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Book cover
The Simple Gift

This material was written by Bettyanne Austen, Coffs Harbour High School

Before you begin working on this close analysis of The Simple Gift it is highly recommended that you complete the activities in the Area of Study: Belonging section of this website.

Close Analysis of The Simple Gift
Thesis Statements

Close analysis of The Simple Gift

You should read this text several times. It will only take about two hours for each reading. A detailed knowledge and understanding of the text will enable you to produce a more reasoned and personal response in your exams and assessment tasks.

Begin your close analysis of the text with constant reference to the Stage 6 Prescriptions statements, to ensure that you are addressing the required fields of study. (Read the Introduction to the Area of Study)

What you must do in this Area of Study:

The following aspects of the text must therefore be considered throughout your study of belonging.

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AuthorFind out all you can about the poet Steven Herrick. Every piece of information shapes your understanding of Herrick’s perception of belonging, through the text and within the text. For example, many of Herrick’s personal experiences as a youth are inspiration for events in The Simple Gift. In his biography (external website) he ‘remembers staying in a disused railway carriage in Ballarat, Victoria’, was helped out by a friendly train guard in Queensland and actually travelled in a speed boat on top of a train. He also worked as a fruit picker. Because Herrick draws on actual life events, his portrayal of belonging, its loss and reaffirmation, are powerfully tangible and authentic.

Explaining his reason for writing verse-novels (external website) in addition to ‘straight’ poetry, Herrick noted that a free-verse text ‘allows me into the personality of each character—his or her thoughts, emotions, insecurities, and ambitions. The verse-novel form lets me tell the story from a number of perspectives, and, hopefully, with an economy of words. In short, it allows each character to tell the story in his or her own language, from his or her own angle.’

How does Herrick’s choice of form impact on your appreciation of his examination of belonging?

Herrick’s verse-novel is organised into eleven chapters. Each chapter is prefaced by a brief extract from one of the poems within the chapter and a black and white image. The quotation which accompanies the image captures the essence of the intent of each section while the images portray a physical and contextual aspect of the chapter. How do the choice of chapter titles, extracts and photos impact on your interpretation of belonging?

The free verse poems are told from the perspectives of the three main characters: Billy, the sixteen-year-old runaway; Caitlin, a girl from a wealthy family who forms a genuine relationship with Billy; and Old Bill, a homeless alcoholic. How does this mix of gender, social status and age, affect your appreciation of belonging?

The first person narrative recount allows the responder to directly engage with each of these characters. There is no intermediary in the form of a narrator to direct interpretation. Yet, there is a variety of modes of delivery within the poems delivered by each character to enhance the responder’s awareness of the impact of events on a character’s sense of belonging.

Flashbacks, such as those used by Billy on p. 15, highlight a ten year old’s sense of isolation which was prompted by an abusive father. The memories shared by Old Bill on p. 96, capture his utter desolation at the loss of firstly his only daughter and then his wife.

Subtext, where so much more is implied than the words spoken, creates a parallel narrative, by giving ‘voice’ to a character’s unspoken reactions. Billy’s sense of alienation is so entrenched by his father’s repeated mistreatment, that he misreads the attempts by the librarian, Irene’s, attempts to provide him with physical security within the sanctuary of the library, p. 25.

Notes, such as the farewell note to Billy’s father on the opening page, which powerfully summarises Billy’s disconnection from his father. The note itemising the etymology of Caitlin’s name on p.40 and Billy’s ‘business card’ on p.43, evocatively portray Billy’s tentative overtures to establish a connection with Caitlin. The note form allows him to express his innermost cravings to belong in a relationship, which he would have found difficult to verbalise at that point.

Direct speech/conversation such as Old Bill’s regrets on p. 109, which powerfully capture the frantic speed of life, which steals adults from the valuable family moments that foster belonging.

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Assessment Preparation

Once you have read the text a second time you will be ready to construct grids which will help you in your assessment preparation.
These grids will help you closely analyse HOW your set text, Herrick’s The Simple Gift SHAPES your ideas of belonging.
Remember that the focus is WHAT your understanding of belongingisas clarified in the text and HOW this understanding has been shaped through techniques including form, language and structure .

Character: Billy
Belonging Quote Technique
Alienation and isolation caused by an abusive father ‘gave me one hard backhander across the face, so hard I fell down… and slammed the door on my sporting childhood.’ (p. 15-16)
  • metaphor
Physical dislocation on freight train ‘I snuggle under the bow of this speeding speedboat and my teeth clenched in some wild frost-bitten grin.’ (p. 10)
  • disturbing/grotesque imagery
Kindness of, and inclusion by, the train driver, Ernie ‘Get your bag and come to the Guard’s van. there’s a heater that works, and some coffee.’ (p. 12)
  • imperatives
Lack of control over destiny ‘and wait for the three whistles to dump me in another State.’(p. 20)
  • personification
  • negative/loaded verb
Social outcast ‘As I near the town there’s more cars and school buses, yellow, full of kids shouting insults at me, the bum.’ (p. 21)
  • labelling
Solitary paradigm, devoid of faith in fellow man. ‘I’d go off alone, because you can’t trust those who want to break the rules and you certainly can’t trust those who make the rules.’ (p. 23)
  • intertextuality
    (related to William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies)
Physical sense of belonging ‘Bendarat is the perfect town. A friendly librarian, a warm McDonalds, luxury train accommodation.’ (p. 39)
  • absolute term
  • irony
Exclusion emphasised through clothing/image ‘I wouldn’t want to meet her here not when she’s with her friends and in uniform and me dressed in the same clothes as always.’ (p. 39)
  • symbolism
Connects with Old Bill by offering a gift of a carton of cigarettes ‘sharing the hobo hour.’ (p. 49)
  • metaphor
Recognises his own disconnected future in Old Bill ‘Then he stumbled off, an old man before his time, sleeping in a carriage, and I shivered as the sun came up.’ (p. 51)
  • metaphoric use of ‘shivered’ as it applies literally and figuratively
Rejection from Old Bill ‘… he growled, ‘Piss off son. Piss off. Leave me alone.’’ (p. 55)
  • emotional intensity of vulgar slang
Security of the ‘home’ Billy has created, Carriage 1864 ‘It was like a little cave, a warm, safe little cave… Billy’s cave.’ (p. 63)
  • simile
  • repetition
  • accretion
Sense of family, by tracing lineage ‘… and Luckett, which is Scottish in origin. I found an ancestor who was a Duke — from royalty to employment in a few generations.’ (p. 66)
  • irony
  • self-depreciating humour
A relationship has ‘centred’ Billy. His life has direction, routine and meaning. He has reached a sense of belonging. ‘This morning I woke and I knew where I was going for the next few months — to the Library to McDonalds to the river and home here to the Hilton — a circuit of plans with Caitlin at the centre, and me a badly-dressed satellite spinning crazily in her orbit.’ (p. 70)
  • anaphora (repetition of word/phrase at the start of successive lines)
  • extended metaphor
A wage or money does not create a sense of security ‘with nothing you’re rich. You’ve got no decisions, no choice, and no worry… go back to being rich and penniless again.’ (p. 81)
  • paradox
No friendships but escaped sense of isolation through books ‘But I didn’t have any friends, I didn’t want any. I had books and Westfield Creek’ (p.102)
  • reaffirmation
Billy’s hope as to what Caitlin sees in him - a definition of belonging ‘…what she sees in me. I hope it’s someone to talk to someone to look in the eye knowing they’ll look back.’ (p. 103)
  • anaphora (or repetition)
Recognition of the importance of belongingto his family for Old Bill ‘… how he’s afraid to forget because without his ghosts he’s afraid he’ll have nothing to live for. And at that moment I know I am listening to the saddest man in the world.’ (p. 105)
  • superlative
  • hyperbole (exaggeration)
Ultimate act of belonging: making love to Caitlin ‘It was like falling headlong into the clear waters of the Bendarat River and opening my eyes to the beautiful phosphorescent bubbles of light and trying to catch those bubbles in the new world of quiet and calm that carried me along, breathless’ (p. 127)
  • simile
  • light imagery
Welfare’s definition of belonging ‘I knew Welfare would ask about where I lived and how I lived.’ (p. 147)
  • invasive authority
Role of physical home in concept of belonging ‘I knew that Old Bill was giving me more than these keys I held holding someone’s past in my dirty hands.’ (p.166)
  • metaphor
Romantic commitment ‘Caitlin and I lay in the huge bed with the moon a perfect light to show Caitlin the beautiful green emerald ring.’ (p. 194)
  • surreal/magical colour
  • imagery
Homes are not permanent ‘I know I’m only here for a while so I tread lightly with respect for this house and for Old Bill.’ (p. 200)
  • metaphor
Trappings and requirements of belonging. Billy’s uncertainty about belonging in a school environment ‘Irene went over to the Resource section, brought back a TAFE Handbook and a government study assistance. If they paid me maybe, just maybe, I’d go back to school.’ (p.201)
  • low modality
Belonging reaches beyond boundaries ‘and I looked up into the sky, the deep blue sky that Old Bill and I shared.’(p. 205)
  • symbolism

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Thesis statements

You must compose your own thesis statements and justify them with textual analysis, always overlaying their discussion with quotes and techniques. The justifications of such thesis statements becomes the building blocks of assessment responses.

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Assessment and exam questions

This is a new Area of Study, but it is still important to consult past HSC papers (external website) to appreciate the generic nature of the questions, even if they were on a different focus of the Journey and prior to that Change. Also read over the Notes from the Marking Centre as to what constituted a successful response.

Assessment Tasks usually make a generic statement regarding the concept, belonging, and then ask students to make an informed comment, using their set text and at least two additional texts. Therefore the more thesis statements with proofs, which you can produce prior to assessment tasks, the less thinking on the spot will be required.

An assessment task could be based on any of the above thesis statements, quotes on belonging or the rubric describing this unit within the Prescriptions document. Get used to addressing such hypotheses on the concept of belonging, in the light of your texts. The examiner wants to know HOW your understanding of the concept of belonging,has been shaped. No matter what the specific wording of the question, this is the intent.

Remember that the core concepts of Paper One, Area of Study are:

Representation: How techniques shape meaning and influence the responses to text.
Perceptions: How composers and therefore responders see the world. Context shapes this understanding. Characters may be given a voice, marginalised or omitted from the text.
Contextualisation: Considering the meaning of a text in relation to the context in which it was composed, or considering the significance of a response to a text in relation to the context of the responder.
Interrelationships: Connections between your texts through the concept of belonging.

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