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English Commentary Essay Outline

There is no single correct way to write Paper 2. However there are several good ways to structure the essay. Before you begin to write your essay, take 10-15 minutes to outline the main ideas. This is a good idea for several reasons:

  • We use outlines to prevent 'after thoughts' from creeping into the essay. Examiners find it difficult to read scripts that include, boxes, arrows and symbols that attempt to insert text that was written as an after thought. Once you see an overview of your ideas, you can move them around more easily. 

  • We use outlines to ensure that all the criteria are met, all works are explored equally and ideas appear in the logical order. 

  • A good outline can save you time for the reasons mentioned above. 

On this page we have included three possible outlines for the Paper 2 essay. In brief you will see the 'comparative approach', the 'criterion-by-criterion' approach, and the 'work-by-work' approach. The outlines have been filled in to show how one exam question can be approached three different ways. The exam question (taken from the English A Specimen Papers on the OCC) is:

"Analyse how justice is represented and understood in at least two works studied."

In the sample outlines, this question has been answered with regards to Fiela's Child by Dalene Mathee (1985) and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (2003). 

The comparative approach

The Language A: Language and Literature guide does not specify that students must compare and contrast literary texts in their Paper 2 exam. Having said this, there is an advantage to taking the comparative approach. It will increase your level of analysis. If your Part 3 works do not have anything in common then you should probably not take this approach. Here is an outline of an essay that compares and contrasts two works. 

Comparative outline
Fiela's Child and The Kite Runner

Introduction: A sentence that grabs your attention: a famous quote, a question, a bold statement an anecdote or joke. What makes a novel a page-turner? One reason: readers want the satisfaction of seeing justice carried out.  
A sentence that connects to the ‘attention grabber’ and explains its relevance to the 2 (or 3) works that you have read. This sentence states the names of the works, years of publication and authors’ names in passing. Fiela’s Child (FC) by Dalene Mathee and The Kite Runner (TKR) by Khaled Hosseini both engage readers by telling about an individual’s quest for justice. 
The thesis statement, where you answer the question in a nutshell and branch out into 3 main ideas. “In these works the notion of justice is represented and understood in the contexts of South Africa and Afghanistan, where racial tension, family ties and personal identity are all issues.”
Body paragraph 1: Topic sentence 1: the first of the 3 main ideas that answer the question / thesis statement.  Justice and racial tension in FC and TKR: there’s discrimination towards Fiela and Hassan. She’s black, he’s Hazara. The Magistrate discriminates against Fiela. Assef (and Amir) discriminate against Hassan. The reader feels sympathy towards Fiela and Hassan.
Illustrations from both works. How does the writer use language, style and structure? We feel sympathy for Fiela, because her story is told in free indirect speech, we hear her thoughts and feel her pain when she’s discriminated against. Amir tells his thoughts directly: he feels guilty for the discrimination against Hassan. 
Explanation: how do these examples illustrate the authors’ message? Dalene’s message: The whites, like Barta, feel constant guilt for discriminating against the blacks. Pashtuns pay the price for discriminating against the Hazaras by feeling a constant guilt too.
Body paragraph 2: Topic sentence 2: the second of the 3 main ideas that answer the question / thesis statement. The racial problems create tensions in families. Both families have a BIG secret: Benjamin is not van Rooyen’s child. Hassan is Amir’s half-brother. No one will speak the truth, because they’re afraid of what others will say. 
Illustrations from both works. How does the writer use language, style and structure? Both writers use plot twists to shock their readers. Barta reveals the truth about Benjamin. Rahim Khan tells Amir that Hassan is his half-brother. 
Explanation: how do these examples illustrate the authors’ message? The strongest family members throughout the book, Barta and Baba, turn out to be the weakest, as they kept the secrets that destroyed the families. Authors show that the injustices of SA and Afghanistan tear apart families.  
Body paragraph 3: Topic sentence 3: the third of the 3 main ideas that answer the question / thesis statement. Individuals struggle to know who they really are in societies that discriminate. Benjamin constantly searching for ‘home’ and a ‘mother’. Amir constantly searching for atonement. 
Illustrations from both works. How does the writer use language, style and structure? Setting is important to understanding this personal quest: Benjamin goes from the bush to the forest to the sea. Amir goes from Kabul to California. But both must go back ‘home’, to the bush and Kabul respectively. 
Explanation: how do these examples illustrate the authors’ message? Authors seem to comment on how you cannot deny someone their birth rights, like a sense of ‘home’. Both in SA and Afghanistan, the apartheid government and the Taliban prevent people from going home. This is unjust. 
Conclusion: Answer the question again. State the thesis in other words.  Both authors explore the notion of injustice in South Africa and Afghanistan by showing their readers how racial discrimination can destroy individuals and families. 
Compare how authors conveyed their message through language and structure.  While authors use different narrative technique, they both rely heavily on setting to comment on their cultures. What’s more: they both have a plot twist, which expose the hypocrisy of their cultures. 
A very wise thought.  These thought provoking novels can lead to change in these countries. Both the apartheid government and the Taliban are gone. 

 A3 handout Paper 2 outline comparative approach - filled in.

 A3 handout Paper 2 outline comparative approach - blank (for you to fill in using the works that you have studied in class for Part 3). 

The text-by-text approach

The text-by-text approach implies that you do not have to compare and contrast works within each body paragraph. This is a perfectly fine approach. Having said this, bear in mind that it also comes with its pitfalls. For example tackling three works, as is done in the sample below, may be over ambitious. This method is good if your works are not thematically connected. 

Text-by-text outline
Fiela's Child, The Kite Runner and The Tempest

Introduction: A sentence that grabs your attention: a famous quote, a question, a bold statement, an anecdote or joke.  “The rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance,” Prospero, The Tempest. Explain what is meant and connect it to justice. 

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