In order to analyse or discuss a novel, it is useful to divide the discussion into categories. These are: plot, background, structure, characters, setting, style, narrative voice and themes.
In this article we are going to focus on how to analyse an extract and answer contextual questions.
Here is an example of how to make notes for yourself when analysing an extract.
Extract from X-kit Achieve Literature Study Guide: Cry, the beloved country (9781928226581)
How to approach contextual questions
- Before you start answering, read the text AND the questions carefully. The questions can include one, two or three texts.
- Work out where the text fits into the novel.
- Not all the questions will relate directly to the text. For some you will need to show that you know the whole novel.
- Look at the mark allocation for each question. This is very important.
- “Substantiation” is back-up to your answer. When answering an open-ended/“ your opinion” question, ALWAYS make a statement and then discuss it. However, make sure your discussion is based on the events in the novel and not random ideas. Always ask yourself: Does my answer show that I have knowledge AND insight into the novel.
- Use your own words, unless you are asked to quote.
- Always do what you are asked to in your answer. For example, where a question requires you to state TWO points, only state TWO.
- Always check your answers before handing them in. Have you written according to the marks? Check for missing words, misspelled words or poor grammar.
Practise answering contextual questions
Read the following extract before answering the sample questions.
Now answer the following questions. Remember to only look at the answers when you have written out your own answers.
1.1 Who is in Johannesburg? (1)
1.2 Why did the person named in question 1.1 leave Ndotsheni? (2)
1.3 Why do the people who “go to Johannesburg” not come back? Give TWO reasons, one about the city and one about Ndotsheni. (3)
1.4 Choose the correct answer. For what purpose had Kumalo saved the money?
a. To buy things for the church
b. To clothe his family
c. To educate his son (1)
1.5 What role does “Tixo” play in Kumalo’s life? (2)
1.6.1 Why is Kumalo angry with his wife for mentioning that people don’t come back? (1)
1.6.2 Kumalo says: “It is here in my hand.” What is his tone when he says this? Explain your answer. (2)
1.7 Why does Kumalo think that his family members should have written to him? (2)
1.8 Explain in your own words why Kumalo shouts that the answer lies with “the white man”? Think about your answer to 1.3 before you answer this question. (3)
Here are the answers to the sample questions so you can see how many you got right.
1.1 Absalom ✓ (1)
1.2 He went to find his aunt Gertrude ✓ who had not written home after going to Johannesburg to find her husband. ✓ (2)
1.3 The city is where the money is ✓ and life is modern and vibrant, so it is easy to forget the moral values of home and get lost in the ways of the city. ✓ Ndotsheni is quiet and life is hard because there are too many people and not enough land. ✓ (3)
1.4 C ✓ It was to send Absalom to St Chad’s so he could get a good education. (1)
1.5 Kumalo is a priest in the Anglican church. ✓ He is devout and turns to God for comfort when he is troubled. ✓ (2)
1.6.1 Kumalo has been hoping against hope that Absalom will come back and fulfil the dream his father has for him. ✓ (1)
1.6.2 He is sad and hurt. ✓ He has saved up the money for his son, but now has to accept that it can be used for other things because his son won’t go to school. ✓ (2)
1.7 Kumalo is the oldest brother and head of the family. ✓ He is also the priest and leader of the community so expects his family members to keep him informed of their lives. ✓ (2)
1.8 The “white man” historically has made the blacks live in areas too small to sustain them. ✓ They have led the industrialisation of Africa, especially with the mines in Johannesburg. ✓ The cities and the chance of jobs attract the young to leave home and not come back. ✓ (3)
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