Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Finding meaning in the novel



THIS week we shall look at the question on the novel in Section D. This question carries 15 marks as compared to nine marks last year. Therefore, more attention should be given to this section.

Let’s take a look at what you should know before the exam (as discussed in Lesson 11). You should be able to:

- write out the plot or the sequence of events in the text, that is, give the synopsis of the story.

- give a personal response to the text

- describe the setting of the text

- describe the characters in the story

- explain the themes and message in the story

- discuss values explored in the text

- relate the story's events, characters and values to one’s life

Thus, any of the skills described above could be tested in the examination. Thus far, questions have been set on characters twice and one question on moral values. Let’s look at each requirement carefully.


The plot is the sequence of events in a story. In the novel you have studied, the main character (protagonist) has a certain motivation but obstacles arise which may prevent him from achieving his goal. Thus, a conflict arises. A series of events brings him to the climax of the story and finally, the complication is resolved and brings the story to a close.

Note: A question on plot has not been tested in the exam yet.

Probable questions:

1. Describe the plot of the novel you have studied.
2. Briefly recount the story of the novel you have studied, giving evidence from the text to support your answer.
3. Describe the sequence of events in the novel you have studied.

Model answer:

Jungle of Hope by Keris Mas

The story is about a group of traditional farmers in Ketari and Benus who are solely dependent on traditional farming. Pak Kia’s farm is threatened by floods.

At the same time, a mining company is interested in taking over the land. The family has to decide whether to continue staying on in Bentong or leave for the jungle to open up new land.

Pendekar Atan has been given the task of getting all the farmers to agree to sell their land. All have consented to do so except Pak Kia.

A conflict arises between Pak Kia and his brother, Zaidi over the planting of rubber trees on their ancestral land. Pak Kia finally sells his land and moves to Janda Baik with his family while Zaidi decides to move away from traditional farming.

He decides to adapt to the demands of the new way of life which is influenced by the British and the Chinese. He learns to grow rubber and do business successfully.

In Janda Baik, Pak Kia and family face many hardships as they open a new settlement. Pak Kia’s son, Karim is unhappy with the move as he has to stop school.

Pak Kia suffers when his baby daughter dies. A crisis occurs when he is attacked by a wild boar but Karim manages to save him and kills the animal. In the meantime, Pak Kia feels hopeful and he is determined to survive with his family in Janda Baik.

The villagers of Janda Baik work together and manage to endure their hardships. Three years on, Karim matures to become a promising young farmer. Pak Kia and family have made a success of their new venture.


The setting of a story is the time and place where a story takes place. The physical details of a place tell us about the values, ideals and attitudes of a place in the story.

Setting reinforces the message of the story and reflects the characters of the story as well. For example, the disgusting behaviour of the doctor in The Pearl by John Steinbeck is reinforced by the description of his home and his dreams of Paris. It emphasises the vast difference between the rich and the poor in the story.

Note: A question on setting has not been tested in the exam yet.

Probable question:

Describe the setting of the novel you have studied and its importance to the story.

Model answer:

The Pearl by John Steinbeck

The story is set in the ancient city of La Paz in Baja, California. The people who live in the settlement on the outskirts of the town are native Mexican-Indians. They are poor fishermen and pearl-divers who are closely-knit. They live in brush houses with a small sleeping area and a fire pit.

In La Paz, the descendants of the Spanish people who conquered Mexico 400 years earlier are rich, just like the doctor.

Their homes are made of stone and plaster. Kino could see the “green coolness of the garden with a little splashing fountain”.

The setting emphasises the vast disparity between the rich and educated in the town and the poor uneducated villagers.

Other important elements of the setting are the sea, the gulf and the desert of which Steinbeck has cleverly created a series of contrasts. For example, the sea provides an income for the natives.

It is rich with different kinds of colourful animals and plants. The gulf, on the other hand, is hazy and cannot be relied on. Outside La Paz is the sandy desert which is dry and hot, but at night, it is abuzz with the sounds of desert animals. The mountains are a refuge for Kino and his family.

However, it is also a place of tragedy, where Coyotito is shot.

Thus, it is evident that Steinbeck uses these places to show the contrast between Kino's happiness and moral dilemmas.

Contrast is also shown in the description of Kino’s attire and the doctor’s. Kino wears worn-out clothes (the thousand washings of his clothes) and sandals while the doctor adorns himself with red watered silk from Paris. Juana wears a torn and tattered skirt. They are described as “poverty people”.

Finally, songs are an ever-present feature in the novel; useful in setting the mood of its characters. For example, when Kino is safe and contented, we can hear the Song of the Family.

When he senses danger or evil, he hears the Song of Evil. This happens when he sees the scorpion about to attack Coyotito or when he is pursued by the trackers.

The Music of the Pearl can be heard when Kino finds the pearl and dreams of a better future for his family. He hears the Song of the Enemy when he is unable to sell his pearl because the pearl buyers have set too low a price it.

Next week, we shall look at themes and characters. In the meantime, here’s a revision exercise for those of you who are reading The Pearl by John Steinbeck.

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