Language Analysis: we got feelings

It’s like The Flight of the Conchords: “We’re rappers…That hurts our feelings when you say we’re not rappers.”

When you write about how an author uses language to persuade their readers they are usually trying to stir up some kind of feeling.  Arguments might involve logic but they also involve emotive language designed to evoke a particular feeling in the audience.


Semester 2 Exam: preparation

What do I bring?

No texts.  No quotations sheets or notes.

A dictionary.

Pens, not pencils.

A clear head. A well-rested body.

What is the exam made up of?

This exam includes 15 minutes reading time and 75 minutes writing time in total.

  • Part A: Language Analysis (recommended writing time 25 minutes) .  This makes up 40% of your marks.
  • Part B: Passage Analysis (recommended writing time 50 minutes).  This makes up 60% of your marks.

How do I make use of reading time?

Read calmly and carefully.  You have time.  Re-read if you get the chance.

Read the Rosewater passage carefully and familiarise your self with where it occurs in the book.  Not reading the passage in reading time is a big mistake because you’ll be racing in writing time so won’t be able to distill your thoughts properly.  Read it and reassure yourself that much of what we have learned about the targets of Vonnegut’s satire can be related to any passage – this one will be no different.  The passage will trigger your knowledge and understanding of the rest of the texts and you should feel confident that you can draw on the learning of the past few weeks.

You will then want to spend most of your reading time on the persuasive argument (Part A) to decipher the main contention, supporting arguments and the ways that key elements of the issues are presented in order to elicit responses from the readers.  This is the first section of the exam and you will want to begin writing with the text and your knowledge and understanding of it fresh in your mind.

What order do I have to do it in?

Ultimately whichever you feel most comfortable with BUT do not ignore the time recommended for each section.  Timekeeping is YOUR responsibility so keep an eye on the clock.  I would recommend that you do the Language Analysis section first since that will be fresh in your mind.

Any Language Analysis tips?

Annotate the text if that helps.  Write out any reminders to yourself:

eg. What does this suggest?; What does this appeal to in the reader?; What is the reader supposed to think, feel or do? ; loaded language; appeals to….;

List the issue elements or the stakeholders.  Having the list there beside you will help you go back into the text to find evidence of ways that they are presented.

Any Passage Analysis tips?

Think of a mnemonic to help you remember the key themes or terms to use when discussing ‘God Bless You, Mr Rosewater.’  Having the list there will act as an aide memoir as you go back through the passage and find the points you want to discuss – you can annotate the text for the following:

  • themes (and the characters we associatiate with them eg. the poor – Diana Moon Glampers)
  • satirical devices
  • links to elsewhere in the text (compare similarities or contrast positions) to other parts of the text (eg. The Money River; The Golden Age of Rome; Kilgore Trout’s wisdom at the novel’s end)
  • how this passage sits in relation to the novel, the way it ends and its message about American society and capitalism, altruism and the like
  • jot down any key quotations from elsewhere in the text (your quote bank) that you know you will want to use in your analysis

Things to think about: how Vonnegut’s message about ‘uncritical love’ is communicated; the paradox associated with altruism and charity – the need for it but its ultimate failure; the failure of capitalism to account for the plight of the poor; the attitudes of the wealthy towards the poor; the attitudes of the poor towards the wealthy; the way a meritocracy encourages people to equate their value to wealth; the role of lawyers, the law, governors and the government in cycle of accumulating and securing wealth;  the valuing or devaluing of life and worth – how to love the ‘useless’/avoid suicide; the capacity of society to learn or be impervious to learning and wisdom; the role of art and science in understanding human beings and so on.

Remember that it is not enough to merely ‘illustrate’ that the passage contains a reference to a big idea or theme.  You need to examine the presentation of the idea in the passage and then the presentation of the idea in the text as a whole with references to other parts of the text.  Your job is not to show that an idea is present.  You have to show specifically what Vonnegut is suggesting about that idea and how that idea fits in with the message of the novel as a whole.  That’s why, if you’re feeling a little shaky about your knowledge and understanding of the text, it might be worthwhile to read some literary criticism about it and certainly reread the text if you get the chance.


“This relates to Vonnegut’s ideas about capitalism.  It also shows the negative aspects of the idea of a meritocracy.”

(here the student pays ‘name-drops’ some themes but shows little to no knowledge and understanding of the nature of those ideas or how they are presented in the text as a whole)


“When McAllister mocks Steward Buntline by saying, ‘So you want to be a saint?’ he presents the idea that charity is only something one might do for status – and nothing to do with true Christian values of kindness and empathy – and he ridicules Stewart’s learning by suggesting that Harvard provides a sub-standard education.  Here Vonnegut draws attention to the way educational institutions might impart a superficial understanding of the ‘suffering’ of the world in their first year, but that by the end of their degrees the graduates join the same group receive donations from Eliot Rosewater every year.  Stewart Buntline learns the lessons Eliot Rosewater never did and adopts ‘conservatism’ as a course throughout his life.  Vonnegut seems to suggest that the urge to give to others is natural but can be stifled by those who have a vested interest in benefitting from and preserving vast sums of accumulated wealth.  ‘”

(here the student demonstrates an excellent understanding of passage in question and is able to link it to other aspects of the text and Vonnegut’s big ideas about the failings of American Society)








Sample Language Analysis and Commentary

“Language is the dress of thought.” —-Samuel Johnson

Here’s a dress for thought: Viktor and Rolf bring a new interpretation to an old masterpiece.  You can check out their exhibition at the NGV this summer.

Viktor and Rolf: Wearable Art (Couture Fall/Wintor 2015-16), images based on Dutch Golden Age paintings of the 17th century, such as ‘The Threatened Swan’ by Jan Asselijn, 1650 (Rijksmuseum)


Not to your taste? It’s conceptual, brother.

Speaking of conceptual, remember that this task is all about discovering and explaining how writers present things through their choice of language in order to influence the audience (make them feel, think or act in a particular way) to in turn persuade them to accept their point of view.

Keep this concept in your head and you should not be phased by this section of the exam.

By now, you will have read Vyom Sharma’s comment piece in The Age dealing with gambling.

Now read the sample-language-analysis-and-commentary-on-gambling-comment-piece , which I wrote.  You will not be given an article so long nor be expected to write so much in the 25 minutes you are required to spend on this task in the exam, however it should give you an idea of the nature of the task and of the kind of things you should find and comment on: the process and results of analysis.

Not sure of the process (how to get there)?  Check back to the table related to the gambling article.  You will find the process pretty clearly stepped out there.