Scoring commentary for George Bernard Shaw excerpt Question 2 (1981) Sample Essays

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SCORING COMMENTARY for George Bernard Shaw excerpt

Question 2 (1981) – Sample Essays
Low Score
The excerpt presents Shaw’s mother in two different ways. Supposedly she is dead, but yet she talks. Supposedly she is cremated, but yet the crematories are disguises. There is a plausible explanation for these contrasting events: Shaw loved his mother greatly, and could not believe she was dying an unglorious death.

The coffin “mysteriously” vanishes. This suggests that the coffin perhaps is not vanishing into a furnace but something else. This something else is revealed in a flashback, beginning with the third sentence. Shaw tries to except that she is not dying an ugly death by cremation. He tries to glorify the death. “Streaming ribbons” gives us a happy feeling of flame that it actually painful.

He watches the actual cremation the “wasted little figure” and “dainty little heap,” though it may be just this, gives the reader a tone of indifference. The image of “kitchen” and “cooks” glorifies her death; it is actually a place where the ugly remains are remove by workers.

Shaw imagines her as alive again when she says something to him. This affectation of Shaw’s is only artificial. He would like to believe she died a happy glorious death, when in reality it was ugly and pitiful. Shaw comes down to earth when he addresses the grave. “Where is thy victory?” He is trying to satisfy himself by finding the answer to the question. What good is the body for the grave? How does it gain anything by getting a body? It doesn’t gain. It is just one more absurd idiosyncrasy of life.
SCORING COMMENTARY: Although the phrase in the question “on the death of his mother” might have misled the student, it would be a challenge not to mislead someone who reads this passage as a son’s witnessing his living mother’s incineration. Since Shaw’s attitude toward his mother and her cremation are so distant from his view, although both are clearly there for the finding, the student invents a plausible explanation for what seems to be implausible. Insensitive to Shaw’s diction, the student settles for the least effective, if not the most inaccurate, word or phrase: the Pentecostal tongues “give us a happy feeling,” as the “wasted little figure” does a “tone of indifference,” and Shaw’s “affectation…is only artificial.”

Middle Score
George Bernard Shaw had a definite attitude

towards his mother as he sees her coffin disappear into the furnace. But when he returns his attitude has changed as he watches the cooks sift through the ashes of his mother. He realizes that these ashes are not his mother at all. They have nothing to do with his mother’s “wasted little figure and wonderful face” Only then can Shaw experience the humor of this scene in which the ashes are sorted out. When Shaw imagines that Mama is with him watching the scene, that shows that he believes his mother is separate from the actual ashes. This is the reason that Shaw finds the ash scene “wildly funny” and that his mother would have “enjoyed it enormously.”

Shaw’s actual attitude towards his mother is only shown in the opening paragraphs as he describes the actual cremation as a glorious event fit for a glorious person. He marvels at the “streaming ribbons” of the “lovely flame” and is in awe as he watches the “Pentecostal tongues” lovingly and eagerly consume his mother in a shimmering fire. He says that his mother became that beautiful fire and imagines that it is his mother herself who makes the fire beautiful. He obviously must have thought his mother to be a wonderful and glorious person when she was alive.

When the ashes remained, Shaw believed his mother was not there, that she had departed with the fire. Shaw then conveys his careless attitude about the ashes by describing them with humorous diction and detailing the disposal of his mother’s ashes with a nonchalant attitude. Althogether Shaw witnessed a “wonderful” departure of his mother but refused to recognize any beauty in her remains or the in the disposal of them. The grave has no victory as that honor was reserved for the fire of the coffin.
SCORING COMMENTARY: The paragraphs here seem somehow to average out to the average. The first confidently asserts that Shaw has an attitude toward both his mother and her cremation, and that the attitude changes, and then skips to the last half of the passage. Often in these responses, students rush in to the essay and, as this one does, discover half-way through that they have slighted something earlier—a pardonable mistake. The second paragraph retraces a writer’s first quick steps in the first sentence and in the next two nicely considers Mama’s lovely consummation. But the writer is still in a hurry, too much so to pause for more precise terms for Shaw’s attitude than “careless” or “nonchalant” or “humorous.” With a little more time or patience, the student, I suspect, would have found the critical vocabulary to raise this essay to a higher score. That such diction was a hand is suggested by the description of the “shimmering” fire, a word that Shaw himself might have used; and the final sentence argues that the student can manipulate syntax. But the essay as a whole is too cursory to receive a high score.

High Score
George Bernard Shaw describes the cremation of his mother in playful and soothing terms that reveal his affection for her and show that he regards death as an inevitable but gently process that robs one of only the physical (and not the spiritual) presence of loved ones. By using simple sentences, surprising adjectives like “dainty little heap of ashes,” and establish the imaginary, humorous presence of his mother watching the cremation, Shaw both entertains the reader and relaxes all who expect a morbid reaction from him. He chooses to describe the cremation graphically and joyfully, an approach that likewise shows that he remembers that closeness and happiness of his relationship with his mother and that these elements endure in his mind even at her death. Shaw simplicity of style and unusual description of the cremation enable him to preserve the witty and carefree nature of his mother and he feelings toward her.

The passage views death as a calm and unchangeable process of nature, and Shaw’s sentence structure reflects this. He writes the passage in a simple narrative style, rarely using subordinate clause or multiple adjectives. He does not stop to dwell on the philosophical implication of the cremation, instead proceeding continuously with the narrative itself. However, his introduction of his mother’s spirit and the spirit’s comical views of the scene serves as a device to convey the very philosophical picture of happiness that Shaw seeks to. Similarly, his willingness to minutely and graphically describe the cremation process indirectly transmits to the reader Shaw’s feelings of beauty and contentment over the burning of the body. Shaw chains together the declarations of “no heat, no noise. No roaring draught. No flame. No fuel.” The directness and simplicity of these statements makes it clear to all that Shaw sees no violence of cruelty in the cremation process. By staying with the narrative throughout the passage and keeping the narrative direct and simple, Shaw relaxes the reader while successfully transmitting his philosophical attitudes toward his mother and the cremation.

Shaw’s word choices within the calm narrative are both surprising and affective in that they associate the quality of splendor with the cremation and bring an uncommon environment of beauty to the entire scene. Such unusual descriptions as “lovely flame,” “beautiful fire,” and the cool, clean, and sunny,” cremation chamber all sway the reader from the conventional associations of brutality and pain with fire. Similarly, the violet color of the coffin and the “merry episode” of Shaw’s mother chuckling over the scene brings feelings of calmness and humor to the death scene. The metaphorical conversion of the laboratory into a kitchen further characterizes the scene as a happy one, and the notion of “cooks” who “sweep” and “shake out” Shaw’s mother from a sieve-like instrument shows how Shaw himself minimizes the physical significance of the death.

Shaw’s attitude toward his mother involves filial affection alongside an appreciation of her sense of humor and her inclination towards humbleness. By casting her cremation as a “merry episode” and colorfully detailing the procedure, Shaw playfully diminishes the importance of the physical occurrences. This draws the reader’s attention toward the spiritual, or emotional, feelings for this mother, and his use of her as an imaginary viewer of the kitchen scene strengthens his charaterization of her. The fact that his mother is “present” and watching the process shows that Shaw feels she remains spiritually alive, and her “shaking laughter” and joke about the heaps of ash illustrates her sense of humor and self-deprecation while amplifying the power of her spiritual presence. “O grave, where is thy victory?” says Shaw to defy the implication that his mother’s spirit might also die with her physical death. Shaw’s style and approach demonstrate conclusively that his mother’s happy qualities remain with him and that he views the cremation as an attractive, if unimportant stage in her life.
SCORING COMMENTARY: The length of an essay is rarely a reason for scoring what is written; but it may, as with this one, mark a commendable exuberance in the act of writing. A longish essay, it is inevitably repetitive at times, but seen as a first draft it is a fine performance.

The first paragraph begins a complex syntactical pattern that manages to introduce all the writer’s major concerns. It then turns to tick off in a business-like manner, the letter’s diction, syntax, and rhetoric. The last sentence, with a nice insight, argues that aspects of the description of cremation “enable” Shaw to “preserve” (a not inappropriate word) the character of his mother and their relationship. The second paragraph turns to the letter’s larger narrative structure and demonstrates, again, how the narration of the first part is complemented by the introduction of the mother’s ironic commentary in the second. The third paragraph turns to diction, and although the critical vocabulary is somewhat less than effective, terms like “surprising” and “unusual” mark a good start toward describing the cremation and its culinary conclusion. By the fourth paragraph the student has begun to reconsider the earlier term, “philosophical,” and to substitute “spiritual and emotional” for what needs to be identified in Shaw’s attitude. As the writer turns to that topic, Shaw’s dramatic skill is hinted at with the description of him “casting her cremation as a ‘merry episode’, “and with a little revision, the student might well have seen how well the word “playfully” works in the paragraph. A responsive reader and a sensitive writer like this one warrants recognition

THE ASSIGNMENT: USING WHAT YOU NOW KNOW, PLEASE REWRITE, REVISE AND/OR EDIT YOUR IN-CLASS TIMED WRITE AND SUBMIT TO TURNITIN.COM by Monday at midnight. While you can take hints from the essay(s) you’ve read here, your work must be your own and plagiarism will result in a zero on the assignment. Be amazing!

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