The nature of the beast: grappling with the big ideas in this year’s texts

You don’t have to be Bear Grylls to grapple with the beast in nature…or more precisely the nature of the beast in English.

But we are interested in the nature of things because, after all, we (unlike Grylls) are human and we are interested in what it means to be human.  Stories are written by humans about humans for the consumption of humans.  When we analyse a text we are trying to figure out what it suggests about the human experience.  So once you have identified a big idea in a text – a theme that appears to have some significance – it is important to do enough thinking about this…to trace its presence and its role…in order to come to some conclusions about the nature of the thing.

Here are some big ideas to get you thinking:

  • What is the difference (or relationship) between power and authority?  For example, can you have one without the other?
  • What is choice and freewill?
  • What does it mean to be ignorant?
  • What is shame?
  • Is intimacy a fundamental craving of all humans?
  • What does it mean to truly know someone else?
  • What is a ‘loveless marriage’?
  • What happens to a relationship when one betrays the other?
  • Is faith the same as belief?
  • What is pride?
  • Do humans always judge each other?



The Crucible and The Handmaid’s Tale: brain exercise #1

“And I thought afterwards: this is a betrayal.  Not the thing itself but my own response.  If I knew for certain he was dead would that make a difference?

I would like to be without shame.  I would like to be shameless.  I would like to be ignorant.  Then I would not know how ignorant I was.” (p.275 Offred after sleeping with Nick)


Proctor: [with a cry of his soul]: Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name?  I have given you my soul; leave me my name! (p. 124)


  • What does each text suggest about the nature of: morality; guilt; shame; knowledge; ignorance; humanity?

Freedom and Order in the two texts


LOOK AT BOTH TEXTS….what do they share?  What is being suggested about what it means to be human?

HONOUR THE THINKING!  Conceptualising the topic and your response to it is crucial.  Consider the way in which the topic could be approached.


What are we talking about when we talk about freedom and restrictions in these texts?

Freedoms and restrictions associated with: religious beliefs; love; sex; family; friendships; associations; politics; to rebel or protest; individuality and sense of self; financial control; to have freewill; to act in one’s own interests; social mobility and status;  physical well-being; emotional well-being; access to knowledge; public persona versus private sense of self

Order and chaos: acts of rebellion (accusing others;   secret societies and clandestine meetings; acting on sexual desire; establishing relationships with others; acts of self-preservation; acts of moral courage; subversion of traditional power and authority structures; acts of hatred and revenge

Who are the proponents of restrictions and order and of freedom and rebellion?

Danforth, Hathorne, Salem’s theocratic society compared with Proctor, Abigail, Hale

compared with

The Commander, Serena Joy, Gilead social hierarchy, the Aunts, the Eyes compared with Moira, Ofglen, Offred’s mother