The reflective statement is a short piece of writing of between 300-400 words. It can be completed outside of class time and there is a lot of scope for personal expression in this piece. The RS is based on the following question:
How was your understanding of cultural and contextual considerations of the work developed through the interactive oral?
Two key terms here are “context” and “developed.”
“Context” refers to all possible contexts. It is intended to embrace the cultural underpinnings of the works by looking at specifics such as
- the time and place in which the work was written information about the author (particularly as it relates to the way in which the author’s ideas as presented in the work do, or do not, accord with situations in the contemporary society) philosophical, political and social contexts
- ideas that the students themselves bring to the work.
“Developed” is the other key word in the question. It is a personal statement that is most likely to be written in the first person, and should be an honest account of the evolution of understanding. If you feel that you have not really learned anything, then you should reflect on what you still do not understand.
The aim is to ensure the focus of discussion is sufficiently challenging so that you will be stimulated to think more deeply about some aspect of the work. The criterion by which you’ll be assessed uses the same words as the question on which the reflective statement is based. If you answer this question honestly and fully, then you should be able to achieve all three points.
To help you develop a full response, think in the following terms:
Question: What elements of the role played by context were illuminated or developed by you?
- To what extent did you understand the different contexts (biographical, social, historical, artistic) which shaped the work?
- How satisfactorily did you articulate these in the interactive oral? (Think about the ‘what’ and the ‘when’).
- To what extent did you interpret these different contexts? (Think about the ‘why’ and the ‘how’)
Question: What aspects of the discussion most interested you?
- A personal response is required here. What stimulated you most of all, and why?
- Relate your points to the works under discussion; make the connections between your experiences and those explored in the text relevant and appropriate.
Question: What new angles on the work did the discussion provoke for you?
- These new angles could come from your classmates as well as yourself (remember: the discussion is ‘interactive’, and you should show how you are learning from others).
- Again, you should keep the text at the centre of your writing.
Let’s see first a strong reflective statement, followed by a weak one. Decide what the characteristics of a high-scoring RS are.
Example of a strong reflective statement
My understanding of the culture of the Ibo was deepened through the discussion we had on religion in Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe). We debated whether Ibo religion with its emphasis on the afterworld and the spirits was based on faith or superstition and came to the conclusion that this was too superficial and artificial a way of looking at the question. A better approach would be to say that the Ibo religion is based on a cosmology that goes beyond understanding of life and death into a perpetual cycle between the living, the dead and the unborn and as such there is the feeling that the ancestors are constantly watching over the present and can be venerated, honoured or indeed shamed.
Okonkwo’s visit to the Agbala shows the reader that the superstitious approach comes more from him than the religion itself as he is in a state of perpetual paranoia and power struggle. Unlike the wise chief priestess Ezeani, who reveres the ancestors and looks to them as vanguards of the present, Okonkwo despises his most immediate predecessor, his father, and in doing so breaks with the Ibo tradition. It is this transgression that causes him to become superstitious, as he no longer has the faith and confidence in the past that any honourable Ibo member of society should, and therefore he acts in increasingly compulsive and violent ways.
The class debate developed this idea in interesting ways: at first most of the class felt that the purpose of Things Fall Apart was to suggest that the Ibo reigion is a rigid system and not as flexible and forgiving as Christianity and this was why it failed to keep the village together. However, provocative questions and statements such as ‘who exactly leads the village to its downfall after all? and ‘ surelyAchebe is looking at culture in a more sophisticated way than this!’ slowly took us to a different conclusion.
The interactive oral was a powerful and transformative experience that made us think about culture in Things Fall Apart more carefully and reflectively. It made us consider how culture in general cannot be considered as something that exists of its own accord without taking into account the people that embody and dramatize it.
Example of a weak reflective statement:
In our class we studied the play Death and the Maiden by Ariel Dorfman. It was a good play and I really liked it. In the class discussion we talked about many things, like justice. The discussions were interesting and I feel I really got a lot out of them.
When we discussed justice there were many interesting things that came up, for example the way that the main character wants to take justics against her former torturer. This was an interesting conversation and it made me think about culture in Chile. The culture of Chile is such that people take justice into their own hands. She wants to do this and this was something that we debated in the class.
I felt that I also learned about the role of women in South American culture through the discussion. In my culture women are free but in the South American culture they are not. Women in this culture really have to fight for their rights and its not really fair at all. I feel this strongly coming from my cultural viewpoint.
I felt that this was developed through the discussion we had because we said many things about the main female character and gave many examples of how she is not free. For example, her husband does not listen to her and Dr Miranda, her torturer, raped her.
All in all I felt that it was a really interesting conversation we had in the class and it definitely helped me develop my understanding of culture in Death and the Maiden for the reasons that I have already given. I would add that there were also contextual elements that I understood more because of the interactive oral and this was a good thing because I now feel I know the work much better.
More examples of strong reflective statements:
Response to the discussion of Turgenev’s context (Fathers and Sons)
During the discussion, several articles were presented to the class. The subjects brought to light were the Russian economy during the 1850s, serfdom, and the question of whether Turgenev was obsolete or not. The articles on the Russian economy explained the state of transition the Russian economy was in during the mid-1850s. Prior to this period, there were members of the society called serfs. These were essentially slaves who worked on the fields of rich peasants, or the upper class. However, at this time Russia began to move away from serfdom.
After this discussion, it would appear Turgenev places great importance on the time, place, and culture of his novel, as serfdom and the existence of social classes are a predominant feature in Fathers and Sons. I found this discussion interesting, as it clarified some aspects of the novel. For example, in
Fathers and Sons, Nikolai is a relatively well off land owner, and he ‘owns’ many serfs. However, as the system begins to evolve, the serfs and their owners have some trouble adjusting to the new system of land ownership. The serfs are misbehaved and irresponsible, and these aspects of the culture and context form the setting of the novel.
The article on the ‘Turgenev Question’ was interesting as well, because it highlighted some of Turgenev’s techniques, and what he’s famous for. According to the article, the art of Turgenev is in understatement: he manages to capture large philosophical, social, and historical movements as manifested in everyday life.
This can indeed be seen in Fathers and Sons. Turgenev paints a picture of commonplace Russian life with characters like Nikolai Arkady, Pavel, Bazarov and Fenichka, using barely any overly dramatic devices. Yet, through the characters’ thoughts and interactions with each other Turgenev explores ideas such as familial relationships. Furthermore, he portrays other aspects of Russian life, including the wide gap between social classes and the idea of young people rejecting all authorities.
Response to the discussion of Henrik Ibsen’s context (A Doll’s House)
My first interactive oral was on Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. The play is one of the most powerful pieces of literature I have ever read, and I hope that my interest in it – and the themes Ibsen explored – were clearly conveyed to the group. Much of the discussion focused on the importance of context in understanding the power Ibsen’s ideas, and it would be impossible to really appreciate the full implications of Nora’s final actions if we did not understand the society the play was written and performed in. Norway (and indeed Western Europe) in the late 19th century was a deeply conservative and patriarchal society; although it is a generalisation, middle class women like Nora were not expected to work. Instead, their role was to look after the children and attend to their husbands.
I argued that Ibsen’s presentation of Nora was more radical than a simple rejection of the ‘stay-at-home mother’: in fact, what Nora rejects is still difficult to accept in many cultures: for a man to leave his wife and children is not unusual, but for a woman to do so is seen by many as immoral and unnatural. Understanding this position goes some way to explaining why is caused such a scandal when it was first performed (and why Ibsen was forced to change the ending for the German audience).
I found the ideas that other classmates contributed very stimulating although I did not agree with them all: other students judged Nora’s actions less sympathetically than me, and argued that Ibsen did not necessarily intend us to unequivocally favour Nora’s actions, despite Torvald’s behaviour. Others felt the characterisation was weak, or inconsistent, and that the transformation of Nora to an early, radical feminist was unconvincing. I could sympathise with the latter point because if we compare her to the Nora of Act 1 there is little similarity; but I could not agree that Ibsen was not clear about how we should view her actions. It is clear that Ibsen did intend us to sympathise with Nora (and indeed for many women in the audience to empathise with her), and to think otherwise shows an unwillingness to accept the subversiveness of his message. It led to a stimulating discussion which, I hope, will inform my later written work.
Response to the discussion of Tolstoy’s context ( Anna Karenina)
I was pleased with how the interactive oral went. I was able to both listen to others and learn from what they had to say, and I was also pleased that I had the time to put forward some of my main arguments.
I approached this text from a ‘feminist’ perspective: for me, the central character is a woman who is made a victim simply because she is a woman. The author makes it clear that she is repressed for being both physically and emotionally weaker than the male characters: at least, that is the perception, but the reader is aware, through the internal monologue that re-occurs at the end of each key stage, that she is by far the most self-aware and resolute of them all.
Each stage of her journey is punctuated by a series of injustices, and each resonate with me as a female student: they articulated
what for me is a fundamental truth: namely, that in a patriarchal society women can too often become marginalised. However, there is another truth evident here: that if women retain their own distinctive voices, there is hope for others. This is clearly shown in the final stage of the text when the child who is thought to have been given away to a more ‘deserving’ (affluent) family returns to
It was clear, after discussing this with my classmates, that many of the male characters are also repressed by a system that keeps
them imprisoned. However, my argument was that female characters in the text are doubly repressed – by class and gender – and
that it is through language that they become free. By liberating women, society becomes freer.
I wish I could have spoken at more length about the language that is used in this text: it is so cleverly written but I felt there simply wasn’t time. I also wanted to speak more about the structure because although I love the text dearly there are times when it seems
forced and intended to manipulate our emotions. In that sense, it does seem contrived, but it is worth it because the power of the text has the power to change our view of ourselves and society.
Response to the discussion of Murakami’s context (The Wind Up Bird Chronicle )
Initially I was struck by the discussion catalyzed by Rosalyn and Shruti’s “confrontation”. It seemed quite clear and valid that Murakami would be accused of dismissiveness of Japanese culture and history.
His works often celebrate Western cultures, especially musical references to jazz and opera, reflecting an idealizing which seems very un-Japanese. However, as the presentation continued, I found myself challenged by what Guojon and Landon were saying. They discussed Japanese historical elements included in the novel.
As they went over his references to historic Japanese icons,often expressed in the characters names, I began to understand Murakami’s angle a little more. Rather than use a more classical approach to the incorporation of Japanese culture in his novels, he strives to find that subtle balance between Western criticism (seen in many of the characters’ war stories) and acceptance of Japan’s rich and often dark history. His references to both cultures are sometimes clear and sometimes subtle. Overall I found the presentation quite enlightening, and my perspective is both altered and broadened, seeing Murakami’s endeavour to blend Japanese and Western culture.
Response to the discussion of Kadare’s context (Broken April )
An interesting proposition brought forth by this context presentation was the nature of Kadare’s rhetorical agenda. After presenting examples of abominable practices around the world, the group was able to show that people’s views on others’ traditions, laws, and cultures are highly subjective. This position evolved to suggest that perhaps Kadare uses this novel to expose what seems appalling practices to force us to look at our own cultures and their practices about such things as death sentences, stoning women for adultery, and the like.
I feel this possible impulse is further supported by how Kadare shapes the characters in the novel. Gyorg seems like a helpless, sensitive person. Kadare forces the audience to sympathise with those affected by the Kanun’s devastating effects. Furthermore he makes us identify with the characters of Diana and Bessian by pulling us out of a city culture and having us enter the culture of the Kanun along with them, creating culture shock for both characters and audience.
By these methods, Kadare forces reflection and the conclusions that are suggested by this presentation.