Thursday, November 5, 2009

Exploring character and theme

Sunday October 31, 2004

SPM English: Lesson 14

Last week we looked at how to tackle plot and setting in the novel. This week we will explore character and theme. Let’s look at a typical question on character and your personal response to it.


Question 1

a. Which character do you admire in the novel you have studied?

b. Explain why you admire this character. Support your answer with evidence from the novel.

Model answer:

a. I admire Juana in The Pearl by John Steinbeck.

b. In the story, Juana is Kino’s wife. I admire her for several reasons. Firstly, I admire her for always putting her family first. In the story, she is described as being always the first to rise and the last to retire. In fact, Kino could never remember seeing her eyes closed when he awakened. She always saw to her family’s needs before her own.

Besides that, she was a woman of strong principles, who knew how to stand up for her beliefs when it mattered. For example, when Coyotito was stung by a scorpion, she insisted on going to see the doctor even though Kino had said that the doctor would not come. When Kino was too caught up by the pearl and its promises, she was the first to recognise that the pearl was evil and told him so. “This pearl is evil. This pearl is like a sin! It will destroy us.” Yet, she submitted to Kino when he insisted on continuing his pursuit of the riches the pearl promised to bring.

Kino described her as his “patient, fragile wife” but it was he who marvelled at her iron will. When Kino refused to listen to her, she took matters into her own hands. She tried to throw the pearl away while Kino was asleep. Unfortunately, Kino caught her doing it and punished her by beating her up. Despite this, she continued to be a pillar of strength for Kino. She followed Kino to the mountains and refused to part ways even though he insisted that she went on ahead without him. Here, her loyalty to and unwavering support for Kino are to be admired.

When Coyotito was later killed and Juana and Kino decided to head back home, she did not even blame Kino for all the troubles that they had experienced. Kino decided to throw the pearl back into the sea and handed it to Juana. However, she rightly insisted that he threw it himself so that he could come to terms with all that had happened. Juana is truly a remarkable woman.


a. Remember to name the character as well as the novel you are going to write about.

b. Give at least three to four reasons why you admire this character. Remember to quote from the novel itself to lend support to your reasons. You should not quote from the synopsis of workbooks but rely on the original text when giving evidence.

Remember to answer the question in the form of an essay. Use connectors to link your paragraphs.


Another important question to consider is the theme.


a) Identify one of the themes from the novel you have studied. b) Describe this theme and give evidence from the novel to support your answer.

Model answer:

a) One of the themes explored in The Pearl by John Steinbeck is the destructiveness of greed.

b) Greed pervades the lives of the doctor, the priest, the villagers and anyone who hears about Kino's discovery: “The Pearl of the World”. This greed eventually thwarts Kino's hopes, causes the death of his son and nearly destroys his relationship with his wife.

We see greed in the doctor’s treatment of Kino. When Kino brings his son, Coyotito to see him, the doctor exclaims, “I am a doctor, not a veterinarian.” Then, he tells the servant to ask if Kino has any money and turns Kino away when he finds out Kino only has eight misshapen pearls. Yet, when he hears that Kino has found the pearl, he claims that Kino is “a client of mine.” He comes to Kino’s house to frighten Kino into letting him treat Coyotito. He gives the child a capsule of white powder which makes him more ill.The doctor returns an hour later to give Coyotito some ammonia to make him well. Then he asks for money, pretending not to know of Kino's precious find.

Others are also interested in Kino when they hear about the pearl. The shopkeepers hope he will buy their old stock, the beggars hope for his generosity and the pearl buyers hope to buy cheaply and make a handsome profit. The pearl buyers collaborate to cheat Kino by setting a low price for his pearl. Everyone dreams of Kino’s pearl and eventually he becomes everyone’s enemy.

When the priest hears that Kino has found the pearl, he immediately thinks of church repairs and so on. He pays a visit to Kino and tries to remind Kino that he should remember to be grateful now that he will become a rich man.

Finally, we see how greed destroys Kino when he refuses to throw the pearl away even though Juana keeps telling him that the pearl is evil. He even hits Juana when she tries to throw the pearl away. He becomes a violent murderer, shooting one of the trackers between the eyes. Subsequently he loses his son, a tragedy which forces him to finally throw the pearl back into the sea.


1. Check your timetable for the exact date of each exam paper. Students have been known to miss their exam due to carelessness.

2. Make a checklist of all the things you need to bring such as your identity card, your examination slip, stationery and so on. Buy a few good ballpoint pens and 2B pencils, eraser and a ruler. Do not use liquid erasers as they can be messy or the erased item may resurface a month or two later and cause you to lose marks. Stick the checklist on your mirror to remind you so you do not need to panic unnecessarily. Get someone to help you wake up if you are a heavy sleeper.

3. Just before the exam, do not try to cram any new facts into your tired brain. This may cause you to have a blackout. Just keep cool and do not be worried if there are still some things you do not know or cannot remember.

4. Some of you may find that praying before the exam has a calming effect. During the exam, divide your time carefully for each question. Do not worry if there is one particular question you do not know. Answer some other question first. The answer to the first one will come back to you later. For Paper 1, do not spend too much time elaborating on question 1 till you do not have time for question 2. Remember that question 2 carries 50 marks. Take some time to plan your answer. Do not answer immediately even though others around you may be writing furiously. Leave some time for checking. Try to eliminate mistakes in spelling and grammar.

For Paper 2, make sure you do not spend too much time on the first few sections. Section D carries a lot of marks.

5. After the exam, do not discuss the answers with your friends as worrying about your errors might affect your state of mind for the other papers. Use the time to study for the next subject instead.

We have come to the end of our series. I would like to thank all who have e-mailed me and would like to wish everyone the best in your examination. Stay healthy and pray always.

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