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At both AS and A Level, this examined unit asks students to examine how narratives work, with reference to their chosen text.
TOPIC: Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake
- 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: The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri.
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 and 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. The Namesake.
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 and style
- Motifs and symbols
- Genre conventions
- Social historical context
Students should be familiar with terms to describe these narrative perspectives: Lahiri writes The Namesake in 3rd person narrative, but she shifts the point of view from one character to another. Sometimes she uses an external point of view, sometimes called ‘camera-eye’ viewpoint, saying only what can be seen and heard. At other times, she gives the reader the internal thoughts and feelings of a character. Occasionally the reader is given the comments of an omniscient narrator.
Working in small groups, students should read the examples of each type of narrative perspective and then find one or two more examples for each box. These can be displayed on five or six separate posters.
As a class, students can discuss examples where Lahiri seems to write from the perspective of a) an omniscient narrator, b) an external point of view.
Students should be familiar with the technical terms for these verb tenses (in bold).
Most narratives are written in the past tense. It’s natural, as the story is about events set in the past. But we sometimes use the present tense, even when we are relating past events, for example in anecdotes or jokes. This is sometimes called ‘narrative present’, or ‘dramatic present’, as one effect is to make the events seem more immediate (examples in Learner resource).
Lahiri narrates The Namesake mainly in the present tense, only using past tense for events that occurred before the main events of her narrative.
Students should work individually on the activities a) to change an extract from present to past tense b) to identify the different tenses used in an extract from the novel.
As a class group, they should discuss the effects and meanings created by Lahiri’s narrative style.
There are various ways of representing speech in writing. Students need to be familiar with these terms:
- Direct Speech is the norm for representing speech in novels, indicating the actual words spoken with inverted commas.
- Indirect Speech is a way of reporting the words spoken:
- Summary of Speech is a briefer way of indicating the gist of what was said. She listens to something about a heart attack.
- Free Direct Speech quotes the actual words, but without the use of inverted commas. And then, is there anyone in the Cleveland area to identify and claim the body?
- Free Indirect Speech is a subtle blending of 3rd person narration with the flavour of 1st person speech. Did she wish to have any of her husband’s organs donated?
For more in-depth examples and comments, students can look at this summary of Mick Short’s work on the representation of speech and thought.
Working in small groups, students should convert the extract into a drama script, representing all words spoken as Free Direct Speech. After reading it aloud, they should compare the different effects Lahiri has created, by varying the ways that speech is represented.
Lahiri narrates The Namesake in an apparently plain style, but one critic commented on her ’marksman’s eye for detail’. (Lee Langley, Spectator) Students can read the full review online:
Cola versus curry (Lee Langley, The Spectator) - this is an interesting review of The Namesake.
Working individually, students should read the example provided and comment on the meanings Lahiri conveys by this use of detail.
Working in groups of about six students, each student should choose an example of a telling detail for a) one of the main characters, and b) one of the minor characters. These quotations can be displayed and presented to the class group.
In The Namesake Lahiri presents different settings which her characters inhabit. These setting help to portray the culture clash experienced by Indians emigrating to USA.
Working in five small groups, students should choose extracts that present one of these settings.
- Calcutta, India
- Massachusetts, USA (for Ashima and Ashoke)
- Yale college life (for Gogol)
- New York (for Gogol)
- Paris (for Gogol).
Each student can then select two contrasting settings / extracts to compare, with comments on the meanings conveyed by Lahiri by her use of setting.
This activity can be assigned before reading the novel, or as a retrospective activity. Students should be familiar with these terms and the way the concepts are related.
A motif can be an abstract idea that recurs throughout the novel, such as Identity, Alienation or Assimilation.
These abstract ideas are conveyed through more concrete images, perhaps the most obvious being Gogol’s name.
Working in small groups, students should be assigned one of these motifs to track through the novel:
- Objects that are missing or lost, egg. book, letter, resume.
NB. They may suggest other concrete images that recur in The Namesake. Each group should present its findings to the class.
It’s important to be aware of genre conventions. The Namesake does not fit neatly into one category: it shares some aspects with a family saga, or with a romance, for example.
On the learner resource sheet there is a definition of the Bildungsroman / Coming-of-age genre of novel.
Working in small groups, students should discuss the questions in the learner resource sheet, before reporting back to the class group.
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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