2011 Paper 2 Module a – Elective 1: Distinctive Voices

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2011 Paper 2 Module A – Elective 1: Distinctive Voices
In what ways are people and experiences brought to life through distinctive voices?
In your response, make detailed reference to your prescribed text and at least ONE other related text of your own choosing.
Sample response: Prose fiction
Prescribed text: The Life and Crimes of Harry Lavender, Marele Day, 1988

Related text: ‘Katrina’, Bruce Dawe, 1967 (poetry)

The introduction names the texts and outlines how they both use particular techniques to convey a distinctive voice

In The Life and Crimes of Harry Lavender, Marele Day takes the reader into the world of the novel through narrative perspective, tone, detailed description and personifying the setting. Bruce Dawe’s poem, ‘Katrina’, also uses a strong first person perspective and tone, but uses metaphor and simile to convey feelings, whereas Day uses description to convey character and action. In both texts we have a very strong sense of the person behind the distinctive narrative voice.

Narrative perspective in Harry Lavender

The narrative perspective in The Life and Crimes of Harry Lavender establishes the voice of the hard-boiled detective. We read the clichés of the genre – the blond in the bed, the heavy drinking and the hangover, the chaotic apartment – but Day undercuts and rearranges our perceptions by making us realise after a few paragraphs that the narrator is female, not male. This has the effect of establishing the narrative voice as belonging to a multi-dimensional and interesting character, someone who is unconventional and on first meeting certainly seems larger than life.

Use of description to convey action

Events and people in the novel are described in considerable detail, to allow us to be closely involved in the action. Day uses short sentences for fast-paced action to give us a moment-by-moment understanding of events. When Claudia is breaking into the gaming arcade through the roof, the short non-sentences tell us her thoughts and anxieties as they are happening. She makes some progress with the crowbar – “But not enough”. Then she has success – “Enough to crawl through”. This is a life-and-death situation, so she is not wasting words or doing any unnecessary thinking. A little further on, she tells us everything she can hear, see and feel in each moment, because danger has dragged time out and every second lasts “an eternity”.

Using pace to create sense of being there

The same moment-by-moment descriptions are applied to the action scenes in the novel. When Claudia is trying to escape from the container terminal, the sentences are long, with many separate actions crowded in, to show how much is happening all at once. In the one sentence, we read these actions: “poised”, “kick”, “rolled”, “swung” and “swept”. These five separate actions in one moment tell us how quickly events are occurring.

Tone indicates what the narrator is thinking and feeling

Day brings her detective, Claudia Valentine, to life through the tone with which Claudia relates the events of the novel. We already know that Claudia is no-nonsense and unconventional. We share her insights into others through the way she sees the world. She has a dry sense of humour – when she says she doesn’t have a car for the day because “the Daimler was being tuned”, this doesn’t easily fit with what we know of her so far, so we don’t know if she is joking or not. She relates events in her life with clarity and economy. We find out in a couple of sentences about her marriage, divorce, children and other important personal details – these are dispensed with quickly because they are not relevant and not as important as her job.

Characters are differentiated to make them seem real

We learn about other people in the novel through Claudia’s meticulous description and attention to detail – essential characteristics for a private detective. Sally’s neurotic behaviour is described in minute detail, to build up a picture of her instability. The small enclosed lives of the Levacks are economically described through the spy-hole in the door, Mrs Levack’s hair in rollers, the flickering TV set and the covers on the armchairs. In contrast, the love interest, Steve, is described in expansive terms that show how elevated and noble he seems from Claudia’s perspective: his height is exaggerated, he has eyes like deep “pools”, his teeth are “perfect”, and he is “tantalising” and “exciting”.

Setting – the city is depicted as a character

Verisimilitude: a technique to make something seem real or true

To further establish the sense of real-life events and bring characters to life, Day has turned the setting, the city of Sydney, into a character. We read of the city as a body, with a network of organs, veins, blood vessels and so on. It is a living entity that is as much a part of the action as the characters in the novel. This is reinforced by the way Day uses real places in the city to create a sense of verisimilitude. If we are familiar with certain suburbs, roads, buildings and places, we gain a clear picture of the events that are happening in these settings.

Outline of the poem and Dawe’s voice

In ‘Katrina’, a poem about his newborn child, Bruce Dawe creates vivid images of a life-and-death experience and the intense emotions this arouses in his wife and him. The poem is a sonnet addressed to Katrina, who is struggling to survive at two months old, although her twin brother is healthy and thriving. Dawe uses the distinctive voice of parental anguish to make us feel his despair and the awfulness of Katrina’s plight.

Use of imagery to express feelings and describe the situation
How the structure of the poem tells us that the situation has not changed

He establishes the experience by describing the situation and the helplessness of everyone involved. Katrina is “suspended between earth and sky”. This is a metaphor for the uncertainty and precariousness of her condition – will she live or die? – as well as a reference to limbo, the place where unbaptised babies went for eternity, according to Catholic beliefs. These references to death in the first line make us aware of the grim reality of the situation. The baby’s vulnerability is emphasised by her being “naked” in her “special room” in the hospital. These ideas of the closeness of death and her naked helplessness are repeated at the end of the poem, to suggest that there is no change in her condition. She is still caught between life and death and is still very vulnerable.

The tone of the poem and how this adds to the distinctive voice

The tone of the poem is despairing and negative, telling us that Dawe does not hold out hope that Katrina will recover. The words he chooses remind us of pain, physical and emotional, and of the misery of grief. He and his wife “fear” the phone call from the nurse, are “hurt” by the healthy vigour of the twin brother and are trying to prepare themselves for the “karate-blow” of Katrina’s death. His description of Katrina reinforces the pain and agony of the experience: the life-saving transfusion “wounds” her heels and the dummy taped in her mouth vividly creates the image of a prisoner or hostage. The image of the date-pad, with the date of her death “crumpled, thrown away”, tells us how devastated he feels about the senseless waste of her small life.

Use of contrast in the poem to reinforce the life/death struggle

Contrast is used to show the poet’s depth of feeling and tell us of his despair. He describes the difference between Katrina and her brother. While he has “vigour”, she is “wasting”, and even the sunlight that falls on her is “thin” and sickly. Despite this, she is like a jewel to her parents, her ability to hang onto life a shining point of hope against the “black velvet” backdrop of death that threatens to envelop her at any moment. Her struggle to survive makes them love her more, not less.

The first person narrative perspective intensifies the personal voice

Dawe also shows the depth of his despair through his use of the first person, “I”, throughout, to bring to life the intensity of his grief and despair. He personalises his wife’s and his anguish by telling us bluntly and explicitly how they feel. “We do not know, but fear” tells us the rawness of their emotions, as do the bald statements, “Your mother grieves already, and so do I” and the unanswerable question he asks about her life “opening” or “closing”.

The conclusion links both texts by similarities and differences

Both texts bring people and experiences to life through distinctively conveying thoughts, feelings and actions: Day tells us about characters and what they think and do in fast-paced crime fiction, while Dawe tells us about the anguish of parents who are waiting to find out if their child will live or die. Both have used very similar techniques in developing their distinctive voices, although the effects are so very different.

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