GCSE English Literature - Revising Novels P2

May 22, 2016

GCSE English Literature: Revising Novels – Exploring Themes and Using PEE

Get to grips with English novels in GCSE English Literature

If you study GCSE English Literature, you are likely to read at least one of these novels:

Animal Farm
Great Expectations
Lord of the Flies
To Kill a Mockingbird
Wuthering Heights
Pride and Prejudice

Starting out, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the length and reading level of these texts. You will be asked to read the novel outside of class and have classroom time dedicated to reading important chapters and scenes, and to analysing important elements of the text, such as its characters and themes.

Exploring Themes
Themes are fundamental, often universal ideas explored within a text. Each novel will have a few strong themes running through it; you will cover these in class, yes, but you also need to be confident in discussing and writing about them as theme-based questions are popular in English Literature exams and assessments.

The theme of any text is arguably its most important component. If you consider the main theme(s) as the foundation of a text, it usually becomes easier to see and explain why the author made certain choices. For example, Pride and Prejudice’s main themes are social class, love and reputation.

These themes clarify why the author chose to depict a wealthy family at the centre of her novel (or her decision to depict a wealthy family – possibly her own, at least in part – made these themes impossible to escape). A number of single women feature at the beginning of the novel, so the author’s introduction of bachelors to the story helps to introduce the idea of romantic love.

You may discuss or need to discuss themes at length. Giving examples of them will be necessary in your answers. To do this, link specific events with the theme(s) you are discussing – quotations if possible. Look to discuss the themes and how the author portrays them in the explanation section of your PEE paragraphs.

Using PEE
We’ve mentioned the need to give examples of your ideas about the novel. Examiners love ideas to be supported with specific, relevant examples because doing this demonstrates that you have read and understood the text. If you haven’t heard this acronym already, be sure to write it down:

PEE Point, Evidence, Explanation

PEE is easy to remember and using it effectively will help you to maximise your marks. In every paragraph (or section if you write short paragraphs), make your point, give your evidence and explain your opinion in depth. For example:

P: Atticus Finch is a man of integrity who would only use violence if it were absolutely necessary.

E: In the novel, a ‘mad dog’ comes down the street and approaches the Finchs’ home. Atticus shoots the dog dead to protect his family.

E: We consider Atticus Finch to be a good man because he teaches his children morals and defends a man he believes to be innocent, even in the face of persecution. When we see him shoot the dog we know it is only because the dog could not be saved and would have hurt his family and neighbours if it had reached them.

EBI (even better if) you use a quotation here to demonstrate Atticus’s good intentions in killing the dog; this explanation is not top mark-worthy because it’s a little vague. We can’t assume that the person examining our answer knows ‘we know’ that Atticus refrains from violence throughout the novel.

PS: If even after all this expert advice, you’re still struggling to tackle your English Literature novel, check out our study guides, which do all the hard work for you!

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