Friday, October 30, 2009

New format for lit



BY JENNY TAN

IN the new SPM English format, the literature questions are now found in Section D, Paper 2. You are required to answer one question each on a short story, a poem and a novel.

This section is very important as it carries 25 marks in Paper 2. If you look at the learning outcomes of the literature component, you will have an idea of what will be tested.

The outcomes state that students should be able to:
- write out the plot or the sequence of events in the text;
- give a personal response to the text;
- describe the setting of the text;
- describe the characters of the text;
- explain the themes and message of the text;
- discuss values explored in the text;
- relate events, characters and values to one’s life;
- paraphrase poems; and
- give a synopsis of a text or summarise a text.

Read the story and know the plot well. Mark important phrases and passages. Know the characters and the rest of the learning outcomes mentioned above. Practise answering as many questions as possible.
We shall start with the short stories this week.

Due to time and space constraints, I will only discuss two stories. Read the short stories again before attempting to answer these questions. I have provided the suggested answers at the end of this article.

THE NECKLACE

Synopsis

Mathilde is married to M. Loisel, a clerk. She is discontented with her life and yearns for a fancy life among the rich and famous. One day, her husband brings home an invitation to a ball. She is unhappy because she has nothing proper to wear. Her husband gives her money for a gown but she is still unhappy as she has no jewellery. She borrows a diamond necklace from her friend, Madame Forestier. At the ball, she is a great success. However, when she gets home, she realises she has lost the necklace. Loisel searches everywhere but cannot find it. They replace the necklace and spend the next 10 years to settle their debts. Mathilde turns into a coarse, common woman. One day, she meets up with Madame Forestier and tells her the truth. To her dismay, she discovers that the necklace that she had borrowed was only an imitation.

Read the extracts from the short story The Necklace and answer the questions that follow.
1. She was one of those pretty and charming young girls who sometimes are born, as if by a slip of fate, into a family of clerks. She had no dowry, no expectations, no way of being known, understood, loved and wedded by any rich and distinguished man; so she let herself
a) What was Mathilde like when she was young? (1m)
b) What does the phrase ‘..so, she let herself be married to a little clerk..’ suggest about Mathilde’s marriage? (2m)
c) Do you think Mathilde made the right decision about marrying someone from the same social class? Give a reason for your answer. (2m)

2. Mathilde suffered ceaselessly, feeling herself born to enjoy all delicacies and all luxuries. She was distressed at the poverty of her dwelling, at the bareness of the walls, at the shabby chairs, the ugliness of the curtains. All those things, of which another woman of her rank would not even have been conscious, tortured her and made her angry. The sight of the little peasant who did her humble housework aroused in her despairing regrets and bewildering dreams. She thought of silent antechambers hung with Oriental tapestry, illumined by tall bronze candelabra, and of two great footmen in knee breeches who sleep in big armchairs, made drowsy by the oppressive heat of the stove. She thought of long reception halls hung with ancient silk, of the dainty cabinets containing priceless curiosities of little coquettish perfumed reception rooms made for chatting at five o’clock with intimate friends, with men famous and sought after, whom all women envy and whose attention they all desire.

a) Why did Mathilde suffer ceaselessly? (1m)
b) Give two pieces of evidence from this extract that suggests that Mathilde was discontented and unhappy with her life? (2m)
c) Do you think Mathilde was right to feel discontented with her life? Give a reason for your answer.

“Yes, I have had a very hard life, since I last saw you and great poverty – and that because of you!”
“Of me! How so?”
“Do you remember that diamond necklace you lent me to wear at the ministerial ball?”
“Yes. Well?”
“Well, I lost it.”
“What do you mean? You brought it back.”
“I brought you back another exactly like it. And it has taken us ten years to pay for it. You can understand that it was not easy for us, for us who had nothing. At last, it is ended and I am very glad.”
Madame Forestier had stopped.
“You say that you bought a necklace of diamonds to replace mine?”
“Yes. You never noticed it, then! They were very similar.”

a) What happened to Mathilde to cause her great poverty?
b) What happened at the end of the story?
c) What do you think is the message of this story?

Suggested answers:

1.a. She was pretty and charming.
b. She forced herself to marry someone from her social class.
c. Yes, because she has no dowry or title to attract a better offer.

2 a. She felt that she was born to enjoy all the fine things in life.
b. She was distressed at the poverty of her dwellings and she longed for long reception halls hung with ancient silk, and other priceless items.
c. I think she should feel contented with her life as she has a loving husband and even a servant to do her chores.
3 a. She lost a necklace which she had borrowed and had replaced it.
b. She found out that the necklace which she had borrowed was made of paste.
c. One should be contented with one’s life OR If we focus too much on appearances, we may not see the truth of a matter.

LOOKING FOR A RAIN GOD
Synopsis

This story is about a family in an African farming community who live off the land. They are dependent on the land for food. There is a seven-year drought. Then rain falls for about two weeks. Mokgobja and his family rush to plough the land. However, the rain stops and the people became anxious again. Tiro and Nesta, the women in the family, became hysterical for fear of starvation. Mokgobja remembers an ancient custom of making rain where children are sacrificed to a ‘rain god’ and he tells Ramadi about it. They sacrifice the two children, Neo and Boseyong and spread their bodies all over the land. However, to their horror, the rain does not come. They became terrified and return to the village. The villagers became suspicious and Tiro, the mother of the children, breaks down and confesses. Mokgobja and Ramadi are sentenced to death for ritual murder.

Read the following extracts from the short story Looking for a Rain God and answer the questions that follow.
1. But from 1958, a seven-year drought fell upon the land and even the watering places began to look as dismal as the dry open thorn-bush country; the leaves of the trees curled up and withered; the moss became dry and hard and, under the shade of the tangled trees, the ground turned a powdery black and white, because there was no rain. People said rather humorously that if you tried to catch the rain in a cup it would only fill a teaspoon. The air was so dry and moisture-free that it burned the skin. No one knew what to do to escape the heat and tragedy was in the air. At the beginning of that summer, a number of men just went out of their homes and hung themselves to death from trees.
a) What were the people in the extract suffering from? (1m)
b) Give two pieces of evidence that there was no rain. (2m)
c) What does the phrase ‘tragedy was in the air’ suggest? (2m)

2. Finally, an ancient memory stirred in the old man, Mokgobja. When he was very young and the customs of the ancestors still ruled the land, he had been witness to a rain-making ceremony. And he came alive a little struggling to recall the details which had been buried by years and years of prayer in a Christian church. As soon as the mists cleared a little, he began consulting in whispers with his youngest son, Ramadi. There was, he said, a certain God who accepted only the sacrifice of the bodies of children. Then the rain would fall, then the crops would grow, he said.

a) What was the ‘ancient memory’ of Mokgobja?
b) According to the extract, why did Mokgobja have to struggle to remember the details of the rain-making ceremony?
c) Describe what happened after Mokgobja’s suggestion.
a) Describe that ‘terrible summer’ during the drought.
b) What was submitted as evidence of the defence at the court of law?
c) Explain the phrase ‘only a hair’s breadth had saved them from sharing a similar fate?’

Suggested answers

1 a. A terrible drought
b. The leaves of the trees curled up and withered/The moss became dry and hard/ The air was dry and moisture-free. (any two).
c. Something bad was going to happen. (2m)
2 a. A rain-making ceremony where bodies of children are sacrificed for rain to fall.
b. It had been a long time ago and he had forgotten about it after he started attending a church.
c. They sacrificed the two little girls but the rain did not come. They were finally arrested and Mokgobja and Ramadi were sentenced to death for ritual murder.
3 a. Two little girls were sacrificed for rain to fall.
b. There was starvation and the family suffered from breakdown.
c. The people nearly did the same thing as Mokgobja and Ramadi. They could have killed something to make the rain fall.

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