being, Women, and Jacobean Audience.

  • “Justice, justice, justice, justice!” - (Wait, are you sure this quote is about justice?) Isabella pleads for (you guessed it) justice to the Duke (no longer dressed as a friar), thinking Angelo has, in fact, killed her brother (Act 5, Scene 1, Line 26)
  • “The very mercy of the law cried out… ‘An Angelo for Claudio, death for death!’ Haste still pays haste, and leisure answers leisure, like doth quit like, and measure still for measure” - The Duke, explaining that it’s only fair that Angelo die for “killing” Claudio. (Act 5, Scene 1, Line 437-441)
  • “liberty plucks justice by the nose” - The Duke tells Friar Thomas that the laws have slipped over the years, and the citizens of Vienna are not being punished for immoral deeds (prostitution, sex before marriage etc)

Perhaps Shakespeare says that since we humans are inevitably flawed, that any justice system created by us will too be imperfect. Who are we to decide the fates of our fellow man? Furthermore, the Bard may be encouraging us to be kind when dispensing justice, leaning more to mercy than punishment.

Sexual and Gender Politics

Who run the world? Gir- no it’s a bunch of men. This theme contributes to why ‘Measure for Measure’ is a problem play. The exploration of the female characters in this play are very interesting, and kind of sad. Of 20 named characters, only 5 are women. Together, their lines make up only 18% of the play. Yikes! There is a lot to unpack here. Our female characters are Isabella, Mariana, Mistress Overdone, Juliet, Francisca (a nun who speaks twice) and Kate Keepdown (who we never meet). Their situations: a maiden poised to enter a nunnery, a prostitute, a pregnant girl about to lose her husband, a nun, and another prostitute. Quite gloomy, isn't it? Meanwhile, the men are leaders (The Duke, deputy Angelo, and ancient lord Escalus) and gentlemen (Lucio, Claudio, and Froth). Over the course of the play, our female characters are put into worse situations by men. Their experiences are dictated by men. Consider taking a “feminist perspective” and exploring ‘Measure for Measure’ from a female point of view.

This theme links to the Great Chain of Being, Women and Playhouses/Brothels.

  • “see how he goes about to abuse me!” - These are the last words we hear from Mistress Overdone, as she calls out Lucio for betraying her even though she kept secrets for him. All this happens while she’s being carted off to prison in only Act 3! What do you think Shakespeare is saying to us? (Act 3, Scene 1, Line 481)
  • “Then was your sin of heavier kind than his” - The Friar (Duke) says to Juliet that she sinned more than Claudio, even though their sin was “mutually committed”. Even though they were both consenting, the woman is blamed more. Consider what would become of Juliet if Claudio was executed. She’d probably end up like Mistress Overdone... (Act 2, Scene 3, Line 31)
  • “Who will believe thee, Isabel?” - Angelo says this after Isabella threatens to reveal his disgusting request. Ouch. It really goes to show how untrustworthy women are deemed.  (Act 2, Scene 4, Line 163)
  • “Why, you are nothing then: neither maid, widow, nor wife?” - The Duke says this to Mariana. Basically, he says a woman can only be those 3 things. Jeez. (Act 5, Scene 1, Line 196-197)
  • “When maidens sue, men give like gods” - Lucio to Isabella, encouraging her to convince Angelo not to kill Claudio. So, perhaps women do have some power. But, it’s due to their sexuality; something evaluated by men. Peachy. (Act 2, Scene 1, Line 87-88)

Perhaps Shakespeare suggests that women are treated unfairly in society. Maybe he posits that women are afforded so few opportunities in a man’s world. The Bard potentially says that such sexual and gender politics do not create a cohesive and just society.

This theme, again, connects to many others. It can link to all groups of people (The wealthy, the poor, women, criminals etc). Most of the mercy is dispensed at the end of the play when the Duke does his grand reveal. Characters who choose to mete out mercy over punishment include The Duke and Isabella. Also consider Angelo, who instead of choosing to spare Claudio, decides to kill him to uphold a law that hasn’t seen anyone punished for the same deed. We might think this is harsh, but it a legal and lawful decision.

Connect this idea with historical context, specifically Jacobean audience and playhouses/brothels.

  • “I find an apt remission in myself” - Apt remission = ready forgiveness. The Duke says this after pardoning Angelo (Act 5, Scene 1, Line 539)
  • “pray thee take this mercy to provide for better times to come” - The Duke pardons murderer Barnadine, asking him to use it to do better. How lovely!  (Act 5, Scene 1, Line 525-526)
  • “let us be keen (shrewd/sharp), and rather cut a little than fall and bruise to death” - Escalus says this to Angelo, who wants to enact all strict laws immediately. The ever-reliable Escalus advises Angelo to be lenient and merciful. (Act 2, Scene 1, Line 6-7)
  • “Mercy is not itself that oft looks so, pardon is still the nurse of second woe” - Escalus says this, defending Angelo’s decision to punish Claudio. He suggests that sometimes being merciful can encourage further wrongdoing. (Act 2, Scene 1, Line 282-283”)
  • “I show it (pity) most of all when I show justice” - Angelo says to Isabella that he is showing Claudio pity/mercy by punishing him. A firm believer in the law, Angelo thinks he’s doing the right thing and teaching Claudio a lesson by punishing him.  (Act 2, Scene 2, Line 123)

Perhaps Shakespeare encourages us to look at mercy and punishment from different perspectives. Angelo believes he is punishing Claudio for his own good, and cleaning up Vienna of lechery too. Maybe we ought to be merciful in our opinion of the deputy. Nonetheless, the Bard shows that in the case of young Claudio, mercy and forgiveness is the right path to choose. Finally, consider why Shakespeare may have portrayed a merciful leader to his Jacobean audience. Maybe if he were to portray a leader as fair and merciful, the Jacobean audience would trust that their new king (a man similar in character to the Duke) could be kind and merciful too. Earning the favour of the king and writing a killer play? He’s killed two birds with one stone.

Human Frailty & Fallibility

I’ve encountered many essay topics about how humans are flawed and imperfect. It’s a pretty big theme in many texts, not just in our friend William Shakespeare’s. Human fallibility is to blame for a lot of the going-ons in ‘Measure for Measure’. Angelo takes the law too seriously, he gets heart eyes for Isabella and kills Claudio even though he thinks he’s slept with Isabella. Why? He wants to save his own ass, fearing Claudio will seek vengeance. The Duke is flawed too. He’s a leader, but he just avoids his problems, leaving Angelo in charge to deal with them. Then he plans to swoop in and look like a hero. Kinda dodgy. Consider Claudio and Juliet too. They, like Angelo, succumbed to lust and slept together before they were officially married. (Sigh, humans just can’t get it right.) It’s also worth thinking about the “low-lives” and poorer characters. Are the poor frail in a different way? For example, Mistress Overdone keeps Lucio’s secrets for him. In that way she is virtuous. However, she sells her body to survive. Perhaps she is not prone to desire like Angelo, but serves another desire - a desire to survive?

In terms of historical context, consider the Divine Right of Kings, the Great Chain of Being and Playhouses/Brothels.

  • “They say best men are moulded out of faults, and for the most become much more the better for being a little bad” - Mariana pleads to Isabella to support her in begging the Duke to pardon (her new husband) Angelo. She is optimistic for man, believing our bad deeds can lead to self-improvement. (Act 5, Scene 5, Line 473-475)
  • “Why, all the souls that were were forfeit once” - Isabella pleads to Angelo to pardon Claudio. She states that all souls were flawed before Christ offered redemption. (Act 2, Scene 2, Line 93)
  • “I speak not as desiring more, but rather wishing a more strict restraint” - Isabella is speaking to a nun as she is poised to enter the ranks of the nunnery. We usually think of a nun as living a very strict life, but Isabella wants it even stricter! Here we see her flaw is that her thinking is too singular and blinkered. (Act 1, Scene 5, Line 3-4)
  • “Lord Angelo is precise, stands at guard with envy, scarce confesses that his blood flows, or that his appetite is more to bread than stone.” - The Duke talks about how unhuman Angelo is. The deputy follows rules very closely, almost to the point where he’s like a machine. His nature is too strict.  (Act 1, Scene 5, Line 53-56)
  • “I love the people, but do not like to stage me to their eyes” - The Duke says this to Angelo and Escalus as he hands over power to his deputy. Even the Duke is not perfect, in that he does not like being before crowds of his people (Act 1, Scene 2, Line 72-73)

Perhaps Shakespeare suggests that no one is truly perfect, not even a leader supposedly ordained by God, a law-abiding deputy, or a maiden who is poised to enter a nunnery. Yet while Angelo is overcome by his lust and emotion, the Duke and Isabella attempt to better themselves by showing mercy and temperance. Maybe Shakespeare suggests trying to improve one’s flawed self is most important.

God, Religion and Spirituality

Phew, we’re at our last theme. So, society in Vienna is very much religious. Their beliefs dictate actions and laws within the city. Some very religious characters include Isabella and Angelo. However, our novice nun, who is obsessed with virtue and chastity, agrees to and takes part in the bed-trick, a deception that is not particularly Christian. Our lusty deputy also succumbs, hellishly propositioning a maiden to sleep with him in exchange for her brother’s life. Even The Duke, supposedly semi-divine, makes some dubious choices. He spends most of the play posed as a holy man, even though he is not. He plans the bed-trick to deceive Angelo and lets poor Isabella think her poor brother is dead, instead of saving her so much pain. Furthermore, the title of the tale, ‘Measure for Measure’, comes from the Gospel of Matthew. (See symbols/motifs for more deets). The question of how much we should let religion dictate us is another reason this piece is a problem play.

The theme of God and Religion can link to historical context such as the Divine Right of Kings.

  • “more than our brother is our chastity” - (Act 3, Scene 1, Line 194) and “Better it were a brother died at once, than that a sister by redeeming him should die forever” - (Act 2, Scene 4, Line 111-113) show that Isabella values her chastity and virtue over her brother!! Damn girl!
  • “Ay, but to die, and go we know not where, to lie in cold obstruction and to rot” - Claudio tells Isabella that he fears the uncertainty of death. Perhaps his belief in a heaven has left him in the wake of his impending death? (Act 3, Scene 1, Line 129-130)
  • “Let’s write good angel on the devil’s horns - ‘tis not the devil's crest” - Angelo is talking to himself about his lust for Isabella. It’s an appearance vs reality (ooh another theme!) kind of idea, where you can try to pretend something is something else (ie. Angelo doesn't lust after Isabella), but it doesn't change the thing (ie. he’s still keen). The deputy is comparing his emotions to these religious extremes. (Act 2, Scene 4, Line 16-17)

Perhaps Shakespeare criticises religious extremism in his portrayal of characters like Isabella and Angelo. Or maybe he just wants us to remain open-minded about ideas and our spirituality.

Yikes, there are so many themes in this play! Let’s move it along, and talk a little bit about characters.

Each character can be viewed in different lights, even more so than themes can be. We’re going to discuss characters very briefly because it’s up to you how you want to read them.

Here are the characters, in order of how much they speak in the play. To keep things short, let’s pretend these are all tinder bios. Who would you swipe right on? (Hint: not Lucio)

  • super chill (the benevolent ruler of Vienna who’s let the laws slip a little)
  • loves dressing up (actually spends most of the play disguised as a friar)
  • clever/cunning (secretly counteracts the injustices decreed by Angelo)
  • strong morals (would rather her brother die than she lives in shame)
  • can get wild (conspires with the Duke to complete the bed-trick)
  • holy gal (poised to enter a nunnery)
  • a gentleman (well, his title is. He’s rude about the Duke and abandoned a prostitute that he got pregnant, so maybe he’s not that kind of gentleman)
  • loves attention (legit! He’s a minor character but he has the third most lines of them all! Lucio loves to stir the pot!)
  • loves some symbolism (Lucio represents all the bad stuff in Vienna…..see symbols/motifs)
  • plays by the rules (a little too much)
  • hypocrite (Sentences Claudio to death for sex before marriage, while asking the same thing of Isabella…. wow we’ve found our antagonist)
  • Deep (Angelo is a bit of a complex character. He seems aware of his misdeeds and struggles to deal with these desires. It’s hard not to pity him at times)
  • reliable (consistently counsels Angelo against acting too harshly)
  • virtuous (he’s merciful, lets Pompey go with a warning in Act 2 Scene 1)
  • loyal (trusts in the Duke)
  • hard worker (he’s a prison ward)
  • virtuous (does what’s right by him, disobeying Angelo’s orders to behead Claudio)
  • magician (not really, but he makes Angelo believe that pirate Ragozine’s head is Claudio’s)
  • clever (philosophically debates whether prostitution is worse than murder)
  • funny (his character is the clown, and he’s got some sassy comebacks)
  • poor (Pompey is a bawd employed by Mistress Overdone. Not the best dating bio)
  • down for a good time ;) (impregnates Juliet before they are officially married)
  • cool family (he’s Isabella’s brother)
  • good hearted (initially is horrified at Angelo’s request of Isabella, saying she shouldn’t do it. Unfortunately, his fear of death get’s to him. After he’s calmed down, he’s accepting of death)
  • a man in uniform (a policeman)
  • a little dumb (he speaks a lot of malapropisms - hilariously using similar but incorrect words)
  • not like Pompey (Pompey is a clever poor man, while Elbow is a policeman who’s a little bit all over the place)
  • dedicated (still in love with Angelo even though he called off their engagement because her dowry was lost)
  • a willing accomplice (participates in the bed-trick)

Mistress Overdone

  • poor (she’s a prostitute, who fears for her livelihood when Angelo announces he’s destroying all the brothels)
  • good hearted (kept Lucio’s secret. What secret? Read on…)
  • works for the Duke (as an executioner…. there’s no way to make that sound nice)
  • doesn't have a great name (c’mon it’s true)
  • also likes to have a good time ;) (pregnant before official marriage)
  • dependent (if Claudio dies she will probably end up as a prostitute to survive)
  • can sing (Mariana asks him to sing a sad song about how she lost her beloved Angelo)
  • holy gal (she is a nun)

Kate Keepdown (we never actually meet this character)

  • a colleague of Mistress Overdone (a prostitute)
  • single mum (Lucio got her pregnant and then ran away. He thinks marrying a prostitute is akin to whipping and hanging)

Ragozine (we never actually meet this character)

  • dies (legit that’s all he does)


These are people, objects, words etc that represent a theme or idea. For instance, the fact that I’ve used a bad soup metaphor AND a tinder reference means I need to go outside more. But let’s move on…

The title, “Measure for Measure” draws from the gospel of Matthew. The idea of heavenly justice vs earthly justice is prominent throughout the text. Moreover, it’s worth exploring the Old Testament ways of “an eye for an eye” and “measure for measure” in comparison to the New Testament teachings which lean towards forgiveness and mercy. Now, where do the Duke’s actions fit in? Is he harsh and equalising? Is he just and sympathetic?  

New Testament vs. Old Testament

When the Duke sentences Angelo to death, he makes a fancy speech which includes the play’s title.

“‘An Angelo for Claudio, death for death!
Haste still pays haste, and leisure answers leisure.
Like doth quit like, and measure still for measure.”

Act 5, Scene 1, Line 439-441

This mimics the Old Testament views, which famously states “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (Exodus 21:24). These ideals teach that the person who committed a misdeed shall have the same misdeed done unto them. (For example, if you don’t like my new Facebook profile picture, I’m not liking yours…..but way more severe.)

In comparison, the New Testament states that we “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:36-37)

So, when sentencing Angelo the Duke employs the words of the Old Testament. However, he doesn’t go through with Angelo’s execution, instead showing the mercy encouraged by the New Testament. He’s not really following either way. Perhaps he’s instead choosing a middle road; one of temperance and justice.

Wait, who? We haven’t mentioned the “gentleman” Lucio much in the plot and in this blog post. That’s because he doesn’t really do that much other than buzz around and annoy everyone. Maybe that’s why his name rhymes with mosquito….

Regardless, we do see enough of Lucio’s character to learn that he’s not a very nice person. He treats Mistress Overdone and Pompey poorly, makes visits to the brothel, doesn’t take responsibility for his actions (getting Kate Keepdown pregnant) and bad-mouths the Duke. So yeah, we don’t like Lucio, what’s the big deal? Well, in Act 4, Scene 4 Line 182, Lucio says something very intriguing.

“I am a kind of burr, I shall stick.”

Burr - those little brown prickly things that get stuck to you.

We can think of Lucio as representing all the sins and misdeeds in Vienna - lechery, immorality, lack of justice, selfishness etc. Hence, Lucio is saying that these shortcomings and flaws will always be present to people and in Vienna, sticking to the city like a nasty burr. Damn, that’s deep.


The metre of the verse (ie. the classic Shakespeare writing) in ‘‘Measure for Measure”  is iambic pentameter. This means that each line is divided into 5 feet. Within each foot, there is one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one.

I’ll TELL him YET of ANgelO’S reQUEST, And FIT his MIND to DEATH, for HIS soul’s REST. (Act 2, Scene 4, Line 195-196)

Verse does not have to rhyme, as the above lines do. Shakespeare often employs a rhyming couplet to close a scene and add some drama.

Verse is usually reserved for the higher class citizens, with those who are less fortunate speaking in prose.

Prose is language in its ordinary form, with no metre.

Certain characters, such as Lucio, switch between verse and prose depending on who they are speaking to. This could allude to Lucio’s duplicity, or perhaps a deep understanding of class divides in Vienna.

Names: Escalus and Angelo

Escalus is the ever reasonable and loyal lord and close confidant of the Duke. His name gives connotations of scales and balance - characteristic of the rational man.

Angelo’s name has connotations of “angel”. If we judge him only by his name, he should be a pure and heavenly being. Bah! That’s so fake! We can see that appearance is very different from reality. Isabella notices this too, stating that “this outward-sainted deputy...is yet a devil” (Act 3, Scene 1, Line 95-98).

Angelo’s Words/Actions

There is so much to unpack about this douchebag. Let us briefly consider 2 ideas. When he propositions Isabella to sleep with him, he requests that she “lay down the treasures of (her) body” (Act 2, Scene 4, Line 100).

Firstly, that’s weird. Perhaps Angelo can be seen as someone who is obsessed with the physical - Isabella’s body and treasure. Maybe this obsession leads to his immorality and poor leadership.

Secondly, Angelo struggles to directly say, “hey, let’s sleep together”. He weaves his way around the request, propositioning Isabella so indirectly that at first, she does not even seem to understand his request! However, once she threatens to tell everyone about his vile demand, he speaks bluntly; “Who will believe thee, Isabel?” (Act 2, Scene 4, Line 163). Perhaps this shows Angelo is self-aware that he’s being an ass. Or maybe this scene is yet more evidence of a patriarchal society, with the men knowing very well the power they hold.

We never actually meet this fellow. Ragozine is a pirate who dies in jail while “Measure for Measure” unfolds. His head is used in place of Claudio’s to convince Angelo of the former’s execution. Fascinatingly, Ragozine is the only person who dies in the entire play. ALSO, he dies of natural causes. Interesting. It feels like the play is full of death, grief and many heads on the chopping block. But curiously, there is only one death, of a minor character, of natural causes. Perhaps this says something about fate and justice or offers some commentary on life and hope.

Elbow vs. Pompey

Elbow is a silly policeman who speaks in malapropisms (using a similar but incorrect word for humorous effect). Pompey is a clever pimp who seems to have a deep understanding of justice and the Viennese people. The comparison of these characters, fortunate and dumb to unfortunate and clever, perhaps serves to show that the law is not always apt and that sometimes those who break the law are more clever than it.

Mistress Overdone (or lack thereof)

Mistress Overdone is a pitiable prostitute. She worries for her survival when Angelo begins pulling down the brothels, and she keeps Lucio’s bastard child a secret, only for him to throw her under the bus to save his own skin. The last we see of Mistress Overdone is her getting carted off to prison, crying “See how he goes about to abuse me!” (Act 3, Scene 1, Line 481) Yes, the last we witness of one of five speaking female characters is of her imminent incarceration. Furthermore, this happens in Act 3 of 5, around halfway through the play! The audience never hears from Mistress Overdone again, and her future is left uncertain. Even Barnadine, a convicted murderer, is given freedom and a happy ending.

Consider writing a few sentences of your essay from a feminist’s perspective. Think about the events of the play from the female characters’ points of view. What is Shakespeare saying by portraying Mistress Overdone (and other women) in such a way? Perhaps he is pointing out the injustices of the patriarchal system, or how uncertain a woman’s life was in his contemporary time.

“Measure for Measure” truly is an incredible text. This blog post is by no means an exhaustive list of all its quirks and complexities. This play’s relevance has survived centuries, and I believe it will continue to be pertinent to audiences well into the future. You are very lucky to be studying a text with such universal themes and ideas that you can carry with you even after high school.

1. What do Year 10s Learn in English?

2. year 10 english curriculum breakdown, 3. year 10 english texts, 4. how to get good marks in year 10 english.

Year 10 English is when the Pre-VCE year kicks in. Most schools will treat it as an opportunity to expose you to the VCE curriculum, but with Year 10 level texts. This means they’ll cover the same assessment tasks and begin teaching you the skills you need to have by the time you get to VCE.

Other schools will use this year to prepare students for the different English subjects that are offered at the VCE level, so they can decide by the end of the year. These may include VCE English/EAL, VCE Literature and VCE English Language.

For this blog, we’ll focus on the current Victorian Year 10 Curriculum (this will be updated as they change).

Similar to the VCE years (Year 11-12), most Year 10’s will be expected to complete the following assessment tasks:

Text Response

  • Comparative text response
  • Creative (with a written explanation)

Argument Analysis

Under each area of study, there will be key skills that you will need to learn to nail the accompanying assessment tasks.

Considering what you would have learnt in Year 9, Year 10 builds on those skills a bit further. Fundamentally, you would need to provide more detail whenever you’re expected to analyse evidence or provide an explanation and there will be specific essay structures your teacher will want you to follow. This may vary depending on your school.

Check out ' What should Year 9 students expect when they enter Year 10 ' for a more in depth breakdown of the Year 9 to 10 transition!

Let’s break down each assessment task you’re expected to complete as mentioned above.

Watch our video What kind of assessments can you expect at a Year 10 level!

Many Year 10 students will be introduced to the world of annotations when going through the text response unit. This is because the text will need to be understood inside out for you to score highly on the essay.

When you begin annotating your text, look for the following:

  • Key ideas explored by the author
  • Characterisation and character transformation
  • Social/Historical/Cultural/Political context
  • Stylistic features used by the author, such as symbolism, motifs, etc.
  • Words you don’t understand (and then define them)

To help you have a better understanding of your text, teachers will usually assign you comprehension questions about your text and that will be their way of easing you into writing analytical body paragraphs.

Examples of prompts you may receive for text response include:

  • ‘Night paints a vivid picture of a broken society in a broken place.’ Discuss.
  • ‘Holden’s critique of phonies in The Catcher in the Rye is his way of critiquing society.’ Do you agree?

As important as the keywords are in the prompt, you need to be able to identify the type of prompt you have chosen to answer. Similarly, you must take some time to familiarise yourself with the task words that commonly pop up in prompts.

Check out The Ultimate Guide to Text Response to get a more specific idea of HOW you can smash out this essay.

Comparative Text Response

This is oftentimes deemed to be the most difficult area of study students will complete in English. Instead of just interpreting and analysing one text, you’re now presented with two texts you will need to find common ideas and themes to discuss.

To get in the high-scoring range you will need to do the following to help you stand out from the rest of your classmates:

  • Constantly form links between the texts and the prompt you’re answering
  • Consistent and detailed comparison throughout the essay between the two texts
  • Be able to demonstrate a depth understanding of the texts
  • Refer back to the writer’s views and values (their intention/message to the reader)
  • Explore the different ideas expressed by the author
  • Examine HOW the author has created certain effects on the reader , taking into consideration their use of narrative and stylistic choices
  • Use relevant metalanguage

We also have The Ultimate Guide to VCE Comparative to help you break down HOW you can best prepare for this assessment task.

If you would like to know the pros and cons of the different comparative essay structures you can follow, check out this blog .

Creative Task

This particular assessment will generally be based on the text you have studied with your class. It may be a collection of short stories, a novel, poems, etc. The majority of the time, teachers will expect you to pick one of the characters from the text and write an alternate plot for them while also mirroring the style of the original text . 

Sometimes, teachers will allow you to pick the story and character you get to focus on, other times, they’ll provide you with a list you can choose from. If you’re given free rein for this task, check out our creative ideas you can adopt.

A written explanation usually accompanies this assessment task as well. This is where you break down your creative task for your teacher, sharing with them your purpose for writing it the way you have. You will address your language choices, themes, literary devices used, intended audience, etc. This tends to be around 200 words in length. Here’s a blog that explains HOW you can write the best written explanation.

Some more creative writing resources to help you out with this assessment:

  • How To Achieve A+ In Creative Writing
  • How YOU Can Be A Better Creative Writer! For ANY Student
  • 11 Mistakes High School Students Make In Creative Writing

Mimicking the analysing argument essay you will need to complete in both Year 11 and Year 12, you will be expected to:

  • Demonstrate your understanding and knowledge of both written and visual features of persuasion in your analysis (this is where the intended effect of the writer comes into play)
  • Be able to identify and explain your assumptions with sophistication 
  • Show insightful knowledge of both explicit and implicit meaning within the texts
  • Prove that you know HOW language choices can influence the audience
  • Use relevant metalanguage (this may include persuasive devices, language or visual techniques)

Some schools like to pick a specific issue to focus on, for instance, social media. All of the articles and tasks they assign their students to analyse will then be focused on this issue. Other schools will expose their students to a variety of different issues. Either way, you will be exposed to a variety of persuasive material and forms, including opinion pieces, speech transcripts, editorials, cartoons , etc. This is elaborated on in The Ultimate Guide to VCE Language Analysis .

Different schools will teach different analysis techniques. One of the most common ones includes the WHAT-HOW-WHY method . This will be applicable when you move into Year 11 and 12 English too.

Introductions for this particular essay are just as straightforward and can be quite formulaic. Check out our YouTube video on how to write an A+ language analysis introduction to learn the elements you need in an argument analysis introduction. If you’re curious about the writing process for the entire essay, then check out this video .

A lot of the time in Year 10, you will also be unpacking media advertisements. This will tie into the argument analysis area of study.

Here, you may be analysing HOW and WHY advertisements are created the way they are and the choices made by the creator to influence the specific target audience. Sometimes, you will also have the opportunity to create your own! If this is the case, you will also most likely write up a written explanation of around 200-300 words explaining the choices you have made.

As you would have read in The Ultimate Guide to Year 9 English, reading is one of the most important skills that need to be maintained as you progress through high school.

Here is a list of 10 texts many students at a Year 10 level may have read:

  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  • The Simple Gift by Steven Herrick
  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

How many of these texts can you tick off the list? 

a) Knowing Where to Start

Of course, it’s important to acknowledge your strengths in English; however, to improve upon your marks and do even better, you will also need to fine-tune your weaknesses . Merely relying on strengths won’t be enough anymore. 

Identify the skills you need to improve and be specific!

For example, ‘I need to make my introductions shorter and simpler’ or ‘I will plan my essay more extensively so I will know which pieces of evidence will be relevant for each body paragraph.’

If this is the case, writing a million essays won’t get you to where you want to be. It would be inefficient and a waste of everyone’s time. Hone down your focus to one or two things , instead of every skill that falls under essay writing. 

Referring back to the above example, if you want to make your introductions shorter and simpler, read through a few sample high-scoring introductions and test them you can adopt for an introduction and know which one will work best for you. Or if your pain point is the planning process, compile different essay planning templates and use them in your essay planning so you can narrow down your options for different types of prompts.

This way, starting small will help you improve without overwhelming you so much. Check out How I Went From Average To A+ In High School English to get that boost of motivation and confidence before you embark on this learning journey.

As you do this, don’t forget to keep in mind the 7 Deadly (English Writing) Sins you should always avoid!

b) Work With Your Teacher

As we’ve explained in our Instagram post on the feedback loop , getting feedback for your essay or paragraph from your teacher and tutors will also help you improve much faster !

If you’re not familiar with the essay writing feedback loop process, it goes:

  • Step 1: Write a paragraph(s) or essay
  • Step 2: Get input on what works and fix what doesn’t (this input can come from your teacher and/or tutor)
  • Step 3: Redraft or write a new one to test your skills
  • Step 4: Repeat

Whether it’s just a plan, an introduction, a body paragraph or even a complete essay, taking the initiative to seek help from your teacher will provide you with clarity on what it is you need to be working on. This is crucial if you want to jump from a C grade to an A+. 

Each time you write a practise essay or paragraph, you should have a goal in mind so you know what you’re trying to improve upon. This way, you can cut down your workload and reduce study time !

I would recommend you do this as many times as necessary until you get that 10/10 essay so you can use it as a template or model essay in the future!

c) Write Under Timed Conditions

Even though a lot of the time in Year 10, teachers will be a bit more lenient so they’ll permit you to bring in a cheat sheet into the exam or assessment. However, that doesn’t always mean you’ll be able to finish on time, so it’ll serve you best to do some additional practise essays under timed conditions. 

Some things to look out for when you do practise writing timed essays or paragraphs:

  • Ensuring that your handwriting is legible 
  • Trial and error different types of planning methods to find which suits you best
  • Know the essay structure you want to adopt for the particular essay
  • Avoid ‘fluff’ (unnecessary details) and get straight to the core idea and analysis since that is where you’ll get the marks
  • Practise makes perfect! 

Here’s a YouTube video that details how you can go about writing 3 essays in 3 hours which you’ll eventually need to do!

At LSG, we have the most qualified tutors who have received the marks you’re after who can walk you through your high school English journey with you. 

What will we offer you?

  • Regular English advice and support (whether that is homework help, essay feedback or if you just want to go the extra mile and get ahead with your English studies)
  • A specialised LSG Signature Program that can cater to your goals and help you develop the knowledge and get all the consistent writing practise you need
  • Guidance as we work through the necessary writing skills and strategies that will get you the A+ you desire
  • Access to exclusive LSG resources that will save you time creating your own notes (planning and writing templates, sample high-scoring essays, and so much more!)

If you want more information on why you should pick us, check out our tutoring page . Otherwise, click here to express your interest today!

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hl essay things fall apart

Things Fall Apart

Chinua achebe, everything you need for every book you read..

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart . Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Things Fall Apart: Introduction

Things fall apart: plot summary, things fall apart: detailed summary & analysis, things fall apart: themes, things fall apart: quotes, things fall apart: characters, things fall apart: symbols, things fall apart: theme wheel, brief biography of chinua achebe.

Things Fall Apart PDF

Historical Context of Things Fall Apart

Other books related to things fall apart.

  • Full Title: Things Fall Apart
  • When Written: 1957
  • Where Written: Nigeria
  • When Published: 1958
  • Literary Period: Post-colonialism
  • Genre: Novel / Tragedy
  • Setting: Pre-colonial Nigeria, 1890s
  • Climax: Okonkwo's murder of a court messenger
  • Antagonist: Missionaries and White Government Officials (Reverend Smith and the District Commissioner)
  • Point of View: Third person omniscient

Extra Credit for Things Fall Apart

Joseph Conrad: “A Bloody Racist”. Chinua Achebe delivered a lecture and critique on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness , calling Conrad “a bloody racist” and provoking controversy among critics and readers. However, Achebe's criticism of Conrad has become a mainstream perspective on Conrad's work and was even included in the 1988 Norton critical edition of Heart of Darkness .

Achebe as Politician. Achebe expressed his political views often in writing, but he also involved himself actively in Nigerian politics when he became the People's Redemption Party's deputy national vice-president in the early 1980's. However, he soon resigned himself in frustration with the corruption he witnessed during the elections.

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  • Arts & Humanities
  • Shakespeare

Grade 11 English HL November 2014 P2

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Things Fall Apart

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Revisit the epigraph of novel, which is an excerpt from William Butler Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming.” Why did Achebe select this epigraph to introduce his novel? What elements of the novel’s plot and language draw upon the content and emotion of Yeats’ poem?

Manhood and womanhood are emphasized throughout the novel, and not only in Okonkwo’s mind. How do the gendered elements of Ibo society empower and erode the community? Is masculinity a positive force in Okonkwo’s life?

What is the relationship between spiritual and physical life in Things Fall Apart ?

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Home — Essay Samples — Literature — Things Fall Apart — The Use of Ethos, Logos and Pathos in the Book “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe


The Use of Ethos, Logos and Pathos in The Book "Things Fall Apart" by Chinua Achebe

  • Categories: Chinua Achebe Literature Review Things Fall Apart

About this sample


Words: 877 |

Published: May 19, 2020

Words: 877 | Pages: 2 | 5 min read

  • Mengara, D. M. (2019). Colonial intrusion and stages of colonialism in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/african-studies-review/article/abs/colonial-intrusion-and-stages-of-colonialism-in-chinua-achebes-things-fall-apart/A29545A66F1F4DB5036B8A6F160487B5 African Studies Review, 62(4), 31-56.
  • Okafor, C. (2003). Igbo Cosmology and the Parameters of Individual Accomplishment in Things Fall Apart. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart: A Casebook, 67-81. (https://books.google.de/books?hl=uk&lr=&id=rhHyKR-u1fMC&oi=fnd&pg=PA67&dq=Okafor,+C.+(2003).+Igbo+Cosmology+and+the+Parameters+of+Individual+Accomplishment+in+Things+Fall+Apart.+Chinua+Achebe%E2%80%99s+Things+Fall+Apart:+A+Casebook,+67-81.&ots=V5i3RcS8e6&sig=6drbTko1qH4e-FfmYFSJj14bfIs&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false)
  • Mogu, F. I. (2014). Things fall Apart Across Cultures: The Universal Significance of Chinua Achebe’s 1958 Reconstruction of the African heritage. Annals of Humanities and Development Studies, 5(1), 69-79 (https://www.ajol.info/index.php/lwati/article/view/46521)
  • Jweid, A. N. A. A., & Abdalhadi Nimer, A. (2016). The Fall of National Identity in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. https://www.academia.edu/22120549/The_Fall_of_National_Identity_in_Chinua_Achebes_Things_Fall_Apart Pertanika Journal Social Sciences and Humanities, 24(1), 529-540.

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Use These Things Fall Apart Essay Questions to Prepare for a Test

  • Trent Lorcher
  • Categories : Literature study guides and chapter summaries
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Use These Things Fall Apart Essay Questions to Prepare for a Test

My Favorite Essay Themes

Question 1) What role does the District Commissioner play in the novel?

  • The District Commissioner embodies the racist attitudes of the colonizers. He believes to have pacified the tribes of the lower Niger, when in fact, he has created unrest. He makes no effort to understand the people over whom he governs and portrays himself as a civilizer.

Question 2) What cultural values do the native tribes and the colonizers share?

  • Both cultures value hard work, the importance of god(s), and the hierarchical structure of the universe. It is these shared values upon which Mr. Brown gains converts. The Reverend James Smith and the District Commissioner focus on differences.

Question 3) What role do African folktales play in the novel?

  • The novel is written in English, and therefore, intended for an English speaking audience. Achebe uses folk tales and African fables to make the novel African.

Question 4) What symbols are present in the novel?

  • Achebe includes animal imagery, symbolic of an uncivilized Igbo society. Animal stories are often told to teach values. Fire symbolizes the explosive and dangerous nature of Okonkwo. Locusts symbolize and foreshadow the arrival of European colonists.

Question 5) In what ways is Okonkwo a tragic hero?

  • Okonkwo is part of Umuofia’s ruling class. He possesses a tragic flaw, uncontrollable anger and pride, that leads to his downfall. He is also a victim of fate, having been exiled for seven years on account of an accidental shooting.

Question 6) What role does Ezinma play in the novel?

  • It is through Ezinma, Ekwefi’s only surviving daughter and Okonkwo’s favorite, that the reader sees the human side of Okonkwo. He makes her medicine at night, travels to Agbala’s cave to protect her, and secretly wishes she were his son.

Question 7) What role doe Ikemefuna play in the novel?

  • Ikemefuna shows the differences between each village. His stories entertain Nwoye and his siblings. Ikemefuna serves as a foil to Nwoye. The murder of Ikemefuna highlights the brutality of Ibo society, the fear Okonkwo has of being considered weak, and motivates Nwoye to change before and after his brother’s death.

This post is part of the series: Things Fall Apart Study Guide

Study Africa’s most revered novelist with this study guide.

  • Summary of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  • Characters in Things Fall Apart
  • Things Fall Apart Quotes with Analysis
  • An Analysis of Important Themes in Things Fall Apart
  • Things Fall Apart Essay Questions

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Things Fall Apart Essay Questions and Notes for Grade 11

Things Fall Apart Essay Questions and Notes for Grade 11

Things Fall Apart Essay Questions and Notes for Grade 11 :


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hl essay things fall apart

Table of Contents

Questions and Answers

Essay question:.

Question 1:

In a carefully planned essay of 350–400 words (11⁄2–2 pages) in length, critically discuss to what extent the title of the novel is reflected in Okonkwo’s life and the lives of the villagers.

Short Question:

Question 2:

Read the extracts below and then answer the questions that follow:

Okonkwo’s prosperity was visible in his household. He had a large compound enclosed by a thick wall of red earth. His own hut, or obi, stood immediately behind the only gate in the red walls. Each of his three wives had her own hut, which together formed a half moon behind the obi. The barn was built against one end of the red walls, and long stacks of yam stood out prosperously in it. At the opposite end of the compound was a shed for the goats, and each wife built a small attachment to her hut for the hens. Near the barn was a small house, the ‘ medicine house’ or shrine where Okonkwo kept the wooden symbols of his personal god and of his ancestral spirits. He worshipped them with sacrifices of kola nut, food and palm-wine, and offered prayers to them on behalf of himself, his three wives and eight children.

So when the daughter of Umuofia was killed in Mbaino, Ikemefuna came into Okonkwo’s household. When Okonkwo brought him home that day he called his most senior wife and handed him over to her.

‘He belongs to the clan,’ he told her. ‘So look after him.’

‘Is he staying long with us?’ she asked.

‘Do what you are told, woman,’ Okonkwo thundered, and stammered, ‘When did you become one of the ndichie of Umuofia?’

And so Nwoye’s mother took Ikemefuna to her hut and asked no more questions.

As for the boy himself, he was terribly afraid. He could not understand what was happening to him or what he had done. How could he know that his father had taken a hand in killing a daughter of Umuofia? All he knew was that a few men had arrived at their house, conversing with his father in low tones, and at the end he had been taken out and handed over to a stranger. His mother had wept bitterly, but he had been too surprised to weep. And so the stranger had brought him, and a girl, a long, long way from home, through lonely forest paths. He did not know who the girl was, and he never saw her again.

  • Briefly relate how Okonkwo’s visible prosperity (line 1) is the result of his upbringing and single-mindedness.
  • Describe Okonkwo’s character as it is revealed in lines 1–11.
  • Explain why Ikemefuna was brought to Okonkwo’s household.
  • Refer to lines 15–19. What do you understand about the relationship between Okonkwo and his most senior wife (line 14)? (3)
  • Ikemefuna could not understand what was happening to him or what he had done (lines 20–21). To what extent does Ikemefuna’s bewilderment reflect the way in which Okonkwo expects his wife to accept his decision? (3)
  • Explain how the lonely forest paths (line 26) that Ikemefuna walks on his way to Umuofia are an ominous sign.

Watch: Things Fall Apart | Essay Topic Breakdown

Things Fall Apart Book Summary

Things Fall Apart  is set in a fictional group of Igbo villages called Umuofia, around the beginning of the twentieth century. The first half of the novel is dedicated to an almost anthropological depiction of Igbo village life and culture through following the life of the protagonist Okonkwo. Okonkwo is the greatest wrestler and warrior alive in the nine villages and beyond. He has dedicated his life to achieving status and proving his strength to avoid becoming like his father Unoka – a lazy, improvident, but gentle man. Weakness is Okonkwo’s greatest fear. After men in another village kill a woman from Umuofia, a boy named Ikemefuna is given to Umuofia as compensation and lives in Okonkwo’s compound until the Gods decide his fate. Ikemefuna quickly becomes part of Okonkwo’s family; he is like a brother to Okonkwo’s son Nwoye and is secretly loved by Okonkwo as well. Over the next three years, the novel follows Okonkwo’s family through harvest seasons, religious festivals, cultural rituals, and domestic disputes. Okonkwo is shown to be more aggressive than other Igbo men and is continually criticized and rebuked by the village for his violence and temper. When the Oracle of the Hills and Caves decides that Ikemefuna must be killed, Okonkwo is warned by a respected elder to have no hand in the boy’s death because Ikemefuna calls him ‘father’. However, afraid of being thought weak, when Ikemefuna runs to Okonkwo in hope of protection, Okonkwo delivers the fatal blow. Ikemefuna’s brutal death deeply distresses Nwoye who becomes afraid of his father. 

At the end of Part One, Okonkwo accidentally kills a clansman at a funeral after his faulty gun explodes and is exiled to his motherland, Mbanta. During his exile, British missionaries arrive in Mbanta and establish a church. Nwoye, disillusioned with his own culture and Gods after Ikemefuna’s death, is attracted to Christianity and is an early convert. This is a heartbreaking disappointment to Okonkwo. When Okonkwo and his family return from exile after seven years they find that the missionaries and colonial governors have established Umuofia as the center of their new colonial government . Clashes of culture and morality occur, and as the British make the Igbo more dependent on them through introducing trade and formal education, the Igbo way of life is continually undermined. When a Christian convert unmasks an  egwugwu  during a tribal ritual, a sin amounting to the death of an ancestral spirit, the  egwugwu  burn down the village church. The men who destroyed the church are arrested and humiliated by the District Commissioner, and Okonkwo beheads a court messenger at a village council in rebellion. When none of his clansmen rise with him against the British, Okonkwo realizes his culture and way of life is lost and commits suicide in despair. Suicide is a crime against the Earth Goddess,  Ani , so Okonkwo is left to rot above ground in the Evil Forest, like his father Unoka – a shameful fate he spent his life desperate to avoid. The final paragraph, written from the perspective of the District Commissioner, reduces Okonkwo’s life to a single sentence about his death in his planned book  The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of The Lower Niger . Achebe has filled an entire novel with evidence of the complexity and sophistication of Okonkwo’s individual and social life and the District Commissioner’s casual dismissal and belittling of him causes us to flinch with horror and dismay. This is a metaphor for the reduction of Igbo culture in the eyes of its colonizers. 

The title gives away the plot of the novel and anticipates the collapse of Okonkwo and his society.  Things Fall Apart  is about the connection between the tragic downfall of Okonkwo, who fate and temperamental weakness combine to destroy, and the destruction of his culture and society as the Igbo way of life is assailed by forces they do not understand and are unprepared to face. 

Things Fall Apart Character Analysis

Okonkwo is a man who values masculinity, strength, and respect above all else. He is seen as a leader within his clan and his family, which includes three wives and a number of children. A man of action, Okonkwo overcomes his poor background and achieves great success. Unoka, Okonkwo’s father, was lazy and a poor provider, and Okonkwo is driven to be everything his father was not. Okonkwo’s rigidity causes great harm, first within his family—the killing of Ikemefuna and the rift with Nwoye—and then within society. Okonkwo is unable to adapt when the white man/missionaries come to his village. He commits suicide rather than adhere to the rules of the changed society.

Unoka is viewed by Okonkwo and the clan as lazy, although he was also a gifted musician and a gentle man. Rather than working, Unoka preferred to play his flute and drink wine. He was seen as a coward because he was afraid of war. He had poor harvests because he was unwilling to put in the effort to care for the land. When Unoka died, he was in debt to all of his neighbors.Okonkwo cannot see his father’s good qualities and hates him. He lives his life with the intention of avoiding anything his father enjoyed.

Ikemefuna comes to the clan as a form of payment for a murder that one of his tribesmen committed. The elders place Ikemefuna with Okonkwo, who puts his first wife in charge of the boy. Ikemefuna misses his family but comes to feel at home in Umuofia. He becomes popular within the family, particularly with Okonkwo’s oldest son, Nwoye. Okonkwo is also fond of Ikemefuna, though he does not reveal his feelings and eventually participates in Ikemefuna’s murder.

Nwoye seems to have adopted some of Unoka’s traits, which upsets Okonkwo. Okonkwo worries that Nwoye will grow up behaving as his grandfather behaved. Because of his concern, Okonkwo is even harder on Nwoye and beats him regularly. Nwoye begins to change under the influence of Ikemefuna. When Ikemefuna is killed, Nwoye retreats into himself and is cut off from his father. With the arrival of the missionaries, Nwoye revives. He breaks away from his father and becomes a Christian convert.

Ekwefi is Okonkwo’s second wife. Ekwefi was attracted to Okonkwo when she saw him defeat Amalinze the Cat in wrestling. She could not marry him because he was too poor. After he achieves success, she leaves her husband and goes to Okonkwo, who takes her in with no questions. She is particularly close with her only child, Ezinma. After losing nine children, Ekwefi was a broken woman. When Ezinma lived beyond infancy, Ekwefi rejoiced. She treats her daughter more like an equal than a child. The loss of children has also created a connection to Okonkwo, who accepts behaviors from her that he does not from his other wives. He shows her more care and concern.

Ezinma is the only child of Okonkwo’s second wife, Ekwefi. She is particularly close to her mother. Okonkwo also favors Ezinma. He feels a connection to her and appreciates her boldness. Her behaviors and attitude make Okonkwo wish she were a boy. Ezinma feels a similar fondness for her father.

Obierika is the closest thing Okonkwo has to a confidant. Like Okonkwo, he has achieved status within the clan. He has multiple wives and children. He marries off one daughter, and his son is a wrestling champion. When Okonkwo is forced to leave Umuofia, Obierika cares for his land and property.Unlike Okonkwo, Obierika is more nuanced in his thinking and is able to express himself. He rebukes Okonkwo for participating in the murder of Ikemefuna, tells him to have patience with his children, and cautions him about the power of the missionaries. When Okonkwo dies, Obierika speaks up on his behalf and calls him a great man.



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IB English HLE Explained

Free introductory guide to IB English Higher Level Essay (HLE) by IB44 and IB45 graduates Lareina Shen and Saesha Grover.

In this guide, LitLearn students (and 2022 IB grads!)  Lareina Shen and Saesha Grover share their wisdom on how to conquer the IB English Higher Level Essay (HLE).

Lareina achieved an IB44, and Saesha achieved an IB45 as well as the coveted IB7 in IB English Literature HL, so you are in safe hands.

Meet your instructor Jackson Huang, Founder of LitLearn. His mission is to make IB English as pain-free as possible with fun, practical lessons. Jackson scored an IB45 and was accepted to Harvard, Amherst, Williams Colleges, and full scholarships to University of Melbourne & Queensland.

Photo of LitLearn instructor Jackson Huang

What is IB English HLE?

The HL Essay (HLE) is a 1200-1500 word essay about a text studied in the IB English course. For Lang Lit, the work you choose to analyze can be literary or non-literary, but for IB English Literature the text must be literary.

The HLE will make up  25% of your final IB English HL grade , and it is graded externally. You must choose your own line of inquiry   (i.e. a question that you will answer in your HLE–more on this later).

How do I choose my text for HLE?

Do NOT choose the “easiest” text. Life is always better when you do things you're interested in, and that advice applies to the HLE, too. Choose the literary / non-literary work that interests  you the most, so that you can (semi?)-enjoy the HLE planning and writing process.

You could start by thinking of a theme that you find particularly interesting and determining which text studied in class demonstrates this theme well.

How do I choose my line of inquiry for HLE?

The line of inquiry is the core question that you will answer in your essay. A quick example might be:

"To what extent is masculinity undermined by the characterisation of Little Thomas?"

Now, it's your job to forge your destiny and come up with your own line of inquiry. But it's not a complete free-for all! There are rules. The main rule is that your line of inquiry must fall under one of the 7 main concepts of IB English (see below for a quick summary).

This summary is vague, so let's go in-depth on a couple of these concepts to really show you what you should be doing in the HLE.

Identity is what makes you, YOU. Here are some questions the concern your own personal identity:

  • What is your favourite colour? And why is it your favourite?
  • What makes you different from others? Why do you think these qualities came to be?
  • How would someone describe you in three words?

Now apply this same logic to characters within your text.

  • How would you describe this character in three words?
  • How do their actions within a text influence your view of their identity?
  • How has the author crafted this character to make you view the character in a certain way?

Let's take a look at a concrete example of how we might choose evidence and quotes for a HLE on cultural identity. This example is based on a Vietnamese work in translation “Ru” by author Kim Thúy. For context, “Ru” is an autobiographical fictional account which explores Kim Thúy's move from Vietnam to Canada as an immigrant and her consequent struggles. The structure of her novel is largely lyrical and poetic.

Let's look at a section from her novel that may help us come up with an essay idea based on the concept of Identity. When she returns to Vietnam, she attends a restaurant, however this becomes a major awakening for her in terms of how she views her own personal identity. Kim narrates within her novel:

The first time I carried a briefcase, the first time I went to a restaurant school for young adults in Hanoi, wearing heels and a straight skirt, the waiter for my table didn't understand why I was speaking Vietnamese with him. Page 77, Rú

This is a perfect quote for the Identity concept. Can you see why? Let's think through it together…

Why would the waiter be confused if Kim, a “briefcase”-carrying individual in “heels” and a “straight skirt”, was speaking Vietnamese with him?

What does being “Vietnamese” look like to the waiter? Why does Kim not conform to his expectation? Was it perhaps due to what she was wearing?

Now, if we look at the section which follows this in the novel, we are able to see the impact this had on the character of Kim's sense of identity.

the young waiter reminded me that I couldn't have everything, that I no longer had the right to declare I was Vietnamese because I no longer had their fragility, their uncertainty, their fears. And he was right to remind me. Page 77, Rú

Here, we can clearly see that this character is now questioning her Vietnamese cultural identity. This is just one example that demonstrates the concept of Identity.

Culture seems to be this confusing thing.  Does it have to do with religion? Race? Beliefs? What does it mean? Does the monster from Frankenstein fit into a certain culture?

The easiest way to put it is this:  Culture is the way someone lives. It is their “way of life.” Think of it as an umbrella term. “Culture” can include so many different things; the list just goes on, for example religion, values, customs, beliefs, cuisine, etc.

Now think, how would I form an essay from this concept?

  • When you read a text in class, you will notice that authors let you form an opinion on the culture of certain characters or groups within a text, but how is this done?
  • How does the author represent the culture of a certain community?
  • What types of patterns in daily routines are discussed?

It seems odd writing an essay about “creativity” because… like… how can anyone definitively say what ‘counts' as being creative–or not? When I say the word creativity , I think of new inventions, or maybe those weird and wacky art installations living inside those ‘modern art' museums. But hey, what's creative to me might not be creative to you!

hl essay things fall apart

When formulating a HLE on the concept of creativity we have two main pointers for you. Look for:

  • Interesting + Unique techniques or literary devices used within a text by the author. You can learn more in the  Learn Analysis section of LitLearn.
  • Recurring stylistic choices by the author

Now, for this concept, let's look at how we might select supportive evidence and quotations for a HLE on creativity within the narrative style of author Mary Shelley in “Frankenstein”. The narrative style uses  epistolary narration . This is a narrative technique in which a story is told through letters. This was something that I found both interesting and recurring within Frankenstein, which I believe worked to create a personal touch within the novel.

Additionally, Mary Shelley allows different characters to narrate Frankenstein during different volumes. Let's investigate this! I have written out different character profiles of the narrators below:

hl essay things fall apart

These 3 characters, each relate a part of the novel Frankenstein. This is an example of a creative authorial choice that allows us, as readers to explore different points of view within the text. This is just one example of a creative aspect of a text which you can analyze for your HLE.


Representation is all about how something is  portrayed, conveyed, shown, described, illustrated, depicted . There are many different things that can be ‘represented' within a text, and it doesn't have to be tangible.

For instance, you can look at how a belief, idea or attitude is depicted within a text through different characters or devices.

Again, let's explore a concrete example to make things clear: this time the graphic novel “Persepolis”. We'll consider an HLE on how a text  represents the  impact of political turmoil on society .

Chapter 10 of “Persepolis” highlights societal changes occurring due to the Iranian Revolution. The panels below list the authorial choices relevant to the negative representation of political change in a society. When looking at the techniques highlighted in the slides below, think about how you feel when you look at the panels below. Can you sense a more positive or negative feeling?

hl essay things fall apart

Cool, but what do we do to turn all this into an actual HL essay? Here is a sample response. The introduction might begin like this:

In the captivating graphic novel “Persepolis,” the author Marjane Satrapi explores the social and political impacts of the Iranian revolution. In particular, Satrapi conveys a disapproving viewpoint on political turmoil within the text. Throughout the graphic novel, Satrapi carefully represents how social isolation, hypocrisy and confusion is experienced by a young girl living in Tehran, as a result of political turmoil.  Example HLE Introduction

Then, in a body paragraph, on one of the key ideas mentioned above, we could analyze the different literary techniques. For example, Panel 1 is a great representation of the experience of confusion in the midst of political turmoil:

Marji is the younger girl pictured in the panels above. While her parents appear quite concerned by the news on the TV, she appears to not be in full comprehension of the cause for their distress. This is demonstrated by the visual imagery and dialogue, in panel 7, for instance, if you observe the facial expressions by each of the characters. Example of analysis in body paragraph

This is just a short example from one particular text. To help you unpack any text, try look for the following when analyzing chapter to chapter:

  • What is the main idea of the chapter?
  • Why did the author write it? What purpose does it serve?
  • What do you believe is the overarching importance of the passage?

Brainstorming Tips

If you're having trouble picking your text and line of inquiry, then use this simple 20-minute process to brainstorm potential questions for your HLE:

  • For each text / non-literary work, go through each concept in the table below.
  • Write down a question for each of the two prompts for each category.
  • Repeat for all of your texts.
  • Pick the question-text combination that has the greatest potential for strong analysis.

How do I ensure my HLE question has a good scope?

Choosing a question with good scope is extremely   important, and it's one of the biggest challenges in the HLE. Here's why:

  • If your scope is too broad , you may have too much to write about in order to answer the question, and therefore you won't be able to write deep analysis (which is super important–more on this later…)
  • If your scope is too narrow , you may not have enough to write about and end up overanalyzing unnecessary and obscure details. Also something to avoid!

So, to help you get the balance just right , here are three examples of HLE questions, specifically for the concept of  Identity which we mentioned in the table above (by the way, the example is a made-up novel for illustration purposes).

  • Too broad: “How does Irene Majov in her novel  Deadly Men effectively make her narrator a powerful mouthpiece?”
  • Too narrow: “How does Irene Majov in her novel  Deadly Men effectively make her narrator a powerful mouthpiece for the concerns of Asian-Americans toward discrimination in the workforce in the 21st century?”
  • Just right: “How does Irene Majov in her novel  Deadly Men effectively make her narrator a powerful mouthpiece for the concerns of Asian-Americans in the 21st century?”

How to get a 7 on IB English HLE

There are many things that contribute to a 7 in your HLE and your IB English grade overall. But if we had to boil it down to one secret, one essential fact… then it'd have to be this: Get really good at analysis .

Analysis is the key to a 7 in IB English. It doesn't matter if it's Paper 1, Paper 2, HLE, IO… You must learn how to analyze quotes at a deep level, and structure your analysis in a way that flows and delights your teachers and examiners.

Start with the basics

Start with the basic foundations of analysis for free inside LitLearn's Learn Analysis course.

Our free and Pro resources have helped IB English students skyrocket their grade in weeks, days and even overnight...   Learn Analysis for IB English , the simplest guide to a 7 in IB English.

Basic Analysis

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Level up to Advanced Analysis

Since you're in HL, you'll also be needing Advanced Analysis skills if you want to impress your examiner. We've got all of that covered inside our Pro lessons.

Advanced Analysis

Finding Quotes

Also, you'll need to find good quotes for your text. Some good sources where you can find relevant quotes include  Goodreads , SparkNotes ,  LitCharts , and Cliffnotes . Of course, you could just find quotes yourself directly–this will ensure your quotes are unique.

Understanding the IB English HLE rubric

An essential step to getting a high mark on the HL Essay is understanding the rubric! It is SO important that you know what IB English examiners are looking for when grading your essay, as this helps you to shape the content of your essay to match (or even exceed) their expectations.

The IB English HL Essay is graded out of 20 marks . There are 4 criteria, each worth 5 marks.

Use the checklist below to make sure you're not making simple mistakes! Note that this is not the official marking criteria, and I strongly recommend that you reading the official rubric provided by your teacher.

Criterion A: Knowledge, understanding, and interpretation

  • Accurate summary of text in introduction
  • Focused and informative thesis statement
  • Effective and relevant quotes
  • Relevant and effective summary and ending statement in conclusion

Criterion B: Analysis and evaluation

  • Relevant analysis of a variety of stylistic features 
  • Relevant analysis of tone and/or atmosphere
  • Relevant analysis of broader authorial choices i.e. characterization, point of view, syntax, irony, etc.

Criterion C: Focus, organization, and development

  • Introduction, body paragraphs, conclusion
  • Organized body paragraphs – topic sentence, evidence, concluding statement/link to question
  • Appropriate progression of ideas and arguments in which evidence (i.e. quotes) are effectively implemented

Criterion D: Language

  • Use expansions (e.g. “do not”) instead of contractions (e.g. “don't”)
  • Use of a variety of connecting phrases e.g. “furthermore”, “nonetheless”, “however”, etc.
  • Complete sentence structures and subject-verb agreement
  • Correct usage of punctuation
  • Appropriate register – no slang
  • Historic present tense : the use of present tense when recounting past events. For example, we want to write “In  The Hunger Games , Peeta and Katniss work   together to win as a district” instead of using the word “worked”.
  • Avoid flowery/dictionary language just to sound smart; it is distracting and difficult to read. As long as you concisely communicate your message using appropriate language, you will score a high mark under this criterion.

Here's everything we discussed:

  • IB English HLE is tough work! Start early.
  • Brainstorm using the table of concepts to come up with a strong HLE question. Don't give up on this!
  • Analysis is the key to a 7 in IB English HLE (and in fact all IB English assessment). Check out LitLearn's course  Learn Analysis for IB English   for immediate help on the exact steps to improve in IB English analysis.

Good luck, and may the odds be ever in your favor 💪


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  1. Things Fall Apart: A+ Student Essay: The Role of Storytelling in Things

    With this novel, the Nigerian Achebe straddles the two opposing modes of storytelling he depicts within the plot, employing both the looping, repetitive style of the Igbo's oral culture as well as the written English of the Europeans. Just as the Commissioner's decision to write down the Igbo story signals the conclusion of that story ...

  2. DP English A: Language & Literature: WT1 HL S3 (Things Fall Apart)

    WT1 HL S3 (Things Fall Apart) The following Written Task is taken from Part 4. The student envisions a scene between Okonkwo and his father early in the novel Things Fall Apart. In fact, the student embeds the actual text from the novel at the start and end of the Written Task - in italics - to show the examiner where this fictional ...

  3. IB English Language and Literature A HL: Written Task 2

    In Page 1 "Things Fall Apart", Okonkwo's "wives" are mentioned during Achebe's description of the figurehead Okonkwo. Later on in the novel, Okonkwo's number of wives imply that he is a strong person (both physically and mentally), which enables him to be an esteemed member of the society, despite his father's different persona.

  4. Things Fall Apart Essay Examples ️ Topics, Hooks Ideas

    In the book Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, Okonkwo is used to portray Achebe's own characterization of a tragic hero. Background: A tragic hero... Tragic Hero Chinua Achebe Things Fall Apart. Topics: Chinua Achebe, Domestic violence, Fate vs. Free Will, Igbo people, Masculinity, Poetics, Tragic hero. 27.

  5. Things Fall Apart: Mini Essays

    The novel's ending is Achebe's most potent satirical stab at the tradition of Western ethnography. At the end of Okonkwo's story, Achebe alludes to the lack of depth and sensitivity with which the Europeans will inevitably treat Okonkwo's life. Achebe shows that a book such as The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger ...

  6. 11th Grade ELA

    His tragic novel, Things Fall Apart, is one of the most widely-read books in the world. The novel's message about colonialism is echoed and built upon by many of the non-European authors students will read throughout 11th and 12th grade English. In this unit, students will examine how Achebe develops the complex themes of identity, culture ...

  7. Things Fall Apart Suggested Essay Topics

    Suggested Essay Topics. Part One Chapter 1 1. Compare and contrast Okonkwo with his father, Unoka. Give special attention to the reasons why Okonkwo disdains his father and strives to succeed. 2 ...

  8. Things Fall Apart

    Contents. 1. Summary. 2. Themes. 3. Sample Essay Topics. 4. A+ Essay Topic Breakdown. Things Fall Apart is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response.For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response. ‍Summary Things Fall Apart is set in a fictional group of Igbo villages called Umuofia, around the beginning of ...

  9. Things Fall Apart Study Guide

    Things Fall Apart is set in 1890, during the early days of colonialism in Nigeria. Achebe depicts Igbo society in transition, from its first contact with the British colonialists to the growing dominance of British rule over the indigenous people. Literary works about this period often painted stereotypical portraits of native Africans as ...

  10. Things Fall Apart: Questions & Answers

    The villagers burn Okonkwo's buildings and kill his animals to purge the village of his sin, which was the accidental killing of a village elder's son, an act the villagers view as a crime against the earth goddess. In order to cleanse the earth of Okonkwo's wrongdoing, his belongings must be burned and his animals destroyed.

  11. How to Write an Essay about Things Fall Apart

    Excerpt. To write an essay about Things Fall Apart, you need to be familiar with the plot of the story. Many of the scenes in Things Fall Apart have important action that can serve as the basis ...

  12. Grade 11 English HL November 2014 P2

    Say Yes or No. (2) (1) (13) TOTAL SECTION B: 25 SECTION C ( The novel, Things fall apart ) QUESTION 8 : The Essay question (Do this question if you did question 7 in Sect B.) Answer any ONE of the following essay questions. Length : 350 - 400 words. ( Indicate your choice of topic clearly ) 8.1.

  13. PDF Grade 11 November 2020 English Home Language P2 Marking Guideline Exemplar

    QUESTION 6: THINGS FALL APART - ESSAY QUESTION In a carefully planned essay of 300-350 words (1-1 ½ pages) in length, critically discuss to what extent 'things fall apart' because of the conflict between tradition and change. THIS IS A GUIDE. PLEASE CONSIDER ALTERNATIVE AND RELEVANT RESPONSES.

  14. Things Fall Apart Essay Topics

    Thanks for exploring this SuperSummary Study Guide of "Things Fall Apart" by Chinua Achebe. A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

  15. PDF Grade 11 November 2017 English Home Language P2

    QUESTION 6: ESSAY QUESTION - THINGS FALL APART In a carefully planned essay of 350-400 words (1½-2 pages) in length, critically discuss to what extent the title of the novel is reflected in Okonkwo's life and the lives of the villagers. [25] OR. 12 ENGLISH HOME LANGUAGE P2 (EC/NOVEMBER 2017)

  16. The Use of Ethos, Logos and Pathos in the Book "Things Fall Apart" by

    Frist off Ethos of "Things Fall Apart" has a close relationship with our real world. In page 13, it describing how Okonkwo ( the main character of the story) have to work daily on his plantation from early morning to late afternoon or on the first page Okonkwo is established as "one of the fiercest warriors since the founder of their town engaged a spirit of the wild for seven days and seven ...

  17. Use These Things Fall Apart Essay Questions to Prepare for a Test

    These Things Fall Apart essay questions will help you prepare for a test or help you write an essay. This quick list provides some key ideas that are great, thoughtful topics from the book. ... This post is part of the series: Things Fall Apart Study Guide. Study Africa's most revered novelist with this study guide. Summary of Things Fall ...

  18. Things Fall Apart Critical Evaluation

    Things Fall Apart is noted as the first African novel. Achebe, a master of his craft, also wrote No Longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964), A Man of the People (1966), and Anthills of the ...

  19. Things Fall Apart Essay Questions and Notes for Grade 11

    Question 1: In a carefully planned essay of 350-400 words (11⁄2-2 pages) in length, critically discuss to what extent the title of the novel is reflected in Okonkwo's life and the lives of the villagers. --- Advertisement ---.

  20. IB English Higher Level Essay (HLE) Explained

    The HL Essay (HLE) is a 1200-1500 word essay about a text studied in the IB English course. For Lang Lit, the work you choose to analyze can be literary or non-literary, but for IB English Literature the text must be literary. The HLE will make up 25% of your final IB English HL grade, and it is graded externally.

  21. Top 8 Tips for Earning a Level 7 on the IB English HL Essay

    Demands of the IB English HL Essay. Examples of Level 7 IB English HL Essay Titles. IB English HL Essay Overview. 1. Consider the Source you Wish to Write About. 2. Decide on your Topic by Brainstorming Wider Themes. 3. Consolidate your Line of Argument in a Thesis Statement.

  22. Things Fall Apart: Suggested Essay Topics

    Suggested Essay Topics. Previous. 1. Think about the role of weather in the novel. How does it work, symbolically or otherwise, in relation to important elements of the novel such as religion? Are rain and draught significant? Explore the ways in which weather affects the emotional and spiritual realms of the novel as well as the physical world.

  23. PDF Grade 11 November 2018 English Home Language P2

    SECTION B, you must answer an essay question from SECTION C. SECTION B: NOVEL ANSWER ONLY ON THE NOVEL YOU HAVE STUDIED. ANSWER ANY ONE OF THE FOLLOWING FOUR QUESTIONS. 6. Things fall apart Essay question 25 10 OR 7. Things fall apart Contextual question 25 10 OR 8. Tsotsi Essay question 25 12 OR 9. Tsotsi Contextual question 25 13