The Lie Tree – some advice on answering the questions on the paper (see here)
Her six-year-old brother Howard twisted round, too slow to see the great bird, as its pale body and dark-fringed wings vanished into the mist. Faith winced as he shifted his weight on her lap. At least he had stopped demanding his nursemaid.
‘Is that where we are going?’ Howard squinted at the ghostly islands ahead.
Remember for this question, all you need to do is list 4 things. It’s not about inference; it’s not about techniques. This is the first question of your language paper – it’s designed to be uncomplicated (not easy, uncomplicated).
Four things from the following:
- Howard is six years old
- Howard is Faith’s brother
- He didn’t see the great bird
- He shifted his weight on Faith’s lap
- He asked for his nursemaid
- He squinted at the islands
How does the writer use language here to describe the atmosphere on the boat? You could include the writer’s choice of:
- words and phrases
- language features and techniques
- sentence forms.
This is the language question.
Words and phrases: Here you need to focus on words and their effects. Identify powerful words/phrases and zoom in on key words to analyse for their effects
Language features and techniques: you can identify techniques and analyse their effects – look to do this for the higher marks if possible. Identify techniques the writer uses. Refer to evidence. Explain how this technique works by zooming in on a word or phrase and analysing its effect.
Techniques: simile, metaphor, personification, onomatopoeia, alliteration (if you can make a meaningful comment on this)
Features: nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs; phrases etc
For sentences, don’t just say ‘the writer uses a short sentence for effect’. Also, don’t talk about the sentence as a structural feature – leave this for question 3.
Sentences – you can talk about where words are in the sentence; repetition of words; anaphora (repetition of words at the beginning of sentences) or anadiplosis (A sentence ends with a particular word. This word is repeated at the beginning of the next one)
So, our selected extract. For your exam you can’t write about everything. Choose three of four key quotations to say something about.
- Identify a couple of key words
- Identify a technique
- Identify something to say about a sentence
- Lots of noise – ‘raised voices’, ‘keening’ (an eerie wailing sound); ‘squabbling’; onomatopoeia of ‘phud-phud-phud’
- What to say about these: collectively a sense of busyness almost hectic atmosphere which conveys a sense of confusion, perhaps reflected in the fact that the protagonists are experiencing a new environment. The word ‘keening’ here is particularly interesting: it seems like a verb but it acts as a noun here (it’s called a gerund). Anyway, what is important is that ‘keening’ means ‘an eerie wailing sound’ or suggests grief – all this adds to the dark atmosphere present in the extract.
- The ‘phud-phud-phud’ suggests a monotonous almost metronomic sound which reflects the journey (links to the ‘relentless rhythm’ of the first paragraph so this might be relevant for structure). It sounds dull, repetitive. Quite depressing really. Repetition is a deliberate device – use this: it links to sentences
- The verb ‘squabbling’ suggests a child-like argument – it adds to the sense of impatience, frustration and annoyance that is present in the atmosphere.
- All of this seems to reflect the overall atmosphere of the piece – the weather is dark and gloomy – you don’t need to analyse this but it’s worth linking the words you analyse to the overall context of the piece.
- Busy, crowded: contrast within the sentence – ‘room for passengers, but not for all of the trunks’. The quantity of trunks perhaps reflects the affluence of the passengers rather than the amount of people on the boat?
- This paragraph focuses more on Myrtle than the boat but there are still some things to say.
- Myrtle – ‘waving her arms like a conductor’ – simile! Suggests Myrtle as more confident; the franticness of the image emphasises once more the hectic nature of the scene.
- Myrtle – ‘waxen with tiredness’ – once more an image of fatigue (tiredness); ‘waxen’ = smooth, pale – like a death mask perhaps. This links to the adjective ‘shrouded’ which suggests secrecy but also, if we think of the word ‘shroud’ this makes us think of death. However, she is also
So – there is a lot to say about words, phrases and sentences here. I would make the following points (but you can use any of the others)
- The use of sound – especially the onomatopoeia of ‘phud’ (I can get a technique in here)
- The sentence with the contrast (room for the passengers, but not the trunks’) to show the busyness of the boat as well as suggest the affluence
- The word ‘keening’ to reinforce gloominess and
- The way that the description of Myrtle is used to enhance the gloominess but also the way her active and vibrancy contrasts with this
This is the structure question.
- The text opens with the boat – at this point in the text, we are in media res – launches us straight into the action – and there is a sense of urgency about the narrative – there are lots of words to do with movement but also the depressing description of the landscape which seems like something monstrous. Seems sluggish – ‘chugged its dogged way’ which foreshadows Faith’s and Howard’s emotions
- Shifts to focus on people – cold, a bit miserable. Some pathetic fallacy going on here. Contrast power of nature with the way it effects the people on the boat. Writer clearly wants us to see that this text is going to be about the conflict between humans and nature.
- Middle section shifts to the description of the people on the boat. It’s noisy, busy, but also there is a sense of impatience, irksome behaviour which reflects the atmosphere of the landscape. Draws our attention to human relationships.
- Myrtle is more of a contrast – she is active, in charge and the description of her reflects these contrasts – on the outside she looks ‘waxen’ (seasick perhaps) but she overcomes this
- We see the events through the eyes of Faith (even though the narrative is written in the third person). There is something cinematic here – like a camera focusing on different elements of the scene – the weather; Howard; the people on the boat; Myrtle; her father; Myrtle again. We are drawn to the different and important elements of the narrative, all the time against the backdrop of the weather and the landscape – again reinforcing the potential conflict between both.
- By moving from the description of an unrelenting landscape to the people on the boat, the writer is perhaps drawing our attention to the relationships between people and place – the extract overall reveals the potential conflict between people and place but suggests the power of people to overcome these challenges.
- The final section reveals the contrasts between the three characters and draws out attention to the relationships between them. Erasmus seems austere; Faith seems quiet, reserved whilst Myrtle is all confidence (this will be useful later).
First of all, let’s agree with the statement. Now look for the contrasts between the characters
- Erasmus (the father) – he is austere – ‘black, priestly’; he is gloomy and his manner reflects the landscape. ‘Overshadowing’ suggests mystery. His high brow and crooked nose add to the image of austerity and severity. This is emphasised in his ‘basilisk stare’ which links him to something demonic which is in contrast to his religious vocation.
- Faith is in awe of him – admiration tinged with fear perhaps. She sees little of him, suggesting emotional distance, reflected in Erasmus’ ability to ‘distance himself from the chilly downpour’. He is more of a figure of authority than a nurturing father figure but she also feels ‘sympathy’ suggesting that there is something behind the austere front.
- Faith is less confident – ‘usually she managed to fade into the background’ – perhaps less conspicuous as a character. ‘She winced’ reveals her vulnerability – even perhaps cowed nature. We see Myrtle through Faith’s eyes and she appears more confident – small but busy and authoritative – ‘on Myrtle’s orders’ Faith is sitting on the crate. The writer emphasises Myrtle’s authority quite carefully: ‘the embarrassment that Myrtle never felt’; her ‘petite figure’ is ‘positioned to impede anybody’ who dares try to dislodge their luggage’ ; she ‘cut’ a man ‘short’ who tried to push past her.
Write four paragraphs:
- Erasmus – make reference to the description of his features; zoom in on ‘basilisk’; zoom in on ‘filled with awe’; make reference to his ability to ‘distance himself’…
- Write about Faith – zoom in on her ‘mud-brown plait’ – ordinary, linked to the earth – honest, natural; wooden features? – plain but strong? Or plain and ordinary? Zoom in on ‘fade into the background’
- Write about Myrtle – zoom on contrast between ‘petite’ but ‘positioned’ – deliberate movement of power and authority which belies her stature; zoom on ‘cut him short’ – short monosyllabic phrase which reflects her determination; ‘cut’ – she is deliberate, perhaps even threatening. Sharp etc. How is she different to Faith? How is she different to Erasmus?
- Write a final paragraph – what do you think of these contrasting personalities? Why has the writer set up the characters in this way? Their different characters are set up for conflict perhaps; or together they present the different aspects of human nature.