Sample Essay Critical Study

Sample Essay Critical Study

Representations of universal human experiences resonate with a reader despite their context

Humanity’s pursuit of artificial concepts constitutes the undying basis for the human experience. In particular, the idea of perfection and static equilibrium is a universal aspiration which initiates suffering when expectations are not met. A post-modernist exploration of humanity’s suffering lies within the novel “In the Skin of a Lion” by Michael Ondaatje; his employment of a non-linear structure and fragmented narration invites the readers to reflect on the nature of pain and be enlightened through its philosophical approach. Correspondingly, without a definitive, singular story, the audience is allocated textual autonomy to construct one’s own personal interpretation, therefore cementing its timelessness despite a shift in paradigmatic contexts.

(Some good ideas to start with here, but the connection to the question could be stronger.)

Due to variations in the ideal existence, the nature of suffering is regarded as subjective. Ondaatje’s recognition of this inherent truth translates into the diverse, multi-layered, anecdotal hardships of the characters, acting as a canvass (You need to be using literal rather than figurative descriptions. A ‘canvas for humanity’ could mean absolutely anything.) for humanity. Firstly, severe mental and physical distress is represented by the migrant workers of Canada in the bleak imagery “all else is labour and darkness” whereby the arduous jobs test their mental and physical endurance as they’re literally and metaphorically confined to the darkness, outlining the hopelessness of social immobility along with its traumatic repercussions. Furthermore, pain associated with social and intrapersonal incongruence is epitomised by Patrick, demonstrated in the symbolic dying fire’ which portrays the diminishing warmth and strength in the relationship with his father and how the lack of support underpinning his early development taints his self-assurance and future relations. Additionally, emotional stability degrades when coupled with the discomfort of invisibility as highlighted in the symbolism “he spoke out his name and it struggled up in a hollow echo…” where Patrick’s individuality attached to his name struggles to be recognised which furthers his personal despair due to a loss of identity. Similarly, an inconsistency of the ideal promotes despair, embodied by Clara in “she was always cold at night, in this room of the sea”, metaphorically highlighting her materialistic possession of space which brings about loneliness and vulnerability as opposed to power, demonstrating how the mindless pursuit of glamour and wealth has costed her the essentials of love and security. Likewise, a lack of communication also endorses feelings of unhappiness as represented by Temelcoff’s direct speech to Alice “you must talk,” the imperative establishes a sense of urgency, emphasising his misery and desperation to connect due to a prolonged absence of socialisation. Therefore, individual human pursuits – those including search for meaning, identity and social acceptance, embodied within these unique and relatable characters – promote the subjectivity of suffering.

(You have listed a lot of examples here, and a lot of the text as a guide, but you have not really connected human experiences resonating with the reader despite the context except for the last line. You need to spell it out – i.e. what aspect of these experiences do resonate with the reader? How do we as readers connect to severe mental and physical distress of migrant workers, even if we are not suffering as they are? How?)

The universal nature of desire results in the universal experience of suffering. Ondaatje encapsulates this notion as a means of achieving wholeness via empathy and empowerment through others. The all-encompassing presence of pain is personified in “the sky in all its zones is mortal,” and through this association, the fragility and weakness of even the most domineering force is deemed absolute; Ondaatje embodies the totality of pain and that despite contextual differences, humanity in all its zones are governed by the thread of adversity. Likewise, this notion of inevitable despair is demonstrated through the use of the motifs of moths and darkness: man is represented as the diminutive moths in its persistent drive towards light, hope and greatness while the ‘great darkness’ symbolises the inevitably and universality of suffering that exists between the rare periods of triumph. Moreover, the inescapable suffering of every individual is apparent within the very construction of the novel – these fragmented and subjective stories with their respective struggles depict individual compliance to the unpredictable harshness of life; they come together to form the ‘moment of cubism’ to essentially personify the central human experience of suffering. Subsequently, this unique suffering of man facilitates unification and is elucidated in “all these fragments of a human order, something ungoverned… the detritus and chaos of the age was realigned” denoting that despite the chaos, the seemingly unjustified pain, there is order and meaning; this ultimately promotes empathy, spurring mankind to cultivate the ‘detritus’ into something purposeful and thus shaping the human experience into a united battle for hope. Ondaatje, through the portrayal of these diverse personalities, canvasses the intertwined stories of despair to exemplify the universal, stagnant nature of pain and human affiliation as a result of this.

(A better discussion of how suffering can be universal, but still needs more links to the reader.)

A dilution of personal suffering is possible with equal measures of courage and reassurance. Ondaatje’s characters eventually triumph through a combination of conscious effort and power through others. The courage to be free from pain is illustrated by Patrick in the metaphor “undreams himself” denoting his realisation of the one-sided love for Clara, prompting his clearance of the fallacious romance, thereby ensuring peace and acceptance. Likewise, a self-induced motivation to overcome distress is validated by Nicholas’ advancement as he becomes “sewn into history… [and] begin[s] to tell stories,” which metaphorically denotes the significance and value he has attained through the dedication of self-taught communicative skills. As well as the motif of characters adopting the skin of a lion, an encouraging tone in “each person had their moment when they assumed the skins of wild animals, when they took responsibility” underlines the importance of courage and self-motivation, if only for a moment, to combat life’s obstacles, whilst at the same time, challenging the audience themselves to assume a reciprocal lion skin, taking initiative and control of their own lives. Additionally, support needed to ease the transition is illustrated within the personification “Temelcoff walked forward and embraced him… the grip of the world,” denoting the enormous power that Temelcoff is able to transfer through a simple embrace thereby emphasizing the ability of another to rejuvenate and reassure those facing adversity. Finally, the symbolic “Lights” reinforces the optimistic and enlightened mental state of Patrick; his painful journey intertwined with others’ misery has brought about growth and contentment, thus exhibiting the conclusive stability resulting from shared courage and support. Hence, despite the chaotic, superficial layer of life, order and balance is attainable with encouragement and self-motivation.

Conclusively, Ondaatje’s role as an author examines already existing and universally inherent predispositions – such as suffering – through a process of relating and revising based on personal objectives. Thus, this solid foundation on which Ondaatje composes his ambiguous and contextually open novel inspires the readers to initiate a corresponding journey of self-reflection and enlightenment, (Why isn’t this point mentioned earlier? This is the answer to the question!!) therefore ensuring its permanence.


Some fantastic and knowledge analysis of the text and its modes of representation.Discussed effectively how techniques shape meaning.

You did not make a clear link about how these experiences resonate with a reader. You have listed them, you have described them in great detail, but you can never assume that by listing each point you have proven your answer to the question. As fantastic and knowledgeable as your analysis is, it MUST be directed at the question. Some figurative expressions – they sound clever but confuse whoever is reading them.

Focus on highlighting keywords from the question, and briefly write an answer without referring to the text that answers what the question is asking. Then, use the text to prove these answers and to be specific about the text’s representation.

You have answered half of the question extremely well. Your analysis is detailed and shows a very detailed knowledge of the text, but doesn’t take the next step and complete the link with the question.

Ultimately, you need to be conscious of the fact that HSC questions will require you to be critical. Listing elements of the text is one thing, being able to critically justify how their modes of representation resonate with readers requires discussion. Discussion requires you to think about how an audience can associate themselves with those experiences.

By audiences feeling empathy and taking ownership over characters and feelings, they are connected with a text, even if they have never undergone the same sets of experiences. This is how this question needs to be answered.

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