AREA OF STUDY
FOCUS TEXT: THE SIMPLE GIFT
What you must do in this Area of Study:
• Develop a personalised detailed appreciation of the concept of belonging. • Closely analyse HOW your set text, Herrick’s The Simple Gift, SHAPES your understanding of belonging. • Select and study at least three other texts (broaden your search beyond poetry) which further your perception of the WHAT (ideas) and the HOW (techniques including form, language and structure) of belonging. • Be prepared to compare and contrast both the WHAT and HOW of your set texts and texts of your own choosing.
The following aspects of the text must therefore be considered throughout your study of belonging.
Find out all you can about the poet Steven Herrick. Every piece of information shapes your understanding of Herrick’s perception of belonging, through the text and within the text. For example, many of Herrick’s personal experiences as a youth are inspiration for events in The Simple Gift. In his biography he ‘remembers staying in a disused railway carriage in Ballarat, Victoria’, was helped out by a friendly train guard in Queensland and actually travelled in a speed boat on top of a train. He also worked as a fruit picker. Because Herrick draws on actual life events, his portrayal of belonging, its loss and reaffirmation, are powerfully tangible and authentic. Form
Explaining his reason for writing verse-novels in addition to ‘straight’ poetry, Herrick noted that a free-verse text ‘allows me into the personality of each character - his or her thoughts, emotions, insecurities, and ambitions. The verse-novel form lets me tell the story from a number of perspectives, and, hopefully, with an economy of words. In short, it allows each character to tell the story in his or her own language, from his or her own angle. Structure
Herrick’s verse-novel is organised into eleven chapters. Each chapter is prefaced by a brief extract from one of the poems within the chapter and a black and white image. The quotation which accompanies the image captures the essence of the intent of each section while the images portray a physical and contextual aspect of the chapter. How do the choice of chapter titles, extracts and photos impact on your interpretation of belonging? Style
The free verse poems are told from the perspectives of the three main characters: Billy, the sixteen-year-old runaway; Caitlin, a girl from a wealthy family who forms a genuine relationship with Billy; and Old Bill, a homeless alcoholic. How does this mix of gender, social status and age, affect your appreciation of belonging?
The first person narrative recount allows the responder to directly engage with each of these characters. There is no intermediary in the form of a narrator to direct interpretation. Yet, there is a variety of modes of delivery within the poems delivered by each character to enhance the responder’s awareness of the impact of events on a character’s sense of belonging.
Flashbacks, such as those used by Billy to highlight a ten year old’s sense of isolation which was prompted by an abusive father. The memories shared by Old Bill to capture his utter desolation at the loss of firstly his only daughter and then his wife.
Subtext, where so much more is implied than the words spoken, creates a parallel narrative, by giving ‘voice’ to a character’s unspoken reactions. Billy’s sense of alienation is so entrenched by his father’s repeated mistreatment, that he misreads the attempts by the librarian, Irene’s, attempts to provide him with physical security within the sanctuary of the library.
Notes, such as the farewell note to Billy’s father on the opening page, which powerfully summarises Billy’s disconnection from his father. The note itemising the etymology of Caitlin’s name and Billy’s ‘business card’, evocatively portray Billy’s tentative overtures to establish a connection with Caitlin. The note form allows him...
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