Death in Measure for Measure

Write a critical commentary on the following passage, relating it to the presentation of death, here and elsewhere in the play.

2020 JC2 Preliminary Examination

In Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, the threat of capital punishment is often wielded by authority figures as a means to enforce order from an otherwise uncontrollable chaotic Viennese society. However, the imminence of death as a legal consequence of excessive vice not only underscores the frailness of human morality but also acts as a catalyst from which previously unfathomable deeds are now seen as pardonable. In Act 3 Scene 1, Claudio’s instinctual fear of death, driven by the irrationality of fear, leads him to persuade Isabella to compromise her virtue to save him from his state-sanctioned death sentence. Thus, the passage presents death to be ‘a fearful thing’ that evokes such deep feelings of apprehension that it drives the degradation of one’s morality when an individual is faced with their impending mortality.

Death is presented to spark irrational fear that overrides one’s rational sensibilities. This is evident through Claudio’s characterisation of ‘death is a fearful thing’. Despite death being understood as an inanimate ‘thing’, Claudio still imbues the concept of ‘Death’ with the crippling fear in those faced with it. Yet, Isabella’s rebuttal of ‘And shamed life a hateful’ creates a stark contrast between their attitudes towards ‘life’ and ‘Death’ as the two diametrical opposites are capable of provoking the extreme emotions of ‘fearful’ and ‘hateful’. The similarity in the suffix ‘the’ creates a symmetry that underscores the emotional quality attached to both life and death, yet also emphasises how Isabella views Claudio’s apprehension towards death as directly opposite to her belief that Claudio living a shamed life would be worse than death. Yet, Claudio’s impassioned monologue extolling his imagined afterlife of ‘to lie in cold obstruction’ contrasted with ‘this sensible warm motion’ presents a striking disparity as the opposing dimensions of ‘cold’ and ‘warm’ as well as the stillness of ‘lie’ juxtaposed with ‘motion’ suggests the irrationality of Claudio’s beliefs about death, which are based solely on conjectures of basal human sensory experiences. Furthermore, the alliteration of ‘fiery floods’ underscores the potency that Claudio ascribes to the experience of being engulfed by death as one that completely overwhelms his senses. Thus, Claudio’s use of extended imagery to describe the horrific afterlife he fears awaits him in death demonstrates the capacity of death to evoke irrational fear that leads to mortality, impinges on his own morality to secure his survival.

Death is thus presented as the impetus that precipitates human fallibility as characters faced with their imminent demise are forced to admit the untenability of their moral standards, especially as the encroachment of one’s moral virtuosity is presented as the only means to free one from their imminent death. Claudio’s denunciation of death, with the intensifier ‘too horrible’ paradoxically strengthens his determination to live. Claudio’s resolution to live is underscored by the superlatives ‘weariest’ and ‘most loathed’ which he attributes to life is seen as ‘paradise’ in contrast to his deepest fears of the purgatory awaiting him in death. This culminates in Claudio’s impassioned plea, ‘sweet sister, let me live’. The alliteration ‘sweet sister’ further emphasises the paragon of virtue that Isabella represents, and for Claudio to make this plea of his sister through the perversion of ‘sin’ into a ‘virtue’ suggests how Claudio has thoughtlessly encroached upon both his own moral standards and the moral virtues of his sister for his own selfish desire. Claudio’s moral degradation is made apparent through Isabella’s exclamatory ‘O, you beast!’ as the animalistic diction of ‘beast ‘ reduces the humanity that she had previously associated with Claudio. Furthermore, Isabella’s slew of rhetorical questions such as ‘wilt thou be made a man out of my vice?’ emphasises how morally reprehensible Claudio’s request of Isabella is. Yet, Claudio’s pleas in this passage are directly contrasted with ‘Thou shalt not do it’ earlier as the resolute tone and the modal verb ‘shalt not’ emphasises Claudio’s previously strict adherence to his moral code before the thought of his own mortality made him turn upon his own morality out of sheer desperation.

Finally, death is also presented as a righteous punishment fitting for transgressors exhibiting excessive vice. This is evident from Isabella’s refusal to acquiesce to Claudio’s demands as ‘Take my defiance/ Die, perish!’ demonstrates a merciless attitude towards those who have run afoul of the law through the absolutes ‘Die’ and ‘perish’. Furthermore, Isabella’s proclamation of ‘Thy sin’s not accidental, but a trade’ with the conjunction ‘but’ and the transactional diction ‘trade’ suggesting the regularity of the occurrence of vice as opposed to it being a mere slip-up indicates the necessity of such a harsh punishment of death, rather than her previous belief of it being unwarranted. Isabella’s change in perspective leads her to claim that ‘mercy to thee would prove itself a bawd’, in which the personification of mercy to an unrepentant offender who would continue fornicating. Furthermore, Isabella’s resolute, declarative statement ‘Tis best thou diest quickly’ with the superlative ‘best’ emphasises how death seems to be a justifiable consequence for deeds of immorality.

Thus, death is presented as the consequences of immorality as well as the driving force for further immorality as one seeks to escape one’s mortality at the expense of their morality.

Chloe Kho (19-O1)

Significance of the title Measure for Measure

Discuss the significance of the title of the play, Measure for Measure.

2020 JC2 Preliminary Examination

Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure explores titular concerns of absolutes and balance. By presenting the dialectical opposite of every absolute stance in the play, Shakespeare conveys the untenability of absolutes which are measured and complicated by the inherent messiness of human nature. Instead, the play argues for the necessity of balance, to measure justice with mercy, and restraint with liberty. However, as a problem play, Measure for Measure undermines a straightforward reading of the title, complicating it with arguments for relativity rather than a sweeping ‘measure for measure’ ethic under the justice system. The title is therefore significant in forming the basis of the play’s concerns, yet invites the audience to question its ethic.

The play’s title is significant in encapsulating Shakespeare’s examination of absolutes as untenable – every unwavering stance in Measure for Measure is challenged and measured with its opposite, a tension that arises due to the inherent complexities of human nature. This is best exemplified through the characterisation of Claudio, who undermines the Duke’s absolute arguments regarding death and Isabella’s regarding chastity by measuring them with his mortality. Disguised as a friar, the Duke presents absolute arguments for the insignificance of death, compelling Claudio in an imperative tone to ‘Be absolute for death … For thou dost fear the soft and tender fork/ Of a poor worm.’ The duke invokes the imagery of death as a ‘poor worm’ that presents no danger, augmented by the use of gentle and pleasant diction ‘soft’ and ‘tender’. Yet, this argument is measured and undermined by the complexity of Claudio’s mortality and fear of death when he expresses anxieties surrounding bodily annihilation and torment of the soul: ‘but to die, and go we know not where;/ To live in cold obstruction, and to rot … the delighted spirit/ To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside/ In thrilling regions of thick-ribbed ice.’ The use of imagery of ‘cold obstruction’ and ‘rot’ undermines the Duke’s arguments for the desirability of death as a means of detaching from worldly concerns, emphasising to the audience Claudio’s very human fears of death as an unknown process. Thus, by presenting Claudio’s mortality in opposition to arguments for death, this scene encapsulates one of the tensions created in the title, where positions in the play are weakened, complicated and measured by human nature that opposes any absolute notions and complicates such standards. This is similarly echoed when Isabella rejects any compromise of her chastity and firm moral standards, asserting with the superlative ‘damned’st’ and exclamatory statements that she is absolutely unwilling to waver from her position. However, this is once again undermined and measured by Claudio arguing that Angelo’s proposition might be construed as ‘no sin’, presenting an antithetical opposite to Isabella’s stance. This culminates in his desperate, heartfelt plea of ‘Sweet sister, let me live!’, evoking sympathy from the audience and leading them to question such absolute moral standards. These tensions and moral dilemmas that arise due to the complexities of mortality and human nature form the titular concern ‘measure for measure’, where absolutes are called into question and conveyed as untenable. Every absolute is measured by its opposite, recalling the audience to the play’s title as absolute measures are undermined by equal measure.

The play’s title Measure for Measure further advocates the need to balance and measure notions of justice and mercy, and liberty and restraint, having called into question the untenability of absolutes. Isabella’s calls for mercy to balance Angelo’s harsh and uncompromising rigidity evokes the significance of the play’s title in conveying to the audience the need for balance. The harsh and uncompromising nature of Angelo’s punishment of Claudio’s illicit sexual desires is undermined by Isabella, who argues instead for balance: ‘all the souls that were, were forfeit once … How would you be/ If He, which is the top of judgement, should/ But judge you as you are?’ By metaphorically comparing Angelo to God as a judge, Isabella questions his absolute stance on harsh justice, as even God, who is the ‘top of judgement’, shows mercy to ‘all the souls’. Hence, by invoking religious arguments with interrogative statements, Isabella’s words reflect the question of the play’s title, Measure for Measure, as she attempts to convince Angelo of the need to soften absolute standards of justice and balance them with mercy, since Heaven’s conceptions of justice are unattainable and even God, as the highest of judges in the context of the Jacobean era, metes out mercy to sinners. The title is thus significant in encapsulating such a central concern of the play, which argues for the need for ‘measure for measure’, justice for mercy, and liberty for restraint, culminating in a message of balance.

Yet, Measure for Measure is a problem play, with the title inviting the audience to examine the complexities of this ethic and come to question a straightforward reading of the text. Measure for Measure undermines sweeping notions of measuring and substitution, arguing instead for relativity. The title is invoked most explicitly when the Duke metes out resolutions and revelations in the play’s final scene: ‘An Angelo for Claudio/ death for death! Haste still pays haste, and leisure answers leisure;/ Like doth quit like, and measure still for measure!’ The symmetry of each clause ‘death for death’, ‘haste still pays haste’ and ‘leisure answers leisure’ creates a mirroring effect that the title itself encapsulates, augmented by the rhyming couplet which evokes a lyrical, mirroring cadence. Yet, the title invites the audience to examine and ‘measure’ this ethic of substitution and mere equation of Angelo and Claudio. ‘An Angelo for Claudio’ is problematised given that, despite a similar basis of illicit and criminal sexual desire, Angelo’s sins are of a much greater severity than Claudio’s. Where Angelo abandoned Mariana, abused his power as deputy and demonstrated reprehensible hypocrisy, Claudio and Julietta’s sexual act is revealed to have been ‘mutually committed’, a subtle yet important detail in differentiating the gravity of their moral flaws. The title is significant in reflecting the complexities and relativity of every situation in its problematising of ‘measure for measure’, inviting the audience to question both the title itself and the subjective, disproportionate judgements expressed in the text.

Measure for Measure is thus a fitting and thought-provoking title that significantly reflects multiple concerns of the play, primarily encapsulating themes relating to absolutes that are untenable, balance that forms ‘measure for measure’ and relativity that problematises this ethic.

Desiree Chia (19-U1)

Narratives and myths in The Caretaker and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

With reference to two texts you have studied, compare the ways their authors use narratives or mythsto present the mind and self.

Narratives and myths are rampant in both Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? as well as The Caretaker, revealing their characters’ states of mind to the audience and allowing characters to create illusions for themselves. Characters in both plays construct their ideal sense of self, using myths and narratives as coping mechanisms, which are ultimately destroyed by the end of the plays. Martha’s reliance on myths and narratives manifests in her using them as coping mechanisms, but results in her eventual acceptance of her reality, while Davies, despite similarly having a dependence on narratives to cope with his reality, fails to accept or embrace his situation, remaining in denial up till the end of the play. Albee and Pinter thus use narratives and myths to depict both the growth and stagnation of characters’ states of mind, portraying characters at the various stages of their ideal selves and their true selves. 

Narratives or myths are used by characters in both plays as coping mechanisms to deal with trauma, revealing an individual’s fragile state of mind, with both characters fabricating narratives in order to deal with or cope with an incomplete sense of self. In Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Martha creates a narrative about her relationship with her father as a defence mechanism, helping her to cope with the reality of their relationship. Martha describes her relationship with her father in a largely positive way, stating “[She] worshipped him… [She] absolutely worshipped him.”. Here, the intensification of “admired” to “worshipped” shows Martha beginning to overcompensate in her description of her relationship with her father, with the elevation of her father to an almost god-like status showing her going over and above to assure both the people present in the conversation as well as herself of their relationship. The addition of the intensifier “absolutely” as well as the repetition of “worshipped” further reinforces that, with the word “absolutely” leaving no room for any feelings other than reverence for her father. The ellipses used here underpin a sense of uncertainty beneath Martha’s praises of her and her father, showing her hesitation and the reality of their relationship – that they were not that close after all. The description of her father as being “pretty fond” of her, in contrast to her “absolutely [worshipping] him”, show the truth of their relationship, with the contrast between “pretty” and “absolutely” being stark in terms of indicators to how much Martha’s father valued her and how much she valued her father. The contrast between “fond” versus “worshipped” also hints at the different lengths to which they viewed each other, and implies the reality that Martha’s father did not really care for her that much. Finally, her statement of “we had a real… rapport going… a real rapport.” shows her hesitation, with the repetition of the word “real” showing how she was overcompensating and that they did not, in fact, have a real rapport. Martha’s overcompensation in talking about her father’s relationship with her shows the reality of their relationship, and shows her dealing with it through narratives in order to cope. In The Caretaker, Davies similarly utilises his narrative of Sidcup as a defense mechanism, helping him to cope with the reality of his lack of identity, home, and roots. Davies describes his identity as being certain and reliant on Sidcup, with his assertions having “great feeling”. The word “great” in the stage directions lends a sense of confidence to Davies’ claims. The punctuation in his statements “If only the weather would break! Then I’d be able to get down to Sidcup!” shows the conviction behind his words, initially showing the audience his sense of enthusiasm towards Sidcup, which has similarities to Martha’s appraisal of her father initially appearing to show their closeness. Tentative words such as “If only” and “Then” further show or paint Davies as shifting the blame of his identity away from himself and onto an external factor. However, the repetition of the declarative sentence “I got my papers there!” show the audience his overcompensating on behalf of his lack of identity, blaming it on Sidcup. The further use of repeated exclamation marks portray to the audience a sense of desperation and attempts at asserting his claim on Aston. The later repetition of “If only I could get down to Sidcup!” shows Davies’ similar overcompensation and overreliance on the Sidcup narrative in explaining his identity, with the phrase “it’s got it all down there, I could prove everything”, showing the extent at which he relied on or used this narrative as an excuse for his situation. Absolute words such as “all” and “everything” show how he places complete responsibility for his identity on Sidcup. Here, Davies differs from Martha in using his narrative as a coping mechanism in blaming an external factor for his lack of roots, or dubious identity, while Martha uses her narrative as a coping mechanism in painting an idyllic scene of her and her father’s relationship. However, both characters clearly use these narratives to help them cope with missing aspects in their lives, with Martha creating a narrative in order to deal or cope with her and her father’s lack of a relationship, idealising their relationship, while Davies creates a narrative in order to cope with his rootless identity, placing the blame on an external factor. 

The authors of both plays eventually shatter their characters’ illusions or myths, forcing them to confront or face their reality, with both characters struggling to accept their fate In Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Albee unravels the son-myth that Martha relies on for the majority of the play, which results in her being forced to accept and embrace a life without illusions by the end of the play. In the closing scene, Martha saying “Did you… did you… have to?” shows a sense of reluctance, with the question of “did you” taking a tone of unwillingness to let go of her mythThe question also shows Martha making a suggestion to George, implying that perhaps they could keep the son-myth after all. The repetition of “Did you” lends a tone of fragility to the exchange between both characters and the ellipses further show her hesitation. Her questions of “It was…? You had to?” further allude to her cautious tone and wary state, with the repetition of “had to” showing a further reluctance to move on from the son-myth and to accept life without it. The ellipses show her reluctance, with the punctuation of the question marks showing the audience her sense of hope. Her subsequent asking of “I don’t suppose, maybe, we could…” has a continuation of that sense of hope in the restoration of the son-myth, with words such as “suppose”, “maybe”, and “could” lending a tone of ambiguity and hopefulness in her question. However, by the end of the play, Martha is resigned in accepting her fate and a life without illusions, as seen by her admission and repetition of “I… am… George….”. Her assertion of “I… am…” suggests or symbolises her acceptance of a life without myths, narratives or illusions, including the son-myth, but the ellipses between the words “I” and “am” are a clear sign of hesitation, showing her struggling to accept her fate. Despite this struggle, the assertion is nonetheless present, with the concrete acceptance being clear. Similarly to Albee, Pinter unravels the Sidcup narrative, which Davies is seen to be reluctant to let go of. At the end of the play, his statements of “Maybe I could… get down…” show a last ditch attempt at reinstating the Sidcup narrative in order to save himself from being evicted from the apartment, with his reliance on it even at the end of the play showing how he failed to acknowledge the destruction of the narrative. The ellipses here show his hesitation in asserting himself, and his later on repetitions of his offer to “get down” to Sidcup similarly show his final attempts to rely on the myth, despite its unravelling. Davies’ statements of “would you…  would you let… would you…” show the hopefulness in his tone, almost beseeching in manner, which unveils his desperation for the audience to see. This draws similarities to Martha, where both characters are unwilling to let go of their myths and to cling on to them, as seen in her similarly hopeful tone. Words like “maybe”, “could”, “would” and “if” reinforce the hope in Davies’ speech, with his reliance on the Sidcup narrative being evident in this final attempt to establish himself. The “[long silence]” which ends the play is preceded by “got my…”, showing a sense of indefiniteness, particularly with the ellipses, which thus ends the play with Davies still trying to assert or rely on the Sidcup narrative. Despite similarities between both characters in showing their reluctance to let go of their narratives or myths, the two plays diverge here, for Martha ultimately accepts the destruction of the son-myth, albeit hesitantly, whilst Davies never accepts the destruction of Sidcup, with the ending of the play being testament to this. Both plays still ultimately depict the unravelling of narratives and myths, and how this forces characters to confront their realities, with Martha ultimately accepting her fate and Davies being in denial up till the very end of the play. 
Both Albee and Pinter show how characters cope with their realities through narratives and myths, and how the undoing of these narratives affect characters differently. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? depicts the struggle and acceptance of a life without myths or illusions, while The Caretaker shows how characters are unable to be independent of their narratives. Ultimately, both plays show the dependence of the individual on coping mechanisms, be it internal or external, and show how illusions are not permanent and will eventually unravel.

Lauren Ong (20-U1)

Capacity of the Mind to Survive and Develop

Compare the ways in which two texts you have studied show the capacity of the mind and self to survive and develop.

In Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Caretaker, the characters survive the vagaries of their worlds by escaping into fiction, often to deleterious effects. Yet, while some grow out of their harmful delusions, others remain shackled to their illusions. Both George/Martha and Davies/Aston are shown to overcome and survive their bleak realities through the employment of illusions and narratives. However, while Martha and Aston evolve through their realisations and come to epiphany, Davies remains tethered to his illusions and confined in stasis, ultimately degenerating into nothingness. Both Albee and Pinter showcase the capacity of the mind’s ability to overcome adversity in various ways in a bid to survive, as well as its propensity towards undergoing restoration.

Both Martha and Davies invent and allude to distorted ‘truths’ to protect their ideal sense of selves and identities. In both cases though, rather than allowing them to develop, they both regress into harmful states of self. Resounding despair leads Martha to invent a myth of an ideal son whose existence actualises her ideal maternal identity, allowing herself to cope with her personal woe and suffering, yet it too is detrimental to her own true self. Martha describes in her idyllic, hypnotic narration, physical images of a “healthy child” with “Firm limbs”, “A full head of black, fine, fine hair” granting the son a sense of completeness and vitality that lives up to the description of a “beautiful, beautiful boy”. Martha’s repetition of the intensifier “So” and adjectives “fine”, “beautiful” and “wise” reinforces the perfection of the child and by extension, its mother. Moreover, the creative interweaving of the allusion to Jesus Christ, who redeems the lives of humanity, is a representation of the son-myth’s ability to offer Martha a new life as an ideal mother who “Carried the child…across great fields” and “raised as best I can against…vicious odds” in noble acts of maternal care and sacrifice, allowing to survive her childless reality. Alas, Martha retreats too far into her own illusions, “moving bag and baggage” into her own fantasy world. Increasingly disconnected from reality, she becomes overly preoccupied with the son myth as the illusory “one light in all this hopeless…darkness”, which leads her down a deranged self-defeating path of ruin, unable to move forward and face her own inner demons.

Similarly, Davies attempts to cover up his outsider status with allusions to the Sidcup myth and utilises it to give him a false ideal self and identity. However, it develops into a comforting self-deception that ironically immures himself, leaving him ensconced in his own distorted bubble and preventing his reintegration into society. The illusion of recovering his papers and references from Sidcup grants Davies a tangible sense of self and a secure place in the house, repeating “Prove who I am”, “Tell you who I am” and “Prove everything”, the insistent tone emphasising his unshakable, albeit deluded, belief that his papers are tied to his identity and that they are in fact somewhere in Sidcup, ready to be shown at any time to ascertain the veracity of his status as a Brit and allow him to “sort” himself “out”, echoing Martha’s usage of the son myth to create a perfect identity as a mother. Concurrently, his “plenty of references” acts as a buffer to protect his security in the house by attempting to establish rapport with Mick. While Davies believes that the papers can free him from being “stuck” and “can’t move”, this tethering to a false narrative only serves as a comforting myth that is not simply an act of willful ignorance, but a vital part of his survival that ultimately impedes his reintegration into society, trapping him in an isolated state of stasis instead. The mind’s ability to conjure deceptive fantasies in order to remediate one’s broken sense of self is often a double-edged sword. In both instances, while it allows the characters to navigate their way through their worlds, it too portends their eventual descent into static madness.

Both Martha and Aston’s minds are shown to have the power and propensity to overcome devastating adversities and undergo restoration. However, while Martha has to discard her illusions to restore her true sense of self and progress into a simpler, more truthful future, Aston has to rely on his Shed narrative to enable his mind and self to heal, eventually developing into a fully functioning member of society once again. Martha undergoes extreme duress as her identity is fractured and demolished by George’s act of murdering their son, yet her mind survives and redeems herself through the symbolic exorcism of her own myths and having to face a life without illusions, promising a new beginning with George. The sheer trauma that Martha undergoes is reinforced through her speaking declarative sentences only in capitalized letters “NO! NO! YOU CANNOT DO THAT!” showing her emotionally charged manner, lashing out in grief and anguish as she “Howls” and “Moans” animalistically. Yet, it is only after this painful purging that she is then left at her most conscious and sober, admitting to the truth that “We couldn’t” have children instead of distracting themselves with elaborate games. Martha is finally able to accept her own failures and accedes to George’s line with ‘a hint of communion’ heralding her spiritual redemption. The closing scene of the play presents both Martha and George confronting their reality in a ‘radically simplified language’ shorn of all the bitterness and sarcasm, with Martha leaning back on George as he ‘puts his hand gently on her shoulder’ and ‘sings to her, very softly’ affirming the renewal of their true selves. Martha, being able to answer the question about “Virginia Woolf” repeatedly with “I am…”, showing her in a vulnerable and accepting state, acknowledging her own fear of a life without the comforting illusions of the son or an ideal self. The surviving mind once again manages to develop and face the truth and in this truth, she shall heal.

Similarly, after facing up to the truth of the past as well as having negotiated losing his sense of self, Aston’s mind managed to survive and come up with a coping mechanism embodied in the shed to give him purpose in his life and integrate back into society, albeit having to rely on his shed narrative as a crutch to support himself, ultimately healing in the process. The concept of working with his hands to build the shed has a therapeutic effect on Aston, with him repeatedly using words like “can” and “could” to denote his ability to “do all sorts of things now”. Furthermore, repeated hand actions like ‘picks up a small plank and begins to sandpaper it.’ and ‘continues sandpapering’ makes him feel valuable and at ease in his alienated state. He also has something to look forward to, a purpose to define his life, with him now speaking in future tense “I’ll be able to”, “I’ll have” and “I could” reflecting the many possibilities and hopeful attitude that he holds, the enumeration of ‘I’ declares his individuality and independence, a defiant stance against the world that sought to silence him. This bears a striking resemblance to Martha and George’s reunification with their true selves through the shedding of illusions allowing them to, hopefully, move onwards in life. It is in this fervent desire to realise his dream that his mind can cope with his traumatic past, not only surviving, but developing and maybe one day thriving. When faced with the potential destruction/collapse of the mind and the self, both characters are shown to be able to negotiate the necessary course of action in order to survive and develop for a better future, whether through the acceptance of an illusionless world for Martha or through an empowering narrative that allows Aston to ‘rebuild’ his sense of self.

Both texts seem to suggest that we humans are not ‘fully formed’ creations. Instead, one’s mind has to adapt to the world around it and develop in order for the self to survive. The acceptance of its inevitability is necessary to the characters renewal in both texts: Martha’s reconciliation with the truth allows her to move forward and Aston’s decision to work on his shed and move on from the past provides him with a pathway into reintegration with society. Meanwhile, stasis leads to degeneration and the loss of one’s sense of self where Davies is left incomplete and lost.

Ethan Tan (20-I1)

The Battle of Minds and Selves in The Caretaker

‘Pinter presents the mind and self in battle with others.’ How far do you agree?

2020 JC1 Promotional Examination

Throughout the play, Davies is pitted multiple times against Mick and Aston as he constantly struggles to establish his dominance in a place where he clearly does not belong. It is largely borne of a survival instinct that Davies first engages in a very one-sided battle with Aston, before Mick enters and aggressively challenges Davies. The survival instinct that initially puts Davies on his guard and sets him into battle is also what leads him to surrender the battle in the closing scene. In The Caretaker, Pinter presents through Davies’s interactions with the other characters the human need to battle for power and self-preservation, though it may similarly threaten one’s self.

Davies constantly misconstrues Aston’s words as a threat to himself, thus sparking a defensive retaliation. Davies seems to be placing him and Aston in a battle which the latter did nothing to invite and wanted no part of. When Aston confronts Davies about making noises in his sleep, Davies reacts in a defensive manner and insists that he ‘don’t dream. I’ve never dreamed’, ‘I don’t jabber, man.’ The repeated negation and absolute ‘never’ is telling of his desperation to prove his innocence and the additional question ‘what would I be jabbering about?’ seems to challenge Aston to disagree with his claims as he directs the question to Aston, knowing he could not have an answer to it. Davies is so wrapped up in his attempts to ward off these perceived attacks that he does not seem to realise that there were none forthcoming. The pauses that punctuate Davies’s appeals against accusations of his making noise evidently show that Aston was making no move to attack Davies further. He was even hesitant to make his initial accusation as he starts off with ‘You… er…’ and catches himself. The ellipses present his unwillingness to make the accusatory declaration and he rephrases it instead as ‘were you dreaming or something?’ The question allows Davies an excuse for the noises he makes, though he clearly does not take it up and later adamantly rejects the allowance Aston offers to end the argument, insisting ‘I slept in beds. I don’t make noises just because I sleep in a bed. I slept in plenty of beds.’ The repetition of having ‘slept in beds’, coupled with the intensifier ‘plenty’ evinces how Davies took Davies’s suggestion of an excuse for his making noises as a personal jab at his being homeless instead. As a social outlaw, Davies has much experience with poor treatment, resulting in him always being on guard and ready to attack anyone who threatens him. This causes him to misunderstand Aston’s harmless comments and launch himself into a battle with an enemy that retaliates.

However, in Mick, Davies finds an opponent that was clearly against him and the two engage in a series of struggles for power and dominance. On their first meeting, Mick instantly ‘seizes his arm and forces it up his back.’ Mick blatantly employs violence against Davies, this intruder in his home, though Davies does not go easily. The stage directions paint a picture of Mick aggressively ‘forc[ing] him to the floor’ and ‘press[ing] him down with his foot.’ These are violent actions that clearly present Mick as the winning party in this physical battle. This is further emphasised as the audience is positioned to look downwards at Davies, contrasting Mick’s elevated position. Davies does not submit easily as he continues ‘struggling, grimacing, whimpering and staring’. The decreasing intensity of the verbs listed in the stage directions shows Davies’s gradual loss in this physical battle to the younger, stronger Mick. This is evident from the decrease in movements from a frantic attempt to escape, to quiet protests and finally resignation as he simply stares without making a move or sound. Despite this, Mick does not let up on his attacks he later ‘turns swiftly and grabs [Davies’s trousers]’. Mick engages in multiple physical battles in similar ways and proves to be superior to Davies. Therefore, Pinter presents Davies’s retaliation against Mick’s initiation of attacks in a battle not limited to physical violence. With Mick, Davies seems to only be able to fight against losing battles and the shift of power dynamics from Davies’s to Mick’s favour is telling of the final battle Davies would come to lose in the denouement.

In the closing scene, Davies is seen to seek a truce to his battles with the brothers as he finally gives into the hope of a compromise that would allow him to keep his place in the flat instead of being thrown out. Davies is seen to surrender when he admits ‘why I made all them noises, it was because of the draught’. Previously, he was insistent that the noises were not his fault, that it was the Blacks who made them. Yet, when his survival is threatened, he willingly admits to ‘all them noises’. The absolute ‘all’ contrasts the negation of ‘I don’t make noises’ earlier in the play and shows that he has finally given in in his one-sided battle against Aston. Furthermore, the repetition of ‘I don’t mind’ and ‘we’ll keep it as it is’ exemplifies Davies’s willingness to give up on the battles he himself had fueled, that of the rain coming in the window. His final loss of the battles he fought culminates in the ‘Long silence’ that ensues as he makes his final plea as Aston stood with ‘his back to him’. These stage directions present a final rejection of Davies and thus brings to a tragic close Davies’s battle for belonging and shelter.

In conclusion, Pinter presents battles with others through Davies’s actions to ensure self-preservation, though the entrance of Mick further threatens that and the play ends with a resounding loss on Davies’s part as the mind and self are left alone in their battles, and can only lose in a fight with others.

Seah Xinyi (20-A6)

Family Relationships in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Consider Albee’s presentation of family relationships in relation to ideas about the mind and self.

2020 JC1 June Common Test

In Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, familial relationships, or lack thereof, between characters are presented as being highly illusory and idealised as well as far from the unhappy reality, in order to cope with the latter. Hence, Albee asserts that these falsely intimate familial relationships do ultimately harm to the characters’ mind and selves, despite distracting from the true state of relationship, and must be overcome to confront and mend reality.

Martha’s relationship with her father is idealised by the former in order to reconcile the cognitive dissonance between her desire for a close relationship with her father and the estrangement of reality, seen through how Martha gives exaggerated verbal affirmation of her closeness. In Act 1, Martha tells the party that “I sort of grew up with [her father]”, after which she “pause[s] – thinks”, before launching into an effusive stream of praise for him. The first phrase “sort of” already seems to denote the reality of the estrangement from her father, as well as conveying Martha’s uncertainty. The stage direction “pauses, thinks” further indicates that Martha is actively attempting to fabricate an idealised story about her relationship and is thinking of that on the spot, which manifests in “Jesus, I admired the guy!” The exclamatory sentence and expletive serve to emphasise the extreme adoration, which only further intensifies to “worship”, and is repeated “I worshipped him…I absolutely worshipped him”. This elevates the praise to ludicrous heights, as the intensifier of “absolutely” and repetition of “worshipped” seems extreme and exaggerated, as though Martha is actively attempting to convince and affirm to herself, as well as the guests that the love between herself and her father is indubitable. However, the reality of their relationship is later revealed by George that Martha’s father “doesn’t give a damn whether she lives or dies”, exposing the estrangement and alienation Martha feels, and her resulting need to idealise an illusory, loving relationship with her father to cope with the truth.

Martha and George’s relationship as husband and wife also demonstrates a wilful idealisation on occasion. Instigated by George, the parasol-gun game brings Martha seeming joy, as she “joyously” exclaims “where’d you get that…?” and “giggling”, demonstrating a euphoria that seems disproportionate to George’s response, which is shown to merely be a “trifle abstracted”, giving a clear comparison of the likely lack of genuineness Martha feels. Despite George’s unwillingness to do so in front of the guests, Martha “will not be dissuaded” in engaging in physically intimate displays of “kiss[ing]” and Martha “taking George’s hand, places it on her stage-side breast”. These explicitly intimate acts are on full display for Nick and Honey, and even seems to target the audience” through “stage-side”, displaying Martha’s attempts to enforce and delude herself, the guests and the audience into believing that George and herself indeed are loving, despite all the verbal violence that had occurred before that and the actual, vindictive nature of George’s ‘game’ that sparked this response in the first place. Hence Martha once again attempts to realise an idealised, affectionate relationship with her husband, of which the reality and lack of reciprocity in their familial relationship is exposed again by George, who “breaks away” and pronounces her true attempts as “blue-games for the guests”, connoting the falsity of the affection in the familial relationship.

Finally, this wilful idealisation of familiar relationships culminates in the most vibrant and detailed of all that of the mythical son upon whom Martha constructs a beautiful and perfect illusion of family as mother, father and child in order to cope with her barren reality. Martha describes vividly how she “carried the child…across the great fields”, the imagery of carried” and “great fields” serving to emphasise the sacrificial and greatly loving nature of Martha’s actions, hence displaying how she is a similarly sacrificial and loving mother to her child, implying a great closeness and perfect in this familial relationship. This is further reinforced by Martha repeating “and as he grew” twice, highlighting the continuity and persistent perfection and nurturing of the son’s relationship with her, and the physical motion of “spreading her hands” to emphasise the vividness and perceived reality of Martha and George’s idealised role as loving parents who their son had “a hand out to each of us for what we could offer”, further emphasising the dependence of their son and the loving reciprocity of the familial perfection relationship-wise. Of course, this false familial relationship is destroyed and exposed by George with “Our son is DEAD!”, once more demonstrating a need to fictionalise familial relationships in the absence of them, even to the extent of constructing a wholly false one from nothing, showing the mind’s strong desire to create an ideal version to cope with real events.

In conclusion, the characters, particularly Martha, construct highly fictionalised familial relationships to reflect their ideal version of them, in order to delude and distract from the sad reality. However, by the end of the play these familial relationships are stripped of illusions and confronted – the first step that Albee presents as the mending first step towards an ideal familial relationship not in the mind, but in reality.

Leia Ong (20-U1)


Write a critical commentary on the following poem, considering in detail the ways in which your response is shaped by the writer’s language, style and form.

2020 JC1 June Common Test

‘Prodigal’ by Boey Kim Cheng explores the less-known side of death, in the situation of a son who has lost a father, yet feels no loss. He spotlights the son’s unfeelingness and the reversal of a norm. 

Boey shows the persona’s apathetic nature through the broadly neutral and self-focused nature of the poem in the first two stanzas. The first line, “When I made the flight back.” does not even start with the father, but with “I”, the persona. The first line already sets up a physical distance countries wide between a father and son, hinting at a distanced relationship. “He was three days dead”. The consonance of “three days dead” in the ‘d’ sound creates a staccato rhythm that is steady, in the neutral narration of the son’s lateness by three days. The persona does not treat this as a mistake, but as a fact. His emotions of “feared” , the first display, lay not to do with the father’s death but rather the “dreaded melodrama”,”the tearjerker of the son returning too late for the deathbed scene.” is a series of situations centered around him. The son does not care about the death, but rather how it would affect his image. The diction of performance, “melodrama… tearjerker… deathbed scene” highlights the superficiality of the son’s feelings, reinforced by the pulling together of these theatrical clichés. This diction also gives a tone of cynicism, in his usage of “melodrama” and “tearjerker” that in a verbally ironic fashion, contrast his lack of sadness or heightened emotion. Through the first stanza, Boey sets a scene of loss, narrated in a contradictorily placid, unfeeling manner. This is reinforced by the juxtaposition with “Prodigal” in the title, a reference to the Bible story of the unruly son, that create an impression of an uncaring and apathetic son. 

Boey demonstrates the distance between the son and his father in the second and third stanzas, as he utilises the same matter-of-fact approach in narrating the second stanza. The persona, in a moment of physical reconnection, “felt for the manic/depressive pulse,” the act of looking for life in the pulse check underscored by the descriptions of “manic” and “depressive”. He describes the father as “ruled violently”, “spasms”, “ruled” being a metaphor to emphasise his dominance over the father’s being. There are no heartwarming memoirs, as the persona remembers the father not in his good ways but by the illness that turned him into an angry, unstable man, in an unexpected manner. “Nothing/in that plastic sheen, the formaldehyde body”. The line break intensifies the effect of the absolute “Nothing”that pairs with “plastic” and “formaldehyde”, dictions of artifice that creates an unsympathetic tone from the persona. The persona likens him to a “plaster St. Anthony”, an inanimate object, and says the father is “removed/from life”, serving to emphasise the death, in also making the direct contrast to “life”. The imagery of a saintliness in “plaster St. Anthony” and “preserved saint” may allude to the father’s nature, but is ultimately undercut by the preceding words “master” and “preserved” that implies that they are not real, and negate their saintliness. The persona only seeks to express the father’s death as it is, with no elevation and emphasising the lack of life throughout. His description, “blank map,/arctic peace” are in diction of emptiness and coldness. All these create distance, as the readers observe the emotional separation between father and son, marked by an abnormal lack of grief. 

A twist comes in the last stanza, where it is revealed that the father was the root of the dysfunction, and the persona’s previous actions are seemingly justified. “No trace/of the errant ways”, the enjambment before the introduction of the father’s wrongdoings seek to intensify the suddenness, as it is the first and only clue of the father’s nature the persona has given. “Scarring the image/in the funeral photograph”, the persona expresses how looks are deceiving, in the destructive diction “scarring” that contrasts the harmless, good picture of the “funeral photograph”. “Under Anthony’s watchful eyes.” St. Anthony, brought back and personified, casually “watch(ing)” the father has a sense of surveillance and sinisterness, adding more to the poor impression the reader may be forming of the father. “He had left us for the last time/eluding us again.”, “the last time” and “again” allude to a repeated action, hints to the father’s abandonment of the sons. The sentence is also almost paradoxical, the first carrying such finality while the latter referencing a next time, and temporary hiding. This could be towards the father’s attitude of leaving and coming back that he may have subjected the sons to in the past. This is where readers realise the son’s lack of feeling towards his father’s loss is because the loss is nothing new, seen by the persona’s bitter recount of his father’s neglectful ways. He feels only jaded, as “eluding us again” conveys defeat, as the father escapes them like a game. The last stanza seeks to change the reader’s perspective, in Boey showing them how it is the father who may have been the prodigal one, and not the son, in a justification of all the inversions of a traditional mourning cycle before. 

In conclusion, “Prodigal” by Boey is an ultimately poignant poem, telling the story of a son who has lost, again and again, his father, to the point of pure desensitization. Boey subverts orthodox expectations of grieving and shows readers how death may appear to, but does not erase the wrongdoings of your living.

Nicole Lim (20-O1)

Bleakness and Hope in Ariel

‘For all its bleakness, Plath’s poetry is ultimately hopeful.’ In the light of this comment, consider the presentation of the mind and self in at least two poems in Ariel

2020 JC2 Preliminary Exam

While Ariel explores a desolate and oppressive world of black and white where its personae undergo suffering, the collection is ultimately a hopeful and uplifting one of rebirth, represented by the infusion of red that symbolises life, passion and energy. Plath explores how the creative mind imagines the possibility of recovery despite emotional despair, allowing for a redefinition and assertion of the self, reborn through suffering and death. Through the bleakness of a hostile patriarchal society, Plath suggests the hopeful possibility of an empowered female self. As a collection originally beginning with ‘love’ and ending with ‘spring’, Ariel is ultimately hopeful of recovery and renewal, having survived a bleak emotional winter.

Plath’s poetry is ultimately hopeful in showing how a fertile, creative mind imagines the possibility of recovery and renewal. Through the use of natural imagery, the personae transcend the bleakness and desolation they feel. In ‘Sheep in Fog’, Plath initially creates a desolate sense of resignation as the persona is synonymous with ‘a flower left out’. The singular flower evokes in the reader the image of cold loneliness, isolation and vulnerability, suggesting a fragile and alienated sense of selfhood. The hopefulness of moving from numbness to warmth and isolation to love resulting from the creative mind is seen in ‘Tulips’. Initially, the poem shows a bleak desire for detachment and a renunciation of social identity in order to succumb to ‘peacefulness’ and ‘numbness’: ‘I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.’ The use of negatives such as ‘nobody’ and ‘nothing’ convey a sense of lack and hollowness as the persona renounces her social relations and even her own selfhood. Despite this bleakness and stasis, the creative mind imagines the tulips, symbolic of emotional and familial connections, as ‘open[ing] and clos[ing] / Its bowl of red blooms out of sheer love for me.’ The infusion of red, representing life and warmth is imagined as a tentative hope for recovery and reasserting a sense of selfhood, with ‘sheer love for me’ connoting an uplifting movement from numbness to love for life and herself. Thus, through the use of vivid imagery, Plath’s poetry ultimately offers the hope of transcending bleakness to renew the self resulting from the mind creatively reimagining identity.

Furthermore, despite a bleak struggle to define the self that threatens to be constricted or effaced, Plath’s poetry is ultimately hopeful in exploring a triumphant and transcendental rebirth after suffering, allowing its personae to redefine and assert the self. This is best exemplified through the titular poem, ‘Ariel’, where the persona casts off bleak and constricting social identities that threaten her redefinition of selfhood. The imagery of body parts such as ‘dead hands, dead stringencies’ are ‘unpeel[ed]’ by the persona. The repetition of ‘dead’ emphasises the entrapping and heavy nature of these aspects of identity, alluding to the bleakness of confining social roles that threaten to obstruct the persona’s flight to redefine the self. However, the poem is ultimately triumphant in renouncing and casting off feelings of oppression, which is conveyed through the rhythm of ‘Thighs, hair; flakes from my heels’. The fragments of images in rapid succession create a breathless, accelerated rhythm that replicates for the reader the freedom and wild energy the persona experiences in her galloping horse ride, where she casts off aspects of social identity that weigh her down. This precedes the transcendence of bleakness as the persona asserts that ‘I / Am the arrow, / The dew that flies / Suicidal, at one with the drive / Into the red / Eye, the cauldron of morning’. The hopeful assertion of the persona’s ‘I am’ is augmented by the ‘I’ sounds in ‘flies’, ‘suicidal’ and ‘drive’, creating a cumulative effect that builds the intensity of the persona’s assertion of selfhood through her exhilarating flight and transformation from self to pure energy. The imagery of the ‘red eye’ evokes the image of passion, vitality and a vividness conveyed through the warmth and richness of the chromatic imagery, while the ‘cauldron of morning’ suggests the hopeful rebirth and renewal of the self through a new beginning. Plath’s poetry therefore explores an increasingly empowered persona casting off the bleakness of confining social identities and redefining and asserting a transcendental selfhood.

Finally, while Path explores the bleakness and extreme suffering of the personae due to a hostile society, her poetry ends with a hopeful and uplifting assertion of female identity. In ‘Lady Lazarus’, the persona initially expresses a sense of bleakness: ‘My face a fine, featureless Jew linen’. The imagery of the persona’s selfhood as ‘featureless’ cloth evokes a dispossessed and disempowered identity that is a blank slate to be completely defined by her oppressive patriarchal forces of ‘Herr Doktor’ and ‘Herr Enemy’. Simultaneously, the persona’s identification with the suffering of the Jews, conveyed through the poet’s use of Nazi imagery, inflates and magnifies her narrative of victimisation and bleak effacement. However, Plath’s poetry and invariably offers a triumphant and uplifting sense of hope: ‘Beware / Beware / Out of the ash / I rise with my red hair / And I eat men like air’. The incantatory rhymes ‘Beware / Beware… hair… air’ create sense of dangerous, uncanny power, akin to a spell or curse, lending the previously disempowered female persona vengeance and agency over her male oppressors. The phoenix myth, as a symbol of rebirth, evokes the image of the female persona as a red-haired demon ‘ris[ing]’ out of the ashes of torture, immolation and suffering, creating a sense of elevation. Thus, while Plath’s poetry explores the bleakness of a hostile, threatening society, it ultimately provides a transcendental sense of assertion of a strong female identity with power over male oppressors, an undeniably uplifting and hopeful rendering of feminine power and autonomy.

Ariel as a collection invariably explores desolate and tormented states of mind, painting a confessional reflection of Plath’s bleak mental states in her writing of Ariel. Yet, her poetry offers so much more than that, creatively imagining transcendence and recovery of a self that is empowered, assertive and loved.

Desiree Chia (19-U1)

Character Values in Pride and Prejudice

With reference to Chapter 7 of Pride and Prejudice, write a critical commentary on Austen’s presentation of character values here and elsewhere in the novel.

Austen presents character values as ambiguous to characters who subscribe to societal conventions, by asserting that the welfare of others can be compromised or even sacrificed in the name of pragmatic gain. Mrs Bennet’s matter-of-fact instruction that ‘No, my dear, you had better go on horseback, because it seems likely to rain; and then you must stay all night’ makes light of the detrimental health consequences Jane could endure just to enjoy the hospitality of the Bingleys and further her acquaintance with Mr Bingley. By imposing her own pragmatic motives onto her daughter, Austen exposes the fallibility of Mrs Bennet’s values and poor moral compass. In addition, through free indirect discourse, Austen criticises her behaviour of ‘attending [Jane] to the door with many cheerful prognostics of a bad day’. The contrast between the unfortunate circumstances that could befall Jane and Mrs Bennet’s delight in advancing her own agenda serve to create irony within the readers’ expectations of Mrs Bennet’s motherly concern for Jane, eliciting distaste from the readers regarding the seemingly immoral intentions that undergird her actions. Hence, Austen portrays character values as tenuous and less prioritised than pragmatic gain in the eyes of traditional characters.

On the other hand, Austen presents character values as of utmost importance to characters with strong moral grounding – even if upholding these beliefs would defy social norms. In diametrical opposition to Mrs Bennet, Elizabeth insists that she ‘shall be very fit to see Jane – which is all I want’. The absolute term ‘all’ conveys her conviction and immense concern for her sister, while also signifying her heightened sense of empathy that drives her to act upon her moral calling. Her resolve drives her to act upon her moral calling. Her resolve is also depicted in how she ‘cross[es] field after field at a quick pace, jump[s] over stiles and spring[s] over puddles with impatient activity’. The increasing intensity of the verbs displays her constant commitment to upholding her familial values in spite of her likely increasing fatigue throughout the long and arduous journey. Through this, Austen portrays Elizabeth as the epitome of actions underscored by a stable moral foundation, encouraging admiration from readers. Later in the novel, Elizabeth also asserts to Lady Catherine that she ‘will make no promise of the kind’ and that she ‘was not to be intimidated into anything so wholly unreasonable’. The firm absolute terms reinforce her strong moral inclinations and opposition to the unethical cerement of Darcy into marriage. Thus, Austen presents character values as superseding other concerns, even if upholding these values opposes social conventions.

Lastly, Austen presents character values as being the measurement by which a character’s moral worth can be evaluated.

Rachel Eng (19-O1)


Write a critical commentary on the following poem, considering in detail the ways in which your response is shaped by the writer’s language, style and form.

2019 JC1 Mid-Year Exam


You and your photographs of boats;
that repeated metaphor for departure,
or simply the possibility of a voyage?
What you cannot tell me you tell me
with a vessel and its single passenger,
eyes fixed on some skylit conclusion.
Set apart and starkly upon a canvas
of tractable waves, brought to still
by the trigger-click of your camera,
like the sound a key makes when it
releases the lock. Your heart became
that lock; these images how you have
always articulated distance, a withdrawal.
Darling, there are just as many ways
of saying goodbye as there are ways
of letting you go. The boat is narrow
like the width of my heart after
impossible loss, cruel resignation;
this heart you ride in. Love, if this is how
you choose to leave me let me let you.                                                                                            

Cyril Wong (born 1977)

In ‘Boats’, Wong elucidates upon the influence of a lover’s departure on the emotional distance between the speaker and his lover. Through the ideas of departure and vulnerability, Wong allows the reader to gain insight into the relationship between the speaker and his lover.

Wong highlights the solitude of departure throughout ‘Boats’ by calling attention to the loneliness and distance between the speaker and his lover. In ‘a vessel and its single passenger’ and ‘set apart and starkly’, the speaker shows how the photographs of boats that the lover utilises to hint at their urge to depart are symbols of loneliness and solitude. As the boats are only carrying one passenger and are set apart from everything else, this shows that the lover wishes not to go on a voyage together with the speaker, but wishes to embark on a solo voyage. As such, there is distance between the lover and the speaker due to the nature of the journey that the lover wishes to undertake. Furthermore, in ‘your heart became/ that lock’, the vulnerability and inability of the lover are presented as they hide their thoughts and wishes away from the speaker, as if behind lock and key. This shows how the photographs of boats have put distance between the lover’s intentions and their relationship with the speaker.

In ‘Boats’, Wong expresses the finality and inevitability of departure in a relationship. The speaker addresses the persisting yearning of the lover to exit the relationship through the metaphor of ‘photographs of boats’ and shows the phases of hurt that the speaker experiences afterwards. From ‘eyes fixed on some skylit conclusion’ and ‘always articulated distance, a withdrawal’, Wong highlights the inevitability of departure as his lover has consistently maintained emotional barriers between themselves and those who are seemingly close to them. The aspirations of the lover towards something that does not exist in their current circumstance is persistent and their departure would have been inevitable.

Furthermore, the speaker expresses various responses to his lover’s departure, which begin with absolute grief and then calm acceptance. This can be seen from ‘narrow/ like the width of my heart after/ impossible loss, cruel resignation’ and ‘if this is how/ you choose to leave me let me let you’ which illustrate the difference in the speaker’s response as they gain more acceptance. Initially, the speaker is deeply heartbroken and unconsolable but as he gains acceptance towards his lover’s departure, he manages to understand and discern his lover’s wishes and intentions. The speaker manages to allow his lover to leave the relationship out of his love and concern towards his lover despite their failing relationship.

Throughout ‘Boats’, Wong proposes the idea that of disjointed communications within a relationship. The speaker continues to express his lack of true understanding of his lover’s wishes for departure as there is ‘withdrawal’ from the relationship by the lover. The lover is unable to express his desire to embark on a separate journey from the speaker and resorts to emotionally withdrawing and putting their emotions and vulnerabilities behind multiple ‘photographs of boats’ which hide their true intentions. For example, in ‘what you cannot tell me/ with a vessel’ and ‘your heart became/ that lock’, the speaker depicts the lack of communication within the relationship as his lover chooses not to be candid with his expression and relies on metaphors to convey their hidden intentions. This allows us to derive understanding from the speaker’s inability to come to terms with the initial loss of his lover. As the speaker cannot see why his lover has chosen to leave, they struggle to cope with the loss and resort to reflecting upon the vacancy of communication and emotional depth of the relationship.

In conclusion, ‘Boats’ conveys the nature of departure in the context of a relationship and the impacts that the parties involved face as a result. ‘Boats’ also reveals the probable causes that can lead to the disintegration of an emotional connection within a relationship which can lead to an insurmountable emotional distance between the two parties in the relationship who struggle to understand each other.

Natalie Goh (19-A2)