Know your texts

SPM English (Literature) with Audrey Lim: Lesson One


HELLO again, students! As mentioned on Wednesday, the focus for my Sunday articles is the literature component. I realise that some of you might still feel hesitant about answering the literature questions. By casting some light on this area, I hope to make you feel more confident about tackling the literature component in general. 

But you must help yourself – in appreciating your literary texts fully, there are no short cuts and no substitute to close reading of them. Study ALL your short stories closely and interact with your poems by reading them aloud with expression and even learning some of them by heart. This is so much better than passively learning from guidebooks. After all, you don’t know which ones of your short texts will be examined. 

In addition, you should know who wrote what, and spell the writers’ names correctly. This is not tested but do the authors the courtesy of getting their names right!  

As you must know by now, the objective literature questions which appear in Paper I, Section A as Questions 19 to 22 will be based on two different short texts, i.e. one poem and one short story. 

Now, let’s look at last year’s literature questions and the answers. 

The “yellow wood” in Frost’s poem suggests autumn (or “fall” as the Americans call the season because this is when the leaves start falling), while the persona finally decided to take the road not taken by too many people. 

For the questions based on Bessie Head’s short story, you should know by now that the two young girls were killed because it was believed that rain would fall if they were sacrificed. The “it” refers to this ritual sacrifice. 

It is obvious that the objective questions aren’t so formidable, but writing briefly and relevantly in Questions 48 and 49 which test extracts from another two short texts (again one poem and one short story) requires some practice. You are given only two blank lines, so don’t waffle!  

For example, for Question 48(a), just be succinct and write: “Once time passes, it is gone forever. Because we cannot turn back the clock, time is precious and must be used wisely.” 

As for Question 48(b), write one sentence for each item: “You must be able to mix with people but you should maintain your values and principles. Also, you should treat all people equally, though some may be important people and others of a lower status.” 

Here, let me remind you to stick to one tense when you answer. If the question is in the present tense as in Question 48(a) and (b) above, answer in the present; if the question is in the past tense, as in Question 49(a) and (b), then answer accordingly. (Try not to mix past with present tenses unless there’s a good reason for it – this rule also applies for your writing tasks in the language part of SPM English.) 

The answers to Question 49 are: 


a) I think Dr. Scott wanted to appease his patient Klausner, who seemed obsessed about the plant’s injury. Also, he probably felt threatened by the axe that Klausner was holding. 


b) (This is a personal response question.) 

Yes, I would like to have a patient like Klausner as he would be an unusual patient who would challenge my abilities as a doctor, OR 

No, a patient like Klausner might frighten my other patients away with his mad ideas about plants being able to feel. 


The final question for literature and for Paper 1 is Question 50, which says: Write a detailed account of an event in the novel you have chosen which teaches you an important moral lesson. In your account, you must make clear what that moral lesson is. 

This question is not as straightforward as the 2001 question, which focused on the character you liked best in the novel. However, if you know your novel thoroughly, you should be able to answer anything, whether it concerns the significance of the title, theme, plot, moral lessons, development of a particular character etc. 

Make sure you answer the question completely if there are two parts to it – you will notice that the first part is direct. Don’t be too wordy, as the 2002 candidates were given about 20 lines to write on, which would work out to around 150 to 200 words. 

Below are my answers, but naturally your response will differ if you have chosen another event: 


Jungle of Hope 

The event I have chosen is when Pak Kia decides to move to Janda Baik despite his brother Zaidi’s disapproval. However, he is able to get some other farmers to join him, and together they face a tough journey head. 

The new settlement in the jungle is cleared and opened up through the efforts of various people, including Zaidi, who helps out whenever he can. This shows the importance of supportive relationships, especially in times of adversity or when one is in a new environment. Family ties, the support of good friends and traditional values are also stressed in this episode.  

I think this is one of the moral lessons learnt from Keris Mas’ novel.  


The Pearl 

When Kino’s son is bitten by a scorpion, Juana sucks out the poison but Coyotito is badly stung. They bring him to the doctor who turns them away by pretending he is not at home. 

This shows me that well-educated people are not necessarily kind or caring people. The doctor who has taken a Hippocratic oath to help his patients is corrupted by greed and racial pride and prejudice. As such, he refuses to help Kino in his plight because he knows Kino has no money to pay him. 

This is an important moral lesson as it makes us aware that we should judge people by what they do, rather than by what social or educational class they belong to. 


The Return 

The event I would like to talk about is when Ravi applies for an Indian High Commission scholarship and Ayah/Menon who is also known as CD for Chief Dresser confronts Ravi’s father, Kannan. 

Ayah says Ravi’s educational aspirations are “useless dreams”, as he is jealous and believes in maintaining the status quo and lording it over people like Kannan. He feels threatened by Ravi’s abilities and determination, so he tells Kannan to prevent Ravi from succeeding. Being intimidated by Ayah, Kannan says that while he cannot stop Ravi, he will not support his son in his ambition. 

I feel that the moral lesson learnt from this is that one has to persevere in one’s dreams, despite discouragement from other people. If one has faith in oneself, one can succeed. 


Well, I hope you find this review helpful. Before I end, mull over this question on your chosen novel and write a short essay of 150 to 200 words on it: What are the themes of your chosen novel? 

Read through your novel again thoroughly and prepare your answer by the fourth lesson on literature. Don’t wait passively to be spoon-fed material; you learn more effectively by doing it yourself.  

Look up the meaning of the words/phrases in bold above and incorporate two or three new items into your working vocabulary by using them whenever you can. Remember, if you don’t use it, you lose it!  

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