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Prose– AS Paper 2, Section A The Language of Literary Texts
A Level Paper 3, Section A Reading as a writer, writing as a reader
At both AS and A Level, this examined unit asks students to examine how narratives work, with reference to their chosen text.
TOPIC: Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
- Apply relevant methods for text analysis, drawing on linguistic and literary techniques
- Identify how meanings and effects are created and conveyed in texts
- Analyse the ways a narrative text draws on its generic and literary contexts.
At AS Level, this is examined via analysis of narrative techniques in an extract from the text, printed on the paper.
At A Level, students choose from two questions, each focussing on an aspect of narrative. Their study of narrative techniques in Section A is applied to their own creative writing in Section B.
Approaches to teaching the content
This examined unit requires students to read a substantial prose fiction text: Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte.
In this combined Language and Literature course, the key focus is on how narratives work, drawing on integrated linguistic and literary approaches.
Students will study aspects of narratives such as the use of voice, point of view, time & chronology, dialogue, characterisation, genre, symbols and motifs, structure and settings.
They will need to apply relevant techniques in their response to their chosen text via either an extract (AS) or a question (A Level) re. Jane Eyre.
They should use these in textual analysis to explain how meanings and effects are created.
It is important for both AS and A Level that students have an awareness of broader contextual factors. These would include understanding of how the text draws on genre conventions, as well as the social and historical context of the text.
Common misconceptions or difficulties students may have
In the transition from GCSE study, students may worry that this approach differs from a familiar schema of plot, themes, characters, setting. In fact, the difference is just a shift in emphasis from WHAT to HOW, from ‘characters’ to ‘characterisation’. They will still be studying the familiar aspects, but the focus will be on critical analysis, exploring how, for example, a particular perspective shapes the creation of character. Or the role of different settings in the novel in the development of plot and the themes conveyed.
Conceptual links to other areas of the specification – useful ways to approach this topic to set students up for topics later in the course
For A Level students, there is an immediate link to Section B of the exam, where they move from ‘Reading as Writers’ to ‘Writing as Readers’ and show their understanding of narrative techniques as they produce their own. It may well be productive for AS students to engage in this sort of creative text production as part of their study of narratives.
Learning to apply relevant linguistic and literary techniques in close analysis is a fundamental part of all AS and A level units, whether the focus for study is spoken or written language, the literary genres of poetry, prose or drama, or non-fiction genres such as journalism, travelogue or memoire.
For all units, students will benefit from a perceptive understanding of the ways contextual factors (including genre, purpose and audience) influence the writer’s choices and the reader’s interpretation.
For a perceptive understanding of narratives, it is vital to study them in context, not, for example, to analyse a line of dialogue in isolation. The term ‘context’ refers to a range of aspects in this unit. First, any part of the text needs to be considered in light of the novel as a whole; then with awareness of broader genre conventions; and also with some knowledge of the social, historical contexts - particularly where these differ significantly from those of the reader.
It may be useful to think of the derivation of the word: con+text = WITH the TEXT. The following activities focus on a range of aspects of the text in context, such as:
- Narratorial perspective / point of view
- Voice - representation of speech and thought
- Settings & style
- Motifs and symbols
- Genre conventions
- Social historical context.
Students should be aware of the conventions of various genres, as they read Charlotte Bronte’s novel. This activity can be introduced before they start reading, or as a retrospective activity.
The subtitle of the novel Jane Eyre is ‘an autobiography’. It is certainly 1st person narration, but Jane is a fictional character. Students should consider other genres: Does Jane Eyre follow the conventions of a Romance? Are there aspects of Gothic horror in the novel? Working in two groups, students should use their knowledge of the Romance and Gothic genres - in films as well as books – to complete the table outlining the elements typical to each. Report back to the class and produce a detailed outline of key conventions of these genres.
Students can then find evidence and examples from the novel to support each of these points. NB. It is not necessary to assign the novel to ONE genre – students should find that Charlotte Bronte incorporates elements of various genres.
As a supplementary activity, students can consider the plot of Jane Eyre. Is the story a Rags to Riches, a Quest, or one of the other seven basic plots? See ‘To Bed With a Trollope (Wordpress blog)’. This blog outlines the seven basic plots discussed in the book by Christopher Booker.
Bronte uses 1st person narration to relate Jane’s story and creates a complex character. As Rochester says of her: ‘I found you full of strange contrasts.’ Students should avoid simple assumptions and notice how Jane’s character develops over the novel and displays elements of contrasting traits: timid at times; assertive in other situations, for example.
Working in small groups, students should take one of the pairs of characteristics (or add another pair) and find evidence from the novel to support each.
Finally each group should display their findings in a short presentation to the class.
Students should be familiar with these terms and concepts. Bronte uses 1st person narration, so Rochester is presented to the reader from Jane’s point of view. Bronte creates an honest, but not entirely reliable narrator. It is a partial point of view, as the narrator Jane Eyre is not aware of many facts about Rochester, nor does she admit her feelings about him, even to herself. Irony is created when the reader knows or suspects more than Jane does.
This activity asks students to comment on the way Rochester is characterised in short extracts and then add further examples of their own.
The novel shifts from setting to setting, as Jane travels. Bronte creates places that are emblematic of her situation. Even the names of the houses are suggestive:
- Gateshead House
- Lowood Institute
- Thornfield Hall
- Moor House
Working in small groups, students should collect related lexis and images that Bronte uses in her description of each place. An example has been done re. Gateshead House, the setting for Jane’s young childhood. This activity can be developed, as students read each section of the novel.
Students should be familiar with these terms and concepts. Bronte uses recurring images to convey various effects in Jane Eyre. The weather, for example, is frequently described, not just because Jane spends much time walking outside, but as a way of signifying mood or atmosphere.
The activity asks students to begin with a list of quotations about the weather. If these are presented as individual cards, they can be grouped and ranked according to the mood or atmosphere students feel each evokes.
Having completed this task, each small group should choose another motif and collect as many references to it as possible. They can then present their comments to the class group.
For the modern reader, Bronte’s style may seem very complex, even too wordy. Students should be aware of her use of subordinate clauses and complex noun phrases expanded with descriptive details. This activity asks students to reflect on the effects of her narrator’s articulate voice and detailed description. The worksheet provides three examples: description of places, feelings and people, with an accompanying brief summary.
Each student should then choose their own extract and write a simple summary to circulate around the class or group. Each student should choose one of the summary sentences and expand it, using the voice and style of the character Jane Eyre. These rewritten versions can then be compared with the original and sentences analysed for use of descriptive detail.
For the AS exam, students are given an extract from the novel and asked to write about the way the author tells the story. This is a chance for them to draw together all that they have studied about narrative techniques, genre and context.
For the A Level exam, students are asked to respond to a particular question about the novel, for example analysing ways in which the author creates suspense, or uses settings. In their answer, they will refer to some close analysis of extracts in support of their points. In this activity, students can prepare their answers for homework, or use it as timed exam practice.
They can find more Sample Assessment materials on the OCR website.
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