The Good, The Bad, The Ugly. 2013 MYE Exam Review
The Good • Essays reflected an understanding of the themes and concerns of the play. Most were able to discuss the importance to family, the conflict between family responsibilities vs. social responsibilities, war profiteering, idealism vs. pragmatism and criticism of the American Dream. • Fair knowledge of the overall plot, the characters and the key episodes of the play. • Lecture notes were incorporated. (Imitation is the best form of flattery). • Context question was the more popular of the two and most were generally able to pass. • Better answers to the context question presented quite sophisticated responses which suggested to the reader that Miller is presenting a surprising level of similarity in the two men.
The Bad • Lecture notes were incorporated unsparingly – which left argumentation incoherent. • Essay-based questions were able to aptly identify instances of Kate’s manipulation, but lacked a thesis in response to the interpretation in the quote - “unwitting monster”, “destructively manipulates”. • Grasp of dramatic devices was somewhat limited – leaving most analysis of devices to mere diction and what characters said or did. • Knowledge was overwhelming – a considerable number of students excessively cross-referenced in their passage-based questions – with little/ superficial attention paid to the actual passage itself.
The Ugly • Exam-behavior: late-coming, texts borrowed from the library, clean exam texts or no texts! • A handful of students were careless and wrote “Miller’s novel...” (perhaps in their overexcitement). • And many were trying to illicit a response. (note: elicit) • A number of students are still narrating/ describing the events of the play in their essays (for e.g. describing what mother says/does to George as opposed to analysing how she is manipulating George) • Paragraphs with NO quotations or dramatic/literary methods cited. • Untidy handwriting and light blue ink. • Single-side/ one a half side “essays”. (Please practice timed-exercises! You will need the stamina for your eventual 3 hour paper!)
X DESCRIBING/ PROVING/ STATING/ EXPLAINING/ NARRATING • A cross-reference that leaves markers wanting: “Keller will do anything for his son. This is also evident in Act 2 where Keller said “Chris, I did it for you.. When would I have another chance to make something for you?”. Thus here, we see Keller as the self-sacrificial man where nothing is bigger than Chris.” • Explaining/ repeating the quote: “We can see that their relationship is distancing as Chris says, “I’ve been a good son too long, a good sucker. I’m through with it.” He almost gave in because of Ann, he is not suppressing himself with the responsibilities of being a good son any longer- it was “too” long for him.”
The Essay • H1: “A destructivemonster who also manipulates everyone’s guilt.” • H2: “An unwitting monsterwho destructivelymanipulates everyone’s guilt.” How far do you agree with this assessment of Kate Keller?
General Comments • Awareness of Kate as Character vs. Awareness of Miller’s characterisation of Kate. • Construct a thesis that answers the question requirements. • NOT a Psychology paper: tendency to provide a psychoanalysis of Kate – “Kate’s manipulative behaviour is caused by her grief and trauma over her son’s death...” • Literature Paper: focus on how other charactersand the audience receive and respond to Kate.
Understanding of keywords (i) unwitting: Kate’s awareness of her own destructiveness is left to interpretation. (ii) monster: her persistent repression of the truth may be as heinous as Keller’s crime. (iii) destructively manipulates everyone’s guilt: Mother’s presence is organised around various set-pieces in which she manipulates / manoeuvres/ asserts her version of reality onto other characters.
Possible Stands (i) Unfair assessment: Mother as a sympathetic figure who is no more destructive than Joe and even Chris Keller. (ii) Fair assessment: Mother as the true villain of the play who calls for denial and ‘living’ for the family up until the very end of the play. Her fervent upkeep of the illusion effectively leaves the Deever family in ruins and functions as the obstacle to the Chris-Ann marriage. “You made Chris guilty with me…you’ve crippled him in front of me.” (P84) (iii) Fair assessment: Mother ‘destructively manipulates’ the people around her but without malicious intent; Kate occupies the role of Mother in the play and so protects, preserves rather than destroys.
Key episodes that can be extracted: (i) Manipulation of George with her overtly matriarchal mannerisms & appeal to nostalgia: ‘Georgie, Georgie’ (p62-67) (ii) Manipulation of Ann through emotional appeal and guilt: ‘You think of him! You see! She thinks of him!’/“No, don't you remember? That's Larry's room.”/ “Deep, deep in your heart you’ve always been waiting for him… But deep in your heart, Annie!” (p26-29) and ‘I want to ask you never to say that again’ (p33); (iii) Manipulation of Chris and Keller by including them in her myth making: ‘We should never have planted that tree... You above all have got to believe’ (p20-23) and ‘God does not let a son be killed by his father’ (p75)
Key methods that should be highlighted: • Character description (note the introduction of her character by Miller before she appears on stage) and character name (‘Mother’) • Use of ‘food’ and ‘clothing’ images to depict her maternal tendency and “overwhelming capacity to love”. • Use of ‘manipulative’ language: imperative / commands, rhetorical questions, declaratives and diminutives. • General dominance of conversations: line length (Pg 26-29), interruptions. • Allusions to Larry and the past, including her dream sequence (P. 20-21), the symbolism of the tree, her insistence that there is no jail, that Larry will return (newspapers on p28)
Write a critical commentary on the following passage...to the portrayal of the relationship between Chris and Keller... Some common readings: 1. “To hell with that” – Miller’s use of “pagan imagery”, “hellish imagery” 2. “the whole shootin’ match is for you” – Miller foreshadows the gun that Keller will kill himself with. (Idiomatic Expression: the whole of something, including everything that is connected with it, the entire affair or matter) 3. (putting a fist up to Chris’s jaw) – Keller almost inflicts bodily hurt/ violence upon his son, foreshadowing the violence because later on, it is Keller who pounds upon Keller’s shoulders in Act 2. 4. Discussion of Keller and guilt – rather than the father/son, family/social, American Dream concerns that dominate this passage.
Significance of the passage: Does it foreground character development, plot development and thematic development? • FYI: passage occurs in Act 1 and precedes the entrance of Mother. So what? • Occurs right after Keller states, “I ignore what I got to ignore” – to which Chris manages to push and manipulate Keller into action. • It precedes Mother’s entrance – but we get a sense of the pivotal role she plays in affecting the father-son relationship. • The symbolic destruction that Chris-Ann’s marriage would have on the myth and Mother – effectively “pronouncing him dead”. • Establishes Chris’ and Keller’s different train of thought – “I don’t understand you/ You don’t want to think that…” • YET, father and son are presented asrooted to aspects of the American Dream.
Key methods to be highlighted: 1)Chris’ firm and controlled tone towards his father2) Uncertainty and doubt in Keller’s language • Chris’ firm and controlled tone in his responses to Keller, demanding his compliance: “She’s not Larry’s girl”/ “But if that can’t happen here, then I’ll have to get out… I’ll get out”/ “I am thinking that way”. • Uncertainty of Keller in light of Chris’ dominance over the conversation (pauses, ellipses, repetition, stuttering): “I don’t know where to go. See? I don’t know./ I-I’m-She thinks.. Do you know? I don’t!/ You mean- tell me something, you mean you’d leave… (after a pause), Well.. you don’t want to think like that./ All right, but-but don’t think like that.
3) Influence of Mother on the Father-Son relationship4) Establishes ideological differences between Father and Son. • The looming presence of Mother over Father and Son: Keller: “From mother’s point of view he is not dead and you have no right to take his girl…/ “She thinks he’s coming back Chris. You marry that girl and you’re pronouncing him dead. Now what’s going to happen to mother? Do you know? I don’t.” Chris: “…and then we’ll thrash it out with Mother?”/ “I’d hope that if I waited, Mother would forget Larry…” • The dichotomy between the two men arises from their opposing reactions to “the business”, coupled by the differences in their ideology (C: The business doesn’t inspire me/ K: Must you be inspired?/ K: I don’t understand you, do I? / C: No you don’t).
5) Both men are seen to be exasperated with the sacrifices they have made. • Chris’ and Keller’s tone reveal an exasperation with the sacrifices they have made. Chris: …every time I reach out for something I want, I have to pull back because other people will suffer. My whole bloody life, time after time after time./ To hell with that./ But if that can’t happen here, then I’ll have to get out… I’ll get out. / I’ve been a good son too long, a good sucker. I’m through with it. Keller: You’ve got a business here, what the hell is this? / Because what the hell did I work for? That’s only for you, Chris, the whole shootin’ match is for you! *Note the use of swear words/ vulgarity across the two men.
6) Father and Son underlying motives are rooted in aspects of the American Dream. • Father and Son are two sides of the same coin – the quest of the American Dream underscore their aspirations and actions. Chris is more aspirational with the American Dream of the nuclear family and providing for the family: “I want it beautiful. I want a family, I want some kids, I want to build something I can give myself to.”