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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…

GVV - Death and Nightingales, A Doll’s House, Juno for Leaving Cert English #625Lab

“Significant events in texts and the impact they have on readers often help to clarify the general vision and viewpoint of those texts”. 

With reference to three texts on your comparative course, compare the ways in which at least one significant event in each text, and its impact on you, helped you to clarify the general vision and viewpoint of these texts.


#625Lab1835 words - that will be very difficult to write this in the exam. I would recommend a maximum limit of 1500. A nice, lean H1 essay will be approx. 1200 words. 

There is nothing wrong with formal, sophisticated language, but this author goes a little far. For example, I cannot think of a situation where it is preferable to say "instigate a behaviour", as she does, to just "behave".

The essay is sharply focused of female emancipation - and it's good to have a common thread like this. Some people will disagree with this author's interpretation and that's ok. The essay would be better if the author also discussed the opening/setting and added a little more direct comparison with linking words. You may also like: Complete Guide to Leaving Cert English (€)

According to Thomas Merton, “Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul”. Considering that the events experienced by the protagonists in each of my three studied texts so inherently dictate much of their actions, I can strongly testify to this. I agree that The significant events and their impact on the reader largely help to clarify the general vision and viewpoint of two of my texts which have a more linear narrative; "A Doll’s House" by Henrik Ibsen and "Juno" by Jason Reitman. However, due to my third text, "Death and Nightingales" by Eugene McCabe, being more circular in narrative and, in my opinion, more ambivalent in style, I often times found the general vision and viewpoint more difficult to gauge. I believe the most appropriate way to approach this question is to base the overall vision and viewpoint on the impact of relationships, moments of epiphany and the endings of all three texts.

A common thread throughout all three texts are the seedy and seemingly inappropriate relationships between the protagonists and a somewhat domineering male. (Because the question focuses on significant events, it would be better for the author to frame her discussion of relationships through events. I would use the word events a little more.) From my own viewpoint, a secret affair or a suggestive conversation is a very telling sign of discontent of perhaps even rebellion. Nora’s titillating encounter with Dr Rank in "A Doll's House" is similar to Juno’s encounter with Mark, wherein both protagonists instigate rather seductive and dangerous behaviour, thus standing out as significant events in the texts. These encounters had an unsettling impact on me as a young woman because I felt that both women were obliged to use their sexuality as a type of negotiating tool in order to get what they desired; in Juno’s case, emotional support and in Nora’s, a loan to repay the IOU. Nora’s gestures are overtly sexual, “Flicks him on the ear with the stockings” and she uses her seductive powers to deliberately manipulate Dr Rank, “Tomorrow you’ll see how beautifully I shall dance; and you must imagine I’m doing it just for you”. Although this behaviour could be deemed as immature coming from a married woman, I found that it uplifted the general vision and viewpoint by preparing us for the rebellion to come. Juno’s encounter, conversely, darkens the general vision and viewpoint. That fact that Mark, as an adult, does not stop Juno’s obviously intimate advances, placing her hand on his waist and her head on his shoulder, leads me to believe that, unfortunately, hints of male entitlement are still alive in the modern day.

While Beth’s relationship with Liam Ward in "Death and Nightingales" could be considered as an act of rebellion towards Billy Winters by consorting with an infamous rogue and Catholic, her encounter with Ward on Corvey Island completely contrasts with the aforementioned encounters. Rather than suggesting a degree of emancipation and sexual liberation, Ward’s presence dominates this scene like a predator stalking his prey, “She could feel him easing his body into a kneeling position behind her. She then felt both his hands on her shoulders”. This encounter stood out to me as a significant event because it reveals to us the true colours of Liam Ward; a man clearly taking advantage of Beth for his own financial gain, “She had eaten more hungrily, talked more openly and made love more passionately than he”. Everything from the malevolent setting, “growing evilly”, “tentacles of briar” to Ward’s ambiguous responses and brutal gestures, “dispatched it with an accurate blow to the skull”, creates an uneasy atmosphere and negatively impacts the readers impression of the general vision and viewpoint. (That's an impressive amount of super relevant quotation, but I would be a little bit worried by how labour intensive it would be to learn all this. It's not strictly necessary.)

The most significant events in all three texts occur, in my opinion, during moments of epiphany of realisation. In both "Juno" and "Death and Nightingales", the seeds of realisation are planted skilfully and quite early on by the authors, even before the climax itself. McCabe’s use of the flashback in the opening chapter is very effective in determining the general vision and viewpoint and Beth’s attitude and resentment towards Billy, a moment which arguably drives the plot of this novel. Beth comes from a fractious household, one where memories of abuse, arguments and echoes of “not inherit, not inherit, not inherit” plague her. The bitterness and spite Billy showed towards Beth’s mother, Cathy, remains with Beth. Due to the bleak state of Beth and Billy’s relationship at the beginning, “That child’s not kin to me and won’t inherit”, the reader empathises with Beth when she eventually rebels and regains her agency by stealing Billy’s money and killing Ward. The begrudgery and resentment of the past have an overwhelming bearing on Beth’s future. 

Similar subtle moments of insight occur in "Juno" which help to clarify the general vision and viewpoint. Much like McCabe’s flashback, Reitman effectively uses the close-up to determine the inner thought process of Juno’s mind. While walking through the mall, Juno and Leah spot Vanessa playing with a little girl. By using Leah as a foil and cutting her out of the shot, the camera focuses on Juno’s facial expressions as she watches Vanessa. We see a different, maternal side to Vanessa which Juno recognises. This key moment is paramount in determining Juno’s decision to give Vanessa the baby and the ultimate hopeful outlook of the text. "A Doll's House" is dissimilar due to the tight, linear narrative. We don’t see much evidence of realisation until the climax of the tarantella dance. Nora is in denial and believes that Torvald will provide the miracle of accepting the burden of the IOU. The tarantella dance acts as a microcosm of the play and the stage directions are very impactful. Her shawl and costume which were originally symbolic of her doll role are now used as a transformative force. Roles are reversed, “Helmer has stationed himself by the stove” as a means of comfort, “and tries repeatedly to correct her, but she seems not to hear him” "and repeatedly gives her directions; she seems not to hear them". This is the first time Nora overtly disobeys Torvald. This epiphanic moment of sheer delirium and delight gives Nora her first real taste of freedom and prepares us for the uplifting moment of rebellion to come; Nora is finally leaving Torvald. 

Unlike "Juno" and "A Doll's House", I found that "Death and Nightingales" ended on a sour note, despite all the evidence of epiphany and hints of rebellion and liberation. The endings of "Juno" and "A Doll's House" truly clarify the positive vision and viewpoint, "Juno" in particular being the most optimistic of the three. I empathised with Juno in the final scenes in the hospital. Being a young woman similar in age to Juno, I can only hope to receive the same love and support as Juno when she shares a tender moment with her father who tells her, “someday you’ll be back here on your own terms”. They are encompassed in the same golden light as the love making scene at the beginning. The trinity of womanhood is presented to us; Juno, the young bride, Vanessa, the mother and Brenda, the older experienced wise woman. However, at the end, Juno declares that ‘normalcy’ is not their style, Vanessa’s concept of what constituted a family has changed and Juno and Paulie have inverted the normal order of falling in love and then having a child. The pathetic fallacy of summer and the blooming cherry blossoms as well as the duet of “Sea of Love” help to finalise the positive general vision and viewpoint. Juno and Paulie sing tentatively and then grow together in confidence and harmony, their summer and bright future stretches out ahead of them. (💥💥💥 Stellar stuff, in navy.)

By contrast, "Death and Nightingales" and "A Doll's House" could both have comparably bitter-sweet endings depending on the readers interpretation. On a personal note, the ending of "A Doll's House" had a positive impact on me, clarified by Nora’s assured and dignified tone, “I’ve never felt so sane and sure in my life”, as well as the dramatic final stage direction, “The street door is slammed shut downstairs” like the ultimate cessation. While Nora has managed to extract herself from a depressing situation, I can’t help but wonder whether the overall vision and viewpoint of the text has changed at all. It angers me that Torvald questions her morals, “Can you neglect your most sacred duties” and that she must remind him, “I am first and foremost a human being”. The extent of sacrifice that women must make deeply saddens me and that Nora is forced to leave her children in order to learn her own identity, “Millions of women have done it”. "Death and Nightingales" has a similarly questionable ending, but it had quite a negative impact on me as a reader. The novel circles back to the beginning with a horrifying nightmarish sequence wherein we don’t know whether Beth is awake or dreaming. In this instance, I would have to disagree with the question in saying that this significant event further confuses the general vision and viewpoint. Beth succeeds to a point in emancipating herself by drowning Ward, “The water was bracing, so wintry-cold, she scarcely heard the gurgling scream” (can't verify this quote). Perhaps Billy Winters himself is such an ice-cold, suffocating presence like Krogstad in "A Doll's House", that Beth is, in fact, drowning and Billy is invading her thoughts to the bitter end. The dream is like a short image symbolising Beth and Liam’s relationship and the inverse birth symbolic of the moment of Beth regaining power, “When he began to struggle she crossed her ankles, tightening”. Beth and Billy are similar in that both have been betrayed by their lovers, however, Beth delivers one final blow by being pregnant with the child of a Catholic just like her mother. I recoiled at Billy’s perverse marriage proposal. Based on Beth’s vow-like response, “Unto death, Mr Winters”, I theorise that Beth is already, either literally or metaphorically, dead. The past repeats itself in this novel, the general vision and viewpoint is certainly bleak. 

All three protagonists yearn for rebellion and freedom and all experience defining moments which inspire their actions and ultimately the general vision and viewpoint. I think we can all agree that Juno achieves enlightenment and growth as a character and a harmonious ending. The general vision of "A Doll's House" and "Death and Nightingales" , however, is largely determined by the impact of significant events on the reader and their interpretation of them. Nora had undoubtedly gained agency and grown as a character but has society around her developed at all? I take "Death and Nightingales" as a political and social commentary of the sectarian divide in an Ireland that is not united, an Ireland that is ill at ease. Beth attempts to rebel but Billy seems to represent the invasion of the Protestants. Can Beth ever truly escape or it it a matter of toleration forever?

GVV - Death and Nightingales, A Doll’s House, Juno for Leaving Cert English
Image: thefilmexperience.net

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