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THE INDIVIDUAL STUDY A Short Guide to Preparing the Critical Essay – from topic to thesis to draft.

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Presentation on theme: "THE INDIVIDUAL STUDY A Short Guide to Preparing the Critical Essay – from topic to thesis to draft."— Presentation transcript:

1 THE INDIVIDUAL STUDY A Short Guide to Preparing the Critical Essay – from topic to thesis to draft

2 Stage 1: a topic template How do authors of particular text types use specific techniques to have precise effects on their audiences, in the exploration of significant ideas?

3 Stage 1: a topic Compare the ways in which Daniel Mason in The Piano Tuner and Ann Patchett in Bel Canto use the idea of music to explore the breakdown of cultural barriers. Georgia Simmons, 2010

4 Stage 2: Thesis ( words) A recurrent motif of Latin American and Post-Colonial literature is the breaking down of oppositions between contrasting cultures, embodied in Patchett and Mason’s novels by the idea of music. Both authors use musical protagonists as a vehicle for exploring cultural binaries: Patchett’s Roxanne Coss overcomes language barriers through song in an ethnically diverse community trapped in a mansion captured by Latin American terrorists; Mason’s Edgar Drake bridges the divide between the colonised and their colonial overlords in British occupied Burma through his skill with instruments as a piano tuner. Mason and Patchett’s portrayal of music as a device enabling forbidden romance forces the reader to reject the idea that love between different cultures is impossible. Factors that both assist and hinder cultural integration are also emphasized through the use of musical motifs. Lastly, music’s accessibility to different characters is used in the two novels as a metaphor for the fragile potential of bridging cultural divides.

5 Overarching thesis A recurrent motif of Latin American and Post-Colonial literature is the breaking down of oppositions between contrasting cultures, embodied in Patchett and Mason’s novels by the idea of music. Both authors use musical protagonists as a vehicle for exploring cultural binaries: Patchett’s Roxanne Coss overcomes language barriers through song in an ethnically diverse community trapped in a mansion captured by Latin American terrorists; Mason’s Edgar Drake bridges the divide between the colonised and their colonial overlords in British occupied Burma through his skill with instruments as a piano tuner. Mason and Patchett’s portrayal of music as a device enabling forbidden romance forces the reader to reject the idea that love between different cultures is impossible. Factors that both assist and hinder cultural integration are also emphasized through the use of musical motifs. Lastly, music’s accessibility to different characters is used in the two novels as a metaphor for the fragile potential of bridging cultural divides.

6 Key argument #1 A recurrent motif of Latin American and Post-Colonial literature is the breaking down of oppositions between contrasting cultures, embodied in Patchett and Mason’s novels by the idea of music. Both authors use musical protagonists as a vehicle for exploring cultural binaries: Patchett’s Roxanne Coss overcomes language barriers through song in an ethnically diverse community trapped in a mansion captured by Latin American terrorists; Mason’s Edgar Drake bridges the divide between the colonised and their colonial overlords in British occupied Burma through his skill with instruments as a piano tuner. Mason and Patchett’s portrayal of music as a device enabling forbidden romance forces the reader to reject the idea that love between different cultures is impossible. Factors that both assist and hinder cultural integration are also emphasized through the use of musical motifs. Lastly, music’s accessibility to different characters is used in the two novels as a metaphor for the fragile potential of bridging cultural divides.

7 Key argument #2 A recurrent motif of Latin American and Post-Colonial literature is the breaking down of oppositions between contrasting cultures, embodied in Patchett and Mason’s novels by the idea of music. Both authors use musical protagonists as a vehicle for exploring cultural binaries: Patchett’s Roxanne Coss overcomes language barriers through song in an ethnically diverse community trapped in a mansion captured by Latin American terrorists; Mason’s Edgar Drake bridges the divide between the colonised and their colonial overlords in British occupied Burma through his skill with instruments as a piano tuner. Mason and Patchett’s portrayal of music as a device enabling forbidden romance forces the reader to reject the idea that love between different cultures is impossible. Factors that both assist and hinder cultural integration are also emphasized through the use of musical motifs. Lastly, music’s accessibility to different characters is used in the two novels as a metaphor for the fragile potential of bridging cultural divides.

8 Key argument #3 A recurrent motif of Latin American and Post-Colonial literature is the breaking down of oppositions between contrasting cultures, embodied in Patchett and Mason’s novels by the idea of music. Both authors use musical protagonists as a vehicle for exploring cultural binaries: Patchett’s Roxanne Coss overcomes language barriers through song in an ethnically diverse community trapped in a mansion captured by Latin American terrorists; Mason’s Edgar Drake bridges the divide between the colonised and their colonial overlords in British occupied Burma through his skill with instruments as a piano tuner. Mason and Patchett’s portrayal of music as a device enabling forbidden romance forces the reader to reject the idea that love between different cultures is impossible. Factors that both assist and hinder cultural integration are also emphasized through the use of musical motifs. Lastly, music’s accessibility to different characters is used in the two novels as a metaphor for the fragile potential of bridging cultural divides.

9 Key argument #4 A recurrent motif of Latin American and Post-Colonial literature is the breaking down of oppositions between contrasting cultures, embodied in Patchett and Mason’s novels by the idea of music. Both authors use musical protagonists as a vehicle for exploring cultural binaries: Patchett’s Roxanne Coss overcomes language barriers through song in an ethnically diverse community trapped in a mansion captured by Latin American terrorists; Mason’s Edgar Drake bridges the divide between the colonised and their colonial overlords in British occupied Burma through his skill with instruments as a piano tuner. Mason and Patchett’s portrayal of music as a device enabling forbidden romance forces the reader to reject the idea that love between different cultures is impossible. Factors that both assist and hinder cultural integration are also emphasized through the use of musical motifs. Lastly, music’s accessibility to different characters is used in the two novels as a metaphor for the fragile potential of bridging cultural divides.

10 Points to consider 1. The overarching restatement of the topic provides a context for the four arguments of the thesis (and a solid basis for the essay’s introduction) 2. The first argument only includes more detail so that the subsequent arguments can be more concise 3. No conclusion is necessary in the thesis as it is a summary of key arguments, not the essay itself

11 Essay: paragraph 1 (introduction) 135 words A perennial motif of both Latin American and Post-Colonial literature is the breaking down of false dichotomies between contrasting cultures, and Ann Patchett and Daniel Mason have chosen the idea of music as a means of achieving this in their respective novels, The Piano Tuner and Bel Canto. Both authors create a central character whose musical abilities provide a bridge between cultures, and through these characters, explore the possibility of peaceful coexistence as opposed to the inherent conflict of cultural hierarchies. Mason and Patchett also utilize Edgar’s playing and Roxanne’s singing as a language of love with which they can express their emotions. The musical motifs and references each author uses shape the reader’s response to the cultures presented in the novels, as does music’s gradual change from an ineffable form to a universal language.

12 Essay: paragraph 2 (278 words) Mason and Patchett create characters with the ability to produce and manipulate music, using them as a vehicle for their exploration of the cultural binaries presented in their novels. A major obstacle preventing relationships in the ethnically diverse community of Bel Canto, trapped in a mansion captured by terrorists in an unnamed Latin American country, is the language barrier for which Patchett uses the character of Roxanne to overcome. A physical embodiment of music, Roxanne is beloved by all of the characters, who want to “crawl[ ] on top of her, filling her mouth with their tongues” and “drink in” “the beauty of her voice,” representing a Dionysian appreciation of music proving that “speaking the same language [is] not the only way of communicating.” In The Piano Tuner, Edgar’s ability to break down the barriers between the subaltern and the hegemonic power in the British occupation of Burma lies not in his musical talent, but in his piano tuning skills. “He knows how to listen,” and this allows him to experience new ways of listening and therefore responding to the ‘other.’ Edgar attaches “not only sentiment to song, but song to sentiment,” allowing him to sympathize with the Burmese, whose “songs of loss are universal.” The piano which Edgar tunes comes to represent him, and also the hope that there will be peace in Burma, as Edgar is not a military man, and similarly, the “piano[ ] [doesn’t] make alliances.” Thus the destruction of the piano foreshadows Edgar’s death in the “wail of the Erard” as its “hammers” are “throw[n]…back against the strings,” and the death of any hope for a peaceful colonial relationship between Burma and Britain. = integrating discussion of other text

13 Essay: paragraph 3 (196 words) Mason and Patchett’s portrayal of music as a tool in assisting forbidden romance forces the reader to reject the idea that love between different cultures is impossible. Mason initially portrays Edgar and Khin Myo’s relationship as an awkward friendship rife with stifled sexual tension, because passion “expects too much of a man who…creat[es] order so that others may make beauty.” In contrast, Hosokawa’s love for Roxanne stems from his passion for opera transferred onto the diva, as “music [becomes] a person.” Music creates for both these relationships a language of love they can share, without the need for Edgar to be bold or Hosokawa to learn English. Edgar expresses love through his choice of song, the “Fugue in F sharp minor,” which reminds him of “an opening of flowers, a meeting of lovers,” and the music in turn creates an auditory expression of the lovers’ emotions, “[rising] faster, then dipp[ing] sweetly.” Patchett also uses music to express the power of love when Roxanne, realizing that without Hosokawa “listening while she sang…[there would not] have been any chance to get to know someone [she] couldn’t speak to,” “infuse[s] [her singing] with…compassion and understanding” like never before.

14 Essay: paragraph 4 (570 words) Factors that both assist and hinder cultural integration are emphasized by Mason and Patchett through their use of musical motifs. In both novels, references to Haydn, Bach, Rossini and Chopin link the dominant cultures to a musical tradition of carefully controlled classicism, which goes unopposed in Bel Canto, but in The Piano Tuner becomes integrated with Burmese music. In Bel Canto the only musical genre presented is opera, and indeed the novel takes its structure from this musical style. Opera consists of two modes of singing: plot-driven passages of recitative sung in imitation of natural speech; and aria, in which emotions are expressed in a melodic style. The narrative structure of Bel Canto perfectly mimics these two modes, with whole chapters dedicated to describing daily events in the mansion and then sudden crescendos of emotion leading into passages of grief, love or reflection. Patchett adopts the romantic scenes of opera, and reflects the opulence of European opera houses in her mansion setting. The chorus is an operatic convention used to comment on the action of the story, and Patchett similarly changes the narrative point of view in Bel Canto to explore the varying perspectives of each culture. Patchett also creates a link between her wealthy characters and the famous operas to which their countries hold claim by specifying their French, Italian and Russian nationalities. The tragic ending of Bel Canto mimics that of an opera, exploring the idea that violent conflict is inevitable in a cultural hierarchy where the traditions of a disadvantaged country are ignored. Roxanne, representing the pinnacle of classical European music, remains uninterested in forming relationships for much of the novel, her single minded determination to “perfect something” in her music highlighting the alienating power of classical music when it is not open to change. However, Mason not only includes pianistic imagery, such as “cool ivory,” but also naturalistic motifs of Burmese instruments, such as the “long goose-necked horn [and] a harp… which look[s] like a swan” to convey Edgar’s wonder at this “elu[sive],” “hypnotic” music. Near the conclusion of The Piano Tuner, these European and Burmese musical motifs finally unite when Edgar plays the Burmese “song of loss” full of “sounds that are foreign” on the French Erard piano. However, seconds later his Burmese friends are murdered by British soldiers and Edgar is arrested as a “traitor[ ],” the reader understanding that Burmese sounds are “forbidden to the piano” and the two cultures cannot be reconciled. The way that “Erards are not constructed” to play Burmese music represents the British Imperialist refusal to understand and accept the Burmese people, preferring to govern them in pursuit of interests defined by a distant metropolis. This fear of connection is a theme common to both novels, and Patchett has chosen to explore it through the musical motif of Rusalka, the famous centerpiece of Roxanne's repertoire. Rusalka tells of a water goddess whose choice to love a mortal comes with a curse: if her love is unfaithful, their embrace becomes fatal. The Rusalka motif represents the fear that deep love will end in suffering, which acts as a significant impediment to the creation of connections between different cultures. However, despite the obstacles to be overcome in reconciling cultures, both authors give music a divine power which enables it to do so, through motifs of music linked to religion, such as “song[s]…like wine,” and “God’s own voice” pouring from Roxanne.

15 Essay: paragraph 5 (564 words) The accessibility of music to different characters is used in the two novels as a metaphor for the fragile potential of bridging cultural divides. In The Piano Tuner, Burmese music is initially inaccessible to Edgar, who finds it “eerily discordant” and doesn’t understand the “haphazard way [the notes] dance[ ] along the scale,” while the Burmese are confused by Western melodies. Classical music also eludes the terrorists in Bel Canto, who are secret witnesses to Roxane’s first performance in the mansion, hearing her voice through the air conditioning ducts. Mason and Patchett use similar imagery to highlight the initial inaccessibility of classical music for the Burmese and the South American terrorists. In both novels there are images of a piano in the jungle, creating a starkly ironic visual contrast between the wild, untamed trees of the forest and the polished black mahogany of the piano. Both Mason and Patchett combine this imagery with descriptions of the physical incompatibilities of a piano in the jungle, such as “humidity warping the keyboard, persistent vines winding their way up the heavy wooden legs” to explore the fundamental differences between the naturalistic Burmese and native South American cultures and the more refined societies of Victorian England and twenty first century United States of America. Both authors parallel the gradual change in understanding of foreign music with the characters’ change in attitudes in a variety of ways, one of them being Patchett’s use of figurative language to represent the educative effects of Roxane’s song. Patchett writes that there should have been “an orchestra,” “flowers” and “champagne,” but “no one noticed their absence,” because Roxane’s singing moved them all to “cry for the beauty of the music.” Her long, flowing sentences evoke the smoothness of bel canto singing, while their syntax balanced on two parallel halves focuses the reader’s attention on the perfectly proportioned structure of classical music: “They did not notice the absence of flowers or champagne, in fact, they knew now that flowers and champagne were unnecessary embellishments.” Both of these techniques develop a sense of naked music enabling the listener to experience classical repertoire in a pure unmediated form, and not be intimidated by the material trappings that usually accompany opera. Mason similarly uses a metaphor of the piano as a “singing elephant,” to place its strange appearance and sound into a Burmese context, and represent the Burmese acceptance of classical music. Both authors further explore freedom from the alienating nature of classical European music, through the use of a teaching motif. Mason’s character Edgar is consistently patient in sharing his knowledge of the piano with many people, including his wife, Anthony Carroll and Khin Myo, and Mason contrasts this motif of Edgar’s gentle teaching with that of military brutality in the first chapter of the novel. When Edgar appears “more like a schoolteacher than someone capable of bearing any military responsibility,” he faces Colonel Killian, whose “scarlet uniform with braid of black mohair” and violent surname characterize him as a bloodthirsty predator. In Bel Canto Patchett uses the teaching motif leading up to the revelation that the terrorist Cesar has a beautiful voice with amazing “depth [of] tone,” despite not having “a minute of training,” using its development and the way Cesar “completely mimic[s] Roxane” to show the complete breakdown of barriers between all of the cultures until they become a unified expression of human experience.

16 Essay: paragraph 6 (conclusion) 277 words In order to explore the elimination of cultural barriers in their novels of colonial and political struggle, Mason and Patchett use techniques such as specific characterization, symbolism, motifs, figurative language and binary opposites. The character of Edgar in The Piano Tuner is used by Mason as a liminal figure who is able to cross the boundary between English Imperialism and Burmese otherness through his ability to respond with openness as a result of his receptive ear. Patchett’s central character Roxanne goes beyond this in her characterization as an embodiment of music, and becomes an object of lust, bringing together her admirers. Mason and Patchett both explore music as a common language throughout their novels, especially in the context of the two romances, which can only be fulfilled through music’s dissolution of the walls between the lovers. Music provides a way for the lovers to communicate and thus overcome their differences to experience one of the most powerful forms of human connection: romantic love. Musical motifs are used by both authors to highlight both the fundamental differences and the possibilities for integration between the cultures in their novels. Both authors use the incongruous image of a piano in the jungle to simultaneously explore the incompatibility of certain cultures, and express the hope that understanding is possible, with Patchett’s figurative language conveying music’s transformation from an inaccessibly foreign language to an expression of human fulfillment. Patchett and Mason explore the incredible power of music to transcend race, class and culture, but in the tragic conclusions of their novels pose the question of whether or not this is sufficient to heal the deep rifts forged by colonialism and political upheaval.


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