Skip to main content


Brendan Kennelly for Leaving Cert English: Begin

"Begin" by Brendan KennellyYou may also like: 2019 Guide to Leaving Cert English. Full notes on Brendan Kennelly will be made available to everyone who has the 2019 guide, free of charge, as soon as they are ready.

Summary: a philosophical reflection on starting something new again and again communicated through the description of a morning walk across the Grand Canal in Dublin.

Style features:
anaphora (1) (highlighted in bold) adds a sense of determination as does the repetition of the word “begin” throughout the poemenjambment highlights the never ending need to begin again imperative tone, “begin again” is an encouraging command to never give up alliteration e.g. “dying in dark / determination” enhances the imageryreference to familiar places, “Pembroke Road” near the Aviva Stadium in Dublin 4, make the poem more accessibleimagery appeals to multiple senses: “summoning birds”, “sight of the light”, “roar of morning traffic”, “crying birds in the sudden rain”, “branches…

Leaving Cert English Comparative - Cultural Context - All My Sons, Foster, Juno

"Understanding of the cultural context of a text adds to our enjoyment of a good narrative."

In the light of the above statement write an essay comparing the cultural contexts of the texts you have studied in your comparative course. Support the comparisons you make by reference to the texts. 


There are two essays here. The first one is exemplary in terms of structure.

You may also like: 

Complete Guide to Leaving Cert English (€) 
An interview with Claire Keegan 
An abridged version of "Foster" on The New Yorker. 

Cultural content can be broadly defined as the world of a text and the factors within in that help shape the lives of the characters and help us envisage the norms of the society in which the story is set. It is an element that gives us a deeper insight into the text, thus making it more enjoyable. The cultural context of a text can be conveyed through the type of society in which the story is set where the social background, norms and rituals of the characters are presented. During my comparative study I have examined the film “Juno”, directed by Jason Reitman, the novella “Foster” by Claire Keegan and the play “All My Sons” by Arthur Miller. In this essay I am going to be examining the cultural context of each of the above texts under the headings setting, family, money, gender roles and beliefs and values while drawing similarities and differences between the cultures of each of the three texts. (The authors last sentence is a little mechanical, she could have left out the word "headings". However, given that most people are particularly fuzzy in their structure, this makes her look super clear.)

Where the story is set is a vital element of the cultural context of any text, helping to bring the story alive in the mind of the reader and adding to the enjoyment of the narrative. “All My Sons”, “Foster” and “Juno” have extremely different settings from one another. While both are set in America, the society in “All My Sons” is the antithesis of that portrayed in "Juno". Both texts present opposing ideas on American society and are set in different periods in history. “All My Sons” in set in post-war America in August 1947. This was a time where the country was undergoing momentous change in terms of cultural norms, as the nation recovered from the aftermath of the second world war. In contrast, “Juno” is set in the early 2000’s. It is evident in the film that the story is set in a much more modern era and presents a more liberal portrait of America. However, “Foster” is different to both “All My Sons” and “Juno” as the novella is set in a rural part of Co. Wexford, in Ireland, in the early 1980’s. Although a time is never specified, we can gather it is around this period as there is reference to the IRA Hunger strikes – 'Another Striker is dead’. The society of the book appears to be insular, in which the characters concentrate on their own lives and do not allow wider issues to bog them down. Personally, when studying these texts, I found that their settings gave me an indication into their cultural contexts, making them more entertaining. {Main point: setting}

In all three texts, the idea of family plays a role in conveying their cultural contexts. “All My Sons” presents a totally dissimilar picture of the family unit and its role in comparison to “Juno” and “Foster”. In the play, family is presented as an institution within society of a very specific make-up, consisting of a heterosexual couple and their children, the father being at the core. Anything outside of this general formula was not seen to be a family unit. The various families featured throughout this play all adhere to this formula, which reflect the traditional attitude of the society in which it is set. However, both “Juno” and “Foster” are different to this as family is presented as the bond of love that exist between people in a home. Both texts convey the idea that non-biological relationships can be just as rewarding as biological ones. This can be seen through Juno and her step-mothers Bren’s close relationship. Despite not being her biological mother, Bren cares immensely about Juno and supports her. Likewise, in “Foster”, the protagonist thrives when she is fostered by Kinsellas. Although they are not her real parents, they love, nurture and support her far more so than her own mother and father do, which leads to her forming an almost paternal bond with them. “Foster” however shows mild similarities to “All My Sons”, in that the girl's own family is a site of struggle, much like the Keller family. Both families appear dysfunctional and corrupt. These similarities and differences have intrigued me as a reader. I found it interesting to be able to compare the different impacts the family unit can make on the lives of people and how the idea of family has evolved over time, making the texts more enjoyable. (It would have been good to talk about Juno's attitude to her biological child - and Vanessa's attitude to her non-biological child. What do you think of Bleeker's attitude towards Juno's pregnancy?) {Main point: family}

Money plays a different role in all three of the texts, yet helps enlighten the reader about their cultural contexts. In both “All my Sons” and “Foster”, money plays a prominent role in the lives of the characters and in the development of their plots. “All My Sons” presents a society where money and greed has overshadowed morals and basic human decency. It is this fault in the characters, particularly Joe Keller, that leads to their downfall and is the sight of tragedy in the play. Likewise, in “Foster”, money is seen to have an equally negative effect. The protagonist’s parents are forced to have her fostered for the summer as they cannot afford to properly look after all their children. We learn that this is because of the girl’s father, Dan, who has a gambling problem and frequently wastes the money that his family needs. “Juno” is the antithesis of both “All My Sons” and “Foster” as money doesn’t impact the happiness of the characters in the film. Despite not being wealthy, the McGuffs are happy with their lives and are comfortable. On the other hand, Vanessa and Mark Loring are unable to make their marriage work, despite being wealthy and having whatever materialistic things they wish (the author has gone a little too far here - Mark is quite dissatisfied with his accomplishments. He still dreams of being a rock star). The text presents the idea that love and support precede over money in bringing happiness into the lives of the characters. There is no doubt that money is an important aspect in revealing the cultural contexts of each of these three texts, thus adding to our enjoyment of the narratives. {Main point: money}

The presence of gender roles is another element of cultural context which gives us a deeper insight into the societies of the texts, thus making their narratives more enjoyable. In both “Foster” and “All My Sons”, a traditional view of gender roles is portrayed—the men go out to work to provide for the family while the women stay at home to run and take care it. This idea is prevalent in “All My Sons” as there is frequent references to the men having a responsibility to go out to make money for their family. It is this that Joe Keller uses as an excuse to justify the tragedy which he was responsible for. Chris, Joe’s son, also refers to this idea as he tells Ann that he is ‘going to make a fortune’ for her. However, whereas in “All My Sons” there is a power struggle between the sexes going on beneath the surface of the text, in “Foster” the relationship between the sexes is depicted in both positive and negative terms—positive in relation to the Kinsellas and negative in relation to their girls own parents. In the Kinsella household, despite the presence of traditional gender roles, we see John and Edna work in unison, with neither of them having more power than the other. However, the protagonist’s own parents’ relationship is different. Her father, Dan, abuses his power in the relationship and squanders their money in gambling and drinking, while his wife Mary is left to struggling to keep everything above board. In comparison, “Juno” is different from both "All My Sons" and "Foster" as there is overall equality between the sexes. In the film both men and women are seen to have an equal role in the family and in society, which can be seen as Mac, Bren, Mark and Vanessa all work outside the home. Also, this idea is evident throughout the film as women appear to be in well respected jobs—the ultrasound technician in the hospital, the Loring’s lawyer and the school secretary are all female. However, the film is somewhat like "All My Sons" as there are also differing attitudes in relation to sexual behaviour between men and women in the film. Juno is ostracised from society because of falling pregnant, yet Paulie is almost admired for his role. The contrast of gender roles in each of the three texts enlightens the reader about the society norms in the worlds of the text, each making them different from each other. (I think that if you're going down this route, you have to also mention that Juno unilaterally decides the fate or her pregnancy. You don't need to comment on whether this is right or wrong, just acknowledge that she has certain powers arising directly from her gender. The author of the essay brings this in later, but it could be mentioned here too. We also get the sense that Mark's wishes weren't heard when it came to family planning in the context of Vanessa's passion for motherhood.) This certainly adds our enjoyment of the narratives. {Main point: gender}

Lastly, I would like to discuss the three texts in terms of beliefs and values, with each of them being very different from one another. Knowing the morals of the characters in any story and what they believe in helps portray the cultural context of the texts, helping the reader engage and enjoy the narrative. Despite both being set in America, “All My Sons” is different to “Juno” in that the values of the American Dream dominate the text, but there is a disparity between what the characters say they believe in and how they actually live their lives. They purport to believe in the values of honesty, truth and self-sacrifice. This idea is evident in the text as Joe Keller, despite knowing he is guilty, believes his so-called innocence is justified as he has ‘a court paper in his pocket to prove’ he isn’t guilty. In contrast, “Juno” presents the viewer with a liberal and secular society, in which the most cherished values are freedom of choice and individual agency. Juno is seen to be allowed to make up her own mind on whether of not to continue with her pregnancy with no interference; she is let choose what is right for her and isn’t told what she should do. “Foster” differs from “Juno” as the characters do not appear to have same freedom of choice as the society adheres strictly to the teachings of Catholicism (it would be worth adding that the Irish society of the time prioritised faith over being able to literally feed the children we already have - that's one of the harshest realities of the cultural context of "Foster"). However, “Foster” and “All My Sons” appear to have some similarities as in both the texts there is an external moral landscape that the characters appear to subscribe to. “Juno” is dissimilar to both “All My Sons” and “Foster” in this respect as there are no moral or ethical structures to guide the characters in the right direction. (It's true that there is no religion or American Dream to guide them, but the prejudice that Juno faced, e.g. the judgemental attitude of the ultrasound technician, does come from culture, as does the attitude of the shopkeeper. And yes, I am nitpicking...) The characters must do what they think is best for them. Analysing the beliefs and values of the three texts has highlighted the differences these societies present in contrast to the one we live in at present, making the narrative more enjoyable to me. {Main point: values}

In conclusion, I believe that understanding the cultural context of a text certainly adds our enjoyment of a good narrative. It allows us to delve deeper into the stories and become engrossed in them. Despite often being quite complex, I feel that my study of the three texts’ cultural context has revealed a new layer of the narratives to me, which certainly added to my enjoyment of studying them.

The only issue with the above essay is that it's a bit long. How to cut it down? Easy. 

Consider this, taken from the essay above:

"This can be seen through Juno and her step-mothers Bren’s close relationship. Despite not being her biological mother, Bren cares immensely about Juno and supports her."

You don't need both these sentences, make it into one.

Even if this author's Coherence of Delivery and Efficiency of Language aren't rock star-standard, her structure and arguments are. This means that she will get more marks than a student who's the opposite. Why? 

Clarity of Purpose, i.e. your actual points, trump all other aspects of your writing. If you only get 70% for Clarity of Purpose, you will be marked out of 70%, not out of 100%, for Coherence of Delivery and Efficiency of Language Use. As the marking scheme puts it, "marks awarded for either Coherence of Delivery (C) or Efficiency of Language Use (L) cannot exceed the marks awarded for Clarity of Purpose."

More on the same subject:

"Various social groups, both large and small, (such as family, friends, organisations or community) reflect the cultural context in texts." 

Compare the extent to which one or more social groups reflect the cultural context in at least two texts on your comparative course.

In my opinion, having a good idea as to what the cultural context of a text makes the narrative more interesting for one to read. (That's a very unimpressive, stock opening sentence. It needs to be rewritten. The opening sentence is super important, so make sure you put real thought into it.) It enhances our understanding of the world in which the texts are set. I have studied three different types of texts for my comparative study. These are the film "Juno" directed by Jason Reitman, the novel "Foster" written by Claire Keegan and the play "All My sons" written by Arthur Miller. (Lots of people forget the quotation marks around text titles and poems. This will lose you marks.) By exploring and analysing the texts, I discovered that there are several similarities as well as stark differences regarding family. I am going to compare and contrast how the family reflects the cultural context in all three texts.

In the play "All My Sons", we learn that family is understood as a nuclear unit consisting of a married heterosexual couple and their children. This concept of the nuclear family was accepted as the only definition of family in mid twentieth century America. It is clear to see that it is presented to us as an institution within society and has a very specific make-up. Any other kind of family that was not nuclear was rare and was greatly looked down upon from members of society. This is very different to the underlying of family seen in "Juno". One can see that family takes different forms. Juno's family is made up of her father Mac, her stepmother Brenda and her half-sister Liberty Bell. Despite the fact that her family is blended, they are very content. We also see a single adopted parent with an infant: Vanessea Loring adopts Juno's baby. A significant moment can be observed when Vanessa holds her baby son in the hospital and Bren tells her that she looks like "a new mom". This scene reminds me of the love that exists between people within a family unit. Different kinds of families were accepted by society. Juno is set in modern America. (This sentence should have been part of a comparison.) Likewise, in "Foster" we also come across a different kind of family. A young girl is sent away to spend the summer holidays in a relative's home. (Avoid retelling the story especially if you're not getting a comparison out of it.) Over time she becomes extremely close to Edna and John Kinsella and we see that the young girl thrives and grows as a person during her stay. It is evident that familial bonds are based on love rather than just biology. In 1981 in Ireland, families that were not nuclear were usually frowned upon and were not acceptable. It surprised me when the Kinsellas labelled themselves as "old forgeries". I think it's ironic in the way that across all three texts the nuclear families are unhappier that the others. The mindset that all families must be nuclear is typical of the time and is quite an interesting aspect that reflects the cultural context of the texts.

All My Sons, Foster, Juno Leaving Cert English Comparative Cultural Context

In "Juno", we see that her family demonstrates great love and they support each other even in times of hardship and difficulty. I personally think that support is crucial for a family. The main idea in "Juno" highlights that sometimes non-blood relatives can be more loving than your real family. An example of this is the strong relationship between Juno and her stepmother Brenda, it is one of genuine commitment and understanding. A key scene that conveys Brenda's support is when Juno announces that she is pregnant, Brenda's immediate response was to purchase "pre-natal vitamins". There is a stark contrast in relation to Juno's real mother who lives in Arizona and makes little effort to keep in contact with Juno. She sends her a cactus on Valentines day every year but that's all. Mac also shows immense support during Juno's pregnancy. He helps her with the adoption process and emotionally tells her that he will always be there to love and support her. Juno's parents go above and beyond in order to protect her, I find this very admirable. A similar situation is seen in "Foster". The relationship between Juno and Brenda is paralleled in Edna and the girl's relationship. Although Edna is not the girl's birth mother, she like Brenda has been a much better parental figure in comparison to her own parents. The girl becomes very comfortable with the Kinsellas and receives great care and attention. It is clear to see that the Kinsellas do an outstanding job in caring for the child. Another comparison can be made between John Kinsella and the girl's real father Dan who is an alcoholic and a gambler. He shows a lack of love towards his daughter and has a very distant relationship with her. We see that he doesn't even say goodbye to her when he drops her off: "why did he leave without a goodbye". This upsets the girl as usually a parent would say goodbye and give their child a hug, however this is not seen here. John, on the other hand, is more of a fatherly figure to the girl. He has several affectionate nicknames for her such as "petal" and "long legs". In "All My Sons", the "perfect American family" is desired by many, however, we soon learn that it doesn't exist. Beneath the surface, the Keller family is corrupt and unhappy. By looking at all the different families, we get a sense of how each family unit reflects the cultural context.

Leaving Cert English Comparative

In all three texts, we are presented with an interesting aspect that influences all the characters in each of these texts is that of money. (I think the author is trying to make the sentence sound more sophisticated, but just like the opening sentence it needs to be rewritten, e.g. All three texts emphasise the impact of a key aspect of cultural context: money. ) "All My Sons" is set in post war America, 1947, and it is evident that money is a primary concern for the people. It especially plays a major role for the Kellers. They believe that financial provision is equated with familial love, but it is ultimately inadequate. At the end of Act Two, Joe's son Chris discovers that his father is responsible for the death of twenty one airmen. Keller's response is shocking, he states that he did it for the business, "what could I do! I'm in business, a man in business; a hundred and twenty cracked, you're out of business". Joe fails to understand the gravity of the situation. He can't think beyond the business. In his mind, this is not selfish, in fact he says that he did it all for Chris: "Chris, I did it for you". However, Chris is horrified by his response and demands "is that as far as your mind can see, the business?" "All My Sons" presents us with a world in which families are synonymous with money. On the contrary, a different situation can be observed in "Juno". Although the McGuffs may not be rich in comparison to the Lorings, money doesn't necessarily equate with their happiness. In profound contrast to the Lorings, who have plenty of money, they are very unhappy and end up getting a divorce. The only thing Vanessa desperately desires is a child and money cannot solve this. In "Foster" is it clear to see that the girl's own family are plagued with financial difficulty. At this time there was huge hunger strikes in Ireland and it was difficult for large families. However, the Kinsellas, like Juno's family weren't wealthy, but they were free of financial pressure. By comparing and contrasting each family in terms of money, we learn that money definitely does not equate with love and happiness. Money is a huge aspect that reflects the cultural context of all three texts.

Another aspect of the cultural context that reflects the families of the texts is gender roles. (Once again, the author tried to engineer a sentence, but it came out upside down. Her writing is normally perfectly clear, but she seems thrown by the need to make these extra special opening sentences. Don't overthink it. Make sure that your writing makes sense to you. If it doesn't, then it certainly won't make sense to the examiner either. It should be: Another aspect of the family life that reflects the cultural context of the texts is gender roles.) All three texts reveal certain expectations for all the characters. In "All My Sons", it (what?) reflects the realities of mid twentieth century middle class as the breadwinners and the women as the homemakers. This is definitely the case for the Keller family. Kate tends to stay at home all the time doing typical domestic chores such as cleaning, cooking and washing. She has no role outside the home. She is defined and limited by her only designated role - "mother". Joe, like all other men of the time went out to work every day in order to earn money for the family. During that era, it was unheard of for women to work outside the home. Likewise, in "Foster" a similar situation can be seen. A similar situation can be seen in "Foster". Traditional gender roles are norm just like in "All My Sons". In the girl's family, the mother is left to look after the children as well as all the other household jobs with no help whatsoever from her husband. However, it is slightly different with the Kinsellas. Whilst they have their own roles to pursue, they offer to help each other from time to time. We see this when Edna takes over John's job of milking the cows as he is too busy to do so himself. This conveys that they respect each other's jobs and are willing to help if necessary. In direct contrast to this, in the contemporary text "Juno", we are presented with a world where there is equality between men and women. It is seen as the "norm". Gender roles are less defined compared to the other texts. Both Mac and Brenda work outside the home as well as raising the children and doing household jobs. They both make a contribution. By examining all the different gender roles, one can discover how family reflects the cultural context in an interesting way.

In conclusion, from studying the cultural context in all three texts, it is evident that there are many differences as well as similarities between them. I found out about how each family reflects the cultural context in different ways. I have learned that you can never overestimate the power of love within a family unit. It is extremely important in my opinion.

Popular Posts