by Art Spiegelman

Maus essay questions.

Though the author was born in Sweden after the end of the Holocaust, the events have nevertheless had a profound effect on his life. Discuss the nature of these effects and why the Holocaust remains such a formative event.

What is the significance of the author's decision to portray people of different races and nationalities as different animals? What effect does this have on the understanding and impact of the story?

Maus is written in the rather unconventional form of a graphic novel. Is this format an effective means of telling a Holocaust narrative? How might it differ from a more conventional Holocaust narrative?

To what degree was Vladek's survival based on luck, and to what degree was his survival based on his considerable resourcefulness?

To what extent are Vladek's aggravating personality traits a product of his experiences during the Holocaust?

Discuss Art's portrayal of his father. Is it a fair portrayal? What feelings does Art have about this portrayal?

Throughout Maus , Art is consumed with guilt. Discuss these different forms of guilt. How do they relate to one another? How do they differ?

The second chapter of Book II of Maus begins with a third level of narrative, which takes place in 1987, nine years after Art began working on Maus and five years after the death of his father. What is the purpose of this narrative, and what does it tell us about the author's relationship with his father and with the Holocaust?

Compare Vladek's marriage to Mala with his previous marriage to Anja. Why is Vladek's relationship with Mala so contentious, while his relationship with Anja was so filled with love?

Though Maus focuses largely on the Jewish people, the narrative generally avoids issues of religion. To what extent are the major characters religious? What role does religion play in their lives?

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MAUS Questions and Answers

The Question and Answer section for MAUS is a great resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.

Page 32, “Right away, we went.” Where are Vladek and Anja going and why?

Right away, we went. The sanitarium was inside Czechoslovakia, one of the most expensive and beautiful in the world.

Anja, Vladek's wife and Spiegelman's mother, went to a sanatorium in Czechoslovakia in 1938.

Vladek wants to go to Hungary in order to escape the danger and uncertainty of his life, as well as Anja's. Hungary represents hope and safety.

The visual device used to show the difference betweem Vladek and Anja is that Anja has a tail protruding from under her coat, a detail that emphasizes her Jewish identity.

Study Guide for MAUS

MAUS study guide contains a biography of Art Spiegelman, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.

  • MAUS Summary
  • Character List

Essays for MAUS

MAUS essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of MAUS by Art Spiegelman.

  • Stylistic Detail of MAUS and Its Effect on Reader Attachment
  • Using Animals to Divide: Illustrated Allegory in Maus and Terrible Things
  • Father-Son Conflict in MAUS
  • Anthropomorphism and Race in Maus
  • A Postmodernist Reading of Spiegelman's Maus

Lesson Plan for MAUS

  • About the Author
  • Study Objectives
  • Common Core Standards
  • Introduction to MAUS
  • Relationship to Other Books
  • Bringing in Technology
  • Notes to the Teacher
  • Related Links
  • MAUS Bibliography

Wikipedia Entries for MAUS

  • Introduction
  • Primary characters
  • Publication history

maus essay questions

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Essays on Maus

Animal allegory in art spiegelman's maus, the complex tapestry of survival: vladek spiegelman's character study, made-to-order essay as fast as you need it.

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Symbolism in Maus by Spiegelman

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The Importance of Anthropomorphic Characters in Maus

Art speigelman’s depiction of the father-son relationship in his book, maus, the interconnection between the past and the present in maus, the use of visual narrative and formal structure in maus: a survivors tale by art spiegelman, get a personalized essay in under 3 hours.

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An Analysis of Maus, a Graphical Story by Art Spiegelman

Analysis of artie's impressions of the holocaust in maus, maus through the prism of postmodernism, the means of stylistics used and their influence on the text in maus, the representative means of comics in maus, analyzing allegories in "maus" and "terrible things", graphic novel series "maus": world war ii and the holocaust, family dynamics in life is beautiful, maus, and barefoot gen, comparative analysis of maus by art spiegelman and night by elie wiesel, the theme of religion in graphic novels by spiegelman and sturm, the themes of family and guilt in maus by art spiegelman, a powerful idea and a prominent action in the novels unbroken and maus.

1991, Art Spiegelman

Comics, Novel, Graphic novel, Comic book, Biography

Vladek Spiegelman, Art Spiegelman, Anja Spiegelman, Mandelbaum, Mala Spiegelman, Françoise Mouly

"Maus" is a graphic novel written by Art Spiegelman and is based on the experiences of his father, Vladek Spiegelman, a Holocaust survivor. The novel is a unique and poignant exploration of the Holocaust, using the medium of comic art to depict the harrowing events. Inspired by his father's firsthand accounts, Art Spiegelman tells the story of Vladek's life during World War II, including his time in Auschwitz concentration camp and his struggles to survive and protect his family. "Maus" stands out for its innovative portrayal of the characters as anthropomorphic animals, with Jews depicted as mice and Nazis as cats. This metaphorical representation adds depth to the narrative, allowing readers to engage with the story on multiple levels.

The story begins with Art's attempts to understand his father's past and the impact it has had on their relationship. Vladek shares his harrowing journey, from the rise of anti-Semitism in Poland to the Nazi occupation, the horrors of Auschwitz, and his eventual liberation. Throughout the novel, Art grapples with the weight of his father's story and the responsibility of representing it truthfully. The narrative not only explores the brutality and dehumanization of the Holocaust but also delves into the complex dynamics between father and son, the trauma of survivors, and the challenges of memory and storytelling.

"Maus" is primarily set in two distinct time periods: the present-day 1970s in New York City and the past during World War II in Poland and various concentration camps. In the present, the story takes place in the urban landscape of New York City, depicting the everyday lives of Art Spiegelman and his father, Vladek. The city serves as a backdrop for Art's interviews with his father, as well as their interactions and struggles in dealing with the lingering effects of the Holocaust. The past setting of the narrative is situated in Poland during the rise of Nazi Germany and the subsequent occupation. It portrays the stark realities of life under Nazi rule, the ghettos, and the horrors of concentration camps such as Auschwitz. The grim and oppressive atmosphere of these settings highlights the extreme circumstances faced by Vladek and countless others during the Holocaust.

One of the primary themes is the trauma and its intergenerational effects. The graphic novel delves into the psychological impact of the Holocaust on both survivors and their children. It portrays the burden of memory, guilt, and the struggle to reconcile personal experiences with the larger historical context. Another significant theme is the power of storytelling and the role of art in representing history. Art Spiegelman employs the medium of comics to convey the complex and emotional story of his father's survival. Through visual imagery and the use of anthropomorphic animals as characters, the narrative challenges traditional depictions of the Holocaust and highlights the capacity of art to engage with difficult subject matter. Additionally, "Maus" explores themes of prejudice, dehumanization, and the consequences of unchecked bigotry. It delves into the ways in which individuals grapple with their identities, navigate social hierarchies, and confront prejudice in a world scarred by the Holocaust.

One prominent literary device is symbolism. Art Spiegelman utilizes anthropomorphic animals to represent different groups of people, with Jews portrayed as mice and Nazis as cats. This metaphorical approach adds depth and complexity to the storytelling, allowing readers to grasp the power dynamics and dehumanization inherent in the Holocaust. For example, the use of mice to represent Jews underscores their vulnerability and prey status in the face of Nazi persecution. Another literary device employed in "Maus" is foreshadowing. Through subtle hints and clues, Spiegelman foreshadows future events, creating suspense and anticipation. An example of this is when Art's father, Vladek, mentions his first wife and children who died during the war, foreshadowing the tragic fate that awaits them. Additionally, the use of flashbacks is a significant literary device in "Maus." The narrative frequently shifts between the present and past, offering glimpses into Vladek's experiences during the Holocaust. These flashbacks provide crucial context, deepen character development, and offer a layered understanding of the historical events. Moreover, the graphic novel format itself is a distinct literary device in "Maus." The combination of visuals and text allows for a unique storytelling experience, providing visual cues and imagery that enhance the emotional impact of the narrative. The illustrations contribute to the overall narrative structure and create a powerful synergy between the words and images.

First and foremost, Art Spiegelman's groundbreaking work revolutionized the graphic novel medium. "Maus" demonstrated the artistic and narrative potential of the graphic format, elevating it from mere entertainment to a serious and respected literary form. Its success opened doors for other graphic novels to explore complex themes and historical events. In terms of Holocaust representation, "Maus" introduced a new perspective by using anthropomorphic animals to depict the characters, reflecting the dehumanization and brutality of the Holocaust itself. This innovative approach challenged traditional portrayals and expanded the possibilities of Holocaust storytelling. Moreover, "Maus" sparked critical discussions about trauma, memory, and the transmission of history. Spiegelman's exploration of his father's experiences as a Holocaust survivor highlighted the intergenerational impact of trauma and the complexities of memory. This prompted a reevaluation of how personal narratives and collective memory shape our understanding of historical events.

1. "Maus" was the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize. In 1992, Art Spiegelman's groundbreaking work received the Pulitzer Prize Special Citation, marking a significant moment in the recognition of graphic novels as a legitimate form of literature. 2. "Maus" has been translated into over 30 languages, reaching a global audience and resonating with readers worldwide. Its powerful storytelling and unique visual style have transcended cultural boundaries, making it a universally acclaimed and widely read work.

Maus is an important subject for an essay due to its exceptional contribution to literature and its innovative narrative style. The graphic novel by Art Spiegelman delves into the Holocaust and its aftermath, presenting a poignant and deeply personal account of the author's father's experiences as a survivor. By using anthropomorphic animal characters to represent different groups, Spiegelman creates a powerful metaphorical framework that explores complex themes of identity, trauma, memory, and the impact of historical events on individuals and generations. Writing an essay about Maus provides an opportunity to delve into the unique literary and artistic techniques employed by Spiegelman, such as the use of panels, visual symbolism, and interweaving narratives. It allows for an examination of the graphic novel's impact on the acceptance and recognition of the genre as a form of serious literature. Additionally, an essay on Maus can shed light on the Holocaust's ongoing relevance, the responsibility of memory, and the power of storytelling in confronting historical atrocities. Overall, Maus prompts critical analysis and deep reflection, making it a compelling and important subject for an essay.

"I cannot forget it...tonight, you have made me hate you, and the whole ghetto, because of this ridiculous uniform you're wearing!" "Friends? Your friends...if you lock them together in a room with no food for a week...then you could see what it is, friends!" "I'm tired of hearing about the Holocaust!" "Richieu, my brother, where are you now?" "To die, it's easy...but you have to struggle for life!"

1. Rothberg, M., & Spiegelman, A. (1994). " We Were Talking Jewish": Art Spiegelman's" Maus" as" Holocaust" Production. Contemporary Literature, 35(4), 661-687. ( 2. Young, J. E. (1998). The Holocaust as Vicarious Past: Art Spiegelman's" Maus" and the Afterimages of History. Critical Inquiry, 24(3), 666-699. ( 3. Orbán, K. (2007). Trauma and Visuality: Art Spiegelman's Maus and In the Shadow of No Towers. Representations, 97(1), 57-89. ( 4. Tabachnick, S. E. (1993). Of Maus and memory: the structure of Art Spiegelman's graphic novel of the Holocaust. Word & Image, 9(2), 154-162. ( 5. Tabachnick, S. E. (2004). The religious meaning of Art Spiegelman's Maus. Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies, 22(4), 1-13. ( 6. Spiegelman, A. (2008). Maus I & II. Historia de un sobreviviente: Y aquí comenzaron mis problemas. ( 7. Knowles, S. (2015). The postcolonial graphic novel and trauma: From Maus to Malta. Postcolonial traumas: memory, narrative, resistance, 83-96. (

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maus essay questions

80 Maus Essay Topic Ideas & Examples

🏆 best maus topic ideas & essay examples, ⭐ interesting topics to write about maus, ✅ simple & easy maus essay titles, ❓ maus essay questions.

  • Guilt in “Maus: A Survivor’s Tale” by Art Spiegelman Maus, through the comic, explains the Holocaust through his father’s experience, and we see that it was not an easy place to come out because of the horrors and mistreatment in the concentration camps.
  • Maus: A Survivor’s Tale My Father Bleeds History Art Spiegelman magnificently links the past and the present graphically to narrate his father’s surviving the Holocaust and his relations with the father.
  • Jewish Experience in «Maus» by Art Spiegelman Published in 1991 and written by Art Spiegelman, the MAUS is a book that provides the account of the author’s effort of knowing his Jewish parents’ experience, following the Holocaust as well as their survival […]
  • Rhetorical Awareness in the First Chapters of “Maus” by Spiegelman Once again, adding this scene demonstrates Spiegelman’s awareness that most of his audience would not have a direct and personal connection to the Holocaust.
  • A Survivor’s Tale: “Maus” by Spiegelman This desire to recall the good old days proves that the victims of the war prefer to remember the pleasant times.
  • Visual Narrative of Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” Secondly, as mentioned above, there are two timelines in the novel, the first of which takes place in the present relative to the author of the time, and the second is the memories of one […]
  • Art Spiegelman’s Graphic Novel “Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale”: Author’s Understanding of the Holocaust Spiegelman uses mice to represent Jews because of the oppression they experienced while in Hitler’s concentration camps. The mistreatment the Jews experienced is similar to what mice experience in the presence of cats.
  • “Maus” and “Maus II” Stories by Art Spiegelman The short stories Maus and Maus II by Art Spiegelman are the examples of the innovative, not traditional approach to the topic of the Holocaust.
  • Armenian Genocide and Spiegelman’s “Maus” Novel Tracing the similarities between the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide is important to the discussion of Maus as a literary piece.
  • “Maus: A Survivor’s Tale” a Novel by Art Spiegelman Intertwined throughout the story is the turbulent and pragmatic relationship between Art and his elderly father. This was the root of the overwrought relationship that existed between Vladek and his son because he held his […]
  • Holocaust in “Maus” Graphic Novel by Art Spiegelman It is quite peculiar that Spiegelman uses only the black-and-white color perhaps, this is another means to emphasize the gloomy atmosphere of the Nazi invasion and the reign of the anti-Semite ideas.
  • “The Dew Breaker” and “Maus” Stories Comparison Despite the seeming difference in the details of each of the seven stores, there is the invisible and almost intangible connection between the seven parts of the book.
  • Nazi Regime in «Maus» by Art Spiegelman The author describes the life of his father Vladek Spiegelman before the Nazi occupation of Poland, during the Second World War, and the later influence of the Holocaust experiences on his personality.
  • The Long Term Effects of Trauma and the Strange Behaviors of Vladek in “Maus” by Art Spiegelman
  • Merging Past and Present in Art Spiegelman’s Complete “Maus” Tales
  • Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” and the Afterimages of History
  • Traumatic Experiences Change Lifestyles: “Maus” by Art Spiegelman
  • “Maus” and the Commandant of Lubizec
  • The Holocaust Survivor Testimonies in “Maus” by Art Spiegelman
  • “Maus” and the Psychological Effects of the Holocaust
  • The Life and Survival Story of Vladek Spiegelman in “Maus I” and “Maus II” by Art Spiegelman
  • “Maus” and the Worlds of Reality and Fiction
  • Art Spiegelman’s “Maus”: Graphic Art and the Holocaust
  • Art Spiegelman’s “Maus”: Prisoner on the Hell
  • Art Spiegelman’s Graphic Novel “Maus”: Holocaust and Its Impact on the Survivors and Their Children
  • “Maus” and Traplines: Father-Son Relationships Testimonies
  • “Maus” and the National Holocaust Museum: Comparing
  • Comparison of the Graphic Novels “Maus,” “Persepolis,” “Fun Home,” and “Barefoot Gen”
  • “Maus” and the Narrative of the Graphic Novel
  • Understanding the Holocaust Through Art Spiegelman’s “Maus”
  • Literary and Cinematic Works: “Maus” by Art Spiegelman
  • “Maus”: Memory and What It Means
  • Art Spiegelman’s “Maus”: Working Through the Trauma of the Holocaust
  • Comparing the Similarities and Differences Between the Holocaust Survival Stories in “Maus” and “Night”
  • “Maus” and Eden Robinson’s “Monkey Beach” Post Memory
  • “Maus” Analysis: Losing Through Surviving
  • The Concept of Guilt in the Novel “Maus”
  • The Visual Writing Style Features in the Novel “Maus”
  • Art Spiegelman’s “Maus”: Depictions of the Holocaust in Popular Art
  • Nazi Propaganda and “Maus” by Art Spiegelman
  • Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” and the Literary Canon
  • The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Spiegelman’s “Maus”: Comparison
  • Ethnic Notions, Bamboozled and “Maus”
  • Character Analysis for “Maus” by Art Spiegelman
  • Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” and Traditionally Comic Books
  • The Metaphor and Symbolism in “Maus”
  • Anthropomorphic Animals in Art Spiegelman’s Graphic Novel “Maus”
  • The Conflict Between Father and Son in “Maus”
  • “Maus” Through the Prism of Postmodernism
  • Art Spiegelman: Biography, Artist and “Maus”
  • “Maus”: Categories, Reproductions, and Interpretations
  • Personal, Social, and Cultural Contexts Established by the Frame Story in “Maus”
  • Post-modern Techniques in “Maus” by Art Spiegelman
  • What Does Anja Spiegelman Feel About the Smuggling Idea in “Maus”?
  • Does Artie Feel Guilty in “Maus”?
  • What Did You Learn About Humanity From Reading “Maus” and Why?
  • What Are the Long-Term Effects of Trauma and the Strange Behaviors of Vladek in “Maus”?
  • Why Is “Maus” Black and White?
  • Why Did Art Spiegelman Use Animals Instead of Humans in “Maus”?
  • Why Is Anja Sent to a Sanitarium in “Maus”?
  • What Is the Meaning of the Beard and Skullcap That Vladek’s Father Is Shown Earing in “Maus”?
  • Why Would Anja Be Helping a Communist in “Maus”?
  • How Is Perseverance Shown in “Maus”?
  • Why Does the Tin Shop Foreman Yidl Dislike Vladek in “Maus”?
  • What Is the Symbolism in “Maus”?
  • Why Do the Germans Hang Nahum Cohn and His Son in “Maus”?
  • What Do the Moths Represent in “Maus”?
  • How Is Merging Past and Present in Art Spiegelman’s Complete “Maus” Tales?
  • What Are the Major Themes in “Maus”?
  • What Did the Pigs Represent in “Maus”?
  • How Does Vladek’s Father Try to Keep Him Out of the Army in “Maus”?
  • Why Is “Maus” Called Maus?
  • What Age Is “Maus” Appropriate For?
  • How Does Present-Day Vladek’s Personality Compare to His Past Self in “Maus”?
  • How Did Vladek Change in “Maus”?
  • How Is the Conflict Between Father and Son Showed In “Maus”?
  • Why Does Vladek Choose Anja Over Lucia in “Maus”?
  • How Is Survival a Theme in “Maus”?
  • What Are the Psychological Effects of the Holocaust Described in “Maus”?
  • Chicago (A-D)
  • Chicago (N-B)

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UC Santa Barbara  > History Department >   Prof. Marcuse > Courses > Hist 33d Homepage > Hist 33d texts > Maus Resources Page

Reading Questions and Resources for Art Spiegelman's Maus (1986, 1991) last updated Feb. 12, 2022

Essay and Study Questions for Art Spiegelman, Maus, A Survivor's Tale

Below is a series of questions to guide your reading of the book. you are not supposed to answer all or even most of these questions in your paper (though you may find some to be relevant). the question for your paper is at the bottom of the page., note: english is not the first language of the father (vladek), so he speaks a kind of broken english. his dialogue makes more sense if you think of it being spoken with an eastern european accent., part 1: my father bleeds history, what is the significance of the opening scene of the book, why does the author include the details of his father's personal life why did the father not want him to, what does the story about his mother's conspiratorial activities tell us about pre-war poland, what was vladek's view of hitler initially, why did vladek's father not want him to serve in the military, what happened to vladek in the army, how did his pow experience differ from that of other poles why was he released, what was life like in occupied poland what specific mistreatments did they suffer, why did they show up for inspection, despite suspicions of german motives, why does the author include the reprint of his earlier comic about his mother, what happened to the idea of "family" as the noose tightened on poland's jews, why is vladek so obsessive about money and saving things why does this concern the author, why does the author call his father "murderer" at the end of part 1, part 2: and here my troubles began, why does art feel "presumpuous", why does he bring up his "ghost brother", how did vladek manage to gain certain privileges at auschwitz, what is different about the way art presents himself at the start of ch. 2, what does his survivor friend tell art about the meaning of survival, how did vladek contact and provide for anja, what kind of lessons does vladek draw from his experiences, how does vladek explain the lack of resistance among the jews at auschwitz, what happened as the russian approached the camp, was francoise right about vladek's attitude toward the hitch-hiker, how are the americans represented artistically and why, how does art end the book, and why, paper question, deadline april 21 (1000-1200 words), there are at least two major stories in maus : the "survivor's tale" of vladek, and the author's story of his relationship with his father. what do you think is art spiegelman's main purpose in wrting maus, and why what connection, if any, is there between the stories in the book (be sure in making your argument to quote directly from the entire book. citations may be simple parenthetical notes with the page number.).

maus essay questions

Art Spiegelman

Ask litcharts ai: the answer to your questions.

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Art Spiegelman's Maus . Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Maus: Introduction

Maus: plot summary, maus: detailed summary & analysis, maus: themes, maus: quotes, maus: characters, maus: symbols, maus: theme wheel, brief biography of art spiegelman.

Maus PDF

Historical Context of Maus

Other books related to maus.

  • Full Title: Maus: A Survivor’s Tale
  • When Written: 1978-1991
  • When Published: The first volume of Maus (“My Father Bleeds History”) was serialized in Raw magazine, beginning in 1980 and ending in 1991, when the magazine ceased publication. The first volume was published in book form in 1986. The second volume (“And Here My Troubles Began”) was published in 1991.
  • Literary Period: Postmodernism
  • Genre: Graphic Novel, Memoir
  • Setting: Poland and Germany (1930s and 40s); Rego Park, Queens (1970s and 80s); Catskill Mountains (1979); New York City (1987).
  • Climax: After years of moving between ghettos and hiding places, Vladek and Anja are sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
  • Antagonist: German soldiers and hostile Polish civilians are obvious antagonists for the Jews who are struggling to survive amidst persecution. However, the story also explores the many ways in which Jewish people — and others were who suffered alongside them in concentration camps and in war-torn Poland — harm and undermine one another in moments of desperation. Though Vladek and Anja are beneficiaries of amazing acts of kindness and humanity, and often do their best to help others in return, Maus shows clearly how danger and privation breed selfishness and callousness.
  • Point of View: First Person (Vladek and Artie); Third Person (Limited to Artie)

Extra Credit for Maus

Shoah. Some scholars and religious leaders have taken issue with the term “holocaust.” Though the word has been used for decades to refer to the genocide of European Jews, and has been used to describe other mass killings in history, it originates from a Greek word that means “a completely burnt offering to God.” Some argue that to refer to the genocide as a “holocaust” is to compare those murders to religious sacrifices — and that this comparison dignifies the violence and disrespects the victims. Many who disagree with the use of the term “holocaust” substitute “shoah,” a Hebrew term that translates as “catastrophe.”

A Controversial Metaphor. Spiegelman faced criticism, after Maus ’s publication, for his use of animal heads in place of human faces. Because different animals correspond to different ethnicities, he was accused of perpetuating Nazi-like divisions between people of different races, and further dehumanizing the same people Nazis had tried to dehumanize through their violence. The book found a particularly harsh audience in Poland, where many were insulted by the depiction of Polish people as pigs.

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Best maus discussion questions

Home » Questions » Best maus discussion questions

Maus, a graphic novel by Art Spiegelman, is a powerful and thought-provoking work that explores the Holocaust through the eyes of the author’s father, Vladek. The book has garnered critical acclaim and is often studied in schools and universities. To delve deeper into the themes and messages of Maus, discussion questions can be incredibly helpful. These questions encourage readers to reflect on the story, its characters, and the historical context. In this article, we have compiled a list of 40 Maus discussion questions to facilitate meaningful conversations and analysis.

Before diving into the questions, it is important to note that Maus is a poignant and sensitive piece of literature. The Holocaust is a tragic event in history, and discussing it requires empathy and respect. These questions are designed to foster understanding and provoke thoughtful responses, but it is crucial to approach the topic with sensitivity.

Now, let’s explore the Maus discussion questions that will help you engage with the novel on a deeper level:

See these Maus discussion questions

  • How does the use of animals as characters contribute to the storytelling in Maus?
  • What impact does the graphic novel format have on the reader’s experience?
  • How does the portrayal of Vladek change throughout the book?
  • Discuss the role of guilt in Maus and its effect on the characters.
  • What do you think Spiegelman’s purpose was in including his own story alongside his father’s?
  • What are the similarities and differences between Art and Vladek as characters?
  • How does the use of black and white imagery contribute to the overall tone of the graphic novel?
  • Discuss the relationship between Art and his wife, Francoise, and how it is depicted in Maus.
  • What is the significance of the recurring image of masks and disguises in the book?
  • How does Maus challenge traditional notions of storytelling and memoir?
  • Discuss the role of memory and its reliability in Maus.
  • What does the character of Anja represent in the story?
  • Examine the theme of survival in Maus and how it is portrayed.
  • Discuss the impact of Vladek’s experiences during the Holocaust on his relationships.
  • What does the use of different languages in the dialogue represent?
  • How does Maus explore the concept of identity?
  • Discuss the significance of the book’s title, Maus, and its multiple meanings.
  • What does the portrayal of Nazis as cats and Jews as mice symbolize?
  • Examine the role of art itself in Maus and its connection to memory and storytelling.
  • Discuss the impact of trauma on the characters in the novel.
  • What does the character of Mala represent in the story?
  • How does the theme of father-son relationships manifest in Maus?
  • Discuss the portrayal of women in the graphic novel.
  • What is the significance of the comic-within-a-comic, “Prisoner on the Hell Planet”?
  • Examine the theme of responsibility in Maus and how it is portrayed.
  • Discuss the impact of historical events on personal lives in the novel.
  • What does the use of anthropomorphism contribute to the narrative?
  • How does Maus challenge the traditional boundaries of literature and art?
  • Discuss the role of silence and absence in the story.
  • What does the character of Richieu represent in Maus?
  • Examine the theme of generational trauma and its effects on the characters.
  • Discuss the significance of the book’s cover art and its symbolism.
  • What does the portrayal of the Holocaust’s aftermath reveal?
  • How does Maus explore the theme of betrayal?
  • Discuss the impact of Vladek’s frugality on his relationships.
  • What does the use of panels and page layout contribute to the storytelling?
  • Examine the theme of storytelling itself in Maus.
  • Discuss the portrayal of guilt and forgiveness in the graphic novel.
  • What does the character of Pavel represent in the story?
  • How does Maus depict the dehumanization of Jews during the Holocaust?
  • Discuss the use of metaphor and symbolism in the graphic novel.
  • What does the portrayal of the Holocaust survivors’ guilt reveal?
  • Examine the theme of family and its complexities in Maus.
  • Discuss the impact of Vladek’s survival instincts on his relationships.
  • What does the use of color symbolism represent in the book?

These Maus discussion questions provide a starting point for exploring the many layers of the graphic novel. By engaging in thoughtful conversations, readers can gain a deeper understanding of the Holocaust, the power of storytelling, and the complexities of human relationships.

Related Post:

Best maus chapter 4 questions and answers

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maus essay questions

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English & EAL

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

Yii-Huei Phang

December 1, 2020

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‍ The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response .

  • Introduction
  • Analysing Techniques in Visual Texts

1. Introduction

The Complete Maus is a graphic novel that depicts the story of Vladek Spiegelman , a Polish Jewish Holocaust survivor who experienced living in the ghettos and concentration camps during the Nazi regime. Vladek’s son, Art has transformed his story into a comic book through his interviews and encounters which interweaves with Art’s own struggles as the son of a Holocaust survivor, as well as the complex and difficult relationship with his father.

Survival is a key theme that is explored during Vladek’s experience in concentration camps and his post-Holocaust life. 

For example, Vladek reflects that “You have to struggle for life” and a means of survival was through learning to be resourceful at the concentration camps.

maus essay questions

Resourcefulness is depicted through the physical items Vladek keeps or acquires, as well as through Vladek’s skills . For example, Vladek explains to Art that he was able to exploit his work constantly through undertaking the roles of a translator and a shoemaker in order to access extra food and clothing by being specially treated by the Polish Kapo .

maus essay questions

He even wins over Anja’s Kapo to ensure that she would be treated well by not being forced to carry heavy objects. Vladek’s constant recounts and reflections symbolise survival, as Vladek was willing and able to use his skill set to navigate through the camp’s work system.

maus essay questions

During the concentration camps, food and clothes also became a currency due to its scarcity and Vladek was insistent on being frugal and resourceful , which meant that he was able to buy Anja’s release from the Birkenau camp.

maus essay questions

Although survival is a key theme, the graphic novel explores how Holocaust survivors in The Complete Maus grapple with their deep psychological scars. 

maus essay questions

Many of those who survived the war suffered from depression and was burdened with ‘survivor’s guilt’. This can be seen through the character of Art’s mother, Anja, as 20 years after surviving the death camps, she commits suicide. After having lost so many of her friends, and families, she struggled to find a reason as to why she survived but others didn’t. Throughout the graphic novel, her depression is apparent. In a close-up shot, Anja appears harrowed and says that “I just don’t want to live”, lying on a striped sofa to convey a feeling of hopelessness as if she was in prison. Her ears are additionally drawn as drooped, with her hands positioned as if she was in prison in the context is that she must go to a sanatorium for her depression.

maus essay questions

It is not only Anja’s guilt that is depicted, but also Art himself who feels partly responsible. Art feels that people think it is his fault as he says that “They think it’s MY fault!” and in one panel, Art is depicted behind bars and that “[He] has committed the perfect crime“ to illustrate that he feels a sense of guilt in that he never really was the perfect son. He believes he is partly responsible for her death, due to him neglecting their relationship. Spiegelman also gives insight to readers of a memory of his mother where she asks if he still loves her, he responds with a dismissive ‘sure’ which is a painful reminder of this disregard. 

Intergenerational Gap

Art constantly ponders how he is supposed to “make any sense out of Auschwitz’ if he “can’t even make any sense out of [his] relationship with [his] father”. As a child of Jewish refugees, Art has not had the same first-hand horrific experiences as his parents and in many instances struggles to relate to Vladek’s stubborn and resourceful tendencies. Art reflects on this whilst talking to Mala about when he would not finish everything his mother served, he would “argue til I ran to my room crying”. This emphasises how he didn’t understand wastage or frugality even from a very young age, unlike Vladek.

maus essay questions

Spiegelman also conveys to readers his sense of frustration with Vladek where he feels like he is being treated like a child, not as an adult. For example, Art is shocked that Vladek would throw out one of Art’s coats and instead buy a new coat, despite Vladek’s hoarding because he is reluctant and feels shameful to let his son wear his “old shabby coat”. This act could be conveyed to readers that Vladek is trying to give Art a life he never had and is reluctant to let his son wear clothes that are ‘inappropriate’ in his eyes. However, from Art’s perspective, he “just can’t believe it” and does not comprehend his behaviour.

Since we're talking about themes, we've broken down a theme-based essay prompt (one of five types of essay prompts ) for you in this video:

3. Analysing Techniques in Visual Texts

The Complete Maus is a graphic novel that may seem daunting to analyse compared to a traditional novel. However, with countless panels throughout the book, you have the freedom to interpret certain visuals so long as you give reasoning and justification, guiding the teacher or examiner on what you think these visuals mean. Here are some suggested tips:

Focus on the Depiction of Characters

maus essay questions

Spiegelman may have purposely drawn the eyes of the Jewish mice as visible in contrast to the unapparent eyes of the Nazis to humanise and dehumanise characters. By allowing readers to see the eyes of Jewish mice, readers can see the expressions and feelings of the character such as anger and determination . Effectively, we can see them as human characters through their eyes. The Nazis’ eyes, on the other hand, are shaded by their helmets to signify how their humanity has been corrupted by the role they fulfill in the Holocaust.

maus essay questions

When the readers see their eyes, they appear sinister , with little slits of light. By analysing the depictions and expressions of characters, readers can deduce how these characters are intended to be seen.

Look at the Background in Each Panel

Throughout the graphic novel, symbols of the Holocaust appear consistently in the background. In one panel, Art’s parents, Anja and Vladek have nowhere to go, a large Swastika looms over them to represent that their lives were dominated by the Holocaust.

maus essay questions

Even in Art’s life, a panel depicts him as working on his desk with dead bodies surrounding him and piling up to convey to the reader that the Holocaust still haunts him to this day, and feels a sense of guilt at achieving fame and success at their expense.

maus essay questions

Thus, the constant representation of symbols from the Holocaust in Spiegelman’s life and his parents’ past in the panels’ background highlights how inescapable the Holocaust is emotionally and psychologically . 

Size of Panels

maus essay questions

Some of the panels in the graphic novel are of different sizes which Spiegelman may have intended to emphasise the significance of certain turning points, crises or feelings . For example, on page 34, there is a disproportionate panel of Vladek and Anja passing a town, seeing the first signs of the Nazi regime compared to the following panels. All the mice seem curious and concerned, peering at the Nazi flag behind them. This panel is significant as it marks the beginning of a tragic regime that would dominate for the rest of their lives.

You should also pay close attention to how some panels have a tendency to overlap with each other which could suggest a link between events, words or feelings.

Although not specifically targeted at Text Response, 10 Things to Look for in Cartoons is definitely worth a read for any student studying a graphic novel!

Get our FREE VCE English Text Response mini-guide

Now quite sure how to nail your text response essays? Then download our free mini-guide, where we break down the art of writing the perfect text-response essay into three comprehensive steps. Click below to get your own copy today!

maus essay questions

Struggling to answer the essay topic?

Has your teacher ever told you:

"You're not answering the prompt"

"You're going off topic"

Then you're not alone! If you struggle to understand and stay on topic, learn how to answer the prompt every time with our How To Write A Killer Text Response study guide.

maus essay questions

Whether you consider yourself a Frankenstein expert, or someone who is a bit taken back by the density of the novel and Shelley’s writing, do not fret! Below I will outline 3 tips which, will hopefully give you a clearer perspective on how to approach writing on Frankenstein! Let’s get started!


Since the book was set during the Age of Enlightenment and the Romantic era, Shelley essentially used Frankenstein as a vessel to criticise and warn readers against many of the values upheld during her era. It’s therefore crucial that you address this!

The late 18th century and the first decades of the 19th century were exciting times for science and exploration. Shelley’s two main protagonists, Walton and Frankenstein, both passionately sough to discover what had previously been hidden. Walton wanted to be the first to find a passage through the Arctic Circle; Frankenstein wanted to be the first to create manmade life, to uncover the mysteries of Nature.  Both men claimed to be desirous of benefitting humankind but both wanted glory more. This obsession to win accolades for their discoveries will destroy Victor, and turn Walton for a while into a hard taskmaster over his crew.

Juxtaposed against these two characters is Henry Clerval. Clerval, too, has an inquiring mind but he also cares about humanity, family and friends. He represents the balanced human being who is sociable, compassionate, intelligent and loyal to his friends. Victor’s ability to reanimate the dead, to bring to life his gigantic Creature using the newly discovered electricity, makes him a genius but also a monster. In his inexperience he botches the work producing a hideous and terrifying creature with, ironically, initially all the virtues of the ideal man of he world. Repulsed by his amateurish handiwork, Victor abandons his creation, setting in place the vengeance that will unfold later.

Try to ground any response to Shelley’s text in the enormous enthusiasm for new discoveries and new geographic phenomena that attracted lavish praise for those who went where others feared to tread. It was this praise that drove Walton and Frankenstein to exceed reasonable expectations becoming reckless and careless of the consequences of their actions.


Walton, Frankenstein and the Creature are interconnected in so many ways – whether it be their isolation, ambition, desire for companionship, desire for vengeance or the Romantic values they share. I’ve also noted that it is also really easy to connect themes in Frankenstein as the tragic story-arc of the novel is built upon many different causes. What I mean by this is that there is a clearly define relationship between isolation, ambition and vengeance (and ultimately tragedy) in the sense that isolation is what led to the brewing of unchecked ambition which essentially causes the resultant tragedy.

Take Frankenstein for example: having left his loving family and friends, who provided him with love and companionship for Ingolstadt, there was no one to hold him back from his natural tendencies towards unchecked ambitions, leading him to creating the monster who out of spite towards society kills all of Frankenstein’s loved ones, leading them towards the desire for mutual destruction. Being able to see these links and draw them together will not only add depth to your writing but it also arms you with the ability to be able to deal with a wider array of prompts.


While Walton, Frankenstein and the Creature can be discussed incredibly thoroughly (and by all means go ahead and do it), but it is also very important to consider the novel as a whole and talk about, if not more thoroughly, on the minor characters. While characters such as the De Laceys, villagers and the rustic in the forest can be used to highlight the injustices brought upon the creature and people’s natural instincts of self preservation and prejudice, innocent characters such as Elizabeth and Justine can be used to emphasise the injustice of society and the consequences of unchecked ambition and isolation.

Henry Clerval (like previously mentioned) can be contrasted against Walton and his best friend Frankenstein to show that as long as we have a balanced lifestyle and companionship, ambition will not lead us to ruin. Characters such as the Turkish merchant can also have parallels drawn with Frankenstein in telling how our selfish desire and actions, born out of inconsideration for their consequences, can backfire with great intensity. Lastly the character of Safie (someone I used a lot in my discussions) can be compared and contrasted with the Creature to show the different treatment they receive despite both being “outsiders” to the De Laceys due to their starkly different appearances.

Mentioning these characters and utilising these contrasts can be monumental in showing your understanding of the novel and by extension, your English analytical ability.

[Video Transcription]

‍ Hey guys, I'm Lisa, welcome back to Lisa's Study Guides. Today, we're going to be talking about Frankenstein and breaking down an essay topic for it. So in the past, I've done plenty of videos looking at different types of essay topics and breaking them down by looking at keywords and then going into the body paragraphs and looking at those ideas. This time round, the takeaway message that I want you to leave with is understanding what types of evidence you should be using inside your body paragraphs. Specifically, I wanted to talk about literary devices or metalanguage. Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein uses so many literary devices that it's impossible to ignore. If you are somebody who is studying this text or other texts that you use and are heavily embedded with literary techniques, then it's really important that you don't just use dialogue as part of your quotes, but actually reading between the lines. I'll teach you on how it's not just about finding dialogue, which you include as quotes inside your body paragraphs, but reading between the lines, so looking at literary devices like metaphors, symbols, imagery, so let's get started. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein constitutes escaping critique of the prioritization of scientific advancement over human welfare and relationship. Dr. Frankenstein is fascinated with science and discovery, he is consumed with the idea of a new and more noble race by stitching up dead body parts from a cemetery. He feverishly works away at his experiment until one day the creature is born. Frankenstein is horrified at the living thing he has made and completely rejects the creature, leaving it without a parental figure. The creature is left alone to look after himself. He educates himself and on repeated occasions tries to approach people in society, however, is rejected every time because of his monstrous appearance. As a result, the creature becomes enraged at humanity and Frankenstein's unfair treatment towards him and consequently exacts revenge on Frankenstein and his family. The essay topic we'll be looking at today is, Our sympathies in this novel ultimately lie with the creature. Discuss. So in previous videos, we've looked at keywords, how to identify them and how to define them. Since it's pretty straightforward for this essay topic, I thought I would skip that part and then go into the more nitty gritty with the body paragraphs. But, if you are unfamiliar with these steps, then I'll link them in the card above and also in the description below so you can have a look at how I went ahead and did the keyword section in my planning, now back to the prompt. Unequivocally within Frankenstein, Shelley portrays sympathy as spread throughout the text through depicting the creature as innately human through his desire for relationship and the challenges he faces at the hands of the prejudice enlightenment society he's born into, Shelley elicits sympathy for his situation. However, through the notable absence of the female gender throughout the text, Shelley portrays those silent within society as most deserving of sympathy. So, with this in mind, here are the potential paragraphs in response to this prompt. Paragraph one, Shelley's depiction of the creature as innately human motivates support for his challenges at the hands of a prejudice society. The action of the creature to open his dull yellow eye, symbolic of his nature as a human being alongside a green wrinkled on his cheeks, with one hand stretched out, indicates his simple desire for paternal connection. Through constructing the creature's actions as innately human Shelley acts proleptically of the inequitable experiences the creature will experience throughout the structural architecture of the text. And through doing so, depicts his character as worthy of support. Similarly, through the metaphor of fire, Shelley explores the duality of progress and innovation of which the creature desires. The fire, one that gives light as well as heat, yet also causes a cry of pain, indicates the hardships of the creature in his isolation, whereby, his forced to withdraw from his desire for education. Upon viewing himself in a pool, the creature becomes "fully convinced that I was in reality [a] monster" with the consequent sensations of despondency and mortification granting the reader the opportunity to sympathize with the creature in order to indicate the intensely negative social prejudices that are inflicted upon the creature. So you can see that we've looked at symbols of the creature's nature and the metaphor of fire to support our topic sentence. Using literary techniques is what's going to make the difference between you and another student who might be saying the same thing. Why? Because when you look at literary devices, it means that you're reading just beyond the lines, just beyond what's in front of you. You're now introducing your own interpretation, so you're looking at fire and thinking about what that means in connection to the text, and why Mary Shelley would use the term of a fire and revolve her discussion around that. So let's see how we keep doing this in the next body paragraph. Paragraph two, Shelley indicates the significance of relationships as a key element of human nature that the creature is denied, motivating affinity from readers. In replacement of human relationships, the creature rather seeks comfort within the natural world. The metaphorical huge cloak that the creature takes refuge within indicates this, illustrative of an ecosystem, the forest allows the creator to surround himself with life. The subsequent attempts to "imitate the pleasant songs of the birds" reveals the desperate urge of the creature for companionship as he is abandoned by the paternal relationship represented by Victor Frankenstein, which forms a core of human relationships. Again, here we've discussed the metaphorical huge cloak and its connection with the forest, I strongly encourage you to have the goal of discussing at least one literary device per body paragraph. And no, there is no such thing as talking about too many literary devices because it's really just about whether or not your argument is concise and whether or not you're backing that up with evidence. Paragraph three. However, it is Shelley's depiction of the submissive female sex within Frankenstein that becomes most deserving of sympathy. Each female character is characterized as passive, disposable, and they're serving a utilitarian function, namely as a channel of action for the male characters within the text. Notably, the complete lack of absence of Margaret Saville, functioning only as an audience for Walton's letters exemplifies this. Margaret's role within the text is simply to enable Walton to relay the story of Frankenstein and as such were the most necessary character of the texts whilst the most distant. This ironic dichotomy enables Shelley to exemplify the difficult role of the female within society, arising sympathy from the readership. Here, even the purposeful emission of a character is discussed as a language technique. So, this type of literary device definitely tops the cake because you're literally looking at what's not even there. That's definitely reading between the lines. Frankenstein is a very complex novel, and sometimes that's what makes it a difficult text to study. But, it lends itself to many unique interpretations and it's heavily dressed with heaps of literary devices or metalanguage, however you want to call it. So, that's what makes it an absolutely fantastic text for high school students to study. If you wanted to find out more on how to nail a Frankenstein essay, then I'll link you to my blog just down below, because there are definitely more tips there to help you excel in this particular text. Thank you so much for watching, and especially even if you're not studying this text, I hope you've been able to take something away from this video. And I'm confident that you have because talking about literary devices is definitely a topic that isn't necessarily the fore front of discussion in classrooms, and it's something that a lot of people struggle with. So, I hope you are able to walk away with a new goal in sight in order to improve your English essays. So, I will see you guys next time, thank you so much for joining me, see you guys soon. Bye!

Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller Rear Window was released nearly 65 years ago. Back then, Hitchcock was a controversial filmmaker just starting to make waves and build his influence in Hollywood; now, he is one of the most widely celebrated directors of the 20th century. At the time of its 1954 release, Rear Window emerged into a world freshly shaken by World War II. The fear of communism riddled American society and Cold War tensions were escalating between the two global superpowers, the USSR and USA. Traditional gender stereotypes and marital roles were beginning to be challenged, yet the ‘old way’ continued to prevail. The culture of the 1950s could hardly be more different to what it is today. Within the Western world, the birth of the 21st century has marked the decline of cemented expectations and since been replaced by social equality regardless of gender, sexual preference and age. So why , six decades after its original release and in a world where much of its content appears superficially outdated , do we still analyse the film Rear Window ?

Rear Window is a film primarily concerned with the events which L.B. (Jeff) Jefferies, a photographer incapacitated by an accident which broke his leg, observes from the window of his apartment. He spends his days watching the happenings of the Greenwich Village courtyard, which enables Jeff to peer into the apartments and lives of local residents. The curiosities which exist in such an intimate setting fulfil Jeff’s instinctual need to watch. The act of observing events from a secure distance is as tempting as reality television and magazines. To this day, these mediums provide entertainment tailored to popular culture. At its roots, Jeff’s role as a voyeur within Rear Window is designed to satisfy his intense boredom in a state of injury. As the film is seen through Jeff’s voyeuristic eyes, the audience become voyeurs within their own right. Until relations between Thorwald and his wife simmer into territory fraught with danger, Jeff’s actions are the harmless activities of a man searching for entertainment.

So, if Rear Window teaches us that voyeurism is a dangerous yet natural desire , does the film comment on the individuals who consent to being watched? Within Greenwich Village, Jeff’s chance to act as an observer is propelled by the indifference of those he observes. Almost without exception, his neighbours inadvertently permit Jeff’s eyes wandering into their apartments by leaving their blinds up. The private elements of others’ lives, including their domestic duties, marital relations and indecencies, are paraded before Jeff. Greenwich Village is his picture show and its residents willingly raise the stage’s curtains . This presentation of Hitchcock’s 1954 statement remains relevant today. Jeff’s neighbours’ consent to his intrusion into their lives bears striking similarities to current indifference. The prevalence of social media enables information to be gathered as soon as its users click the ‘Accept Terms & Conditions’ button. Rear Window is a commentary on social values and provokes its audience to examine habits of their own, especially in a world where sensitive information is at our fingertips. Just as Hitchcock’s 1954 characters invite perversive eyes to inspect their lives, society today is guilty of the same apathy .

The characters of Hitchcock’s thriller are a pivotal element of the film’s construction. They add layers of depth to the text and fulfil roles central to the plot’s development. One of Hitchcock’s fundamental directorial decisions was leaving multiple characters unnamed – within Greenwich Village alone, we meet Miss Lonelyhearts, Miss Torso and Miss Hearing Aid. The stereotypical nature of these labels, based on superficial traits that Jeff observes from his window, exemplifies the sexism prevalent in the 1950s. Jeff’s knowledge of these women is limited to such an extent that he does not know their names, yet considers himself qualified enough to develop labels for each of them. The historical background of stereotypes is imbedded within Rear Window and shares vast similarities with the stereotypes we recognise today.

Hitchcock’s 1954 thriller Rear Window portrays a little world that represents the larger one . Its themes, primarily voyeurism, and character profiles illustrate Hitchcock’s societal messages and provide a running commentary on issues which govern America during the 1950s. In the six decades since the film’s release, the Western world has undergone significant developments both socially and culturally. L.B (Jeff) Jefferies’ perception of women and married life is inconsistent with the relations between men and women that we observe today. Regardless, the timeless views that Hitchcock’s conveys through Rear Window continue to speak volumes about our society. Jeff’s voyeurism, which comprises much of the film’s major plotline, is a channel for Hitchcock to comment about the instinctual desire for individuals to observe others. Additionally, Hitchcock delves into the flip side of this matter, presenting the theory that those he watches are just as guilty of allowing his intrusion into their private lives. Apathetic mindsets in today’s digital world are responsible for the same indifference that Hitchcock explores within his film. Let’s not forget the sexist stereotypes that Jeff develops to label certain women within Greenwich Village. Miss Lonelyhearts, Miss Torso and Miss Hearing Aid are all victims of Jeff’s narrow mindset towards women, emphasised by these superficial and demeaning names. Stereotypes remain as apparent within society today as they were within the world of Rear Window and can be identified within the media’s diverse presentation of social issues. It is easy to assume that Hitchcock’s 1954 thriller, Rear Window , lacks the relevancy we expect from films. Contrary to this perception, its ingrained messages are fundamentally true to this day.

We’ve all been doing Text Response essays from as young as Year 7. At this point in VCE, we should be feeling relatively comfortable with tackling themes and characters in our essays. However, the danger with just discussing themes and characters is that we often fall into the trap of simply paraphrasing the novel, or retelling the story. So how do we elevate our essays to become more sophisticated and complex analyses that offer insight?

Before reading on, make sure you've read our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response .

An important distinction to be aware of is that the expectation of Year 11 English was geared more toward themes and characters. However in Year 12, teachers and examiners expect students to focus on the author’s construction of the text . By keeping in mind that the text is a DELIBERATE CONSTRUCTION, this can help eliminate retelling. A good guideline to follow is to include the author’s name at least once every paragraph.

Some examples are:

- (author) elicits

- (author) endorses or condemns

- (author) conveys

Move beyond talking about character and relationships. How are those characters used to explore ideas? How are they used to show readers what the author values?

To explore the text BEYOND characters, themes and ideas, tackle the following criteria:

Social, cultural and historical values embodied in text

In other words, this means the context in which the text was written. Think about how that influenced the author, and how those views and values are reflected in the text. How does the author create social commentary on humanity?

For a more in-depth look into this issue and how to get it right in your essays, read Context and Authorial Intention in VCE English .

Linguistic structures and features

These involve the author’s use of symbols, metaphors, subtext, or genres. Consider why the author chose those particular words, images or symbols? What effect did it evoke within the reader? What themes or characters are embodied within these literary devices? Metalanguage is essential in VCE essays, so ensure you are confident in this field.

If the text is a film, it’s important to include why the director chose certain cinematography techniques . Comment on the mise-en-scene, camera angles, overview shots, close ups, flashbacks, soundtrack, to name a few. Or if it’s a play, examine the stage directions. These contain great detail of the author’s intentions.

How text is open to different interpretations

“While some may perceive… others may believe…” is a good guideline to follow in order to explore different angles and complexities of the text.

Skilful weaving in of appropriate quotes

This is how to create a well-substantiated essay. To weave in textual evidence, don’t simply ‘plonk’ in sentence long quotes. Instead, use worded quotes within your sentences so the transition is seamless.

Do you know how to embed quotes like a boss? Test yourself with our blog post here .

Strong turn of phrase

Ensure your essay is always linked to the prompt; don’t go off on an unrelated tangent. Linking words such as “conversely” or “furthermore” increase coherence within your essay. Begin each paragraph with a strong topic sentence, and finish each paragraph with a broader perception that links back to the topic and the next paragraph. To see what this looks like in practice, check out What Does Improving Your English Really Look Like? for multiple sample paragraphs.

This is also where having a wide range of vocabulary is crucial to presenting your ideas in a sophisticated manner. Create a word bank from assessor’s reports, sample essays, or teacher’s notes, and by the end of the year you’ll have an extensive list to choose from. Also, referring to literary devices contributes to a great vocabulary, exhibiting a strong turn of phrase!

Consider the topic

maus essay questions

What does it imply? Find the underlying message and the implications behind the prompt. There is always tension within the topic that needs to be resolved by the conclusion of your essay. A must-know technique to ensure you actually answer the prompt is by knowing the 5 types of different essay topics, and how your essay structure changes as a result. The How To Write A Killer Text Response ebook is a great way to learn how to identify the type of essay topic you have in front of you immediately, and start writing an A+ essay.

Finally, simply enjoy writing about your text! It will help you write with a sense of personal voice and a personal engagement with the text, which the teachers and assessors will always enjoy.

1. Summary 2. Themes 3. Symbols and Analysis 4. Quotes 5. Sample Essay Topics 6. Essay Topic Breakdown

Alice Munro is a Canadian Nobel-Prize-winning author of short stories , and Runaway , first published in 2004, is a collection of eight such stories (though kind of actually only six, because three of them are sequential). These stories examine the lives of Canadian women throughout the last century, but not all of them are necessarily realistic to what daily life actually looks like. Rather, Munro uses borderline-supernatural events (which some critics say feel staged or contrived) to shed light on the tensions and challenge s of gender in modern life.

This can mean that some of the stories are quite hard to follow; they go through all these twists and turns, and the lines between stories start blurring after a while. Let’s go through each in a bit more detail before jumping into our analysis.

2. Story-by-Story Characters and Summary

The titular story is about a woman Carla , her husband Clark , their goat Flora , and their elderly neighbour Sylvia Jamieson . There are many runaways in the story: Carla ran away from her middle-class home to marry Clark, Flora the goat literally runs away, a scandalous lie about Sylvia’s late husband gets a bit out of hand, and now Sylvia is helping Carla run away once again, this time from Clark. Few of these runaways are really very successful: this story is really interrogating why and how.


The next three stories are sequential, and revolve around Juliet , a well-educated classicist who is working as a teacher in the first story, ‘Chance’ - it is set in 1965 and she is 21. In this story, she meets her lover Eric Porteous on a train, then finds him again six months later. Eric is sleeping around with a few women in light of his wife’s declining health and eventual passing, but by ‘Soon’ he and Juliet have settled down and had a baby together - Penelope .

‘Soon’ focuses more on the relationship between Juliet and her parents, in particular her mother Sara . Juliet feels a bit out of place now at home, and feels guilty about not being more present for Sara. In turn, ‘Silence’ depicts her own daughter running away from her. Juliet returns to her studies and only hears about Penelope’s life through a chance encounter with a friend who reveals that Penelope is now a mother herself.

The next story is about Grace , an older woman revising the family home of her husband Maury Travers . Their marriage never had a lot of passion in it really - Grace was always more interested in Maury’s family - but both of them were just doing what was expected of them. The contrast comes from Maury’s brother Neil , a doctor who accompanies Grace on a hospital trip when she cuts her foot. This trip becomes longer and more sensual, feeling adulterous even though very little actually transpires between them - the story raises questions around what counts as cheating, and what marriages should entail. 

‘Trespasses’ is slightly deliberately disorienting from the start (which is actually the end of the story). We go on a flashback in the middle to learn about a father, Harry , and his daughter Lauren . One day when moving house, Lauren finds a cardboard box - Harry explains that it contains the ashes of a dead baby who he and his wife Eileen (Lauren’s mother) had had before Lauren. This leads to Lauren questioning if she was adopted, which is further complicated by Delphine , a worker at a hotel who seems to think Lauren is her biological daughter. The ending (which was teased at the beginning) is the evening of confrontation between the four characters where the truth is finally revealed. 

Conversely, ‘Tricks’ has a more linear plot to follow. Robin is a carer for her asthmatic sister Joanne , but she’s taken to watching Shakespeare plays in the next town once a year. One year, she meets a European clockmaker Danilo who plans to meet her next year when she is back in town - but this doesn’t go to plan at all. It’s only 40 years later that Robin finds out Danilo had a twin brother, which is why the plan had gone downhill.

The last story in the collection is arguably the most complex, and it’s broken into 5 parts to reflect that complexity. It follows Nancy as she ages from a fresh high school graduate to an old woman by the end of the sequence, including her marriage to the town doctor Wilf . Importantly, the stories also cover her friendship with Tessa , who has the supernatural powers mentioned in the title. However, by the third story, Tessa has been abandoned in a mental hospital and she has lost her powers. Throughout the stories, we also see Ollie , Wilf’s cousin (or a figment of Nancy’s imagination according to this analysis), who seems to be responsible for Tessa’s demise.

Let’s start tracing some of the common themes between the stories.

A key theme explored throughout many of the stories is marriage and domesticity . There’s a strong sense that it’s an underwhelming experience : it doesn’t live up to expectations and it particularly dampens the lives of the women involved. Nancy’s marriage to Wilf in ‘Powers’ only happens because she feels guilty - 'I could hardly [turn him down] without landing us both in…embarrassment' - but, as a result, she loses her fun, intellectual streak as he tells her to put down her book, 'give Dante a rest'. A similar fate befalls Juliet, who gives up her study in the process of becoming married.

 Marriage is also sometimes explored as a deliberate choice , even if it might have unintended consequences - for example, Carla’s marriage to Clark is described as a life that she 'chose'. This interpretation is more unclear though, and is contradicted in other stories like Passion, where Grace’s marriage is described as 'acquiescence ', acceptance without protest. It’s even contradicted to some extent in the same story: Munro compares Carla’s marriage to a 'captive' situation, where she might’ve chosen to enter the marriage, but after that has little say in how it goes.

This sounds a bit trite, but the title is a key theme as well - just not necessarily in the physical sense . Consider all of these different definitions and how they pop up in the stories. In ‘Runaway’, Carla and the goat run away, but also the lie Carla tells Clark about Leon, a runaway lie that taints his relationship with Sylvia completely. Some runaways are described as accidents - 'she – Flora – slipped through' - while others are much more deliberate. The question here is how much control we actually have over our own lives . Not a lot, it would seem.

The other side of runaway/s is to think about who the victim in each runaway is. Does somebody run away because they are 'in a bad situation, the way it happens', a victim of circumstance , or do they run away because they feel guilty , or because they’re abandoning someone else, the true victim of being left behind? Carla does seem like more of a victim of circumstance with good reason to run away, but think about Nancy leaving Tessa behind in ‘Powers’: ‘“I’ll write to you”, she said…she never did.’

This question about who the real victim is might be the hardest to answer for ‘Silence’. Juliet’s daughter abandons her, but it’s not like there’s a strong history of positive mother-daughter relationships in their family: Juliet wasn’t able to give Sara what she needed ( 'she had not protected Sara') and in turn isn’t able to quite give Penelope what she needs either (Penelope having a 'hunger for the things that were not available to her in her home '). At the same time, Penelope’s abandonment does feel quite callous and inexplicable , even if Juliet feels like it’s what she deserves; Munro suggests at the end of the story that a reunion would be an 'undeserved blessing[]'. The intertextuality with Aethiopica reveals Juliet’s good intentions, her similarity to the 'great-hearted queen of Ethiopia', but it doesn’t quite give us the satisfaction of a neat resolution either.

Ethics and Morality

Finally, Munro’s stories also raise questions around morality . Besides what we’ve already covered - adultery, runaways - there are further questions raised around parenthood , particularly in ‘Trespasses’. Harry seems to share a bit too much information with his child, who really doesn’t need to know about the dead baby just yet. Lauren is 'not short of information', and it’s worth questioning where that boundary should be for a child of her age.

But not all ethical questions have simple answers : as in ‘Tricks’ they can sometimes just have 'outrageous', cruel punchlines that don’t reveal themselves for decades. Munro doesn’t necessarily have all the answers on this one. She brings up complex moral situations but does not pass judgment on any.

4. Symbols & Analysis

Greek elements.

Throughout the stories, Munro brings in a few elements of Greek mythology or literature . The intertextuality in ‘Silence’ is one example, drawing on the classical text Aethiopica , but there are a few more scattered throughout the stories: the constellations of Orion and Cassiopeia in ‘Chance’ and an oracle-like figure in Tessa, a main character in ‘Powers’. All of these elements have some significance:

  • Cassiopeia is known for her arrogance and vanity, which parallels with the way Juliet detaches herself from her life ('she had made herself into a rather superior, invulnerable observer' - despite her very real vulnerabilities)
  • Orion is known for his forbidden romance with the virgin goddess Artemis, which parallels with Eric’s romance with Juliet (Juliet being relatively inexperienced with men herself, with all of her experiences being 'fantasy')
  • Oracles in mythology are like mouthpieces of the gods who can prophesy about the future. They were often women, so oracles were unusually influential in their male-dominated societies. The question is whether this parallels with Tessa at all: even though she has these supernatural powers, are there other forms of power she might lack instead?

In general, intertextuality is a way to enrich a text by drawing parallels and linking characters to existing stories or archetypes. Here, Munro uses classical texts to add dimension to her characters in a way that is almost-but-not-quite commentary. Pre-existing Greek myths are a way for us to see what’s really going on .

(Rail)Roads and Transit

The other symbol that comes up a few times in the stories is roads or railroads - basically places where runaways might happen . ‘Chance’ is set in the middle of a train journey, ‘Tricks’ involves a couple of train journeys, ‘Runaway’ maps the roads leading in and out of Carla’s home, and almost all of ‘Passion’ takes place on the road. If we broaden ‘places where runaways might happen’ to include planes as well, then we can add ‘Powers’ and ‘Silence’ to the list.

All of these spaces are what might be called liminal - they’re ‘in-between’ spaces with an air of suspense about what can happen. It’s probably most prominent in ‘Passion’, where Grace describes the events of that road trip as a 'passage” in her life, both physically and metaphorically. In general though, they’re the settings where the wildest and most significant events tend to happen.

  • 'She—Flora—slipped through.'
  • 'She (referring to Carla) chose this life with Clark.'
  • 'She is just in a bad situation, the way it happens.'
  • 'She saw him as the architect of the life ahead of them, herself as the captive, her submission both proper and exquisite.'
  • 'She might be free.' - this is the second last line in the story. Note the ambiguity here (and through all these quotes, to be honest) about which ‘she’ is being referred to (Carla, Flora or even Sylvia)
  • 'Juliet was twenty-one years old and already the possessor of a B.A. and an M.A. in classics.'
  • 'The problem was that she was a girl. If she got married—which might happen…—she would waste all her hard work.'
  • 'She had made herself into a rather superior, invulnerable observer.'
  • '…the two of them (referring to Sara and Juliet) intertwined. And then abruptly, Juliet hadn’t wanted any more of it.'
  • 'But she had not protected Sara. When Sara had said, soon I’ll see Juliet , Juliet had found no reply. Could it not have been managed?…She had put everything away.'
  • Penelope supposedly had a 'hunger for the things that were not available to her in her home.'
  • 'Penelope does not have a use for me.'
  • 'She hopes as people who know better hope for undeserved blessings, spontaneous remissions, things of that sort.'
  • Grace, watching a movie with Maury, felt 'rage…because that was what girls were supposed to be like. That’s what men - people, everybody - thought they should be like. Beautiful, treasured, spoiled, selfish, pea-brained. That was what a girl should be, to be fallen in love with.'
  • 'It was not in her nature, of course, to be so openly dumbfounded, so worshipful, as he was.'
  • 'Describing this passage, this change in her life, later on, Grace might say - she did say - that it was as if a gate had clanged shut behind her. But at the time there was no clang - acquiescence simply rippled through her.'
  • Lauren 'had been brought up to believe that children and adults could be on equal terms with each other.'
  • 'How could she be sure that they had not got her as a replacement? If there was one big thing she hadn’t known about, why could there not be another?'
  • 'Forgive us our trespasses' - note the ambiguity of ‘trespasses’ (does it mean sins as in the prayer, or overstepping boundaries, or both?)
  • 'Some of the best-looking, best-turned-out women in town are those who did not marry.'
  • 'A means to an end, those tricks are supposed to be.'
  • 'I couldn’t stand for the poor man (referring to Wilf) to have had two girls turn him down’
  • 'I used to have a feeling something really unusual would occur in my life, and it would be important to have recorded everything. Was that just a feeling?'
  • 'She could be upset to see you leave without her. So I’ll give you an opportunity just to slip away.'
  • 'He has nearly forgotten that he ever believed in her powers, he is now only anxious for her and for himself, that their counterfeit should work well.'

Having great quotes is one thing, but you also want to make sure you know How To Embed Quotes in Your Essay Like a Boss !

6. Sample Essay Topics

  • What does Runaway teach us about romance?
  • Carla, Grace and Tessa are more similar than different in terms of their relationships with the men in their lives. Do you agree?
  • How does Munro contrast younger and older women in Runaway ?
  • What does the setting contribute to the overall effect of Runaway ?
  • 'Forgive us our trespasses.' What types of boundaries are created and overstepped in Runaway ?

7. Essay Topic Breakdown

Whenever you get a new essay topic, you can use LSG’s THINK and EXECUTE strategy , a technique to help you write better VCE essays. This essay topic breakdown will give you a brief glimpse on the THINK part of the strategy. If you’re unfamiliar with this strategy, then check it out in How To Write A Killer Text Response .

Within the THINK strategy, we have 3 steps, or ABC. These ABC components are:

Step 1: A nalyse

Step 2: B rainstorm

Step 3: C reate a Plan

‘Forgive us our trespasses.’ What types of boundaries are created and overstepped in Runaway ?

Step 1: Analyse

This quote is from ‘Trespasses’ and captures the double meaning of the word as both overstepping physical boundaries and sinning in the moral or religious sense . It’s likely we’ll want to talk about both interpretations - physically trespassing but also encroaching on boundaries in immoral ways. Note that the prompt also includes the action words ‘created’ and ‘overstepped’, meaning that there’ll be a pretty diverse range of examples that we’ll need to use to answer this prompt comprehensively.

Step 2: Brainstorm

Let’s start with physical boundaries : Carla’s marriage and the fences on her property and the US-Canada border in ‘Powers’ come to mind. Then, we’ve got non-physical boundaries: emotionally as in ‘Chance’ and ethically as in ‘Trespasses’. This is where we start getting into whether these boundaries are created or overstepped .

Clark creates boundaries for Carla and her attempts to break free from them are unsuccessful. The border in ‘Powers’ is more of an excuse for Nancy to neglect Tessa, a boundary she creates and never makes the effort to overstep. Finally, the ethical boundaries in ‘Trespasses’ are overstepped from the get-go. How can we synthesise these ideas into one essay?

Step 3: Create a Plan

I think the trick with questions like this is not to just allocate different types of boundaries and/or different action words to each paragraph. Try to think of creative ways to string these ideas together that also build towards a bigger picture or overall contention about the text as a whole. This example plan explores physical and emotional boundaries but makes a bigger argument that they are often associated with regret in Munro’s stories.

‍ Paragraph 1 : Physical boundaries are both the most intentional and the most difficult to overstep.

  • Carla’s farmstead is isolated and bordered by roads; her marriage to Clark and her life on this farmstead is likened to a 'captive' situation, with Clark being the 'architect' of it all
  • Munro ends Runaway on a pessimistic note about Carla’s ability to leave this boundary: 'She might be free'
  • International borders also constitute physical barriers, and these are used by Nancy in ‘Powers’ to avoid responsibility; because this is an active decision (‘“I’ll write to you”, she said…she never did.’), it’s a barrier that never really gets broken. Similar to Penelope in ‘Silence’

Paragraph 2 : Munro’s stories, however, focus more on emotional boundaries , and the way these are applied varies greatly. This variation underscores their complexity .

  • Emotional boundaries when created can prevent intimacy: Juliet 'ma[kes] herself into a rather superior, invulnerable observer' so as to avoid commitment. These boundaries come back to bite when she has a daughter
  • Conversely, they cause a great deal of harm when overstepped: for example, ‘Trespasses’ sees 'crazy and dangerous' adults toy with the life of a child, constantly assuming that she 'can take it' when in fact this is not the case

Paragraph 3 : Regardless, Munro’s characters often come to regret the boundaries they erect or overstep.

  • Carla’s ambivalence about her marriage is tinged with regret either way: when she’s there, she wants to escape, and when she escapes, she questions if she has 'anything left in [her]'
  • Juliet reflects on the boundaries she puts up between herself and Penelope and realises that 'spontaneous remissions' between them are undeserved and impossible
  • In ‘Powers’, Nancy struggles with the guilt of abandoning Tessa: many years later, she still wants to 'open [the past] up' and understand her motives. However, it is too late, and the boundaries are already there
  • Munro does not suggest that boundaries are inherently good or bad, but her stories show how they can be sources of regret when treated improperly

Runaway is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Creative Response. Check out Audrey's blog on how to approach Runaway as a Creative Response for more.

For a detailed guide on Creative Response as a whole, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Creative Writing .

Picture this: you’re sitting down at your desk, fumbling your fingers, inspecting the new stationary that you convinced yourself you needed for year 12, resisting the urge to check your phone. Your text response SAC is in two weeks. You’re freaking out because you want, no, need an A+. You decide to write a practice essay for your English teacher. Practice makes perfect, right? You stay up for hours, pouring your heart and soul into this essay. The result? B+. Where did I go wrong?

That’s where I come in! Writing an A+ essay can be really tough without examples and specific advice. Before reading on, make sure you've read our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response and Golden Age blog so you are up to scratch.

In this article I will be explaining some basic dos and don’ts of writing an essay on The Golden Age , providing a model essay as an example. At the end of this blog is also a video based on another essay prompt to help you prepare for your Golden Age studies!

The following prompt will be referenced throughout the post;

‘The Golden Age’ shows that everyone needs love and recognition. Discuss.

Planning: the silent killer of A+ essays

I’m sure your teachers have emphasised the importance of planning. In case they haven’t, allow me to reiterate that great planning is compulsory for a great essay . However, flimsy arguments aren’t going to get you an A+. The examiners are looking for complex arguments , providing a variety of perspectives of the themes at hand. From the above prompt, the key word is, ‘discuss’. This means that you should be discussing the prompt, not blindly agreeing with it . Make sure you don’t write anything that wouldn’t sit right with London. ‍

Don’t plan out basic arguments that are one-dimensional. This may give you a pass in English, but won’t distinguish you as a top-scoring student.

For example:

  • Paragraph 1: The children at TGA need love and recognition.
  • Paragraph 2: Ida and Meyer need love and recognition
  • Paragraph 3: Sister Penny needs love and recognition.

The above paragraphs merely agree with the statement, but don’t delve into the many aspects of the novel that could contribute to a sophisticated essay.

Do create complex arguments, or paragraphs with a twist! If you can justify your argument and it makes sense, include it in your essay. There are many ways that you could answer this question, but my plan looks like this:

  • Paragraph 1: Frank Gold yearns for mature, adult love, not recognition from onlookers or outsiders
  • Paragraph 2: Ida Gold does not seek recognition from Australia, but love and validation from herself
  • Paragraph 3: Albert requires love from a specific kind of relationship – family, and Sullivan may view love from his father as pity which he rebukes

See the difference?

The introduction:

How to start your essay off with a bang.

Personally, I always struggled with starting an introduction. The examiners will be reading and marking thousands of essays, so if possible, starting your introduction with something other than Joan London’s ‘The Golden Age’… is a great way to make you stand out from the crowd. Having a strong start is essential to pave the way for a clear and concise essay. You could start with a quote/scene from the text! This is not essential, but it’s a great way to mix things up. This is my start:

Perhaps nothing exemplifies the power of love and recognition more than the bond between Albert Sutton and his older sister, Lizzie, in Joan London’s ‘The Golden Age’. Many of London’s characters exhibit suffering that requires compassion and support to heal and grow, to distinguish present from past. However, London explores the perspectives of such characters from different aspects of trauma, and emphasise that love and recognition do not always work to heal and mature. Frank Gold, the novel’s resident “sneaky” boy who adjusts to newfound life in the Golden Age Convalescent Home seeks love as an adult, rather than eliciting sympathy as a supposed victim. Here love and recognition are unsuccessful in amending Frank’s troubles when given from the perspective of an outsider, a judgemental onlooker. In a similar sense, Ida Gold seeks recognition not from Australia, who she views as a ‘backwater’, but validation in herself after having been ousted from her Hungarian identity. London, however, makes sure to emphasise the impact that Sullivan has on Frank Gold’s life. Sullivan, a boy only a few years older than Frank, seems content with his future, with his fate, despite his sacrifice of rugby and conventional life.  There is a lacking sense of urgency for love and recognition in Sullivan’s life, rather, it appears that Sullivan accepts his fate, regardless of his father’s sympathy or support. Thus, London explores a myriad of ways in which love and recognition may or may not heal wounds inflicted upon individuals.

Remember, there are many other ways you could start your essay.

The body paragraphs: To TEEL or not to TEEL?

I’m sure you’ve heard of TEEL countless times since year 7. Topic sentence, evidence, explanation, link. The truth is that these elements are all very important in a body paragraph. However, following a rigid structure will render your essay bland and repetitive. It is also extremely important to note that you should be using evidence from multiple points in the text , and you should be making sure that your paragraphs are directly answering the question . Write what feels natural to you, and most importantly, don’t abuse a thesaurus . If you can’t read your essay without rummaging for a dictionary every second sentence, you should rewrite it.  If vocabulary isn’t your strong point (it definitely isn’t mine!), focus on clean sentence structure and solid arguments. There’s nothing worse than you using a fancy word incorrectly.

Don’t overuse your thesaurus in an attempt to sound sophisticated, and don’t use the same structure for every sentence. For example:

Prematurely in the paperback London makes an allusion to Norm White, the denizen horticulturalist of The Golden Age Convalescent Home…

That was an exaggerated example generated by searching for synonyms. As you can see, it sounds silly, and some of the words don’t even make sense. I mean, “denizen horticulturalist”…really?

Do mix up your paragraph structure! If vocabulary is your weak point, focus on clean language.

Here’s mine:

Early in the novel, London makes reference to Norm White, the resident groundskeeper of The Golden Age Convalescent Home. Norm White hands Frank Gold a cigarette, “as if to say a man has the right to smoke in peace”. Here, there is a complete disregard for rule and convention, an idea that London emphasises throughout the text. This feature provides a counter-cultural experience for Frank, pushing him to realise that he is a strong human being rather than a mere victim. This is a clear contrast to the “babyishness” of the home, and is used as evidence of true humanity in an era where society judged upon the unconventional. Frank yearns for a traditional Australian life after his trauma in Hungary; “his own memory…lodged like an attic in the front part of his brain”. Hedwiga and Julia Marai’s caring of him pushed him towards fear and reluctance to trust, yet also pressured him to seek acceptance in a world that ostracises him for his Jewish heritage and polio diagnosis. This here is why Frank desires a mature, adult connection – love that regards him as an equal human being. Frank seeks Elsa’s love and company as she too loathes being reduced to a victim, an object of pity. Frank thereafter uses humour to joke of his wounds; “we Jews have to be on the lookout”. Elsa sees “a look in his eyes that she recognised”, thus their bond enables both characters to heal. London alludes that Frank requires love and recognition not from the perspective of a sorrowful onlooker, rather he longs to be recognised as a mature adult.

To learn more about using the right vocabulary, read 'Why using big words in VCE essays can make you look dumber'.

The conclusion: closing the deal

I firmly believe in short and sharp conclusions. Your body paragraphs should be thoroughly explaining your paragraphs, so don’t include any new information here. A few sentences is enough. Once again, write what feels natural, and what flows well.

Don’t drag out your conclusion. Short and concise is the key to finishing well.

Do write a sharp finish! Sentence starters such as, “Ultimately…” or “Thus, London…” are great.

Although trauma is often treated with love and compassion, London details different perspectives on this idea. Whilst Frank Gold requires a specific kind of recognition, Ida and Meyer seek validation in themselves and their relationship, whilst Sullivan is at ease with his fate and does not yearn sympathy from his father.

‍ To learn more about A+ essays, you should also have a read of 10 easy English points you're missing out on .

I'll finish off by giving you an exercise: brainstorm and write up a plan for the essay topic shown in the video below. I'd recommend you do this before watching Lisa's brainstorm and plan. That way, you can see which of your ideas overlapped, but also potentially see which ideas you may have missed out on. Good luck!

Passage 1: Act 1 Scene 3

   [Aside] Two truths are told,

   As happy prologues to the swelling act

   Of the imperial theme.--I thank you, gentlemen.

[Aside] This supernatural soliciting

   Cannot be ill, cannot be good: if ill,

   Why hath it given me earnest of success,

   Commencing in a truth? I am thane of Cawdor:

   If good, why do I yield to that suggestion

   Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair

   And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,

   Against the use of nature? Present fears

   Are less than horrible imaginings:

   My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,  

   Shakes so my single state of man that function

   Is smother'd in surmise, and nothing is

   But what is not.

Passage One from Act 1 Scene 3 takes place just after Macbeth has just been announced as Thane of Cawdor proving part of the Witches’ prophecy true “All hail Macbeth…Thane of Cawdor…/that shalt be king hereafter.” This part of the play is the first insight we have on Macbeth’s inner thoughts.  

Macbeth’s firm and thoughtful tone in the opening alliteration “two truths are told ” stresses how serious he takes the Witches’ predictions. Shakespeare presents this passage as a soliloquy in order to convey Macbeth’s true inner thoughts and motives. As this is Macbeth’s first soliloquy, it emphasises the strong possibility of Macbeth heading down a dark journey as he cannot forget the Witches’ predictions “(it) cannot be ill, cannot be good. If ill, / Why hath it given me earnest of success, Commencing in a truth?”

Shakespeare uses the metaphor of theatre for fate . The meta-theatrical reference, ‘as happy prologues to the swelling act’ makes the audience consider the action that will unfold in the following scenes through foreshadowing.

Macbeth feels that committing regicide will be a “supernatural soliciting”. The word “supernatural” demonstrates that Macbeth acknowledges that such an act is “against the use of nature.” It suggests that if Macbeth kills Duncan, he will forever be trapped in the supernatural world for his dishonourable action. The alliteration of “supernatural soliciting” sounds incredibly seductive, and therefore highlights Macbeth’s lust and thirst for the crown.

There is a physiological response to his unnerving thoughts as the ‘horrid image doth unfix my hair’ and ‘my seated heart knock at my ribs’ , emphasising the horror of Macbeth has with himself  at his thoughts.

The personification “my seated heart knock at my ribs” once again depicts the increasing fear that Macbeth experiences as his heart is not “seated” with its connotations of calmness and steadiness but “knock(ing)” which is associated with alarming fear.

As Macbeth struggles with his conscience and fears “my thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,/ Shakes so my single state of man,”  he is uncertain whether or not he should take the prophecy into his own hands and murder Duncan or, let time decide his fate “time and the hour runs through the roughest day”. The consonance ’s’, Shakes so my single state of man”.. ‍

The alliteration “smothered in surmise” demonstrates how Macbeth’s vivid imagination causes him to struggle with fear and hesitate undergoing the action that is foreseen by him as a “horrid image.” These mental images are of significance throughout the play as it is evident that Macbeth’ conscience results in him “seeing” a dagger and also Banquo’s ghost.

The antithesis “and nothing is,/ But what is not” is deliberately broken up into two lines to demonstrate the ambiguity of Macbeth’s thoughts and the confusion which evidently contributes to his overall fear. Macbeth’s actions become overpowered by his imagination until ‘nothing is but what is not’ or imagination carries more weight than action. The partial alliteration of ‘smother’d in surmise’ and the antithesis of ‘nothing is but what is not’ makes this notion seem again, particularly seductive to the audience. The word ‘smother’d’ , with it’s connotations of oppression, further amplifies the notion and even suggests that Macbeth’s imagination takes the place of his will.

The life of an English teacher during assessment time is miserable. This is great for us! If you know how to use their misery to your advantage.

Hello, I am here to teach you how you can claim some easy English points off these poor, poor, professors. Let’s begin 😊

1. Engage with the historical context

This should be a baseline expectation! Yet, if I had a dollar for every student I see launching into an essay not even considering the socio-cultural context in which their book was written, I’d have enough to purchase the VCAA institution and have historical context made mandatory with the punishment being immediate expulsion from VCE.

Just put some historical context into your introduction, it’ll make it beefier and add some spice to your essay. Historical context generally entails listing the form (novella, play, etc…) of your text; the time period in which it was written (Victorian, 20th century, etc…), its genre (Gothic, biographical, etc…), and finally, any of the relevant literary titles it could be classed under (Romantic, Feminist, post-colonial, etc…)

For example: “Mary Shelley’s Victorian Gothic Romantic novella Frankenstein…”

Bonus points if you can actively engage in a set of philosophical ideas that were present at the time, eg: “Age of Enlightenment values”, or the “Feminist movement”.

2. Write a strong introduction

You must impress an assessor within two minutes. With this in mind, what do you think looks better: a little five-line intro vaguely outlining your points and just barely tickling on the structure and context of the texts; or a sprawling introduction which hits the historical context on the head and articulates beautifully the direction your essay is going and how it plans to get there. It’s a simple Virgin vs Chad dichotomy, be a chad, write a strong introduction.

maus essay questions

3. Clear and concise topic sentences

Your topic sentences NEED to be easy to read and easy to follow. Apply the K.I.S.S rule here (Keep it Simple, Stupid). State the point of your paragraph with clarity, there should be nothing too complex or vague about it. For example: “The architecture of Frankenstein enables the story to act as a cautionary tale”. If you feel you cannot encapsulate your topic within a single sentence, then I suggest dialling back the complexity of your paragraph topic. Remember, text response is a process of stating a concept, then proving it – nothing more, nothing less.

You know ‘Grammar Nazis’? Well English assessors are Grammar Hitler’s. Make sure your expression is on point. Avoid run on sentences, break them up with full stops, a comma is not a substitute for a period.

5. Understand language

I’m hoping we all know what verbs, adjectives, adverbs, nouns, conjunctions and etcetera are here? This kind of rather basic English knowledge can seriously pepper up your analysis once you understand how language works. Begin by simply noting how an adjective modifies a verb within a sentence and what affect that has. Once you master this, you can move onto actually classifying the language under specific tones; for example: a pejorative verb, or a superlative adjective of degree. I’ll throw a few free ones your way! A pejorative verb is a doing word with negative connotations, such as: “penetrate” or “molest”. Whilst a superlative adjective is a describing word of the highest degree, for example: “grandest” or “calmest” (as opposed to simply “grand” or “calm”. Although this language seems complex, it’s deceivingly simple once you understand some basic English rules.

6. Write about structure

Structure is the ‘secret high scoring English students don’t want you to know!!’ If you aren’t writing about structure, then you are missing out on an absolute gold mine of analysis. If you understand how structure works within a text and can write it out coherently you’re essentially guaranteed a 40+. Y’all may call that an exaggeration, but knowing how to write about structure in an essay is like crossing the threshold, your eyes become open – you attain nirvana. Structure is the Bifrost which separates the land of Gods from the land of mortals. Some good ways to begin thinking about structure include: pondering how the text begins and ends, does it begin as a jovial and upbeat story and end as a depressing mess, why might the author have structured the text this way? Or, think about which characters we follow throughout the text and what journey they undergo, are their multiple narrators? Why might this be relevant or what may the author be trying to emphasise? Another great one is just looking for recurring themes and motifs across the text, such as a repeated phrase or similarities between characters. The key to writing on structure is understanding how the text has been structured, and then connecting that to a meaning or using it to support your contention.  

7. Structure your essays

PSYCHE I’M STILL NOT DONE TALKING ABOUT STRUCTURE. Structure. Your. Essays. I cannot stress this enough, use TEEL (topic sentence, evidence, elaboration, link), use whatever your teacher taught, but use it! This one is especially important in language analysis, legit, lang anal essays are almost 100% structure, just WHW (what, how, why) your way through that essay. Once you understand how to structure an essay, everything else improves. So, structure your essays!! 

8. Write about allusions

Now we’re getting into the big boy material. An allusion is any reference within a text to another text. So when Peter Griffin from Family Guy pokes fun at the Simpsons, he is making an allusion to the Simpsons. Or when your protagonist happens across a bible verse, that is a biblical allusion. Whenever I hear a student mention a literary allusion, my day improves and so does their mark. Most every text has allusions in it somewhere, do your research. Frankenstein has Rime of the Ancient Mariner, about half the books on the planet have biblical allusions, just ask your teacher or research online and you’re bound to come up with some excellent analysis material. Bonus points for allusions to classic texts such as: the Faust mythos, Greek/Roman tales such as Prometheus, the Bible, Paradise Lost, etc…

9. Reference influential philosophical ideas

This one is eating from the tree of knowledge. Including a philosophical concept in your essay immediately places you in the upper echelons. It separates plebs from patricians. You’ll have to do a bit of research here, but it is well worth it. Once you can mention that an idea is “characteristic of the Romantic period”, or that a concept is “Lockean (referring to John Locke)”, you’re balling, you’ll be hustling A+s in no time. Bonus points for philosophical ideas that were relevant to the time period (historical context, remember). 

10. Authorial Agenda

Referencing the authorial agenda is just minty fresh, it demonstrates a clear understanding of concepts even beyond just the text itself. Guaranteed to put a sparkle in your teachers’ eye. Although adding authorial agenda augments your essay extraordinary, don’t overdo it. 

If you made it to the end of this then great work! Proud of you <3. Including these tips in your essays is a surefire way to push them to the next level. For sticking through, I’ll give you a few quick bonus tips. Have pre-prepared zingers: you should write out and memorise a few bits of analysis that are intensely high quality, (do it in your own writing) this not only helps with ironing out your language, it also ensures you’ll have some mic drops in your essays. Analyse all included images and titles: this one’s just for language analysis, but you should analyse everything, including logos! And finally… RESPOND TO THE ESSAY QUESTION, this should be a given but there are hordes of people just spewing out words which are absolutely irrelevant to the actual essay topic.

 Thanks again for getting this far, unless you just scrolled to the bottom hoping for a TLDR. I wish you all best of luck in your VCE and the exam season, try to make it enjoyable 😊

This blog was updated on 23/10/2020.

3. Symbolism

4. Important Quotes (Parts 1-4)

5. Sample Essay Topics

6. Essay Topic Breakdown

On the Waterfront is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response .

On the Waterfront is a part drama, part gangster film that’s authentic and powerful in its approach. Set on New York’s oppressive waterfront docks, longshoremen are forced to play a game where the odds are always stacked against them. The film approaches concepts such as trade unionism, corruption, and racketeering, and is a story that stitches together other stories. As discussed later , Kazan used Terry Malloy as a representation for his own real-life struggles against the powers above. The film is also a depiction of the hardships of life on the docks in 1940s America.

Inspired by real-life incidents, Kazan has created a world where workers live under the iron fist of corrupt trade union bosses. Let’s take a deeper dive into what this world looks like and the events that form the basis of the film.

Power Corruption

Johnny Friendly’s maintenance of power involves controlling several aspects on the waterfront – from the operations to the stevedores. Firstly, threats are repeatedly made against all the longshoremen in an effort to ensure that if anyone dares to act out against Friendly, they are sure to meet dire consequences. Their fear is reinforced through the various murders committed by the gang, most of which are the deaths another longshoremen, thus warning the workers that any one of them may be next. Although Friendly is clearly behind the homicides, the longshoremen and their families are unwilling to speak to the authorities, as they know full well that they would be risking their lives. This demonstrates their lack of protection and vulnerability in the hands of the union leader, which is exactly what he has aimed to establish.

Faith is a strong underlying theme set forth by Father Barry and the church. The priest’s constant remainder of what is right and wrong urges the men to step outside Friendy’s grasp and begin to think about themselves. When Father Barry conducts the congregation, the interruption caused by the mob falters the longshoremen’s hopes, since Friendly’s power can even reach as far as a church, where people are supposed to be ‘safe’. To do what is morally correct is a simple concept but one that is difficult for the longshoremen to embrace. It is only when they begin to have faith in their actions that things begin to change on the waterfront.

The film poses the question, what is true loyalty? Friendly pretends to be looking after the longshoremen by sending out loans and offering them better work positions, for example, Terry on the loft. However, in reality Friendly uses this action to manipulate the men to his advantage. It is a tactic to ensure that the longshoremen believe that they in return, have to support Friendly. An additional tactic of Friendly’s manipulation is shown though the infiltration of the longshoremen’s minds. The words ‘rat’ and ‘stool’ prevent the men from speaking out since they believe that they will betray one another. Terry believes that he will ‘rat’ on his friends when in fact, he is simply telling the truth. He ultimately learns that instead of abiding by Friendly, he needs to be loyal to himself, and this eventually saves himself and the other longshoremen from the clutches of the union leader. The name ‘Friendly’ is ironic since he is hardly a ‘friend’ but a ‘nemesis’ of all those who reside on the waterfront.


Throughout Terry’s personal journey, it is clear that he is uncertain about his feelings and thoughts in regards to various aspects of his life, from his low-ranking position as a stevedore, Joey’s death and Friendly’s involvement, the longshoremen’s lack of rights, to Edie’s unique perspective. His initial ambivalence after Joey’s death is highlighted through the thick mist that covers the city and consequently obscures the people’s vision. At the end of the film when he is finally resolute on overthrowing Friendly, the omnipresent fog that sweeps over Hoboken suddenly disappears, reflecting that his mind has now ‘cleared up’ or that he has an ‘unclouded vision’. His behaviour shifts from an introverted person who appears uncomfortable in his own skin as he refuses to look people eye-to-eye and constantly chews gum, to someone who possesses a confident stance, standing tall and proud.

On the Waterfront  emphasises that it is never too late to redeem oneself. The religious imagery of Joey, Dugan and Charley ascending to heaven demonstrate that although they had spent much of their life turning a blind eye to the indiscretions of Friendly and his men, their actions at the very end of their lifespan allowed them to compensate for their sins. ‍

Bird symbolism is heavily embedded throughout  On the Waterfront . The longshoremen represent pigeons, as they are docile and delicate in the hands of Friendly, who is portrayed as the ‘hawk’ who swoops above at them, keeping his watchful eyes on each and every pigeon in case they misbehave. Kazan often films Terry positioned behind Joey’s Coop fence, therefore characterising Terry as a pigeon stuck in a cage, as if bound by Friendly into a small world that he cannot escape. When the longshoremen await work on the docks, the recurrent high-angle shots peer down at them, depicting them as a flock of birds, rummaging around. Much like pigeons, they compete with one another when ‘pecking’ at the tabs that Big Mac throws at them, as if the tabs are like ‘seeds’.

Instead of being ‘D and D’, those who ‘sing’ or in other words, speak out against Friendly are labeled ‘canaries’, since these birds are most notably recognised for their singing behaviour. Canaries were once used as a barometer for air quality down in mines. If there were toxic gases in the mines, this would subsequently lead to the canary’s death as this type of bird is extremely sensitive to air borne pollutants. Thus, this would be an indication for miners of whether or not it was safe to work in the pit. The bird’s self-sacrifice parallels that of Joey and Dugan, who tried their best to help out the other longshoremen, yet both met their deaths after ‘singing’ out against Johnny Friendly.

Originally named The Hook but eventually changed to  On the Waterfront , the sharp tool is an important representative of Friendly’s power over the men. All the longshoremen carry silver hooks on their shoulders as part of their work on the docks, but from another view, it is as though Friendly has ‘hooked’ onto the men – and thus, they cannot escape the union leader. Like many other words used in the film, it is a pun, as ‘hook’ is also a term used in boxing, meaning a short swinging punch with the elbow bent.

Hudson River and New York City

The river is always subtly lurking in the background of several scenes throughout the film. It acts as a metaphorical barrier that prevents the men from escaping Friendly’s grasp as they appear to be ‘trapped’ on the Hoboken docks. The ever-present fog is a veil that manages to conceal Manhattan on the other side of the river. Since the city’s silhouette barely peeps through, it portrays a sense of mystery and unknown to the stevedores who can seemingly never leave Hoboken. At the end of the film however, when Friendly no longer exerts any control over the men, the shot of the Hudson River and the city on the other side is crystal clear. The outlines of the skyscrapers, which were once unidentifiable, are now easy to recognise, demonstrating that the men are free, as their vision is no longer clouded by Friendly.

Gloves have significant meaning in two key scenes in  On the Waterfront . Most notably, Edie’s white glove symbolises a ‘good’ world, a place that is peaceful and pure. It reflects Edie’s personality as she conducts herself virtuously and with amiability. When Terry wears one of her gloves, it demonstrates that he is ‘trying on’ her perspective of life, where ‘everybody [should] care about everybody else’. On the other hand, when Charley and Terry share an intimate conversation in the taxi, Charley’s black gloves represent Friendly’s ‘evil’ world. Charley begins to feel uncomfortable in his clothing and removes a glove when he confronts the truth about being solely responsible for coercing Terry into forfeiting his career and subsequently becoming just another longshoremen. His removal of the glove depicts the notion that Charley will no longer be manipulated and controlled by Friendly, and is essentially, taking a step out of Friendly’s oppressive world.


On the surface, the windbreaker is simply a jacket that is passed amongst the longshoremen, in particular, from Joey to Dugan to Terry. The sharing of the jacket represents camaraderie and brotherhood, since the men have little money to spend on buying warm clothes and as a result, most of their clothing has been worn through. This is a stark comparison with the mob, who are proud owners of long thick coats with scarves, hats and gloves to protect them from the Hoboken bitter cold weather. Symbolically, the jacket motivates the three men stand up to Friendly. Firstly, Joey talks to the Crime Commission yet before he is able to do any damage to the mob, he is found dead. As a result, his jacket is passed to Dugan, who later on musters the courage to continue in Joey’s shoes and reveal thirty-nine pages worth of notes about Friendly’s operations to the Crime Commission. Unfortunately, Friendly manages to successfully silence Dugan. The windbreaker is ultimately passed to Terry who testifies in court and defeats Friendly once and for all. The jacket demonstrates that even with murder, the truth cannot be silenced.

Important Quotes

Joey's death (part 1).

"Maybe he could sing but he couldn’t fly."
"I kept telling him, "Don’t say nothing. Keep quiet, you’ll live longer.""
‘I’ve been on the docks all my life boy, and there’s one thing I learned. You don’t ask no questions, you don’t answer no questions unless you want to wind up like that."
"Did you ever hear of a saint hiding in a church?"
"We got the fattest piers in the fattest harbour in the world."

Joey’s Coop (Part 2)

"They sure got it made. Eating, sleeping, flying around like crazy, raising gobs of squabs."
"Be careful. Don’t spill no water on the floor. I don’t want them to catch a cold."
"Johnny Friendly the “great labour worker.""
"Why don’t you keep that big mouth of yours shut."
"I’m poorer now than when I started."

Terry and Edie (Part 3)

"Your brother was a saint, the only one who ever tried to get me compensation."
"You don’t buy me. You’re still a bum."
"Who’s calling me a bum?"
"Don’t pay no attention to him. He’s drunk, he’s falling down. Everything. He’s just a juicehead that hands around the neighbourhood. Don’t pay no attention."
"It isn’t just brains. It’s how you use them."

Terry’s Confession (Part 4)

"Favour, who am I kidding? It’s “do it or else.”’
"It’s like carrying a monkey on my back."
"Question of “who rides who.”’
"If I spill, my life ain’t worth a nickel."
"And how much is your soul worth if you don’t?"

Sample Essay Topics

1. Edie is depicted as an angel that saves Terry. To what extent do you agree?

2.  On the Waterfront  portrays a world where people are only successful through money and violence.

3. We are able to understand the moral struggles of the characters through the cinematic devices used in  On the Waterfront .

4.  On the Waterfront  demonstrates that silence cannot be achieved through murder.

5. The actions of only a few individuals can result in a revolution. Discuss.

Now it's your turn! Give these essay topics a go. For more sample essay topics, head over to our On the Waterfront Study Guide to practice writing essays using the analysis you've learnt in this blog!

Essay Topic Breakdown

Whenever you get a new essay topic, you can use LSG’s THINK and EXECUTE strategy , a technique to help you write better VCE essays. This essay topic breakdown will focus on the THINK part of the strategy. If you’re unfamiliar with this strategy, then check it out in How To Write A Killer Text Response .

Theme-Based Essay Prompt: On the Waterfront shows that power and money can destroy a man’s soul.

Step 1: analyse .

This essay prompt is an example of a theme-based prompt . It specifies ‘power’, ‘money’, and ‘soul’ as ideas for you to consider. When faced with a theme prompt, I find it most helpful to brainstorm characters and author’s views that are relevant to the given themes, as well as considering more relevant themes that may not have been mentioned in the prompt itself.

Here are some of my thoughts scribbled down:

  • We cannot discuss power without also touching on redemption, as those that subscribe to power corruption are morally defeated, whereas the characters that reject power and money are somewhat martyred. Faith is also important: what happens to those who place faith in money and power versus those with religious faith? 
  • The prompt is asking us to show (and essentially prove) the point that power and money are destructive. 
  • How are power and money intertwined? 
  • Souls are ambiguous and intangible, although in this film it can be interpreted as the character’s moral code and how the film validates those morals. 
  • A soul destroyed is one that has been chipped away, whittled down and eventually broken to pieces. Power doesn’t wear a soul down in an instant, it’s progressive. 

Power & money 

  • In capitalism, money is a tangible representation of power. Money talks. Having lots of it seemingly makes you powerful over those that don’t. 
  • Friendly controls the docks because he has the money (and the power) to do so. 
  • Chasing money (for survival, status or ego) can lead a man to do unethical and problematic things.

Those that chase power & money 

  • Charley, Friendly and the rest of the mobsters. They’re faithless.  
  • Terry to a certain point. His loyalty is “bought” and “owned”.  
  • Charley follows Friendly wholeheartedly which results in his own bitter end. 
  • Friendly embodies power & money and ends up beaten and alone. 
  • Mr. Upstairs turns on Friendly in an instant. 

By contrast, those that reject power & money 

  • Edie, Father Barry
  • Dugan and Joey, both die for their beliefs. The film validates their actions by treating them as martyrs throughout. 
  • Dugan’s body ascending with Father Barry after he dies under whiskey barrels 
  • Joey’s jacket being handed down from one heroic dockworker to another 
  • Terry after a certain point

Contention: On the Waterfront uses its characters to show that having faith in power and money can destroy a man’s soul, whereas having faith in the greater good can lead to redemption. 

P1: Having faith in power & money destroys Johnny Friendly and Charley.

P2: Rejecting power & money and having faith in the good of people is rewarded (Dugan, Joey, Edie, Father Barry, for example).

P3: Terry sits in between these two notions for most of the film. His soul is redeemed when he rejects power & money and chooses to do the right thing. 

As you can see, in this structure, each paragraph grapples with the theme in a way that links each character and the film’s treatment of them.

If you find this essay breakdown helpful, then you might want to check out our On the Waterfront Study Guide where we cover 5 A+ sample essays with EVERY essay annotated and broken down on HOW and WHY these essays achieved A+ so you reach your English goals! Let's get started.

The Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response

How To Write A Killer Text Response Study Guide

How to embed quotes in your essay like a boss

How to turn your Text Response essays from average to A+

5 Tips for a mic drop worthy essay conclusion

Are you an EAL student worrying about the listening component of the new study design?

Are you worried? If you are, fear not, I am here to help!

Here are some extremely useful tips that I have acquired from completing both Japanese and Chinese listening exams. They are very applicable to the EAL exam and will hopefully make you feel more confident about this new component!

  • As EAL students we are allowed to bring bilingual dictionaries into the exam, TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THAT! You will be amazed at how useful your dictionary can be.
  • Use your reading time efficiently! Take a close look at your listening tracks’ questions! Search your dictionary for tricky vocabularies that are embedded in the question. Make each second count!
  • Look out for the key question words! If you spot “when” and “why” in the question, then you know for sure that you need to listen out for location and time!
  • Pay attention to the tone.
  • Take note of any adjectives, phrases and words that express the character’s (in the listening track) thoughts, feelings and concerns.
  • There is a space in the exam paper for you to take notes, USE THAT SPACE! Write down all the key information you can possibility hear from the track! According to the examiner’s report those students who wrote notes in the space provided tend to score much more higher than those who don't.
  • Don't waste time wondering what the track just played! Listen carefully for the next sentence, missing out on one piece of information is better than two!


Some of you out there might be thinking “Listening is easy! I just need to write down the correct answer, it's a piece of cake.” Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for EAL listening or any VCE Language listening SAC or exam. The VCAA examiners will look at the accuracy of your answer, grammar and spelling. They even look at how well you phrase your response!

If you are aiming for a perfect listening response you MUST take a look at my breakdown of the examiners’ marking criteria!

Marking Criteria

For the listening component of the exam/SAC the examiners (and your own teachers) will be marking your answers base on TWO main points

  • Your ability to understand and convey general and specific parts of the listening track
  • Your ability to convey information accurately and appropriately
  • Appropriateness of vocabulary
  • Accurate use of grammar, spelling and punctuation.

Are you feeling more confident for the VCE EAL Listening section with a couple of handy hints in your pocket? I hope you are! Give it a go, it is not as scary as you think!

Updated 24/12/2020

Ransom is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response .

  • Plot, Analysis, Important Passages and Quotes

1. Characters

Priam is an elderly king of Troy. As a child, his sister Hesione saved him from slavery, and had his named changed from Podarces to Priam, the name meaning ‘the ransomed one’ or ‘the price paid'. After the death of his son Hector, Priam envisions himself in plain clothing, riding a plain cart to Achilles who is effectively holding Hector ransom. His vision is the catalyst for the novel’s events, for his journey is one of learning and self-development. Though the royal family is doubtful of his plan to save Hector, Priam is resolute and insists that he needs to try his best to confront Achilles as a father, rather than as king. After many decades as king of Troy, Priam is determined to reinvent how he will be remembered; as a king who performed an extraordinary act of heroism in order to save his beloved son.

Achilles is known as the greatest warrior of the Greeks. The death of Patroclus, his closest companion and hinted lover, drives Achilles to insanity. Hector murdered Patroclus and, as a result, Achilles takes revenge by killing Hector. He then drags Hector’s dead body along the walls of Troy for the next 11 days. Achilles loses his sense of humanity as he is possessed by his rage, hatred and grief.

Somax is representative of the ‘common man’ in Ransom . He is chosen to escort Priam to Achilles. His simple and plain presence is contrasted with Priam’s royal status. He often engages in useless chatter and performs daily activities in a way that is foreign to the king. Although Somax is far from royalty, his great deal of affection for his daughter-in-law and granddaughter teaches Priam about love, family and life.

Beauty is Somax’s favourite mule. She accompanies Priam and Somax on their journey to the Greek camp where Achilles resides.

Somax’s other mule who carries the cart to Achilles’ camp.

Hecuba is Priam’s beloved wife and mother of Hector. She is initially uncertain of Priam’s vision to save Hector. However, after hearing Priam’s sentimental reasons, she shows support and urges him to first share his plan with their family and the kingdom’s council before he departs.

Hector is Priam’s son and also the leader of the Trojan army. He is kind, brave and noble without any cruel intentions, unlike his rival Achilles. During a battle between the Trojans and the Greeks, Hector kills Patroclus. This results in Achilles challenging Hector to a battle, resulting in Hector’s death and Achilles’ triumph.


Neoptolemus is Achilles’ son. Although he is mentioned throughout Ransom , he makes his first appearance at the end of the novel where he savagely slaughters an old and defenseless Priam in an effort to avenge his father’s death. ‍

By the way, to download a PDF version of this blog for printing or offline use, click here !

‍ 2. Themes

Ransom explores who we are and what it means to have an identity. As the leader of Troy for many decades, Priam has always viewed himself as a king. It appears as though Priam has been unhappy with his identity for quite some time, is physically weak, and feels as though he cannot protect his kingdom as efficiently as he used to. However, the death of Hector is a catalyst for Priam as he realises that he needs to become a ‘father’ rather than the ‘king’ he had become so accustomed to. His search for Hector is also a search for himself, to reinvent who he is and how he wishes others to remember him.

Meanwhile, Somax is designated as the king’s herald, with the name Idaeus. He secretly notes his unhappiness with this name appointment, since he is ‘Somax, not Idaeus'. The name ‘Somax’ is associated with many significant events in his life including his marriage and family, yet the new unfamiliar name strips him of this identity. Somax’s confidence and pride in his identity is starkly contrasted with Priam’s pursuit for an identity transformation.

Malouf demonstrates that it is never too late to change one’s ways. Priam’s determination to change how he is remembered – from just another king leading a regal life to a hero who went to extraordinary lengths to regain his child – demonstrates that change is within our grasp. Even though his beautiful wife Hecuba and the rest of his family have reservations about his desire to confront Achilles, Priam is resolved in taking a ‘chance', rather than achieving nothing by remaining within the walls of his home. Unexpectedly, this one idea propels Priam into a multitude of other changes. His journey with Somax teaches Priam a far greater deal than he had anticipated, for he learns to appreciate the value of the human connection and other daily simplicities in life.

Although Achilles is driven by hatred and anger after Patroclus’ death, as with Priam, he manages to change his ways. He is touched by Priam’s pleas and consequently accepts the ransom and returns Hector’s body. He is able to reach this state of peace by releasing his immoral intentions and even offers to hold a ritual for Hector’s body in the Greek walls that very night. This transformation, from a human who responds to grief with vengeance to someone who releases and forgives, demonstrates the benefits we can gain from amending our ways.

Revenge, Guilt and Peace

Revenge is portrayed as a never-ending vicious cycle until both parties reach a negotiation or peace. After Patroclus’ death, Achilles hunts down Hector in order to avenge his best friend’s early death. Although he is successful in murdering Hector, Achilles does not follow the custom of leaving the body for the grieving family to bury. Instead, Achilles feels the need to mutilate the body day after day without any sense of remorse or regret. His additional need to inflict harm on Hector’s body indicates that revenge will not bring closure. His sense of loss is shown as he reflects feeling empty inside, to the point where he no longer feels like himself, but someone else altogether.

Although Achilles and Priam ultimately find peace within themselves, many years later Achilles’ son Neoptolemus murders Priam, bounded by the same hatred and pain depicted by Achilles. Neoptolemus’ subsequent guilt and regret is carried with him throughout the rest of his life, demonstrating that again, revenge is not the answer to any problem.

Chance and Fate

The role of the gods is heavily woven into the events that unfold in Ransom. Priam only begins his transition and journey after envisioning the goddess Iris, who suggests that he take a ‘chance’ and try to save Hector from Achilles’ camp. During his journey, a jovial young man who joins the travellers is revealed as Hermes, a god who has come to safely guide the elderly men to Achilles. The power of the gods in controlling human fate is illustrated during the scene where Hermes saves the travellers from being swept away by a stream.

Nevertheless, it can also be argued that it is the characters’ decisions that lead them to their fate. Although the gods may have instilled in Priam the idea that he should rescue Hector, it is the king’s determination which is a main driving force for the journey. Even when confronted with doubt and hesitancy from his family, it is Priam who pushes onwards to fulfil his vision. Whether his actions were already predestined or of his own agency is up to you to decide.

Nature Versus Man

Man’s presence on earth is shown to have little significance in comparison to the power of nature. While the events in Ransom teach the characters many valuable lessons, ultimately these meaningful moments in the humans’ lives disappear as one reaches their fate – death. Time moves on beyond our lives as we are forgotten over decades and centuries while nature prevails. Priam’s desire to be remembered by others highlights how little significance a life possesses unless one behaves extraordinarily. Malouf demonstrates that in the end, life just is – we are granted by nature to have a brief existence, yet in the end, nature and time will move forward without us.

Commoners Versus Royalty

Although royalty is portrayed to be blessed with power and authority, it is ironically the commoners in Ransom who appear to have the ‘richest’ (and more fulfilling) lives. For the first time, Priam is exposed to the different interests and values of the common man and is intrigued by the simplicities of life. It is Somax, a mere old man from the marketplace, who teaches Priam more about life than he had imagined possible.

Jove’s Eagle

Jove’s eagle is a representation of a bird renowned for its keen sight. The presence of Jove’s eagle during Priam and Somax’s departure hints that the gods will safely guide their journey as the bird behaves as a lookout. Furthermore, the symbol of the eagle’s powerful vision is contrasted with Priam’s ‘blindness’ at the beginning of the journey since he is yet to experience the outside world. It is during the journey that he learns about himself and others, and thus, improves his ‘sight.’ Coincidently, Jove’s eagle is no longer mentioned when Priam is endowed with his new insight.

The royal cart is ‘a fine new one, the marks of the adze still visible on its timbers. The twelve-spoked wheels are elaborately carved and painted, a wickerwork canopy covers the tray'. On all occasions, the king had used this elegant cart to alert others that royalty was present. The use of this cart demonstrates how Priam has been encapsulated in his own royal sphere since everything is meticulously chosen and designed specifically for the king. Nevertheless, his demand for a ‘common work cart’ depicts his determination for a simple approach to Achilles, as a father to another father. This simplicity highlights Priam’s desire to become just another man and father, anonymous in the plain cart with the hopes of retrieving Hector.

Priam as a Child

At the beginning of the journey, Priam is characterised with childish traits. When Somax urges Priam to dabble his feet in the stream, words such as ‘obedient toddler', ‘three uncertain steps', and ‘happy smile’ reflect the actions of a young child trying new experiences. This childish nature is contrasted with Priam’s old and frail age, which demonstrates that although he has lived a life in royalty, his lack of exposure to ‘real life’ has left him crippled of the simplest experiences such as the cooling effect of feet in water and eating delicious homemade cookies.

The cakes Somax brings along during the journey highlight Priam’s lack of knowledge of even the simplest things. For Somax, the little griddlecakes are a regular and delectable snack, yet Priam 'ha[s] never seen them before'. Priam’s unfamiliarity with the cakes represents his isolation from the ‘real world’ since he has been deprived from things that even commoners view as ordinary.

Futhermore, Somax’s lengthy chatter about his daughter-in-law cooking the cakes with the ‘batter bubbling and setting and turning a golden brown’ prompts Priam to think about the activities in his kingdom that occur behind closed doors. He had previously never noticed that there was so much preparation and work that went into the food that appeared at his table, let alone the ingredients and thickness of a batter. These matters had been of little concern to Priam, yet he realises that even the ‘common and low…activities and facts of life, had an appeal'.

Hector’s Body

Although Achilles drags Hector’s body across the walls of Troy for eleven days, each morning he would return to find Hector’s body healed of any wounds, and absent of any physical damage to his body. This is a cruel reminder of the god’s ability to ‘toy around’ with the Ancient Greeks’ lives. Hector’s body also symbolises how revenge is not the answer to any conflict, since dealing with a tragic loss through revenge does not gain anything but more pain and suffering.

Although Priam initially believes he understands the distress of losing a son, Somax’s experience of losing his son is driven with emotions that Priam had never previously experienced. When sharing the story of his son’s death, Somax sniffles, an ‘odd habit’ according to Priam. The use of ‘odd habit’ to describe Somax’s sadness demonstrates how Priam has never truly felt the loss of his son, but only the loss of a royal relationship between king and prince.

Later on, Somax once again ‘snuffles’ and ‘rubs his nose’ at the thought of the ending to their journey. Similarly, Priam makes ‘small sounds', presumably crying as well. The transformation of Priam from someone who failed to empathise with Somax’s tears at the beginning of the journey to a man filled with emotions demonstrates that Priam undergoes both a physical and metaphysical journey where he undergoes self-development and appreciation of the world around him.

4. Plot, Analysis, Important Passages and Quotes

Achilles, the greatest warrior of the Greeks, stands next to the sea while reminiscing about the past. After his mother’s death he had ‘entered the rough world of men’ (p. 6) where wars and battles prevail. Every morning, he feels the need to ‘tramp to shore’ (p. 10) since he is haunted by the death of his ‘soulmate and companion’ Patroclus, and his raging hatred towards Hector, killer of Patroclus and thus, the ‘implacable enemy'.

When Achilles was a child, his cousin Patroclus came to live with the young Achilles since the former had killed the son of a high official of the royal court due to a ‘quarrel over a game of knucklebones’ (p. 11). In need of asylum, Patroclus came to live with Achilles’ family. As the years passed, the pair grew closer to the extent where Achilles believes that ‘he had mated with Patroclus’ (p. 15).

When the tide of the battle was against the Greeks, Patroclus disguises himself in Achilles’ armour in order to instill fear in the Trojans and cause them to return to the safety of their walls, thus providing temporary relief for the Greeks. In his last act for his closest friend, Patroclus is killed in battle*. The death of Patroclus left Achilles with an overwhelming sense of loss and also burning animosity. Achilles whispers that he will join Patroclus soon, but firstly, he has to avenge Patroclus’ killer, Hector.

Hector, the son of Trojan king Priam and leader of the Trojan army, wore Achilles' armour as a sign of triumph and disrespect for the Greeks. In a dramatic battle between Hector and himself, Achilles was successful in killing his enemy. Achilles’ Myrmidons then stripped Hector of his armour and ‘without pity…plunged their swords into Hector’s unprotected flesh’ (p. 24). For Achilles however, this was not enough. Still fuelled by his pain, Achilles ties Hector’s body to a chariot and drags it ‘up and down under the walls of Troy’ (p. 26) as the dead warrior’s royal family devastatingly watches on. Achilles feels like a ‘dead man…feeling nothing’ (p. 26), unable to seal the void left by his beloved friend.

The next day, Achilles is furious to find Hector’s body ‘smoothly sealed and the torn flesh made whole again'. His men cannot bear to look at him as he drives the chariot with Hector’s body along the walls of the Trojans once again. Afterwards he quickly falls asleep, into ‘oblivion’ (p. 35) as he struggles with the shame and guilt of his actions. He is ‘waiting for a break…something new and unimaginable’ in his life.

The Human Side

Along with the conflict between Greece and Troy, Ransom also delves into the consequences of those affected by the war. As the greatest warrior of all Greeks, Achilles has lived his life as a fighter. Nevertheless, his pathway in life has led him to believe that ‘such a life is death to the warrior spirit’ (p. 7). While warriors are known for sacrificing their lives in the battlefield, Achilles does not literally refer to warriors confronting death each time they fight for their team. In fact, ‘death to the warrior spirit’ means to metaphorically lose what it means to ‘live’ when one experiences bloodshed in each war. Growing up surrounded by ‘the rough world of men’ (p. 6), Achilles develops traits of aggression, cruelty and vengefulness in order to become an implacable man of war. As a consequence, Achilles only knows how to deal with Patroclus’ death with a fighter’s mindset. Instead of grieving openly, ‘he never permit[s] himself to betray to others what he [feels]’ (p. 5), thus detaching himself from the natural human process of grieving. In order to deal with his friend’s tragic ending, Achilles' ‘soul chang[es] colour’ as drags Hector’s body for eleven days without any sense of regret or remorse, and thus, is referred to as ‘death to his human spirit’ since he was no longer ‘a living man’ (p. 27). He faces Patroclus’ death with the same warrior traits of aggression, cruelty and vengefulness, depriving himself of any ability to humanely mourn his close friend’s death.

Furthermore, Achilles grieves for his mother in the opening passages of Ransom . During this time of loss, his mother symbolises Achilles’ need to be nurtured. The imagery of the sea surface as a ‘belly’ and ‘a membrane stretched to a fine transparency’ (p. 3) represents his mother’s pregnancy where he ‘had hung curled in a dream of pre-existence’ for ‘nine changes of the moon’ – or in other words, nine months of pregnancy. Achilles is characterised as a foetus, for his position is ‘chin down, shoulders hunched’ as though he is inside a womb. Although Achilles is a fighter, he hides the fact that he wishes to be ‘rocked and comforted’ by his mother, thus demonstrating that even beneath the surface of a cold-hearted warrior, the current of human emotions can cripple a man’s confident veneer.

If you'd like to read more of my analysis, feel free to access a sample of our ebook A Killer Text Guide: Ransom . In this ebook, I cover Plot, Analysis, Important Passages and Quotes so you can prepare for your SAC and exam. I've also included 5 Sample A+ English essays on Ransom , complete with annotations so you know exactly what you need to do in your next essay to achieve an A+.

All the best for your studies in Ransom!

Download a PDF version of this blog for printing or offline use

1. What is an Oral Presentation? 2. What are you expected to cover? (Oral Presentation Criteria) 3. Choosing your Topic 4. Choosing your Contention 5. Writing your Speech 6. Presenting your Speech 7. Writing the Written Explanation 8. Resources to help you prepare for your Oral Presentation

What is an Oral Presentation?

For many VCE English students, the oral presentation is the scariest part of the course; it’s often also the first.

Doing a speech can indeed be daunting— you’re marked in real time, you can’t go back and edit mistakes, and the writing part itself is only half the battle. Nonetheless, the Oral SAC can also be one of the more dynamic and engaging tasks you complete in VCE English, and there’s plenty of ways to make it more interesting and also more manageable for yourself.

Keep reading for a comprehensive overview of what you need to know to succeed in your Oral Presentation. We’ve got you covered- from choosing your topic and contention, to writing and presenting your Speech.

We’ll also be suggesting useful resources, Study Guides and YouTube videos that will provide more detailed information and give you more confidence. Let’s get into it!

What are you expected to cover in an Oral Presentation? (Oral Presentation Rubric)

1. Your Oral Presentation SAC has two components. The first is the Oral Presentation itself (“a point of view presented in oral form”), and the second is a Written Explanation, also known as a Statement of Intention.

2. Your selected topic needs to be an issue that has appeared in the media since 1 September of the previous year

3. Your aim for this entire Oral Presentation SAC is to persuade your audience to agree with your contention (whatever that may be) based off the issue you’ve selected.

Here’s the raw version of VCAA’s expectations from you, taken from the VCAA website :

maus essay questions

How to choose your Oral Presentation topic

1. select a topic that has appeared in the media since 1 september of the previous year.

This can be time consuming and tricky, especially if you want to choose something a bit more original or fresh.

Firstly, you need an event.  An event in the VCE English context is anything that happens which also generates opinionated media coverage—so, it’s not just an event but it has to be an event that people have published opinions about, and they have to have been published since September 1.

You might wonder why we don’t go to the issue straight away. Here’s a hypothetical to illustrate: if you asked me to name an issue, the best I could probably come up with off the top of my head is climate change. However, if you asked me to name an event, I’d pretty easily recall the Australian bushfires—something much more concrete which a) has generated specific and passionate opinions in the media; and b) can easily be linked to a wider issue such as climate change.

The ABC news archive is also really helpful for finding events since you can pick dates or periods of time and see a good mix of news events from then. Otherwise, Wikipedia has helpful pages of  events that happened in specific years in specific countries, so “2023 in Australia” might well be a starting point. 

When you have your event, you can then look for an issue. This will be a specific debate that comes out of the event, and can usually be framed as a “whether-or-not” question. The bushfires, for example, might generate debate around whether or not the Australian government is doing enough to combat climate change, whether or not Scott Morrison has fulfilled his duties as Prime Minister.

Most importantly, choose an issue from an event that’s interesting and important to you. After all, you’re going to be spending the time researching, writing and presenting!

2. Filter out the boring events/issues

Understand who your audience is.

Once you know who your audience is, ask yourself: Does this event and issue relate to my audience?

This question matters because “your aim of this entire Oral Presentation SAC is to persuade your audience to agree with your contention (whatever that may be) based off the issue you’ve selected.” This means that what you say to your audience and how they respond to your speech matters.

Even if your assessor isn’t counting exactly how many people are still listening to your speech at the end, everyone knows a powerful speech when they’re in the presence of one - it hooks the audience from start to end - and an assessor, consciously or subconsciously, cannot deny that the collective attentiveness of the room has an influence on their marking of your Oral Presentation.

That’s why you should choose a topic that your audience can relate to. Also, avoid topics that have too many unfamiliar words, because as soon as there’s something they don’t understand, it becomes much harder for them to follow your speech.

Now you may be asking yourself; what is the best topic for oral presentation?

Here are some example topics from previous years to give you inspiration:

VCE English Oral Presentation Topics 2014

VCE English Oral Presentation Topics 2015

VCE English Oral Presentation Topics 2016

VCE English Oral Presentation Topics 2017

VCE English Oral Presentation Topics 2018

VCE English Oral Presentation Topics 2019

VCE English Oral Presentation Topics 2020

VCE English Oral Presentation Topics 2021

VCE English Oral Presentation Topics 2022

VCE English Oral Presentation Topics 2023

For more detailed information on choosing a topic, read my blog Choosing a WOW topic for your VCE Oral Presentation ‍

How to choose your oral presentation contention

Once you've chosen an interesting topic and have researched all of its different viewpoints, it's time to formulate your contention.

Often, creating a killer contention is about avoiding some common traps that will make your overall presentation boring, bland and just like the rest of your cohorts'.

So, there are three things I like to AVOID:

1. Broad, Overarching statements

2. A Contention That Is Just Plain Obvious

3. Avoid A Contention That Is Generally Accepted As True In Today’s Age

For more information on writing a contention, read my blog Creating a Killer Contention for your Oral Presentation ‍

How to write your speech 

1. Have a CAPTIVATING introduction sentence; use a short, clear and powerful sentence.

2. RELATE to your audience so that it keeps them interested so they actually WANT to listen.

3. If you are taking on a persona, firstly study and UNDERSTAND your character.

4. Don’t forget your persuasive techniques. I usually use repetition in conjunction with the ‘rule of three’.

5. Remember that you are writing a SPEECH, not an essay. Instil your oral with emotion, varied tone and sentence lengths.

In fact, I've talked about a few of these in a 'Must Dos and Don'ts' video. If you haven't seen it yet, watch below before you read on.

4 tips on presenting your Speech

1. Body Language

Confidence is key. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and, more importantly don’t move your legs. Especially if you’re nervous, swaying or shuffling will be noticeable and make you appear more nervous—when you practise, pay attention to the lower half of your body and train it to stay still if possible.

That being said, do use your arms for gestures. Those are more natural and will help engage the audience, though don’t overdo it either—usually, holding cue cards in one hand frees up the other but also stops you from going overboard.

2. Eye contact

Cue cards brings up another important consideration- eye contact. Hold cue cards in one hand as high as you can without it feeling uncomfortable. This means you don’t have to take your eyes away from the audience for too long or too noticeably to check your notes.

Eye contact increases your engagement with the audience. It also gives the impression of confidence and that you’ve been practicing and know your speech inside and out!

3. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse

In a best case scenario, you won’t need to rely on your cue cards as you will have your speech basically memorised! Read your speech aloud and pretend that you’re actually delivering your speech. This means:

- Looking up ahead

- Holding the cue cards in the right spot; and

- Not just reading the words, but speaking as if to an audience

 It’s extremely helpful to also practice your speech to an actual audience! Practice in front of your family and friends. An alternative is to put a sticker next to your camera and record yourself. The sticker will help indicate where you should create eye contact. Look back at the video and give yourself some feedback, you might be surprised at your presentation!

4. Tone variation

Tone variation involves emphasising certain words, using pauses or slowing down for effect, or modifying volume. Incorporating some of these elements- even writing them into your notes by bolding/italicising/underlining will help you break out of monotony and make the speech more engaging.

Be sure to emphasise emotive language and any evidence you might use to illustrate your arguments. Most importantly, don’t speak too quickly!

5 things to keep in mind while writing the written explanation

For oral presentation based written explanations, the VCAA study design requests students write...

"A written statement of intention to accompany the student’s own oral presentation, articulating the intention of decisions made in the planning process, and how these demonstrate understanding of argument and persuasive language."

Using the topic, 'Why we need to stop crying 'cultural appropriation' when cultural exchange is far more important, ‘let’s see how this can be done with FLAPC with some examples below:

2. Language

3. Audience

For more information on writing a Written Explanation and a sample FLAPC compiled and rearranged for flow and fluency, read my blog How to Write a Stellar Written Explanation (Statement of Intention) .

Resources to help you prepare for your Oral Presentation

Doing this study all by yourself can be rather daunting, so we've got your back. We specialise in supporting VCE English by creating helpful videos, study guides and eBooks. Here are some just to get your started:

maus essay questions

‍ A Three Part Guide to Nailing Your Oral Presentation

Advice for A+ Oral Presentations

How I Got A+ in My Oral Presentation | Live QnA With Lisa Tran

How To 'Overcome' Your Fear of Public Speaking

Oral Presentations | How To Do Speeches

5 Common Oral Presentation Mistakes

Our How to Write a Killer Oral Presentation Study Guide has all the information you need to succeed in your Oral Presentations. Sample A+ essays and written explanations are also included!

Get exclusive weekly advice from Lisa, only available via email.

Power-up your learning with free essay topics, downloadable word banks, and updates on the latest VCE strategies.

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English Works

Maus: A student’s essay, written with my assistance

maus essay questions

The Complete Maus shows that the  Holocaust experience affects the next generation as much as it affects the people who lived through it. Do you agree?

In his comic story, Maus, Pulitzer prize winner Art Spiegelman writes about his parents’ experiences in Nazi Germany. Spiegelman uses various interview and graphic-style techniques to capture the horror of the Nazi “experiment” whereby up to 6 million Jews were killed in gas chambers in concentration camps. Whilst Vladek and Anja both survived, they were psychologically scarred. Throughout the interviews with his father, Vladek, and his father’s narrative recounts, Spiegelman reveals the extent of  their trauma which inhibits family life and relationships. The emotional and psychological divide between Art and Vladek is further tarnished by the deaths of Richieu and Anja.  The father’s development of a variety of obsessive neuroses also become another burden in the father-son relationship.

Throughout the graphic novel, Spiegelman  depicts a variety of emotional and communication barriers, which he suggests may have originated from Vladek’s Holocaust experiences.  Vladek constantly offers parental advice to Art that is often based on his experiences as a symbolic mouse in pinstriped pyjamas and yet this advice leads to, rather than, solves many of their interpersonal problems. Such emotional barriers, which appear to affect each of the men differently, are foregrounded in the ‘Prologue’. After Art was deserted and humiliated by his friends whilst rollerskating on the street, his father tells him unsympathetically and dismissively,  “Friends? Your friends? If you lock them together in a room with no food for a week … then you could see what it is, friends!” Vladek continues to saw the piece of  wood, suggesting that he is always fixing something, as he did during his war-time experiences. He doesn’t appear to be paying much attention to Art which reinforces his emotional indifference. This is a typical moment when Vladek views friendship through the lens of  life-and-death actions,  and he dismisses Art’s eight-year-old problems. In turn, he makes Art’s problems seem insignificant compared to his own. From Vladek’s perspective, his emotional detachment from his son, which could be a coping mechanism developed from his war experiences, alienates him from his son. From Spiegelman’s perspective, he does not find the psychological solace that he is searching.

Whilst Vladek appears indifferent and detached, Art appears to suffer from Vladek’s constant comparison between his father’s monumental, and his own insignificant, life experiences.  This comparison reinforces the barriers between each and exacerbates the emotional distance.  It is evident that Art agonises over these moments during his childhood, because later in Spiegelman’s typical question and answer style interview, he admits to his psychologist, Pavel, who is also a Czech Jew and a survivor of Auschwitz, that “mainly I remember arguing with him and being told that I couldn’t do anything as well as he could… No matter what I accomplished it doesn’t seem like much compared to surviving Auschwitz.”  Owing to Vladek’s tendency to belittle Art’s experiences, Art constantly feels as though he will never impress his father and develops feelings of inferiority. IN his own way, Vladek appears to inflate the significance of his own experiences in a bid to overcompensate for the fact that for most of his life he was degraded by the Nazis.  As Pavel says, “Maybe your father needed to show that he was always right — that he could always survive — because he felt guilty about surviving”.  The symbolic depiction of the demoralised Jews as vulnerable and powerless mice that are tortured by the vicious cat captures Vladek’s sense of  impotence and despair.  From Vladek’s perspective, this sense of impotence is, inadvertently, displaced onto his son. From Art’s perspective, he ironically, feels belittled, much as the father was and neither can overcome their distance.

It is evident in Maus that Vladek is constantly haunted by a sense of survivor guilt.  It is also apparent that the father transfers this guilt onto Art, which surfaces in both direct and indirect ways. As a consequence, this guilt exacerbates the psychological barriers between then and leads to displaced and thwarted emotions. As Pavel tells his patient,  if Vladek survives, 6 million Jews were killed, and this has resulted in constant anxiety. In  one comic caption, Pavel states, “Because he felt guilty about surviving … he took his guilt out on you, where it was safe…on the real survivor.” (p 204). Graphically, Art depicts Vladek’s guilt by using a palimpsest technique, which is a literal graphical bleeding from past to present, This technique  reveals Vladek’s displaced anxiety. For example, in a panel, where the family is driving back from the supermarket after attempting to return the unfinished box of special K, Vladek recalls the deaths of the four girls who were scapegoated for their subversion. This frame shows the literal blend of time zones. In the frame, Art and Francoise are in the car listening to Vladek’s recount. In the same frame, there is an image of four sets of legs hanging from a tree which presumably belong to Anja’s four friends who “blew up a crematorium”. Spiegelman graphically suggests that Vladek is scarred by the horror of his past and it is this horror that leads to numerous psychological problems.

(In another depiction, four pairs of legs are also dangling from a rope.  In this case, Nahum Cohn and his son, who traded goods without a coupon, hang from the scaffold.  Vladek suggests that such assistance was critical to his survival and yet it led to the deaths of others. Spiegelman uses an eight-frame page consisting of a five-frame present-time overlay. In the above frame, the four mice, dressed in suits,   “hanged there for one full week”. Vladek’s  prominent caption refers to the tactics of intimidation used by the “cats”  to scare the “mice” into submission.  In the bottom frame, Spiegelman uses the image of legs hanging in mid air to give an impression that anyone who subverted the system would suffer a similar fate. In doing so, Spiegelman enhances the image of the dead Jews and the brutality of the cats that continues to haunt both father and son.)

Furthermore, Vladek’s guilt often surfaces in a variety of neurotic compulsive behaviours and these interfere with his ability to be a good father.  Because of these behaviours, he cannot connect on an emotional level with his son.  Vladek is neurotic about food, disease, death and profligacy. He compulsively organises his pills, seeks to save every penny, and fixes everything through his own abilities. Vladek refuses to hire anyone to fix household problems. Spiegelman suggests that his entrepreneurial skills were the reason he stayed alive in the labour camps. Vladek also believes that he survived because ‘I saved   “Ever since Hitler I don’t like to throw out even a crumb”. In a humorous way, this reinforces the stereotype of the stingy Jew. Mala says,” it causes his physical pain  to part with money”. In a revealing retort, Vladek adamantly states: “I cannot forget it” which sums up his attitude to most daily life occurrences. He simply cannot forget the stress of experiences such as staying in  Mrs Motonowa’s cellar, sleeping with rats and living off candy for three days. They learned to be “happy even to have these conditions.” Whilst Spiegelman sets up the stereotypical miserly Jew for ridicule, there is a sense that readers can truly understand the basis of Vladek’s neuroses which are constantly displaced. Art believes that he must bear the brunt of these disorders which make it almost impossible for Art to have a normal and calm relationship with his father.

Spiegelman depicts many second generation holocaust survivors struggling with the agony of loss experienced by their traumatised parents. Many parents are paralysed by grief,  and their suffering and agony interfere with their parenting abilities.  In Art’s case, he is swamped by Anja’s and Vladek’s grief for their lost son, Richieu. Spiegelman depicts Art’s jealousy and insecurity that are a consequence of  a perverse type of sibling rivalry with his deceased “ghost” brother. Richieu died at age “five or six” during the holocaust by swallowing a poisonous pill given to him by a desperate carer, Tosha,  who feared death in the gas chambers. Spiegelman refers to a large, “blurry” photograph that hangs above Art’s parents’ bed.  The caption states, “It’s spooky having sibling rivalry with a snapshot!” During a rare conversation with Francoise in the car,  Art divulges his vulnerability and his position of disadvantage: “The photo never threw tantrums or got into any kind of trouble…it was an ideal kid and I was a pain in the ass. I couldn’t compete.”

Not only does Art feel inferior to his sibling; Spiegelman also suggests that Art, much like Vladek, is suffering from his own perverse form of survivor guilt.   In a forlorn and an indignant tone he also anticipates his parents’ disappointment, “He’d have become a doctor, and married a wealthy Jewish girl..the creep”. Vladek inadvertently refers to Art as Richieu in the final frame of the graphic novel. “I’m tired from talking, Richieu, and it’s enough stories for now.”  This reveals the extent of Vladek’s continued sadness. The unbordered gravestone of Anja and Vladek at the end also serves as a memorial to the Jewish victims,  Art suggests that Richieu’s death also contributes to Anja’s suicide and the complicated and suffocating emotions between mother and son.

The experiences of the holocaust also traumatised Art’s mother Anja which creates emotional problems between mother and son.  These emotions surface in different ways for each of them. Feeble and distraught at the loss of Richieu, Anja emotionally strangles Art as she fears losing another son.  As a consequence, Art stifles his own emotional response towards his mother, which leads to guilt. The darkness and horror of “Prisoner on the hell planet” reveals that Art feels as though he should have done more to keep his mother alive.. The word ‘Hell’ in the title instils a feeling of dread. The ghost-like thriller of the large black monster and the abstract drawings of the skull and the bony hands depict Art as the hideous victim of a grisly perfect crime story.  In a  clever role reversal, Spiegelman depicts Vladek as a heartbroken victim, weeping on the floor, which shows his ghostly horror at the fact that he has failed to fulfil his promise to Anja that “you’ll see that  together we’ll survive”.  This is also despite the parallel narrative of the love story. Vladek’s eyes are black and large and there are no pupils. Art wears the pin-striped Jewish prisoner uniform which features prominently in the graphics related to the concentration camp.  It also shows the beginning of Art’s and Vladek’s psychological distance towards each other, compounded by the guilt of the mother’s suicide.  As an incensed Art says, “I was expected to comfort HIM”  Art becomes paranoid that every guest and friend thought it was his fault. Art was always resentful of how Anja ‘tightens the umbilical cord’. It is apparent that Anja does this because she does not wish to lose another son. However, Art constantly resists her love. He says, ” Well mom, if you’re listening … congratulations! … you’ve committed the perfect crime.” Graphically, Art’s hand grasps the door of an enormous cage as he accuses the mother of placing him in an impossible emotional situation: “You put me here…shorted all my circuits…cut my nerve endings…and crossed my wires!…you murdered me mommy and you left me here to take the rap!!!” Anja’s death, then, also exacerbates the emotional distance between Vladek and Art which is based on guilt.

In Maus, Spiegelman leaves readers in no doubt that the children of the holocaust survivors continue to suffer from the displaced trauma of their parents. Many children  experience and encounter similar struggles. Throughout his discussions with his father, Art seeks to uncover the burden and the pain that Art continues to carry, and which is passed onto his son.  This trauma affects Vladek’s ability to be a loving and supportive father and he fails to provide the emotional support for which Art yearns. Finally, The Complete Maus highlights the way second generation holocaust survivors struggle with trauma, the agony of loss and the depression and displaced anxiety which haunts their parents.

Return to Maus: Notes by Dr Jennifer Minter, English Works

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The Complete Maus Essay Topics & Writing Assignments

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

Essay Topic 1

Write a character sketch of the author based on his style and content. What values does he hold dear? What are his hopes and fears? What kind of person do you think he is? Anchor your sketch in passages in the book.

Essay Topic 2

What is missing from this book? What should have been covered or presented that was not? What is the effect of this absence? Describe an element that ought to have been covered, and explain why it would have made the book stronger.

Essay Topic 3

Where is the climax of this book? Are there different climaxes? What questions does each climax resolve? What questions does each climax leave unanswered?

Essay Topic 4

Evaluate your own reading of Maus—did you resist it, or were you compelled by the story? What does your reading tell you about yourself and your interests? Use specific examples from...

(read more Essay Topics)

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A yahrzeit candle is a candle lit in memory of the dead in Jewish tradition. Art Spiegelman has stated in multiple interviews that he considers Maus to be a yahrzeit candle for both his parents and Jewish victims of the Holocaust in general. How does Maus operate as this kind of memorial? How does this idea extend to the general public reading Spiegelman’s work, especially those of non-Jewish heritage?  

Teaching Suggestion: Have students focus on the idea of understanding history as a means of improving the future, which plays into the theme of Trauma and the Generational Divide .

  • an opinion piece discussing the importance of remembering and how this idea relates to the 2022 decision to ban Maus in a Tennessee school

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Personal Response Prompt

Maus is both deeply personal and widely relevant. Do you have any relatives or friends whose experiences can be seen as both personal and influential in a larger scope? What would be the best vehicle—e.g., traditional memoir, graphic novel, film, music, painting—to share their story with the rest of the world?

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  1. MAUS Essay Questions

    MAUS Essay Questions. 1. Though the author was born in Sweden after the end of the Holocaust, the events have nevertheless had a profound effect on his life. Discuss the nature of these effects and why the Holocaust remains such a formative event. 2.

  2. Maus Essay Examples Topics, Prompts Ideas by GradesFixer

    1 page / 600 words. Art Spiegelman's graphic novel "Maus" is a groundbreaking work that utilizes animal allegory to tell the story of the Holocaust. The novel depicts Jews as mice, Germans as cats, and Poles as pigs, providing a unique perspective on the historical events. This essay will explore... Maus Allegory.

  3. 80 Maus Topic Ideas to Write about & Essay Samples

    Emotional and Ethical Appeal in Art Spiegelman's "Maus". He writes Maus, a nonfictional book, to describe the horror that the Jews were subjected to during the Holocaust through the narration of his father. We will write. a custom essay specifically for you by our professional experts. 810 writers online.

  4. Maus Essay Questions

    Thanks for exploring this SuperSummary Study Guide of "Maus" by Art Spiegelman. A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more. For select classroom titles, we also provide Teaching Guides with discussion and quiz questions to prompt student engagement.

  5. Maus Questions and Answers

    For best results, provide good context clues, such as the title and author of the text. My question is: Analyze the relationship between Art Spiegelman and his father, Vladek, in Maus. Explain the ...

  6. Maus Essay Topics

    Thanks for exploring this SuperSummary Study Guide of "Maus" by Art Spiegelman. A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more. For select classroom titles, we also provide Teaching Guides with discussion and quiz questions to prompt student engagement.

  7. Maus Questions and Resources Page, Prof. Marcuse, UCSB

    Introduction about Maus (back to top). Maus is a story within a story: Art Spiegelman, the son of two survivors of the Holocaust, tells how he interviewed his father Vladek about his father's Holocaust experience, and he also tells the story of the father's persecution and suvival. It is written in a comic book format, with various types of animals representing the various nationalities (and ...

  8. Essay and Study Questions for Art Spiegelman,

    Essay and Study Questions for Art Spiegelman, Maus, A Survivor's Tale . Below is a series of questions to guide your reading of the book. You are NOT supposed to answer all or even most of these questions in your paper (though you may find some to be relevant). The question for your paper is at the bottom of the page.

  9. Maus Discussion Questions

    Thanks for exploring this SuperSummary Study Guide of "Maus" by Art Spiegelman. A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more. For select classroom titles, we also provide Teaching Guides with discussion and quiz questions to prompt student engagement.

  10. Maus Study Guide

    Key Facts about Maus. Full Title: Maus: A Survivor's Tale. When Written: 1978-1991. When Published: The first volume of Maus ("My Father Bleeds History") was serialized in Raw magazine, beginning in 1980 and ending in 1991, when the magazine ceased publication. The first volume was published in book form in 1986.

  11. Best maus discussion questions

    These questions encourage readers to reflect on the story, its characters, and the historical context. In this article, we have compiled a list of 40 Maus discussion questions to facilitate meaningful conversations and analysis. Before diving into the questions, it is important to note that Maus is a poignant and sensitive piece of literature.

  12. The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

    6. Sample Essay Topics. We've offered a few different types of essay topics below. For more sample essay topics, head over to our Extinction Study Guide to practice writing essays using the analysis you've learnt in this blog! Theme-Based‍ The play, Extinction demonstrates that compromise is necessary in the face of conflict. Character-Based

  13. Maus: A Survivor's Tale: Full Book Summary

    Maus: A Survivor's Tale is the illustrated true story of Vladek Spiegelman's experiences during World War II, as told by his son, Artie. It consists of Book One: My Father Bleeds History, and Book Two: And Here My Troubles Began / From Mauschwitz to the Catskills and Beyond. While the story is primarily focused on Vladek's life, there is ...

  14. Maus Essay Examples and Topics by

    Maus' Summary Essay. The realistic novel "Maus" by Art Spiegelman is a rich and epic story. It pursues Art's own parent's story in Poland and depicts their experience of the Nazi's attack on the Jewish populace during the 1930s. Spiegelman tells his own story in a realistic structure, describing himself as a creature.

  15. Maus: A student's essay, written with my assistance

    In his comic story, Maus, Pulitzer prize winner Art Spiegelman writes about his parents' experiences in Nazi Germany. Spiegelman uses various interview and graphic-style techniques to capture the horror of the Nazi "experiment" whereby up to 6 million Jews were killed in gas chambers in concentration camps.

  16. Maus Quiz

    Thanks for exploring this SuperSummary Study Guide of "Maus" by Art Spiegelman. A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more. For select classroom titles, we also provide Teaching Guides with discussion and quiz questions to prompt student engagement.

  17. The Complete Maus Essay Topics & Writing Assignments

    This comprehensive lesson plan includes 30 daily lessons, 180 multiple choice questions, 20 essay questions, 20 fun activities, and more - everything you need to teach The Complete Maus!

  18. Maus Thought & Response Prompts

    Thanks for exploring this SuperSummary Study Guide of "Maus" by Art Spiegelman. A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more. For select classroom titles, we also provide Teaching Guides with discussion and quiz questions to prompt student engagement.