Higher practice – prose questions

The following exam questions have been lifted from the old Higher papers. It would be worth your while to take a look at these and practice your critical writing. Remember you must have a clear introduction that sets out what you are going to be looking at, each main paragraph must have a point which is then back up with evidence from the text (preferably a quote). You then need to analyse this evidence, how is it supporting your point? And finally how does this link back to the main argument?

>Choose a novel in which the fate of the main character is important in conveying the writer’s theme. Explain what you consider the main theme to be and discuss how effectively the fate of the character conveys it.

>Choose a novel which has one of the following as its theme: sacrifice; unrequited love; isolation. Discuss the techniques by which the novelist establishes one of these themes and go on to show how, in the end, he or she achieves a satisfactory resolution.

>Choose a novel in which the writer’s method of narration (such as first person narrative, diary form, journal…) plays a significant part. Explain briefly the method of narration and discuss its importance to your appreciation of the text.

>Choose a novel where the method of narration makes an important contribution to the success of the text. Briefly explain the method of narration used by the author and then show in more detail the ways in which it contributes to the overall theme.

>Choose a novel which seems to be bleak and pessimistic. Show how the pessimism is established and go on to discuss the extent to which the pessimism contributes to the overall theme.

>Choose a novel with dark uncertain undertones. Explain the means by which the writer has created the undertones and, in more detail, discuss their contribution to the themes as a whole.

>Choose a novel in which the novelist makes use of more than one location. Discuss how the use of different locations allows the novelist to develop the central concern(s) of the text.

>Choose a novel where characters are affected by certain external forces over which they have little control. Discuss the writer’s use of such forces – social, political, supernatural – and show the extent to which the characters have difficulty in dealing with them.

>Choose a novel in which the novelist makes use of symbols. Describe briefly what they represent and discuss how the use of these symbols helps develop the central concern(s) of the text.

>Choose a novel in which the story’s emotional twists ensure that your interest is held until the end. Briefly explain how these twists involve you in the story and then discuss how they lead to a deeper appreciation of the text as a whole.

>Choose a novel which has a theme of friendship or family relationships. Show how the novelist explores your chosen theme and discuss how this treatment enhances your appreciation of the novel as a whole.

>Choose a novel in which a character experiences a moment of revelation. Describe briefly what is revealed and discuss its significance to your understanding of the theme/s.

>Choose a novel in which a minor character plays an important part. Show how the minor character’s role is established and go on to discuss how that character contributes to either the fate of the main character or to the overall theme of the novel.

>Choose a novel which slowly reveals the strengths of the main character. Show how the writer achieves the revelation and go on to demonstrate how it contributes to the overall theme of the text.

>Choose a novel with a central character you consider to be heroic. Show how the heroic qualities are revealed and discuss how this portrayal of the character enhances your understanding of the text as a whole.

>Choose a novel where the story, interesting for its own sake, nevertheless also comments more generally on human behaviour. Show how the story itself interests you but go on to discuss how the story also has a much more universal appeal.

>Choose a novel where the ending raises more questions than answers. Explain how the novelist prepares us for the ending and go on to discuss its contribution to the novel as a whole.
>Choose a novel in which one character’s loyalty or disloyalty to another proves to be decisive. Explain how this arises and go on to discuss why you think it is important to the text as a whole.

The Kite Runner – Chapter 24 & 25

Amir experiences a sensation of a weight being “lifted off his chest” at the beginning of the chapter. We get a feeling here that things are starting to work out. Amir feels that he has righted the wrongs of his past, that Sohrab can begin to heal and that Amir and Soraya will finally have a version of the family they have longed for.

Mr Andrews is the American Ambassador and to begin with we see him as largely unsympathetic to Amir’s plight. He does not seem to care about Sohrab’s unusual situation and seems jaded by all the paperwork. It is later revealed that his daughter committed suicide which softens Amir’s attitude towards him.

Omar Faisal, the adoption lawyer seems much more sympathetic to Amir and Sohrab’s plight. He seems overworked and underpaid but he offers what he feels is the best and soundest advice, suggesting that SOhrab be placed in a Pakistan orphanage till Amir and Soraya can fill out official adoption papers.

The thought of going back to an orphanage obviously traumatises Sohrab. He has already spent time in the Afghan orphanage where he would have spent most of the time hungry and cold. He would have received little comfort whilst grieving the murder and loss of his parents. He was then snatched from the orphanage and abused. This is all he knows about orphanages, it is understandable that he would not wish this to happen again.

The weather during Amir’s phone call is dramatic epithet. It has become dark and rainy, this is a premonition of what is to come – Sohrab’s attempted suicide.

When Amir finds Sohrab half-dead in the bath he tells us “suddenly I was on my knees, screaming. Screaming through my clenched teeth. Screaming until I thought my throat would rip and my chest explode.
Later they said I was still screaming when the ambulance arrived.” Amir feels torn apart by seeing Sohrab in this state. He has fought too hard for his nephew to end up dead. The repeated “screaming” tells us that this is almost a aprimal reaction to seeing Sohrab this way. He clearly doesn’t remember much either, probably going into shock as he claims others had to tell him about how long his screams lasted.

Amir feels compelled to visit the mosque when Sohrab is recovering in hospital as he is desperate and has no other options. Even though he is not religious he decides to give praying a shot.

The “timid guest” analogy for Sohrab’s hope is an apt one. Sohrab has lived in fear for so long that he has forgotten what hope is and so it occupies his body shyly, as if he has no right to feel this emotion.

At the end of the dinner scene with Amir, Soraya and her parents we see a complete change in Amir. In the past he would have bowed down to the General’s wishes and not wanted to start a fight. In this scene though, he sticks up for Sohrab when the General insults him and puts the General in his place by commanding him to refer to Sohrab by his name and not as “that Hazara boy”.

Kite flying and running is what connected Amir and Hassan and showed us how strong their relationship was to begin with. It is also something that Hassan used to do with Sohrab when they were back in Afghanistan. It is important that the book should end this way as this is how Amir will bond with Sohrab, and it is how Sohrab can begin to heal himself. It is also a way for Amir and Sohrab to remember Hassan.

The Kite Runner – Chapter 21 & 22

Two things at the start of Chapter 21 that suggest the chaos experienced in Kabul are the state of the restaurant building and the dead body. Amir describes for us the restaurant that he and his father used to visit. The building has been padlocked but people have smashed the windows and parts of the sign have fallen off. This suggests it has been left in a hurry by its owners and that people have tried to break in. The body is that of a hanged man that has been left to rot. The body has been torn at by other people and so is covered in blood but the people going about there business on the day Amir sees it pay it no heed as if this has become a normal part of their lives.

Wazir Akbar Khan remains largely unscathed by the civil disruptions because this was one of the nicer suburbs of Kabul. As the country went through war and now civil unrest many of the houses had been appropriated by various leaders. The houses in Wazir Akbar Khan are now lived in by the more prominent Taliban members and so they remain largely untouched by the fighting.

The italicised description of Amir’s old house shows us a colourful and vibrant home. The garden is overflowing with plants, there are painted sections and the whole place dances with colour. This creates a sharp contrast with the house Amir now stands in, which has become derelict and sapped of colour.

The fact that Amir goes back to check on the carving tells us that he still thinks Hassan is important. This tree stands for their friendship and the carving shows that it still endures. “The carving had dulled, almost faded altogether, but it was still there”. Despite Hassan’s death and Amir’s forced ignorance of the situation, their friendship is still strong enough that Amir will go back into this war-torn country to save his nephew.

When Amir attends the football match we are introduced to a man referred to as John Lennon for his round sunglasses. The crowd treat this man with fear and contempt. He is clearly a bit of a bully and has done things to hurt people in the past.

It is later revealed that this character is actually Assef and that it is he who has taken Sohrab. This is important as it was Assef who assaulted Hassan, and if Amir had intervened during the assault there is a big possibility that the later events of the novel wouldn’t have had to happen.

Assef is a bully and the Taliban does nothing but bully people, hence Assef’s strong enjoyment as a member.

Amir states “My body was broken – just how badly I wouldn’t find out until later – but I felt healed. Healed at last. I laughed.” Amir feels healed because he has finally redeemed himself against Hassan. If he had stopped Assef from raping Hassan all those years ago then the result would have been Assef beating the two boys up. Amir laughs because he feels a huge sense of relief at realising this.

Sohrab stops the fight and saves Amir by firing a slingshot pellet into Assef’s face, blinding the man. This allows time for Amir and Sohrab to escape. This is significant as we remember Hassan using the same weapon to defend himself and Amir countless times as a child, and often against Assef and his gang of bullies.

The Kite Runner – Chapter 20

Hosseini chooses the phrase “rubble and beggars” sum up Kabul as this is what the city has been reduced to. It gives a perfect snapshot of what has happened to the buildings and the people. Everywhere has become derelict or has been bombed or is no longer looked after and so is a shell of its former self. The people have nothing to live off of – there are very few jobs, very little food and there homes have become simple shelters. They are reduced to poverty under the Taliban’s regime.

Jadeh Maywand was Amir’s home that Rahim Khan was asked to care-take for Baba. It is described a “giant sandcastle” as the building is no longer kept. There are no longer decorations in the garden and so it is a simple sandy colour, the comparison to a sandcastle also references its delicate state – it could collapse at any moment as there is no longer anyone living in it.

The simile about returning to Kabul is effective as he describes it as bumping into an old friend you no longer recognise. Clearly there are things he recognises about the city, like his home, certain streets and the cemetery where he used to play as a child. But the changes in the mood from a vibrant and lively place to a dead town make it feel unfamiliar to him.

The Taliban are made to sound threatening on several counts. They drive a red pickup truck. The colour red is associated with danger and so we are subconsciously made wary of them. They seem young compared to the other men begging in the streets, and they travel in a pack. Their youth and large grouping makes them intimidating. They also have large guns and a lot of them which shows us they are not to be messed with.

The conversation with the beggar in this chapter proves to us how far Afghanistan has fallen as a country. The beggar, a poor destitute man, was once a great professor of learning, he educated the masses and would have held a stable job and lived in a nice home. Now under the Taliban regime he lives in the streets and has no income. This is because the Taliban have no place for people who can think for themselves and would teach others to do the same.
The orphanage is in a horrific state. There is no longer government or local funding to help look after the children. The children have no formal education as there are no longer proper schools. The manager has elected to stay behind with the children despite having a family of his own to look after. The children live in poor conditions with little food or shelter and no toys. The Taliban provide sporadic aid for the children.

It turns out that Farid, the orphanage director, is in the difficult position of letting the Taliban select children to take with them when they visit the orphanage. It becomes very clear that the children the men remove probably end up sexually abused. Farid states that the children who are left behind are at least now provided with food and clothing. He lays the blame and judgement at Allah’s door, knowing that if he didn’t let the Taliban men take these few children in return for money and food then the Taliban would just take the children anyway.

The Kite Runner – setting

Amir’s Kabul that we see in 1975 is a vibrant and cheerful one. The streets are bustling and street vendors and shops spill across the roads. There are cars and horses and people milling around everywhere. Amir’s home is in a wealthier part of Kabul where the houses are surrounded by gated and walled gardens. Each one seems to be its own mini palace. There is a sense of luxury and safety here.

The Kabul we see here seems to have a bright culture. There are traditional kite tournaments held annually where the young and adults pull together to put on a massive festival. At the Eid festival the streets are again packed with people celebrating and sharing. There is music and art. The education system allows females and males to go to university. Western culture infiltrates the country, with John Wayne country films playing in the cinemas. The politics, although not without corruption, appears to be stable and democratic. The social system still seems to follow an archaic model. There are clear demarcations between the status of various ethnic groups. The Pashtuns are clearly at the top of the rankings, with Amir and Assef coming from wealthy backgrounds. Ali and Hassan, who are Hazara are servants. They get picked on by other people and are seen as having a low status in the world because of their ethnicity.

The Afghan community in America still retains much of the social stratification we saw in 70’s Kabul. When in typical American society the Afghan community mostly mirrors the behaviours of their new country. When in Afghan society they revert back to old customs. For example, at the Afghan market Amir and Soraya cannot be alone together and is frowned upon when Amir approaches Soraya himself instead of sending his father. We see a traditional Afghan wedding when Amir and Soraya get married and the greetings between the General and Baba follow traditional Afghan protocol.

When Amir goes back to Afghanistan it is very much a country torn apart by several decades of war and civil unrest. The buildings are close to crumbling down, the markets have all closed down and the streets are deserted apart from the orphans, beggars and stray dogs.

The Afghanistan Amir returns to is under the dictatorship of the Taliban. They have imposed a strict regime over the nation, which uses their interpretation of Islam to impose strict rules on the people. The Taliban uses fear to ensure that the people do as they say. Many of the arts have been banned and traditions such as kite flying have been stopped. The social system has become worse, women have little freedom, men who refuse to join the Taliban are executed and ethnic groups living in the cities are wiped out (this is how Hassan is killed).

For this book to work in another setting or time, the writer would have to pick somewhere that had both racial and religious tensions going on and where another state or country was seen as a ‘Holy Grail’ land. For example, this story might have also worked in Northern Ireland in the 80’s where a long history of British rule and tensions between Protestants and Catholics caused a great deal of unrest.