The comparison section of the English course requires thorough engagement with two texts and, as such, requires a lot of preparation. In this week’s post, English teacher and Insight writer Anja Drummond outlines how to best prepare for the Reading and Comparing task over the holidays.
The Reading and Comparing task can be quite daunting at first; however, in truth, this task draws on many skills that you have already attained. With a clear approach to recording your observations about the texts you are comparing, this task will become a lot more straightforward.
Here are some handy tips on how you can prepare for the comparative task over the holidays.
Know your texts
The first and most essential step for this task is to know your texts. Read or view both of your texts carefully – this includes reading specifically for meaning. Just as you would for a text response essay on a single text, make sure that you have a detailed understanding of the core elements of each text, including:
- What was the context in which the text was created?
- What is the setting of the text?
- What is the genre and style of the text?
- What are some of the key literary or filmic devices employed in the text?
- What ideas, issues and themes are present in the text?
If you are unsure about this step, look back at some of the past blogs on this page; detailed advice is available on how to respond to all of the text types used in List 2 of the VCE English/EAL Text List.
Once you know and understand your texts as individual entities, think about why these texts have been paired together by the VCAA. You will find commonalities between various aspects of each text, but there will also be differences – some big, some subtle – that you need to recognise.
Write a dot-point summary of each of the main characters in your texts. For example, if you are studying Ransom and Invictus, you may write the following for the protagonists:
As you can see, the similarities and differences between these two men become very clear. Once you have finished your dot-point summary, ask yourself the following:
- What are some of the shared experiences of the protagonists in each text?
- How do the protagonists in each text differ?
Avoid being too simplistic here. It is not enough to simply say that both Priam and Mandela occupy positions of power. Dig a bit deeper and ask how they have achieved their power, how they maintain it and how it affects their lives – these are the kinds of things that form essay topics!
Repeat this process for each of the main characters in your texts. You should also do the same for groups within the texts. For example, how do the communities in Year of Wonders and The Crucible each respond to their situation, and to other people? What are some of the shared experiences of the broader communities in each text? Do they respond in similar ways?
Compare and contrast contexts of each text
It is very possible that there will be some sort of connection between the social, historical and cultural contexts of your texts. Create a table to explore the context of each text and note the following:
- What historical period is each text set in? Is there any overlap? Or are they vastly different times?
- How do the social settings of each text compare? Although the texts may be set during very different historical periods, they may each occur during a time of great suffering or during a period in which an autocratic leader ruled over others. What attitudes towards gender exist? Are there similar class divisions?
- What representations of culture exist in each text? Are aspects of racial or ethnic identity present? Does religion figure significantly in the lives of the characters? Is there a fondness for high cultural forms such as opera or classical music?
Identify common ideas, issues and themes
You will quickly see that there are common ideas, issues and themes between the texts. While each text is fresh in your mind, consider how key themes are explored through plot and character. You might like to use two-column notes, a Venn diagram or a mind map to do this – the best option will depend on what type of thinker you are! Here is an example of how a simple graphic organiser in MS Word can be used to illustrate the concept of leadership in Ransom and Invictus:
As you explore this area of study further, your teacher will push you to compare and contrast other things, such as the form and features of each text, and the views and values of the author/director/playwright. These are important, but for now, focus on developing some great notes over the holidays – these will be very useful when you have to write essays, and invaluable when it comes to revising for exams.
Need help getting to grips with your Year 12 comparison pair? Our Insight Comparison Guides provide clear, comprehensive analysis of both texts, including chapter-by-chapter analysis and discussion of characters and relationships, as well as a section comparing the shared ideas, issues and themes of the two texts, with practice essay topics and a complete sample comparative essay. Head to our website to view our list of Insight Comparison Guide titles.
Image credit: Dean Drobot/Shutterstock