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A2 English Literature Coursework Examples Of Metaphors

How to cite this article & others in the “series”

For Works Cited/Bibliographies: Belas, O. (2012). “Aesthetics.” Essays etc. http://olibelas.weebly.com/. Retrieved [insert date when you read the article].

For citations in essays: “[quote]” (Belas 2012, p.x).

When using more than one article from this collection, arrange entries in Works Cited alphabetically according to essay title, then give year as 2012a, 2012b, etc.

The prospect of having to write a coursework essay that focusses on metaphor may seem daunting. Perhaps because the basic idea of metaphor seems so familiar to you, you may wonder how you'll find any sort of focus or definite thesis beyond “An Interpretation of Metaphors in [insert name of text here].” But perhaps we should say, at the outset, that “an idea of idea of metaphor seems so familiar to you.” And, perhaps, by the end of this article and/or your writing process, you will have come to think of the familiar view of metaphor as a wrong or misleading view. “Metaphor” means “carrying over,” or “carrying from one place to another” (see entries in Gray 1992 and Cuddon 1998). What, then, is “carried over” in metaphor? Usually, we think of a “carrying over” or “transfer” of meaning: the word “metaphor,” we should note, has become reserved for studies in communication and expression, and, arguably, is most strongly associated with literary language (as narrator Christopher Boone likes to remind his reader, this means that, in the standard view, “metaphor” is a metaphor [Haddon 2003]). As Finch neatly summarizes it, the usual view is of a “process in which one semantic field of reference is carried over, or transferred, to another” (Finch 2000, p.169). That is more or less the view with which we will start; we will end, however, with a very different view.

Metaphor in Literature

A typical definition may tell you that metaphor is the life-blood of poetry. Cuddon, for example, calls metaphor “[t]he basic figure in poetry” (Cuddon 1999, p. 507). Wellek and Warren, too, are aware of the close association of metaphor and poetry, but equally are aware that metaphor is a commonplace in everyday language; what poetry does, they suggest, is exhibit poets' self-conscious uses of metaphorical language, the effect of which is to make careful readers generally more aware of metaphorical language (Wellek & Warren 1963, pp. 186, 27).

Poetry enjoys an elevated status in literary studies: “Poetry” names not just a genre of Literature; often, to refer to something as “poetic” or as “poetry” is to pass favourable judgement on its quality (McArthur 1992, p. 791). Additionally, poetry, as a genre, is often viewed as language in its most compressed, and therefore highly charged form. Certainly, an essay focussing on metaphor could be easily built around a poem that was clearly highly metaphorical. All one needs for this approach is a workable definition of metaphor, a suitable text, and you're away.

However, I do not wish to focus specifically, or primarily, on poetry (the genre). The word “poet” is derived from a Greek word meaning “maker”; “poetry,” if we stretch its range of meaning almost to breaking-point, is potentially anything that is made or crafted. Sticking to the written word, then, we will consider all literature as poetry, in the broad sense of literature/poetry being the self-consciously crafted use of language, in written form.

Let us return to standard definitions of metaphor. Reference works will likely mention some or all of the following:

  1. Metaphors are implicit comparisons, whereas similes (because of their typical grammatical construction – x was like y) are explicit.

  2. Metaphors are a form of linguistic substitution (in contrast to metonymy, which relies on association or concatenation – click here for more): one thing stands for another.

  3. Because of the typical differences in their grammatical construction, similes are always true (for the simile x is like y to work, x really does need to be, in some way, like y); metaphors, by contrast are false (in order to “understand” a particular metaphor, we must not be confused into thinking that x really is y).*

  4. Metaphors function on a principal of dual, or multiple, meaning, what I will call the “dual-track” principle. There are various permutations of the dual-track view; one of the better known ones comes from I.A. Richards, who divides metaphors into their “vehicle” and “tenor.” “Tenor” refers to the content, the concept(s), what you might even have heard called the “hidden meanings,” which “travel” in the metaphorical word(s), or “vehicle.” So, “vehicle” is the form, while “tenor” is the meaning. To illustrate by means of an overused example: He was a lion in battle. Using Richards' terms, we can say that the word “lion” is the vehicle of a metaphor whose “tenor” is “bravery, loyalty, fearsomeness.” To understand this metaphor, presumably we have to understand what lion means literally, and we have to be able to then “extend” its meaning beyond the literal.**

    The points outlined above are more or less compatible with the “classical,” Aristotelian view of metaphor and the “literal language theory” view. The “classical” view sees metaphor “as a kind of decorative addition to ordinary language” (Finch 2000, p.170). The “literal language theory” view holds that believes metaphor is understood through a process of “translation” back to the “real” meaning. In this view, we can, supposedly, say “this metaphor means x” (see Finch 2000, p. 170). Often, these definitions of “metaphor” seem fairly workable and clear. They furnish us with a little extra vocabulary, which will help us describe or report on what we already know – that metaphor is a system, or mechanism, for creating dual, multiple, perhaps “extended” and/or “hidden” meanings. But the works of philosophers like Donald Davidson and Richard Rorty (to name only two) introduce some rather interesting complications to this model. The primary problem, as I will try to explain below, is that the definitions we have reviewed are based on ideas of meaning that run into serious problems when we try to separate literal and metaphorical language.

Consider the dual-track view of metaphor I've outlined, best illustrated by Richards' vehicle/tenor distinction. The first thing worth mentioning is this: Richards' model might be a good model for the way language in general works, but it does not help us separate metaphorical language from non-metaphorical language. Here's a short story explaining why.

Once upon a time, the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure devised the following theory, intended to explain the relationship between words and their referents (the things/ideas that words “mean” or “point to”). He developed the following model: Words are signs, and signs can be divided into two parts, the signifier and the signified. The signifier is the word – the sounds made by a mouth, or the marks produced on a page by a pen – while the signified is the concept that the signifier represents:

                                                                                                            End of story

Now, consider this: there is nothing particularly tree-like about the word “tree”; all that is needed for “tree” to communicate effectively is agreement (among all speakers and/or readers/writers) over what “tree” refers to when it is used.

How, then, in basic structure, does Richards' theory of metaphor differ from Saussure's theory of language? It is tempting to say that, at base, they do not differ greatly; both theories hinge on a separation of words and their objects. But if this is true, then the distinction between metaphorical and literal language seems to be breaking down. For Saussure's is a general theory of language and meaning, not of metaphor, and if there is little difference between him and Richards, then Richard may not actually be telling us much about what makes metaphors distinctive.

Theories of metaphor should not be theories of meaning

If the problem outlined above makes sense to you, then, you may be wondering, what will be the fate of metaphor? Actually, the approach with which I will end this section makes the following argument: metaphor is alive and well, but when we try to explain what it is and/or how it works, we should not get confused into offering theories of meaning. This will probably sound strange; let me explain.

In the above example, all that is needed for the sign “tree” to be meaningful is that we understand the correlation of spoken/written signifier to signified. I used the example of “tree” because there is relatively little chance of you, the reader, misunderstanding my example. But, of course, I might use “tree” to signify something like this: “a visual or mental representation of my family history.” Or, perhaps less likely, I might use “tree” to signify this: “the structure of hierarchy in a corporate body (e.g., a school or business).” “Tree,” then, does not always mean the same thing in every context; it does not always mean “a plant having a permanently woody main stem or trunk, ordinarily growing to a considerable height, and usually developing branches at some distance from the ground” (dictionary.com).

In order to cover “tree” as it is defined in the previous paragraph, a dictionary would have to list three distinct definitions, and provide examples of sentences which exemplify these definitions. That is to say, for a dictionary to make sense of “tree” as we now have it, what it would have to describe is a range of ways, or contexts in which, “tree” is used. The dictionary would, in our imagined example, have to explain usage, rather than meaning (as we normally understand the term); it would have to explain that “tree” is used for referring, in different contexts, to “a woody-stemmed plant etc.,” and/or a diagram of family history, and/or a diagram of professional hierarchy.

What are the implications of all this, when thinking about metaphor? First, we might want to re-think what we mean when we talking about words' meanings. If someone were to ask you what “tree” means, your first response would, more than likely, be a version of “a woody-stemmed plant etc., etc...”; but you would have no problem, if you were prompted by further questions, expanding your definition to include the other options mentioned above. So, when we think of what “meaning” means, we might want to say something like this:

                            the full range of words' meanings are generated by the different ways in which they are used. E.g., “tree” means differently depending on the                                 context in which it is used. By context here, we mean such things as topic of conversation, the words and sentences that precede and follow the                             particular occurrences of “tree”; the who/what/why/when/where of the conversation or text.

With this slightly sharpened definition of “meaning” in mind, I will end this section by considering the views of metaphor developed by Donald Davidson and Richard Rorty, views which might be seen as compatible with what Finch terms the “romantic” account of metaphor (in this account, just as I have hinted above, there is no firm distinction between metaphorical and literal language) (Finch 2000, p. 171). A first principle to work from, then. If comparing the theories of language and metaphor Suassure and Richards offer makes us realize that we cannot use either one to distinguish metaphorical and non-metaphorical language, we might be tempted to say something like this:

                        All language is metaphorical. Language uses one thing (noises uttered, and/or marks made on a page) to “stand for” something else (the thing(s)                             represented by the noises/marks). So words “stand in for” other, non-linguistic things. But words often, if not always, have the capacity to refer to                             many different things; this depends on the contexts in which words are used.

Note: in your essays, after using Saussure and Richards to illustrate the difficulties of separating metaphorical and non-metaphorical language, a definition along these lines might be helpful.

The point, then, is not to distinguish between metaphorical and non-metaphorical (or literal) language. Rather, the point is to distinguish between what we might call “live” and “dead” metaphors (Gray 1992, pp. 174-76; refer also to your AQA Critical Anthology on this). “Live” metaphors are those that strike us as unusual; they force the attentive listener/reader to pause, to pick over the words and phrases, to consider the possible range of significations of the metaphor. And to do this, we have to do two things: 1) we have to work through all the possible concepts that the metaphor “stands for”***; 2) we have to consider the context, the way in which the word(s) has been used, in order to appreciate the ways in which the metaphor illustrates, illuminates, or perhaps complicates our understanding of the text.

The point that Donaldson would make is this: we confuse the issue, and ourselves, when we ask “what does this metaphor mean?” The ideas that metaphors can have “dual,” “multiple,” or “extended” meanings, beyond the “dual,” “multiple,” or “extended” of “normal” words is a nonsense, he says. If this were true, we would forever be afloat in a sea of possible meanings, with no hope of anchorage or orientation. Metaphors, says Donaldson, can only ever mean what the word or words normally mean. What gives them their interest or “magic” – and this is the difference between what we might call “live” and “dead” metaphors (or, indeed, just “interesting language”) – is the innovative ways in which words are combined, the new contexts in which words appear. When critics and teachers say “this metaphor means x,” they are, Donaldson would argue, getting confused. They are offering up the particular associations the metaphor has excited in their minds, but presenting them as “the” meaning. Metaphors have the resonances they do because they set off a potentially endless string of associations in the reader's mind. And because there are no rules governing the string of associations, metaphors remain potentially open. Forever.

All this does not mean, of course, that people cannot agree on what metaphors “mean”; but agreement is just that – it is an agreement that the metaphor in question excites the same or similar associations in the minds of more than one reader. And such agreement is, likely, the result of critical discussion/argument, and perhaps also the of readers having a lot of information/context in common with one another.

So, in metaphors the words can only mean what the words normally mean; they are no “hidden” meanings as such. But there is nothing restricting the full range of associations any one reader might read into a metaphor. Here are some of Davidson's own words:

                    The common error is to fasten on the contents of the thoughts a metaphor provokes and to read these contents into the metaphor itself. […] When we                     try to say what a metaphor “means,” we soon realize there is no end to what we want to mention. […] You might list a great many [things], but you                         could not finish since the idea of finishing would have no clear application. (Davidson 1978, pp. 222, 223)

Rorty takes his cue from Davidson. He argues that we should give up asking whether this or that sentence, and, more broadly, this or that theory, describes the world better or worse (that is, more or less truly or accurately) than the next. There is a real world out there, stresses Rorty, but language will not pull us to, nor push us farther from, it. Language will, rather, simply make us see the world differently. The point Rorty wishes to make is this: for a long time, many people have assumed that language is a system for representing the world. Most of us would call literal language that which gives the clearest and “truest” picture of the world (for example, the “truest” understanding of the organization and movement of the planets). But Rorty disagrees. He believes that language does not reflect, it makes. Language constructs our realities – that is, the broader, the more supple and subtle our vocabularies, the more nuanced will be our interpretations and understandings of the world. This takes us back to the earlier point: all language is metaphorical. The interesting task for Rorty, then, is not sorting literal from metaphorical language; rather, it is to consider those words, sentences, and theories that make us see the world anew. What we call “literal language” is, for Rorty, simply language whose metaphorical (or “metaphoricity”) we no longer notice (e.g., “table leg”). The point is to revel in those metaphors that strike us as interestingly, magically metaphorical, because they make us see and think afresh; they make us view the world as if for the first time.

I can offer a concrete example of this, drawn from recent experience: introducing a Year 13 English Literature class to the notion of Baudrillard's “hyperreal” (Baudrillard 1994), and nervously asking if the idea was appealing/sensical/interesting, one or two students said that Baudrillard's theory expressed, differently, views they already intuited. I make no grand claims – either on my or Baudrillard's behalves – to altering anyone's world view, but I hope the point is more or less clearly made here. For some, it might be reasonable to suggest, Baudrillard offered a vocabulary in which to phrase thoughts and ideas that had almost-but-not-quite found their tongues (metaphorically speaking, of course...).

Approaches for your coursework

1) Of course, the option of simply offering close, detailed readings of a range of metaphors that occur in, say, a poem is open to you. This is a relatively straightforward approach; it will be strengthened if you build an argument around a particular theme or set of themes, and investigate the ways in which the poet's metaphorical strategies impact on these and their development across the text. It may be helpful to consider, in keeping with Finch's definition of metaphor (see above), whether a particular theme or idea in a text is developed by drawing on just one semantic field, or several. The relationship of “symbol” to “metaphor” might also be a helpful consideration here (see note **** below). Taking this approach, you may wish to use some of the above discussion, and perhaps some of sources listed below, to give a sense that you understand some of the problems that hide behind the superficially easy notion of metaphor.

2) If you are attracted the romantic/Davidson/Rorty account of metaphor, then you may wish to use elements from the discussion presented here, and/or the sources cited below, to complicate the “standard,” dual-track view of metaphor. From there, you may wish to consider the metaphorical richness of texts that are not so obviously “literary” as, say, Shakespeare's sonnets. Remember Davidson's argument that metaphors do not have special or extended meanings; rather, they are the result of usual meanings – for him, there cannot be any other sort of meaning – being arranged unusually. In my Year 13 class, we have considered the metaphorical richness of “I do not” in Saunders's story “Pastoralia” (2000). Here, context and grammar are everything. The sentence – which is easily understood but, in a prescriptive sense, grammatically incomplete or “incorrect” – is an answer to a question, to which the narrator has to respond as part of a daily, professional evaluation. But towards the end of the story, this sentence constitutes an entire paragraph. And simply because of its structural and graphological isolation on the page, and the way it is repeated or threaded throughout the story, this grammatically “broken,” single-sentence paragraph takes on a metaphorical or symbolic**** resonance that draws the story's themes – of ennui, isolation, alienation, socio-economic decline and decay – together.


* To make sense of this difference, apply the basic rule that metaphors are false, similes true, to this:

A) He was a lion in battle.

B) He was like a lion in a battle.

For criticism of this model, read on, and see also Davidson (1978).

** For more on METAPHOR, TENOR, and VEHICLE, see the entries on these terms in Cuddon (1999) and Gray (1992). For criticism of the dual-track view of metaphor, see Davidson (1978). Richards develops this theory in Richards (1926).

*** Maryanne Wolf (2008) explains that when we read a word, our brains “select,” as it were, the correct meaning (as far as is possible) from a mental filing cabinet (the metaphor here is mine) of possible meanings. Again, the context in which a word appears must surely play a role here. Interestingly, we do always experience this cognitive “searching” for meanings – Wolf is not talking about those occasions when we vaguely remember a word but are not quite certain of its meaning. Here then, is a distinctly spooky possibility: it may be right to say that our brains “sort through” and “select” the correct meanings of words, but, because we ourselves are not aware of this process, it might not be right to say the we do it. Is this not a little strange? To say my brain selects... but I do not?

**** Wellek and Warren suggest that the difference between a metaphor and a symbol is deliberate repetition. Thus, a metaphor that is used repeatedly throughout a text, and seems to adds to it's thematic coherence, might just as well be called a symbol as a metaphor (Wellek and Warren 1963, p.189).

Works Cited

Baudrillard, J. (1994). Simulacra and Simulation. Trans. Sheila Glaser. Michigan: U of Michigan P.

Cuddon, J.A. (1998). The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. 4th Ed. London: Penguin.

Davidson, D. (1978). “What Metaphors Mean.” The Essential Davidson. Oxford: OUP, 2006. 209-224.

Finch, G. (2000). Linguistic Terms and Concepts. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Gray, M. (1992).A Dictionary of Literary Terms. 2nd Ed. Harlow: Pearson.

Haddon, M. (2003). The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. London: Jonathan Cape.

McArthur, T. (ed.) (1992). The Oxford Companion to the English Language. London: QPD.

Richards, I.A. (1936). The Philosophy of Rhetoric. Oxford: OUP.

Rorty, R. (1989). Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. Cambridge: CUP.

Saunders, G. (2000). Pastoralia. New York: Penguin-Riverhead.

de Saussure, F. (1995) Course in General Linguistics. Trans. Roy Harris. London: Duckworth.

Wellek, R., and A. Warren (1963). Theory of Literature. 3rd Ed. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Wolf, M. (2008). Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. Cambridge: Icon.

Independent critical study: Texts across time

This resource provides guidance on the NEA requirements for A-level English Literature A, and should be read in conjunction with the NEA requirements set out in the specification. It develops and exemplifies the requirements, but is wholly consistent with them. Exemplar student responses accompany this guidance.

Texts across time is the non-exam assessment (NEA) component of our new A-level English Literature A specification. The specification is committed to the notion of autonomous personal reading and Texts across time provides students with the invaluable opportunity to work independently, follow their own interests and to develop their own ideas and meanings. To that end, few restrictions are placed on the student’s freedom to choose their own texts and shape their own task but the following requirements must be met:

Key reminders

  • Students write a comparative critical study of two texts on a theme of their choice
  • An appropriate academic bibliography must be included
  • An academic form of referencing must be used
  • The word count is 2,500 words (not including quotations or academic bibliography)
  • The task must be worded so that it gives access to all five assessment objectives (AOs)
  • One text must have been written pre-1900
  • Two different authors must be studied
  • Equal attention must be paid to each text
  • A-level core set texts and chosen comparative set texts listed for study in either Love through the ages or in Texts in shared contexts cannot be used for NEA
  • Texts in translation, that have been influential and significant in the development of literature in English, can be used
  • Poetry texts must be as substantial as a novel or a play. A poetry text could be either one longer narrative poem or a single authored collection of shorter poems. A discrete Chaucer Tale would be suitable as a text for study, as would a poem such as The Rape of the Lock. If students are using a collection of short poems, they must have studied the whole text and select at least two poems to write about in detail as examples of the wider collection
  • Single authored collections of short stories are permissible. If students are using a collection of short stories, they must have studied the whole text and select at least two stories to write about in detail as examples of the wider collection.

Managing the NEA

The introduction to NEA should provide students with a detailed review of the above requirements and guidance on what it means to work independently (e.g. productive research skills, effective time management). The point at which students begin their NEA preparation will depend on individual school and college decisions. Schools and colleges may aim to introduce the NEA in the first year of the course. An appropriate opportunity would be the six weeks which follow the completion of AS examinations but other opportunities will be available, especially where schools and colleges are not entering their students for AS.

Approaching the NEA

Schools and colleges will differ in how they approach NEA and this may be dependent upon whether:

  • Students all choose individual texts and tasks for their NEA
  • One text is taught to the whole cohort and the second text is individually chosen
  • AS and A-level students are co-taught and an AS only prose text (The Mill on the Floss/The Rotters’ Club) is studied for NEA with the second text individually chosen.

These approaches are equally valid and take account of the different contexts in which schools and colleges will be working. What is important is that each approach recognises that a degree of autonomy in student text and task choice is required. Ideally a range of differentiated texts and tasks will be seen across a submission for this component. That said, students will choose their texts and shape their tasks with your support (and you will be supported by your NEA advisor) and the following offers you some guidance on how to help your students make these choices.

Advice on text choice

Connecting two texts on a common theme means choosing two texts which maximise opportunities for writing about both similarities and differences. Whilst the only date requirement is that one text must be written pre-1900, the component title 'Texts across time' indicates that effective comparison and contrast occurs when the same theme is explored in two texts separated by a significant period of time; here the different contexts of production will inform the similarities and differences in approach taken by the writers to the chosen theme and students will have encountered this diachronic approach in component 1, Love through the ages. This is particularly pertinent if students choose two texts from the same genre (poetry, prose, drama). If, however, students are interested in writing about a theme within a clearly defined time period, it is advisable to consider how the study of texts from different genres will open up discussion of similarities and differences. Students will encounter this synchronic approach in component 2: Texts in shared contexts, and exemplar student response A is an excellent example of the successful connection of a prose and drama text, written within twenty five years of each other, from the Victorian period.

When supporting students with their choice of texts, therefore, the following guidance is useful:

  • both texts should be of sufficient weight and of suitable ‘quality’ for A-level study; the set text lists for the examined components help to exemplify what is meant by a substantial text, particularly in relation to selecting an appropriate amount of poetry for a poetry ‘text’. Remember, however, that the A-level set texts cannot be used in NEA
  • texts chosen for study must maximise opportunities for writing about both similarities and differences
  • texts must allow access to a range of critical views and interpretations, including over time, which students can evaluate and apply autonomously. Secondary sources, relevant to the texts, can include film and stage productions, books and articles; an example of an appropriate bibliography accompanies the exemplar student responses
  • once texts are identified, which both address the student’s chosen theme, a more defined focus for the essay is needed; this may arise, for example, from similarities and differences in genre (poetry, prose, drama), type (e.g. gothic fiction), contexts (e.g. of production and reception), authorial method (e.g. narrative structure or point of view), theoretical perspective (e.g. feminism). Exemplar student response A is a good example of how the wider theme of the role of women in the nineteenth-century has been more clearly defined in the focus on two specific relationships and the inclusion of a clear viewpoint – that ‘the personal is political’ – for consideration.

If students are struggling to identify a thematic topic area of interest to them, or texts for study, the specification offers suggestions of themes (page 20) and, as at least one of the texts must have been written pre-1900, of pre-1900 texts (pages 21-22). This is by no means an exhaustive list and it should be emphasised that students are free to develop their own interests from their independent reading. The exemplar NEA responses, however, show how these suggestions might be taken as a starting point and then developed with a more clearly defined focus. Other such combinations to consider as a starting point might include:

  • representations of men in Vanity Fair and A Doll’s House
  • the gothic in Northanger Abbey and Keats’ poems (‘Lamia’, 'Isabella or The Pot of Basil’ and ‘The Eve of St Agnes’)
  • representations of social class and culture in Middlemarch and She Stoops to Conquer
  • satire and dystopia in Frankenstein and The School for Scandal
  • representations of women in The Yellow Wallpaper and ‘The Wife of Bath’s Tale’

Clearly the texts mentioned may be interchangeable with other texts suggested in the specification or indeed with the student’s own choice of texts (which may include one post-1900 text); the broad themes will undoubtedly be interchangeable with others and will need to be refined to identify a more clearly defined comparative focus. What these suggestions provide, therefore, is a way for students to begin thinking about the NEA and student autonomy should always be encouraged.

Advice on task choice

We encourage schools and colleges to check individual students’ essay titles with their AQA NEA adviser before students embark on their research, especially where there may be some uncertainty about the appropriateness of texts or the approach being taken.

What is clear, given that the NEA assesses all five assessment objectives (AOs), is that the task must allow access to them all. Students should be familiar with this concept by the time they approach the NEA as all AOs are tested in all questions in the examined components 1 and 2. Exemplar student response A is a good example of how access to all AOs is enabled by the task and the moderator commentary explains how the AOs have been addressed by the student. It is worth considering how key terms in the task wording enable different AOs to be accessed:

Compare and contrast the ways in which Elizabeth Gaskell and Henrik Ibsen present the relationships between Margaret Hale and John Thornton in North and South (1854-55) and Nora and Torvald Helmer in A Doll’s House (1879).

Examine the view that in both texts, ‘the personal is political’.

AO1: Articulate informed, personal and creative responses to literary texts, using associated concepts and terminology, and coherent, accurate written expression.

The use of the command words ‘compare and contrast’ invites the student to organise her response around relevant similarities and differences in the presentation of relationships in the chosen texts. In doing so, she will express her ideas using appropriate terminology.

AO2: Analyse ways in which meanings are shaped in literary texts.

The key word ‘present’ explicitly invites the student to write about the different genres of her chosen texts and, together with ‘the ways in which’, signals the need to discuss a range of authorial methods involved.

AO3: Demonstrate understanding of the significance and influence of the contexts in which literary texts are written and received.

The focus on specific relationships and on the concept of ‘the personal as political’ engages with how literary representations thereof can reflect social, cultural and historical aspects of the time period in which these texts were written.

AO4: Explore connections across literary texts.

The command words ‘compare’ and ‘contrast’ instruct the student to make connections between the texts in terms of subject matter and authorial method.

AO5: Explore literary texts informed by different interpretations.

The directive to ‘examine’ a clear viewpoint - that ‘the personal is political’ - signals the need to debate this given opinion and so to engage with multiple readings and interpretations.

Advice on writing the essay

Having completed the study of their chosen texts, researched secondary sources and devised an appropriate task, students will need guidance on how to pull their ideas together into a coherent response. Here again, exemplar student response A offers an excellent example of how to structure a sophisticated argument and the moderator commentary explains how this student achieves this. Some key points to note are:

  • this is a connective task and so students should be prepared to make connections between their texts in terms of similarity and difference throughout the response; students should make the connections they wish to explore from a range including authorial method, context, genre and critical theory
  • contexts and critical views should not be bolted on but instead should be woven through the response, evaluated as a way of reading the primary texts and then used as a stepping-stone into the development of an interesting and persuasive personal overview
  • well-selected, concise quotations should be embedded and adapted to the student’s own syntax and required meaning
  • a bibliography and academic referencing are required to indicate the secondary sources used by the student during the writing of their essay. AQA does not insist on a particular form of referencing but following the example given in the exemplar student responses would be appropriate.

Supervising and authenticating students' work

The role and responsibilities of the teacher in supervising and authenticating students’ work are set out in Section 6.1 of the specification. It is worthwhile emphasising that the teacher must confirm that each essay submitted is the work of the individual student. The JCQ (Joint Council for Qualifications) document Instructions for conducting coursework provides further guidance about the level of support and guidance that is appropriate for teachers to provide to students. In accordance with JCQ guidance, the following support would not be acceptable:

  • having reviewed the candidate’s work, giving detailed advice and suggestions as to how the work may be improved in order to meet the assessment criteria
  • giving detailed indications of errors or omissions which leave the candidate no opportunity for individual initiative
  • giving advice on specific improvements needed to meet the assessment criteria
  • providing writing frames specific to the task (e.g. outlines, paragraph headings or section headings)
  • intervening personally to improve the presentation or content of the work.
  • Awarding marks

    The role and responsibilities of teachers in submitting marks are set out in Section 6.6 of the specification. Please note that a mark out of 50 is required. This means that the mark you award against the assessment criteria, which will be out of 25, needs to be doubled when entering on the Candidate record form, before submitting marks to AQA.

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