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English (Year 12) - Course Concepts

Ben Whitten

What is context?

Context is the environment in which a text is written or responded to. One definition of context may be the general sociocultural or historical conditions in which a text has been created or responded to or perhaps the particular features characterising its immediate environment (the context of a situation). Another important aspect of context in ATAR English is personal context, in which a text is created or responded to using facets of your (the writer’s) personal context and background, e.g., age, ethnicity, sexuality, etc.

Context is essential in writing as it adds a degree of certainty and directs readers to the train of thought that is intended. In some cases, context is used to eliminate alternative interpretations of texts.

How can I identify the context present in texts?

This is an extract from the short story ‘Nullius’ by Western Australian writer Amanda Curtin, published in The Griffith Review in 2015.

The girl is supposed to be keeping an eye on her younger brother, but in truth she takes every chance to lose him. Losing him is easy: a goanna and a stick are all it takes. She is far ahead of him on this hot spring day.

We can identify some of the context presented in this short extract. The particular features in the immediate environment is identified in the first sentence; there is a girl who is with her younger brother, and the current environment is hot.

Sun stipples through the canopy above her hatless head. She trails a whip of wattle, picking her way over fallen boughs and threading through slimy reeds. Bare feet squelching. Scum ripples the surface of the creek in greens and greys. It’s not deep, she knows that, but still she wonders: how shallow is too shallow to drown? The thought makes her stop for one guilty moment, and then she moves on again, shaking her head. He’s not that young, not that stupid.

This extract reveals the girl’s feelings towards her brother, indicated by the sentence, “how shallow is too shallow to drown?”. The girl in the extract shows signs of a conscience, as she feels guilt for that thought. This context could be contrasted by your own personal context; for example, if you have strong familial values, you may resent the girl presented in the extract who lacks care and empathy for her brother.

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