Module B Essay Writing | Critical Studies | HSC English Advanced

Module B Essay Writing – Critical Studies

Tegan explains about Module B Essay Writing – Critical Studies.

  • Why there isn’t really a formula

    The structure of an essay helps makes its content logical and convincing.  Broadly, we take an hierarchical or chronological approach with essays, sometimes tweaking the first and second paragraphs within our chosen structure to include the orienting content about main characters or settings early.

    When an essay is being asked against a study framework, like Discovery’s thematic framework, or Comparative Studies’ contextual framework, we can make further decisions about how to organise content within paragraphs to make it most effective for Module B Essay Writing. However, Critical Study doesn’t have this sort of framework, because the focus is solely on the text  – or rather, it has all possible frameworks – which means that it isn’t really possible to create a ‘one size fits all’ essay guide.

    That being said, you have to start somewhere, so these generalised seven types of essay should help you get used to the diversity required of this module. Keep in mind that the content and paragraphs you provide for a universality essay might be completely unusable in a characterisation essay, so make sure you keep writing new study notes and paragraphs each week.

  • What kind of essay do you have to write?

    There are actually 7 distinct types of essay argument you may have to write for Critical Studies. Each essay-type needs its own unique structure and approach, and there are lots of varied question possibilities for each one. The typical arguments you might for module B essay writing have to make include:

    • Proving your text has a high degree of textual integrity by discussing genre, plot structure, characterisation, language devices, themes and motifs.
    • Discussing the exploration of one or two universal or highly-relatable themes and how these grow or evolve throughout different chapters of your text.
    • Examining one character or relationship from the text and how important they are to the text’s success as a whole.
    • Examining one chapter or scene from the text in depth and showing how it encapsulates the central concerns of the text as a whole.
    • Comparing a variety of readings of a particular character or scene to show that the text has various interpretations.
    • Arguing for your own, specific reading, in the light of other critics’ opinions or reference frames of a particular event or character.
    • Considering how different contexts have responded to your text over time – especially the era when it was made and the present day, and how this might affect its value.
  • Tips on Basic Structure

    • Break ideas and topics down. Always see if you could make your topic smaller and more specific. Focus whole paragraphs on small details that might support or challenge your reading.
    • Organise your evidence from obvious to least obvious. You must hit all the obvious points relevant to your question  – do them first – but then see if you can discuss less common scenes or details, or bring in a critic or alternative reading.
    • Create your own ‘reading’ or sense of connectivity between each paragraph so that you’re moving ‘deeper’ into the text with each paragraph. For example, you might start your feminist reading of Hamlet looking at the titular character’s relationships with his mother and girlfriend, then look at his self-hatred of his lack of masculinity, then look at the ‘feminine’ nature of his iambic pentameter.
    • Localise quotes – really prove what you’re saying. In other essay types you’re merely suggesting an idea is in the text. Here, you’re trying to prove your individual reading is possible. The more controversial your claim, the more evidence (i.e. quotes) you need to provide.
    • Remember the text’s structure. Reference chapter, act, scene or stanza names or numbers with your quotes. Know which parts of your text are the most famous, most quoted, or most significant.
    • Use critics. Be able to quote a critic’s name, the article or essay title the quote came from, and the year it was first published. Make sure you’re not quoting the critic’s line out of context – i.e. a small point that goes against her or his bigger reading. You don’t need to introduce critics in the introduction – unless they are part of a particular essay’s thesis – just introduce them in-paragraph as you use them.
    • Textual Integrity is your only major thread across all essays. From time to time in conclusion sentences you’ll want to point out that the complex character/ambiguity of readings / technical proficiency confers a high degree of textual integrity that helps a text stand the test of time.
  • Writing Introductions and Conclusions

     Thesis:  the thesis is your reading of the text. You will have a number of prepared readings thought out in your study notes, choose the one relevant to the type and content of the essay question of Module B Essay Writing. Your aim with a thesis is to prove your argument and thus show your text has textual integrity or is worthy to study for Module B Essay Writing.

  • Writing Introduction

    • Interrogate the essay question and make clear your interpretation of it. Deal with each keyword individually, tease out any logical or philosophical problems with the question, or any contextual backdrop needed to think about them. Spend two to three sentences on this, making it clear, precise, and sophisticated.
    • Orientation. Name the composer text, and the year it was published in brackets after it. Make any relevant comments about historical context. Precisely define the genre, and text type and composer of the text. If your text is especially famous or influential/important to literature/ history/politics, spend a sentence to make a comment about it.
    • Outline your reading and argument. Your reading is your interpretation, whilst your argument is the direct answer to the essay question.  If you’re drawing on a particular tradition in your reading, like a Marxist or Freudian approach, or the work of a critic you’ve read, make this clear.
    • Signpost your topic sentences. If you’re arguing about textual integrity, it might be relevant to mention the specialised text-type techniques or genre conventions you will focus on. If you’re doing characterisation, you might mention the key scenes in the development of the character. In poetry or speeches, you might mention the style or motifs that the composer favours. However, don’t signpost things you have no intention of analysisng.
  • Writing Conclusion

    • Point out the significance of the essay question and the implications of your answer to it. Does your answer hold true for other texts, for life? What are the flaws or limitations of your argument?
    • Link your argument and reading of the text back to textual integrity/universality. Can you make a case for this idea contributing to the text’s popularity or it standing the test of time?
    • Social impact. How does the text continue to influence us today – or, is its message still relevant today? Does it still stand as an iconic example of its text-type or genre?
    • Sophisticated Take-away message. Make a mature comment on the value of the text or of this message for society, and leave your marker with something deep to think about.
  • Notes on the Textual Integrity Essay

    • Focus on technical text-type techniques. Dramatic asides, soliloquies, Dramatic foreshadowing and irony, symbolism and motifs, midpoint reversals, frequently used camera angles and effects, etc. Focus on the techniques that are most-used, most inventive, or most effective.
    • Always have a paragraph on language itself. Not simply language techniques – all essays do that. How is language used in varied ways? Is it colloquial? Referential? Vernacular? Realistically fragmented, or highly poetic-sounding? Are certain kinds of language used to make certain points or define certain characters?

     Don’t generalise. Even though you’re talking about big structural elements sometimes, that doesn’t mean you can hop around the text. Never quote more than one small part of a scene or chapter per paragraph. If you want to link one part of a text to another, begin a new paragraph to explore the link. Don’t make ‘genre conventions’ seem unrelated to ‘motifs’, everything in a good text is connected – your essay shouldn’t read like five mini-essays on textual aspects of Module B Essay Writing.

     Example question:

     How do dramatic conventions accentuate the sense of tragedy at the close of Hamlet?

    What does the paragraph sound like?

    Dramatic conventions in early Greek tragedies often accentuate a sense of tragedy through the use of foreshadowing to suggest that the downfall of a character is fated or unavoidable. However, what makes a Shakespearean drama a tragedy is that characters have created their consequences through their own mistakes – the sense of tragedy emphasised by the notion that outcome was indeed avoidable. In Act V, Sc 2, Hamlet and Horatio openly discuss the possibility that the proposed fencing match is a trap, and Hamlet deflates the foreshadowing of his death by openly acknowledging it: ‘If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all.’ The use of anadiplosis creates an aphoristic tone, which sounds fatalistic, even though Hamlet claims, ‘We defy augury’ he is pointing out that all men die eventually, so once that fact is accepted, it does not matter so much when and how. Yet, this supposedly rational, Renaissance man also makes the biblical allusion, ‘There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow’, which suggests that even the smallest death is part of God’s plan. Though Hamlet is intelligent enough to see through Claudius’ ruse, and insightful enough to come to terms with a man’s small place in the universe, he seems too tired to fight against the foreshadowing and current of the play, allowing himself to be swept towards the conclusion and catharsis, almost dutifully playing his part of Module B Essay Writing. This behaviour accentuates the tragedy because, even with all his intellect, ability and insight, Hamlet chooses not to avoid his scripted fate, thus squandering his gift of reason.

  • Notes on the Universality Essay

    • Your essay should be chronologically ordered to show theme development. Like an Area of Study essay, you need to philosophically interrogate the theme and what the composer is really saying about it. They might be saying different things in different chapters or scenes.
    • Didactic vs. Pluralist. Does the theme affect different characters in different ways? Are there various experiences of the theme running through the text? Does the theme tie into or build off any motifs? Is the message convincing, idealist, or realist? Are there any counter points-of-view built into the text and how successful are they?
    • Universalism and audience. What kind of audience does this text anticipate? Is the message universally applicable? Does the message enhance textual enjoyment and how does this appeal work – through emotions or ethics or logic? 

    Example question:

    How do themes of aging and loss pervade Yeats’ poetry?

    What does the paragraph sound like?

    • Cycles of time that are drawing to a close recur in Yeat’s poetry – seasonal cycles are referenced in Wild Swans at Coole, while cycles of history and mythology feature in Second Coming. Personal experiences of aging and loss, however, are perhaps best dealt with in his poem, When You Are Old, a romantic sonnet believed to be written to Maud Gonne, his long-unrequited love of Module B Essay Writing. The poem makes direct references to the woman’s loss of beauty through aging in the blazon, ‘dream of the soft look / your eyes had once’, and develops this loss into a sense of bereftness for both the subject of the poem and the composer. The woman loses her admirers, the many who loved her ‘with love false or true’, the antithesis reminding the responder that love should be metaphysical, ‘true’ and more than skin-deep with the religious metaphor, ‘but one man loved the pilgrim soul in you’. Both the subject and the composer, the composer suggests, suffer a sense of loss as time progresses and they each age, as the personified love that could have flourished between them has been metaphorically lost ‘amid a crowd of stars’. Yeats suggests that age, because it is an austere time, with less false and true distractions, distills human experience, allowing us to reflect on what we have had, and what we might have had, but lost. Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
    • And paced
    • dream of the soft look
    • Your eyes had once


  • Notes on the Characterisation & Relationships Essay

    • Your essay should be chronologically ordered to show character development. Make sure you include for analysis character’s catalysts for change, their obstacles and the consequences of their development, both good and bad of Module B Essay Writing.
    • Consider the psychological implications. Don’t just focus on the plot events, what internal thoughts or feelings might the characterisation represent. Is there any ambiguity or room for varied interpretations of what they’re feeling?
    • Is the character based on anyone? The character might be a twist on a stock character or stereotype, a parody of a real-world human being or public figure that the composer knew, or they may be a vehicle character for  a particular opinion, message or sector of society. Include useful research or contextual information in orienting paragraphs.
    • Characterisation techniques. Is your character a protagonist, an antagonist, an anti-hero, a foil character, an unreliable narrator, or being used as some other characterisation device?

    Example question:

    How does Citizen Kane reveal Charles Foster Kane’s vulnerability? 

    What does the paragraph sound like?

    Charles Foster Kane is a complex figure, whose wealth and determination seem to make him a strong and impervious character. The cinematography challenges this characterisation throughout the film, however, particularly in the newspaper flashback where Mr Thatcher confronts Kane about his financial interests. Kane’s vulnerability is suggested by the point-of-view shot over Thatcher’s shoulder as he stands over and questions Kane, who is seated and boxed in behind his desk in the bull pen. Bernstein and Leeland move into the frame and crowd Kane, until his face is nearly obscured. Whilst Kane coyly responds to Thatcher’s questioning  – ‘I don’t know how to run a newspaper Mr Thatcher, I just try everything I can think of’, this is a revealing statement, as he has no rudder or moral guardianship and his enterprises are often poorly planned. Though he longs to use his wealth and power for a good cause, claiming’ I think I’m the man to do it, you see, I have money and property’ Kane’s vulnerability is located in his tendency to conflate his identity with his wealth, as though he has little else to offer. In his role at the Enquirer, Kane takes on a new identity that allows him to attack what he doesn’t like about himself. He describes himself in the third person to Thatcher: ‘You don’t realise you’re talking to two people…As Charles Foster Kane who owns eighty-two thousand, three-hundred and sixty-four shares of Public Transit…I sympathise with you, Charles Foster Kane is a scoundrel, his paper should be run out of town…on the other hand, I am the publisher of the Enquirer, as such it is my duty, and I’ll let you in on a little secret, it is also my pleasure, to see to it that decent hardworking people in this community aren’t robbed blind.’ The newspaper flashback reveals Kane’s complex characterisation even as a young man– his vulnerability to Thatcher’s agitations, and his poor self-worth which craves public affection and spurs him to self-sabotage.

  • Notes on the Critical Reading Essay

    • Make sure your reading acknowledges other critics, but is distinct. Don’t be a parrot – neither agree nor disagree wholeheartedly with your critic – if using a critic you love, be sure to point out some limit to their argument, or some minor flaw of Module B Essay Writing.
    • Don’t just use critics gratuitously. Make sure you know what the critic stands for and that you’re using the best people for your argument. Be sure you know exactly what the quote you’re using means – not just what you assume it means. Its best to quote more than once from the same person’s article.

    Example question:

    How have other critical voices reshaped your reading of Hamlet

    What does the paragraph sound like?

    Most critics agree that Hamlet is at times an inconsistent character, and this fuels a wide range of possible interpretations of the prince of Denmark’ motivations. It is tempting to concentrate on Hamlet as he appears in the action of the play as the ‘real’ Hamlet, and to distance the voices in the soliloquies whichcan seem divorced from or contradictory to the action. However, Keith Sagar’s essay, Hamlet, emphasises the soliloquies as central to the play, especially Hamlet’s first soliloquy:

    As important as what Hamlet says in the first soliloquy is when he says it.  This is by far the most important soliloquy in that it gives us our only insight into Hamlet’s mind before he hears anything of the ghost or his father’s murder.  His only overt motives for disaffection at this stage are genuine grief for the death of his father, resentment that Claudius has popped in between the election and his hopes, and disgust at the speed of his mother’s remarriage.  We must ask ourselves whether these motives adequately account for the tone and content of this soliloquy. In fact, the third of them exclusively seems to concern Hamlet here, and concerns him to the point of making him wish to commit suicide.

    Sagar’s emphasis of the first soliloquy has reshaped my reading of when Hamlet’s madness began. Previously, I had located the development of Hamlet’s madness sometime after the inciting incident of his meeting with ghost, and putting on his ‘antic disposition’. However, with close attention to the first soliloquy, it is possible to read Hamlet’s madness as being interlinked with his grief and already affecting him as the play commences – signalled by the slipperiness of his time references that indicate his disjoint with reality: ‘That it should come to this! / But two months dead! — nay, not so much, not two: So excellent a king…and yet, within a month, — Let me not think on’t, — Frailty, thy name is woman! — A little month…’ Thus, the notion that Hamlet’s true motivations are best revealed in his first soliloquy has reshaped my reading of Hamlet’s character, including the possibility that his central motivation is familial disgust, and that his grief may have been warping his rational mind even before the discovery of the murder.

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