Sunday, May 27, 2012

Read to Improve your English - "The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde was an Irish author, playwright, and poet.  His full name was Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde.  Although he died in 1900, his work is still very enjoyable to today's readers, and his epigrams and wise yet sometimes satirical thoughts are often quoted.

Oscar Wilde often wrote in such a way as to get his readers or audience to question their moral values or their lifestyles; to enter into a little self-reflection.  In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian, a popular and extremely attractive young man, wishes that his painted portrait could bear the burden of his inevitable aging, so that he can stay young forever.  The brilliantly written story of what happens is in the public domain and can be downloaded from Project Gutenberg.

Oscar Wilde prefaced the story with a few paragraphs showing the paradoxes of art, which he finishes and summarizes with one of his most widely-quoted epigrams, "All art is quite useless." An epigram, in this context, refers to a short, satirical saying.  Oscar Wilde penned countless epigrams throughout his work.

Let's look at one of the introductory paragraphs to The Picture of Dorian Gray: in this paragraph, the artist, Basil Hallward, introduces a problem that is very present in nearly everybody's life, and it is this very problem that Wilde explores through the story.

First, we'll focus on vocabulary.  Click on the highlighted words to link to their dictionary definition.

"You don't understand me, Harry," answered the artist.  "Of course I am
not like him.  I know that perfectly well.  Indeed, I should be sorry
to look like him.  You shrug your shoulders?  I am telling you the
truth.  There is a fatality about all physical and intellectual
distinction, the sort of fatality that seems to dog through history the
faltering steps of kings.  It is better not to be different from one's
fellows.  The ugly and the stupid have the best of it in this world.
They can sit at their ease and gape at the play.  If they know nothing
of victory, they are at least spared the knowledge of defeat.  They
live as we all should live--undisturbed, indifferent, and without
disquiet.  They neither bring ruin upon others, nor ever receive it
from alien hands.  Your rank and wealth, Harry; my brains, such as they
are--my art, whatever it may be worth; Dorian Gray's good looks--we
shall all suffer for what the gods have given us, suffer terribly."

As soon as you go ahead and read this superb novel, you will see that it starts out with a pile of foreshadowing.  That is to say, Wilde hinted early at the upcoming events in the story.  In the paragraph above, Basil states that "We shall all suffer for what the gods have given us, suffer terribly." When you read the story, you'll see that Dorian does indeed suffer terribly, as do Basil and his friend, Harry.  

Another example of foreshadowing, more subtle, is in the very second paragraph of the story, with Harry gazing on a garden: "Lord Henry Wotton could just catch the gleam of the honey-sweet and honey-coloured blossoms of a laburnum, whose tremulous branches seemed hardly able to bear the burden of a beauty so flamelike as theirs..." Here, Wilde is hinting that beauty, while appearing sweet, can be a terrible, volatile burden to bear.  This is what Dorian Gray finds out as the story progresses.

Now, whether you are reading The Picture of Dorian Gray for school, or you just love reading fantastic literature, go and read the story.  For more detailed information on this brilliant little novel, don't forget to check out SparkNotes.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Read to Improve your English: The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

 The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

This novel was set in New York in the 1920s.  F. Scott Fitzgerald writes in a very interactive style, so this story truly transports the reader to that place and time.

"The Great Gatsby" is in the public domain in Australia, so you can read or download the whole thing at Project Gutenberg Australia.

Let's start with vocabulary.  As you read the novel's introduction below, click on any of the highlighted words to find out their meaning.

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.

"Whenever you feel like criticizing any one," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."

He didn't say any more but we've always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence I'm inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores. The abnormal mind is quick to detect and attach itself to this quality when it appears in a normal person, and so it came about that in college I was unjustly accused of being a politician, because I was privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men. Most of the confidences were unsought--frequently I have feigned sleep, preoccupation, or a hostile levity when I realized by some unmistakable sign that an intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon--for the intimate revelations of young men or at least the terms in which they express them are usually plagiaristic and marred by obvious suppressions. Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope. I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat a sense of the fundamental decencies is parcelled out unequally at birth.

F. Scott Fitzgerald used a lot of literary devices to make his writing more vivid and enjoyable to read. The highlighted passages below are examples of literary devices. See if you can figure out which device is used, and then scroll to the bottom of this entry to check if you were right.

And, after boasting this way of my tolerance, I come to the admission that it has a limit. Conduct may be founded on the hard rock or the wet marshes but after a certain point I don't care what it's founded on. When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart. Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction--Gatsby who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn. If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the "creative temperament"--it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again. No--Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.

Conduct may be founded on the hard rock or the wet marshes is an example of metaphor. “Conduct” is an abstract noun; it is not a person, place or thing, but an idea; “conduct” means the way we behave. In this metaphor, conduct is being compared to a building by saying it can be “founded” on a certain type of ground. This metaphor shows the reader that his or her basis for his or her conduct can be solid or mushy.

personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures has a repeated ‘s’ sound. This is called “sibilance.” It simply makes this passage sound nice to the ear (or the mind’s ear, as you are probably reading silently.) It builds up to the description of Gatsby as “gorgeous” later in the sentence. The pleasant sound of the sibilance makes it easier for the reader to accept that Gatsby, a character as yet unknown, is gorgeous.

as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away is a simile. It compares the man, Gatsby, to something that is powerful, useful, and enigmatic… this gives the reader a lot of insight into Gatsby without F. Scott Fitzgerald explaining that Gatsby has these traits.

Now, whether you are reading The Great Gatsby for class, or you just love to read awesome literature, you can find out more about it at Sparknotes. Read to improve your English!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Trying out Nerdvark's two outline structures for Paper 2 - Essay on the IB English A1 Exam Paper 2

Let's have a look at two of the questions from May 2011 Paper 2, and try outlining them using Nerdvark's two types of outline.

First, Question 2 from the "Drama" section:

This question lends itself to the:     Block Structure – use this if your main points from one of the Part 3 works are different than your main points from the other Part 3 work you’re going to discuss in your essay.
i.      Intro Spatial confinement is important to 6 Characters – the set is a stage - and Death of a Salesman – the set has to show reality and Willy’s fantasy or visions. THESIS: Pirandello and Miller really use particular, limited spaces to their advantage in developing atmosphere, characters, plot
ii.      Block 1: all about Part 3 work (a) 6 Characters
1.       Main point 1 illustrated by Part 3 work (a) the stage has to show that it is a rehearsal stage plus show the set of the “characters’” story
2.       Main point 2 illustrated by Part 3 work (a) the sense of spatial confinement helps develop the “characters” as fictional characters and the actors, director, and stage hands as such by constantly reminding the audience that they are seeing the events on a stage; opposite of what most plays do
3.       Etc
iii.      Block 2: all about Part 3 work (b) DoaS
1.       Main point 3 illustrated by Part 3 work (b) the set has realistic areas set as the house to show which parts of the action take place in reality
2.       Main point 4 illustrated by Part 3 work (b) the apron is used to introduce characters and events that take place in Willy’s crazed imagination; use of lighting, sound, and other effects help to differentiate between the real spaces and imaginary spaces
3.       Etc
iv.      Conclusion Pirandello confines his “characters” and characters to the stage to establish their parameters of existence. Miller makes use of alternative space (the apron) to introduce less “real” aspects of the action.

Ok, now let's look at Question 9, which is from the "General Questions on Literature" section:

This question lends itself more to the:  Point-by-point Structure – use this if your main points can all be illustrated by both of the Part 3 works you’re going to discuss in your essay.
i.      Intro Playwrights can shock the audience through visual, aural, and other tangible means, or through the story, characters, and plot itself.
ii.      Main point 1 using stage effects to shock audience
1.       Main point 1 illustrated by Part 3 work (a) DoaS – uses costume, music, etc to introduce Willy’s visions – audience’s first clue that Willy is nuts. Shocking.
2.       Main point 1 illustrated by Part 3 work (b) 6 Characters – uses costume, like mother with mask and dress of mourning, to show that the “characters” are fictional characters, unlike the actors, who are meant to be “real.” Shocking.
3.       Any comments you want to mention about a Part 2 work of the same genre Shakespeare also used special effects to create a storm in The Tempest – a shocking introduction to the play
iii.      Main point 2 shocking the audience through character flaws
1.       Main point 2 illustrated by Part 3 work (a) DoaS – Willy turns out to be not only crazy, but suicidal. Shocking. Biff is not the great guy his dad tried to raise him to be.
2.       Main point 2 illustrated by Part 3 work (b) The leading lady is whiny and weak, not what you expect from a famous celebrity. The father frequents a whore house. The daughter is a whore.
3.       Any comments you want to mention about a Part 2 work of the same genre
iv.      Main point 3 Shock by way of plot situations.
1.       Main point 3 illustrated by Part 3 work (a) Happy is a womanizer. Willy cheated on his wife. Willy’s cheating is the reason Biff is not a good son in adulthood. Ironic, and shocking, too.
2.       Main point 3 illustrated by Part 3 work (b) The father nearly had sex with the daughter. The youngest daughter drowned while nobody was watching her (so wrapped up in their own problems.) The youngest son killed himself. All shocking. Makes us think about our own gift of life and how we are living it.
3.       Any comments you want to mention about a Part 2 work of the same genre
v.      Conclusion The playwrights we have studied have used stage effects, character flaws, and plot situations to shock the audience. Shocking the audience helps to get certain points across – make the audience take notice; think .

How to choose a question for IB English A1 Paper 2 - Essay!

Nardvark's second English exam is coming up, the dreaded Paper 2 - Essay! He whinged like a TINY INFANT to Nerdvark all week about how he can't even start writing Paper 2 because he CAN'T figure out which question he should ANSWER. Nerdvark explained a couple of posts ago how to choose a question, and now he demonstrates, in a thrilling, action-packed, edge-of-your-seat adventure movie, starring May, 2011's Paper 2 - Essay.  So grab some buttery popcorn, sit back, and enjoy...
If your magnifying glass is not working, try looking at it on youtube: mmmm, youtube...

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Last Minute Tips for Paper 1 - Commentary

IB A1 students taking Paper 1 today may find this helpful: from "Marking Notes" (May 2010) sent to me by the wonderful and talented Mashael. I have added a few comments of my own to help you interpret and apply the concepts listed.

Criteria A and B
The danger of rewarding or penalizing the use of illustration/references/quotations twice in both
these categories should be avoided. Try to use different illustrations/references/quotations in support of your understanding (for criterion A) than you do for support of your interpretation(s) (for criterion B)
Criterion B
The passages for commentary offer candidates a variety of possibilities for analysis and
interpretation. The test of any interpretation is that it has to be tied carefully to the words, images
and relevant details of the text. Personal response, in the same way, must be tied to the passage.
In the descriptor for level 2, there may be other conditions under which a “2” may be awarded,
such as a limited use of evidence or a generally weak response. Substantiation of points may be
made but be very weak/superficial. Try to explain your illustrations/references/quotations clearly, and link them to either the meaning or interpretation or both. Pay attention to specific words/phrases and point out / evaluate any literary features in your illustrations/references/quotations.
What is sought by “personal response” is an individual voice and engagement with how the
text works. Engaged and individual commentaries will usually make themselves clear by the depth
of insight into the text and the quality and interest of the details cited in support.

The first person singular does not automatically constitute a personal response and conversely an
impersonal academic style does not necessarily indicate a lack of personal response.
Criterion C
“Awareness” and “appreciation” of literary features are the key elements under this criterion.
The mere labelling, without appreciation, of literary features will not score the highest marks.
On the other hand, the candidate who is attentive to literary features and deals with them in a
meaningful way, but who does not consistently use the vocabulary of literary criticism, can still be
awarded the higher achievement levels.
Reminder: the term “literary features” is broad and includes elements as basic as plot, character
etc., attention to which is valid and must be rewarded as appropriate. So the most important thing here is to show the effect of literary features. Any point you make, follow it up with "This shows that..." or "This makes the reader/audience feel..." or "This makes the character seem..." or "This makes the setting seem..." etc.
Criterion D
Any form of structuring to the commentary will be rewarded if it is effective and appropriate.
Different conventions are in operation and therefore all approaches, including the linear, (line by
line analysis) are acceptable and will be judged on the basis of their effectiveness.
Examiners should remember that structure does not exist by itself, but any structure must be
measured by appropriate reference to the passage or poem and by its capacity to integrate these
towards the development of an organized and coherent commentary.
Reminder: In this criterion, supporting examples must be evaluated in terms of how fluently they
are incorporated/integrated to shape/advance the argument, not in terms of their appropriateness
or accuracy. The best way to have an excellent structure is to plan. Use an outline or even a spider diagram. Make sure your introduction introduces the passage/poem by title and author's/poet's name, states in one sentences each your understanding of the passage/poem and your interpretation(s) of the passage/poems, and then list the main points you're going to explore in your commentary.  Then follow the main points laid out in your introduction. Your conclusion should summarize the main points again, and restate your understanding and interpretation(s) of the passage/poem.
Criterion E
If you have reservations about awarding a four, you should ensure that these are well founded
before awarding a three. The breadth of achievement in level three sometimes makes examiners
reluctant to award four.
Use judgment when dealing with lapses in grammar, spelling and punctuation; therefore do not
unduly penalize.
Mechanical accuracy is only a part of this criterion. Ensure that all the other elements
are considered.
Examiners should be careful to avoid being prejudiced in their application of this criterion by
achievement levels in other criteria. It is possible to score highly on this criterion even if candidates
have scored in the lower levels on the other criteria, and vice versa. Make sure you spend a few minutes after writing your commentary to re-read and check for errors and omissions.
The following elements are particularly relevant to criteria A, B and C:

The last bit was specifically meant for the Paper 1 passage and poem from May 2010, but I generalized it a bit:
Question 1. Prose 
Satisfactory and good papers, three to four, on a spectrum of increasing precision and detail, may:
• identify and comment on the situation in the passage, with some attention to the final paragraph
• comment on the presentation and effect of setting
• comment on diction, imagery and narrative perspective
• identify and comment on aspects of structure.
Very good to excellent papers, four to five, on a spectrum of increasing sophistication and literary
sensibility, may also:
• explore the situation further and engage with the final paragraph in greater detail
• analyse presentation and effect of setting, explore tone
• comment further on diction and imagery, looking at patterns of these; comment further on
narrative voice
• explore aspects of structure (e.g. sentence/paragraph length, change in focus).
Question 2. Poem
Satisfactory and good papers, three to four, on a spectrum of increasing precision and detail, may:
• comment on diction and imagery or other literary devices
• comment on formal elements (e.g. stanza length, number, enjambment, rhyme/absence of rhyme)
• comment on the use of punctuation and its relation to structure
• comment on perspective, narrator's voice.
Very good to excellent papers, four to five, on a spectrum of increasing sophistication and literary
sensibility, may also:
• explore further the use of language and imagery or other literary devices
• analyse formal elements and explore tone and shifts of mood
• explore further effects of structure and the use of punctuation
• explore further the contribution made by perspective, narrator's voice

Hope that helps a bit. Good luck, and may the force be with you.