IGCSE English Courses

for home educators by Catherine Mooney

 
 

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Excerpt from Chapter 3

How to identify effects in a piece of writing and how to describe them in an exam.

Well done! Hopefully you've now have a clearer idea of how tense, point of view, dialogue, simile, metaphor, onomatopoeia and punctuation are all used by writers to create to meaning in language. If you add this to what you learned in the first chapter about character, setting, tone, atmosphere, and so on, you'll realise you've assembled a very comprehensive understanding of the sorts of tools writers have at their disposal in order to create their effects.

It's now time to put this understanding into practice by looking at a piece of writing from the Anthology and seeing if we can identify some of these effects. We'll also learn how to write about them in the exam.

 

Exam note: In addition to responding to the Short Answer questions which we covered in Chapter 2, and which are very straightforward, there are a couple of other times in the exam when you will be presented with a piece of writing and will be asked to show you can 'read with engagement and insight' and to 'develop and sustain interpretation'. What this boils down to is being able to describe how writers create their effects while showing you respond personally to the piece of writing and we'll discuss how to do this here.


There is a technique to answering questions about how writers achieve their effects, and it isn't difficult. To show you what to do, let's look at a passage from the Anthology which is from the short story, 'The Necklace' by Guy de Maupassant. De Maupassant's story is an account of a very selfish woman who feels that she should have led a life of leisure and comfort but who, because she had to marry a relatively poor man who she considers to be socially beneath her, finds herself living the life of a fairly ordinary house wife. If you've got 15 minutes to spare, you might like to read the whole story now. If not, you can just read the passage which is reprinted below.

Key fact: when referring to authors, always use their surname. So you would describe The Necklace as 'De Maupassant's story' not 'Guy's story'.



 

From The Necklace, by Guy de Maupassant.


She was in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction, because she felt that luxuries and soft living were her natural birthright. The furnished flat in which she had to live, its squalid wallpapers, its shabby chairs, its hideous curtains and upholstery, were a constant source of torment to her. These things, which another woman with a background similar to her own might not have even noticed, she found unendurable and degrading. The sight of the girl who did the humble domestic chores filled her with hopeless longings and idle dreams. She conjured up a vision of hushed entrance halls, hung with oriental fabrics and lit by bronze sconces, of tall footmen in knee-breeches dozing in deep armchairs in the drowsy warmth of a great stove. She dwelt in imagination on vast salons adorned with antique silks, on elegant tables littered with priceless knick-knacks, on perfumed boudoirs where she would sit in the late afternoons, chatting with intimate friends - men well known and sought after, such as every woman wants to have dancing attendance on her.


Sconce: wall bracket for candles; Salon: a large room; Boudoir: bedroom.


Imagine you are asked the following question in an exam:


How does the writer convey the woman's dissatisfaction with her home? You should comment on his use of language and say how his writing affects you.

Now, keeping in mind what you have already learned in Chapters 1 and 3 (you can always refer back to them if you want ) make some notes here about how the writer creates his effects. Remember to write about how the author's writing affects you.
 

Write your notes here:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



How did you get on? Compare your answers with what I have written. You might have noticed some things I didn't, by the way, which is fine.

✻ I noticed that the author says that the woman doesn't like her own home and calls her surroundings 'squalid', ‘shabby' and 'hideous'.
✻ I noticed that he contrasted this with the way she would like to live.
✻ I noticed that he used onomatopoeia and alliteration to describe the way she would like to live (hushed entrance halls, hung with oriental fabrics).
✻ I noticed he describes her as being very unsatisfied.
✻ I noticed that he used some sensory language when he described the house she would like to live in.
✻ I noticed he used long sentences with clauses separated by commas which created an effect of leisurely living.
✻ I noticed that she wants to live a life of luxury in her ideal home and that the author pictures her as doing very little except lolling around enjoying herself.
✻ I noticed his diction featured words which she herself might use such as 'unendurable and degrading' which brought the woman to life.


All of these bullet points are relevant, but while they might earn you a mark or two in the exam, they wouldn't earn you full marks, because in this part of the exam you have to not only
NOTICE these effects in the passage but you have to provide PROOF of what you have observed and EXPLAIN how this proof illustrates your point. This might sound a bit complicated and long-winded, but an example should show that it's not too difficult. Let's use as an example my third point about onomatopoeia and alliteration. This is what I wrote.

I noticed that the author used onomatopoeia and alliteration to describe the way the woman would like to live (hushed entrance halls, hung with oriental fabrics).




However as I've just said, the technique with answering exam questions is to
 

1 Make your point.

2 Provide proof of your point.

3 Explain how the proof illustrates your point.



 

 


So have a look at my revised answer and see how it meets exam requirements (I've put the various components of the answer in colour so you can see exactly what I have done):

 

De Maupassant uses onomatopoeia and alliteration to describe the luxurious surroundings that the woman would like to inhabit. He describes her imagining 'hushed entrance halls, hung with oriental fabrics'. The repetition of the soft 'h' sound creates a sense of the peacefulness that she thinks would then surround her.





 


Do you get the idea? I have revised each of the short answers I provided above so that they are written in the style of POINT, PROOF, EXPLANATION that examiners like to see. You don't have to write your answers exactly like this, and I have included a few extra points for good measure, but hopefully you will get the idea.

The writer uses adjectives to create a vivid impression of the woman's flat and show the effect it has on her. He uses words such as 'squalid', 'shabby' and 'hideous' to describe the furnishings. These strong adjectives make me think of tatty, rather dilapidated surroundings, and enforce the sense of squalor. The fact that these are words that the woman might use vivifies the effect the surroundings have on her.
He uses onomatopoeia and alliteration in phrases such as 'hushed entrance halls'. The word 'hushed', which is a word you might to describe silence in a church or a palace, makes me think of the peacefulness and leisure the woman aspires to.
He conveys her dissatisfaction by describing her as being in a 'perpetual state of dissatisfaction'. This makes me think that the surroundings were a constant source of irritation to her and strengthens what he goes on to describe in her surroundings.
He makes her dissatisfaction seem very real by using different vocabulary to contrast the flat she actually lives in with the home she would like to have. The furnishings in her actual flat are described as being 'squalid and shabby' whereas the imaginary residence is described by means of a series of very descriptive phrases 'hung with oriental fabrics and lit with bronze sconces' and 'vast salons adorned with antique silks'. The contrast between these sorts of words heightens the sense of the woman's dissatisfaction.
He uses sensory language to evoke a vivid impression of the house she would like to have, and the imaginary home seem more vivid than the reality she actually inhabits. For example, phrases such as 'drowsy warmth of a great stove', 'perfumed boudoirs' and 'elegant tables littered with priceless knick-knacks' appeal to my senses of touch, smell and sight, and I can almost share the woman's vision.
He uses alliteration to emphasise the leisurely surroundings she would like to inhabit. The repetition of 'd' in the sentence 'tall footmen in knee-breeches dozing in deep armchairs in the drowsy warmth of a great stove' evokes a sense of peaceful repose.The repetition of 'd' is almost like the ticking of a clock, further adding to the sense of relaxation and leisure.

 





 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don't worry if you didn't come up with all of these. You would never have time to write all this in an exam, and nor would I, but notice the way I phrased the answers. Bear in mind, too, that I am a middle-aged woman with lots of writing experience and you wouldn't be expected to write professionally in the exam. But can you see that I made a point, then gave a quotation from the text to illustrate it, and then went on to explain why I had chosen it? And did you notice, too, that I phrased each point slightly differently?


Well done! It's nearly time for you to try it for yourself, but first of all I just want to make one other point, which is that an answer to this question should be provided not as a series of bullet points, as I have done, but as a paragraph or two of continuous prose. So what follows is some of the above points presented as a paragraph of prose. The examiner wouldn't expect you to be able to cover every point to get full marks, and I haven't done so in this paragraph. But hopefully what follows will give you some idea of what to write.

The author shows the woman's dissatisfaction in a variety of ways, but mainly by contrasting her actual surroundings with those of the house she would like to live in. He uses strong adjectives such as 'squalid', 'shabby' and 'hideous' to describe the furnishings in her flat, which makes me think that they are very dilapidated, but then uses luxurious and richly descriptive language to describe her imaginary home, such as 'hung with oriental fabrics and lit with bronze sconces' and 'vast salons adorned with antique silks' which make me imagine the grand setting she would like to live in. The author also uses sensory language to describe her imaginary home, which makes it seem more real and desirable than her squalid flat. He uses phrases such as 'drowsy warmth of a great stove', 'perfumed boudoirs' and 'elegant tables littered with priceless knick-knacks' which appeal to my senses and make me share the woman's vision. The use of commas in these long sentences such as, 'she dwelt in imagination on vast salons...' adds to the sense of luxury and leisure. Alliteration and onomatopoeia in phrases such as 'hushed entrance halls' also contribute to the sense of peace and leisurely living that this woman would clearly prefer to enjoy.





So as you can see, answering exam questions is largely a question of technique. The techniques aren't difficult but if you use them you are guaranteed to get higher marks.

 

Exam hint: Read the question carefully and make sure you are doing what you are being asked. It's probably stating the obvious, but you don't get any marks if you misread the question.





Assignment 3


Well done! Now it's time for you to try an answer on your own. This time I'd like you to read the last story in the Anthology, A Hero, by R.K.Narayan. When you have read the story have a look at the passage which is printed below and try to answer the question. You can look back over Chapters 1 and 3 to remind you about what you are looking for and how to phrase your answers, and of course you can always email or phone me if you get stuck.

 

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