Choosing Texts for Comparative Study 2019

COMPARATIVE STUDY TEXTS FOR 2019

Choosing Texts to Teach for the Comparative Study 2019


It’s that time of year again, when English departments sit down to plan for the year ahead. This is of course a busy, and often stressful time, as texts are selected and timeframes reckoned. Added to this, you may be teaching texts for the first time, often texts that you haven’t chosen yourself. If you’re lucky, you may be in a position to choose the texts you want to teach for the comparative study. But what should you choose?

As far as the film option goes, both ‘Brooklyn’ and ‘Juno’ are quite popular. ‘Brooklyn’ is the story of Eilis, a Wexford girl who emigrates to New York in the 1950s. She starts dating Tony, and soon receives the devastating news that her sister has died. She returns to Ireland to spend time with her mother, but not before secretly marrying her boyfriend.

Once home, Eilis settles back into her old life, and is set up with Jim Farrell, a local bachelor. Thus, Eilis must choose whether to return to Tony in New York, or remain with Jim in Enniscorthy.

‘Juno’ tells the story of Juno McGuff, a teenager who gets pregnant and decides to give her baby to a good family who will give the child a good life. She befriends the father of the prospective adoptive couple, who then decides to leave his wife, placing the adoption in jeopardy. The love story between Juno and Paulie Bleeker, the baby’s father, is central to the story, and the modern timeframe and soundtrack makes it appealing to a leaving cert audience.

Either film could work very well as a comparative option, but regarding general vision and viewpoint, be aware that ‘Juno’ is much more uplifting and positive than ‘Brooklyn’, which has a mixed outlook. The other film options include ‘Unforgiven’, ‘About Elly’, ‘Rear Window’, ‘Stop at Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story’ and ‘Les Miserables’. If you want to try something different, the film is a good place to do this, as all you need is a copy of the movie, and the time to watch it, rather than having to read through longer texts.

Regarding plays for 2019, I like ‘A Doll’s House’, ‘Big Maggie’ and ‘ The Playboy of the Western World’. Each of these plays is nice and straight-forward, but there is more humour and violence in ‘Big Maggie’ and ‘The Playboy of the Western World.’

‘A Doll’s House’ is a domestic drama, centred around Nora and Torvald Helmer, and their marriage. Nora has secretly committed forgery to save her husband’s life. When she is threatened with being exposed, Torvald thinks of himself and his reputation, rather than what his wife has done for him, prompting her to leave him.

‘Big Maggie’ deals with the newly widowed Maggie Polpin and her adult children, who she dominates, threatens and controls. There are some exciting moments, and Maggie herself is a character that students will engage with and have a lot to say about.

‘The Playboy of the Western World’ tells the story of Christy Mahon, who arrives in a remote village and declares that he is a murderer who has killed his own father. This wins him acclaim and admiration in the village, and makes him an object of desire with the local women. Things go horribly wrong for Christy when his father appears, still living, and Christy’s newly betrothed turns on him for being a liar. This play is fast paced, and amusing, and outlines scenarios rich for classroom discussion.

If you would like to try something different, both ‘A Skull in Connemara’ and ‘By the Bog of Cats’ are dark, atmospheric plays worth considering.

Finally, the greatest range of choice comes in the novel category for the comparative, with twenty-one texts listed. Of these, ‘The Great Gatsby’, and ‘Foster’ are both very popular.

‘The Great Gatsby’ follows the story of Nick Carraway’s neighbour, Jay Gatsby, his extravagant parties and his affair with Nick’s cousin, Daisy. Daisy accidentally kills her husband’s lover, and Gatsby is put in the frame by his love rival, to devastating consequences.

‘Foster’ follows the story of a young, unnamed girl who is sent to live with her aunt and uncle for a summer, and the close bond she develops with them, despite the sad secret that they keep. This novel is less than a hundred pages long, making it very accessible and suitable for classroom teaching.

I also really like ‘The Spinning Heart’ by Donal Ryan. Each of its twenty-one chapters belongs to a different voice in the community, with each perspective adding a layer of meaning to the tensions and troubles that brew just below the surface. This novel also includes a murder and a kidnapping, making it an exciting and engaging text with a lot to discuss.

When choosing your titles for 2019, think about the length of time that you will need to work through your texts, and if time is an issue, choose accordingly.

My advice would be to choose three texts you like, but bear in mind how you will connect them for your students.

For example, let’s say I plan to teach ‘Juno’, ‘The Spinning Heart’ and ‘The Playboy of the Western World’. Generally, ‘Juno’ is a brighter, happier text, with more positive relationships (my chosen theme/issue) than the other two. This means that I have two texts that are more alike, and one that is different. Therefore I can compare ‘The Spinning Heart’ and ‘The Playboy of the Western World’ as similar and make contrasting points with ‘Juno’ for the general vision and viewpoint and theme/issue modes. From a literary genre perspective, each of the stories are well told and so they are all similar – they all have engaging compelling characters that audiences will connect with, they all make use of tension and suspense to make the plot more exciting and they all make use of conflict (though ‘Juno’ to a lesser extent) to enhance the story.

It’s not necessary to have a list of similarities/differences in mind before you begin teaching your chosen combination, but if you have some general ideas, it can help when students ask questions in the early days.

Lastly, don’t forget that the modes for 2019 are as follows:

Higher Level:
General Vision and Viewpoint
Literary Genre
Theme/Issue

Ordinary Level
Relationships
Hero, Heroine, Villain

Theme

This means that Cultural Context/Social Setting is excluded this year, so there’s no point trying to tie texts together because of the worlds they are set in.

The comparative study, although a very challenging area of the course, can provide great opportunities for students to be creative and insightful in their thinking, and show real engagement with their texts. If there is a text that you think would resonant with your group, it is definitely worth considering.


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