things fall apart essay questions and answers pdf

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Chinua Achebe

Study Help Essay Questions

1. Why did Achebe choose to take the title of his novel, Things Fall Apart , from William Butler Yeats' poem "The Second Coming"?

2. What is the narrator's point of view and what values are important to the narrator?

3. Achebe presents details of daily village life in Umuofia, as well as details concerning the Igbo culture. Describe the setting of the novel.

4. What is chi ? Explain the importance of chi in shaping Okonkwo's destiny.

5. Obierika is a foil for Okonkwo. That is, when compared to Okonkwo, the contrast between the two characters emphasizes the distinctive characteristics of Okonkwo. Compare the two characters — Obierika and Okonkwo.

6. Achebe suggests that Igbo culture is dynamic (constantly changing). Find evidence in the novel to support this notion.

7. What is the significance of Nwoye's Christian name, Isaac?

8. In Things Fall Apart , Achebe includes stories from Igbo culture and tradition, proverbs, and parables. What is the significance of Achebe's integration of African literary forms with that of Western literary forms?

9. Achebe resents the stereotype of African cultures that is presented in literature, such as Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Identify instances in Things Fall Apart that portray variations in African cultures.

10. What is the role of women in the novel?

11. Explain the advantages and disadvantages of the social structure portrayed in Things Fall Apart . For example, the culture is polygamous ; the husband, wives, and children live in their own compound; children are cared for communally.

12. Explain why you think Okonkwo kills himself.

13. In your opinion, what contributes most to things falling apart in Umuofia? Explain.

14. How are the womanly or feminine qualities of the Igbo culture important to its survival?

15. Compare Mr. Brown and Reverend Smith. How does the black and white thinking of Reverend Smith contribute to Umuofia's downfall? What would have prevented Umuofia's downfall?

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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 :

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.

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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Things Fall Apart

Chinua achebe.

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Questions & Answers

How does Ikemefuna become Okonkwo’s adopted son?

Ikemefuna becomes Okonkwo’s adopted son through a dispute between the village of Umuofia and a neighboring village, Mbaino. After a woman from Umuofia is murdered in the Mbaino market, Okonkwo travels to Mbaino and demands that the village surrender a virgin and a young man in order to avoid war with Umuofia. Mbaino complies, and upon return to Umuofia, Okonkwo turns the young man, Ikemefuna, over to his first wife for safekeeping.

Why is Ezinma so special to Okonkwo?

Ezinma is the only child of Okonkwo’s second wife, Ekwefi, and she is also Okonkwo’s favorite daughter. Okonkwo feels drawn to Ezinma for her precocious intelligence and her strong will. More than any of Okonkwo’s other children, Ezinma possesses all of the personality traits required to grow into a distinguished member of society. In other words, she is the most masculine of Okonkwo’s children, and Okonkwo frequently laments that she was not born a boy.

Why does Nwoye convert to Christianity?

Nwoye converts to Christianity largely to reject the excessive standard of masculinity his father wants him up to uphold. Nwoye is not at all like his father, and Okonkwo constantly punishes him for being different. Stifled by his father’s expectations, Nwoye runs away and joins the European church. Nwoye’s conversion also provides him an opportunity to learn reading and writing, which, along with the poetry of the Bible, feeds his love of storytelling.

What causes Okonkwo’s exile from Umuofia?

Okonkwo’s gun goes off unexpectedly during Ogbuefi Ezeudu’s funeral, accidentally killing the dead man’s son. Killing a clansman, even unintentionally, constitutes a crime against the earth goddess. To compensate for the crime and protect the rest of the villagers from the earth goddess’s wrath, Ezeudu’s descendants burn Okonkwo’s compound, slaughter his livestock, and banish him from the village for a period of seven years.

Why does Okonkwo hang himself?

After Okonkwo and others return from a period of imprisonment by the Europeans, members of the nine villages gather to discuss a course of action. Four European messengers appear and try to stop the meeting, and Okonkwo immediately kills one of them. But instead of applauding the murder, as he expects they will, Okonkwo’s clansmen grow furious. Okonkwo sees his clansmen’s reaction as a sign that no one will stand with him in defense of the nine villages. Rather than face the ultimate emasculation of succumbing to the white men, Okonkwo returns to his compound and hangs himself.

Why are the villagers shocked when Okonkwo beats his wife during the Week of Peace?

The villagers are shocked when Okonkwo beats his wife during the Week of Peace because these days mark a sacred time during which the villagers of Umuofia honor the earth goddess and secure her protection and blessings for the year. As the narrator explains, “It was unheard of to beat somebody during the sacred week.” Any violation of peace during the week puts the community at risk for a bad harvest—or worse. For his crime, Okonkwo is fined one length of cloth and one hundred cowries, and he is asked to sacrifice one of his goats and one of his hens.

Why are the villagers excited whenever the locusts come?

The villagers are excited whenever the locusts come because the locusts are a delicious, plentiful source of food. For this reason, the villagers view the locusts as a blessing rather than a nuisance. According to the elders, the locusts are guarded in a cave by a race of “stunted men” who release the locusts once a year for seven years, one time per generation.

Why does Nwoye admire Ikemefuna?

Nwoye admires Ikemefuna because Ikemefuna possesses many skills Nwoye lacks and Ikemefuna is an engaging presence to be around. Nwoye looks up to Ikemefuna as an older brother. Ikemefuna knows how to set traps to capture rodents and make flutes out of bamboo sticks. Even though Nwoye knows most of the folk tales Ikemefuna tells, Ikemefuna’s versions have a fresh spin to them since he comes from a different clan, and this fascinates Nwoye.

What warning does Ogbuefi Ezeudu give Okonkwo about killing Ikemefuna?

Ogbuefi Ezeudu, a village elder, warns Okonkwo that he should not kill Ikemefuna because Ikemefuna regards Okonkwo as his father and to kill him would be a sin. Ogbuefi Ezeudu clarifies the warning by adding that even though the Oracle sanctioned Ikemefuna’s death and Ikemefuna is not Okonkwo’s biological son, Okonkwo should not bear a hand in the boy’s death since the “boy calls [him] father.” Okonkwo would essentially be committing an act of filicide by killing the boy.

Why does Okonkwo kill Ikemefuna?

Okonkwo kills Ikemefuna because he doesn’t want to appear weak in front of his fellow clansmen. Ogbuefi Ezeudu, a village elder, informs Okonkwo that the Oracle has decreed that Ikemefuna must be killed but that Okonkwo should not be the one to kill him, since Ikemefuna regards Okonkwo as a father. When Okonkwo and a group of clansmen take Ikemefuna to the woods to be killed, a clansman’s blow fails to do the job, and the clansman yells to Okonkwo for help. Afraid of appearing weak, Okonkwo deals the fatal blow to Ikemefuna despite Ogbuefi Ezeudu’s warning.

Why do the villagers burn Okonkwo’s buildings and kill his animals?

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. Even though the villagers’ actions seem to be a form of revenge or punishment, there is no malicious intent in their actions; they are merely “taking care of business.”

Why are the villagers confused by Mr. Brown’s ideas?

The villagers are confused by Mr. Brown’s ideas because his ideas are, on the surface, illogical. Mr. Brown’s explanation of the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity, which states that God exists in three forms—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—confuses the villagers. They do not understand how the Holy Trinity, essentially three beings, can be accepted as one god. The villagers also do not understand why Mr. Brown condemns their worshipping of multiple gods as sacrilege but worships what they view as three gods himself.

What is an egwugwu, and why are the villagers horrified when Enoch unmasks one?

According to tradition, any village ancestor who has been buried in the earth returns during an annual ceremony as an egwugwu . In reality, an egwugwu is a clansman wearing a mask representing an ancestor who has come back from the dead. As such, unmasking an egwugwu is viewed as the equivalent to killing the returned ancestral spirit and “reduc[ing] its immortal prestige in the eyes of the uninitiated.” For this reason, the villagers are shocked and horrified when Enoch unmasks one of the egwugwu .

Why does Okonkwo kill the District Commissioner’s messenger?

Okonkwo kills the District Commissioner’s messenger to rebel against the Commissioner and the missionaries. Prior to this event, the Commissioner tricked the clansmen and put them in jail for burning down his church. Knowing the clansmen might retaliate, the Commissioner sent court messengers to try to stop Okonkwo and the other clansmen from organizing an uprising against him. Okonkwo’s killing of the messenger sends a clear message to the Commissioner.

Why can’t Okonkwo be buried?

Okonkwo can’t be buried because he committed suicide. As the clansman tells the District Commissioner, “It is an abomination for a man to take his own life . . . an offense against the Earth.” For this reason, the clansman cannot bury Okonkwo’s body since it is now considered “evil.” Putting something evil into the ground is an offense to the earth goddess and would most certainly curse the ground and the clan.

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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...

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.

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things fall apart essay questions and answers pdf

Text Response can be difficult because there are many different aspects of the text you need to discuss in an intellectual and sophisticated manner. The key points you need to include are stated in the VCAA Text Response criteria as shown below:

We have explored some of the different criterion points in past blog posts, but this time we’ll be focusing on number 3,

the ways in which authors/directors express or imply a point of view and values.

Views: How the author  sees  something

Values: How the author  thinks  about something

In VCE, simply exploring themes and character development is not enough to score yourself a higher-graded essay. This is where discussion on ‘views and values’ comes in. Essentially this criterion urges you to ask yourself, ‘what are the author’s beliefs or opinion on this particular idea/issue?’ All novels/films are written to represent their author’s views and values and, as a reader it is your job to interpret what you think the author is trying to say or what they’re trying to teach us. And it’s not as hard as it seems either. You’ve instinctively done this when reading other books or watching movies without even realising it. For example, you’ve probably walked out of the cinemas after thoroughly enjoying a film because the ideas explored sat well with you, ‘I’m glad in  Hunger Games  they’re taking action and rebelling against a totalitarian society’ or, ‘that was a great film because it gave insight on how women can be just as powerful as men!’ Therefore, it is possible in this case that the author of this series favours the disintegration of tyrannical societies and promotes female empowerment.

Views and values are also based on ideas and attitudes of when it was written and where it was set – this brings both social and cultural context into consideration as well. Issues commonly explored include gender roles, racial inequality, class hierarchy, and more. For example, Margaret Atwood’s  Cat’s Eye , is set during the 20th century and explores feminism through women’s roles during World War II while Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights  depicts the divide between social classes and challenges the strict Victorian values of how society condemns cross-class relationships, in particular between Catherine and Heathcliffe.

Questions to ask yourself when exploring views and values:

Here’s a sample discussion on the author’s views and values:

‘…Dickens characterises Scrooge as being allegorically representative of the industrial age in which he lived. Scrooge describes the poor as ‘surplus population’, revealing his cruel nature as he would rather they die than having to donate money to them. Dickens critiques the industrial revolution whereby wealth lead to ignorance towards poor as the upperclassmen would easily dismiss underclassmen, feeling no responsibility to help them as they believed they were of no use to society. ‘ ( A Christmas Carol,  Charles Dickens)

Here’s a list of some sample essay prompts you may get in regards to exploring ‘views and values’:

We’ve explored historical context, themes, essay planning and essay topics over on our Like a House on Fire by Cate Kennedy blog post. If you need a quick refresher or you’re new to studying this text, I highly recommend checking it out!

1. Dissecting the prompt

2. Essay Topic and Body Paragraphs Breakdown

3. Resources

Like A House On Fire  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 .

Dissecting the Prompt

Dissecting a collection of short stories can be very challenging due to the many characters involved, and the different themes. But what most students don’t realise is that almost all the stories in the anthology have common and overlapping themes. And that’s what you need to focus on when you’re building your essay. I’m going to go through one essay topic to demonstrate how you’re expected to dissect and plan the essay. This is how I planned my essays ate the beginning of the year when I was still struggling with writing an essay on short stories and wanted everything to be clear to me before I start writing so that I know exactly what I will be covering. 

Although many of the characters in like a house on fire are dealing with physical and emotional pain, it is their resilience that will be remembered by the reader. Do you agree?

So first of all, you need to highlight all the important aspects of this question.

Although many of the characters in like a house on fire are dealing with  physical and emotional pain , it is  their resilience  that will be remembered by the reader. Do you agree?

Now that we have highlighted the important parts that the question is inviting us to discuss, we know that we need to mention characters who are dealing with physical and emotional trauma yet rise above their tribulations, leaving the readers hopeful and optimistic. In doing so, you’ve pretty much discussed everything the prompt wants you to, but you can always go one step further and have a rebuttal paragraph. What I mean by that is: find a character who is faced with physical or emotional trauma yet gives up and becomes trapped in his/her imperfect reality. That way you show the assessor your knowledge of the text because you show them that even though Kennedy focuses on the resilience of her characters, she also sheds light on the reality that some people don’t have the strength to recover from such traumas.

Detailed Plan

What I personally do after dissecting my prompt is have a plan of what I’m going to be covering in each paragraph. The aim for a high scoring essay is to cover 5-6 short stories, if you chose to cover only 3-4 then from my experience the maximum you can score is an 8/10.

I’m going to split my essay into three sections each covering a certain aspect of my prompt.

First paragraph

Which characters struggled with physical trauma yet rose above it? 

1. In ‘Flexion’, Kennedy explores the pain and anguish Frank feels as he fights his injury, determined not to let it destroy him through her use of linguistic imagery whereby the slimily of Frank ‘[clawing] himself up onto the machinery’ as he is ‘growling like an animal’ depicts the sheer resolve that he exhibits as he tries to overcome the physical pain and handicap that threaten his independence. Thus, his resilience becomes admired by the readers who realise that despite almost dying, he chooses to alter his imperfect circumstances.

2. In the eponymous story ‘Like a House on Fire’, the unnamed protagonist suffers from a herniated disc that hinders his ability to carry out his role as a husband and a father yet he chooses to alter his imperfect reality by working his ‘teeth gritted way up the stairs’ not once but twice, in hope of finding a solution to the stagnation taking place in his own marriage.

Second paragraph

Which characters struggled with emotional trauma yet rose above it? 

1. In ‘Waiting’, the protagonist is waiting in a cold clinic whereby she will be told that she has suffered yet another miscarriage. Despite the harrowing pain she feels and the feeling of something ‘ebbing away’ leaving her once again without a ‘viable’ child, she chooses to move forward and declares that she is ‘not a martyr, just someone who sees what need to be done and does it’.

2. Michelle in ‘Five-Dollar Family’, has to adjust all her dreams of Des becoming the perfect father and boyfriend when she realises, he’ll be going to jail. Thus, Michelle’s epiphany that ‘she is got everything this baby needs now’ and no longer sees any value in Des allow for self-growth and ultimately the ability to cope with single parenting.

Third paragraph

Which characters are unable to show resilience and become prisoners of their imperfect circumstances? 

1. In ‘Sleepers’, Ray becomes a sleeper in his own life in the aftermath of his break up. Unlike many of the short stories in the collection, Sleepers is one that does not end with the optimism of a new start but rather ends with Ray being trapped again in his life waiting ‘to take what was coming to him’ thus signifying the damage his loneliness has cost him; whereby his life has become a series of lethargic and meaningless events.

After planning which stories, we want to discuss in the essay, we can now begin the writing process. So essentially the most important part of writing your essay is planning it and making sure you understand properly what you need to answer in your essay.

Later in the year when you are doing EAL/English practice papers, it is quite unrealistic for you to create such a detailed plan considering the time restrictions. So, I will run you through how I planned my essay in an actual exam situation.

So just like we did with the detailed plan, we highlight the important parts of the question that will need to be discussed in the essay.

Then you need to think of the stories that represent physical pain yet the characters rise above their tribulations:

2. Like a House on Fire

Then you need to think of the stories that represent emotional pain:

2. Five-Dollar Family

Then you need to think of the rebuttal story whereby the characters suffer but do not exhibit resilience:

1. Sleepers

So essentially in the short plan you just outline the stories that you would like to mention and split them up according to which aspect of the prompt they will be answering rather than actually writing dot points on each one. So your plan becomes less detailed but rather just an outline so you stay on track and do not ramble.

If you found this essay breakdown helpful, then you might want to check out our Like a House on Fire Study Guide which includes 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!

By the way, to download a PDF version of this guide for printing or offline use, click here !

Download a PDF version of this blog for printing or offline use

VCE Text Response Study Guide

Like a House on Fire by Cate Kennedy

Like a House on Fire Essay Topic Breakdown

Close analysis of 'Cake' from Like a House on Fire

'Cake' from Like a House on Fire YouTube Video

The Ultimate guide to VCE Text Response

5 Tips for a mic drop worthy essay conclusion ‍

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.

Character Analysis

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.

By the way, to download a PDF version of this blog for printing or offline use, click here !

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!

Essay Topic Breakdown

Character-based prompt: it is not only lewis who develops in così , but other characters as well. discuss., step 1: analyse.

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:

Step 2: Brainstorm

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.

Text Response  is seen, often, as ‘bipolar’: weeks of inactivity followed by sharp spikes of panic as you churn out 20,000 words in six days. If not, students fall for the “quantity=quality” trap, pumping out essay after essay as their one form of study.

Don’t get me wrong. Diligence is key. But here’s what many miss :  Essays are the  END PRODUCT,  not the starting point. To begin, foundations are required:

Step 1: Deliberate Reading

Remember: the better and sooner you engage with your text, the easier to write on it. So. Even when first reading,  have a pen in hand ! At this stage, nothing fancy is needed ---annotate what you can. Circle, highlight and underline anything that catches your attention.

Afterwards, a helpful tip is the “21 words” exercise, which forces you to summarise the text’s messages as  early prep  for topic sentence construction.

“Macbeth, a dark, brooding tragedy, explores the corruptive effects of extreme ambition through the moral decay of a great man.” (21)

“Whilst seemingly about human flaw, Macbeth declares that all mortals are in fact vulnerable to supernatural forces beyond their control.” (21)

LESSON LEARNT:  First impressions matter. The author ALWAYS seeks to make readers feel and think a certain way. Even before you write, you should be tapping into these currents as best you can. All early thinking,  guaranteed , will turn into priceless essay ammunition because you’ve given time for your thoughts to develop and mature.

Step 2: Understanding Context

VCE English involves the study of some sophisticated literature. Authors/filmmaker have used the written word to  comment  on past and present society. For a high score, then, you too must understand these contexts.

---Joseph Mankiewicz’s 1950s film  All About Eve : a satirical jab at the post-war ideal of a traditional nuclear family ---Hannah Kent’s  Burial Rites:  critiquing the patriarchy of 19th century Iceland

Step 3: Note taking

Now we’ve gained some understanding of the text, time for rigorous and more detailed analysis. There are three tiers involved.

1. Chapter summaries

Basically a timeline of significant moments: what happens and what is said. Note the  STRUCTURE  of the text: is it chronological or non-linear? Is it a circular narrative? Why is this structure  employed , and what is its literary function for the broader story?

2. Event significance

This is where we begin to understand not only WHAT HAPPENS and WHAT IS SAID, but WHY. Go back to each chapter and write down the significance of each defining moment. What does it show about a character or theme? Does it reveal an author’s viewpoint on a certain idea?

Put these thoughts into “essay” sentences.  This way, you are constantly practicing how to ANALYSE complex ideas . Come SAC or exam time, you will have already honed your written expression to a far more sophisticated level and what’s more, increased your familiarity with  RELEVANT CONCEPTS. This approach is far more efficient than starting off by writing essays on random topic questions. Build up the knowledge base first!

3. Language

Now, it’s time to elevate your analysis to the divine by understanding the text’s CONSTRUCTION: HOW significant events, significant people are portrayed, and what it all means. Go back to each chapter and look for compelling language/filmic devices, including its impact:

Metaphor Juxtaposition Imagery Sentence length Setting Word choices Intertextual references Symbolism/motifs Camera angles Diegetic/non-diegetic sound

Step 4: Themes and Characters

After close reading and closer analysis, we come to the last stage: bringing all the elements together by zooming BACK OUT FOR A BIG PICTURE VIEW OF THE TEXT: its themes and underlying ideas, its central characters, and the lasting messages conveyed as a result.

Notes on Themes

By now, a ‘theme’ no longer has to be a one word affair like in our younger years: “identity” “friendship”, “tragedy”, “ambition”, “evil” etc. Rather, a theme is closely linked to the text’s  views and values:  put simply, it can express opinion.

E.g. “The struggle for personal identity”

“The unbreakable bonds of childhood friendship”

“The vulnerability of all ordinary men to extraordinary tragedy”

“The harms of excessive ambition”

“The pervasiveness of evil”

Once you’ve identified the themes, use the notes you’ve made on  context, plot, significant events and language , to help support your interpretation.

Notes on characters

Using the previous evidence you’ve gathered, you can now also make detailed and insightful character studies. Obviously, a focus on their defining traits, relationships and flaws is important.

However, in Year 12, what is more crucial is understanding what the character  represents. After all, an author will never craft someone out of thin air. Just like a theme, a character is used as a vehicle to express opinions on the nature of society and humans in general.

Now you’ve finished the four steps. Using your understanding of 1) big ideas and 2) close evidence, you’re ready to start writing!

Of course, along the way, there are a few extra tricks one can deploy.

Exposing yourself to the widest possible range of academic literature---whether it be your friend’s 20/20 essay or a New York Times review on the text----is a sure fire way to juice up vocab.

Whenever you’ve got spare time, open up the book or film you’re studying and refresh your memory! This way, you’ll really internalise what you’re studying. Quote learning will be easier, you’ll form a genuine attachment to the characters… overall, the insights will flow all the faster. To learn more about studying for Text Response, read our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response .

Happy studying!

‍ This blog was updated on 05/10/2020.

2. Characters

4. Literary Devices

5. Important Quotes

6. Sample Essay Topics

7. A+ Essay Topic Breakdown

Pride and Prejudice 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 .

Jane Austen’s 1813 novel, Pride and Prejudice , follows the titular character of Elizabeth Bennet as she and her family navigate love, loyalty and wealth.

When Mrs. Bennet hears that a wealthy, young and eligible bachelor, Mr. Bingley, has moved into the manor of Netherfield Park nearby, she hopes to see one of her daughters marry him. Of the five daughters born to Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty and Lydia, Jane takes an early liking to Mr. Bingley despite his friend, Mr. Darcy, initial coldness and apathy towards her younger sister Elizabeth. Though Mr. Darcy’s distaste soon grows to attraction and love.

While Jane and Mr. Bingley begin to fall for each other, Elizabeth receives and declines a marriage proposal from her supercilious cousin Mr. Collins, who eventually comes to marry Elizabeth’s dear friend Charlotte. While Mr. Darcy is in residence at Netherfield Park, Elizabeth finds and enjoys the company of a young officer named Mr. Wickham who too has a strong disliking for Mr. Darcy. Mr. Wickham claims it was Mr. Darcy who cheated him out of his fortune, which then deepens Elizabeth's initial ill impression of the arrogant man.

After a ball is held at Netherfield Park, the wealthy family quits the estate, leaving Jane heartbroken. Jane is then invited to London by her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner, which Mr. Darcy fails to tell Mr. Bingley as he has persuaded him not to court Jane because of her lesser status.

When Elizabeth visits her newly married friend Charlotte, she meets Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s (Mr. Darcy’s Aunt) other nephew, Colonel Fitzwilliam. While there, Mr. Darcy appears and proposes to Elizabeth unexpectedly claiming he loves and admires her. To Mr. Darcy’s surprise, Elizabeth refuses as she blames him for ruining Mr. Wickam’s hopes of success and for keeping Jane and Mr. Bingley apart. Mr. Darcy later apologies in a letter and admits to persuading Mr. Bingley not to pursue Jane, but argues that her love for him was not obvious. In the letter, he also denies Wickam’s accusations and explains that Wickham had intended to elope with his sister for her fortune.

Elizabeth joins her Aunt and Uncle in visiting Mr. Darcy’s great estate of Pemberley under the impression he would be absent. It is there that Elizabeth learns from the housekeeper that Mr. Darcy is a generous landlord. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy then have a chance encounter after he returns home ahead of schedule. Following her previous rejection of him, Mr. Darcy has attempted to reform his character and presents himself amiably to Elizabeth’s Aunt and Uncle as she begins to warm up to him.

Mr Darcy happens upon Elizabeth as she receives the terrible news that Lydia has run off with Wickam in an event that could ruin her family. Mr. Darcy then going out in search for Wickham and Lydia to hurry their nuptials. When Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy return to Netherfield Park, Elizabeth is pleased to see him though Darcy shows no sign of his regard for her. Jane and Mr. Bingley soon become engaged.

Soon thereafter, Lady Catherine visits the Bennets and insists that Elizabth never agree to marry her nephew. Darcy hears of Elizabeth's refusal, and when he next comes, he proposes a second time which she accepts, his pride then humbled and her prejudices overturned.

Within the text the theme of pride is ever present as it plays a major role in how Austen’s characters present themselves, their attitudes and how they treat each other. For much of the novel pride blinds both Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth of their true feelings and hence becomes something both characters must overcome. While Darcy’s pride makes him look down upon those not immediately within his social circle, Elizabeth takes so much pride in her ability to judge the character of others that she refuses to amend her opinions even when her initial judgements are proven wrong. Indeed, this is why Elizabeth despises the benign Darcy early on in the text, but initially takes a liking to the mendacious Wickham. By the denouement of the novel, both Datcy and Elizabeth have overcome their pride by encouraging and supporting each others own personal evolution. Indeed, as Darcy sheds his elitism Elizabeth comes to realise the importance of revaluation.

The tendency of others to judge one another based on perceptions, rather than who they are and what they value becomes a point of prolific discussion within Pride and Prejudice . Indeed, the title of the text clearly implies the related nature of pride and prejudice as both Darcy and Elizabeth are often shown to make the wrong assumptions; Darcy’s assumptions grounded in his social prejudice whereas Elizabeth’s is rooted in her discernment led astray by her excessive pride. As Austen subtly mocks the two lovers biases, she gives the impression that while such flaws are common faulting someone else for the prejudice is easy while recognising it in yourself is hard. While Austen’s representation of prejudice is aligned with personal development and moral growth as she wittingly condemns those who refuse to set aside their prejudices like Lady Catherine and Caroline.

The family unit that Austen displays with Pride and Prejudice becomes the social and domestic sphere as it forms the emotional center of the novel in which she grounds her analysis and discussion. Not only does the family determine the social hierarchy and standing of its members but provides the intellectual and moral support for its children. In the case of the Bennet family, Austen reveals how the individuals identity and sense of self is molded within the family as she presents Jane and Elizabeth as mature, intelligent and witty and lydia as a luckless fool. Not only this, Austen reveals the emotional spectrum that lives within every family as shown through Elizabeth’s varying relationship with her parents; the tense relationship with her mother and sympathy she shares with her father.

At the center of its plot, Pride and Prejudice examines the complex inequality that governs the relationships between men and women and the limited options that women have in regards to marriage. Austen portrays a world in which the socio-economic relationship between security and love limits the woman and her choices as it based exclusively on a family’s social rank and connections. Indeed, the expectations of the Bennet sisters, as members of the upper class is to marry well instead of work. As women can not inherit their families estate nor money, their only option is to marry well in the hope of attaining wealth and social standing. Through this, Austen explains Mrs. Bennet’s hysteria about marrying off her daughters. Yet Austen is also shown to be critical of those who marry purely for security, thereby offering Elizabth as the ideal, who initially refuses marriage as she refutes financial comfort but ends up marrying for love.

Class and Wealth

As Austen focuses much of her novel on the impacts of class and wealth, she makes clear of the system that favours the rich and powerful and often punishes the weak and poor. Characters like Lady Catherine, whose enforcement of rigid hierarchical positions often leads her to mistreatment of others. Other characters like Mr. Collins and Caroline are depicted as void of genuine connection as they are unable to live and love outside the perimeter of their social standing. In contrast, characters such as Bingley and the Gardiners offer a respectable embodiment of wealth and class through their kindness and manners. Indeed, Austen does not criticise the entire class system as she offers examples that serve to demonstrate the decency and respectability. Darcy embodies all that a high-class gentleman should as though he is initially presented as flawed and arrogant, it becomes clear as the novel progresses that he is capable of change. Always generous and compassionate, his involvement with Elizabeth helps to brings his nurturing nature to the foreground, evident in his attempts to help the foolish lydia. Ultimately, Austen suggest through Darcy’s and Elizabeth's union that though class and wealth are restrictive, they do not determine one’s character nor who one is capable of loving.

Literary Devices

Important Quotes

When writing on any text in Text Response, it is essential to use quotes and analyse them.

Let’s take this quote, for example.

“it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”

This is the opening line of the novel. It is satirical, ironic and mocking in tone. Austen makes fun of the notion that wealthy bachelors must be wanting to marry in order to be valued in society. By using this tone, she subverts this “truth universally acknowledged” and encourages readers to question this societal presumption of wealth and marriage.

Have a look at the following quotes and ask yourself, ‘how would I analyse this quote?’:

1. What do the various relationships shown in Pride and Prejudice tell us about love, marriage and society?

2. Austen shows that even those of the best moral character can be blinded by their pride and prejudice . To what extent do you agree?

3. Elizabeth Bennet holds a radical view of marriage for her time . What impact does this attitude have on the other characters' lives and relationships ? Discuss.

For more sample essay topics, head over to our Pride and Prejudice Study Guid e to practice writing essays using the analysis you've learnt in this blog!

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 because it’ll dramatically enhance how much you can take away from the following essays and more importantly, to then be able to apply these in your own writing.

Step 3: C reate a Plan  

Character-based Prompt: Elizabeth Bennet holds a radical view of marriage for her time. What impact could this attitude have on the other characters' lives and relationships? Discuss. 

The following comes essay topic breakdown comes from our Pride and Prejudice Study Guide:

Step 1: Analyse 

Elizabeth Bennet holds a radical view of marriage for her time . What impact could this attitude have on the other characters' lives and relationships ? Discuss.

A character based essay prompt is pretty self-explanatory as the prompt will have a specific focus on one character or a group of characters. While they may look relatively simple and straightforward, a lot of students struggle with character based questions as they find it is hard to discuss ideas in a lot of depth. With that in mind, it's important that we strive for what the author is saying; what is the author trying to convey through this specific character? What do they represent? Do they advocate for specific ideas or does the author use this character to condemn a certain idea and action?  

This question is looking at the attitude Elizabeth Bennet has in regard to the expectation and institution of marriage and how her view could impact the lives of the people around her. As always, we want to make sure that we not only identify our key words but define them. I started by first defining/ exploring the attitude Elizabeth holds towards the institution of marriage ; as marriage was not only an expectation in the times of regency England but a means to secure future financial security , Elizabeth’s outlook that an individual should marry only for the purpose of happiness and love was not only radical but dangerous . Her outlook, while noble, could and did put her family at jeopardy of being cast out from their estate as without a union between one of the Bennet daughters and Mr. Collins, Mr. Collins would have every right to do so as the only male inherent. I also looked at the wider implications Elizabeth’s outlook could have on the lives of the other characters such as Charlotte , Darcy and Bingley .

Step 3: Plan

Contention : Your contention relates to your interpretation of the essay prompt and the stance you’re going to take – i.e. are you in agreement, disagreement, or both to an extent.

While radical for her time, Elizabeth's progressive view of marriage can be seen to advocate for the rights of women and love and happiness but also, can jeopardise the livelihoods of those around her as Elizabeth is guided by selfish motives. 

P1: The radical view of marriage Elizabeth holds can be viewed as selfish and guided by her own self interest which is shown to negatively impact the lives of her family. 

P2: As Elizabeth diverts from the traditional approach to marriage, she encourages her friends and loved ones to follow their own hearts and morals rather than society's expectations. 

P3: Because Elizabeth is depicted as a bold and beautiful woman, she is unable to recognise that her radical view is a luxury that not all characters have access to. 

If you'd like to see an A+ essay on the essay topic above, complete with annotations on HOW and WHY the essays achieved A+ so you can emulate this same success, then you'll definitely want to check out our Pride and Prejudice Study Guide: A Killer Text Guide! In it, we also cover themes, characters, views and values, metalanguage and have 4 other sample A+ essays completely annotated so you can kill your next SAC or exam! Check it out here ."

Updated 26/12/2020

It’s that time of year again when many VCE English students start brainstorming their Oral Presentation SACs. To help you out, we’ve collated some of the biggest names and issues in the recent Australian media.

Each heading represents a broad, ongoing issue, and under it are more specific debates within each issue. Going down a more precise route with your topic selection can make your speech a lot more engaging and current, so pick a broad issue that speaks to you, and ‘zoom in’ on a debate for your speech. Don't forget to also check out Our Ultimate Guide to Oral Presentations for everything you need to know for Oral Presentations.


1. green new deal.

Originally, the 'New Deal' was a bunch of economic reforms that restimulated the economy back into action after the Great Depression. The ' Green New Deal' is a bunch of policies that combines this economic approach with the need to fight the climate crisis. It was first brought before the United States Congress by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in late 2018 , but was ultimately voted down. It called for a 10-year transformation of the economy to provide green jobs; transition to renewable, zero-emission energy sources; and eliminate pollution across sectors such as manufacturing, agriculture and transport. Is this something that we need to adopt in Australia? Is now the best time for that conversation, given the political climate (not to mention the actual climate of the worst bushfire season in history)? And what exactly are the options? Australia Needs a Green New Deal (03/11/2019) What could an Australian green new deal look like? (28/11/2019) Why the Green New Deal matters (29/11/2019) Let’s make the 2020s the decade that Australia gets its mojo back (04/01/2020)

2. Young People on Strike

2019 saw the emergence of the ' school strike for climate' , an international movement of students skipping school to demonstrate and demand action on climate change. It took off after Greta Thunberg, a Swedish schoolgirl, began protesting outside the Swedish parliament in late 2018. It sparked widespread discussion on young people, education and the merits of striking. Scott Morrison was drawn into the discussion, stating that he doesn’t 'want our children to have anxieties about these issues', while defending his government’s track record on renewable energy investment. So - should young people be worrying about these issues at all? Are they missing out on crucial years of education by taking to the streets? And, is what they’re saying really unreasonable at all? Global climate strike sees ‘hundreds of thousands’ of Australians rally (video, 0/09/2019) The climate strike organiser who received a near-perfect ATAR (18/12/2019) How Greta Thunberg’s school strike went global: a lo ok back (podcast, 30/12/2019)

3. To Prime Minister or Not To Prime Minister

Australia is already facing its most severe bushfire season yet with several months of fire season left to go. During these months, Scott Morrison took a holiday in Hawaii, staying there even after stating his intention to return . Even as he returned, he was shunned for perceived insensitivity and insincerity . What should a Prime Minister do in a state of national emergency? While Morrison delegated many of the duties to state premiers, are these distinctions important in times of crisis? Is he the leader we deserve after his resounding, miraculous election victory in 2019? Where to from here? ScoMo, Where the Bloody Hell Are You? (20/12/2019) Don’t dismiss our anger in Cobargo Scott Morrison, we are the ones living through a crisis (02/01/2020) Scott Morrison, Australia’s singed prime minister (03/01/2020) ‘Bloodcurdling insanity’: Real reason ScoMo is under fire (04/01/2020)

4. Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS)

An ETS basically makes carbon gas emissions an economic good that gets bought and sold like any other - corporations that emit more gas will need to now purchase permission to emit, while corporations that emit less will be able to sell their permits. The debate for an ETS in Australia is old (surprisingly perhaps, John Howard first broached the idea towards the end of his Prime Ministership ), but became political poison after Julia Gillard introduced it despite promising that her government wouldn’t introduce a carbon tax in the 2010 election. It has since been scrapped, making Australia the only government in the world to ever dismantle an operational ETS. A decade later, is it now the right time to revisit this discussion? Just why are so many people opposed to policy that would stop corporations from emitting for free? And what does this mean for our international reputation and commitments? One of the world’s biggest emitters is trying to fly under the radar at Cop25 (06/12/2019) For 10 Years, Australia Has Been In A Climate-Policy Abyss (07/12/2019) ‘Not moving fast enough’: former head of Scott Morrison’s department criticises climate change policies (18/12/2019)


1. homophobia in sport.

So this is nothing particularly new, but it’s unfortunately still present even as we move into 2020. Should sports stars be penalised for their opinions when they’re exclusionary and harmful, or should we respect them for their sporting prowess? Maybe this speaks more broadly to the standards we expect sporting stars or public figures in general to set as role models… Israel Folau: Australian rugby star condemned for linking bushfires to ‘sinful’ homosexuality (18/11/2019) Marcus Stoinis fined $7,500 for homophobic slur during Big Bash League (04/01/2020)

Bear with me on this one - while she isn’t specifically a ‘social equity’ debate, Lizzo’s emergence as a breakout singer of 2019 intersects with a lot of social equity movements, from body positivity and feminism to racial justice and self-empowerment. Her upcoming shows in Australia sold out in minutes, which speaks to her newfound popularity as a global star. What is it about Lizzo that resonates with so many people? What and who does she represent? Is the new decade also a watershed moment for diversity in entertainment? Lizzo taps into the real meaning of freedom in 2019 (07/10/2019) Lizzo, pop’s reigning phenomenon, brings her juice to Australia (05/01/2020)

3. Gender Wage Gap in Sport

Again, this one isn’t too new, but a fresh wave of activism for equal pay in sport was sparked this year by Megan Rapinoe, the captain of the US women’s national soccer team (which won the World Cup in 2019). She, her team and the men’s team sued the national soccer federation for gender discrimination and other countries, Australia included, followed suit. Why does the wage gap exist and what are the reasons for closing it? Is a preference for the men’s game enough to justify paying women less (despite the fact that preferences like this are usually rooted in misogyny and are subjective anyway)? And how does this translate between different sports such as soccer, AFLW and tennis (where Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic have clashed over this before)? AFLW pay dispute is over (28/10/2019) Matildas become first women’s team in world football to be paid the same as men’s team (video, 05/11/2019) Australia’s women footballers get equal pay in landmark deal (06/11/2019) ‘We Have To Be Better’: Megan Rapinoe and the Year of Victory and Advocacy (18/12/2019)

4. Newstart

Newstart is Australia’s income support for those aged 22 to 64 who are unemployed. Though a form of social security, it’s fallen behind in terms of how much economic security it can provide recently, with years of no real increases (that is, increases which offset inflation - basically things are getting more expensive and even if Newstart increases, it doesn’t give you more purchasing power in reality). Is it finally time to increase Newstart? There was some discussion around the holiday season being particularly expensive, but should an increase be permanent? How hard is it to get a job in today’s economy? And are the payments enough to live on if you can’t find a job? Morrison government defends Newstart amid criticism it is among low est welfare payments in OECD (08/10/2019) Report highlights social crisis confronting Australian youth on welfare (14/12/2019) Survey finds two-thirds of Australians back a Newstart Christmas boost (22/12/2019) The economic case for increasing Newstart (01/01/2020)

5. First Nations Justice

'Voice' was the Australian National Dictionary Centre’s word of the year in 2019 , in the context of Indigenous representation in the Australian parliament. A Voice to Parliament would enshrine Indigenous input into laws and policies on issues affecting First Nations communities, and has been called for by activists for some time now. How does this tie into/is this distinct from other issues such as constitutional recognition? Why haven’t we seen a lot of progress or consensus on these issues? And what might it mean for those communities to be able to make autonomous decisions? There’s a 60,000-Year-Old Way to Help Stop Australia Burning (16/12/2019) ‘I feel unchained’: Mauboy adds her voice to Indigenous recognition campaign (29/12/2019) The Voice to Parliament isn’t a new idea – Indigenous activists called for it nearly a century ago (02/01/2020) ‘It can be more controversial’: Costello warns on constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians (02/01/2020)

1. Teaching as a Decreasingly Popular Profession

Australian teachers have been struggling with increasingly difficult jobs and flat-lining pay in recent years, and teachers’ unions haven’t been able to successfully find a solution to offset these concerns. Tertiary students are now turning away from pursuing a career in education , and there could be many reasons as to why. What does this mean for the future of Australian education? In what ways do you as a student feel the impacts? And what could be some solutions - perhaps both from a teacher’s point of view, but also from a student-centric viewpoint? Three charts on teachers’ pay in Australia: it starts out OK, but goes downhill pretty quickly (02/09/2019) The epic failure at the root of Australia’s maths problem (06/12/2019) Why male teachers are disappearing from Australian sc hools (12/12/2019) A new voice for class teachers (30/12/2019)

2. Australia Falling Behind

Unfortunately, Australian students have been falling behind many of their global counterparts in terms of educational outcomes - we even hit our worst ever results in the OECD’s international student assessment in 2018. What does this mean in an increasingly globalised world and is there a way to turn this around? How might a student perspective on this be unique from that of a politician for example, or another stakeholder? And is education an isolated issue, or should we be looking at more holistic solutions that incorporate health-related, economic and/or social solutions as well? Murri School students experience social and emotional benefits from six-day nature camp (13/10/2019 - a bit of a reach, but an interesting read about education outside of the traditional classroom) No need to panic – we can fix Australian schools. But to rush the reform is to ruin it (08/12/2019) Coalition to review Australian education curriculum in bid to reverse fall in student results (11/12/2019) Aboriginal English recognition in schools critical for improving student outcomes for Indigenous Australians (21/12/2019) We love to criticise the United States, but guess what? Their public schools are better than ours (04/01/2019)

This is another one of those long-running debates, though it’s on the table again as the ACT has recently legalised recreational cannabis . This goes against federal law, which still bans the possession and use of weed, and makes Canberra the first Australian jurisdiction to decriminalise it. Canberra has also led the way on issues such as same-sex marriage, legalising it as early as 2013 (four years before the rest of the nation would follow suit). Discussion about other drugs such as ecstasy has also been raised as a result, and this piece might be an interesting read on why different drugs have different legal statuses. Still, is legalising pot the way to go considering how other Western democracies are already moving in this direction? Is it even a harmful drug at all? And what about the others, such as ecstasy? Or even alcohol, for that matter? Nation’s capital legalises cannabis for personal use (25/09/2019) Peter Dutton: government may overturn ‘dangerous’ ACT decision to legalise cannabis (25/09/2019) Australia could be the first country to legalise ecstasy – are we going too far? (03/10/2019) Canberra women with endometriosis are self-medicating with cannabis, but legalising the drug might not help (28/12/2019)

2. Climate Grief

This is an interesting and pretty recent phenomenon - climate grief or climate burnout are new terms that have come into existence to describe the mental health impacts of the climate crisis. In particular, they describe the frustration and despair that people may feel as a result, given that progress on reducing carbon emissions is frighteningly slow and natural disasters are becoming more frequent and devastating at the same time. What is your take on it and who’s feeling it? Do you have to be affected by disasters, or can it also affect young people who feel pessimistic about the future of the planet? And what could be some strategies for overcoming it? What is the importance of seeing climate through a health lens and how might it inspire activism or change? Australian Farmers Muddled in Mental Health Crisis (26/09/2019 - a good read on how climate issues intersect with economic issues as well) Australian town breaks record for mental health awareness following devastating flood (16/12/2019) Australian bushfires could lead to a mental health crisis, expert warns (03/01/2020)

3. Mental Health

2019 saw some other new developments in the conversation around mental health in Australia. A report found that mental health concerns are getting more widespread among young people, while government investment doesn’t really seem to be effective. Meanwhile, we’re also seeing progress on destigmatising mental health issues within sport - overseas, athletes such as Paul Merson and Stan Collymore have shared stories of their battles, while Cricket Australia looks into ways of creating more supportive environments for their players. How can we streamline the message around mental health, or the relevant support networks? What solutions haven’t we tried yet, and how might the discussion around this shift in the next decade? What are the implications if we don’t address these issues? Note that this can be a sensitive issue which may cause distress to some people. Mental health issues increasing among Austra lians (30/09/2019) Push to get wellbeing counsellors into schools as mental health bill costs Australia billions (31/10/2019) What’s driving poor mental health among young Australians? We asked them (20/11/2019) Kevin Roberts: Cricket Australia committed to better understanding menta l health (14/12/2019) People with mental illness less likely to get cancer screening (03/01/2020)

4. Abortions in NSW

NSW recently legalised abortions for pregnancies shorter than 22 weeks after one of the longest debates in their state Upper House. While the choice versus life debate has raged around the world for decades now (i.e. maybe don’t do a pro-choice speech that people will have heard before, and probably don’t do a pro-life speech in 2020), what is the landscape of the debate like in our day and age? Who opposes it and why? What is the problem with making health issues criminal issues instead (e.g. drug policy as well)? And what other issues might be linked to this? Can someone who is pro-life also support tougher border restrictions that lead to refugee deaths at sea, for example? Note that this can be a sensitive issue which may cause distress to some people. Why NSW is still fighting about abortion (17/09/2019) Controversial abortion bill passes NSW Upper House after long-haul debate (25/09/2019) Abortion Is Now Legal in NSW After Controversial Bill Passes Lower House (26/09/2019) NSW abortion law: doctors say last-minute changes ‘unnecessary’ but manageable (26/09/2019)

Wondering where to go from here? Well, luckily, my eBook, How To Write A Killer Oral Presentation , details my exact step-by-step process so you can get that A+ in your SAC this year.

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Are you an EAL student worrying about the listening component of the new study design?

Are you worried? If you are, fear not, I am here to help!

Here are some extremely useful tips that I have acquired from completing both Japanese and Chinese listening exams. They are very applicable to the EAL exam and will hopefully make you feel more confident about this new component!


Some of you out there might be thinking “Listening is easy! I just need to write down the correct answer, it's a piece of cake.” Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for EAL listening or any VCE Language listening SAC or exam. The VCAA examiners will look at the accuracy of your answer, grammar and spelling. They even look at how well you phrase your response!

If you are aiming for a perfect listening response you MUST take a look at my breakdown of the examiners’ marking criteria!

Marking Criteria

For the listening component of the exam/SAC the examiners (and your own teachers) will be marking your answers base on TWO main points

Are you feeling more confident for the VCE EAL Listening section with a couple of handy hints in your pocket? I hope you are! Give it a go, it is not as scary as you think!

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!


Poetry. Students tend to have strong feelings about it, some love the melodic rhythm and the eloquent way in which it encapsulates life and others hate it, either because they find it a snooze-fest and would rather read the dictionary, or they simply don’t know how to approach analysing it. Whatever boat you may be in, by the end of your study of Peter Skrzynecki’s New/Old World poems, you’re bound to have a new appreciation for the art that is poetry and find analysing poems less of a daunting prospect and more a something easy to nail.

Before we begin diving into Skrzynecki, I’d highly recommend that you check our LSG’s Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response . It’s jam-packed with awesome, FREE advice for how to ACE Text Response.

Analysing Poetry in Old/New World

Unlike other forms of text, a collection of poems is not one continuous body of writing, instead a poetry collection is more like a series of vignettes, snapshots into poignant moments, in this case, of an author’s life. Whilst many students may struggle with this form and ask “How many poems do I analyse? Do I need to know all of them?”, poems are easier than most texts to prioritise and categorise into themes and often have a significant amount of metalanguage. And in answer to your questions, whilst its best you analyse the whole collection to some extent, knowing 10 or so strategically chosen poems really well, covering all themes and types should hold you in good stead for any question thrown at you in the exam.

Peter Skrzynecki wrote his poems over a significant amount of time, starting in 1970 and ending in 2006. This has given the collection a unique perspective, not only demonstrating a migrant’s journey through narrative, but also by providing the different attitudes and feelings of belonging, experienced by one individual as they try to assimilate in their new world over a period of time. This gives us, as students, a wonderful opportunity to look deeper into the text and identify Skrzynecki’s differing positions in regard to identity, family and belonging, through the perspective from which he writes his poems at different stages of his life.

To learn more about the importance of context in VCE English, check out this blog post .

The Structure

Skrzynecki’s collection tends to feature three types of poem, by identifying these, analysing each piece can be made easier as similar types of poem often focus on similar themes. The three categories of poetry to look for are:

Nature Poems

Peter Skrzynecki showcases his connection to Australia through poems that depict often idyllic landscapes, or the lives of common fauna of Australia, such as birds and fish.

The Immigrant Experience

These poems such as Immigrants at Central Station, Migrant Hostel and The Polish Immigrant offer an insight into the emotionally turbulent and difficult journey migrants go through to live in Australia. These poems also demonstrate the experiences of relief and joy felt when arriving, as well as emotions of fear, trepidation and disconnect in regards to both their new home and their old world.

Family Poems

Often the most emotionally pulling, these poems tug at the heartstrings and showcase the relationships between Peter Skrzynecki and his family, as well as his exploration of his heritage, his ties to his Polish background.

The new/old world structure, similar to the old and new testament of the bible are used to highlight the old world of Skrzynecki’s Polish roots and childhood, whilst the new world is his new life in Australia.

Recurring Characters in Old/New World

Peter skrzynecki.

The author of this text, as well as a character in his own right, Peter describes his triumphs and struggles of immigrating to Australia in his poems.

Feliks Skrzynecki

The Polish adopted father of Peter, a “gentle man” who immigrated to Australia with him family from Germany often demonstrates the struggle of the older generation to fully ‘belong’, as they have grown up amongst different customs. This difference in the two generations’ assimilation is depicted in the poem Feliks Skrzynecki , as we see Feliks as attached to his Polish customs and traditions, as he “reminisce[s]” with his Polish friends. We also discover that he struggles with the English language, is a hard worker and has had cancer twice in his foot. Peter in comparison is seen to have far more of a disconnect with his Polish ancestry he “inherited unknowingly” and forget his “first Polish word” as he learns of a culture “further South of Hadrian’s Wall”.

Themes in Old/New World

As we all know, themes are an integral part of Text Response overall, and that still rings true for Skrzynecki’s poetry. To learn more about how to implement themes into different types of Text Response prompts, check out our blog on LSG’s Five Types of Text Response Prompts !

One of the most central themes of Skrzynecki’s poems is that of belonging. As the poems detail an immigrant’s emotional journey, alternating between feeling that they belong and don’t belong, we are invited to grapple with what it means to belong both mentally and physically as well as what elements are required to feel a sense of belonging in community and country.

Identity is another central theme, one that runs closely to that of belonging, as a main part of one’s identity is the culture/place/family to which they feel they belong. Old/New World: New and Selected Poems explores the formation and changes in a migrant’s sense of identity as they try to find belonging in their new Australian home as well as later, when they try to reconnect with their European heritage. To explore the theme of identity it’s best to break it down into several influential factors, which are listed below:

The surroundings in which a person finds themselves, as well as the place they call home is an essential part of identity, as it showcases what place one identifies with and feels safe in.  Several of the poems are set in places of transition, such as at a train station, this helps to emphasize the displacement some migrants may feel as they struggle to acclimatise to their new home. In poems such as Immigrants at central station Skyznecki illustrates an environment of anxiety and trepidation, however, he finishes the poem with sentiments of hope of the new future, the new world the immigrants were travelling to, along “glistening tracks of steel”.

An individual’s heritage, that is the places and people from which they come to identify with, is seen to have a profound impact on the characters in Skrzynecki’s poems. There are several poems set in graveyards or in Europe where Peter questions his knowledge of where he came from, and his sense of connection to these people and places. One of the most interesting set of poems regarding heritage is the poems regarding the different sections of a graveyard for the different groups, through this Skrzynecki touches on how most will never fully part with their heritage, instead, even in death, most will reconnect with their upbringing and hold on to their roots.

The difference in a cultures’ customs is a struggle seen throughout the text. However, customs are also seen to be the way in which migrants make themselves at home whilst being able to still identify with their past. Through the generational gap between Peter and his father, we can identify the difficulty older generations may have in letting go of customs, whilst the younger new Australians often find it far easier to attach themselves to new traditions.

An integral part of identity and in cultivating a sense of belonging is the language that we speak, as the way in which we are able to communicate ourselves and who we have accessible conversation has a large impact on one’s sense of belonging or disconnect from a culture . This is due to language barriers’ ability to foster or inhibit connection. We see this as Peter demonstrates his struggle at times to identify with his Polish roots, symbolised in his loss of Polish language as he “forgot [his] first Polish word”. Despite his father repeating it until he never forgets, this forgetfulness illustrates the effort which is often required to remain connected to heritage when physically distant from it. Language’s ability to also expose the differences between people and make them feel like outsiders is also explored in First day of school and The Polish Immigrant as people such as teachers struggle with the pronunciation of Polish names and inevitably have to ask “boy, how do you pronounce that?”. We see through these poems how disconnect can be fostered due to the struggle of communication as the picking apart of their names make the new immigrants feel “tired”, “embarrass[ed]” and as if their name was that of a “European disease”. Language is also seen to hold migrants back as seen in Migrant Bachelor where a lack of a familiar language relegates a migrant to “factory chimneys and punch card clocks” which “ask no proof of speech”.  This struggle with language, both the disconnect and joy that comes with communicating and the opportunities it affords individuals, is essential in determining how one identifies themselves.


How connection to family members and knowledge of ancestry impacts sense of identity is investigated through many family poems and through Skrzynecki’s somewhat frequent admissions of remorse in regard to not knowing the history behind objects or people. We also see how a difference in sense of belonging can affect relationships, in that we see Peter and his father don’t have the closest of relationships, likely due to Peter feeling he belongs to Australia whilst Feliks still had strong connections to his Polish upbringing.  We also see this regret of disconnect when Skrzynecki writes about his mother and the photograph he has of her and the man that was his father, and how he wishes he had asked about it more. Whilst Skrzynecki mainly describes the immigrant experience in his poems, we can also find an overarching warning to not take loved one, and their knowledge for granted, as often we don’t have them for as long as we would hope.

Skrzynecki often reminisces about his childhood and uses it as a way to explore both his experience in his new world of Australia, and his old world of his Polish roots. We see Skrzynecki in Migrant Centre Site, revisiting the location where he first lived after arriving in Australia, noting that there was nothing to “commemorate [their] arrival”, this perhaps demonstrates his desire for a legacy, to leave a footprint of the journey so many “thousand” migrants travelled and not just a “slab of cement” as if his home was a dead “cemetery”. He also reminisces in Old Hostel Site where he explores the “immense souvenirs” and “unclaimed baggage” that is one of the first sites in Australia his parents arrived at. Using this jargon regarding travel, Skrzynecki reminds readers of the many miles migrants often have to travel to reach Australia.

Skrzynecki often uses nature to symbolise the migrant experience, as demonstrated by the birds in his poem Migrant Hostel . In this poem migrants are compared to a “homing pigeon/circling to get its bearings” as Peter remarks on the struggle of taking someone out of their previous home, like an animal out of its natural habitat.

Nature is also a major element in Skrzynecki's effort to become an Australian poet, his frequent referencing of Australian landscapes signposting his journey to identify as an Australian, as well as an Australian poet.

Hope and Loss

Not only does Skrzynecki detail the hope for a new future and loss of home common in a migrant’s experience, his poems also cover other common situations of love and loss, such as his emotional poem Leukemia which details the journey of his father as a leukemia patient. This shows belonging and identity in a far different light, not in relation to a country but being identified by your sickness which “owns your name”. This explores the common experience where a patient feels defined by their condition and struggles to imagine/remember what life is like as a healthy individual.

Metalanguage, Symbols and Motifs in Old/New World

• Feliks Skrzynecki’s garden: due to his strong bond to his Polish roots Feliks arguably never felt a sense of belonging in Australia. Instead we find he creates a sense of belonging by cultivating a home of his own, a garden.

• Skrzynecki often uses the natural world such as fish and birds to mirror the migrant journey.

• Skrzynecki litters his poems with heirlooms such as watches, hammers and photos, often to illustrate how despite having these possessions Peter frequently finds that he doesn’t know the full story of his heritage and his parent’s life. In his rediscovery of the heirlooms we often see his disconnect from his background and his regret of not learning more about it.

• The use of a colloquial idiom of “kept pace only with the Joneses'' in Feliks Skrzynecki , to reference how his belonging only feels surface deep. However, as they are only the Joneses of “his own mind’s making” it also showcases his commitment to not simply copy and to still be individual.

• Skrzynecki often uses places of transit such as train stations or hostels to showcase the uncertainty often experienced in a migrant’s journey.

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