Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Literature made easy

SPM English

Section D of the 1119 English paper focuses on the literature component and carries 25 marks. All in, there are 3 questions: Question 32, 33 and 34. Questions 32 and 33 carry 5 marks each while Question 34, which is on the novels, carries 15 marks. By now, you should be familiar with the six poems, five short stories and one of the three prescribed novels. The literature component is not as difficult as it seems. You need to know and understand all your texts well. Do not focus on a few selected ones as it is difficult to pinpoint which poem or short story will be tested. You must engage with them on a personal level. If you are able to respond to the texts by bringing in your own knowledge and experiences, you will be able to have a better understanding of them.

Do discuss the texts with your teacher and friends. Do not be upset if your interpretation is different from someone else’s. Remember, no two people will have exactly the same interpretations. What is important is that you should be able to prove your interpretations with textual evidence. You might have noticed that there is a common thread among some of the texts.

For instance, the idea of having to make choices and its consequences is explored not only in the poem The Road Not Taken but also in the short story The Necklace and the novel The Pearl. Mathilde Loisel could have told her friend Madame Forrestier the truth but she chooses not to.

As a result she endures ten years of hardship. Likewise, Kino chooses to keep the pearl despite his wife’s warnings and loses everything in the end.

Below is an analysis of the texts tested since 2004:

Guidelines for tackling poems and short stories

· Read and understand all the six poems and five short stories.

· Pay close attention to the language used by the writer to convey his ideas and thoughts.

· With short stories, make sure you know the plot well. Also, focus on characterisation, themes, values and messages conveyed by the writer.

· With the poems, make sure you understand the literal/denotative meaning as well as the figurative/connotative meaning. The former is the dictionary meaning while the latter is the inferred or implied meaning.

· There is no harm in knowing some of the common literary devices (metaphors, similes, personification, onomatopoeia) employed in the short stories and poems.

· Remember, the answers to the first three questions on the poem and short story can be found in the extract given.

· The fourth question is usually a personal response question and the answer is teased out of candidates. This means you need to know the poem or story well in order to tackle this question. (This is where engaging with the texts is important).

Let’s look at some sample questions.

Drinking milo,
Nyonya and baba sit at home.
This was forty years ago.
Sarong-wrapped they counted
Silver paper for the dead,
Portraits of grandfathers
Hung always in the parlour.

a. Where are nyonya and baba?

at home [1 mark]

b. What are they doing?

counting silver paper for the dead [1 mark]

c. Which word means ancestors?

grandfathers [1 mark]

d. Do you think it is important for us to remember our ancestors?

Give a reason for your answer

Yes, because they are an important part of our past/ we should respect the for what they have done for us/we would not be here if not for our ancestors

No, there is no point in remembering our ancestors as we should concentrate on our present

[2 marks]

*Any answer that is logical is acceptable here

Reading Tennyson at six
p.m. in pajamas,
Listening to down-pouring
rain; the air ticks
With gnats, black spiders fly,
Moths sweep out of our rooms
Where termites built
Their hills of eggs and queens zoom
In heat.
We wash our feet.
For bed, watch mother uncoil
Her snake hair

a. What is the persona wearing?

Pyjamas [1 mark]

b. Which phrase tells you that it is raining?

down-pouring rain [1 mark]

c. Name one creature that comes out of hiding during the monsoon season.

gnats/black spiders/moths/termites [1 mark]

d. In your own words, explain what the speaker means when she says ‘watch mother uncoil her snake hair’?

She notices that her mother’s long hair uncoils like a snake when it is untied [2 marks]

See if you can answer the following questions on the short stories.

But one Sunday, having gone to take a walk in the Champs Elysees to refresh herself after the labours of the week, she suddenly saw a woman who was leading a child. It was Madame Forestier, still young, still beautiful, still charming.

Madame Loisel felt moved. Should she speak to her? Yes, certainly. And now that she had paid, she would tell her all about it. Why not?

a. Why did Madame Loisel go for a walk at the Champs Elysees?

To refresh herself (after the labours of the week) [1 mark]

The answer is found in the line “… having gone to take a walk in the Champs Elysees to refresh herself after the labours of the week…”,

b. Who does the word her in the extract refer to?

Madame Forestier [1 mark]

The answer is found in the line before the reference “Madame Loisel felt moved. Should she speak to her?”

c. What can you conclude about Madame Loisel’s feelings about having settled the debt?

She is pleased that she has settled the debt/There is a sense of pride in

having settled the debt. [1 mark]

You have to conclude this from the lines “Should she speak to her? Yes, certainly. And now that she had paid, she would tell her all about it. Why not?”

d. Do you think it was right of Madame Loisel to speak to Madame Forestier?

Give a reason for your answer.

Yes, I think she did the right thing because she had nothing to be ashamed of anymore.


No, speaking to Madame Forestier only revealed that the ten years of her life

had been wasted because the necklace had been an imitation. [2 marks]

*Any answer that is logical is acceptable here

Remember the answers to the first three questions can be found in the extract. Only the fourth question requires some interpretation/reflection on your part.

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