Connections essay

AS 3.7 (A) Respond critically to significant connections across texts, supported by evidence

Of the past 3,400 years, humans have been at war for 3,132 of them. That’s only 268 years of peace, or just 8 percent of recorded history that has seen no significant conflict. War is often regarded by observers as honorable and noble, and it can be viewed as a contest between nations, a chance to compete and be declared the victor. This raises a discussion of whether there can be a just war. This theme has been explored in several texts, where the characters explore ways in which a war can be considered just or unjust along lines of criteria taken from a BBC website. This can be shown in novels such as The Book Thief, written by Markus Zusak, which describes the impacts of World War II on a young German girl, orphaned by her communist parents, and narrated by Death, to further discuss whether the impact of war on civilians created circumstances for an unjust war. However, the film The Imitation Game, directed by Morten Tyldum, gives a story of a group of British code crackers in World War II who use their work to help civilians, and create circumstances for a just war. The connection between these texts show a contrasting opinion on World War II, which would question the justification of war through the criterion of limiting the number of innocent people and non combatants who have been harmed during the war. The Book Thief can further be analysed in connection to the short story The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien, a text which describes the items a regiment of American soldiers in the Vietnam War must carry, and further how the use of these relate to the criterion of war being just based on the amount of force used in the war. The song The Grave, written by Don McClean, also looks at the impacts of the Vietnam War on an American soldier, which can also be connected with novels such as The Book Thief through the criterion for a just war of having a reasonable chance of success. These texts allow for opinions to be formed on whether a war can be considered just through the contrasting perspectives on this topic, based on criteria fit to represent a war that is morally and theologically justifiable.
One of the most interesting perspectives I have seen in written texts was shown in the novel The Book Thief, as it is narrated from the perspective of Death. A main theme in this text is the criterion of having harm being done to innocent people and non combatants. It questions whether it was just for people to die and be treated so inhumanely, based on Hitler’s view of the perfect race. “They were French, they were Jews, and they were you,” Death described, as he discussed the death of a group of French Jews murdered in a Polish prison. It explains that Hitler’s treatment of anyone outside of his idea of a “perfect race,” would constitute for an unjust reason to harm innocent people and non-combatants. This was further shown in contrasts between the Jews and the Germans, because as a German, “you shouldn’t want to be like black people or Jewish people or anyone who is…not us.” This quote by Alex Steiner would imply that the population were being bred to believe in Hitler’s supremacist ideologies, and gives suggestion towards the weakness and complacency within German society during this time, that would allow for the population to carry out the most unethical and immoral behaviours simply for the sake of order and conformity. This would support the notion that Germany would be fighting an unjust war, based on the treatment of many German citizens as a result of these supremacist ideologies. The links made within this text to the criterion discussed can further be connected to films such as The Imitation Game, a text designed to portray the lives of influential individuals during WWII, who did not need to go to battle to save lives and win the war. This film shows the process of cracking the German transmission codes, and eventuate to a pivotal moment in the story where they discover a problem where “there’s going to be an attack on a British passenger convoy,” as highlighted by a member of the team. This would link to the criterion, as they identified that on these ships there were “civilians. Hundreds of them,” and that they can save their lives. However, they “have to do what’s logical,” as the main character Alan Turing finally tries to explain that their “job wasn’t to save one passenger convoy. It was to win the war.” This idea was further extended by a side character named Hugh, “our job was to break enigma.” This is significant because this text shows a situation where a small code cracking team in the middle of England were able to determine the casualties of the war, which shows that the author wants to explain to the reader that there were ways in which civilian lives could be saved from harm. On this criterion of war being just, The Book Thief and The Imitation Game give contrasting perspectives. The first text was written to give context to how these civilians were being harmed as a result of the supremacist ideologies and drive for conformity that was evident during the German WWII era, and how this created fertile ground for these atrocities to take place. In contrast, the British worked hard to save as many civilian lives as possible, even if sometimes that meant they had to sacrifice the societal views they had been forced to believe as a result of the war, such as needing to save every man they could no matter what the cost was. These contrasting situations allow the reader to draw perceptions from the texts, as it shows how the different authors wanted to portray how significant the societal views were during this time period. This will allow the readers and audience to gain a better understanding of what it would have been like to be in the situations of the characters, which further allows us to sympathise with their situations, and understand the causes of the events outlined in the novel. These texts allowed me to develop my sympathy towards victims of war, but also to empathise with the characters in The Imitation Game through the use of emotive language and contrasting opinions on this criterion of a just war.

The Things They Carried is a short story which looks at the experiences of American soldiers in the Vietnam war, and further looks at whether a war can be considered “just” through separate criteria. Many sources have explained that for a war to be considered “just,” only appropriate use of force should be used. Yet this text suggests an opinion where the soldiers felt “they had no sense of strategy or mission. They searched villages without knowing what to look for, not caring, kicking over jars of rice, frisking children and old men, blowing tunnels, sometimes setting fires and sometimes not, then forming up and moving on to the next village, then other villages, where it would always be the same.” This would suggest that there was an opinion being held of war’s such as the one in Vietnam, where the soldiers often felt they were using inappropriate measures of force and violence, without having a purpose or reason for doing so. This would constitute an unjust war because it shows that they are lacking reason for committing violent acts of this extent, more often than not, on civilians within the towns. The text further explains instances where “Lieutenant Jimmy Cross led his men into the village of Than Khe. They burned everything. They shot chickens and dogs, they trashed the village well, they called in artillery and watched the wreckage,” after witnessing a member of their platoon shot dead. This would imply that these men took this death badly, and resorted to violence to diminish their pain. They felt the town, Than Khe, was responsible for the death, and so they used every means possible to get revenge. This shows how dangerous ideologies formed during this time period, as they felt burning and destroying a town filled with civilians was justifiable because of the death of one of their soldiers. This hints towards American supremacist ideologies, an idea can be further developed when connected with other texts, such as through the events witnessed in the novel, The Book Thief, which will allow the reader to see an alternative perspective on this. During the Nazi time period, many people who did not fit Hitler’s view of the perfect race, often felt the “fists of the entire nation. One by one they climbed into the ring and beat him down,” as described by Max Vandenburg, a Jewish man looking for protection within a German family. He implies that being Jewish in a Nazi world, often felt as though an entire country was against him, and as if his life contained little value, purely because of the religion he was brought up with. This shows that force was used inappropriately by the Germans during WWII, and further pushes the idea seen within The Things They Carried, whereby the soldiers felt as though they could take out the blame of their own economic and social hardships on seemingly innocent civilians who were not directly to blame for the situation. This can further be shown in instances involving the Nuremburg Laws, whereby followers of Jewish religion would no longer be considered as German. These laws were created as a result of judgements made by Hitler, that this population were to blame for huge events such as losing WWI, and the economic crisis. Several people questioned this, as shown in the book where the author described Max Vandenburg’s situation. He explained that there were thoughts within this society that questioned “hang on a second, he was German. Or more to the point, he had been.” This shows that the force used within Germany during WWII was inappropriate, and allowed perceptions of individuals, that were often unsupported, to not only be stated, but enforced, as anyone who did not fit within society were removed. The connection and combination of perspectives shown in texts such as The Things They Carried, and The Book Thief, allow for the significance of the ideologies on the social structures during these time periods to be analysed by the reader, and further show why they should not be considered just wars.
A third criterion of a just war is that there must be a reasonable chance of success. The song The Grave, by Don McClean, describes how “a man barely twenty did answer the calling,” for young American soldiers to fight in the Vietnam war. The author wrote this song in order to portray how many soldiers went to war looking for an adventure, and often did not realise that they had very little chance of surviving. The American propaganda and romanticism of war are evident throughout this text, as the soldier believes the war will be an exciting adventure and an opportunity to see the world, yet he is left to die in a trench yelling “they can’t let me die! They can’t let me die here!” This would make the listener question whether this war could be just when analysing the links the character makes to having little chance of success. The author wants the listener to believe that it is unjust for soldiers to be sent to war simply to die, and that creating such persuasive propaganda to lead individuals to believe that war will be an incredible adventure, rather than just a road to an early grave, is very immoral and would constitute for an unjust war. He further explains that “eternity knows him, and it knows what we’ve done,” to further emphasise the idea that even though this soldier would have very little chance of success, the Americans still pushed the idea that war would be an adventure. It would also allow for connections and comparisons to be made with other texts such as The Book Thief, whereby Death further supports this theory. It explains that it has “seen so many young men over the years who think they’re running at other young men. They are not. They are running at me.” This quote would imply that more often than not, soldiers are taught to believe that going to war and fighting for their country is a way in which to protect their freedom, or fight for what they believe is right, however this quote shows that often these soldiers are just used as pawns in a very large tactical and political game. These soldiers very rarely had a reasonable chance of success. Death also allows the reader to understand the significance of this by relating war to the real world. “They say that war is death’s best friend, but I must offer you a different point of view on that one. To me, war is like the new boss who expects the impossible. He stands over your shoulder repeating one thing, incessantly: ‘Get it done, get it done.’ So you work harder. You get the job done. The boss, however, does not thank you. He asks for more.” This implies that war created more work for Death than what was necessary, and allows the reader to understand that this war in particular, should not be classed as just, simply because of how small the chance of success was for these soldiers. Personally, the most notable part of the story to depict this criterion was when Death explained, “the day was gray, the color of Europe.” I loved this book because of how it portrayed the act of death as a common occurrence, and yet each person had the opportunity to show Death their true colours. However, this quote shows that the atrocities of war were so high, that everyone’s colours would merge into one, suggesting that the war was turning into a massacre rather than a movement for freedom and peace. The connections between The Book Thief, and The Grave raise further questions of whether a war can be considered just or unjust, through the depiction of many situations where the soldiers knew they had no reasonable chance of success.

The idea of whether war can be justified is a complex and detailed issue. The connections highlighted within these texts allow for the suggestion that even if a war can be justified, it does not change how many lives were lost, villages demolished, or families destroyed. A simple list of criteria cannot act as an apology for the exploitation of human beings, and can never be viewed as a means of legitimising the illegal acts witnessed within these texts, that breached many areas of human rights. This has been shown through the connections of the novel The Book Thief, which several texts including the film, The Imitation Game, the short story, The Things They Carried, and the song, The Grave. These texts were connected by criteria used to describe a just war, such as having few innocent people and non-combatants harmed during the war, the appropriate use of force, and how likely it is that the soldiers will be successful, which allowed for perceptions to be drawn from the texts on how significant the societal views were during these time periods, the impacts of supremacist ideologies on different populations, and further the importance of soldiers having a reasonable chance of success on the battlefield. These connections show that the criteria used to justify a war should not be used individually to base your opinions on, rather they should be connected and understood in different contexts to base your own perceptions of whether a war can be considered just.
By Dharma Bratley

Bibliography:
Grossman, Nora – Ostrowsky, Ido – Schwarzman, Teddy (Producers) & Tyldum, Morten, (Director) (2014), ‘The Imitation Game’ [Motion Picture], Black Bear Pictures, Bristol Automotive, United States
Hedges, Chris (2003), ‘What Every Person Should Know About War,’ The New York Times, July 6, 2003
McLean, Don. (1971). The Grave, [Song] New York City, United States: United Artists Records.
O’Brien, Tim. (March 28, 1990), ‘The Things They Carried,’ Houghton Mifflin, United States
Zusak, Markus (2007), ‘The Book Thief,’ Black Swan, Great Britain
BBC, ‘What is a ‘just cause’?’ (2014), [Online], http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/war/just/cause_1.shtml, (15.04.16)

Essay questions

There are 6 essay questions from the 8 provided on the list that I will be able to answer after researching characters in To Kill a Mockingbird. These are:

  1. Analyse how shifts in power were used to illustrate one or more themes in the written text(s).
  2. Analyse how language features were used to reveal the attitudes of one or more characters or individuals in the written text.
  3. Couldn’t be answered
  4. Couldn’t be answered
  5. Analyse how language features were used to shape your reaction to one or more ideas in the written text(s).
  6. Analyse how one or more significant events were used to comment on an aspect of society in the written text(s)
  7. Analyse how cruel or kind behaviour was used to show one or more ideas in the written text(s).
  8. Analyse how the ending created a satisfying outcome in the written text(s)

Personal response #6 (Novel 2)

Perks of being a wallflower: Highly recommended

Author: Shephen Chbosky

Published: February 1st, 1999

“He’s a wallflower. You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand.”

Perks of being a wallflower is an enticing coming of age novel that depicts common struggles and issues that have been shaping teenage society for decades. The author discusses deep but often underlying themes such as love, family, friendship, passivity, and sadness, in a way in which the reader can either relate to their own lives, or understand easily. I personally found this book showed me a perspective on the life of a teenager I hadn’t previously seen, read about, or experienced, as many of the issues and actions taken by the characters in the book where not things that have happened to me before. This helped me understand the divergence that is often seen between teenage individuals, and how experiences shape the way we think, act, and understand. I greatly enjoyed reading about the experiences of the characters in the story, because the issues and themes discussed were written in an interesting and often over simplified way that was hard to decipher in some parts. This difficulty, however, only made the story more interesting, because it made you want to see things from the perspectives of the characters, which made the book an enticing and interesting read. It was because of this, and the fact it covered alternative themes and issues in teenage society to my own life, that I would highly recommend this to other readers my age.

Perhaps the part of the story that I found the most interesting was how it was written. The author had formatted the book so that it was a collection of letters from the main character, Charlie, to an unnamed source. The whole book is written solely from one perspective, and is only showing the parts of his life that he deems the most important. This allowed the reader to learn more about the character in a very unique way that profoundly opposes the way we would meet each other in modern day society. In real life and in other books, we meet people or characters through snippets of conversation, by how they treat certain people, by surviving or imagining all kinds of different experiences with them. This story just has Charlie telling you the experiences of his day to day life, but takes the time to expand on how these events have affected him emotionally, and how it has affected the way he views things. “I walk around the school hallways and look at the people. I look at the teachers and wonder why they’re here. If they like their jobs. Or us. And I wonder how smart they were when they were fifteen. Not in a mean way. In a curious way. It’s like looking at all the students and wondering who’s had their heart broken that day, and how they are able to cope with having three quizzes and a book report due on top of that. Or wondering who did the heart breaking. And wondering why.” This quote depicts how Charlie used the letters as a way to express how he was feeling to the reader, and allows us to view him in a way we wouldn’t normally see a person. This quote doesn’t show his perspective or experience of his school life, but rather how he always questions seemingly insignificant events that occur inside his school, and how they flow on to affect the world he lives in. His character was interesting to read about, because you start to engage with his constant curiosity. Instead of reading about a character who saved the world, or who fell in love, you get to see inside this characters mind, you get to empathise with his perceptions and emotions, rather than his actions. This helps the reader to gain a more in depth understanding both of Charlie, and the story. I really enjoyed reading these parts because it also allows you to consider how these seemingly insignificant things have impacted our lives, and the lives of those around us, and how it has affected us more than we could ever know or understand. It is uncommon to find a story that expresses the effects of daily events on our daily lives, and gives the reader a new perspective on how these things have affected more than just the people the events belong to. I think that this way of explaining things in a story to the reader is a kind of universal language, that doesn’t need to be adapted for people from different cultures or backgrounds to understand. This is why I would highly recommend this story to a year 12 book club.

Another fascinating question the story poses but doesn’t cover, is whether Charlie is the one who needs saving, or whether Charlie is the one who saves everyone else. The main basis of the book is that Charlie has a teenage life that is harder than most. His social issues become increasingly apparent as the book progresses, as it outlines how hard it is for him to make friends. This means that when he eventually does conform to a group, he finds it difficult to decipher simple things, like whose side to take in a petty argument, or what he feels about the perspectives of each side. He is such a different to character to those that surround him, that this realisation often has a kind of jarring effect. Charlie is a damaged character, a result of a troubled childhood. But even with all of his imperfections, he still changes the lives of others, by bringing a kind of social balance between the different friendships and relationships in which he observed and participated in. One of the most admirable qualities of Charlie is that he was always willing to help his friends. If it were a story of one of his friends, Charlie would likely be a side character that was known for not saying much and not being considered a valued member of the group, but in Charlie’s story, everyone he talked about he valued and admired. “It’s just hard to see a friend hurt this much. Especially when you can’t do anything except ‘be there.’ I just want to make him stop hurting, but I can’t. So I just follow him around whenever he wants to show me his world.” The quote helps to elaborate on his kindness to those that surrounded him, and that when he didn’t understand what he could do to make a friends bad situation good again, he simply kept them company as they fixed it themselves. He stayed out of the way so he didn’t make the problem worse, he assisted in trying to make it better. Charlie helped me understand the importance of kindness, and how being nice to others can also make you feel just as good. Humans are selfish creatures, and don’t often do things unless it will involve personal gain. This is why the authors approach to explaining the way Charlie was nice to people showed the reader that often being kind can have a bigger impact on you than you would think. This would make people more willing to actually take this characteristic and implement it into their lives, especially teenagers who are often very impressionable to this kind of character. This is why I would recommend this book to a year 12 book club, or other readers my age.

Charlie and his story had a bigger impact on my life than I could have imagined. He taught me the importance of getting involved with things you didn’t think you could do, and how this had the potential to make your life something you wanted to remember, rather than something you had to. His character development was astounding to read, as we watched him grow from a shy, timid wallflower, into a budding and growing sunflower. He went from avoiding every social interaction he could and living life through observations, to realising that sometimes the best thing to do was just get in the middle of it all. “Standing on the fringes of life… offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.” This quote describes how living life in your comfort zone all of the time, can often be quite boring. It shows how there comes a point in life where you just have to get in the middle of it all, you have to get well out of your comfort zone to realise that maybe it’s time to broaden your horizons a little. I think this lesson would be important for some teenagers to learn, as it is becoming more common for people to distance themselves from others, because it’s easier to watch everyone else going through all of these struggles than to have to go through them yourself. “Enjoy it. Because it’s happening.”  This part of the story showed that you can’t go through life as an observer, and that it’s of utmost importance that you get involved sometimes, no matter how badly you’d rather not.

After finishing the book, I found I had gained a far better understanding of how everything we do shapes who we are. “So, I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we’ll never know most of them. But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.” It taught me that no matter how many bad decisions we make, we will always have the opportunity to make better ones, and that we don’t have to be stuck inside cycles of confusion and negativity. This can be easily related to today’s society, especially teenagers, because it’s something that I think everyone needs to keep in mind: just because you may have done bad things, or made some bad choices, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. Just start making some better decisions with your life. Even though I am surrounded by, and am a teenager, this book helped me understand the reasons behind our actions in a positive way. It showed me how no matter how we act, we will still have the memory of these times for years to come, and whether they’re good or bad, they’re the only ones we’ll get. “Maybe it’s sad that these are now memories. And maybe it’s not” The most important lesson this book has to offer is that nothing is more valuable than getting involved. Growing up may be hard, but we have the choice on whether or not we enjoy it.

“Things change. And friends leave. Life doesn’t stop for anybody.”

Personal response #5 (Short story)

The Snows of Kilimanjaro: Recommended

Author: Ernest Hemingway

It was first published in Esquire magazine in 1936

“You know the only thing I’ve ever lost is curiosity”

It is not uncommon for many people in this day and age to lose their curiosity in living. They start to question the ‘what ifs?’ They want to know if they truly got the most out of their lives, and whether their purpose was fulfilled. But as we grow older, this curiosity for what life can bring starts to turn into an unhealthy obsession where we question if we utilised all of the opportunities life has brought. This short story looks into the life of a character called Harry, who started an African safari in an attempt to get rid of his lazy life of luxury and procrastination. He needed to be reminded what it felt like to work for something, to struggle with something, to feel like he was living, instead of the constant, declining cycle of feeling his artistic talents drain as he lived off his wife’s wealth. An unfortunate accident meant that a dying Harry and his wife were stranded in a small African village, while waiting for an emergency aeroplane to be sent from Nairobi. During his last few hours, we see Harry begin to reminisce over his life, and it looks into the regrettable decisions he had made. This short story greatly affected the way I viewed the world, because the author used many connections between the characters and other non-human symbols to help portray ideas and themes throughout the text. His use of language features also assisted this. The decisions made by the characters all bring important life lessons that readers in year twelve can learn from, which is why I would recommend this short story to other people my age.

As we watch Harry begin the dreary, depressing decent to death, we see him begin to re-evaluate his life. He begins to realise he will never “write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well.” He begins to understand that it’s now too late to do anything about this wasted talent, and he will never get the opportunity to record the many wondrous events of his life, and see “if he could have written them.” His agonizingly slow departure to death makes him realize how often and how much he squandered his life, while avoiding writing down all the stories he now desperately wishes to. Here, the author adeptly contrasts two prominent themes in the text: this man’s engagement with death, and his failings to pursue his artistic dreams. This contrast is relatable to today’s society because many people, just like Harry, tell themselves that they will wait to complete these artistic endeavours because they don’t have the time, or they can’t think of a way to compile their ideas together. All they’re really doing, however, is wasting their time procrastinating all of the things they really want to be doing. It is common in today’s society to procrastinate activities we don’t want to be doing, to put off tasks because we feel they’re too difficult to be completed today, or we just simply can’t be bothered. This hesitation to simply do the things we don’t want to do starts become a habit, starts to become part of your routine. This habit will start to fester into everything you’re doing and suddenly you begin to procrastinate the things you actually want to be doing, because that’s how you deal with all of the other tasks you’re supposed to be dealing with. This can be a very dangerous and regrettable trait, as Harry discovers, and something which we shouldn’t allow to happen. This part of the story showed me how putting things off now can have much larger effects on us later in life. It taught me that the consequences of putting things off can include feeling huge amounts of regret and remorse for the amount of time you wished you’d spent doing the things you love. This is an important story for young readers to read because it teaches us that sometimes it’s better to just get on with the things that need doing, because the only thing you’re really procrastinating is your life. The reason Harry procrastinated writing all of the stories and experiences he’d had, was because he knew that writing wouldn’t earn him a wealthy living. Instead of writing, he married rich women and survived off their incomes, and began to veer onto the trail of wealth, rather than that of passion. “It was strange, too, wasn’t it, that when he fell in love with another woman, that woman should always have more money than the last one? But when he no longer was in love, when he was only lying, as to this woman, now, who had the most money of all, who had all the money there was, who had had a husband and children, who had taken lovers and been dissatisfied with them, and who loved him dearly as a writer, as a man, as a companion and as a proud possession; it was strange that when he did not love her at all and was lying, that he should be able to give her more for her money than when he had really loved.” This mistake of choosing money over your passions and what you love is common in today’s society, for people to do jobs for the money, rather than because they actually enjoy what they’re doing. So many people are wasting their lives trying to earn more money than everyone else, to buy material goods that don’t really make them much happier. This idea that money buys happiness is a fake ideal that is starting to trick the younger generations into pursuing careers they hate, because they want to reap the rewards. I was easily able to relate this part of the story to my own life, because it reminded me that I need to look into careers that I will actually enjoy, rather than ones that will earn me the most money. This relation will also help many others my age and in my position, and shows why it is an important story for young people in year twelve to read. It teaches us that life isn’t always about being rich rather than poor, and that it’s better to pursue a career you love than one you hate, no matter what the price tag is.

Symbolism is evident throughout the text, and is used by the author to link many ideas that wouldn’t previously be connected. For example, in the beginning of the story, the author writes a note about Mt. Kilimanjaro, where it says “Kilimanjaro is a snow-covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai “Ngaje Ngai,” the House of God. Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.” This mountain is represented in the story as a place of warmth and happiness, despite its height and freezing temperatures. This symbol was often linked to the symbol of the African plains, which stretch for miles below the towering mountain, and is connected to negative connotations of death and darkness through the text. Throughout history, civilisations have chosen the tallest mountain in their area to represent where God, or his immortality lives. It has been suggested that the leopard mentioned was searching for a form of immortality while it was stalking the treacherous peaks of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and was frozen while on its journey. The idea of immortality is common in today’s society, as few people want to die. People look for it in all kinds of ways, but they all have the common denominator of trying to live forever. People are comforted by the idea that they don’t have to die, and is why there are so many legends surrounding immortality. In the text, the author manages to project these ideas to the audience in a systematic way, where he explains that when we get close to dying, all we want to do is live forever, to do all the things we wish we had all those years ago. This part of the text helped me understand why people are often very religious when they know they’re going to die, because they’re seeking help from their God to allow them to keep on living. It allowed me to understand the perspective of a dying person, and why they suddenly began religious practices. This was a perspective I hadn’t previously considered.  However, the mountain doesn’t always symbolise religion and immortality. In the story, Harry saw it as a symbol of an idealistic life that was pure and true. When he looks at the mountain, he is reminded that sometimes life is good, and can remember all of the good experiences he has been privileged to partake in. That is why when he finally dies; there is a kind of tragic irony. The leopard mentioned previously, died in search of a happier life, in search of immortal ideals, on a mountain that was clean, simple, and had the views of a God. In contrast, Harry was killed by his own rotting flesh, surrounded by the smell of death, in the presence of the plains. The author allows the reader to interpret that Harry died the way he lived, by wasting his life as his body wasted away, while drowning in nostalgia for all the things he never did. This part of the story helped me understand that even though we can do many good things in our lives, we don’t always die heroically. On the contrary, we can do bad things for most of our lives and die in search of good.  This is an important lesson for young readers in year twelve to learn, because it represents the idea that things aren’t always as they seem. At the end of the story, the author has written the ending in a way to make the author assume that Harry’s soul went to the summit of the mountain, as God’s way of saying thank you for all the sacrifices he made to ease the suffering of the characters that surrounded him. The leopard was seen stalking the plains, taking Harry’s life and represented that although he searched for positive ideals, he wasn’t given the same ending as Harry. The afterlife experiences shown in the story brought a stark contrast to the way the characters died. This part of the story made me feel that the leopard was given an unfair ending, and presented me with the idea that although everyone starts out in life the same way, we don’t all have to go out the same way. By this I mean that when someone or something dies, it doesn’t necessarily have to go to the same place. As Harry’s soul moved to the mountain, the leopard was reincarnated. Or maybe Harry was reincarnated into the leopard, and the leopard’s soul rested on the mountain. Either way, it showed me that there might not be only one way out of life, which is a big perception to make over such a short story. This links to today’s society because many people are terrified of dying because they feel they haven’t deserved happy ending, but it teaches us that sometimes kindness, even in the smallest of forms, allows us be happy anyway. This can often be a very positive way of looking at death, which can be a good thing for readers to keep in mind.

An underlying development in the text was the relationship between Harry and his wife, Helen. Harry explains that he never really loved her, but simply stuck with her because she was able to provide the income and outrageous lifestyle he so desperately desired. He felt guilty for using her like this, but also felt that “if he lived by a lie he should try to die by it.” He felt he owed it to her to leave her as he’d met her, by lying about how he felt to try in an attempt to minimise the pain it would cause her to know the truth. This relationship was portrayed as though she had made him happy throughout their relationship, but he’d never quite felt like he loved her. The author managed to portray these feelings in a way that it was easy to understand Harry’s perspective on this issue. While reading this part of the story, I felt that it was unfair of Harry to use Helen for her money, but I also felt that even though he didn’t love her, she still loved him, and he still made her feel much, much happier. It was because of this that I found I wasn’t as angry with Harry over his choices, because in the end, they were both happy with the outcome. This taught me that even though we can make wrong choices in life; these wrong choices can still make us happy, even if it isn’t in the way that was initially intended. The lesson I learnt from this would also be important for other people my age to learn, because many young teenagers often make many mistakes, no matter what areas of their lives it’s in. This teaches us that even if we make mistakes, it’s not the end of the world, and it can often make us just as happy and content with our lives even if it isn’t how we’d originally planned it to be. This part of the story relates well to society, because it isn’t uncommon for people to go into relationships with people they don’t care about for financial reward. This shows us that lying about our feelings isn’t always the best thing to do, because you’ll likely regret your decision. However, as the story progresses and Harry begins to die, he gets in a few arguments with Helen, and blames her for many of the bad things that have happened in his life. He tells her he doesn’t love her, but quickly retracts the statement telling her that he wasn’t feeling quite right and to not take what he says to heart. He explains in the story that he wants to destroy what he has so he can die with nothing: “I don’t like to leave anything,” the man said. “I don’t like to leave things behind.” We can relate this to society because people always change their minds. He decided he couldn’t die without telling her the truth about his feelings, but once he saw how it affected her, he changed his mind and decided it was better she was happy with a lie, than upset and angry at the truth. It also relates to today’s society because it’s common for people to not want to leave things unsaid. People don’t like the idea that they can die without telling people the truth about everything, because now that they’re dying, the repercussions of telling the truth will have little effect on them. Sometimes, however, it is better to leave things unsaid, and let people live on happily with a lie than to let them live sadly with the truth. This lesson is important for people my age to learn because it shows us that the best thing to do is to just tell the truth from the beginning. But it also teaches us that if we do lie, sometimes it’s better to let that person stay happy, rather than make them feel awful, especially if neither option will have much of an effect on you.

Overall I really enjoyed reading this short story. In some parts I found it hard to understand the wording because it was written a very long time ago, but you can still understand what the author is trying to portray. The lessons, ideals, symbols, and underlying themes that are written throughout the text really show the authors capabilities, and will help readers of any age understand complicated, modern day issues, in a simple and understandable manner. It was because of this that I would recommend this short story to a year twelve book club.

Book recommendations: Text 1

Looking for Alaska: Highly recommended

Author: John Green
Category: Teen fiction (novel)
Publisher: HarperCollins

“How will I ever escape this Labyrinth?”

A simple question that could lead to a million answers, possibilities, and never ending confusion. What is the Labyrinth, and how to escape it is exactly what Miles, Chip, and Alaska spend much of their time wondering, and one of the few constant ideas through a story line packed with mischief, friendship, unrequited love, and life changing plot twists. When Miles transfers to a boarding school, it’s not long before he meets his roommate Chip, and his best friend Alaska. Together they act like your average reckless teenagers: drinking, swearing, pulling pranks, and breaking almost every rule in the book. This is possibly why the characters are so easily relatable and hilarious to read about, because they are based off the stereotypes of today’s generation of teenagers. “The nice thing about the constant threat of expulsion at Culver Creek is that it lends excitement to every moment of illicit pleasure. The bad thing, of course, is that there is always the possibility of actual expulsion”. By taking every opportunity to do something reckless, dangerous, daring, or just plain stupid, the characters in the book are exactly what we want to be, and do the very things that we’ve never quite had the guts to attempt. As the book is written mainly about their everyday experiences, people who don’t generally read books will find this particularly entertaining, and can follow it easily. It also has underlying themes and twisted sections of text, which you have to read between the lines to figure out. It takes the time to explain the thought process behind many activities performed by teenagers, and as a result produces many different lessons that that age group can learn from.

The main question that comes from the characters in the story, is what does it mean to be alive? For Miles, it’s being able to form meaningful relationships (for example, good friendships) that helped him grow into the amazing character he became. For Chip, it’s living a life of adventure – taking risks and following his crazy plans, as he finds that what makes him feel alive is what it means to be alive. Or maybe, like Alaska thinks, it’s to love and to loose. That to be alive, we must fall in love with people and loose them, and understand that when you suffer a loss, it means you had something worth loosing. From these perspectives given by the characters, I personally found that the meaning of being alive is a mix of all of these. The meaning of life is to create the meaningful relationships that Miles looks for, and to share the daring adventures with them that Chip looks for, while you grow attached to them. Eventually you will loose both them and your adventures, just like Alaska, teaching you that the meaning of life is to enjoy what you have while you have it. These lessons are developed and grown throughout the story line with the authors plan to write about ordinary, simple teenage lives, mixed in with illustrious philosophical introspection, that go hand in hand with the hard-hitting life issues, and shocking plot twists that would make almost every reader question who the characters really are. The novel allows you to question, if not for the first time, what it means to be alive, and what we can do with it. It teaches you life lessons that are important for teenagers to learn, but, as it is written in a book, is a way they can learn and understand without actual doing the dangerous and stupid things that are discussed. John Green knew this, and he even added the quote “Teenagers think they’re invincible” to solidify this connection between the teenagers in the story, and teenagers in today’s society. It is both a simple read, yet completely and utterly complicated, meaning that it would suit all kinds of readers and all kinds of people. This is exactly why it is a perfect recommendation for a year 12 book club.

The most significant turning point of the book is Alaska’s death. It brings an urgency to Miles and Chip figuring out the Labyrinth, as they believe it will help them understand what Alaska was going through the night that she died. This will draw the readers in to conclude their own ideas on what happened to her, and how to figure out their own Labyrinths. I think that for young people, the Labyrinth is an important idea that represents this never ending maze of long school days, and what happens when we are no longer teenagers. The characters in the book link it to what happens after you die, but for a teenage audience, this can easily be related to what happens after you leave home – because in some ways, it’s almost like you’re loosing one life to start on another. You spend each day searching this maze, learning new paths and occasionally getting a grasp on where you are, where you’re going, and what you’re doing, just as the maze changes, turns, or flips upside down. It represents the idea that we are not able to leave home and go find our way in the world, we’re too young. But we’re also too old to be shown around and told what to do and how to act. Instead we are stuck in this middle ground, the Labyrinth, where nothing is ever as it seems, and the only constant is change and confusion. Looking for Alaska taught me that there is no escape to the Labyrinth, you just have to keep on going, and take every piece of advice and information you can. To escape, you have to try, to get out of your comfort zone, to make new friends, loose old friends, do stupid and reckless activities. But the only way to escape, is to enjoy and value you the time that you have there, because once you escape you’re all on your own – you don’t even have the high walls and shelter from the real world to keep you company. For the readers to better grasp the sudden urgency in discovering the Labyrinth, the book is visibly split into two sections. The first is before her death, and the second is after, helping the reader to really see the impact of her death on the characters and their relationships with each other. We learn that Miles is the kind of person who bases his perceptions on fact, and not knowing exactly what happened to Alaska greatly affects him. “So we gave up. I’d finally had enough of chasing after a ghost who did not want to be discovered. We’d failed, maybe, but some mysteries aren’t meant to be solved”. He wants to understand, but it takes a while for him to come to terms with the fact that we won’t always know the answer to everything, and that sometimes it’s better to leave mysteries as mysteries.

Personally, I found that this part of the book had the biggest impact on my views. It teaches you that sometimes ignorance is bliss, and that it’s better to live with this mystery that we can create our own fantasies on, rather than knowing the actual truth. People don’t like the idea that when we die, we go into a huge black space of nothing. Religions are based around this idea that we go somewhere after we die, but what if we don’t? It taught me that the reason people believe in religions, the reason they come up with different views on what happens after we die, is because we, as people, can’t bear not knowing the answer to such a controversial question. Yet if we ever did find the answer, somewhere, somehow, it would destroy the world. “I still think that, sometimes. I still think that, sometimes, think that maybe “the afterlife” is just something we made up to ease the pain of loss, to make our time in the labyrinth bearable”. Therefore, it helped me understand that sometimes mysteries are supposed to be just that: something with an unobtainable answer. This is one part of the book that we can relate to society the most. As today’s society is shaped by this idea of what happens after you die, it creates a unique connection between the story and the real life world that the reader can’t help but see. This connection again makes it easier to understand, but will also make the reader think about what the author is trying to portray. This idea eventually leads to Miles discovering that for him, the way out of the Labyrinth is to forgive. That for us to survive this idea of not knowing, we must forgive those who leave without giving us the answers to the mysteries we so desperately want to solve. “Before I got here, I thought for a long time that the way out of the labyrinth was to pretend that it did not exist, to build a small, self-sufficient world in the back corner of the endless maze and to pretend that I was not lost, but home”. This shows how Miles’ views change over the course of the book, as after Alaska’s death, he finally decides “… that I forgave him, and that she forgave us, and that we have to forgive to survive in the labyrinth. There were so many of us who would have to live with things done and things left undone that day. Things that did not go right, things that seemed okay at the time because we could not see the future. If only we could see the endless string of consequences that result from our smallest actions. But we can’t know better until knowing better is useless”. Once again, the story covers philosophical questions that few authors of teen fiction manage to grasp. This book is such a good recommendation for a year 12 book club because gives subtle insight into a deeper meaning for our own lives. It is a book directed at teens, yet has challenging content that has been portrayed in an easy to understand way by involving them into such ordinary lives.

John Green has managed to pull of a writing style that is both an easy and challenging read, but accurately defines how teenagers act and think through how we communicate best: our actions, arguments, conversations, and confusing mixed signals. He has used witty comments, and quick comebacks, items taken from everyday dialogue, most commonly seen in the vocabulary of teenagers. It’s just a book that’s fun to read. You create a connection with the characters. They make you laugh, cry, worry, and feel like you’re almost as much as part of the story as they are. He describes the characters through conversations between themselves, and is able to express their feelings and perspectives without it being heavy and hard to read. This relates well to society because when we meet new people, we find out who they are through conversations both with the person and with other people about them. He has described and portrayed the characters in a way that we would meet others in real life, rather than just writing down exactly who they were, what they looked like, and how they thought. This connection not only allows us to contrast it with today’s society, but also be introduced to the characters as if we were meeting them on the street, as if they’re actual people. Depending on the topic of conversation, Green is able to alter his style of writing depending on what he wants the reader to understand. For example, the bits of arguments and action between the characters and their relationships are often fast paced dialogue to allow him to fit more into the story, whereas the parts where he wants you to understand deeper meanings and philosophical concepts, he uses long paragraphs with detailed descriptions that are easy to follow, just to ensure the reader doesn’t get too confused. By stretching out these parts of the story, he allows the reader time to absorb the information he’s feeding, and to revitalise the story before speeding off into the next fast paced section of the book. I have found that this makes the story easier to read, and means that you are always able to understand what’s going on in the book. All of the reasons here means it makes Looking for Alaska a good recommendation for a year 12 book club.

By Dharma Bratley