The Castle – Language, Identity and Culture

A perennial favourite, The Castle fits very neatly into the expectations of Module A: Language, Identity and Culture. Here are the slides and discussion points from my presentation at Farrer Memorial Agricultural High School for the Peel Valley ETA HSC English Study Day.

This one hour revision presentation is designed to offer ideas and suggestions for improving extended response writing, rather than introduce anything new. Students should know their texts, and watch The Castle again (and again if necessary) to identify specific and unique evidence that may distinguish their response from others – expect that the well known references of ‘how’s the serenity?’ and ‘straight to the pool room’ will be very popular.

Knowing the rubric means there should be no surprises when reading the question in the exam. Expect key terms to be used, and aim to include these terms, and suitable synonyms, in your response.

Retelling what happens in a text, with a few quotes, is likely to attract a D or C grade. However, by including the metalanguage of English as a subject or discipline, students may well lift their mark into the next grade. For example, it is important to credit Sitch as the director – it his use of language features and camera techniques that have created these characters and this plot. Sometimes, students write as if the characters have made these language choices.

Importantly, whether specifically asked by the question or not, include evaluative language in your response. This could be in the introduction, and body paragraphs (perhaps in the linking or final sentence) and definitely in the conclusion. Students are not being asked if they liked the text, but they must acknowledge that The Castle effectively portrays an Australian family. Consult a thesaurus for synonyms for ‘effective’ and add these words to your word bank.

Despite being twenty years old, The Castle remains a contemporary text. In your introduction, include a sentence discussing the audience. It may be useful to indicate the creator’s purpose as well as how our understanding and appreciation of Australian culture is shaped by the text.

The ‘how’ of any question in English demands the inclusion of specific language features, with relevant examples, that are explained by the effect they have on the audience. It may be helpful to remember the language features of film by considering what we see and what we hear.

Consider the use of a ‘macro’ feature, such as cinematography or mise en scene in a topic sentence that also states a particular concept that the paragraph goes onto to discuss in detail.

One way to remember the difference between diegetic and non-diegetic sound is that

  • with diegetic sound, the characters Do hear it, whereas
  • with non-diegetic sound, the characters do Not hear it – these sounds, such as the narration and soundtrack, are specifically for the audience: these are especially useful for explanations of how information is provided for the audience.

Aim to embed structural terms, knowing that the world of the film is changed by the shared experiences of the characters.

It may be useful to include a paragraph on the opening and closing scenes, as Sitch mirrors the purpose of these in the film. Dale’s narration identifies each character as an individual and we come to understand their role within the Kerrigan family.

Consider a brief adjectival clause when each character is mentioned as this will reduce the use of overly long sentences – aim for clarity and economy in your explanations. For example:

Darryl’s use of the shortened name ‘Lawrie’ denotes friendship for the successful former Queen’s Counsellor. Even though he is an elite and educated man, Lawrie is welcoming and doesn’t correct Darryl’s ignorance of the word ‘gratis’.

There are probably too many film techniques listed in these slides for the opening and closing sequences – as with all evidence, choose those that best suit your argument: those that you can comfortably explain in relation to the concepts of your thesis, rather than attempting to include everything. In marking terms, this is called judicious selection of textual evidence.

This sample introduction includes two concepts – gender and class – in the thesis elaboration and informs the marker that there will be explanatory paragraphs to follow in that order. It is also acceptable to include separate sentences that further develop your argument, such as linking a character with an idea or concept.

This plan for a conclusion is brief and only supposes what each paragraph has discussed: make sure your conclusion summarises your argument by touching on each paragraph’s detail.

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