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Assessed Essays

First Assessed Essay

(2, 500 words)

(Due 13th January 2015 (Tuesday, Week 2 of Term 2 at 12 pm)

ERASMUS students should follow their own deadlines)

Note: Late essays will have 5 marks deducted per day the essay is late. Please consult the Department website for guidance on essay submission and citations:

Your essays must be 1.5 spaced, with page numbers clearly marked and 2.5” margins on each side. The pages should be properly stapled or the pages pinned together. Please also read the Departmental regulations on Plagiarism in the Students’ Handbook.

Whether or not you use secondary criticism, or how extensively, is up to you -- and will depend anyway on the kind of essay you are writing, its focus and intent. Secondary readings are often used as touchstones or points to either substantiate your argument or from which to differentiate your own view. If you are using secondary material, please use the MLA citation index (a link is provided on the webpage cited above). If in doubt about whether to use secondary criticism, or how much you should use, please come and see one of the module convenors. Remember that your essay will be judged on the quality of its argument, not the length of your bibliography.

Answer any ONE of the following:

1. ‘Put out your eyes. Turn the gun on your own head.
Or throw away the gun in the garden. That was a choice made. Can you break the repetition just by not perpetrating violence on yourself. I have this life, in here. I didn’t give it for his. I’ll even get out of here with it, some year or another. The murderer has not been murdered. My luck, this was abolished in my time. But I have to find a way. Carl’s death and Natalie’s child, I think of one, then the other, then the one, then the other. They become one, for me. It does not matter whether or not anyone else will understand: Carl, Natalie/Nastasya and me, the three of us. I’ve had to find a way to bring death and life together’ (p. 294).

How do you understand these thoughts of Duncan’s, that bring Gordimer’s The House Gun to its conclusion, and how do you see them as reflecting on the central themes of the novel?

2. ‘Violence desecrates freedom, that’s what the text is saying. That is what the country is doing to itself; he knows himself as part of it, not as a claim that what his white son has done can be excused in a collective phenomenon, an aberration passed on by those in whom it mutated out of suffering, but because violence is the common hell of all who are associated with it’ (pp. 142-3).

Discuss, with reference to The House Gun and any two additional works (prose, poetry, film) you have studied this term.

3. If you were a real man, you would have killed him on the spot, right there in the mall, splatter his brains against a window, watch his blood running all over the floor’ (p. 19).

Spoken by Lydia to Silas in Bitter Fruit, these words register both Lydia’s unreconciled rage and her frustrated sense that nothing can be done to put right the wrongs that have been committed against her. Analyse the existential plight that Lydia finds herself in, as Dangor presents it in his novel.

4. Discuss the intersections of race and class in Zoë Wicomb’s Playing in the Light.

5. ‘In the corridor, Marion takes the wedding photograph out of her handbag to look again at the country-shy couple who betrayed their families, who obliterated their histories, who stripped themselves of colour to be play-white. According to the National Library, they did not exist. Did they think of themselves as dissidents, daring to play in the light? Or as people who could mess up the system, who could not be looked up in libraries, who had escaped the documentation of identity? She thinks not. They thought only of their own advancement’ (Playing in the Light,
p. 122).

Discuss the psychic costs that Helen and John pay for their decision to ‘play white’ in Zoë Wicomb’s novel.

6. Write an essay on the idea of community in Zakes Mda’s The Heart of Redness.

7. If ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’ are concepts clearly central to The Heart of Redness, it is equally clear that they are not left unreconstructed as counterposed terms registering ‘backwardness’ and ‘progress’, respectively. How does Mda’s story of the dispute between ‘Believers’ and ‘Unbelievers’ enable us to rethink the meaning of the ideas of ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’?

8. ‘The [work] of one of South Africa’s most interesting writers to emerge from the transitional period, Ivan Vladislavic, shows a keen awareness of the… dilemmas inherent in the process of giving spatial or concrete representation to the transience of memory’ (Shane Graham, ‘Memory, Memorialization, and the Transformation of Johannesburg’, Modern Fiction Studies 53.1 [2007]: 70). Write an essay on the connections between memory, narrative, and locale in Vladislavic’s Portrait with Keys.

9. ‘Without forgetting we would all die of fright and abuse. Memory is the process of organizing what to forget…’ (Do these words, drawn from Gate of the Sun, by the Lebanese novelist, Elias Khoury, reflect usefully also on South African literature of the ‘post-transitional’ era? Discuss, with reference to any two works (prose, poetry, film) you have examined this term.

10. Examine the depiction of childhood and/or youth in any two of the works (prose, poetry, film) you have examined during Term 1.

11. Compare and contrast the portraits of Hamilton Motsamai in Nadine Gordimer’s novel, The House Gun and John Dube in Gavin Hood’s film, Tsotsi.

12. To what degree do the success of Tsotsi and Forgiveness depend on our being drawn, as spectators, to sympathise with the films’ central protagonists?

13. ‘[O]ur best hope for universal emancipation is that we remain unreconciled to a past of conquest, oppression and exploitation, and unconsoled by a disgraceful present’ (Benita Parry, ‘The New South Africa: The Revolution Postponed, Internationalism Deferred’, Journal of Postcolonial Writing 41.2 [2005], p. 10). Discuss the critique of the idea of ‘reconciliation’ as it is presented in any two works (prose, poetry, film) you have examined this term.

14. ‘Ja, he always said that a happy nation has no memory. That’s the problem with this country, we want to forgive but we don’t want to forget. You can’t have it both ways’ (Bitter Fruit, p. 79). Discuss the relationship between forgiving and forgetting as it is figured in any two South African works (prose, poetry, film) you have studied this term.

15. Discuss the use of ordinariness or the everyday in the South African poetry you have read.

16. The representation of physical spaces such as cities, streets, houses, landscapes etc. often play a crucial role in South African films, fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Referring to any three works (prose, poetry, film) you have examined in Term 1, discuss the importance of these spaces in contemporary South African cultural production.

17. Discuss the relation between form and content in any two works (prose, poetry, film) you have examined this term.

18. ‘Our words mean everything we’ve learned about them,
and it is right that we don’t have words for the feeling of being destroyed,
there should be no words for destruction,
it is the moment for silence
in every language in the world’ (Karen Press, ‘Photographing the Building is Forbidden until the War is Over’)

What does or can literature (or cultural production, more generally) bring to the project of social reconstruction – especially where the recent past has borne witness to violence, atrocity, state or state-sponsored terrorism?

19. ‘And grief is one thing nearly personal,
a hairline fracture in an individual skull;
homemade elegy which sounds its keening
in the scarred heart’s well;
where it is too deep to reach’ (Ingrid de Kok).

Might post-apartheid literature be described in these terms as a literature of grieving? Discuss, with reference to any three works (prose, poetry, film) examined
during Term 1.