Cultural Context of ‘How Many Miles to Babylon?’ and ‘Sive’

Cultural Context (referred to as Social Setting at Ordinary Level) focuses on the society in which the story is set. We look for evidence of the beliefs and values held by the author and characters. The social, religious, political and economic structures of society are considered here. The different roles of men and women, the notion of race, social class, customs and rituals and the importance of work can also be included in a definition of Cultural Context.

In order to write a comparative essay on ‘How Many Miles’ and ‘Sive’, start to write notes comparing and contrasting the two texts under the following headings, remembering to make reference Key Moments:

  • The effects of poverty on the characters – helplessness, disease, honour, desperation, violence, pride
  • Customs and Traditions
  • The Role of Women
  • Class Structures – one’s level in society dictates who has money, status, education, power etc.
  • Family life experienced by the characters – How does family influence actions? Obedience, love, duty, violence
  • The treatment of death
  • The attitude towards marriage
  • The attitude to education

Remember that it is the quality of your links that will determine your grade!

Speech Writing

If you are asked to write a speech you must be aware of the purpose of this piece of writing. For example:
School assembly
Military preparation
A radio magazine programme
To motivate people to do something

Effective speeches generally have some of the following characteristics or elements:
Rhetorical questions
Emotive language
The rule of three
Anticipation of counter arguments
Convincing statements
Direct address to the audience
Using a negative to in fact make a positive
Figurative language
Simile, metaphor and personification
Alliteration, assonance and onomatopoeia
Speaker credibility
Startling statements
Logic / statistics to back up an argument

Speeches may appear on Paper I in Question B of the Comprehending Section or in the Composing Section.

Here are some examples of Question B from the Past Papers:

2011 Text 2 QB
Write a talk, to be delivered to your School Book Club, on the enduring appeal of the mysterious in books, films, etc. You might refer to some of the following aspects of the mystery genre in your answer: setting, tension, suspense, dialogue, characterisation, atmosphere, music, special effects etc.

2010 Text 3 QB
‘books are forbidden . . .’
Write out the text for a short radio talk where you explain the importance of books in your life and in today’s world.

2009 Text 2 QB
‘You’re old enough, I reckon, to make your own decisions.’
Write a short speech in which you attempt to persuade a group of parents that older teenagers should be trusted to make their own decisions.

2007 Text 2 QB
Imagine your local radio station is producing a series of programmes entitled ‘Changing Times’, in which teenagers are asked to give their views on the changes they welcome in the world around them. You have been invited to contribute. Write out the text of the presentation you would make.

2004 Text 1 QB
‘Then along comes school.’
You have been asked to give a short talk to a group of students who are about to start first year in your school. Write out the text of the talk you would give.

2003 Text 2 QB
You have been asked to give a short talk on radio about an interesting journey you have made. Write out the text of the talk you would give.

2002 Text 3 QB
‘Rights must be observed.’
You have been asked to give a short talk on radio or television about a fundamental human right that you would like to see supported more strongly. Write out the text of the talk you would give.

2001 Text 1 QB
Imagine your job is to welcome a group of foreign students to Ireland. Write out the text of a short talk (150-200 words) in which you advise them how best to get along with the Irish people they will meet.

Towards an understanding of the Cultural Context of ‘Sive’

Here are some questions to help you forge your own understanding of the Cultural Context of the play ‘Sive’ by John B. Keane. Write a comment on this post answering one of the questions and remember to use quotation to support every point you make.

  1. What is good about Sive’s life in the play?
  2. In what way is her life restricted?
  3. What do you think of Thomasheen’s attitude to marriage?
  4. Describe society at that time in your own words.
  5. How is family life for Sive depicted?
  6. How important are the circumstances of Sive’s birth in the play?
  7. Choose a key moment in the play that is pivotal in describing the social world for a modern reader.
  8. How important is money in ‘Sive’?
  9. Compare and contrast the attitudes of Nanna and Mena towards Sive.
  10. What is Thomasheen’s attitude towards women in the play?
  11. Who has power in ‘Sive’ and how do they gain that power?
  12. To what extent is society in ‘Sive’ male dominated?
  13. Describe some of the customs and traditions described by Keane in this play.
  14. Discuss Keane’s treatment of education in this play.

Friendship demonstrated by R&G in Act 4

Hamlet is direct and honest with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Act 4 Scene 2. After the death of Polonius they question the Prince about the body, claiming they want to ensure a proper burial. Hamlet gives them nothing, knowing that Claudius has sent them. He calls them a sponge:
‘Ay, sir, that soaks up the King’s countenance, his rewards, his authorities. But such officers do the King best service in the end: he keeps them, like an ape an apple in the corner of his jaw; first mouthed, to be last swallowed: when he needs what you have gleaned, it is but squeezing you, and, sponge, you shall be dry again.’
Rosencrantz claims to not understand what Hamlet is saying and Hamlet replies:
‘I am glad of it: a knavish speech sleeps in a foolish ear.’ He believes that Rosencrantz is too stupid to understand sarcasm.

Later  in this Act, Claudius dispatches Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to England with Hamlet.

Wordplay Wednesday – portmanteau words

A portmanteau word is one that is created by blending the sounds and meanings of two other words together to create a new word. The word portmanteau itself actually refers to a large travelling bag made of leather and opening in two equal parts. However it was first used to refer to words by Lewis Carroll in the book ‘Through the Looking Glass’. In this book Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice the coinage of the unusual words in ‘Jabberwocky’ – ‘slithy’ means lithe and slimy; ‘mimsy’ is flimsy and miserable. Humpty Dumpty explains:
‘You see it’s like a portmanteau – there are two meanings packed up into one word.’

Most of us are familiar with many portmanteau words such as:
brunch – breakfast and lunch
wikipedia – wiki and encyclopedia
infomercial – information and commercial
Calgon – calcium and gone
Amtrak – America and track
Verizon – veritas and horizon
velcro – velour (French for loop)  and crochet (French for hook)
jeggings – jeans and leggings
spork – spoon and fork
blaxploitation – black and exploitation
Jedward – John and Edward

Are there any more that you know?

Wordplay Wednesday – pseudonyms

A pseudonym is a fictious name that a person assumes for a particular purpose. The prefix ‘pseudo’ means false. A person’s true or original name is their orthonym. Pseudonyms can be used for any purpose such as to hide gender or race.

Here are some examples of writers who have taken on a pseudonym (also referred to as a nom de plume) followed by their orthonym:
Acton Bell – Anne Bronte
Boz – Charles Dickens
Currer Bell – Charlotte Bronte
Dr. Seuss – Theodor Seuss Geisel
Ellis Bell – Emily Bronte
George Eliot – Mary Ann Evans
George Orwell – Eric Arthur Blair
John le Carré – David John Moore Cornwell
Lemony Snicket – Daniel Handler
Lewis Carroll – Charles Lutwidge Dodgson
Mark Twain – Samuel Langhorne Clemens
Saki – Hector Hugh Monro
Silence Dogood – Benjamin Franklin

In Ancién Regime France, Noms de Guerre were adopted by new recruits as they enlisted in the French Army. These names had an official character and were the predecessors of identification numbers. Noms de guerre were later adopted by the Resistance during the Second World War for security reasons. Here are some examples of noms de guerre you may recognise:
Strongbow – Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke
The Red Baron (pseudonym created by cartoonist Charles Schulz) – Manfred von Richthofen
Carlos the Jackal – Illich Ramirez Sanchez

Politicians may adopt or be given pseudonyms:
An Craoibhín Aoibhinn – Douglas Hyde
Che Guevara – Ernesto Rafael Guevara de la Serna
Chemical Ali – Ali Hassan Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti
Joseph Stalin – Ioseb Bessarionis dze Djugashvili
Leon Trotsky – Lev Davidovich Bronstein
Pol Pot – Saloth Sar
Vladimir Lenin – Vladimir Illich Ulyanov

When actors and singers take on a pseudonym it is often called a stage name. Here are the orthnyms of some actors and singers. Do you know their stage names?
David Robert Jones
Carlos Irwin Estévez
Reginald Dwight
Curtis Jackson
Robert Zimmerman
Paul Hewson
Lee Yuen Kam
Archibald Leach
Quentin Norman Cook
Shawn Corey Carter
Marion Morrison
Brian Warner