Literary Genre - The Great Gatsby, The Plough and the Stars, Children of Men for Leaving Cert English

“Write an essay on one or more of the aspects of literary genre (the way texts tell their stories) which you found most interesting in the texts you studied in your comparative course.” 

#625Lab. This essay is well written, but, despite its depth, it's not ideal for the Leaving Cert, in my opinion, and won't score very highly. It is an essay on symbolism, which is just one fragment of Literary Genre. Furthermore, within that, the author focuses only on only a handful of symbols. To be fair, she brings characterisation into it, via symbols. To improve this essay, the author should talk more symbols, how they add a sense of foreboding and create dramatic tension, how they enhance the plot and add the author's message. Frankly, I would talk about more than one aspect of literary genre to hedge my bets. Aside from that, the author doesn't compare the three texts very often - and that is a cardinal sin as far as the Comparative Study is concerned. You may also like: Complete Guide to Leaving Cert English (€). If you're looking we also a Cultural Context answer on these 3 texts!

The three texts I have studied are The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, a novel set during the Jazz Age which tells the story of the eccentric millionaire, Jay Gatsby; The Plough and the Stars, by Seán O’Casey, a play which details the lives of poverty-stricken residents living in a tenement building in Dublin’s inner city during the Easter Rising of 1916; and the film, Children of Men, directed by Alfonso Cuarón which depicts the chaotic world of the near future of 2027 where a mysterious plague of infertility means the human race is dying out. (It is advisable to have quotation marks around titles of texts, poems, etc. You will often see them is italics in print or online, but quotation marks are the only way to acknowledge that it's a title when you're writing by hand. This is a very good guide to punctuation.) The study of literary genre allowed me to both examine and engage with the various techniques that an author, playwright, and director employ to tell the story of their text. An aspect of literary genre that I found particularly intriguing was the writers’ use of symbolism, but specifically the use of symbolism to create both captivating characters and settings. During my study of literary genre I discovered how symbolism was cleverly woven into all three of the aforementioned texts and added a sense of depth and realness to the world of each text and its characters.

Cuarón’s use of animal symbolism in Children of Men seemed an absurd idea to me at first, but, I admit, that upon closer observation, it struck me as a concept that was much more complex than I had previously thought. Cuarón expertly intertwines animal symbolism and characterisation to create the character of Theo. Theo’s interactions with animals throughout the film enabled me to unknowingly place my trust in him. The animals allowed me to understand that while Theo may appear rather rough on the outside, he is pure at heart. Cuarón’s visual way to support this, in my opinion, is to show that animals are drawn to him. As an animal lover myself, seeing the animals trusting him immediately enabled me to place my trust in him too. (Repetition) For example, where Theo is present in the Fishes’ meeting, there are dozens of people in the room yet, the cat decides to climb his leg out of all the legs present. When they arrive at the farm, the dogs run up to Theo in a playful manner. Even the owner of the farm states: “They like you, they don’t like anyone”. (This is a v good (though complicated) video on Children of Men that gives a lot of tips for Literary Genre, specifically on Cuaron's use of background. Also below is Fb post of mine goes through the"oners", i.e. long sequences made in one take.)


Cuarón also uses the religious symbol of the Holy Family to further enhance the character of Theo. The trio of Theo, Kee and the baby, bear an obvious resemblance to the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus. Their dangerous journey to safety also mirrors the journey of the Holy Family in the bible. Theo’s adopted role of St. Joseph here allowed me to see him as a protective, fatherly figure leading his family to safety. Despite his obvious flaws, Cuarón’s clever use of symbolism here allowed me to see Theo in a different light. I loved how Cuarón secretly revealed Theo’s more gentle nature, creating the ultimate protagonist of the film.

Similarly, in The Plough and the Stars, O’Casey uses symbolism to create the admirable and attractive character of Nora, in a way that is equally as fascinating as that of the film. Nora has, what Mrs Gogan describes as “notions of upperosity”. From the beginning of the play, Nora’s constant struggle to create a better life for herself and her husband was made evident to me through symbols such as “The Sleeping Venus” and “The Gleaners” in their room. Although they live in a tenement that is “struggling for its life against the assaults of time”, these pictures that Nora has hanging on the wall really made it clear to me that she was only trying to make the best out of a bad situation.

O’Casey’s intricate descriptions of all of the items that Nora has collected over time, along with her “silver fox fur” around her neck and her “tailor-made costume”, intrigued me and I couldn’t but admire her for trying to emulate a more middle-class existence, as she dedicates her time to tending to home décor. The symbol of the new “hat, black, with decorations in red and gold” that Nora has bought is, in my opinion, very effective as, even though it is evident that she could not afford such luxuries, she is persistent as she strives towards a better life. I believe that O’Casey makes efficient use of symbolism here to successfully illustrate Nora’s determination to improve the circumstances and living conditions of her family, which, of course, must be respected.

While O’Casey and Cuarón make excellent use of symbolism to create admirable characters that make sincere efforts to protect and ensure a better life for others, I found it particularly fascinating how, in The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald uses the same technique of symbolism to create a character that is of a very different nature than Theo and Nora. In this novel, Fitzgerald uses the character of Daisy to highlight the moral corruption of the characters. Daisy is described as “a silver idol weighing down [her] white [dress] against the singing breeze of fans”. (The exact quote is "Daisy and Jordan lay upon an enormous couch, like silver idols, weighing down their own white dresses against the singing breeze of the fans." You should paraphrase or only use quotation marks around that part of the reference that is an exact quote. It's ok to sometimes insert the [clarifications], but, in this case, the quote was butchered and you could lose marks.) While I had always associated the colour white with purity and innocence, I soon came to realise that Daisy is far from pure and innocent. At first, this apparent contradiction baffled me as I wondered why Fitzgerald chose this particular name for his central female character. However, as I visualised a daisy, it occurred to me that, while the character of Daisy appears innocent on the outside, the centre of the flower is yellow in colour, the colour associated with wealth and money. I found this hidden meaning very intriguing as it is a lust for wealth and riches that lies at the centre of Daisy’s core. She is a morally corrupt character who lets Gatsby believe that she will leave Tom for him, but in the end chooses Tom’s money over Gatsby’s love.

I also found it very interesting that daisies are typically fragile flowers, and similarly, Daisy is a fragile person who is unable to make up her mind. I thought that Fitzgerald’s attention to detail here was extremely accurate as he uses such a simple yet effective symbol to perfectly convey both Daisy’s personality and attitudes through her name.

Another aspect of symbolism that I found appealing in all three texts was the use of symbols to create a vivid and engaging setting. In Children of Men, I think that Cuarón’s use of animals makes any of the scenes in which they feature immediately livelier as it adds to the illusion that we are not in a movie set, but in a real location. A key scene in the film where I believe Cuarón uses animal symbolism to the greatest effect in creating a scene with a more profound meaning is the scene at the farm when Kee chooses to reveal her pregnancy in a shed full of cows being milked. When I first watched this scene I found the idea of having so many cows there rather obscure. However, upon deeper consideration, I realised that this was the director’s way of adding another layer of meaning. In Hinduism, cows are revered as a sacred source of food and life. Here, we watch as Kee suddenly becomes a symbol of fertility surrounded by milk and motherhood. I think that the presence of the cows in this scene really enabled me to understand how Kee is now the last chance for humanity’s salvation as she is the only remaining source of human life. (This could have been summarised in two sentences.)

Cuarón’s use of animal symbolism is also very effective in creating the opening scene of the film. In the very first image of the film, our eyes are immediately drawn to the elderly woman at the centre of the shot, who is cradling a dog in her arms. There are many people listening to the news as they hear of how “the world was stunned today by the death of Diego Ricardo, the youngest person on the planet”, but the elderly woman catches our eyes as she is the only one holding a pet. Of course, some people are very close to their pets, but in a world where no one can exercise their parental instincts with their offspring, I could imagine how society turns to pets to be their surrogates to be taken care of and raised. The use of the dog in this scene allowed me to understand the mindset of the people and gave me an insight into the despair of the situation.

In The Plough and the Stars, a scene where O’Casey also uses symbolism to create a scene of great grief and despair is in Act IV. While I believe the symbol of the coffin is quite obvious, in that it represents death and loss, I found it particularly interesting as here, not only does it represent a loss of life, but also a loss of hope, the loss of a future. We are told that “under the window to the right is an oak coffin standing on two kitchen chairs”. The symbol of the coffin is immediately associated with death but O’Casey cleverly refrains from revealing who exactly is in the coffin until later in Act IV when we learn of Nora’s “dead-born kiddie lyin’ there in th’ arms o’ poor little Mollser”. I thought that this was especially poignant as I was aware of the fact that a death had occurred but had never imagined that it would be the only two children in the play, one of whom did not even get a chance in life. I found this harrowing that these innocent victims of circumstances were the ones who suffered, through no wrongdoing of their own.

Likewise, in The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald uses “The Valley of Ashes” to devise a setting which reflects the suffering of the poor. “The Valley of Ashes” is a symbolic place used in the novel which is first introduced to us in Chapter Two, when Tom takes Nick to meet his mistress, Myrtle Wilson. It is described as a “desolate area of land” between West Egg and New York which was created by the dumping of industrial ashes. I see “The Valley of Ashes” as representing the moral and social decay produced by the pursuit of wealth without thought for others. I believe that its main purpose is to highlight the plight of the poor who are exiled to stay living in this “solemn dumping ground.” I found this symbol intriguing as it creates a setting where, like in the film and play, despair and hopelessness are at the forefront.

Symbols add to the understanding we take from a text. All three of the texts I have studied use symbolism to effectively convey their ideas, creating vivid and complex characters and realistic and engaging settings. I found it very interesting as I discovered the different symbols that the writers of the texts used to create distinct characters. Through their use of symbolism, both Cuarón and O’Casey create the ultimately attractive characters of Theo and Nora, while on the other hand, I was both surprised and fascinated as to how Fitzgerald could use the exact same literary technique to create the extremely different and shallow character of Daisy. (Surprised that symbols can be used to show negative traits?) I was also interested to see how the technique of symbolism was not just limited to invent various characters, but was also used by all three writers to depict scenes of similar despair and grief. I was really captivated by the idea of how this symbolism could be intricately woven into the background of the text, allowing me to consider what was really being employed in each scene. I found that this skilful technique added a deeper layer of meaning and heightened the impact that these scenes had on me.

 Literary Genre - The Great Gatsby, The Plough and the Stars, Children of Men for Leaving Cert English
"A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding cake of the ceiling - and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea." Photo: Warner Bros.

Popular Posts