Comparative Study, Guest Leaving Cert Bloggers, Hamlet, Paper 1, Poetry

Exams, Exams and more Exams!

Leaving Cert English students: I have to take a break from posting Leaving Cert English notes for the next month or so, as I have my own college exams to study for, which will be finishing on May 14th.

Thank you all for viewing the blog and checking out the essays and if I get time in between reading Chaucer and analyzing literary theories, I’ll see what I can do re: posting, but I have to dedicate my time to passing my own exams first!

There are plenty of notes on the blog to keep you all going and at this stage, I’m sure you will all fly through the exam! The posts for English are the most time consuming because I usually write them from scratch, rather than referring to notes from last year (I also do this occasionally).

Thanks for viewing and I’ll get back to more frequent posting when my exams are over on May 14th, which still leaves a few weeks before the Leaving Cert begins….the usual time when students actually start studying!


Best of Luck,


Comparative Study, Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012

Essential words for the Comparative Question – Jamie Tuohy

The comparative question is one of the most important questions on the entire Leaving Cert exam. Worth a whopping 70 marks, it’s not one you can afford to mess up on.
Fortunately, it’s also one of the most accessible questions, because you essentially know the question before you go in and all you really have to do is tweak your essay to suit the question.
However, in saying this, it’s not as straightforward as simply regurgitating an essay you’ve learned off  – if something in your essay doesn’t pertain to the question asked, leave it out. As you will all know the modes you are going to write on before you go into the exam and you have full knowledge of each text, this post is one that might seem blatantly obvious, but with all obvious things, it tends to get ignored.
Simply, this post is a list of words you should be using in your comparative essay. You’d be amazed how many marks you can lose for not linking your paragraphs and adding  in ‘comparative words’. Students forget that they are comparing the texts and a lack of link words, topic sentences and flowing paragraphs take away from the fluidity of your essay.
Here are some examples of words you MUST be using in the comparative question to ensure top marks – if you don’t use the language of comparison, then you’re not fully answering the question. These words should add cohesion to your answer:
In contrast
While in “…….”, the same cannot be said for “…….”
Both authors take the same approach
The two texts could not be more different
Common to all these narrative is
These two key moments illustrate contrasting aspects
On the contrary
Quite the reverse is seen
The scene is reminiscent of
Equally noticeable is
In a very different way
This is the only text where we see
Nothing like this occurs in
In a similar way
The complete opposite is seen in
This is mirrored in
The same effect occurs in
Symbolism plays no part at all in this story
On the other hand
Obvious, but essential!
Comparative Study, Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012



  • This is a question on GENERAL VISION AND VIEWPOINT.
  • The texts I am going to discuss are HOW MANY MILES TO BABYLON, DANCING AT LUGHNASA and “IL POSTINO”.
  • It doesn’t matter whether or not you are doing these texts, because this is just a sample essay I’ve written to show you how to tackle the question and the topic of “GENERAL VISION AND VIEWPOINT”.
  • Before you start this question, it’s important to know what the examiner is looking for.
  • Firstly, we have to ask ourselves: what is general vision and viewpoint.
  • It about how the author or director represents the culture of the text and this is often an area where students can confuse this with “cultural context”.
  • You’re not being asked to talk about how the culture can effect a character of the play, what you’re being asked to do is talk about how the author, playwright or director portrays the different elements of society.
  • The comparative is probably the part of the exam where you can afford to be unoriginal (to a certain extent). With texts like Hamlet, you’re never going to be talking about the same thing. In the comparative, you’re nearly always going to be talking about the same thing! (This sounds very simplistic) BUT CAVEAT EMPTOR!
  • In recent years, the Department of Education has made the questions more specific so this type of rote learning and regurgitation is avoided.
  • I’m ABSOLUTELY NOT ENCOURAGING ANYONE to learn their essay off by heart, but you should know what you’re going to talk about in each paragraph beforehand and then manipulate your essay to suit the question.
  • However, last year’s CULTURAL CONTEXT question was very much like a GENERAL VISION ANDVIEWPOINT question so it required students to attend very specifically to the question and there was no chance that you could just write down an essay you’d learned off!
  • So what I’m saying is this: DO AS MANY COMPARATIVE QUESTIONS AS YOU CAN! Of course, the more practice you get in, the better! This applies especially to comparative! This is the one area that you can gain A PILE OF MARKS, simple from doing the questions over and over again and becoming familiar with them! YOU’LL FIND THAT THEY AREALWAYS THE SAME – JUSTWORDED DIFFERENTLY!
  • This is a comparative – USE THE LANGUAGE OF COMPARISON! Words like “similarly”, “likewise”, “in contrast”, “unlike” can make a huge impact on your final mark, and if you’re chasing that A1, they’re imperative!
  • Hopefully my essay will make things clearer for you:

I agree that each text we read presents us with an outlook on life that is either bright or dark or a combination thereof. The texts I have studied are How Many Miles to Babylon, a novel by Jennifer Johnston, “Dancing at Lughnasa”, a play by Brian Friel and “Il Postino”, a film directed by Michael Radford. The general vision and viewpoint of a text is the authorial or directorial outlook on life. The respective author, playwright and director of these three texts communicate their perspectives through the opening, development and conclusion of the plot. The central characters and key relationships within a text also present us with an outlook on life that can be either positive or negative.

The opening of all three texts be it bright or dark, has a direct effect on the way in which we perceive the world of the text to be. In How Many Miles to Babylon,Johnston immediately creates a negative and unpromising outlook on life through the central character Alec Moore. The acrimony of his incarceration is evident, as he rejects the solace of religion when the padre comes to visit him, saying “faith is for the living”. He is isolate and imprisoned and it is very clear from the novel’s opening that his future is bleak.

In contrast, “Dancing at Lughnasa” opens with a nostalgic monologue from the narrator Michael. However, the outlook is quite ambiguous. There is a mixture of light and shade as Michael speaks about the happiness and elation of his aunts dancing, but also combines this joy with the disappointment of what his uncle Jack turns out to be. Immediately, his feelings are ambivalent, as the opening of the play expresses positivity and negativity.

Michael Radford’s “Il Postino” is a beautiful movie which emanates a bright and uplifting outlook on life from the beginning – despite the socio-economic background of the movie’s central character. Mario is looking at a postcard he has received fromAmericaand the images of prosperity create a sense of hope. From the beginning of the movie, Radford communicates his unequivocally bright perspective through the affable Mario.

Negativity pervades How Many Miles to Babylon.  As the novel develops, Alec’s entrapment and imprisonment is perceptible, as he struggles to escape the hostile environment of his home. When he finally does escape, his own personal problems are simply exemplified onto a global scale. Alec and Jerry are fighting a war together but they are separated by class and it’s evident thatJohnston wants to communicate the futility and dehumanisation associated with war. Through Alec’s oppression, she creates a dark and gloomy outlook on life, as he is constantly thwarted in his efforts to grow and mature.

Unlike, How Many Miles to Babylon, which is predominantly pessimistic in it’s representation of life, there are certain moments of light and shade in “Dancing at Lughnasa”. Within the context of the Mundy household, there are several moments of uplifting positivity. When the Marconi (the radio) plays music, all the sisters join each other and dance. Kate is the last to join in and dance – as the eldest sister she is quite reserved, but the power of the music is too great and she finally joins her other sisters. However, Friel counteracts these moments; to portray a society that is narrow-minded and suppressive. When Jack returns fromUganda, he is ostracised by the Catholic Church and Kate loses her job as a school teacher, because of Jack’s apparent senility. As the play develops, Friels presents us with a dark outlook on life.

In contrast, “Il Postino” is resoundingly positive throughout. Radford uses Mario as an example of hope and inspiration. Mario longs to be with Beatrice, but is too shy to approach her or speak to her. Under the nurturing of Pablo Neruda, he gains the courage to ask her out and subsequently marries her. The love between Mario and Beatrice transcends the poverty in which they live. Mario learns to appreciate the beauty in the mundane and cherish the simple things in life. The general vision and viewpoint of “Il Postino” is very rich and bright as the film develops.

The same cannot be said for How Many Miles to Babylon, which ends in a pessimistic and gloomy scene. Alec Moore is awaiting execution, as the novel comes full circle. He is given “a pen and paper” because he is an “officer and a gentleman”. He has nothing to do but wait. Alec refused to kill Jerry by firing squad, so in a sense, he asserted his own humanity in the face of war. However, this noble act is detrimental, as this act of compassion tragically costs him his life.Johnston’s outlook is in keeping with the sombre vision of the whole novel – dark, pessimistic and undeniably tragic.

Likewise, in “Dancing at Lughnasa”, each character’s action has a negative knock on effect for the other characters in the play. When Kate loses her job as a school teacher because of supposed “falling numbers”, Agnes and Rose abscond toEngland– partly because Kate’s income is nullified and partly because they want a life outside of Ballybeg and Chrissie gets a job working in a local factory. Their unhappiness is portrayed through the narrator Michael, who says that his mother “hated every minute” of working in the factory and Agnes and Rose ended up “dying” in the streets ofLondon. Jack died within a few months of them leaving and Maggie struggled to keep the house together. Kate, the matriarch throughout the play, was simply, “inconsolable”. The play ends in an extremely tragic note, as the family is completely broken down. Friel’s vision of a society that is oppressive, discriminatory, elitist stifling, communicated through the Mundy family is not only dark and gloomy, but it is also explicitly poignant and heartbreaking.

“Il Postino” is the antithesis to How Many Miles to Babylon and “Dancing at Lughnasa”. Even though Mario dies, the film ends with a bright and beautiful message. Mario lives his life to the full – he marries Beatrice and becomes a respected poet and his legacy lives on through their son, Pablito. Radford’s outlook on life is unambiguous, as Mario’s ambition and determination to succeed in life is positively inspiring!

As well as the opening, development and conclusion of the texts, Johnston, Friel and Radford use their central characters to highlight their authorial or directorial vision. The central characters and key relationships within a text are extremely important to our understanding of the general vision and viewpoint. They allow us to see how the actions of another person can have a positive or negative impact on the life of the protagonist. The relationship between Alec and his mother Alicia in How Many Miles to Babylon is characterised by a lack of communication and affection. Alicia uses Alec as an extension of her own ego. He is not appreciated as an individual with individual needs and desires. She only cares that he conforms to her expectations. There is no real warmth to their relationship – which is cold and stifling. As well as restricting Alec’s relationship with Jerry Crowe, Alicia overpowers his relationship with Frederick. Alec cannot do anything without the consideration of his mother. Their relationship is presented in a negative light and Johnston, in a sense, caricatures Alicia to reflect the dark and negative aspects of the upper class. Alicia has a desire to be regarded as a woman of culture and intelligence, which is evident through her piano playing and refined eating rituals, but her actions are a departure from normal maternal practices. Alec feels unloved and unappreciated. The mother-son relationship is so important in How Many Miles to Babylon because not only does it portray a dark outlook on life, but is also a catalyst for the main plot.

Michael’s relationship with his father Gerry Evans in “Dancing at Lughnasa” isn’t presented as negatively as Alec’s relationship with his mother is, but it is similarly characterised by a lack of communication and distance. Gerry is an absent father and Michael has no stable male influence in his life because of this. He is surrounded by his five aunts and he even says the he essentially has “five mothers”, but Gerry is key to exposing Friel’s negative outlook on the role of men and women – it is acceptable for Gerry to be absent while Chrissie looks after the child. Gerry can come and go as he pleases and this has a negative relationship with his son.

Unlike the other two, the general vision and viewpoint of “Il Postino” speaks to the power of human relationships. Mario and Pablo Neruda come from two totally different backgrounds but their friendship transcends class and culture. Pablo teaches Mario how to speak to women and how to flatter them with metaphors. He teaches him about the true beauty of the world and it is clear that Neruda is a father figure to Mario. When we see Mario and Beatrice’s wedding photo, it is Neruda who is standing next to them. Their relationship is nourishing and loving – the direct antitheses to the one Alec has with his mother in How Many Miles to Babylon and it is the embodiment of constancy which is absent from Michael’s and Gerry’s in “Dancing at Lughnasa”. Radford uses Mario’s and Pablo’s close bond to elucidate his bright perspective on life.

The general vision and viewpoint of a text expresses the author’s or director’s optimistic or pessimistic outlook on life. It also enables us to establish a greater understanding of the characters and allows us to empathise with them. The outlook can be either bright or dark, or indeed a combination of brightness and darkness and as we become more aware of this outlook as the plot develops, we can more effectively understand the situation of the protagonist within the narrative.


  • This is quite a lengthy essay and I’m aware that it might not be possible to discuss all of these things within the 70 minute time frame.
  • This is simply an essay which illustrates the kind of things you should be talking about in a GENERAL VISION AND VIEWPOINT question.
  • Of course, you might not want to write about any of the things I’ve discussed, but if you do and you’re worried that you’ll run out of time, then just discuss: OPENING, ENDING AND CHARACTERS AND KEYRELATIONSHIPS (leaving out plot development).
  • It’s really important to give the examiner what he/she wants: the question gives you a very broad scope for discussion, but it’s not broad enough to go off on lofty (LEARNT OFF) tangents. ANSWER THE QUESTION: are the texts bright or dark i.e. positive or negative.
  • Once you know that you’re talking about THE AUTHOR’S, DIRECTOR’S OR PLAYWRIGHT’S VISION, and you have the information, questions like this become repetitive and dare I say it, boringly easy!

Good Luck,


Comparative Study: General Vision and Viewpoint – Essay by Jamie Tuohy