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General Certificate of Education (A-level) January 2013

English Literature A (Specification 2740)


Unit 1: Texts in Context The Struggle for Identity in Modern Literature

Report on the Examination

Further copies of this Report on

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Report on the Examination – General Certificate of Education (A-level) English Literature A – Unit 1: Texts in Context: The Struggle for Identity in Modern Literature – January 2013

LTA1C The Struggle for Identity in Modern Literature The entry was around 2000 candidates, compared to nearer 7000 last summer and about 1400 the previous January, with the large majority of students choosing to answer on Duffy’s The World’s Wife as it was the last time this text would be offered. With the majority of entrants being re-sitters, this was only to be expected. A significant number of students answered on the new Duffy text, Feminine Gospels. Numerous responses to Angelou’s And Still I Rise were seen where quality, on the whole, had improved. Sheers' Skirrid Hill appeared less popular than in previous years but may well bounce back in the summer entries. Schools and colleges will find the January 2013 LTA1C mark scheme a very useful document in preparing students for the summer examination as it contains not only the assessment grids which will be familiar from the previous series but also an Indicative Content section for each question, suggesting possible approaches which successful candidates might adopt in their responses. In addition, schools and colleges will also find it useful to refer to subsequent reports going back to January 2009. Schools and colleges in general seemed confident in teaching students about the contexts of the various struggles for identity apparent in literature and this January saw, on the whole, better assimilation of that information into their responses. AO4 is the most heavily weighted of the four Assessment Objectives in Section A and sound understanding in this area always leads to more informed overviews that frequently allow students to forge insightful and even illuminating links across their wider reading. Schools and colleges should remember that although Assessment Objective 4 is tested in Section A but not in Section B, they would do well to advise their students to note the specific contexts of the extract set in Section A and to adapt their comments accordingly. AO4 is definitely not assessed in Section B and the poems should speak for themselves rather than be automatically regarded as confessionals. Students will make better sense of the course, finding it more satisfying if they can understand the importance of central events of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries in respect of the Struggle for Identity. It is perplexing that some schools and colleges continue to teach texts from the nineteenth century such as A Doll's House by Ibsen, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte or Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. They may indeed show protagonists struggling for their identities but their pre-twentieth century contexts can make relevant detail and linking significantly more difficult. It is also a good idea to consider how attitudes to ethnicity, gender and sexuality, vary in different parts of the world and to avoid using terminology that is inappropriate to different cultures, eras and situations. The contextual linking passage always comes with a brief preamble, intended to act as a small steer to students in placing the extract in terms of relevant background or in highlighting particular areas of the struggle. It is not intended to take up large parts of students' time in the body of their written responses and similarly, students ignore it at their peril. Should the extract or the writer of it be known to students, they should be extremely careful about referring to any material or information extraneous to that contained in the extract. This January's writer, Jackie Kay, may well have been known to students as a poet and a novelist, but to make extended reference to such in their responses was ill-advised primarily because it detracted from exploration of the text before them. Whilst it would be sensible to acknowledge the context of the extract (attitudes to adoption, seeking birth parents and the struggles pertaining to self-knowledge and autonomy), it should never be pertinent to trawl through vast detail to give complex historical backgrounds more akin to a potted version of the social and political history of the twentieth century. The best way to prepare candidates for Question 1 is by providing students with non-fiction extracts from Modern Literature that deal with a full range of identity issues. Although


Report on the Examination – General Certificate of Education (A-level) English Literature A – Unit 1: Texts in Context: The Struggle for Identity in Modern Literature – January 2013

schools and colleges have already identified three wider reading texts (one from each literary genre) and submitted details of these to their coursework advisors, it is vital that candidates’ wider reading extends beyond this minimum required. This point is emphasised on page 7 of the Specification: “These three texts may be supplemented with a collection of relevant extracts and shorter pieces of writing.” Students whose wider reading only stretches as far as these three nominated texts may well find themselves at a disadvantage in the examination if their opportunities to establish relevant links to the extract are limited by the narrowness of their reading. Students are, of course, able to refer to their prose and drama coursework texts too; indeed, as these texts are liable to be very well-known to them, they are likely to be able to refer to these in some depth and detail. As ever, the extracts used in Question 1 will relate to at least one of these key areas of the Struggle for Identity: • Gender • Ethnicity • Sexual Orientation • Religion • Cultural Diversity Class • • Discrimination • Self-knowledge and Autonomy Alienation and Dislocation • • Issues of Inequality caused by all or any of the above The wording of the question will provide a ‘steer’ towards one of these areas, offering further guidance to students as they consider which of their wider reading texts will be of most relevance to the extract. Schools and colleges should consider coverage of all these areas when planning their course of wider reading; they may also refer to the wider reading list on pages 18 – 20 of the Specification, although the list is not exhaustive: the best establishments will introduce their students to material from beyond this list. Naturally, students’ wider reading should cover all three literary genres in more-or-less equal measure: students are required to refer to at least one example of their wider reading in each genre when answering Question 1 and omitting a genre is bound to have a limiting effect on the mark awarded. In attempting Question 1, students are advised to split their time evenly between the two parts of the question. Prior to this, they should have read the extract, with care, a number of times. It is perfectly acceptable for students to focus on the extract for thirty minutes, then spend the next thirty minutes writing about their relevant wider reading; however, those who are more confident and sophisticated may be able to produce integrated responses in which the extract and the wider reading comparisons are interwoven throughout the answer. The problem of narrow reading of the extract and across the supplementary (wider) reading texts is that students already have an agenda and may be looking to spot ways of making links to their supplementary reading. This approach inevitably has a skewing or distorting effect and does not allow for the crafting of imaginative, reasoned and fresh connections between the extract and those other writings about struggling for identity. Students should not panic if the basic theme of the extract does not align with central themes of their wider reading for, if they read deeply and engagedly, they should be able to discern other areas of comparison and connection such as era, style, tone, authorial voice et cetera. Too often the links attempted seem shallow or limited to basic themes as students try to 'shoehorn' what they have studied into awkward, reductive readings. The paper is about opening up, exploring and being as fresh and as original as possible in making links and comparisons. Contrasts will also be an important part of successful responses, but their inclusion should be coherent: arbitrary, bolted-on texts with no obvious connection to the extract will not help candidates reach the higher bands of the mark scheme. Neither will very general references to discrimination and

Report on the Examination – General Certificate of Education (A-level) English Literature A – Unit 1: Texts in Context: The Struggle for Identity in Modern Literature – January 2013

prejudiced attitudes that show understanding of sociological factors but very little relevance to how writers explore these attitudes through their themes and craft. These approaches are most likely to occur in the responses of students whose wider reading has been limited to just three texts: it should not be a problem for those who are able to draw on a truly wide experience of texts about identity struggle.

Section A: Contextual Linking Question 1 The paper functioned extremely well as the extract for consideration, from Jackie Kay's 2010 autobiography The Red Dust Road, was accessible and engaging with a strong sense of the writer's voice coming through in her cross-media references and parenthetical remarks. It was, however, a piece of composed and written text so it was inaccurate of students to comment, for example, “Kay says...” or “Jackie is saying...” when she was writing her thoughts and feelings in a way that demonstrated the genre of the post-modern autobiography. It was not a speech and it was also not a stream of consciousness, as many students seemed convinced it was. Observations of the form of an extract can be very revealing so to misuse terms such as stanza, when meaning a paragraph, creates a poor impression. The extract also caused some interest in the rights and wrongs of adoption as well as the concerns relating to trans-racial adoption and trans-racial relationships. On the former, it was not raised anywhere in the text that Jackie Kay's adoptive parents were of a different ethnicity to her. She did refer to her birth mother as being Scottish and her birth father as being Nigerian, which might have gone some way to explaining her remark about herself as being “part fable, part porridge” but she made no remarks about her adoptive parents at all in this extract. Students who invented lengthy scenarios of Ms Kay being burdened with various emotions as a result of her insensitive adoptive parents or the horrors of being “half caste” were not reading carefully and were taking too many liberties with their imaginations. It may have been sensible to deduce wisely that Kay would have been conceived in the 1950s or 60s in a pre-Pill era or when attitudes towards illegitimacy were much more censorious than today's but to go on to infer child abuse and psychological damage were at the root of her particular struggle was to go too far. Students must read what is there and not read in what they would like to have been there, especially if that reading might have helped them to construct an easier link to a Wider Reading text in which abuse or mental breakdown play significant parts. Too many potentially sound responses are spoilt by inattention to the reading of the extract and this tightly constructed little piece (despite initial appearances) where Kay mulls over her thoughts on self-determination before concluding she is better off with self-knowledge and a healthy sense of her own self as an individual, led some students to grapple with non-existant demons or to write fairly loose paraphrases of Kay's twisting and turning self-questioning style. Kay does not 'ramble on' but she certainly does present the reader with the contents of her, at first, undecided mind. By the end of the extract, it should have been clearer that she has shown happiness with who she is regardless of her birth parents with their religious proclivities. Kay's style has also manifested obvious humour, with her penchant for colloquialisms, snippets of popular songs, phrases and even the odd cliché. She is able to take a joke about her identity (hence the reference to being “part fable, part porridge”), as well as make a joke about having perhaps inherited the tendency to “rant” and “coerce” as well as the ironic reference to “Please, God, thank you, God” that was not a sign of her being religious, perhaps quite the opposite, when combined with her references to her birth parents as being a “ranting, Born-Again father” and a “nervous, Mormon mother”. Yes, Kay employs hyperbole for effect and her tone may border on the sarcastic but she is clearly able to discern herself as an individual despite all these traits and peculiarities. Her humour, sometimes ironic and sometimes of the self-deprecating kind, is apparent and being aware of tone is usually a Band 3 skill that can lead a student to a Band 4 perceptive overview and, as such, is highly prized. However, this skill cannot really


Report on the Examination – General Certificate of Education (A-level) English Literature A – Unit 1: Texts in Context: The Struggle for Identity in Modern Literature – January 2013

flourish unless there has been assured and accurate reading of the extract. Students should have read the extract two or three times before launching into their explorations and those who planned, albeit briefly, were giving themselves a better chance of discovering nuance, subtlety of tone and coherence of expression when they came to committing their ideas to paper. Far better to expend time on thinking, before linking and to exploring language, form and structure meaningfully rather than just feature-spotting. Time spent on those thoughtprocesses allow for more intellectual or even conceptualised links between the extract and the wider reading. This was reflected in the comparative immaturity and underdevelopment of their wider reading links in the contextual linking. Kay did employ quite ordinary, everyday metaphors in her extract but rather than listing them and their basic effects it would have been more profitable to have explored why she used such domestic images and have seen the link to childhood as well as to the fractured image of self. As ever, the quality of the response in Question 1 depended largely on the quality of the links made to the wider reading texts (AO3) and on the candidates’ abilities to develop AO2 and AO4 detail. The extract provided many opportunities to forge links and examiners were treated to a cornucopia of prose (non-fiction still not getting so much of an airing) and drama texts. Less exciting, and certainly less well used, was the poetry where students seemed to think it was acceptable to name-drop one poem (or even just the poet) and provide a tiny resume of its content. Poetry is a very particular genre and offers students an ideal way of demonstrating familiarity with and even sensitivity to language choice in general and imagery in particular. Of course it is demanding to be required to link the poetry (or the other genres) to the extract in some way but to use it solely to make some perfunctory comment on a shared area of SFI without any reference to the way the poet has crafted her/his language, seems heartless. Responses where students were able to demonstrate some appreciation of that craft were rightly prized. More unfortunate still were those who relied on their Section B poet to evidence the poetry requirement. Whilst this is not overtly penalized, unless substantially the same information is repeated in Section B, it is obviously contrary to the spirit and requirement of wider reading. The course does allow sufficient time for the study of one additional slim anthology, perhaps of the students or schools' own compilation, to complement the wider reading experience. It is also notable that the more successful students often refer to more than one poem from a cited collection thus showing an admirable overview of themes and ideas, selecting deftly and appropriately to develop their comparisons. Once again, it is helpful to remind schools and colleges of the following: • Students need to consider genre in Q1. They must prepare by analysing a range of nonfiction pieces in relation to their wider reading so that they can point out the differences in the ways in which choice of genre will shape the writing. It is most likely that looking for differences from as opposed to similarities to wider reading will lead to genuine exploration of how writers work. While it is right to point out thematic links, it is essential to be able to show how differently authors treat these themes. Listing literary devices is not analysis. Pointing out that other authors use the same devices is not analysis and can lead to some strained if not downright silly links. Beware of lazy assertions about context. Beware of unloading context only loosely linked to the given passage.

• •


Report on the Examination – General Certificate of Education (A-level) English Literature A – Unit 1: Texts in Context: The Struggle for Identity in Modern Literature – January 2013

Successful students: • Explored the extract with confidence and insight showing they could discern the struggles for identity of all relevant individuals as well as fully focusing on the thoughts and feelings of the writer • Made effective links between the extract and their wider reading and were able to explore across poetry, drama and prose of the Modern era • Paid attention to form, structure and language of the extract as well as those of their wider reading. Less successful students: • Wrote general paraphrases of the content of the Kay's autobiographical extract, wrote very short responses or responses that paid too little attention to the extract, especially its structure and conclusions • Made few of ‘forced’ links to their wider reading, sometimes ignoring the breadth of genres and often inadequately developing that link • Struggled to engage with form, structure and language choice in the extract or in their wider reading examples; made inadequate reference to the different contexts of the extract and their wider reading; generalised about context in an inappropriately narrow or didactic way. Section B: Poetry It should not hurt to remind schools and colleges of previously given advice about the threefold expectations of this section. Students are expected to: • select and then analyse appropriate poems in detail • closely explore the key words of the question • co-ordinate a balanced response to the debate. A blend of these priorities ensures success, but the debate remains primary. And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou Some unusual and interesting responses were seen to both questions on this occasion. Question 2 proved less popular than question 3, perhaps because it required a slightly different style of evaluation than the more typical pro and counter-argument of question 3. The odd-numbered questions that begin with focus on one named poem, often appear more straightforward than the even-numbered questions that invariably follow the format of contentious statement/agreement/disagreement. Appearances can, of course, be deceptive. This January, students appeared well-informed on Ms Angelou's techniques as well as clear on the different flavours of the three sections that comprise the prescribed poems ('Touch Me, Life Not Softly', 'Traveling' and 'And Still I Rise'). Such knowledge would prove indispensable when responding to question 3. Students also managed, by and large, to avoid blanket reference to Ms Angelou's interesting life, divorced from her poetry showing they were generally better able to use aspects of it to inform their explorations of relevant poems, ensuring the poetry remained the main focus. Successful students tended to be able to range across the collection, as necessary, to dip in and out of the detail required to support their lines of argument. Weaker students often tried to do this but managed merely to assert or generalise about themes and ideas. Where form, structure and language was cited it needed also to be explored meaningfully in the light of the question's focus rather than displayed in an attempt to dazzle with technical terms and the bald ability to spot features. Maintenance of focus on key words of the question was vital to relevance and it should be part of basic examination technique preparation.


Report on the Examination – General Certificate of Education (A-level) English Literature A – Unit 1: Texts in Context: The Struggle for Identity in Modern Literature – January 2013

Question 2 Most students responded well to the critic's statement, recognising that stereotypes do indeed feature frequently in the poems and that Ms Angelou had a purpose in resorting to them. Where the difficulty arose for some was in avoiding merely exploring stereotypes and ensuring they focused well on the use they were being put to. For some, even weaker students, the exploration descended still further into mere descriptions of some examples of stereotypes. Descriptions with over-simplified comment on what Ms Angelou may or may not have been ridiculing or drawing attention to made the poetry seem facile or even racist in the worst examples. Focus needed to be on the subtext of the poems, the more ironic tones and Angelou's purpose if such pitfalls were to be avoided. Careful choice of poems was also prerequisite and those who decided 'Still I Rise' and 'Phenomenal Woman' were good examples of stereotyping were sadly mistaken for it is in those two poems, in particular, that Angelou seeks to break the mould and rewrite the images of successful, beautiful and powerfully confident women. A little forethought and planning, in order to achieve some sort of overview of what the question involved, would have saved a great deal of 'blind-alley' writing. Strong answers here were those that showed understanding of the limitations and the possibilities of stereotypes as short-cuts or easily recognised images of people we want to vilify or celebrate. Informed responses also showed understanding of the numerous ways in which Angelou subverts the expected and stereotyped image, phrase or word, in order to liberate and set free the imagination and her readers' understanding, for example, in the poem, 'Ain't That Bad?' where 'bad' is reclaimed as a positive adjective just as 'black' is. It was perfectly possible to construct well-balanced responses that referred to only two or three poems, as stated in the question, for in this instance the focus could be on exploring those stereotypes as deeply as possible as well as Angelou's purpose in using them. Where greater breadth across the selection of poems was attempted, it was not wise to merely cite more examples but should have been an opportunity to demonstrate a themed or patterned use of such devices. Where 'Lady Luncheon Club' was cited, weaker candidates were drawn into making provocative statements about the superficiality of upper class white women when nowhere in the poem is ethnicity ever mentioned. Such assumptions merely prove the negative power of stereotypes! Angelou's strength is in exploring how easily we all fall into the trap of negative stereotyping and how, in doing so, we make false and prejudiced assumptions about people and situations. Students who had thought hard about what makes Angelou the enduringly tough but compassionate poet she is would have worked out for themselves that the subtext is often far more important than the superficialities that stereotyping requires us to notice. Any of the poems in the selection could have been used to illustrate either side of the debate but whichever poems were chosen, the focus needed to be on technique and purpose rather than narration and description. Above all, students needed to balance by showing clearly the true extent to which stereotypes are used by Angelou and what she was doing to our perceptions by using them. Successful students: • Chose appropriate poems for the exploration of Angelou’s use of stereotypes • Analysed Angelou’s use of form, structure and language in a meaningful way that avoided ‘feature-spotting’ and integrated focus on style with her success as a poet • Carefully integrated only strictly relevant contextual material while maintaining good focus on the key words of the question and key features of their chosen material. Less successful students: • Wrote narrow biographical responses, very short, underdeveloped responses or failed to construct a convincing debate especially where they were unable to focus on the extent to which stereotypes were used and/or for what purpose • Remained only at the surface of their chosen poems or selected inappropriate poems on which to base their arguments


Report on the Examination – General Certificate of Education (A-level) English Literature A – Unit 1: Texts in Context: The Struggle for Identity in Modern Literature – January 2013

Paid little attention to Angelou’s use of form, structure and language and/or the key words of the question.

Question 3 Naturally, students who barely mentioned the name of the poem disadvantaged themselves as an element of appraisal and evaluation of ‘A Kind of Love, Some Say’ was helpful to providing a framework for any exploration of the themes and ideas that are contained in the selection. Indeed, several successful responses managed to incorporate thoughtful analysis of the title into their appraisal of the poem, focusing on the way in which the comma before 'Some Say' encouraged reflection on the nature of this 'love' that was better described as controlling violence. That small indicator of the need to reflect and even discuss the things that cause us physical and emotional pain, was incorporated into these perceptive responses as recognition of Angelou's willingness to discuss even the darkest and most uncomfortable aspects of life, especially in her opening poem, as she wanted to demonstrate movement from darkness into light; from confusion and uncertainty, into growth, enlightenment, acceptance and (ultimately) celebration. Only very careful reading and reflection on the named poem could allow for deep consideration of its possibilities as a starter to the section 'Touch Me, Life, Not Softly' and to the whole anthology, And Still I Rise. Such reflection in itself provided an almost perfect 'essay-plan' for the thinking student. Agreement with the given view as well as dissent from it was possible and necessary to show off the ways in which the first poem holds ideas, styles and themes that are/are not repeated throughout the selection. Examiners were looking for confident exploration of those themes and how they are linked to the first poem or how other themes cancel them out. Attention to structure, of the poem and of the collections, was an important discriminator in this question. Just because Ms Angelou has experienced domestic violence and turbulent relationships does not make the poem solely about her life and experience. Any capable, well-read student should have been able to appreciate the ubiquity of hatred in love and love in hatred that reaches beyond the purely personal and autobiographical. With such a short poem to focus upon it would have been remiss not to have made a careful analysis of the language choices and the impact they made on the audience. Moving on to link some of those AO2 observations and analyses to AO3 argument and debate was a generally successful route to follow and there were many well-worked connections made to poems that similarly encompassed violence such as 'To Beat the Child Was Bad Enough' and 'Men' as well as intriguing contrasts with 'Just for a Time' and 'Where We Belong, a Duet' where tones and moods were meaningfully compared. A popular line of argument was to compare 'A Kind of Love, Some Say' with the more positive poems in the first section and with those of the wider collection, particularly 'One More Round', 'Life Doesn't Frighten Me', 'Thank You, Lord' and, of course, 'Still I Rise'. Those who were able to articulate the differing stages of the life journey from 'Touch Me, Life, Not Softly', through 'Traveling' and into 'And Still I Rise' whilst explaining and exploring the first poem's depictions of tones, voice and message, were perceptive and generally very successful. Successful students: • Entered into the debate which considered the idea that ‘A Kind of Love, Some Say’ formed an appropriate introduction to And Still I Rise coming to convincing wellevidenced conclusions. Alternatively, they suggested, with recourse to well-chosen detail, alternative poems that might have been more suited to the task. • Linked ‘A Kind of Love, Some Say’ to a range of other relevant poems in order to develop the debate. • Explored Angelou’s choices of form, structure and language with confidence, integrating such features into smooth, seamless lines of argument encompassing violence in relationships and in a broader context.


Report on the Examination – General Certificate of Education (A-level) English Literature A – Unit 1: Texts in Context: The Struggle for Identity in Modern Literature – January 2013

Less successful students: • Simply dismissed the idea that ‘A Kind of Love, Some Say’ provided an appropriate introduction and could be of much interest when exploring Angelou’s themes and ideas in the collection or simply agreed with the given view. • Wrote basic accounts of the poem or alternatives with little reference to form, structure and language. • Were unable to engage with ideas expressed in the named poem and in others that broadened the debate about Angelou’s expression of a journey or pathways through life towards understanding and acceptance and explorations of violence. Feminine Gospel by Carol Anne Duffy This January was the first outing for Ms Duffy's 2002 published collection. Less widely known than The World's Wife, this text allows Duffy to use narrative styles that are not dominated by the dramatic monologue and this crucial difference has produced a range of voices as well as reflections, that link very well to the concept of 'gospels'. The words simply will not be silenced and spill out in a variety of ways that explore some of the ideas of feminism without doubt, but more than that, they explore life itself, from the majesty of 'The Long Queen' and her magnanimous yet tragic 'mothering' of all females from birth, to the isolation of the unfathomable void of death in the final poem, 'Death and the Moon'. Students who came to this text in January had, presumably, had only 4 months to prepare themselves. Ms Duffy's poetry might well have immediate impact but is always best reflected on over a period of time so there was, in general, some rawness or even superficiality in some of the responses. However, there was also a sense of young people genuinely engaging with witty, thought-provoking and intellectual material. This engagement imbued the best answers with immediacy and autonomy whereas the brevity of time of study may well have contributed to reliance upon narration and description that characterised some of the weaker responses. Fewer than 10% of the examined cohort answered on this text and those who did were about equally divided between the two questions. Question 4 Of course the quotation that predicates the question is chosen to provoke reflection and a variety of possibilities. Here students were effectively given a clean slate on which to chalk up all manner of answers ranging from slim bodies to clothes, power to motherhood. The more complex problem for many was not in deciding what was most desired but in controlling and shaping the material whilst maintaining clear focus on the question. There were many ways of drawing the debate to a conclusion: some chose the route of directly picking a couple of poems that illustrated 'things' women might want such as slenderness (using 'the Diet') or fame ('Sub' and 'Anon' perhaps), freedom ('The Map-Woman' and 'The laughter of Staffordshire Girls' High'), world peace ('History', 'The Virgin's Memo'), excitement ('The Gambler'), beauty ('Beautiful'), power ('Loud' and 'Tall'), love ('Dreaming' and 'White Writing'), maternity ('The Light Gatherer', 'Cord' and 'The Long Queen') or even eternal life ('Anon', 'The Virgin's Memo' and 'Death and the Moon'). The list could be endless and, as long as the supporting poems were interpreted to validate the view, probably acceptable. However, the question did specify 'want most' so those who were able to trawl through the 'lesser' desires to build a case for the superlative one generally fared better, especially as it provided a ready means of comparison and conclusivity. Naturally, the question also contained an element of subjectivity and relativity in the 'how far do you agree' phrase that less successful students ignored. Examiners really do appreciate direct expression of personal view and thoughtful evaluation, as long as the requisite support/evidence is in place, and what better place to offer this than in one's response to poetry, arguably the most liberating and exploratory genre? A few responses seemed perversely intent on gainsaying the main focus of the question by negating Duffy's ability to show, in any respect, what


Report on the Examination – General Certificate of Education (A-level) English Literature A – Unit 1: Texts in Context: The Struggle for Identity in Modern Literature – January 2013

women wanted most. These responses were characterised by recourse to strong Marxist political ideologies and militant feminist readings. Where they were executed with appropriate reference to the poems of the collection they stood some chance of success although it is always difficult to argue from a negative premise and can lead the student into clutching at the insubstantial. Narrow ideological or 'ist' readings may fail to persuade examiners of their cogency. Above all, when seeking to explore the possibilities of the question, those who shaped a response to illustrate and persuade, by carefully informed reference to relevant poems, interpretation and appreciation of Duffy's 'talent' (also referenced in the quoted introductory statement), fared best. Those who were able to articulate Duffy's keen sense of irony in many of her poems, steering well clear of acceptance of face values and descriptive or narrated superficial impressions, were almost guaranteed of success. Successful students: • Engaged with the idea of what women wanted most in well-reasoned ways, moving on to challenge and qualify views with careful exploration of tone and prudent choice of examples. • Used a wide and discerning choice of poems to produce a balanced and informed debate. • Explored Duffy’s talent, motives and poetic techniques with confidence. Less successful students: • Simply agreed with the given view and failed to focus on the deeper implications of some of the proffered desires shown in the collection. • Wrote general responses with very little consideration of their need to evaluate and validate their views with precise detail and analysis. • Paid little or no attention to Duffy’s choices of form, structure and language, often describing rather than analysing a poem’s features. Question 5 When choosing an odd-numbered question (that begins with focus on one named poem) it is to be assumed that the choice is based on sound knowledge of the particular poem. Some of the responses seen based on 'Anon' and its possible central importance to the collection showed very little understanding of its themes and subtext let alone its witty style and compactness. A few even came across as if the student was looking at the poem for the first time! If a poem is to be mooted as 'central' it very much begs the issue that links to other poems, themes, ideas or techniques should form part of the debate. The least successful (Band 1-2) responses were those that simply explained what might be 'going on' in the poem and why that made it interesting. 'Anon' does not really lend itself to literal explanation as it is an extended metaphor or allegorical representation of the way in which female writers have been side-lined across the centuries. With this clearly understood it would be possible to link the poem to others sharing aspects of gender repression such as 'Sub', 'The Laughter of Staffordshire Girls' High' and 'History' or to those with similar style such as 'The Virgin's Memo' or 'Work'. Counter-arguments might be based on elements missing from 'Anon' such as the more personal ('Cord', 'North-West' and 'Death and the Moon') or love poetry such as 'White Writing' and 'A Dreaming Week'. There was a large amount of scope offered to those who really want to explore Duffy's linguistic techniques in her bouncy, witty lyricism and cheeky use of puns but some semblance of linking to other poems across the collection had to be there too. One very interesting and strongly debated claim for centrality was based on Duffy's use of humour in the collection with the plausibility of the case entirely dependent on successful filleting out of tone and phrasing from across the collection to prove the irrepressibility of mirth and the bathetic effect of it on over-large egos and ideologies.


Report on the Examination – General Certificate of Education (A-level) English Literature A – Unit 1: Texts in Context: The Struggle for Identity in Modern Literature – January 2013

Successful students: • Engaged with the view expressed in the question, specifically challenging or qualifying its premise and offering well-founded consideration of Duffy’s central themes, avoiding the purely narrative and descriptive; explored the focal poem with confidence and relevance, noting its tones, humour, irony and specific relevance to Duffy's expression of female solidarity. • Used a range of less common but nonetheless relevant poems to produce interesting counter-arguments that balanced the debate as well as offering some reference to ‘Anon’ as central to the collection in at least its placement. • Analysed Duffy’s considerable poetic prowess with confidence and skill. Less successful students: • Offered simple agreement with the question’s premise and/or narrowed the debate by ignoring the wit, humour and idea of passing on the 'baton' of female freedom of expression, specifically in poetic form. • Wrote very general responses about discrimination against women and ideologies in a loose and general way and/or ignored the need to evaluate. • Paid little attention to Duffy’s choices of form, structure and language. Skirrid Hill by Owen Sheers Sheers collection was a less popular choice this January and relatively few responses were seen. It is to be hoped that this dip is temporary as he offers so much in terms of poetic skill and insight of the human condition. Those who did choose to answer on his collection generally preferred question 7 but both questions evinced some informed and thoughtful answers. Whichever the chosen question, paramount to success was an ability to articulate Sheers' unique presentation of the metaphysical. He renders everyday occurrences and experiences with such breathtaking clarity and attention to detail that he enables us to understand connections between the physical and emotional worlds we inhabit. His enthusiasm for exploring divides or 'skirrid' makes him seem intrepid or even callous but he explores them with such beautiful lyricism that he allows us to understand more clearly the interconnectedness rather than the isolation that such divides might otherwise engender. Question 6 The inspiration for this question, as spotted by some discerning students, comes from the first poem of the collection 'Mametz Wood', where the bones of the dead soldiers are described as 'a broken mosaic'. There was no real denying the veracity and ubiquity of the mosaic of life but whether this was all Sheers was undertaking in his collection or whether that mosaic was as richly-patterned as the claim stated, was very much the subject for debate. We were dealing in tones, inferences and delicate interpretations and those who recognised this inevitably fared best. Just how far is the collection about life rather than death? Academic perhaps, as one inevitably leads to the other in a constant circle, fortunately. But such a consideration may have helped students to sort out the more lifeaffirming poems from the more gloomy or uncertain. There was so much material to choose from in Sheers' collection that any poem, thoughtfully interpreted, could have provided ample illustration of the argument or even the counter-argument. To provide a balanced debate, the chosen examples should have featured strong endorsements of the 'richly-patterned mosaic' (perhaps in the form of those poems celebrating the delicacy and intricacy of nature, relationships and the human condition such as 'Mametz Wood', 'Winter Swans', 'Amazon' 'The Hill Fort' and 'Y Gaer') or those which featured other aspects of Sheers' poetry such as heritage, sexuality and identity such as 'Marking Time', 'Valentine' and 'Show'. If pursuing the line that one thing naturally leads into another or that fragments make up the whole then links must be made between corroborating poems, for example, that 'The Farrier', 'Shadow Man', 'The Fishmonger', 'Stitch in Time' and 'Service', whilst disparate in details, actually share


Report on the Examination – General Certificate of Education (A-level) English Literature A – Unit 1: Texts in Context: The Struggle for Identity in Modern Literature – January 2013

essentials in their respect for skilful workmanship, beauty and order crafted from unusual ingredients. Counter-arguments based on the dourness, ugliness or unendurability of pain, loss and separation (as opposed to the rich patterns that could be noted if one stepped back from the grief or pain to notice) might be made with reference to 'The Hill Fort', 'Border Country', 'Liable to Flood', 'Drinking with Hitler' and even 'On Going'. Successful students: • Chose highly appropriate poems to explore Sheers’ exploration of life's components and themes and how they might be so small and indiscernible when viewed from 'up close and personal' that their clarity is lost, only to be fully revealed as 'part of the bigger picture' via some recognition of the idea of redemption and acceptance in those poems. • Paid close attention to the choices and effects of form, structure and language, offering sensitive interpretation and analysis. • Explored a wealth of poetic techniques in an attempt to more clearly articulate Sheers’ fascination with the tiny details and how they might be ordered and interpreted into something more meaningful. Less successful students: • Simply offered broad agreement with the given view and struggled even to exemplify the techniques Sheers used. • Ignored the question’s key words and failed to evaluate their agreement or disagreement with them. • Made generalisations about Sheers’ choice of form, structure and language, often asserting rather than illustrating their points. Question 7 To discount a poem's centrality purely on the grounds that it is not in the first half of the collection or even somewhere around the centre seems a very literal and limiting way of considering true centrality of importance. It cannot be denied that 'Amazon' is the thirtyseventh (if one counts the prefatory 'Last Act') poem out of fifty-three in the collection but that cannot be convincing grounds for a counter-argument. Unfortunately some counterarguments were as arbitrarily and as flimsily predicated as this one and did not find much credence with examiners. Others, curiously, made an inventory of all the themes touched on in the poem (loss, separation, death, nature, family etc.) only to discount it on the grounds that heritage or some other area Sheers touches on in the collection somewhere, is not apparent in 'Amazon'. Still more empty and flawed were those that erroneously listed the component themes or made some unsubstantiated claim about a non-existant theme of the poem. 'Amazon' clearly explores many of Sheers' important themes, including that of family, and it was indeed possible to make a case that this made it central, as long as one gave some indication of where those shared themes were evident across the collection. There were plenty of linking poems, for example, 'On Going', 'The Wake','Border Country', 'Y Gaer' and 'The Hill Fort', although these could also have provided a case for being poems that ranked higher in importance and centrality to the collection compared with 'Amazon'. The real skill was in evaluating the importance of the themes to the overall message or mood of the collection and that was very much open to debate. Whatever one's line of thinking and reasoning it was not sufficient to side-line 'Amazon' before giving it some consideration and analysis. Such an exploration would have revealed the core of inner strength of the woman recovered from breast cancer and the full impact of Sheers' analogy between a legendary female fighting force and the persona. Some students made the analogy only to the area of South America and the river of the same name, thus losing much of the import of the mythical reference to the bow-pullers and their reasons for choosing mastectomy. This was to lose the effect of Sheers' transformation of the woman from victim to conqueror, a deft


Report on the Examination – General Certificate of Education (A-level) English Literature A – Unit 1: Texts in Context: The Struggle for Identity in Modern Literature – January 2013

sleight of words that Sheers is fond of in general and another 'string to one's bow' of intelligent argument. Successful students: • Produced a balanced debate which considered, developed and agreed or refuted the idea that 'Amazon' was of central importance to the collection, in an engaged, incisive manner. • Linked ‘Amazon’ to a range of other relevant poems and/or made an arresting case for another poem being of more impressive centrality. • Explored Sheers’ form, structure and language choice with confidence, citing examples relevantly and with analytical dexterity. Less successful students: • Simply dismissed the idea that ‘Amazon’ could be an appropriate introduction to the collection, often because it was not understood or had never previously been considered as such. • Wrote basic accounts of the named poem and/or others in the collection with little relevant or developed reference to the impact of form, structure and language. • Were unable to move beyond generalisations and assertions in respect of ‘Amazon’ being a centrally important poem or any other poem being a more suitable choice.

The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy This text attracted the majority of all the Section B responses which was not unexpected given the huge popularity of the text in general and the fact that this was the last time students would be able to answer on it. Sadly it also produced some of the weakest and least relevant responses in Section B because students simply did not read and stick to the questions carefully enough and, in question 9, adopted incorrect interpretations of 'female solidarity'. Here too there was far more evidence of students writing out previously rehearsed responses to questions from past papers and rehashing inappropriate, poorly-assimilated ideas on feminism and Duffy's position as supreme spokesperson for lesbian rights. As seen incrementally in previous seasons, there was an improved facility to debate in a more balanced way although weaker students still managed to overlook this requirement or thought that a quick counter-argument squeezed into their penultimate paragraph would suffice. Students also need to be reminded that there is a distinct difference between describing themes as opposed to showing how themes are used. The former will never be rewarded beyond a Band 2 mark and the latter could take them all the way to the top. More than any of the other Section B poets, Duffy attracts literary criticism but the citing of this in an examination essay, which is not a thesis or a coursework essay, can be highly inappropriate especially when students' basic understanding of the poetry is weak. Question 8 This was by far the more popular of the Duffy questions. Some discerning students were able to identify the source of the phrase as emanating from 'Medusa' ('I stared in the mirror/ Love gone bad/showed me a Gorgon') and this poem, for many, proved to be a good focus for a pro argument on the way in which love is sometimes shown to have been corrupted by experience, infidelity, greed, materialism, cynicism, jealousy et cetera. It clearly illustrates that love existed in the first place, however, as this was crucial to being able to demonstrate its falling away or disintegration, many students went off at a tangent at an early point in their debate by choosing unhelpful poems. 'Mrs Faust' is one such example. In this poem it is hard to find any form of love even in the early stages of the Fausts' relationship as it all seems to be based on material possessions and self-


Report on the Examination – General Certificate of Education (A-level) English Literature A – Unit 1: Texts in Context: The Struggle for Identity in Modern Literature – January 2013

gratification. 'Little Red Cap' has some problems too as the young girl's relationship may be based on lust or a skewed admiration for poetry rather than love. Students could have made it an unusual and powerful reference in a counter-argument as LRC's love of poetry remains pure and strong throughout so that she can happily emerge from the woods of immaturity and confusion with her 'flowers, singing, all alone.' 'Mrs Beast' is a more debatable choice; the speaker's aggressive diatribe on how to treat her 'man' almost overlooks her vulnerability to love so that she has to remind herself to 'Let the less-loving one be me'. Similarly, in 'Circe' (another popular choice for a weak pro argument), the speaker lets down her guard for a moment in the concluding lines, to recall a time when she was as much enslaved to love as any as she 'once knelt on this shining shore'. If she was to be validated as an example of love that had gone bad then this careful exploration of the initial rapture and the reasons for its decline and deterioration needed to be carefully explored. 'Mrs Quasimodo' along with 'Medusa' was probably the most useful choice to support a robust pro argument as the poem provides much exploration of the speaker's mounting jealousy despite a promising if unaesthetic pairing. 'Queen Kong' as a choice, often led to somewhat myopic references to love, totally swept away by the speaker's enthusiasm for her 'little man'. The fact that he had been intimidated for many years and even worn around her neck after death seemed to prove that one-sided love is not really love at all, rather obsession and that the 'love' here was literally going bad in the putrefaction of the trophy man. In choosing 'The Devil's Wife' as a foundation of a pro argument, the devil was very much in the detail for one had to acknowledge how the persona remained totally wedded to her putrid love for her murdering partner. Her love did not go bad it remained strong but was 'bad' or perverse from the outset. It was excusable to use 'Anne Hathaway' as a counter-argument this time around although that poem is so often paraded as the ubiquitous counter-argument. There are very few poems in the collection that show the staying power of love but this is perhaps the one, although here at least one feminist ideologist was keen to claim that Anne Hathaway was a victim of Shakespeare's repressive misogyny that brainwashed her even from beyond the grave. Naturally, 'Demeter' provided another angle on an enduring and healthy love, this time between a mother and a daughter. Some also used its position as final poem as grounds to conclude that Duffy's final message was not that love went bad but that it endured- as long as no men were in the equation! Many students chose to spread their net too widely to explore love in general and rendered much of their pro argument irrelevant as a result. Successful students: • Engaged with the theme and concept of love going bad in a diversity of ways, moving on to challenge and qualify views with careful exploration of tone and prudent choice of examples • Used a wide and discerning choice of poems to produce a balanced and informed debate. • Explored Duffy’s stance and poetic techniques with confidence. Less successful students: • Simply agreed with the given view and failed to focus on the positive and negative aspects of love shown in the collection or the more unusual examples of 'bad' love. • Wrote general responses with very little consideration of their need to evaluate and validate their views with precise detail and analysis. • Paid little or no attention to Duffy’s choices of form, structure and language, often describing rather than analysing a poem’s features. Question 9 This was the less popular choice and many who chose it really struggled to understand 'female solidarity', misreading the phrase as 'female solidity' perhaps and loosely interpreting


Report on the Examination – General Certificate of Education (A-level) English Literature A – Unit 1: Texts in Context: The Struggle for Identity in Modern Literature – January 2013

it to mean strength or female power. This had an enormously deleterious effect on the content of many responses where the Kray Sisters were simply described as tough and powerful women who gave men 'a good kicking' but were largely silent on the way in which they engaged with and supported others of their gender. One or two more discerning students did pick up on the way the sisters supported each other or cited their matriarchal influences and paid tribute to the suffrage movement but still fewer pointed out that they also failed to show general support of their gender by demanding attention and not using their power for more gender-enhancing celebration of female achievement. In seeking a counterargument to show there were other more worthy presentations of female solidarity, many (misunderstanding again) cited 'Mrs Beast', 'Little Red Cap' and 'Circe' because these women were aggressive and brutal towards their men. Indeed, but they were not particularly supporting of any of the other women although a case could have been made for Little Red Cap's solidarity with her grandmother. 'Queen Herod' would have been an ideal choice for an alternative but few seemed aware of the Queen's willingness to instigate mass murder of innocent babes as the purest form of female solidarity in defending her daughter from violation. Successful students: • Understood and engaged with the view expressed in the question, specifically challenging or qualifying its premise and offering well-founded consideration of Duffy’s intentions, avoiding the purely narrative and descriptive; explored the focal poem with confidence and relevance and offered cast iron reasons for its ability to demonstrate the strongest female solidarity of the collection and/or chose a worthy better contender. • Used a range of less common but nonetheless relevant poems to produce interesting counter-arguments that balanced the debate as well as offering some reference to ‘The Kray Sisters’ as demonstrating the strongest presentation of female solidarity. • Analysed Duffy’s considerable poetic prowess with confidence and skill. Less successful students: • Misunderstood the key words 'female solidarity' or misconstrued it in a skewing, wrongheaded way; offered simple agreement with the question’s premise and/or narrowed the debate by ignoring the need to demonstrate female solidarity in the named poem and others. • Wrote very general responses about feminism and 'solidity' as opposed to 'solidarity' in an indiscriminate way and/or ignored the need to evaluate. • Paid little attention to Duffy’s choices of form, structure and language. February 2013

Mark Ranges and Award of Grades Grade boundaries and cumulative percentage grades are available on the Results statistics page of the AQA Website. Converting marks into UMS marks Convert raw marks into marks on the Uniform Mark Scale (UMS) by visiting the link below:


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