VCE Literature teacher Michael Bird takes a closer look at the language of views and values.
A strong understanding of the ways in which a text suggests views and values is critical to your success throughout the VCE Literature course. In this post, we explore some ideas for developing your skills in analysing views and values in greater depth, focusing on your use of language.
Understanding views and values
Literature is not created in a vacuum; it is a product of the time and place in which it was created and, crucially, of the ways in which the author experienced and responded to that time and place. Throughout your coursework, you’ll come to understand how a text can reflect an author’s views on the social, cultural, historical and ideological contexts in which they were writing. The challenging part comes when you are asked to interpret the relationship between an author and their context as it is implied by your set text, without simply stating whether an author agrees or disagrees with something.
A strong analysis of views and values will consider the extent to which a text supports or criticises a particular ideology, practice, belief or idea. Let’s look at some ideas to help you achieve this, beginning with expanding your vocabulary.
Building your vocabulary
Producing a more thoughtful analysis of the ways in which views and values are presented in a text requires precise and effective language. To expand your vocabulary for discussing views and values, start by reading sample responses and published criticism, looking for the different words that are used to describe a text’s endorsement, questioning or criticism of an idea or attitude.
Create a word bank of the terms you come across and add to it as you read more sample responses and articles, and as you continue to analyse your various set texts. The word bank below uses the headings ‘for’, ‘middle’ and ‘against’ as broad categories for the three overall ways in which a text can engage with the ideas and issues it presents.
|Critiques / Is critical of|
As you build a repository of words, it’s important to make note of the context in which they appeared when you found them. Try colour-coding the terms and phrases you come across. This is an effective way to build a collection of ideas that you can review when preparing for your SACs and the end-of-year exam. Below are some sample sentences from an analysis of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, where terms and phrases categorised as ‘for’ are highlighted in green, those that are ‘middle’ are highlighted in yellow and those that are ‘against’ are highlighted in red.
Orsino’s proclamation that he is ‘unstaid and skittish’ as ‘all true lovers are’, combined with the growing attraction between Orsino and Viola (disguised as Cesario), demonstrates Shakespeare’s endorsement of the idea that sexuality can be fluid. The adjective ‘unstaid’ implies uncertainty and relates to the ambiguity in Orsino’s affection for Cesario.
Twelfth Night questions the notion of fixed gender identity and explores the fluidity of sexuality when Orsino speaks admiringly of Viola’s ‘smooth and rubious’ lips, and her voice that is ‘as the maiden’s organ’, even though Viola is disguised as a man.
Twelfth Night is critical of social climbing, depicting those who attempt it as self-important, deluded and destined for failure. This is exemplified by the character of Malvolio, whose social ambition causes his downfall.
Putting it into practice
Now that you’ve studied some samples, it’s time to apply this new vocabulary to your own writing. Consider this example of a student sentence that comments on views and values in Twelfth Night:
Viola exclaims that ‘men … put quarrels purposely on others, to taste their valour’, which demonstrates Shakespeare’s views of fixed gender identity.
While this sentence might establish that Shakespeare comments on the notion of fixed gender identity, it does not examine how Shakespeare is responding to this idea – whether he agrees or disagrees with it, for example. Consider the ways in which you could improve on the analysis. What does the play suggest about gender identity? To what extent does it present an implied criticism of the values and social conventions of Elizabethan England? The paragraph below shows how an improved version of the sentence might appear in a body paragraph.
Viola exclaims that ‘some kind of men … put quarrels purposely on others, to taste their valour’, suggesting that masculinity is at least in part a product of social interactions, rather than being innate, and reflecting Shakespeare’s questioning of fixed gender identity. Viola’s declaration conveys her astonishment that Sir Andrew is challenging her to a duel; indeed, Sir Andrew’s mask of masculinity is another means by which the performative or social element of gender is explored. His masculinity is largely a pretence, and after his initial bluster he is keen to abandon the duel, suggesting they ‘let the matter slip’ and offering instead to give his horse to Viola. Viola’s cross-dressing also illustrates the social dimensions of gender, as she performs a male role for Olivia and a more feminine (or at least androgynous) one for Orsino. The ease with which she accomplishes this points to the malleable nature of gender, and forms part of Shakespeare’s critique of the heteronormative values of society.
Building your capacity to analyse views and values in greater depth is a critical skill in the Literature course. By using precise and targeted language to identify whether the author is endorsing, questioning or condemning a position, and supporting this with textual examples and evidence, you will be able to produce a strong analysis that demonstrates a close familiarity with and understanding of any text.
Need a comprehensive guide to the VCE Literature course? Purchase Insight’s Literature for Senior Students 5th edition by Robert Beardwood. This textbook includes a detailed reference section as well as practical guidelines, activities, models and annotated sample responses, enabling students to build confidence and skills in all forms of literary analysis.