Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Understanding the novel

By JUGDEEP KAUR GILL

THE question on the novel carries 15 marks, 10 for content and five for language. It is quite easy to obtain marks for this question if you know your text well.

Knowing the text means you should know the plot, themes, characters, characterisation, moral values and messages conveyed.

Knowing the plot means knowing the events, sequence of events and details. You should know what causes an event to occur, whether the event triggers other events, and the effect of the event or events on the characters.

It is also important to know the characters in the text. Focus on their characteristics - their physical, emotional and mental attributes. Make sure you a provide relevant and accurate information to support the points you make.

Focus on the themes and try to relate them to events in the story. Also, focus on the messages the writer is trying to convey.

Below is an analysis of the aspects tested since 2004:



Guidelines for answering question on the novel:

* Read the question carefully. Ask yourself what is required and underline key words or phrases in the question so that you cover every aspect required.

* Spend about five minutes planning your answer. A well-planned answer is one which is well thought out and organised. Points are clearly advanced and the line of thought or argument is easy to follow. In other words, the answer should be smooth flowing, with no irrelevant information or deviation from the question. Your answer should have an introduction, a body and a conclusion.

* Do pay attention to paragraphing. You may leave a line between paragraphs.

* Display a sound knowledge of, and engagement with, the novel. Provide relevant details to support your answer. Do not merely retell the story. Remember, the examiners have read the texts - what they want to see is your engagement with the text.

* As this is a language paper, focus on using correct language. Use simple sentences if you cannot handle complex structures. What is important is that you convey your ideas clearly. Do pay attention to spelling and punctuation, and write neatly and legibly.

* When we respond to literary texts, we usually use the present tense but if this is not possible, you may respond in the past tense. The important thing is to be consistent.

* Be careful when answering questions on moral values. Many students confuse characteristics with values. If a character is brave, the value is bravery. Likewise, if a character is wise, the value is wisdom. Remember to use adjectives for character traits and nouns for values.

* Do not mistake negative values for moral messages. Students have been known to say that one of the moral values or messages in The Pearl is greed. The value/ message conveyed is not to be greedy.

Let’s take a look at a sample question.

“In life, a person sometimes faces problems.”

How is this shown in the novel you have read? Support your answer with close reference to the text.

To answer the above question, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

* Who is the character who faces problems?

* What are these problems?

* How many points must I provide?

The answer to the last question is relative. Due to time constraints, I suggest you provide at least three to five points.

Sample answer 1

Kino, the main character in the novel The Pearl by John Steinbeck, is initially a contented man despite living in extreme poverty. He is satisfied with life although he is only a poor pearl diver whose only material possessions are a canoe and a brush house. He is not concerned about his lack of material comforts. Life is difficult but he is happy. However, all this changes very soon and he is plagued with problems.

The first problem Kino faces is lack of money. This problem surfaces when his only son. Coyotito. is stung by a scorpion. Desperate to save the life of his child, he goes to the doctor’s house to seek treatment. Unfortunately, he is denied treatment simply because he has no money to pay the doctor. Until this moment, his poverty, or rather lack of money has not been a problem. Now, he realises that he needs money to save his child. This is when he goes pearl diving because he does not want to take chances with his son’s life. Luckily, he finds a big pearl and he believes he will be able to solve his problem by selling the pearl. Unfortunately, things do not get better for him. Instead other problems crop up.

The second problem Kino faces is insincerity on the part of people around him. People who were disinterested in his life suddenly turn up at his doorstep. The priest, who has never been concerned about Kino or his family, now hopes that Kino will donate money to the church. Likewise, the doctor who had turned him away now comes to the settlement on the pretext of treating the baby. He deliberately poisons the baby and then gives him an antidote just to gain Kino’s confidence. Kino, who had no worries before, is now suspicious of the people around him. He is unsure of whom he can trust. He even becomes suspicious of Juana who steals the pearl one night because she wants to get rid of the evil it has brought.

Another problem is Kino’s and his family’s safety. He is attacked, not once but thrice, by unknown people who are out to steal the pearl from him. During the first two attacks, he suffers slight injuries but in the third attack, he accidentally kills a man. This leads to even bigger problems because he has no choice but to flee the village as no one will believe him that he killed the man in self defence. More problems surface when his brush house is burnt by people searching for the pearl. He knows that whoever is after him will not leave his family alone. Worse still, his precious canoe is damaged to prevent him from escaping by sea. He is left with no choice but to flee the village. Unfortunately, Kino faces more problems when he flees the village. Even as he is fleeing, he is pursued by three trackers, two on foot and one on horseback. Kino has to go to extreme lengths to cover his tracks to ensure his family’s safety. He knows that the trackers will not spare his family even if they find the pearl. Kino knows that he has no choice but to kill his trackers to safeguard his family. He takes a great risk by singlehandedly taking on his pursuers, using only a knife as a weapon. Unfortunately, during the struggle with the three attackers, a bullet is accidentally fired from the rifle, killing his beloved son. With the death of his son, Kino has nothing to look forward to. Finally, he returns to his village unafraid of the consequences.

It is clear from the evidence above that Kino faces many problems, with each problem getting worse than the one before it. Eventually, these problems have a terrible effect on him.

Let’s consider the strengths of the above answer.

The answer is well structured. It has an introduction, body and conclusion.

The name of the main character and the title of the novel chosen are given in the introductory paragraph. Also mentioned is the fact that the character is happy despite living in poverty. This means that his poverty is not yet a problem. The last line “However, all this changes very soon and he is plagued with problems” tells the reader that the writer is going to focus on the problems the character faces.

In total, three points are provided in the body of the answer. Each paragraph begins with a point made, the problem Kino faces. Ample textual evidence is provided to support each point. This style of writing makes the line of thought clear and easy to follow.

The conclusion is kept short and simple.

Remember, this is only a sample answer. This is not the only way to write an answer. Some may view the question from a different perspective, focusing on the events as problems. Below is another sample answer.

Sample answer 2

Kino, the main character in the novel The Pearl by John Steinbeck, is initially a contented man despite living in extreme poverty. He is satisfied with life although he is only a poor pearl diver whose only material possessions are a canoe and a brush house. He is not concerned about his lack of material comforts. Life is difficult but he is happy. However, all this changes very soon and he is plagued with problems.

The first problem he faces is when his son, Coyotito, is stung by a deadly scorpion. Desperate to save the life of his child, he goes to the doctor’s house to seek treatment. Unfortunately, he is denied treatment simply because he has no money to pay the doctor. Until this moment, his poverty, or rather lack of money, has not been a problem. Now, he realises that he needs money to save his child. This is when he goes pearl diving because he does not want to take chances with his son’s life.

The next problem he faces is people’s greed. The priest, who has never been concerned about Kino or his family, now hopes that Kino will donate money to the church. Likewise, the doctor who had turned him away now comes to the settlement on the pretext of treating the baby. He deliberately poisons the baby and then gives him an antidote just to gain Kino’s confidence. Kino, who had no worries before, is now suspicious of the people around him. He is aware that everyone wants something from him. He is unsure of whom he can trust.

Kino faces more problems when he goes to town to sell the pearl. Unknown to him, the pearl buyers have conspired to cheat him. They tell him that his pearl is worthless. According to them, it is a mere monstrosity and hence offer him a very low price for it.

More problems surface when Kino announces that he will sell his pearl in the city. He is attacked a second and third time. His life is at risk. Unwittingly, he kills the man who attacked him the third time.

To add salt to the wound, his brush house is burnt by people searching for the pearl and his precious canoe is damaged. He knows that whoever is after him will not leave his family alone. He is left with no choice but to flee the village.

Unfortunately, Kino faces more problems when he flees his village. He is pursued by three trackers, two on foot and one on horseback. Kino has to go to extreme lengths to cover his tracks to ensure his family’s safety. He knows that the trackers will not spare his family even if they find the pearl. Thus, Kino decides to head for the mountains. Finally, he has no choice but to kill his trackers to safeguard his family. He takes a great risk by singlehandedly taking on his pursuers, using only a knife as a weapon. Unfortunately, during the struggle with the three attackers, a bullet is accidentally fired from the rifle, killing his beloved son. With the death of his son, Kino has nothing to look forward to. Finally, he returns to his village unafraid of the consequences.

It is clear from the evidence above that Kino faces many problems, with each problem getting worse than the one before it. Eventually, these problems have a terrible effect on him.

Remember, whichever way you write, your answer must be smooth flowing. It must also be convincing and you must display a good knowledge of the text as well as engagement with the text. Refrain from mere story-telling.

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