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Briar Rose. Examination Revision. What do you need to know about your answer for this question?. Paper 2 Section II – Module B: Close Study of Text 20 marks Attempt ONE question from Questions 4 – 7 Allow about 40 minutes for this section Answer the question in a SEPARATE writing booklet.

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Briar Rose

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briar rose

Briar Rose

Examination Revision

what do you need to know about your answer for this question
What do you need to know about your answer for this question?
  • Paper 2
  • Section II – Module B: Close Study of Text
  • 20 marks
  • Attempt ONE question from Questions 4 – 7
  • Allow about 40 minutes for this section
  • Answer the question in a SEPARATE writing booklet
what do examiners want to see you do in this response
What do examiners want to see you do in this response?

In your answer, you will be assessed on how well you:

  • demonstrate understanding of a text’s distinctive qualities and how these shape meaning
  • organise, develop and express ideas using language appropriate to audience, purpose and form
  • Yolen, a popular fairytale analyst, uses the fairy tale structure to construct her ideas for this story
  • The fairy tale was originally used to warn children of danger
  • In this case, the appropriation warns people of danger in the modern world
  • The elements of dark (evil), light (goodness), hope and magic exist in Briar Rose
  • The novel concentrates on human experience (hope, fear, search for love, moral order), as does the fairytale
This story contains similar features to the traditional fairytale:
  • the wicked witch becomes the evil circumstance of the Holocaust;
  • the princess becomes the young woman, Gemma, who falls victim to her historical era;
  • the prince becomes the Resistance movement who save her in their attempts to save the world and themselves
  • ‘Magic’, of sorts, occurs with the falling asleep, or the near death of Gemma, and her reawakening
  • Binary structure – within the twin narrative space, the story moves between the real present and the fantasy fairytale
  • The narratives merge towards the end
  • Even the past is active and present. For Gemma, the past is a reality, as it is for Josef
  • The love story moves between Becca and Stan and Gemma and Aaron, suggesting the ‘happily ever after notion’
structure three sections
Structure – Three sections


  • Gemma’s and Becca’s story.
  • Their relationship with one another is established. The reader feels that Becca ‘becomes’ Gemma
  • The motivation of the story is established
structure three sections1
Structure – Three sections


  • Josef’s narration
  • The story is told in the past, as it happened. The reader forgets that Becca and Magda are listening
  • Becca (and the reader) learn her grandmother’s story and understand the metaphor
  • Becca (and the reader) understand, not only the suffering of one person, but the suffering of many people and consider humanity’s ability to respond and learn from other experiences.
structure three sections2
Structure – Three sections

Home Again

  • The story comes full circle
  • The resolution is reached – Becca understands her grandmother and therefore understands herself better
  • The mystery is explained
  • Becca passes on her story to her nieces and nephews to continue the cycle of storytelling and the passing on of the warning
  • The romance is satisfied
  • The audience realises a collective need to understand human nature and retell stories as part of a moral literary heritage
chapters 1 2
Chapters 1, 2
  • Establish structural device of the novel, moving from past to present, in a binary structure
  • The fairytale metaphor is introduced
  • The relationship between Becca and Gemma is established
  • Describe characteristics of both Gemma and Becca
chapters 4 5
Chapters 4, 5
  • The audience begins to recognise the allusion to history. We see that the ‘bad fairy’ is the one ‘in black with black boots and silver eagles on her hat’.
  • The ‘curse’ metaphor is established. There is a dramatic irony in that the reader is aware of the curse, but Becca is not.
  • Becca’s devotion to her grandmother is firm. She makes the promise
chapters 5 6
Chapters 5, 6
  • Gemma’s description of the ‘mist’ is a description of how people were killed in Nazi prison camps – the ‘death by sleep’ metaphor
  • Becca the child is mystified by this, but Becca the adult sees the metaphor
  • It echoes the idea that the living have to come to terms with history, not those who are dead
  • These chapters foreshadow Becca’s trip and the conversation with Josef
chapters 7 8
Chapters 7, 8
  • Becca’s question-asking demonstrates that she also owns the story and that she wishes to share it
  • ‘forever’ refers to death, but also to the fact that the tragedy of the Holocaust remains with the victims and their families forever
  • The audience perceives that Becca has a social conscience and that she is prepared to search for the truth and for good to triumph over evil
  • Becca collects Gemma’s box. She has to put it down because it is too heavy. The symbol is important.
  • Stan also has a past. This does not only tell the audience that both characters have something in common, but it emphasises the importance of uncovering the past to understand the present and the future.
chapters 9 10
Chapters 9, 10
  • The symbol of the barbs is introduced. It foreshadows the barbed wire later on in the story.
  • Gemma refuses to answer the girls’ questions to protect them from the truth, but also to protect herself from the truth.
  • It also mirrors the attempts to keep the Holocaust ‘hidden’ from the world during the Nazi reign
  • Becca understands some details about Gemma’s name
  • She also realises that Gemma has disguised her story in the fairytale, revealing the power of the fairytale to contain the truth about things humanity most want or fear
chapters 11 12
Chapters 11, 12
  • Harvey tells his story. Importantly, he has not healed and his experiences are still keen
  • Fairytale and reality meet through this encounter
chapters 13 14
Chapters 13, 14
  • The notion of a ‘prince’ or rescuer is revealed
  • The audience is propelled to continue reading in response to Harvey Goldman’s credible account that no one could survive this event. Yet, Gemma did.
  • This aspect of the story is paralleled to the budding romance between Becca and Stan. This is important, because as we hear more of the horrific story of death and fear, we are positioned to believe in love and hope
chapters 15 16
Chapters 15, 16
  • The Polish connection is established.
  • Becca tells Stan, “What’s past is prologue.” The implication is that we need to understand the past to understand the present and the future – many references to this throughout the text.
chapters 17 18
Chapters 17, 18
  • Becca is taking the trip to Poland. She wants to live the story through experiencing it first hand.
  • Yolen is telling us that we need to understand the past to understand the future and that if we don’t talk about the past, we will forget it and possibly repeat it.
chapters 19 20
Chapters 19, 20
  • Perhaps some religious connotation in the way the story is told – ie: the use of ‘And’ to begin a sentence tells that it is a continuing story; the ‘thorns’ and magically ‘parted’ (Red Sea), as if a salvation of the Jews was meant
  • Magda and Becca eat gingerbread – overtones of another fairytale. Is the connection to do with the unanticipated dominance of evil over the innocent
  • What is the role of the Polish teacher who did not return? Was this teacher removed? Is this an example of anti-Semitism? Is it evidence that history is hidden and therefore humanity cannot learn from it?
  • Magda is a positive character. We learn from her that we shouldn’t be absorbed in the misery of the past, but should look to the future with hope.
chapters 21 22
Chapters 21, 22
  • Again, Sharna and Sylvia do not want to hear the story. They represent the inability of people to deal with difficult stories
  • Note comparisons to people from Chelmno who do not want to answer the questions of Becca and Magda
  • The implication is that the locals from Chelmno were aware of the atrocity occurring in their town, but they did nothing to stop it. They now live with that knowledge. The audience is forced to ask how they would act in a similar circumstance
chapters 23 24
Chapters 23, 24
  • Magda says, ‘It is not crazy to know the past, it is only crazy to live there.’ Consider Harvey Goldman, whose bitterness is debilitating
  • Josef states that he is only ‘part of the story’, intmating that his is only one story of the many that existed
chapters 25 26 27
Chapters 25, 26, 27
  • Josef is an ideal narrator. He is honest and he does not glamorise his own story.
  • He refers to his designed ignorance of what was happening around him to protect himself from it – ‘political amnesia’. He did not live in response to the moral implications of his time, but he lived for the moment
  • We hear a tone of guilt, but we are not asked to feel sorry for him
  • As he tells the story, his tone is objective. However, the reader makes emotional responses in relation to the events of the story
chapters 28 29 30
Chapters 28, 29, 30
  • The ring is a symbol of something good – his father was also a resister and the love between his parents was true.
  • In chapter 29, we hear a graphic description of the camp and the cruelty that happened there, as well as the circumstance of Gemma’s ‘sleep’.
  • There is a strong use of emotive and descriptive language to tell how the other characters reacted to Gemma’s ‘awakening’
  • The reference to Oskar Schindler reminds the audience that people can recognise evil, and can make a positive response to it
  • The entire story (secret) is unravelled and the fairytale metaphor, Briar Rose, is revealed. Gemma had been saved from the briars (barbed wire) by Aron the Avenger and ‘kissed’ awake by Josef. She had been named ‘princess’ by her saviours and indeed, had married the ‘prince’ that had saved her
  • We learn that it is essential to human dignity that we resist evil, rather than accept it, thus the story telling and heroism of the partisans
characters gemma
Characters - Gemma
  • We see her as the old woman storyteller as well as the young Jewish woman of her past
  • She is used as a literary device – a tool through which to tell the story
  • She starts out as an enigma; even her own family do not know her story, but she ends up being symbolic of the vast tragedy of the Holocaust
  • She is attractive, sensitive and gentle, intelligent and intuitive in her response to Becca. The realisation of her true past is ironic to her character
  • She is the symbol of truth – a symbol of both human capacity for evil and hope and love
characters becca
Characters - Becca
  • The key protagonist in the present telling of the story
  • Also intuitive, loyal, caring, loved and loving in her relationships with Gemma and with her father and tolerant with her sisters (ugly step?)
  • Her goodness is rewarded with her own ‘prince’? Not sure about this – this argument makes women in this story submissive and needy.
  • She is a recognised social advocate. (Her newspaper) She wants to know about Gemma’s story to satisfy a need for truth as well as for any other reason
  • Her decision to travel alone to Poland reveals an independent person
  • However, she is essentially an uninteresting person. Is this because she is the vessel through which the story is told?
characters josef
Characters - Josef
  • The most complex and interesting character
  • Honest and humble about his involvement in history and in Gemma’s rescue
  • He feels guilt and has spent time trying to forgive himself for his ignorance of what was happening in Germany at he beginning of the war. He refuses to feel sorry for himself, despite his experiences as a homosexual in his world.
  • The opportunity to tell his story is both cathartic, but also painful and disturbing
characters magda
Characters - Magda
  • Open to possibilities; cheerful and engaging
  • She accepts life as it is
  • Has pride in her self and her country, but she understands the suffering that has shaped her culture. ‘If one is not optimistic in Poland, then there is much to weep about.’
  • She is wise in her response to Josef’s story: ‘It is not crazy to know the past. It is only crazy to live there.’
characters sylvia and sharna
Characters – Sylvia and Sharna
  • Reference to the ‘Cinderella’ fairytale
  • They are shallow characters. This is important because they act as a foil for Becca
  • Comment on Sylvia’s occupation as a social worker
  • Comment on Sharna’s occupation as a real estate agent
  • Not creative or respectful in their response to their grandmother or their family
characters mr and mrs berlin
Characters – Mr and Mrs Berlin
  • Father is loving, supportive, witty. Very important to Becca and her quest for the story
  • Mother’s role in simplified – comment on the gaps she leaves in her own story
characters stan
Characters - Stan
  • A credible, strong character, who doesn’t care about appearance
  • Intellectual, flirtatious, subtle
  • Supports her quest for information because he understands the need for it
  • Provides love interest: reflects her grandmother’s love story, provides hope for love to live on (human need)
characters aron
Characters - Aron
  • His senseless death symbolises the slaughter of war
themes genocide and the holocaust
Themes – Genocide and the Holocaust
  • Yolen is interested in focussing readers’ attention on the effects of the Holocaust; an event which is seen to be the greatest crime in human history
  • She also wants us to know that we can learn about history from people, not only books
  • Books do not tell us how people feel – people do
  • The lesson is that we all need to know about it to prevent it from happening again – Yolen keeps telling us that this is the story of millions, not jus the characters in this book
themes facing the truth growing up moving on
Themes – Facing the truth, growing up, moving on
  • A novel about incovering truth and dealing with it
  • Hiding the truth is damaging – at its most basic level, it leads to ignorance (Becca and her sisters)
  • This is echoed in Josef’s dealing with his story. His willingness t tell the story reveals how healing the truth can be
  • Stan’s story
  • Finally, Becca is able to tell the story (the fairytale) in the same way that her grandmother did)
themes love and family
Themes – Love and Family
  • The story begins and ends with Gemma
  • The relationship between Gemma and Aron. Their daughter.
  • Becca’s relationship with Gemma
  • Magda and her aunt
  • Becca and Stan
  • Lots of examples of unconditional love and generosity
themes courage and the human spirit
Themes – Courage and the human spirit
  • The story of Josef and the other partisans – it is better to live and act with morality and humanity than to subject yourself to evil and also allow others to be subjected
  • Magda says in reference to Josef, ‘sometimes living takes more courage than dying.’
themes the quest for meaning
Themes – the quest for meaning
  • This is a central theme of most literature
  • In this novel, the quest for meaning is the opposite of indifference or denial. The quest for meaning is Becca’s goal
  • We feel hopeful and understand her feeling of liberation when she finds that meaning
themes the oppression of minorities
Themes – the oppression of minorities
  • Becca’s occupation as a journalist for a minority newspaper
  • The persecution of minority groups during the Holocaust
  • Josef’s position as a homosexual
  • Yolen reminds us that minorities are always a t risk, even in our supposedly enlightened society
past questions
Past questions


Question 4 Prose Fiction (20 marks)

Identify a key episode in your prescribed text.

Analyse the ways in which this key episode reflects both the ideas and the characteristics of the text as a whole.

Present your ideas in ONE of the following forms:

  • a speech at an HSC study day or
  • a contribution to an HSC Resources site

The prescribed texts are:

  • Robert Cormier, We All Fall Down or
  • Amin Maalouf, Ports of Call or
  • Jane Yolen, Briar Rose

Question 4 Prose Fiction (20 marks)

On the basis of the distinctive features of your prescribed text, argue for its inclusion in the ‘Top Prose Fiction’ list.

The prescribed texts are:

  • Robert Cormier, We All Fall Down or
  • Amin Maalouf, Ports of Call or
  • Jane Yolen, Briar Rose

Question 5 Prose Fiction (20 marks)

What aspects of your prescribed text had the greatest impact on you?

In your response you should reflect on both the ideas and prose fiction techniques used in the text you have studied.

The prescribed texts are:

  • Robert Cormier, We All Fall Down or
  • Jane Yolen, Briar Rose