Introductions (Part 3): Nailing it in Paper 2

Having looked at techniques for introductions for Commentaries and Written Assignments (Parts 1 and 2 of this series), it’s time to look at what you can do to provide winning introductions to your Paper 2 essays.

Here again, as with the Commentary, we’re working with a timed exam.  That means you need to have some strategies in place so you don’t have to agonize too much over the preliminaries to this portion of your essay and can instead spend the fast-disappearing  time creating a really knockout argument responding to the question.

So what’s different here?  Well, for one thing, unlike the Written Assignment, you’re going to have to take on someone else’s angle on works you have studied.  A bit like the Supervised Writing prompts for the Written Assignment, but a little tighter and more limited: 3 possibilities of which you might only like one or maybe two.

You’re also going to have to make some efficient decisions:  which question and which works to use in answering it.

And finally, a new wrinkle in time:  this is a comparative essay, using at least 2 works (and you’d be smart to use just 2).

So you have some new elements to deal with here in the introduction, and you need to think through how to:

(1)Make an intelligent reference to the chief terms of the question; (2) Indicate the names and authors of the works you are going to use in your argument; (3) make clear what line of argument you are going to pursue.

That, however, is a complex bottom line.

Let’s see how this works out with a question from the most popular genre, drama

Drama question

‘A play is about one thing and that thing is what the hero is trying to get.’  How far can you agree that this statement is a valid analysis of the actions of the protagonist in at least two plays you have studied?

Here we have one of the question strategies often found in Paper 2: a so-called ‘prompt’ or quotation which poses a particular angle.  Yes, you need to address it if you find it in a question even if the question in some way repeats it.  What are the three things you might do here for an introduction that will satisfy both you and the examiner?

First, it’s a good idea to repeat in your own words what you see as the heart of the question: how plays are often about what the leading character want to get or wants to happen.  So you need to name the following: that ‘leading character,’ in two plays (you will also name and spell the play and the playwright correctly and include them) and what s/he wants.  Now you might want to take a completely opposite view to the prompt, but honestly, that doesn’t often work out very well in the time allotted.

So you might say, ‘In both The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams and Hamlet by William Shakespeare, we do, in fact, have a male character who knows what he wants and has considerable obstacles to achieving that.’  And since this essay is comparative, you have some choices to make now: are these two men different or similar in what they want, how they go about getting it, the outcome, etc.  Here lies the place for you to propose your argument (and remember, you don’t entirely have to believe in your argument, but you do need to create one.)  You’ve already named plays and playwrights, revealed your angle on the question. What remains is for you to come with what’s called an ‘argumentative edge,’ which adds interest to your essay. You need to be comparative and at the top levels of the HL criteria, you need to indicate some evaluation.  By shaping a careful ending for your introduction you can include both.  So what might you propose?  ‘In spite of each man knowing what he wants, they both pursue it in different ways, with one achieving a kind of liberation and the other, the revenge of his father and his own death. In both cases the playwright has achieved a double effect,  with equally compelling but mixed outcomes for each protagonist.’ (Note that you have also included an evaluative judgement–‘equally compelling.’)

So let’s check: have we included the three elements listed above?  You be the judge.

Here are two more questions that you might practice with, one on the novel and short story, and another on drama.  An efficient way to make use of them would be to simply list the three important elements and then check them against the sample above.

Novel/short story:  ‘Analyse the extent to which the reliability of the narrator can affect the reader’s understanding in at least two of the works you have studied.

Drama:  ‘With reference to at least two plays you have studied, discuss the contribution of particular passages of dialogue to the characterization of important characters in the plays.’

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