AQA Specification A. Unit 1 . Section A Question 1. Texts in Context.
In this question, Assessment Objective 4 accounts for an enormous 27 out of the 45 marks. It is therefore worth concentrating on its requirements! I am going to paraphrase the exam board’s descriptors for AO4. You are being asked to:
(a) show an understanding of the relationships and connections between the extract they provide and the other texts you have studied.
(b) comment on the significance of these relationships and connections, with regard to the time when they were written or to a modern reader now.
There are three study Options and your teacher wil have chosen one of the following:
- Option A: Victorian Literature (LTA 1A)
- Option B: World War One Literature (LTA 1B)
- Option C: The Struggle for Identity in Modern Literature.
Whichever option, the best way to tackle the exam extract is to annotate where it deals with any of the ‘six key areas’ of the option. I shall deal with Option B: World War One, which has the following areas:
- The realities of war
- ‘Man’s inhumanity to man’
- Physical/mental/spiritual consequences
- The role of women and the Home Front
Below, I have annotated the Option B World War One Literature extract from the June 2011 exam paper, in red capitals, and continue afterwards with the means of approaching the essay itself:
The following extract is taken from War Letters to a Wife by Lt.-Col. Rowland Feilding (1871–1945) published in 1929. In this extract Feilding describes the life of soldiers in the trenches and compares their attitudes with some of those on the Home Front.
How does the writer present his thoughts and feelings about World War One? How far is the extract similar to and different from your wider reading in the literature of World War One? You should consider the writers’ choices of form, structure and language. (45 marks)
I can never express in writing what I feel about the men in the trenches; and nobody who has not seen them can ever understand. According to the present routine, we stay in the front line eight days and nights; then go out for the same period. Each company spends four days and four nights in the fire-trench before being relieved. [REALITIES] The men are practically without rest. They are wet through most of the time. They are shelled and trench-mortared. [ PHYSICAL & REALITIES] They may not be hit, but they are kept in a perpetual state of unrest and strain [MENTAL CONSEQUENCES] .
They work all night and every night, and a good part of each day, digging and filling sandbags, and repairing the breaches in the breastworks; that is, when they are not on sentry. [REALITIES] The temperature is icy. They have not even a blanket. The last two days it has been snowing. They cannot move more than a few feet from their posts; therefore, except when they are actually digging, [REALITIES] they cannot keep themselves warm by exercise; and, when they try to sleep, they freeze. [PHYSICAL CONSEQUENCE] At present, they are getting a tablespoon of rum to console them [MENTAL CONSEQUENCE], once in three days.
Think of these things, and compare them with what are considered serious hardships in normal life! Yet these men play their part uncomplainingly. That is to say, they never complain seriously. [MENTAL CONSEQUENCE] Freezing, or snowing, or drenching rain; always smothered with mud [REALITIES]; you may ask any one of them, any moment of the day or night, “Are you cold?” or “Are you wet?”—and you will get but one answer. The Irishman will reply—always with a smile—“Not too cold, sir,” or “Not too wet, sir.” [MENTAL CONSEQUENCE] It makes me feel sick. [PHYSICAL CONSEQUENCE]
It makes me think I never want to see the British Isles again so long as the war lasts. It makes one feel ashamed for those Irishmen, [MENTAL CONSEQUENCE] and also of those fellow-countrymen of our own, earning huge wages, yet for ever clamouring for more; striking, or threatening to strike [HOME FRONT]; while the country is engaged upon this murderous struggle REALITY]. Why, we ask here, has not the whole nation, civil as well as military, been conscripted? [POLITICAL]
The curious thing is that all seem so much more contented here than the people at home. The poor Tommy, shivering in the trenches, is happier than the beast who makes capital out of the war. Everybody laughs at everything, here. It is the only way [MENTAL CONSEQUENCE] …
from War Letters to a Wife by Lt.-Col. Rowland Feilding
ANNOTATING THE EXTRACT:
Of course, in an exam room, you may find it difficult to remember the ‘key areas’. To overcome this, a mnemonic is best. For the World War One option, I came up with: Water SHRIMPPS, but I’m sure you could come up with something better.
In practice, I wouldn’t write out these ‘key area’ words in full. I recommend simply putting the mnemonic letters in the left hand margin.
Now we have labelled the text we can approach the essay in a logical manner, by dealing with the areas in an order that suits us. Do note that if you deal with the ‘key areas’ of the extract, you will also be dealing with the question’s focus, which is always ‘thoughts and feelings’.
THE ESSAY’S INTRODUCTION:
Once you have planned the essay, the introduction is easy – its purpose is simply to orientate your readers towards the direction that you intend to take. In effect, this may be a summary of your ‘topic sentences’ which will start each paragraph.
THE BODY OF THE ESSAY
For the first part of our essay, we might feel, from the annotations, that there is plenty to say about the ‘realities of war’ so we can make that the first area to address with a clear POINT to start the paragraph e.g.
Rowland Feilding presents the realities of life at the Front for soldiers in the trenches.
By starting in this way, the point is a ‘topic sentence’ which ‘signposts’ the content of the paragraph; it deals with the question, orientates us to the specific ‘key area’ and keeps us on track. Let’s continue … I have put in brackets, again in red, good features of essay-writing technique…
Although this is a personal letter [form] to his wife, he writes rather formally and factually [analysis of language] when he describes the ‘routine’ of days on and days off. The significance of this is only appreciated when we read that ‘The men are practically without rest.’ [quote embedded in the sentence] This short sentence [language use: writing style] is followed by another, which hyperbolically [literary term] reveals that their whole bodies [analysis of the metaphor] are metaphorically [language: literary term] ‘wet through’ .
Notice how useful it is to condense quotation with analysis and literary terminology. So much time is saved. Let us say that you now look at the other physical hardships that the soldiers endure, such as the freezing conditions, no blankets and the mud. Make sure you continue to analyse the form, language and structure, when the opportunities arise.
The moment has come to compare/contrast with something(s) that you remember from your other texts – again making sure that you analyse when you can. Try to deal with the significance of the comparison/contrast before moving on to the detail of the next ‘key area’, which you feel is a feature of the exam extract. Here, for instance, you might find that you can now naturally bring in the mental consequences.
The conclusion should not be one which goes over the ground which has already been covered. Ideally, you will have a sudden spark of understanding which has arisen as a result of writing the essay – something you had not appreciated about the thoughts and feelings, when you started it. Having such moments makes the whole business of essay-writing worthwhile. If you are stuck, a very good second best is to consider which of the thoughts and feelings have had the most impact on you. Approaching the conclusion in this way can give it a very personal, final flourish and this is the only time when you can use ‘I’ in an essay.