Literary Genre Essay Sample

Write an essay on one or more of the aspects of literary genre which you found most interesting in the texts you have studied on your comparative course.

This is a good essay from a current Leaving Cert student. It's published under our #625Lab section that reviews the strengths and weaknesses of students' essays with comments and corrections.

If you are looking for model H1 essays and notes on Literary Genre, here you go:

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Complete Guide to Leaving Cert English (€)

Literary genre is a fascinating area of study. (Be careful with saccharine enthusiasm.) It allows me to observe the craft of each of these authors as they use a variety of techniques to bring each text to life for me. The three texts I have studied as part of the comparative course are “Circle of Friends”, a novel by Maeve Binchy, “The Plough And The Stars”, a play written by Sean O’Casey, and “The King’s Speech” directed by Tom Hooper. The aspects of literary genre which I found most appealing are narration, dialogue and imagery. (It's always good to mention the 3-4 main things you are going to talk about in your essay at the start). 


For me there is no doubt that one of the most effective ways of creating a good story is through an omniscient narrator. The three texts all come from different genres. "Circle of Friends" is a novel and is narrated in the third person. This allows Binchy to give us  present the story from the point of view of several different characters, although the story it is narrated primarily from Benny’s viewpoint. The author in this way is omniscient, which means that she is all knowing and all seeing. (Wouldn't it make more sense to include the definition in the opening sentence of this paragraph?) An example of this is the way in which, the author and I know that Nan and Jack are seeing each other, but no one else does. This omniscient narration allows me to have a greater overall knowledge than any one character in the novel. (It's best to avoid entire paragraphs on just one text. Aim to always be comparing texts. Note how for the entire duration of the essay the author writes entire paragraphs per single text. While the points he makes are excellent, it is still an example of what not to do. Why? Because there are no direct comparisons. Direct comparisons = marks. Otherwise, forget it.)
"The King's Speech" as is a film, is from and thus a completely different genre, yet in effect the camera is also an omniscient narrator. I am able to observe people at different times in the world of film. (Redundant.) The director, Tom Hooper, uses a variety of techniques to focus our attention on different details at certain times. In the opening sequence of the film I am able to see the Duke as he climbs up the steps. A reverse shot shows the microphone that awaits him. The sparse musical theme on the strings (it was piano. If you can't remember, leave it out) adds to the tension I feel as I empathise with the Duke. The size of the microphone in the shots that are edited together here emphasises the terror it inspires in the Duke. Therefore, this omniscient narration allows me to know how Bertie is feeling and helps me to sympathise with him. (This is all wonderful, but there are no comparisons.)


Donegal. Image credit: Chrissy
In “The Plough And The Stars” I am part of an audience watching events as they unfold. There is no one narrator in the play but I, like in the film, get to witness everything that occurs. I see and hear the way Mrs Gogan and Fluther speak about Nora and Jack before they enter on stage. We see Peter close the door to the tenement in order to annoy The Covey when he returns with his looted goods. Therefore we are in a position of greater knowledge than any one individual in the play and therefore there is an element of omniscience. (Is it "we" or "I"? Choose one and stick with it. Same goes for tense (which is consistently the present in this essay - and that's good).)

The use of dialogue is vital in all three texts. In "Circle of Friends" I read many conversations between various characters. This adds immediacy to the novel and makes us feel as though we are there. Binchy makes the characters more real through this inclusion of actual dialogues. Through the use of dialogue we can also find out how the characters are feeling. This can also be seen when Jack tells Benny that Nan is pregnant and that he must marry her as he has to do the right thing which society expects. Through this conversation I learn about Jack’s feelings and his inner thoughts.

In “The Plough And The Stars” dialogue is essential when establishing plot, theme and character. Through the use of dialogue, I find out about the “meeting” and I hear the argument between The Covey and Uncle Peter about the nature of nationalism and socialism. Layers of meaning lie within such conversations, which is what O’Casey intended as he wanted his play to be thought-provoking. It’s clear that dialogue is essential in the creation of a good story. Without dialogue the texts could neither keep their audience interested nor create plausible characters. 

Dialogue plays a similar role in "The King's Speech" as it does in “The Plough And The Stars” as it highlights the major themes. Putting thematic or moral messages into the mouths of their characters, as I see with the socialist opinions of The Covey, allows playwrights and screenwriters to talk to us. For example, Lionel Logue expresses the viewpoint of the film that personal experiences are more crucially important when dealing with emotional or mental states than any letters after a name outlining expressing academic qualifications. He tells Bertie “All I know I know by experience, and that war was some experience. My plaque says L. Logue Speech Defects. No Dr... no letters after my name”. The point that experience trumps academic theory is therefore succinctly made.

The "The King's Speech" and “The Plough And The Stars” both use dialogue to enhance our experience of both mediums. It is interesting to compare how singing is used in both texts to convey theme or mood. The love song that Jack sings to Nora communicates better than any words the hopes of the young couple for their relationship and future. The humming exercises that Bertie does at Lionel’s request serve a different purpose as they enable Bertie to articulate that which he cannot speak. The cursing and swearing also allow him to express his inner monologue and reminds us of the outbursts which are so common in “The Plough And The Stars”. (This is the best part of the essay. There is a direct comparison of both texts. Up until now the author more or less told us: there is dialogue in all three texts and that enhances the experience. Well, that's pretty obvious, isn't it? In this last part he actually gave us a meaningful comparison. This is what you should aim for - throughout the essay.)

Donegal. Image credit: Chrissy
Imagery and symbolism help to focus our attention and to convey meaning in all three texts. Writers often use imagery to enrich the language of a text. In "Circle of Friends" Binchy frequently uses simple and effective similes and metaphors to enrich her character creation. As Benny goes to college on her first day, she compares herself to a child. Benny, here, is emphasising the overprotective nature of her parents. Benny’s parents are compared to worrying ducks.

The language in “The Plough And The Stars” is also loaded with imagery. Mrs Gogan says of Nora and Jack that they were “like two turtle doves always billing and cooing”, and she says that Nora is a “well up little lassie”. Fluther describes listening to the patriotic speeches “like rain falling on the corn”. Most of the comparisons are similes. The language that the people use adds to the humour and energy of the play to a greater extent than in the other two texts. 

Symbolism also plays a major part in "The King's Speech". One of the most important symbol in "The King's Speech" is the long walk Bertie makes with his wife and Lionel before he speaks to the nation as King George VI. This long tortured walk represents the journey he has to undertake to overcome his speech impediment and his emergence into a new light of hope when he succeeds in addressing his subjects without stammering. 

One thing that emerged for me from my comparative studies was a new appreciation for the craft of storytelling. From a point where I really only appreciated a text on its most simplistic level I started to become aware and appreciate the great skills that novelists, filmmakers and playwrights bring to their work. The variety of techniques that they drew on to create such memorable storylines and memorable character was immense and certainly formed in me a genuine appreciation of the level of talent involved. (That's a particularly nice conclusion.)


PCLM - Leaving Cert marking scheme remarks

Clarity of Purpose:

- The message is very clear: narration, dialogue and imagery enhance the experience. The author backs up his points with reference to the text. 

- What about purpose? She answered the question in a super-relevant way when talking about Literary Genre, except...
- The real difficulty here is that the purpose of the Comparative answer is to compare. And this is one thing he didn't do properly - not out of not being familiar with the texts or not seeing enough comparisons, but by failing to frame what he knows into the right format. This is largely an essay on the Literary Genre of three separate texts, not a comparative essay :(

Coherence of Delivery

- Clear structure. This is largely accomplished by opening each paragraph with a simply stated idea. There is reasonable continuity in his argument. The author is consistent in how he presents her ideas. He definitely engaged with the texts.

Efficiency of Language Use

- It's not bad here at all. Clear logic. Simple sentences. The big inefficiency is the lack of  direct comparisons.

Accuracy of Mechanics

It's all been tidied up here, but remember that this counts for 10%!


UPDATE – September 2014.

Again and again it’s been pointed out at marking conferences and in marking schemes that YOU MUST RESPOND TO THE QUESTION. Stock learned off answers are not being rewarded – and rightfully so! Using what you know to offer your opinion is what counts – agree, disagree, partially agree, partially disagree – it’s doesn’t matter as long as your essay is directly responding to the Q asked throughout and is doing so in a comparative way.

Here’s an extract from the Chief Examiner’s Report

examiners were pleased when they saw candidates trust in their own personal response and demonstrate a willingness to challenge the ‘fixed meaning’ of texts. The best answers managed to remain grounded, both in the question asked and in the texts”.

Examiners complained that students had pre-prepared answers which they refused to adapt to the question asked. Don’t get confused here: in the comparative section you have to have done a lot of preparation prior to the exam. The similarities and differences are unlikely to simply occur to you on the day under exam conditions and the structure of comparing and contrasting, weaving the texts together using linking phrases and illustrating points using key moments is not something you can just DO with no practice. It’s a skill you have to learn. But you MUST be willing to change, adapt, and select from what you know to engage fully with the question asked.

This compliment, followed by a warning, was included in the 2013 report:

Many examiners reported genuine engagement with the terms of the questions, combined with a fluid comparative approach. As in previous years, examiners also noted that a significant minority of candidates were hampered by a rigid and formulaic approach“.

At the 2011 marking conference, a huge emphasis was placed on students engaging with the question – and the point was made that all too often they DON’T. You may have a general structure in your head but if this structure doesn’t suit the question that comes up DON’T just doggedly write what you’re prepared anyway. Use what you know to answer the Q. The basic structure will remain (text 1 key moment, link, text 2 km, link, text 3 km, general observation) – it’s not rocket science. But you must prove (if you want a grade above 70% in comparative) that you can engage with the question throughout your answer (not justthrow it in @ beginning and end) and conclude by showing how your essay engaged with the question asked. So the moral of the story is, if you puke up a pre-prepared answer & completely ignore the question, don’t be surprised when you then do badly!

Anyway, you still want to know what the basic comparative structure IS but remember you do not know what you will write until you see the question. Even then, your brain should be on fire non-stop as you write your answer. This is not about ‘remembering’ stuff – this is about knowing it so well, that it’s all there in your brain and you just have to shuffle it about so that it makes sense as a response to whatever question is asked.

Sorry, I don’t intend to scare you – but nor do I want to you be under some illusion that you just write one essay for each comparative mode during the year and that will do. IT WON’T…

UPDATE OVER

Right, here goes…

The quality of your links is REALLY SUPREMELY important. This section of the course is called ‘comparative studies’ for a reason. The more detailed a link is the more marks you’ll get for it. Thus just using the words ‘similarly’ or ‘by contrast’ isn’t really enough. Link individual characters from different texts, establish the ways they or their circumstances are similar but also point out subtle differences. You can extend this comparison throughout your paragraph/section if necessary (in fact this is a good idea) – but don’t simply repeat yourself.

Here’s some general advice on how you might structure your comparative essay, but I repeat, adapt, adapt adapt to the question asked.

Introduction:

Theme or Issue: Address the Q, introduce your theme, then your texts – genre, name, author and mention the central character who you will focus on in your discussion of this theme.

General Vision & Viewpoint: Address the Q, introduce the idea of GV&V (briefly), then your texts – genre, name, author and mention the major emotions you associate with each.

Cultural Context: Address the Q, introduce the idea of cultural context (briefly), then your texts – genre, name, author, plus where and when they are set. You may want to mention the aspects of cultural context you intend to discuss.

Literary Genre: Address the Q, briefly introduce what literary genre means, then introduce your texts – genre, name, author. Outline the aspects of literary genre you will discuss (depends on the Q asked).

Look at the following examples. Imagine the Q is “Exploring a theme or issue can add to our enjoyment of a text”

“I found it fascinating to explore the central theme of plagiarism in my comparative texts. In the novel ‘Old School ‘ (OS) by Tobias Wolff I was intrigued by the narrator’s self delusion after he entered a competition with a short story he had not written. By contrast, I found the film ‘Generous’ (GEN) directed by Frank Faulkner quite disturbing. It explores a young girl’s obsession with becoming famous as she ‘borrows’ outrageous online articles to make her blog more popular. Finally I found the play “IMHO” by Judy Price hilarious. It looks at how we all ‘copy’ ideas from others and pass them off as our own at dinner parties. Thus exploring this theme greatly added to my enjoyment of each text”.

Now look at how this changes for a different mode. Imagine the Q is “The general vision & viewpoint of a text often offers the reader both joy & despair”

All of my comparative texts took me on a rollercoaster ride through the highs and lows experienced by the central characters. In the novel “Old School” (OS) by Tobias Wolff I experienced the narrator’s joy at the visit of Robert Frost, and his despair when his cheating was uncovered. Similarly, the film “Generous” (GEN) directed by Frank Faulkner begins in elation for Emily as her blog goes viral but ends in complete mental and physical collapse. By contrast, the lighthearted play “IMOH” by Judy Price offers a hilarious look at the falseness of modern dinner parties and the only despair the audience feels is lamenting the complete lack of self-awareness of the central characters. Thus the vision & viewpoint of each text offered me a  wide and varied range of emotions  from joy to depair”.

Now look at how this changes again: Imagine the Q is: “Characters are often in conflict with the world or culture they inhabit”

The novel ‘Old School’ (OS) written by Tobias Wolff is set in an elite American boarding school in the 1960’s and the unnamed narrator certainly comes into conflict with his world. This text explores cultural issues such as social class, ethnic identity and authority figures. Similar issues are explored in the film “Generous” (GEN) directed by Frank Faulkner and set in modern day London as Emily comes into conflict with her parents, peers and teachers. My third text the play “IMOH” by Judy Price set in Celtic Tiger Ireland also looks at the conflicts which occur as a result of people’s social snobbery and their desire to escape their cultural identity and heritage. In this text the major authority figure is Susan, the host of the dinner party, who desperately tries to keep her guests in line. Thus I absolutely agree that these three texts made me more aware of the ways in which people can come into conflict with the world or culture they inhabit”.

Finally look at this literary genre question: “The creation of memorable characters is part of the art of good story-telling”.

The unnamed narrator in Tobias Wolff’s novel ‘Old School’ (OS) is a fascinating and memorable character because he is struggling to come to terms with his own flaws. Similarly, the film ‘Generous’ (GEN) directed by Frank Faulkner has a central character Emily who we emphathise with despite her many flaws. Finally, the play ‘IMHO’ by Judy Price with its emsemble cast creates many memorable characters but for the purposes of this essay I will focus on the dinner party host Susan.These characters live on in our memories because of the writer’s choice of narrative point of view, because of the vivid imagery we associate with them and because the climax of the action revolves around their character.

NEXT you need to think about structuring the essay itself. The most important thing to decide in advance is what aspect you wish to compare for each page/section but this may need to change to adapt to the Q.

For theme or issue you might plan it out like this but at all times focus on answering the Q:

  1. How is this theme introduced? How does this theme affect the central character/characters?
  2. How is this theme developed? Do the central characters embrace or fight against it? How?
  3. Do other characters influence how this theme unfolds?
  4. How does the text end & what are our final impressions of this theme as a result?

Asking the same question of each text allows you to come up with the all important links (similarities & differences).

For general vision & viewpoint you might plan as follows but at all times focus on answering the Q:

  1. What view is offered of humanity (are the main characters likable or deplorable?)
  2. What view is offered of society (is this society largely benign or does it negatively impact on the characters)
  3. How does the text end & what vision are we left with (positive or negative) as a result?

Alternatively you could just take a beginning, middle, end approach but you must at all times focus on whether the vision/feelings/atmosphere is positive or negative and how this impacts on the reader/viewers experience.

For literary genre you must focus on the aspects mentioned in the question – possibly some of these:

  • Genre – diff between novel/play/film
  • Narrator / point of view
  • Characterisation
  • Chronology – flashback / flashforward
  • Climax / twist

For cultural context you must decide which of the following issues are most prominent in all three texts – try to find links before you decide. At all times focus on answering the Q asked

  • Social class / social status
  • Wealth / poverty
  • Job opportunities / emigration
  • Authority figures
  • Religion
  • Sex / Marriage (attitudes towards)
  • Gender roles
  • Stereotypes / Ethnic identity
  • Politics

You may find some overlap between 2 of these – for example social class often influences a person’s wealth or poverty; religion often effects attitudes towards sex and marriage; marriage can often be a financial necessity for those with limited job opportunities (mostly women, so this overlaps with gender roles). Choose your sections carefully so you don’t end up repeating yourself.

You might plan as follows for the example given above but everything depends on the texts & the question.

  1. Social status
  2. Ethnic identity
  3. Authority figures
  4. How does the text end? Do the main characters escape or remain constrained by their cultural context?

Once you’ve decided what sections to include your structure for each goes a little something like this:

STATEMENT – ALL 3 TEXTS e.g. All of the central characters are deeply aware of their social class and wish to ‘climb the ladder’ as it were in the hope that they will achieve recognition, the envy of their peers and ultimately a better life.

STATEMENT – TEXT 1 e.g. In OS, the narrator hides his background (he comes from a broken home) from his wealthier peers.

KEY MOMENT TEXT 1 e.g. This is evident when he discusses how, at school, your social class was defined not just by your clothes but also by how you spent your summers – in his case “working as a dishwasher in the kitchen crew at a YMCA camp” a fact which he vows never to reveal to his classmates.

LINKING PHRASE & STATEMENT TEXT 2 e.g. Similarly, in GEN, Emily comes from a broken home, but it is her family’s absolute impoverishment which she keeps hidden from her classmates. Like the narrator in OS, she fears their pity but unlike him she is already dealing with the harsh reality of being a social outcast at school.

KEY MOMENT TEXT 2 e.g. During one key moment she describes leaning down to tie her shoes, all the while talking, only to look up and find her friends have walked off and are now laughing at her for talking to thin air. Thus her desire to escape the limitations of her background is more urgent than in OS.

LINKING PHRASE & STATEMENT TEXT 3 e.g. By contrast, in IMHO, Jane, Lucy, Joel, Zach & Max all come from upper middle class backgrounds. Their social status is more secure than the narrator in OS or Emily in GEN, yet they are all obsessed with creating the impression that they have links to the aristocracy – or in Zach’s case, royalty.

KEY MOMENT TEXT 3 e.g. Several key moments spring to mind, the funniest of which is when Lucy boasts about the diamond necklace she’s wearing being a family heirloom bequeathed by her Aunt Tess, only to have one of the so-called diamonds fall into her soup. Joel the jeweller then delights in pointing out the evident ‘fake’ in the room (the woman AND the diamond).

STATEMENT ALL 3 & PERSONAL RESPONSE TO QUESTION ASKED e.g. Thus I found it fascinating, tragic and at times hilarious to see how all of these characters were so deeply affected by their obsession with their social status and to observe the conflicts – both internal & external – which resulted.

This all sounds very technical but if you break it down as follows it’s not so complicated (easy for me to say!)

STATEMENT ALL 3 TEXTS

STATEMENT TEXT 1 & KEY MOMENT

LINKING PHRASE & STATEMENT TEXT 2 & KEY MOMENT

LINKING PHRASE & STATEMENT TEXT 3 & KEY MOMENT

STATEMENT ALL 3 & PERSONAL RESPONSE TO QUESTION

Now look at how the paragraph/section flows when you put it all together.

All of the central characters are deeply aware of their social class and wish to ‘climb the ladder’ as it were in the hope that they will achieve recognition, the envy of their peers and ultimately a better life. In OS, the narrator hides his background (he comes from a broken home) from his wealthier peers.This is evident when he discusses how, at school, your social class was defined not just by your clothes but also by how you spent your summers – in his case “working as a dishwasher in the kitchen crew at a YMCA camp” a fact which he vows never to reveal to his classmates. Similarly, in GEN, Emily comes from a broken home, but it is her family’s absolute impoverishment which she keeps hidden from her classmates. Like the narrator in OS, she fears their pity but unlike him she is already dealing with the harsh reality of being a social outcast at school. During one key moment she describes leaning down to tie her shoes at her locker, all the while talking, only to look up and find her friends have walked off and are now laughing at her for talking to thin air. Thus her desire to escape the stigma of her background is more urgent than in OS. By contrast, in IMHO, Jane, Lucy, Joel, Zach & Max all come from upper middle class backgrounds. Their social status is more secure than for narrator in OS or Emily in GEN, yet they are all obsessed with creating the impression that they have links to the aristocracy – or in Zach’s case, royalty. Several key moments spring to mind, the funniest of which is when Lucy boasts about the diamond necklace she’s wearing being a family heirloom bequeathed by her Aunt Tess, only to have one of the so-called diamonds fall into her soup. Joel the jeweller then delights in pointing out the evident ‘fakes’ in the room (the woman AND the diamond). Thus I found it fascinating, tragic and at times hilarious to see how all of these characters were so deeply affected by their obsession with their social status and to observe the conflicts – both internal & external – which resulted.

This paragraph only establishes that the characters want to hide or improve their social class. You could now look at some of their attempts to improve their social status.

If a paragraph gets too long, break it into two. The linking phrase will make it clear that you’re still talking about the same issue.

For the 30 / 40 marls question just take all of your statements & key moments for Text 1 and put them together, all the while answering the question and offering personal response. This is your 30 marks part.

Then take all of your statements & links for texts 2 & 3 and put them together, all the while answering the question and offering personal response. This is your 40 marks part. You will refer back, in passing, to Text 1 but only when establishing your links.

Also, I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: the more detailed a link is the more marks you’ll get for it. Thus just using the words ‘similarly’ or ‘by contrast’ isn’t really enough. Link individual characters from different texts, establish the ways they or their circumstances are similar but also point out subtle differences.

This structure applies no matter what the mode – theme or issue / general vision or viewpoint / cultural context / literary genre.

P.S. If you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of the film Generous or the play IMHO, I can explain. I made them up.

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