Comparative Modes


Cultural context looks at the society the characters live in – the unique world mirrored/created in the text.

It also looks at how your culture can affect your behaviour and your opportunities.

Think about where and when each text is set.

Think about the values and attitudes that matter to these characters and about how they formed these beliefs – did their culture influence them?

The most powerful forces in a society include religion, gender roles, attitudes towards sex and marriage, social status/class, job opportunities/emigration, (wealth/poverty), politics, authority figures, stereotypes/ethnic identity.

The culture we live in can have a huge effect on how we live our lives. Our culture can shape our attitudes and behaviour. It can also limit our freedom.


  • the view of life offered by the writer AND
  • the way the reader/viewer feels as they read/watch the text.

We already have certain expectations of a text once we know what genre it falls into – if it’s a tragedy, we expect the vision to be dark/sad/depressing. If it’s a comedy, we expect a lighthearted vision. If it’s a romance we expect a hopeful view of love. However, few texts fall neatly into one category -you can have moments of comedy in a tragedy, romances which don’t end in happily ever after, comedies which reveal sad truths about life.

You may want to ask yourself if the text is positive or negative

  • in the view of humanity it offers?
  • in the view of society it offers? does change seems possible?
  • in the way it ends? (the end leaves the most lasting impression)

Also ask yourself how you feel as you read/watch the text. Does it make you laugh? or cry? feel frustrated? or outraged? Does it leave you feeling like you have to challenge injustice? Make the world a better place? Or do you feel satisfied that all is well in the world?


This one is pretty self-evident. Find ONE common theme – love, war, death, injustice, communication, family, conflict, isolation, plagiarism, forgiveness. Then look at how the theme is introduced, how it is developed, what our final impressions of this theme are.


Literary genre deals with how a story is told. On a basic level, the texts tell their stories differently depending on whether they are a novel, play or film. For the novel, this involves the use of descriptive prose with a narrator(s) forwarding the plot. In the play the story is told through the dialogue and stage directions. While we may study drama by reading its text, it is often easy to lose sight of the fact that playwrights intend for their work to be performed on stage and not simply read in a classroom. In this light, the performance of actors and indeed the production will be as critical as the text. This also applies to film-although interestingly we don’t study a film by reading its screenplay. However what distinguishes film from the other media is the ability of a director to use different camera angles and more elaborate sets/locations to tell a story.

The following aspects all contribute to how the story is told:

  • CHARACTERISATION: how are the character’s personalities revealed to us? how does the writer make us care about them and sympathise with them? All of the elements mentioned below contribute to characterisation.
  • NARRATION: Who narrates the story? Is there a narrator? Are there multiple narrators? If so, are they reliable? If not, how is the story advanced? How does the choice of narrator effect our attitude to the characters and our level of sympathy for them?
  • FLASHBACK: Do flashbacks fill in backstory and offer us a deeper insight into the characters? Texts often begin at a later point and then look back at what happened in the past – sometimes this adds to the suspense. We are literally filling in the blanks between then and ‘now’ (the point where the story began). Sometimes stories come full circle. This can be positive (so that’s how it all happened!) or negative (that’s so awful, all that effort and nothing has changed). Flashforward is used to jump forward in time and is very effective at keeping the reader/viewer engaged. Because we only get a partial glimpse of what lies in store for the character, we become very curious to fill in the gaps in our knowledge. Foreshadowing is a technique which just hints at what lies in store and this creates a sense of foreboding for the reader/viewer.
  • MUSIC & LIGHTING – this applies mostly to films and plays although some novels do make reference to songs that hold a special significance for the characters. Both are used to create and/or enhance a particular mood or atmosphere.
  • IMAGERY AND SYMBOLISM – are there any ideas that keep cropping up over and over again? What significance do they have? What do they represent in the journey the main character is on?
  • DIALOGUE – the writer can make use of local dialect, spell words phonetically (so the person’s accent is captured) or use varying degrees of formal and informal language both to reveal the characters social status/level of education and to show how comfortable or uncomfortable they feel with other characters.
  • COSTUMES/MAKE-UP/HAIR/PROPS – all of which reveal personality and inform us as to the era in which the text is set. Clothes can have a symbolic importance, reflecting how at ease characters are in their own skin and how well off they are. Hair and make-up can reveal emotions – wild or greasy hair reflecting laziness or depression, carefully groomed hair the desire to impress.
  • PLOT – CLIMAX/TWIST/RESOLUTION – how a text ends is enormously significant. This influences our feelings, our outlook on the themes and characters and the lasting impression the text leaves us with. Predictable endings can leave us feeling a bit left down (the ‘I could have written that myself’ syndrome!).

6 responses to “Comparative Modes