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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 - General Vision and Viewpoint - Foster and Juno

“The general vision and viewpoint is shaped by the reader's feeling of optimism and pessimism in reading the text”

The author added a note with her essay: 

"I mainly struggle with keeping essays to an appropriate length so feedback on areas I could discuss more briefly/ can afford to leave something out would be great. I would be a fast enough writer but I'd love to cut the essay here down to about 1500-2000 words as I've been able to write that much in an exam setting before (it's currently 2500)." 

Cut down to 2000? Imagine you went onto an airplane and before you took off the pilot announced that he plans to emergency land in a neighbouring airport. There is no real need for it, but he's a skilled enough pilot and last time he did it, everyone survived, so that's the plan now... 

This is not how you make a plan. You need to leave room to manoeuvre (meaning don't plan to write more than 1500 words). What if the single text question throws her off and takes more time to complete? She will never get to finish a 2000 word comparative answer if anything at all isn't perfect with the paper. Don't plan yourself a crisis, leave some contingency. 

Plus, do you think the examiner will automatically grade you up for a long essay? No. They want a good essay, not a long essay. If you write a very long, middling-quality essay, you just make them suffer for longer. I somehow doubt that that will result in preferential treatment. Do what's expected of you, do it well and Bob's your uncle.

If you too are struggling with graphomania, this review of a 2800-word monstrosity on the general vision and viewpoint of "Foster" and "The Plough and the Stars" will help.

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The general vision and viewpoint is undoubtedly shaped by the reader's feelings of optimism or pessimism in reading the text. It is the view on life that emerges in the reader's interpretation of the text and is therefore shaped by each individual reader. The texts I have studied are “Foster”, by Claire Keegan, which is set in rural Ireland in the early 1980s, and “Juno”, directed by Jason Reitman, set in Minnesota in the early 2000s. (The author is yet to study her third text. Obviously in the Leaving Cert you write about all three unless the question directs you to do otherwise. You can talk about where they are set elsewhere. It's not really relevant to the introduction. The purpose of the introduction is to give the examiner an idea of what is to follow in the body of the essay.) The General vision and viewpoint of each of these texts correlate and diverge in a number of interesting ways with feelings of both optimism and pessimism emerging at sundry points throughout. (Is this sentence adding anything? No.) Both texts have hints of positivity in their opening scenes. (So now the author is moving on to openings. This is not part of the introduction, so a paragraph break is warranted here.) However, negative outlooks on life overshadow their positivity. "Juno" begins on an upbeat note. The use of rotoscoping and a quirky soundtrack with lyrics such as ‘All I want is you – will you be my bride?’ presents the viewer with a bright start. Nevertheless, the upbeat start comes to a stop when Juno finds out she is unexpectedly pregnant. On the contrary, "Foster” focuses on the negativity in life. In "Foster", there is lack of information given to the reader, giving only glimpses into the child's life at a time throughout the novella. I had hope that the girl would find love in the Kinsella's and that it would be different to the harsh family life she had at home. Unfortunately, the abruptly clear imagery of ‘weeping willows’ lining the Kinsella’s drive in the first chapter cleared this sense of hope, with the use of this symbolism adding to the overall bleak outlook of life throughout the novella.

Leaving Cert English Comparative - General Vision and Viewpoint - Foster and Juno

I believe a crucial part in expressing a text's outlook on life is its vision of society. “Foster”, has a mix of both positive and negative aspects to this and is in a confined world in which human nature is both full of generosity and mean-spirited. Charitableness is seen when two men call to the Kinsella’s house selling lines in a raffle towards a new roof of a local school. John Kinsella doesn't think twice about donating money saying “just 'cos I've none of my own doesn't mean I'd see the rain falling in on anyone else's”. However, when Edna entrusts the young girl to a neighbour, Mildred, the girl is subjected to a barrage of intrusive questions and told about the death of the Kinsella’s son without any sensitivity. On the other hand, "Juno" is set in America, holding an optimistic outlook on American life and where family and friends are crucial. This is exemplified when Juno finds out she is pregnant. She immediately rings her friend Leah and tells her the news. Leah doesn't judge Juno for what has happened and immediately takes her side in supporting her. Leah is at Juno's side throughout her pregnancy, encourages her when she has to tell Mac and Bren the news, accompanying her to her ultrasound appointment, and staying with her when she gives birth. Her friendship is a vital source of support for Juno and in my opinion, the song lyrics ‘I’m sticking with you’ also emphasise this positive outlook. (Paragraph break here.) The ability of love to triumph and flourish in difficult situations in society can also be seen in both texts, particularly in their endings. In “Juno”, after Mac tells her “The best thing you can do is find a person who loves you for exactly who you are”, she realises she loves Paulie Bleeker. Juno realises that even though Paulie hadn't been a consistent source of support for her throughout the pregnancy, it still has had an effect on him and mutual support is required. Mac recognises this and leaves the two alone in the delivery room, acknowledging that they've grown and had a responsibility to make their own decisions. Similarly, the end of “Foster” although ambiguous, holds a slightly more optimistic tone in comparison to the rest of the novella. The reader gets to witness the developments of the young girl that she has learned from her stay at the Kinsella's: she recognises that good values and unconditional love surpasses biological connection or sharing a name, and from being exposed to a healthy family life, is able to distinguish what is right and wrong in how people respect each other and stands up for herself and the Kinsella's, as seen when she doesn't attribute blame to Edna for getting a chill. By the end of the novella, the child is aware of this and holds on to these values. However, due to the ambiguous ending, the reader can only hope that she continues to believe this. (This is very well written: perfectly addresses the question without directly referencing it.)

The formation of identity is another aspect of the vision and viewpoint in “Foster”. The young girl is in the process of forming her identity and, in the story, the world around her is depicted as playing a huge role in that process. During the visit to the well with Edna, the girl waits until “I see myself not as I was when I arrived, looking like a tinker's child, but as I am now, clean, in different clothes.” and later she realises, “Everything changes into something else, turns into some version of what it was before.” (You could just say all this in one sentence and drop the quotations if you wanted to make this shorter. The author has already mentioned that the girl's values have changed.) A similar moment of self-realisation is seen in “Juno”. When Juno discovers that she's pregnant, her whole world changes. She presumes that she will have an abortion, but instead decides to have the baby and give it up for adoption. She imagines what she will experience will be relatively straightforward, “and what ah 30 or odd weeks, we can just pretend this never happened”. But the reality is totally different. Juno has to learn some difficult lessons about adult life and relationships. She has to discover the truth of her own feelings and face up to the pain of giving up the baby she has given birth to. The helpfulness and supportive nature of the caring figures towards the protagonists are seen in both “Juno” and “Foster”, in helping them find themselves. In “Foster”, selfhood is seen as malleable and childhood is presented as being reliant on nurture and love. Only in an environment of acceptance and care can the girl prosper and flourish, both physically and mentally. The Kinsella's encourage the girl to read, work hard in school, and to develop confidence, as seen in the final chapter of the novella when John Kinsella says “I want to see gold stars on them copy books next time I come up here”, which is a major contrast to her family life at home. Similar developments take place in “Juno”. Early in the film, when Mac says “I thought you were the kind of girl who knew when to say when”, Juno responds, “I don't know what kind of girl I am”. However, during the course of the film, Juno finds out that she is very much as Bren described her in the beginning of the film. “Well, you're a brave young lady. You're made of stronger stuff than I thought. You're a little Viking.” By the end of the film, Juno has come to realise that she can overcome more adversities in life than she once thought with the support and guidance from the people around her. (All of this is correct and well written - as is the remainder of the essay. However, it's more detailed than a single text essay: just look at the amount of quotation. It's not necessary to go into that deep a level of analysis at LC Comparative level. Plus, can this author reliably remember all these quotes? What will her essay look like when she adds in a third text?! Being great at writing doesn't mean that the Leaving Cert is the only place you can express it. The LC asks for concise clear answers, so give them what they ask for and find a more appropriate outlet for your literary critic talent.)

General Vision and Viewpoint - Foster and Juno

The vision of individual responsibility is a key aspect of the overall vision and viewpoint to both “Juno” and “Foster”. The vision of responsibility in “Foster” is one in which it is communal, rather than individual. The responsibility of the girl is shared between her parents and the Kinsellas. The two work together in looking after her, unlike the girls birth family where the task was solely placed on the child's mother. However, the responsibility for the workings of the community in rural Ireland is shared by everyone as seen many times - John helps dig a grave for a neighbour who has passed away, he helps another neighbour to pull a calf and Edna helps her sister by giving her farm products and money to pay to get the hay cut. In a world where people work hard to make ends meet, the emphasis lies in helping each other rather than in cultivating individuality. In contrast, Juno is placed in a situation where almost all of the responsibility is placed on her, and although she has supportive networks around her to help her cope emotionally, the majority of the pressure is put on Juno herself to deal with her pregnancy in a responsible way. She is forced to make the courageous decision of putting her baby up for adoption and does so independently without much input from the people around her. Juno is an admirable character, not because of the decisions she makes but because she has the courage to follow through in what she believes in. This is exemplified when she comes back from witnessing the break-up of the Loring marriage, her father asks her where she has been, she replies ”Oh, just out dealing with things way beyond my maturity level”, which offers a strong vision of individual responsibility as something each character must discover for themselves. She is forced to grow up during the course of the film as she struggles to understand her own feelings and to do what she believes is right. I feel this is somewhat mirrored in “Foster”, where we see the responsibility of raising the children is placed entirely on the young girl's birth mother. There seems to be no joy in this life for her and she has turned cold under the weight of numerous issues, to the extent that even her children have become burdens. This traditional mindset seen in “Foster”, reminded me of a moment in “Juno”, where she experiences a great deal of scrutiny regarding the pregnancy, whereas Paulie Bleeker receives little to none. Juno receives judgment from her peers, the school secretary, and the ultrasound technician and as a result, feels is left to cope with the responsibility of the pregnancy practically alone. However, Bren and Mac try to share the responsibility of being a source of support Juno throughout her pregnancy between each other and try to make the process as easy for her as they can. They inadvertently pass on the message of support to her and Paulie, and in the final scene, both Juno and Paulie have seemed to realise that something that carries as much responsibility as bringing a child into the world, needs to be shared equally. This supportive role seen in Bren and Mac is very similar to how the Kinsella's pass on good values to the young girl in “Foster”. The Kinsella's have a clear mutually respectful relationship and there is no fragility in the idea of helping each other and sharing responsibility, they don't attach “traditional stigmas” to what they each do: John Kinsella takes no issue in helping his wife preparing food and likewise Edna helps her husband on the farm where she can. By the end of the novella, the young girl has taken notice of the Kinsella's shared responsibility for both themselves, and how they took care of her, and as a result is a more confident and able person on returning home. 

Both text's view of the past has an incredibly optimistic standpoint. In “Juno”, Juno learns the value of honest communication. The strength of her bond with Paulie Bleeker has overcome all adversity by the end of the film. In the resolution of the film, they accept what has happened and continue to live. It is possible for Juno to overcome the trauma of being pregnant at such a young age, giving birth, and putting her baby up for adoption because she has been supported in her choices throughout the text. The vision of the film is that adversity can be triumphed over, so long as an individual is supported and loved. The past does not cast its shadow over Juno and Paulie and they accept the painful experience that they have been through and recover from it. A similar triumph is seen in “Foster”, when even though the young girl realises there has been a great tragedy in the Kinsella's lives, she is now mature enough to understand that the truth is complex, and was originally hidden from her for good reasons. Edna tells the girl that “There are no secrets in this house”. But she does not tell her that she and John had a son who drowned and that the bedroom the girl is sleeping in and the clothes she is wearing had belonged to the boy. When the girl finds out the truth later in the story, she is shocked, but instinctively understands why Edna did not tell her of the tragedy, it was simply because the loss she has suffered is too painful to talk about. The Kinsella's have lost their only child in a drowning accident and have found a way to live with their grief that has not destroyed them. The ultimate message here is powerfully optimistic - that love is stronger than even the most awful tragedy. The difficult moments in the pasts of both texts is contrasted with more positive images at different moments. In “Juno”, the baby has brought great joy into another's life, as depicted in the shot of Vanessa feeding her son at the end of the film. The seasonal settings of the text enhance the films positive message about journeying through difficult periods during the course of life. Winter is a universal symbol for struggle but, in the resolution of the film, it is Summer, and Juno cycles to Paulie's house where the play guitar and sing the joyful duet, “Anyone but you”. Similar positive images are seen in “Foster”, The Kinsellas love each other and, even more importantly, they trust each other, as suggested continuously throughout the text. Neither one holds negative feelings towards the other in relation to their son's death. Despite their suffering, they accept what has happened and continue to live. The visit of the girl opens up painful memories for both Edna and John, Edna is upset when John says the girl must get new clothes in Gorey as she has obviously been deriving comfort from seeing the girl wearing her son's clothes. John is suffering too. When he takes the girl for a walk on the strand, she tells us “and that is when he puts his arms around me and gathers me into them as though I were his”. The positive images in each of the texts outweigh the struggles they both contain and as a result, both have an optimistic outlook of their past. 

In conclusion, I feel that both texts I have studied as part of my comparative course presented me, the reader, with varying outlooks on life. In "Foster", I was left saddened by the dark ending but somewhat positive for the girl’s future. In "Juno", I was presented with an optimistic and hopeful outlook on life throughout and these combinations of bright and dark outlooks on life really added to the impact of these texts in shaping my own outlook on life.

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