The Rugmaker of Mazar-E-Sharif
The Secret River
Written by Phil Canon, Andrea Hayes and Frances Flanagan
Edited by Janny McCurry, Amanda Collins, Debbie de Laps and Anthony Quirk
Designed and formatted by Viveka de Costa and Eveline Visser
Table of contents:
Section A: Introduction to the Context ................................................................................2
Section B: The text in context...............................................................................................5
Omagh directed by Pete Travis............................................................................................5
The Crucible by Arthur Miller................................................................................................7
The Rugmaker of Mazar-E-Sharif by Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman ..............................9
The Secret River by Kate Grenville ....................................................................................12
Thornhill’s Point ............................................................................................................................13
Section C: The text at work .................................................................................................15
Omagh by Pete Travis........................................................................................................15
Public meeting for families of victims............................................................................................15
Meeting with Gerry Adams ...........................................................................................................16
Family at home .............................................................................................................................18
The Crucible by Arthur Miller..............................................................................................19
Act 1 – Parris and Proctor argue (pp.34-35).................................................................................19
Act 3 – Proctor confesses to lechery (pp.97-98) ..........................................................................20
Act 4 – Proctor tears up confession (pp.124-125) ........................................................................21
The Rugmaker of Mazar-E-Sharif by Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman ............................22
Gorg Ali and the Watermelons (p.105) .........................................................................................22
The Room of Questions (p.45) .....................................................................................................23
Apple (p.141) ................................................................................................................................24
The Secret River by Kate Grenville ....................................................................................25
First encounter (pp.146-147) ........................................................................................................26
In court (pp.65-66) ........................................................................................................................27
Smasher’s rage (pp.233-234).......................................................................................................28
Section D: Student texts......................................................................................................29
Narrative writing .................................................................................................................29
Thinking about characterisation....................................................................................................29
Character inventories ...................................................................................................................30
Appealing and unappealing personalities.....................................................................................31
Additional character-based writing improvisations .......................................................................31
Propositions, forms and contexts: anecdotes and expositions ..........................................31
Thinking like an author .................................................................................................................32
Further activities for student writing on Encountering conflict ............................................32
Section E: The Outcome for Area of Study 2 ....................................................................34
Sample assessment tasks..................................................................................................34
Section F: Glossary and resources....................................................................................36
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict 1
Section A: Introduction to the Context
Conflict is inevitable and something everyone encounters. Individual responses to conflict
may vary, depending on a person’s background, temperament and most significantly, the
nature of the issue. People may respond to conflict in many ways. They might for instance
respond with dignity and selfless concern for others; with tact and delicacy; with fierce
belligerence or as ‘passive aggressors’; as passionate stakeholders committed to a just
cause and prepared for martyrdom; as terrorists or freedom fighters; as appalled victims or
unwilling adversaries; as bullies; or, by trying to maintain their status as ‘innocent
bystanders’. Their reactions might only be measurable by psychological and emotional
turmoil and might equally lead to personal transformation as to enormous suffering.
The ways people react when they encounter conflict will be influenced by their cultural,
historical and family backgrounds, as well as by their individual experience, temperaments
and dispositions. The same individual’s response to a situation of conflict might have differed
if that person were from a different society with different cultural norms, or perhaps belonged
to a different generation or lived in a different historical period.
One way into this Context for the class is to begin mapping the implications of the title,
Encountering conflict, testing out the adequacy of definitions as students brainstorm the
terms, defining ‘conflict’, the different types and levels, and teasing out what it means to
‘encounter’ these. What is the effect of including this first word in the Context’s title? Why not
simply call the Context ‘Conflict’? Can one ‘encounter’ conflict without being involved in it?
Does ‘encountering’ necessarily imply ‘participation in’?
Although the four texts explore different types and levels of conflict against a variety of
settings, modern and historical, there is universality. Students can relate to this Context
because everyone experiences conflict of some type at some level during their lives. How we
respond when we encounter situations of conflict varies and it is worth examining why we act
as we do. The four selected texts explore personal and interpersonal conflict associated with
war, terrorism, religious authority and settling in to a new country. These events, depicted in
the four texts, also give rise to conflict that is political, religious, social and cultural. The texts
examine the causes, sometimes tragic impact and ripple effect of conflict on families,
individuals in modern Ireland, seventeenth century Salem, modern Afghanistan and Early
The story of the film Omagh (Pete Travis, 2004) is now a universal one. It is the story of Bali,
London, Baghdad, Thailand and any place that is the victim of terrorist bombings. Although
Omagh begins with a terrorist attack, the story focuses on the aftermath. It deals with the
effect on the surviving families who have to contend not only with losing their loved ones, but
also with a government so invested in the Northern Irish peace process that it is less than
enthusiastic about solving the crime, or the subsequent cover-up. Omagh personalises the
regions seemingly endless conflict through its focus on the Gallagher family, in particular,
Michael, the father. The historical background to the Northern Ireland conflict is one common
to many regions where groups of people with a long history of different political allegiances,
religious practices and cultural values occupy the same land.
The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, is a play that deals with conflicts involved in the Salem witch
trials of 1692. The characters in Miller’s theocratic society are not only in conflict with their
environment, the ‘barbaric frontier’, but with each other and their religious authority. Written
in the 1950s the play is an allegory and the events it describes have strong parallels with the
House of UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) led by Senator Joe McCarthy, who
conducted ‘witch-hunts’ (campaigns to find or investigate people considered to be
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section A: Introduction to the Context 2
unorthodox or disloyal) to expose communists or communist sympathisers. Miller expected to
be called before this committee and was blacklisted for refusing to name names.
The Rugmaker of Mazar-E-Sharif, by Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman recounts the life
journey of its protagonist Najaf Mazari through the simplicity of his childhood as a shepherd
boy in the hills of Shar Shar near Mazar-E-Sharif in Afghanistan, to the complexity of his
forced exile in Australia as a refugee having escaped the clutches of the Taliban. The
biography explores the tragic consequences of military conflicts – loss of innocent life,
destruction of families and friendships, decimation of a way of life, attacks on the sociocultural
heritage of a people, torture, exploitation, abuse – but remains optimistic about
human nature and the capacity of the human spirit to endure. While the setting of the book is
vast – Afghanistan after the Russian invasion, Indonesia and the treacherous waters
between Indonesia and Australia, Woomera Detention Centre and Australia in general – the
concerns of the book are touchingly personal: How does one man survive random rocket
attacks, the brutal attention of religious fanatics, a terrifying journey in the company of
unscrupulous people smugglers across wild seas in a rickety boat, the misery of indefinite
imprisonment in an alien land? And having survived, how does one man maintain joy in his
Kate Grenville’s The Secret River details the conflict in early Australia between ex-convicts,
settlers and the Indigenous population of New South Wales. While the text is dedicated to
Indigenous Australians and its motivation is clear, it is also sympathetic towards the convicts
and recognizes the harshness of the lives they endured. Whereas the convicts are
determined to erase their past, the Aboriginal people are fighting to protect theirs. Kate
Grenville presents an understanding of the motivation of her ancestors yet ultimately
condemns their actions.
For each of the selected texts, students should consider and discuss:
• the various characters’ individual responses to events
• the inner conflicts experienced by these people
• how encountering conflict manifests the strengths and weaknesses of characters
• the irrevocable changes and far-reaching consequences of conflict for individuals and
For instance, in Omagh, auto mechanic Michael Gallagher becomes the unexpected
spokesperson for the Omagh Support and Self Help Group, and seeks truth and justice on
behalf of his son Aidan who was killed in the Omagh bombing. He battles an indifferent
government, hostile police and unhelpful Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams. Gallagher
experiences conflict with his family and he becomes estranged from them as he is consumed
by the loss of his only son and ‘mate’ and the need for justice.
In The Crucible, John Proctor sacrifices his life as he battles his conscience, feelings of guilt
and the authority of the church.
Najaf Mazari’s escape from the Taliban in The Rugmaker of Mazar-E-Sharif is a story of
great forces – religious fanaticism, civil war, treacherous waters, the unpredictability of life –
all lined up against one irrepressible individual. Despite the tragic destruction of his
homeland and his enforced escape to Australia, Najaf maintains his faith in God and his
belief in humanity.
Kate Grenville’s protagonist, Thornhill, ultimately gains his prized land and a future for his
family but his actions cost him dearly. He loses his second son, Dick, who moves away and
never speaks to him again. He is also left with a distant relationship with his with and a
lingering sense of uncertainty regarding his place in the environment.
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section A: Introduction to the Context 3
For the classroom:
Discuss and take notes about the following, in small groups or as a class.
• Define the phrase ‘encountering conflict’.
• Levels of conflict include; inner/personal, interpersonal (between characters) and extrapersonal
(conflict with environment and institutions). Give examples of each of these
from personal experience or previous study.
• Brainstorm and list as many types of conflict as you can.
• List causes of conflict.
• How do different individuals respond as they encounter conflict?
• What effect does conflict have on individuals, families and communities? Consider
immediate impact and short and long term consequences.
• How are conflicts resolved? What impact might different solutions to conflict have on
• Is conflict inevitable?
• Can conflict always be resolved?
• Is conflict necessarily a bad thing?
• Could there be a link between conflict and human endeavour?
• Is a world or a life without conflict possible or even desirable?
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section A: Introduction to the Context 4
Section B: The text in context
Omagh directed by Pete Travis
Omagh is a disturbing, dramatic film that deals with the aftermath of a terrorist attack in
Northern Ireland. On August 15, 1998, a bomb set by an outfit calling itself the ‘Real IRA’ (a
radical separatist group of the IRA) went off on the busy High Street in the small town of
Omagh, Northern Ireland, killing 29 people and wounding hundreds of others. The bombing
occurred at the height of politically sensitive negotiations between Sinn Fein and the British
government in defiance of the Good Friday Peace agreement signed by the IRA.
Travis reveals the many layers of conflict in his film including the ongoing ‘Troubles’ in
Northern Ireland, the political conflict experienced while trying to effect a resolution (peace
process), the interpersonal conflict among the victims’ families and the inner conflict
experienced by Michael Gallagher as he grieves for his dead son.
Told from the point of view of the Gallagher family, Travis explores the levels of conflict the
victims’ families face and as they encounter an indifferent government, hostile police,
unhelpful Gerry Adams (leader of Sinn Fein party) and a lack of will to properly investigate
the bombing. As the protagonist, Michael Gallagher says to Gerry Adams, “How can we build
a peaceful Ireland unless you help us bring these killers to justice?” and this is the central
argument of the film.
Travis adopts the ‘fly-on-the-wall’ convention of the documentary genre by using
handheld camera, natural lighting and framing of camera shots through doorways in his
dramatic recount. This enables him to represent the human experience in a grimly realistic
manner that emphasizes the tragedy of the bomb and the injustice the families of the victims
face afterwards. His use of ‘ordinary’ sets, iconography and unknown actors (with the
exception of Gerald McSorley who plays the protagonist, Michael Gallagher) add to the
impression of authenticity.
Although students do not require a detailed knowledge of Irish history they do need to
understand that the historical background to the Northern Ireland conflict is one common to
many countries, that is, groups of people with different political allegiances, religious
practices and cultural values, occupying the same land over a long historical period.
When Ireland was partitioned in 1921 the southern twenty-six counties gained independence
from Britain while the six North-East counties remained part of the United Kingdom. The
Unionists are largely Protestant and want continued British rule, while the Nationalists are
largely Catholic and desire a united Ireland, devoid of British rule. The result of this conflict is
endemic violence (‘The Troubles’) which includes the 1960s civil rights movement, the IRA
campaign of violence against the army, internment, ‘Bloody Sunday’ and the Omagh
Steps towards the peace process included announcements and collapses of ceasefires and
the Peace Agreement April 10, 1998. The process continued and resulted in the IRA ending
their ‘armed campaign’ July 2005 and their decommissioning of weapons in September
2005. Currently Unionists and Nationalists in Northern Ireland experience an ‘imperfect
peace’. At the time of writing ‘both Northern Ireland’s politicians had agreed to a powersharing
government to begin on May 8, 2007’ (The Age 28/03/07 p.14).
Travis personalises this political, religious and cultural conflict by focusing on the profound
effects the bombing has on the Gallagher family who lose their son Aidan. His
characterisation of his protagonist, Michael, an automobile mechanic and Aidan’s father,
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section B: The text in context 5
epresents the ‘ordinary man’ whose softly spoken and calm demeanour brings integrity to
the cause. Travis shows through the character development of Michael, initially a reluctant
speaker who becomes chair of the Omagh Support and Self Help Group, a brave
commitment to battle political conflict and to attempt to bring the terrorists to justice.
Michael could easily be someone we know and the viewer admires him because he seeks
justice, not revenge, and his flaws are so human. Consumed by the death of his son, he
stops working and commits to working tirelessly for the support group. He neglects the rest of
his family and his daughter accuses him of neglect saying, “you should be here Daddy,
looking after us”. Travis reveals the inner turmoil suffered by Michael as he describes his
relationship with Aidan telling his wife, “Inside I feel he meant more to me and I know that’s
awful but I know how much you loved him but I can’t help the way I feel”. The Gallagher
family could easily be any family and their ordinariness evokes strong sympathy from the
The opening wide camera shots capture the ordinary people of Omagh, families,
shopkeepers and school children caught in the reality of a tragic event and Travis clearly
positions the viewer to sympathise with them. The opening ten minutes of the film shows the
notion of a bomb scare to be commonplace among citizens of Northern Ireland and they go
about their usual business while the police erect barriers. Here, agonising tension is created
by the documentary style camera work which shows ordinary people in High St opening up
for business intercut with depersonalising partial shots of bombers’ arms and legs, with
minimal dialogue while they expertly assemble the bomb. Travis is suggesting to the viewer
just how endemic this political and cultural conflict is in Northern Ireland.
Travis offers no insight in to the bombers’ point of view. They are depicted as cruel and
merciless as they plant the bomb calculated to cause maximum casualties. His
condemnation of the governments, police and various parties is clearly conveyed in the
interviews with the insincere Chief Constable and Gerry Adams who mouths platitudes
leaving the viewer in no doubt that the authorities are self serving and corrupt.
Snippets of dialogue throughout the film refer to the long history of conflict between parties.
Travis exposes the cruel irony as the authorities are in conflict with the very people they are
professing to help. He shows their calculated indifference to the victims’ plight and that, in
reality, they do nothing as they do not want to jeopardise the peace process. By doing this
Travis demonstrates to the viewer the layers of conflict associated with the long-held
animosity. This is reiterated in the scene where the Police Ombudsman gives her report to
the victims’ families and tells them that “the victims, you their families, the people of Omagh
as well as the officers of the RUC have been let down by leadership, poor judgement and
lack of urgency. And, as a result the chance of obtaining and convicting the Omagh bombers
has extremely reduced”. This honest appraisal offers some resolution but the final shots,
together with haunting music and factual titles revealing numerous arrests yet no conviction,
further exemplify the tragic outcome. Compare this scene to the earlier one involving the
Chief Commissioner and Gerry Adams. How does the director suggest that the Ombudsmen
is more genuine in her response?
But it is not all bleak. Travis, in the final scene of Michael’s press conference, shows the
families’ commitment to the memory of their lost loved ones, their brave response to the
conflict and the resilient voice and commitment of human solidarity that refuses to be
victimised or silenced by political authorities. He demonstrates that some degree of
resolution has been attained. Michael Gallagher’s last speech demands that individuals voice
a commitment against such atrocities and that we insist that justice be pursued, no matter
what the circumstances.
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section B: The text in context 6
For the classroom:
• Research and present a brief account of the current situation of the age-old conflict in
• Read the Ombudsman’s report (see Further reading) and present a summary to the
• View the final shots of the film and discuss what is revealed in the titles in the light of a
resolution to the conflict.
The Crucible by Arthur Miller
Arthur Miller’s historical, dramatic play, The Crucible, was written during the McCarthy era
and is about the infamous witch-hunts that took place in Salem, Massachusetts in 1694. It is
an allegorical tale of religious persecution and Miller drew parallels between the witch-hunts
in Salem and modern America and used the theatre to explore conflict and present his point
of view about freedom of the individual within a society run autocratically.
In his play, Miller shows that when an individual questions the dominant values of a society
in which he or she lives, tragic conflict can occur. His protagonist, John Proctor’s personal
values of reason and factual truth, come into conflict with Salem’s dominant values of
community harmony and conformity – much like Miller’s did in the 1950s and House of Un-
American Activities Committee (HUAC) led by Senator Joe McCarthy. Miller says in his
introductory notes that ‘The witch-hunt was a perverse manifestation of the panic which set in
among all classes when the balance began to turn toward greater individual freedom’.
It is important that students know that in the seventeenth century, witchcraft was a part of the
orthodox thinking, just as the left and right wing approaches were to communism in the
1950s. They need to know that Salem is a theocracy, that is, a community which believes
that God is the highest power and that religious laws and laws of the state are one. “... this is
a court of law. The law, based on the Bible, and the Bible, writ by Almighty God” (p.92)
explains Deputy-Governor Danforth. In Salem’s theocratic rule, the representatives are
godlike figures of authority and not to be crossed or questioned but they are insecure in their
authority and status and cannot admit to error – which brings them into conflict with honest
Salem citizens and the deceiving girls. They demand that John Proctor surrender his good
name and agree to their version of events – that he knows to be false – in order to save his
In the 1950s Miller was seen to be a ‘communist sympathiser’, blacklisted and expected to
be brought before the House of UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) led by Senator
Joe McCarthy. Just as Proctor comes to see that reason fails to protect him and his wife, so
too did Miller.
In Australia, although being a member of the Communist Party was not illegal, a referendum
was held about whether it should be made an illegal organisation. Elections were contested
over the ‘communist menace’ and the ‘Petrov Affair’ gained considerable media coverage.
There are many layers of conflict present in the play. Miller, in his introductory notes,
describes the citizens of Salem as a ‘sect of fanatics’ suffering from inter-personal conflict in
the form of ‘long-held hatred’, ‘land-lust’, ‘revenge’, ‘suspicion’ and ‘envy’. As a group they
are in constant conflict with the harsh land, the heathen Indians and the Devil, whom they
believed to be lurking everywhere. John Proctor is in conflict with the religious authority in the
form of Reverend Parris who appears more interested in making money than saving souls.
Like the great tragic heroes, his protagonist John Proctor is a good man, flawed and
brought down by his moment of weakness. He suffers inner turmoil as a result of his lust and
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section B: The text in context 7
guilt for his affair with the servant Abigail and is in conflict with his wife Elizabeth, for
betraying the sanctity of their marriage and in religious conflict against his church’s Puritan
teachings. But John Proctor is a ‘good man’ and a courageous individual who challenges the
traditional authority of the time with grave consequences. His conscience prevents him from
lying, from tarnishing his good name and ultimately leads to his death. Miller positions the
audience to believe that it is better to forfeit one’s life for principles than to avoid conflict by
agreeing to what is a lie.
Miller’s play clearly empathises with the accused and persecuted but he is also intrigued by
the motivations and actions of those in positions of power. How can the representatives of
religious authority condone such large-scale injustices? Miller is saying that these
representatives are responsible for the creation of conflict.
In his introductory notes he explains this paradox: ‘for good purposes, even high purposes,
the people of Salem developed a theocracy, a combination of state and religious power
whose function was to keep the community together and to prevent any kind of disunity that
might open it up to destruction by material or ideological enemies. But all organization is and
must be grounded on the idea of exclusion and prohibition, just as two objects cannot occupy
the same space. The repressions of the order were heavier than seemed warranted by the
dangers against which the order was organised’.
Miller explores this paradox through his characterisation of the religious figures Parris and
Deputy Governor Danforth and, in particular, the character development of Reverend Hale.
The Puritan minister Parris is not respected by the locals and despised by Proctor and
portrayed as self-interested while Danforth, representative of ‘the highest court of the
supreme government’ is arrogant and blindly resolute in his mission to uphold God’s law and
creates more conflict. Miller shows Danforth to be a victim of his own dogmatism and power,
a merciless man who thinks that the reasoning, “confess yourself or you will hang” will elicit
the truth. The Reverend Hale is the only representative of the theocracy who displays a
conscience and courage and is shown by Miller to develop from believer to guilt-ridden
sceptic saying that “there is blood on my head”. (p.114) But even he is powerless against this
Miller’s detailed notes and stage directions add much to the dialogue by way of context and
characterisation and alert the reader to Miller’s point of view about such characters before
they speak. These directions are, of course, Miller’s guidelines for directors and actors and
students should test them out as they read passages from the play and experiment with
different tones of voice and body language, to explore the ways different meaning can be
made from the script. The language of Miller’s play is rich in imagery and metaphor with its
title, The Crucible, referring to a heat resistant cup used for melting or changing a substance
by exposing it to a high temperature. This is a metaphor for what happened in the late
seventeenth century in Salem as the characters were changed by the pressures brought to
bear on them. For some the changes and conflict meant that the truth was lost and for others
it meant that they lost their lives adhering to the truth.
For the classroom:
• Research the ‘Petrov Affair’ and identify the types and levels of conflict. Discuss the
different responses to the situation of conflict.
• Read the introductory notes by Arthur Miller and discuss how the events of the 1950s
influenced his writing of The Crucible. You might also refer to the article, ‘Why I wrote the
Crucible’ by Arthur Miller which is freely available online.
• Discuss and offer reasons why you think his play was not well-received by many in
America when it first opened. How does the title relate to the idea of the inevitability of
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section B: The text in context 8
The Rugmaker of Nazar-E-Sharif by Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman
Students should consider The Rugmaker of Mazar-E-Sharif by Najaf Mazari and Robert
Hillman within its socio-historical context. Students should know where Afghanistan is, that it
was invaded by Russia in 1980, that Russia withdrew nine years later sparking a civil war out
of which the Taliban appeared as the most powerful force, that the ruling Taliban set about
persecuting anyone they believed had opposed them and that this caused a flood of
refugees seeking safety in foreign countries.
Hillman’s biography of Najaf Mazari’s life gives an excellent overview of Afghani history and
its culture such as the birth of the Taliban in the Deobandi schools of India in response to
fears that the colonial power would erode Islamic traditions.
“Once the British left India and the Muslim nation of Pakistan was created, the Deobandi kept
on with their work, mostly amongst very poor people. And that was the problem, for the
Deobandi schools were run by mullahs who were themselves very poorly educated; they only
knew how to read the Holy Book in a very simple way. But the Holy Book is not a simple
book. You need brains to understand what is being said, otherwise you are missing
everything.” (pp. 172-173)
This cleverly explains the religious fanaticism of the Taliban and divorces the conflict from
mainstream Islam so that the reader is positioned not to associate the suffering of
Afghanistan and its people with the prevailing religion. This helps the Western reader to be
sympathetic to Najaf who, throughout his experiences of conflict, only tussles gently with his
faith and does this without ever doubting God’s nature or existence (this is not a Judeo-
Christian long dark night of the soul). The reader might be expecting Najaf to come into
conflict with God and question his faith; instead Najaf makes constant references to God the
provider and benefactor of mankind even when the boat on which he and many other
refugees are hoping to get to Australia becomes marooned on Ashmore Reef.
“Why would God end my story in such a way? He was not wasteful … I felt so strongly his
interest in me and in all of us on this vessel, and why would He have remained so interested
in us if He intended to turn His gaze to another part of the world at this late hour?” (pp. 239-
In the West, the poor treatment of women in Muslim countries is often coupled with religious
fanaticism to denounce Islam. Stereotypical depictions of conflicted male-female
relationships abound and women are often painted as victims of male oppression. Najaf is at
pains to promote the significance of women in Afghani society – “the wife rules the inside of
the house” he says having spoken of the father as the “chieftain of his small tribe”. The
reader is touched by Najaf’s relationship with his mother who holds his face “as tenderly as if
she were holding a wounded bird” after he returns having been tortured by the Taliban and
this tenderness between men and women is paralleled by the beautiful innocence of Najaf’s
marriage to Hakima whom he agreed to marry despite not having seen her face nor knowing
whether or not she was beautiful.
“So I was engaged. It felt good. I said to my mother, ‘She may not be beautiful.’
My mother shrugged again. I’m sure she could see that I was trying to prove to her that I was
not swept away by looks and smiles.” (p.180)
That Najaf is in no way tempted to betray Hakima in his dealings with other women in the
Woomera detention centre even though the Afghanistan conflict has taken him from his
cultural context, speaks of his pureness of character (he is not wracked by inner conflict) but
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section B: The text in context 9
also suggest that male-female relationships within Islam are not as conflicted as the
stereotype would have it. To Leila, who abandons modesty and confesses her love for Najaf,
Najaf offers an apple and words that support her, value her as a human being and aim to
renew her apparent loss of faith.
“You are such a beautiful woman. A good man will find you and offer you his heart. God will
see to it.” (p.146)
Najaf’s efforts as a refugee to create a life for himself in Melbourne by selling and repairing
rugs is aided by the generosity and support of a woman, Robin Bourke, who becomes a
mother figure to him, cooks for him, listens to his problems and teaches him English. This
adds to the notion that the Afghanistan conflict is not resultant from fundamental flaws in the
religion – adherents of Islam who abide by its fundamental principals are well equipped to
appreciate life in all its beauty and to recognise the humanity in all people. The conflict
between men and women popularised in the West is thereby downplayed dramatically in the
book and attributed to the Talban rather than Islam.
“Restrictions such as those the Taliban enforced are hateful to the Hazara. We wish to see
women educated, we are proud of our tolerance not only within our own religion but with
other religions as well. We say this about our women: an uneducated father is a pity, but an
ignorant mother is a tragedy.” (p.219)
Najaf’s optimism in the face of conflict makes his story truly remarkable. His faith in humanity
does not waver. Everything that is wrong in the world that Najaf describes is the fault of
human beings. The Taliban soldiers terrorise and murder Hazaras out of an insane desire for
revenge. The “Canberra Australians” keep innocent refugees locked up in prison due to a
paranoid suspicion of the outsider, the foreigner. People smugglers treat people like sacks of
wheat, exploiting the suffering of others for financial gain. Within the story, however, Najaf
fails to completely write off any human being. Not even the Taliban whom he characterises
as non-human because they possess no doubts, (but even their mindless conviction might
be seen as a product of a conditioning that could be unwound if only they could give
admittance to music and musical instruments, singing, dancing, laughter, literature), nor the
“Canberra Australians” who have the power to send him back into the arms of the Taliban
(and do indeed send one man he knows back to Afghanistan despite his legitimate claim to
Najaf’s response to conflict is an admirable one because even when confronted with the evil
that mankind can make manifest in the world, he looks for the good in people – their
willingness to help, their ability to play a musical instrument, their wisdom, their tenderness –
and he takes it as his responsibility to himself and to others to be one of the good people. He
is a leader of his group on the refugee boat and again in the detention centre he acts as a
guardian of his people. People confide in him and trust him. They recognise his goodness. In
this way, it might be said that Najaf uses the conflict present in his life to become a better
person. The suffering that comes of conflict makes him open up where it could conceivably
have closed him off.
The idea someone could have an encounter with conflict and somehow have his faith in God
strengthened runs counter to the notion prevalent in the western scientific world view that the
human capacity for destruction – in philosophical terms, the problem of evil – points to the
non-existence of God. For many of us, the experience of conflict in our lives can drive us
away from notions of a benign and ordered universe and towards the belief that we are
ultimately alone in our lives in a world that has no particular concern for what we might do or
say or how we might fare.
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section B: The text in context 10
There is enough suffering in Najaf’s life to lead him permanently into cynicism and despair
and he does admit to bouts of depression. Early in the book, he tells of the rocket that hit his
family home in Nazar-E-Sharif killing his brother Rosal Ali and his brother-in-law Hassan. The
rocket was the only one that landed in the region that night and his family home was the only
one hit, his family the only family bereaved. Here Najaf laments “Just one rocket, and fate
guided it to me” and he goes on to wonder if his family had been singled out by God to suffer
more than others. “The reason I wept was that I thought God had chosen my family for
special suffering. In a little more than a year we had lost Gorg Ali, then another relative, a
favourite of my mother’s, murdered in his market garden; then my brother-in-law and Rosal
Ali.” (pp. 128-129) This rocket is the harbinger of the great hardship and misfortune that is to
come in Najaf’s life. When we first meet Najaf he is at the end of a terrible process that has
seen him lose everything dear to him – his homeland, his family, his occupation and by
definition he has lost himself because he has become an illegal immigrant, or ‘queue jumper’,
being held prisoner by the Australian government in the Woomera detention centre. He is
depressed and longing for his homeland and is unsure of what his future will hold. He has
only one shoe and very few personal freedoms or privileges.
The reader might imagine that Najaf is a typical victim of conflict; he has been carved up by
his experiences – in this instance, the experience of a civil war and persecution at the hands
of religious fanatics; he has been reduced to something much less than he was; conflict has
taken from him (as it does the world around to the countless individuals who become victims
of it) much more than any restorative process could ever give back to him. This, however, is
only where the story begins. What follows is a journey out of despair and into hope, away
from cynicism and towards an expansive view of life and its possibilities. Najaf’s faith in God
is such that the miraculous is always a possibility – it might be said that Najaf expects the
miraculous, not as his right, but as the way of God. Conflict drives him to see God’s hand in
everything; that the work of God is visible all around even if it is not always to his liking or
comprehensible. He is at peace even if the world is not at peace with him. Najaf embodies
this idea when he becomes a god on earth setting free canaries and goldfish that he
purchases – a powerful symbol in response to his own situation of impermanency in Australia
and the plight of his fellow refugees who like him have fled conflict only to find themselves in
conflict with the Australian government.
“Each fish has been granted a visa, by me. One time I saw the eels that live in the lake
curling in the dark water, and I was full of fear for the visa fish. But then I think, ‘The fish must
take their chances like the birds.’ Eels are everywhere, both in the world of fishes and in the
world of refugees. The world was not fashioned by God to please me in every way. The fish
have only a temporary protection visa, just like me. The fish and Najaf share the same
prayer: Do not let the eels devour us!”
Optimism as a way of dealing with the tragic consequences of conflict bears fruit for Najaf in
many ways – people whom he needs walk into his life, he becomes a successful
businessman against the odds – but none more so than in his reunion with Hakima and their
child Maria. When he is about to go to the airport to pick them up, he reflects on the miracle
of his escape from the Taliban and his success as an immigrant in Australia.
“Am I now only two and a half hours away from the most wonderful thing in the world? Is any
of this possible? No, it is all impossible, it is all daydreams. But it is true.” (p.244)
Najaf’s story is the story of life’s magic, sparking and flaring beautifully. So much colour and
hope even in conflict.
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section B: The text in context 11
For the classroom:
• Research the history of mandatory detention of asylum seekers in Australia with
particular focus on Woomera and incidents relating to the mistreatment and suffering of
• Research and discuss the philosophical problem of evil and other philosophical
arguments for and against the existence of God. Consider how the text presents God
and deals with the problem of God’s creation being flawed.
• Examine past and present attitudes to immigration and immigrants in Australia with focus
on reasons people hold for opposing immigration and the reasons people have for
migrating from one country to another. Discuss personal stories of being the ‘outsider’ or
being in conflict, including family stories of immigration.
The Secret River by Kate Grenville
Kate Grenville’s The Secret River can be broadly divided into three sections: those that deal
with the characters’ experiences in England, Sydney, and Thornhill’s Point. As this is a novel
regarding the conflict of space, place and identity and the relationship between the three, it is
an easy way to divide it, but also allows distinct comparisons to be made. It is also important
to note that intrinsic to these ideas is the notion of culture, and it is cross-cultural conflict that
Grenville is primarily concerned with.
In this setting the reader is introduced to William Thornhill and his future wife Sally. It is also
in England that the reader first gains an understanding of the conflict existing between
classes. Knowledge of Thornhill’s hunger and poverty prompts the reader to feel some
sympathy for him and later understand his craving for land and the conflict he encounters
because of it.
The injustice of the daily choices a young boy has to make for his family and later, for his
wife and child, further evoke an understanding within the reader. It is an unfortunate
existence, the nadir of which takes place within a courtroom as he receives the death
In England, Grenville introduces the first of many instances of gender conflict. Sal is brave in
the face of her husband’s death sentence and moreover it is her strength that saves him.
Thornhill’s realisation that she is strong and perhaps the leader of the family gives him hope.
Sal’s strength and power over Thornhill is continually suggested. In this way, Grenville
illustrates that it is a strength of character, and later an ability to keep one’s dreams small,
that allows one to successfully engage in conflict. Sal later recognises the threat her family is
posing to another and is outraged that she has been forced into this situation. The reader
responds positively to Sal because of her ability to identify the family as having paramount
importance regardless of culture.
The gender conflict is reinforced as Thornhill is assigned to his wife as her convict labourer.
While Sal and Thornhill manage well enough early in their Sydney experience they remain
isolated. Grenville is quick to make the distinction between convicts and settlers and the
underlying tension between the two groups. It is also in this section of the novel that the
reader is first introduced to an Indigenous Australian character – and in turn Grenville points
out the underlying conflict between alcohol and culture. Thornhill and Sal’s decision to steal
alcohol from his employer and run the ‘Sign of the Pickled Herring’ – a clear and distinct
conflict between their desire for a home and the reality of their imprisonment in Australia – is
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section B: The text in context 12
in contrast with the reader’s amazement at his second chance at life, yet the reader
remembers all too well how familiar poverty and starvation are to the Thornhill family.
In Sydney Sal again challenges Thornhill, this time regarding the issue of moving to their own
land – “No, she said. I ain’t coming at it, Will, and that’s flat” (p.110), attributed to her “dreams
ha[ving] stayed small and cautious, being of nothing grander than the London they had left”
(p.111). This is in direct juxtaposition with his changed ambitions in life: “Thornhill’s Point. It
was a piercing hunger in his guts: to own it. To say mine, in a way that he had never been
able to say mine of anything at all”. (p.106) As the chasm grows between the two main
characters so too does a silence regarding desires that is maintained throughout the text.
Their different experiences and backgrounds in London have meant that their desires in
Australia are also very different. It is here that Grenville suggests that it is not just a
difference in culture that can lead to conflict but a difference in perspectives too. This is an
idea that is elaborated on later in the text through Blackwood.
This is the name of the land that Thornhill declares belongs to him, near the secret river. The
conflict that occurs here is more blatant in its portrayal than in any of the other locations. It is
also far more physical; the familial tension is stronger and as a result the conflict is inevitable,
but it is in Thornhill’s inner conflict that the reader is shown the complexities and challenges
he faces, and the extent to which conflict is all consuming.
The most obvious conflict is between the Indigenous Australians and the white characters
(both free settlers and convicts). Grenville highlights this by choosing to have her characters
call the Indigenous Australians ‘blacks’ or ‘savages’. The conflict that exists is over land;
however, intrinsically linked to this are issues of identity, belonging, cultural differences and
understandings and for Thornhill a chance at success. This conflict dominates this section of
the novel and manifests itself in different ways within different characters; however, ultimately
in the male characters it becomes a physical conflict, an all consuming one, with victims on
all sides of the dispute. It is in this light that Grenville suggests the fundamental loss that is
experienced through conflict, regardless of culture or perspective.
In The Secret River, the land represents money and a future for the characters of English
descent (the obvious exception to this is Blackwood). This contrasts sharply with its meaning
for the Indigenous Australian characters, as the land represents their capacity to survive in
the present, their future and also their past. Some reconciliation between the cultures has
occurred since the resident ‘hard’ man Blackwood lives in harmony with the original
inhabitants of the land. However, this leads to conflict amongst the new settlers as some
believe it to be treachery. Whilst Thornhill receives a full pardon and is regarded legally as a
free man he is reminded on a return trip to Sydney that the gentry will always regard him as a
convict. It is therefore the conflict between his past and the existing freedom he has at
Thornhill’s Point which motivates him to fight for the land, despite the cost.
The reader is positioned to feel the ultimate outcome for Thornhill is a victory – but his life
has been hard and he has suffered greatly. Thornhill’s second son (incidentally the first
member of the family to be born in Australia) never speaks to his father again. Thornhill
never quite feels at home on his successful property and it is this cost which plagues him
until his death.
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section B: The text in context 13
For the classroom:
• In groups, discuss how the three different landscapes reflect the different kinds of conflict
in the text. What role does the environment play in conveying conflict?
• Research European colonisation in Victoria. What type of conflicts occurred between
Indigenous Australians and European settlers? How was it similar to the conflict
presented by Grenville in The Secret River? What differences were there?
• When John Batman arrived in the Port Phillip District (now Melbourne), he is reported to
have declared “All that I see is mine, all that I don’t see is my son’s”. Discuss with
references to The Secret River why a statement such as this would (and did) cause
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section B: The text in context 14
Section C: The text at work
Omagh by Pete Travis
This is a film text and teachers need to discuss stylistic features with reference not only to
written language (dialogue) but to the visual language of film which includes cinematic
techniques like; camera shots, size and movement, lighting, iconography, soundtrack
It is important to remind the students that, although Travis uses some documentary
conventions, Omagh is a dramatic recount and not a documentary film. It may help to
revise documentary conventions with students.
At the time of writing, the script for Omagh, a film made for TV, was not available and the
DVD did not provide any scene titles. Selected scenes are located using a time reference.
Public meeting for families of victims
Time: 40 mins: 48 secs – 44 mins 30 secs
This scene takes place in a public venue, The Royal Arms, in Omagh two months after the
bombing where the families of the victims of the bombing have gathered for a meeting. At the
start of the scene Travis (director) shows the families to be in conflict with one another and
the authorities as they voice their anger and frustration about the lack of progress to catch
and bring the bombers to justice. The protagonist, Michael Gallagher, delivers a speech
urging them to unite in their bid for justice and he emerges as a leader of the Omagh Self
Help and Support Group.
The register of the dialogue component of this extract is informal, even though it takes place
Travis deliberately evokes a documentary style with natural lighting, handheld and ‘flyon-the-wall’
camera work to create a sense of authenticity and provide a powerful medium
for his point of view about the bombing and the conflicting responses. The absence of music
emphasises the dialogue as the characters argue. The set, costumes and make-up reflect
the ordinariness of the victims’ families. It is a common venue and the cast wear a variety of
working and casual clothes that characterise them as mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers
of the victims. His cast, with the exception of Gerald McSorley, who plays Michael Gallagher,
are essentially unknown actors and ‘ordinary people’, further suggesting authenticity, and
intrinsic to the documentary feel.
The initial tone of the scene is argumentative and Travis shows this by people shouting and
interrupting one another using overlapping dialogue and unfinished sentences. It reflects
the heightened emotions. The register of the dialogue is public and informal and also
provides the viewer with the facts that are the source of the families’ frustrations and anger.
By including facts such as, ‘High Street reopened’, ‘compensation not worth anything’ and
‘thirty-eight people arrested and released’ combined with close-ups as families of victims
voice their private pain, Travis firmly positions the viewer on the side of the victims’ families.
There is a lot of interpersonal conflict as they argue amongst themselves – revealing not
hatred for one another but hurt at their sudden loss and their frustration at the unseen enemy
and the indifferent politicians.
The line “As long as bombs stay out of London they don’t give a damn, don’t care’ reveals to
the viewer a sense of helplessness as well as another level of conflict that is political. Here
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section C: The text at work 15
Travis uses dialogue that brings Prime Minister, Tony Blair, the conflict between Britain and
Ireland, and the ongoing Peace Process into the argument and highlights to the viewer the
essential back story to the political conflict. This can be explored as an extrapersonal level
of conflict that these characters encounter.
Travis portrays his protagonist, Michael Gallagher, as a reluctant hero who is compelled to
speak at the meeting despite his being, as he readily admits, ‘not very good at public
speaking’. Travis’s message here is that anyone, anytime may have to fulfil the role of
spokesperson and advocate for a cause that they care about.
Through this characterisation of Gallagher, the local, working class auto mechanic, Travis
personalises the loss. He combines close-ups of Gallagher with reaction shots of the others
while he speaks. The self-deprecating Gallagher has a calm demeanour, which works to
quieten the crowd. Gallagher’s language persuades his audience through the inclusive
language, “we” in his short, persuasive speech: “we’re not going to get anywhere if we shout
at each other”. He verbalises Travis’ position that the struggle against the conflict is not
productive and that they need to find a better way of dealing with the conflict. His words are
simple and heartfelt. They reveal him as one of the group, a grieving father first and foremost
who wants justice for his son’s death. He is honest, self-deprecating and shares their pain.
He never uses the words, ‘revenge’ or ‘avenge’. His words are persuasive and resolve the
interpersonal conflict between the families of the victims.
Using a wide shot of the crowd clapping, Travis shows in this scene how Gallagher’s words
calm the conflict in the hall, unite the families of the victims and give them focus, helping
them to move forward and hope.
Travis, in his final scene of Michael’s press conference, shows the families’ commitment to
the memory of their lost loved ones, their brave response to the conflict and the resilient
voice and commitment of human solidarity that refuses to be victimised or silenced by
For the classroom:
• Describe the types and levels of conflict in this scene.
• What view of the victims’ families’ conflict does Travis present to the viewer and how
does he achieve this?
• How does the cinematic style of Travis position the viewer to sympathise with the
• How does Travis portray Michael Gallagher’s reaction to the conflict and how does the
viewer react to this portrayal?
Meeting with Gerry Adams
Time: 53mins 25 secs – 58 mins 17 secs
This scene is a meeting between Lawrence Rush, Michael Gallagher (representing the
Omagh Support group) and Gerry Adams (Sinn Fein leader, representing a political party
affiliated with the bombers) at a heavily guarded house during the day. In this scene,
Gallagher has a list of bombers’ names and asks Adams for help in arresting the bombers.
Travis has the character Lawrence reveal the conflict between the members the Omagh Selfhelp
and Support Group about their speaking to Gerry Adams at all just before they enter the
room. Further conflict unfolds between Adams and Gallagher as Adams claims he is unable
to help and Gallagher realises that Adams will sacrifice the victims of the Omagh bombing in
order to avoid “jeopardise[ing] the peace process”. In this scene Travis also reveals
Gallagher’s personal conflict as talks about the murder of his brother by the IRA and now his
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section C: The text at work 16
Wide shots of body guards, reveal the heavy security surrounding Gerry Adams in an out-ofthe-way
location and the importance of his position and also reflects Sinn Fein’s secretive
way of dealing with the conflict in which they are heavily implicated.
The register of the language of this extract is private and informal when Gallagher is
conversing with Lawrence Rush at the start of the scene. This is done in whispered phrases
such as, “members wouldn’t come on principle” and “upset the whole group”. This highlights
the conflict between some members of the group. However, the tone becomes more formal
when they speak to Gerry Adams accompanied with a sense of urgency by Gallagher’s direct
question, “Do you know any of these names?”
Travis very clearly indicates his point of view about Gerry Adams’ role in the political conflict
surrounding the Omagh bombing and the government parties involved in the Northern Irish
peace process as he shows Adams in close-up, voicing platitudes like, “I’m here to help if
it’s possible…these people are as much our enemies as yours…make sure the peace
process keeps moving forward, put the past behind us,” but offering no real assistance.
Travis reveals Gallagher’s honesty, in stark contrast to Adams’ insincerity in both his
language and performance and firmly positions the viewer to consider Adams as another
indifferent politician with his own agenda. Travis contrasts Adams’ ‘politician-speak’ and
insincere manner with Gallagher’s direct action of interrupting his speech, handing him a list
and asking him directly, “Do you know any of these names?”. Gallagher recites the names
from memory reflecting the importance and intense nature of the subject of the meeting for
the Omagh support group. Adams cuts him off with a dismissive and an uncharacteristically
short reply, “I don’t know ‘em” revealing his refusal to be of help.
Travis uses ever-tighter close-ups of Gallagher and the reaction shots of a stony faced
Adams as Gallagher recounts to Adams, in simple language, the murder of his brother by the
IRA. Not only does this explain to the viewer his earlier concern about his group members’
unease but also his refusal to shake hands with Gerry Adams. At this point, the viewer feels
profound sympathy for Gallagher who has lost his brother and now his only son to Irish
terrorists, particularly as Gallagher has been established as a sincere, plain-speaking
Gallagher pleads for justice and uses the words “murder” and “killers” in a calm manner,
although the viewer would perhaps forgive him any outrage, given his situation. Travis uses
an extreme close-up of Gallagher’s face as he directly questions Adams, “but how can we
build a peaceful Northern Ireland until you help us bring these killers to justice?” This
question cuts to the heart of the film’s message and Travis’ point of view about the tragic
event. Gallagher uses inclusive language – including Adams and the citizens of Omagh
and the Irish people in his first person plural pronoun ‘we’, when he asks this all-important
question yet Travis reveals in Adams’ reply, “we cannot jeopardise the peace process”, that
his use of the same pronoun excludes many of those people.
For the classroom:
• Describe the conflict between Gerry Adams and Michael Gallagher in this scene.
• Describe Michael Gallagher’s personal conflict in this scene and how it is revealed.
• What view of Gerry Adams does Travis present to the viewer and how does he achieve
this using dialogue and visual language?
• How does Travis convey the conflict between some members of the Omagh Self-help
Support group about their meeting with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams?
• What are the key messages about conflict being conveyed in this scene?
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section C: The text at work 17
Family at home
Time: 1hr 12mins 09secs – 1hr 14mins
This scene takes place at the Gallagher kitchen at night and reveals the ramifications of the
death of Aidan and how his death has caused family conflict. The conflict is initiated by Cathy
who has been away at school, and has come home to a household where her mother stays
in bed, her sister is silent and her father absent at meetings most of the time. She is angry
and outspoken about what she perceives as her father’s neglect of his family. Michael is
devastated by her reaction.
The tone is in this scene is both argumentative as Cathy accuses her father of neglecting his
family and one suggesting desperation and loss, as firstly Michael is defensive, then deeply
saddened. The register is private and informal evinced by silences and few words spoken by
the family at home contrasted with Cathy’s accusatory questions and comments.
This very dramatic scene begins with ordinary neighbourhood atmospheric sounds of dogs
barking and gates and doors opening. The location is working class Ireland and initial shots
show rows of similar houses which cut to interiors of an ‘ordinary’ family home. In
constructing the scene this way Travis is suggesting that the day-to-day course of life
continues despite the conflict.
Travis employs a fly-on-the-wall camera style with partial shots of family members framed
through doorways and some handheld camera work following characters’ movements in the
kitchen. This technique positions the viewer to feel that they are eavesdropping on a family
argument between father and daughter.
Close-up shots of Michael’s wife, Patsy, in a dressing gown on the staircase, reveal both
her inability to cope with the loss of her son alone and her reluctance to participate or
interfere in the argument. She is silent in her grief, unable to voice her sadness and Travis
reaffirms this in Cathy’s line, “She is too sad to get out of bed”. Travis intercuts the
argument with these shots to prove Cathy’s words.
Travis uses the return of a previously absent character, Cathy, to highlight the devastating
effects of Aidan’s death in the Gallagher household. She reveals in her dialogue that, “you
both look terrible” (to her sister and father), questions, “who looks after her (mother)?” and
accuses her father of being “always at a meeting” asking him, “what are you doing it for?”
Cathy acts as the voice of “reason” forcing both the family and the viewer to see a different
perspective of the situation.
Cathy is shot mostly in close-up and, as the argument continues, she shouts and cries in
anger and frustration revealing the depth of her own loss and need for her father’s comfort.
She is in direct contrast with the normally quietly spoken members of the Gallagher
household when she cries, “Aidan’s dead. He’s dead.” then accuses her father of shirking his
responsibilities to them: “You should be here, Daddy, looking after us”.
Travis’ lengthy close-up reaction shot of Michael’s face after Cathy’s final accusation
encourages the viewer to experience the range of emotions Michael is experiencing and to
feel sympathy for him.
This scene shows how family members’ individual expressions of grief about their loss and
subsequent needs become a source of family conflict. Michael has been consumed in his
pursuit of justice for his son’s death. So determined has he been that he cannot appreciate
how the rest of his family need him to comfort them, nor how they can continue to live their
lives normally minus Aidan. In a broader sense, Travis is commenting on the complex and
devastating effects of conflict on ordinary people.
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section C: The text at work 18
For the classroom:
• What view of family conflict does Travis present to the viewer in this scene and how does
he achieve this?
• Describe Cathy’s (daughter) personal conflict in this scene and how it is revealed in her
dialogue and actions.
• Describe Michael Gallagher’s personal conflict in this scene and how it is revealed.
• How can this scene of family conflict be linked to the film’s central conflict?
The Crucible by Arthur Miller
Act 1 – Parris and Proctor argue (pp.34-35)
Parris: “Mr Corey, you will look far for a man of my kind at sixty pound a year! …He says
there’s a party.”
The extract is from Act 1 and is an argument between Reverend Parris and the protagonist,
John Proctor. The unpopular Parris believes himself to be persecuted by his congregation
while Proctor believes Parris to be more concerned with making money than saving souls. It
is a case of the individual (Proctor) challenging the authority of the Church (Parris). Miller’s
language portrays Parris as a greedy, self-interested character and positions the audience to
agree with Proctor.
Miller includes stage directions such as ‘now he’s out with it’ to emphasise his sense of
Parris’s rise from anger to ‘a fury’ such that he loses control and voices his inner fears.
The play’s language is rich in meaning and imagery, as evinced in the title, and the
vocabulary positions the audience to admire Miller’s protagonist and dislike the minister and
representative of the Church. The language is colloquial and, at times, uneducated and
convincingly places the drama in another historical time and yet is understood by a modern
audience. For example, Parris: “I do not fathom it, why am I persecuted here?”
The spoken dramatic form requires characters to speak in short sentences. The extract, a
private argument, begins in a formal manner but becomes less formal as the characters grow
angrier. Miller often ends these sentences in exclamation marks, particularly as the argument
escalates between Parris and Proctor.
Parris: “I want a mark of confidence is all!”
Proctor: “I am sick of Hell!”
Miller uses interrupted speech, to further indicate an argument between the characters.
By characterising Parris as greedy, self-interested and pompous in his abuse of power, Miller
clearly shows his point of view about Parris’s authority. Parris’s own dialogue condemns him
as the antithesis of a good minister. He repeatedly refers to his congregation as “you
people”. He lacks insight into his own unpopularity and conveniently blames the “Devil”.
Miller shows him to be threatened by Proctor’s stance and he hides behind the Church and
resorts to threats, “There is either obedience or the church will burn like Hell is burning”.
Parris is so threatened that he accuses Proctor of being part of “a faction” against him. Miller
contrasts Parris’s greed and unsuitability as a minister with Proctor’s honesty and humour.
For example; Parris’s line, “Mr Corey, you will look far for a man of my kind at sixty pound a
year” is immediately followed with Proctor humorously describing Parris’s constant talking of
“deeds” and “mortgages” at the meeting house as more appropriate to an “auction”.
In contrast to Parris, Miller shows John Proctor to be an honest, hardworking individual who
scoffs at authority and Parris’s accusations and gains the audience’s sympathy. He
challenges the minister on his financial stance and points out Parris’s prodigious use of the
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section C: The text at work 19
word “Hell” with humour in the line, “Can you not speak one minute without we land in Hell
Proctor’s line, ”I like not the smell of this authority” provides the audience with a strong
negative image of Parris and the church he represents as well as showing Proctor to be
Miller’s final stage direction in the extract reiterates his sense of both Proctor’s anger at the
minister and his humour. His line, “I have a crop to sow and lumber to drag home”, affirms
his status as honest, hardworking farmer and implies the opposite of Parris.
For the classroom:
• What is the source of the conflict between Parris and Proctor? Consider values and
personality. Are their differences reconcilable?
• What view of the conflict does Miller present to the audience?
• Describe how Miller’s choice of language positions the audience to agree with Proctor’s
Act 3 – Proctor confesses to lechery (pp.97-98)
Proctor: “I have known her sir. I have known her…My wife is innocent, except she knew a
whore when she saw one!”
This extract, from Act 3, takes place in the court, presided over by Deputy Governor
Danforth. In order to save his wife, John Proctor confesses to having had an affair with
Abigail and sacrifices his “good name” and “honor”. Miller’s language conveys Proctor’s inner
turmoil, guilt and emotional conflict as he confesses his disgrace.
Miller includes stage directions that show he wants actors to provide a physical
manifestation of Proctor’s inner shame. Proctor ‘trembles’, his voice ‘breaks’ and ‘he has to
clamp his jaw to keep from weeping’. Miller further emphasises Proctor’s personal conflict by
directing the autocratic Danforth to be ‘dumbfounded’ and ‘blanched in horror’ while the
saintly Francis is to be ‘horrified’. Their reactions confirm the gravity of Proctor’s confession.
As it is set in a court, the register is public and formal, yet the conflict is personal. Miller
shows that Proctor thinks of himself as unworthy over the affair when he laments that Francis
has no “evil” in him that would enable him to recognise Proctor’s actions. Miller portrays
Proctor as a man with a heavy burden of guilt and his choice of language for Proctor’s
tortured confession of sexual lust is rich in meaning and imagery as he identifies the place of
their affair as “proper, …where my beasts are bedded”.
Miller’s language choice also reflects the positions of women as either a wife or a whore in
this setting. While Proctor admits to “a promise in such sweat” and therefore accepts
responsibility in part, he describes Abigail’s actions as “a whore’s revenge”. Despite Proctor’s
condemnation of women, Miller evokes sympathy from the audience for his flawed
protagonist as we see a proud, honest man condemn himself and beg the court in a valiant
effort to save his wife.
Proctor’s words, “I set myself entirely in your hands…you will believe me” reveal his
desperation and provide dramatic tension since the audience knows his feelings about the
religious authority in Salem and appreciates the depth of his pleading.
Proctor condemns Abigail as someone who “thinks to dance with me on my wife’s grave”.
The conflict between Abigail and Proctor is revealed in this extract as Proctor repeatedly
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section C: The text at work 20
efers to her as, “whore” and “lump of vanity” and to his wife as, “dear good wife”. The
clearest example of this is in the last line, “ My wife is innocent, except she knew a whore
when she saw one!” where Miller sets up Abigail, the “whore”, in sharp contrast to “innocent”
Elizabeth, heightening the dramatic effect.
Miller reveals Abigail’s strength here as she stands up to both Proctor and Danforth. Miller
directs Danforth to ‘seem unsteady’ at Abigail’s refusal to answer in his court.
Miller emphasises the importance of reputation in the world of the play as Proctor says to
Danforth, “A man will not cast away his good name” early in the extract then picks the idea
up again when Danforth cannot gain an answer from Abigail about the accusations.
Miller gives his words a poetic quality when he has Proctor use the word “bell” because he
creates the image of the sound of bells spreading the message of Proctor’s disgrace. The
bells can also suggest the tolling of the death knell for Proctor as he is doomed.
For the classroom:
• Describe the inner personal conflict John Proctor faces in this extract.
• What view of John Proctor’s conflict does Miller present to the audience?
• Describe how Miller’s choice of language positions the audience to sympathise with John
Proctor and against Abigail.
• How does the extract reveal gender conflict in the world of the play?
Act 4 – Proctor tears up confession (pp.124-125)
Proctor: “You will not use me! …Show a stony heart to sink them with it!”
This extract takes place in Proctor’s cell. It is an argument between John Proctor and Deputy
Governor Danforth. The major conflict explored in this extract is the personal conflict that
John Proctor faces. He has signed a false confession in order to save his wife, thus forfeiting
his ‘good name’ but does not want it publicly presented so argues with Danforth. Finally he
resolves his personal conflict by tearing up the confession and condemns himself to death.
The tone in this extract is both argumentative and one suggesting increasing anxiety as
Proctor accuses Danforth of using him. Proctor repeats the line, “You will not use me!”
Miller suggests Proctor’s feelings shift from distress and anguish to a sense of honour in the
language used in his dialogue and presents this in sharp contrast to the character of
Danforth, who has remained obstinately unknowing and resolute and whose character has
not developed. Miller shows the audience Proctor’s increasing anguish in the questions he
asks of himself and Danforth, “I sold my friends?” and “How may I live without my name?”.
He has him argue that a verbal confession recounted by Danforth should suffice, appealing
to Danforth’s superiority when he says, “You are the high court, your word is good enough!”
only to then deny it with, “What others say and what I sign to is not the same”. He escalates
the argument Proctor has with his conscience and this heightens the dramatic tension as
the audience knows from Danforth that if Proctor recants he will hang.
Miller uses poetic language to create strong imagery when Proctor confesses himself to be
a liar and unworthy, ‘with a cry of his soul’ when he says, “Because I lie and sign myself to
lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang!” He says that he has
given Danforth his “soul” implying that he’s done a deal with the devil.
Miller suggests irony in Proctor’s last words on the matter when he has Proctor describe his
decision as a “marvel” and “magic”, the very terms for the evil the religious authority had
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section C: The text at work 21
maintained was present in Salem. The audience sees that the inner conflict is resolved with
his decision and that he now feels worthy by the words, “I see some shred of goodness in
Miller condemns Danforth through his dialogue, reveals his point of view on the paradox
about authority causing more injustice and positions the audience strongly against Danforth
and the religious authority he represents. Danforth reveals himself as a stickler for the law
when he says, “Is that document a lie? If it is a lie I will not accept it!” His absolute belief in
his own authority and lack of insight and compassion for fellow men is revealed in his line,
“You will give me your honest confession in my hand, or I cannot keep you from the rope”.
Miller includes stage directions that ask the actor to show a physical manifestation of
Proctor’s resolution to his inner torment. Proctor ‘his breast heaving, his eyes staring tears
the paper and crumples it, and he is weeping in fury, but erect’. He emphasises the
importance of Proctor’s act of defiance as well as revealing the other characters’ reactions.
Danforth calls for the reinforcement of the law in the form of the “Marshal” while Parris is
‘hysterical’ repeating Proctor’s name. It is only the religious representative turned sceptic,
Reverend Hale, who shows compassion and care for Proctor as he implores him, “Man, you
will hang! You cannot!”
Proctor’s powerful imperative sentences, urge listeners to stand strong and fight for what
they believe in and to, “Give them no tear! Tears pleasure them! Show honour now, show a
stony heart and sink them with it!”
For the classroom:
• Describe the internal conflict John Proctor faces in this extract.
• What view of John Proctor’s conflict does Miller present to the audience?
• Describe how Miller positions the audience to sympathise with John Proctor rather than
The Rugmaker of Mazar-E-Sharif by Najaf Mazar and Robert Hillman
Gorg Ali and the Watermelons (p.105)
In this chapter, we learn of the great wisdom and mystical powers of Najaf’s brother Gorg Ali
and of his tragic death tending bees at Shar Shar. It is one of the more poignant chapters in
the book where the writing takes on a nostalgic tone and the human and socio-cultural cost
of conflict is brought squarely into focus. This tone is supported with the photographic plates
inserted at the end of the chapter depicting (among other things) Najaf’s family home in
Mazar-E-Sharif and the home he was born in at Shar Shar.
The suffering of the Afghani people forms the subject of the opening paragraph. “It is not that
Afghanis have chosen a path of suffering out of madness; no, other people have chosen that
path for us.” This elicits our sympathy and combined with Hillman’s clever evocation of Gorg
Ali’s goodness and his worthiness as a human being positions us to feel great sorrow for
Gorg Ali’s death – a sorrow we did not feel for the death of Najaf’s father nor for Rosal Ali or
Hassan because we are kept at an emotional distance. With Gorg Ali’s death, we are asked
to consider the suffering Afghanistan alongside the loss of Gorg Ali. Gorg Ali, then, is
Afghanistan with its flavour, its mysticism, its rich cultural heritage, its wisdom born of
centuries living off the land. This idea is set up in the references to his powers over snakes
which is given by the land itself – “the powers came out of the soil and rocks of Afghanistan
and into his body”. Significantly, Gorg Ali’s death out in nature is emphasised. Hillman gives
generous descriptions of the landscape surrounding the bee hives at Shar Shar – “The bees
made their honey from the wild flowers that grew all over the fields and up into the hills and
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section C: The text at work 22
mountains … In the mountain pastures in spring, the wildflowers cover the ground in such
numbers that it appears as if a carpet of coloured snow has fallen” – to suggest the notion of
paradise lost which comes through strongly in the description of Zahir’s discovery of Gorg
Ali’s dead body “where the poppies and tulips still stood”.
“Zahir walked along the route to the hives that Gorg Ali would have taken, and on the way he
saw the signs of the battle that had been fought: shell craters, and a few buildings destroyed
and still smoking, and blackened grass and pasture, and the wrappers of food and rations …”
When Gorg Ali dies, a necessary attitude to life, a model for living correctly, dies with him. It
is presented as a loss to Afghanistan, the loss of a rudder in turbulent waters. “The loss we
felt was all the more dreadful because we knew that a bad time was coming for our country
and we would be without the man who had guided us through the awful times we had already
endured.” In a Christian context, Gorg Ali would be a Christ figure providing simple wisdom
(the preference for practical living over philosophical examination of life) and giving life to
those who are close to death having been bitten by snakes. Here, Hillman even uses a
phrase with Biblical undertones in “And so it was”. In this context, Gorg Ali is a conduit for
God, doing God’s work “free of much of the madness that drives other people to do bad
things, or things that are bad for the soul”, leading the whole nation forwards out of conflict –
“A thousand years ago, before the coming of the Prophet, he would have been the wise man
of the village”.
For the classroom:
• Write about a significant family member or friend or person of note exploring what it is
that sets them apart from others. Focus on what you might consider is a source of
conflict for them.
• Explore the use of landscape in writing. Write descriptively about a place that you know
well. Aim to explore the idea of man in conflict with nature.
• Make a list of the folk lore that appears in the book. What folk lore have you inherited
from your own cultural context? What folk lore do you think you will pass on? To what
extent does folk lore arise in response to or deal with conflict?
The Room of Questions (p.45)
This chapter takes us inside the interview room at Woomera where asylum seekers are
questioned to establish the veracity of their claim of refugee status. The initial description is
of a “small room with bare walls” which emphasises the simplicity of the room and belies the
complexity of the situation. “A very plain room, as I say, but God knows how much heartache
and pain and despair and sometimes joy those bare walls have witnessed.” It points to the
necessary conflict between the asylum seekers and Australian immigration authorities who
are not equipped to deal effectively with asylum seekers whose stories are complicated and
not necessarily measurable by the tools available. Najaf elucidates this point when he frets
about the possibility that someone has spread lies about him to do him damage. “What if
somebody has said that I am a rogue or a bandit, just to make mischief?” Hillman conveys
Najaf’s unease through his internal monologue about the possibility that someone might seek
to hurt him. Najaf’s unease is understandable because such a simple act of hatred might
conceivably lead to his claim being rejected and the authorities would have difficulty
ascertaining the truth of the matter. Further into his interview he is asked to name the Shrine
of Ali as a famous building in Mazar-E-Sharif but comes up with a blank because he does not
recognise its fame only its holiness further reinforcing the inadequacy of the measures being
employed to make life and death decisions on people’s futures. The two words ‘famous’ and
‘holy’ held up together demonstrate the cultural differences that separate the two camps from
each other and potentially separate Najaf from a new life in a safe country.
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section C: The text at work 23
The idea of truth is central to this chapter. Najaf claims that even those who have nothing to
hide from the authorities are nervous when interviewed and goes on to explain that it is
conceivable that someone might lie in order to tell the “bigger truth”. The conflict here
between what is true and what is not true goes to the heart of the asylum seeker experience
because, in simple terms, all they want is to have their reality validated – “I am under threat
in my own country; I have been persecuted; I am a good person who wishes only to live a
free life and work for my keep” – and the authorities can only perceive the asylum seekers’
reality through the prism of their own experience and within their own cultural context. The
authorities more than likely have never had to flee their native country to ensure their own
survival – to migrate to another country they would apply through the proper channels and
wait in line. They are positioned therefore to be suspicious of people who claim asylum even
if they have compassion for their situation. Such suspicion is pointed to in the statement read
to Najaf about the waiver on his privacy in the interview. “Then Mr Johnson tells me through
Amin of all the people who would be allowed to read what I was saying – people in the
government of Australia and people in the police force and Australians who want to make
enquiries about me in Afghanistan.” That we receive most of this interview filtered through
Najaf and his interpreter is a clever device to keep the reader at an uncomfortable distance
mirroring Najaf’s own experience as he grapples with communicating to people from another
culture and in another language.
In such a situation of powerlessness (where the truth might never be verifiable), Najaf is
vulnerable and at the mercy of enormous forces. This is the human condition, the grand
existential conflict – when the fabric of our lives is stripped away, we are small and
insignificant and can only hope that the universe is in fact ordered and that its great designer
has a plan that includes us; or failing this, that our fellow sufferers who, admit it or not, share
our predicament and might show us compassion, hold out a hand. Najaf when prompted to
remember Gorg Ali weeps openly at the tragedy of his loss and at the tragedy of humanity’s
propensity for destruction. “Such a long day’s work to make a good man! And yet, one bullet
that takes a second to speed through the air and strike a man will kill him in an instant. How
can God forgive such a thing?” At the end of the chapter, Hillman uses lists of questions
effectively as Najaf laments that nothing can be made with a gun. The questions build one
upon the other to highlight the pointlessness of technology that is designed to kill people and
the need to address conflict in our world by pouring our energies into building things rather
than pulling them down. We must seek to end conflict by finding a common humanity. As
Najaf says in his simple style of short, matter of fact statements, “If it was my job to let people
into a country, I would let me in. Why not? Australia needs more Afghanis. We work hard all
day long. We sing sometimes. We make beautiful rugs.”
For the classroom:
• Write a psychologist’s report on Najaf’s state of mind during the interview. How might the
psychologist perceive Najaf’s capacity to deal with conflict?
• Examine the metaphor of the rugmaker in this chapter (p.52) How is making a rug
compared with the act of divine creation?
• Imagine Bob Johnson telling his wife about his interview with Najaf. What would he say?
• Examine the use of language in this chapter. How does Hillman capture Najaf’s voice?
How does he convey the Australian voice?
The Howard Government’s policies on the treatment of ‘illegal immigrants’ was sometimes
equated with the anti-semitic policies of Nazi Germany and certainly the detention of asylum
seekers on Nauru was referred to in left wing media as the ‘Pacific Solution’ a play on ‘Final
Solution’ the well known term that Hitler used to describe his grand plan for the extermination
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section C: The text at work 24
of the Jews. What was central to the policies of the Nazis vis à vis the Jews was a deliberate
campaign to dehumanise them to make their extermination more palatable to the populace.
The efforts of the former Liberal government to demonise (as in the ‘Children Overboard’
scandal) and dehumanise asylum seekers aside, conflict that forces you to flee your
homeland and seek asylum in another country is in itself dehumanising because when we
are wrenched from our socio-cultural, socio-historical, socio-political and geo-physical
context we are immediately robbed of a large part of who we are. This chapter serves the
purpose of re-humanising the detainees starting as it does with the assertion that “life is a
force that never takes a holiday, never rests” implying that people remain people with very
human concerns regardless of their situation. This might seem an obvious point except that
we know, historically, the extent to which the human rights of asylum seekers were largely
ignored and even abused during the Howard years. Najaf states that “… all the events that
take place in the world outside Woomera happen here, too. Children are born; men and
women fall in love; great passions are roused by the struggle for equality; people of honour
attempt to spread their influence and bring about peace; people of ill will attempt to subdue
those who resist their plans. Here in Woomera, we have all the members of the human
family, for better or for worse”.
This point is elaborated by Hillman who through Najaf describes a situation where all the
‘legitimate’ Australians are taken away to Mars never to return and where a new Australia
would be peopled and built and maintained by the people currently being held in Woomera.
This unlikely event would not lead to the destruction of civilisation on our continent because
in any collection of human beings, men, women and children, there is the necessary
humanity to create civilisation in all its glory with all its faults. “If we Woomerians had to make
a new Australia, we would do a good job – not a better job than the real Australians have
done, but almost as good, and maybe a bit different.” Najaf lists the great array of people and
their talents living in Woomera – “mechanics, carpenters, scientists, rugmakers … people
with good business brains; we have philosophers, engineers; we have teachers, holy men,
poets” – and on and on the list goes with the effect of emphasising the humanity of the men,
women and children whose misfortune it was to have been forced to flee their country of
origin in fear of their lives and in hope of some basic human respect elsewhere.
To ensure that this is not dismissed as a generalised assertion of the humanity of those our
government is keeping locked up indefinitely, Najaf relates the tale of Leila whose passion
overwhelms her to point where she abandons her modesty and confesses her love for Najaf.
Hillman devotes four pages to Leila’s story, creating a character of some depth as a device
to elicit our compassion for the suffering of a fellow human being whose inner conflict sees
her heart become too full of an impossible love. “… tears fall from her face like water running
off a roof in the rain. Moaning sounds come from her; cries of pain.” It is difficult to remain
unmoved by what is clearly a human drama with real people at its centre.
For the classroom
• Research past and current policies on asylum seekers in Australia. How do they differ?
• Was Najaf right in refusing Leila? As a Muslim, are there any grounds on which he might
have been able to accept her love? (You might need to research this.)
• Najaf cannot understand Leila’s anger at the gift of an apple in the place of his
acceptance of her love. Explain it to him in a letter or a dialogue.
• Write a letter from Najaf to Leila or from Leila to Najaf. Or write a monologue in which
Leila laments her situation.
The Secret River by Kate Grenville
In accordance with Federal Racial Discrimination Act 1975, the inclusive term, ‘Indigenous
Australians’ should be used when writing about the text, unless directly quoting from the text.
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section C: The text at work 25
First encounter (pp.146-147)
This extract describes the first physical encounter between the Thornhill family and the
Indigenous Australians. It is important as Grenville suggests that, with a lack of
communication, violence becomes the lowest common denominator between contrasting
The Indigenous Australian characters are given no dialogue. It is reported that “he was
shouting angrily, the same word again and again and Willie was shouting right back into his
white whiskered face, Give it here, give it!”, but it is the white child’s words that are given a
voice. The third person narration is written in a formal manner. It is the language of the
characters which is colloquial, “Oy you thieving cunny”. This highlights the conflict not only
between Thornhills’ class and that of the educated narrator but also between Grenville’s
contemporary audience and the period in history she’s depicting.
Grenville also uses names as a way of distinguishing between the two cultures. Thornhill, the
protagonist, is given his surname as his identity, his son is Willie and his wife Sal. The
Indigenous Australian characters are named by their appearance “old grey beard” and “the
younger one” which has the effect of dehumanising them. The difference in ways of naming
highlights the ignorance of the English characters as well as allowing them to be detached
from the characters that they are harming.
Grenville creates tension in this extract by describing sound. ‘The slaps on the man’s skin
were like slow ironic applause’. This simile, set on its own distinct from any other paragraph,
slows down the action of the passage and allows the reader to absorb the impending conflict.
Contrasting with the speed of action in the previous paragraph the next one describing the
old man’s actions is slow and deliberate, mirroring the character’s movements.
Grenville creates the image of the bush as a theatre, where ‘in a single step he seemed to
recede into the flickering light and shade of the forest. It closed behind him as smoothly as a
curtain.’ This highlights the intensity of the drama which has just been played out and which
is still taking place.
Grenville’s references to animals “he could smell his thick animal scent…even a dog
understood Go away when he saw it” illustrate that the behaviour is primal, that this conflict is
intrinsic, and it is for survival. It also serves to reinforce the otherness projected onto the
Indigenous Australian characters.
Thornhill, the protagonist, is referred to as Thornhill throughout the narration. However, Sal
challenges his authority by referring to him as Will. “She glanced at him. Ain’t that right Will?
this question served to Thornhill after his first conflict is a powerful one. It foreshadows future
misgivings but also reinforces the conflict which exists between these two characters.
For the classroom:
• Why do you think Grenville portrays the conflict as so physical?
• Discuss the factors that made the conflict between the white settlers and the local
• Examine the irony of the language used by the characters. What do you think Grenville is
• Describe how the two different cultures are depicted and comment on the language
choices made by Grenville to underscore fundamental similarities and differences
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section C: The text at work 26
In court (pp.65-66)
This extract describes Thornhill’s testimony and conviction at his trial in London. The reader
is struck by the lack of compassion of the trial process and the extreme punishment given to
him. But, more interestingly, it is the way in which Thornhill is overwhelmed by the
experience, his inability to clearly articulate his excuse, that strikes the reader.
The use of names in this paragraph is important as it highlights the chasm between the
classes. Thornhill and Sal retain their traditional names, and William Thornhill is generally
referred to by the narrator as “he”. Thornhill refers to the other actors in the court case either
by their role “the judge” or their title “Mr Lucas”. Their different social status is reinforced by
Dialogue is brief but powerful in this passage but it is only when his punishment is given that
there is a voice other than that of the protagonist. This further cements the conflict between
classes that exists in the courtroom setting. When Thornhill does speak, he sounds
desperate, ‘Mr Lucas knows…” aware that his own knowledge counts for nothing here. He is
overwhelmed by the setting and enters a state of detachment. “The moment where Thornhill
was allowed to tell his story was upon him so abruptly that he found the words he had gone
over with Sal had evaporated from his mind.”
In this state of detachment, Thornhill observes the behaviour of others. Grenville allows the
third person narrator to make keen observations as though through Thornhill’s eyes,
describing people in the crowd who are of no significance to the story and are never
mentioned again. “One of the lounging ushers, a corpulent man in a bulging dirty white
waistcoat, caught sight of someone he knew across the room and made a mincing wave and
a smirk. A barrister fiddled with the grubby ruffles at his neck”. This lengthy description
creates the swooning tension felt by the confused protagonist and it makes his sentence
seem all the more unfair. The first words that Thornhill hears, other than his own, is his
sentence: that he is to “be taken from this place and hanged from the neck until … dead”.
The final paragraph of this passage shows all the action is happening around Thornhill. “He
heard… He wanted…grabbing him…forcing him…he turned his head…then he was
back…without his story…stripped naked of his tale…his moment of hope had been and
gone, and left him now with nothing ahead but death.” The use of “he” with the description of
his movements as depicted by someone else highlights his isolation, powerlessness and
despair. The action escalates in the last paragraph but Thornhill is a passive participant.
Things are done to him and he has not the strength or presence of mind to resist. It is as
though he is in a dream in slow motion. Somehow he finds himself back in the cell, not
knowing how he got there. The final sentence in this paragraph builds a sense of emotional
despair by a series of metaphors and collocations: “without his story…stripped
naked…stripped of everything…hope had been and gone…nothing ahead but death”.
For the classroom:
• List the actions and demeanour of Lucas, the judge, the barrister and the ushers.
Comment on the verbs and adjectives used and the effect created.
• Thornhill is depicted as helpless and powerless, a silent observer of the situation. Find
phrases that create this impression.
• Write out the three instances of dialogue in this passage and compare the language
used in each one. How do Thornhill’s words contrast with the judge’s pronouncement?
How does this marked difference reflect the conflict in the situation?
• Which senses does Grenville appeal to in this extract? Describe how these appeals help
convey tension and conflict.
• Describe how Grenville highlights the differences between the classes.
• How is justice portrayed in this extract? Does justice exist for the characters at this time?
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section C: The text at work 27
Smasher’s rage (pp.233-234)
This scene exemplifies the different attitudes and reactions of the characters when brought
together in a conflict situation. Smasher is in a furious rage with the Indigenous Australian
man; he is scathing towards Thornhill, whilst Thornhill does not react to or intervene in the
confrontation between the Indigenous Australian and Smasher. Thornhill shouts feebly at
Smasher when confronted by a sneering accusation by the other man. Clearly, Thornhill is
an outsider here, not fitting comfortably with either group.
Typically the Indigenous Australian’s feelings and intentions are clear despite the absence of
his words. The image of the whip briefly joining him to Smasher and the long silence that
follows creates a moment of climax, and the reader stops breathing in anticipation of what
might come next. The question arises: “how will this conflict be resolved – by violence or by
Again the dialogue is crucial to establishing the sense of conflict. The Indigenous Australian
character is given no dialogue “pantomiming how good it was to eat”. Smasher’s dialogue is
coarse, “Want a free feed do you, he shouted. See you in hell first”. This language contrasts
greatly with the formality and calm of Grenville’s writing style and suggests that there is a
question about just who is the “savage”: the character labelled as such or the one
demonstrating “savage” behaviour?
The description of the scenery highlights the extent to which the Indigenous Australians are
in harmony with their surroundings and the white characters are not. “He went down to his
canoe and slid into the water” whereas “Smasher ran into his hut and snatched up the
flintlock leaning against the wall, but by the time he had run back down, fumbling with the
bag of shot, the black man had poled his canoe out into the current and was being carried
out of sight around the rocks”. This idea is reinforced later, when Grenville describes the
scenery and juxtaposes it with Smasher’s actions. “Smoke continued to pour over the water.
Smasher turned his head away to spit a long brown stream.” Smasher is in conflict with the
The action that follows between the two white men, Thornhill and Smasher, is no less conflict
ridden than the previous one. Again the presence of language is no less significant than the
absence of it. “His face was too close, his voice too loud.” Smasher, in his dialogue, refers to
the Indigenous Australian characters as “they” (with the exception of once labelling them
“bastards”), and Thornhill as “you”. He also mentions “we”. The pronouns set up an “us and
them” dichotomy through exclusive and inclusive language, and reinforces that Thornhill is
not part of Smasher’s group.
For the classroom:
• Describe how conflict is presented between characters from similar backgrounds – when
it is not as a result of racial or class differences.
• Describe how Grenville ’s imagery helps to convey the sense of conflict.
• Discuss how Grenville creates tension through her description of the environment.
• Consider the way in which the author chose present dialogue in The Secret River.
Discuss possible reasons for this choice and suggest the effects created for the reader.
How does the setting out of the dialogue help to present a view of conflict?
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section C: The text at work 28
Section D: Student texts
Students should complete preparatory exercises such as the ones suggested below, and
receive some formative and diagnostic feedback, prior to completing writing for summative
Outcomes assessment. These preparatory tasks should include working with the selected
texts as springboards for their own writing, and becoming aware of the ways that they could
use the ideas and strategies from selected and supplementary texts in their own writing
about the Contexts.
Students should complete exercises that will assist them to think carefully about language
structures and features, form, point of view, and register and to develop appropriate
metalanguage to discuss these with precision and economy.
Creating original texts is the major part of the task that students must complete. However,
they are also required to write an explanation of the process involved in creating the text/s,
and to use appropriate metalanguage in this discussion.
The explanation should demonstrate that the student has been aware of some of the issues
or problems presented in the construction of the text for a specified audience and purpose,
and the ways that these were solved. It should
• explain ways the text was shaped in response to the writer’s sense of the audience and
• highlight examples within the text where particular decisions or changes were made so
that the text became more effective.
(The following material has been adapted from work produced by the writers of Inside
Contexts ‘Exploring Issues of Identity and Belonging’. The material will vary in its relevance,
depending on the selected texts being studied by the class. However, students and teachers
will find many of these activities interesting and useful for Encountering conflict.)
The texts selected for Encountering conflict, are character-driven narratives. In order to
improve their writing and expand their repertoire of strategies to use in response to prompts
and stimulus material for Area of Study 2, students should examine how the authors design
convincing and engaging characters as well as evocative, compelling settings within which
these characters exist. This section presents a series of exploratory writing activities to help
them explore the creation of character.
Thinking about characterisation
“I spend a lot of time working on characters. I start off with a resume – a job
application form that I have extended a little bit. I fill that out and sort of force myself
to think about the characters. Then if I am lucky I will find a picture of my character in
a magazine… and pictures of their houses” (Walter Dean Myers).
Undertaking a series of character-based writing improvisations will enable you to generate
ideas for your own writing and to develop a consciousness about the use of specific
structural and linguistic features in presenting views about the Context.
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section D: Student texts 29
As suggested by Myers (above), some authors create ‘resumes’ about their characters –
these are also referred to as inventories or profiles. Essentially, character inventories list
facts in chart format. There are several different forms of character inventories which
emphasise aspects of a person’s sense of themselves and their ways of perceiving the world
Character Inventory #1 (adapted from Bernays and Painter, What If?): name; nickname;
sex; age; looks; education; vocation/occupation; status and money; marital status;
family/ethnicity; speech, accent; relationships; places (home, office, car, etc); possessions;
recreation hobbies; obsessions; beliefs; politics; sexual history; ambitions; religion;
superstitions; fears; attitudes; character flaws; character strengths; pets; taste in books,
music, etc; journal entries; correspondence; food preferences; handwriting; astrological sign;
Character Inventory #2 (adapted from Bickham, Writing The Short Story): Character’s
name, age and brief factual biography; character’s dominant impression and major tags;
character’s goal, problem or lack that motivates them in this story; action, event or setting
that introduces the character; action, event or place where the character will be at the
conclusion of their part in the story; brief physical description of character.
Character Inventory #3 (adapted from Field, The Screen-Writer’s Workbook): write a factual
biography of the character from birth until the time of the story in the first person.
Character Inventory #4 (adapted from Horton, Writing The Character-Centred Screenplay):
Background – place and time, parental profile (race, ethnicity, socio-economic level),
siblings, family structure and life;
Basics – gender, physical abilities/limitations, race, ethnic background, religion, socioeconomic
Personality Traits/Tendencies – protagonist or antagonist, more thinking or feeling,
life/career/personal goals, core characteristic, biggest personal contradiction, father or son,
daughter or mother, victim/persecutor/saviour, self-centred/selfish/selfless;
Personal Individualising Habits/Tastes – personal appearance/stature, clothes,
favourite/hated food/drinks, education, hobbies, fears, most hated activities, most enjoyed
activities, deep secret, wildest fantasy, closest friend/s, attitudes towards
self/others/friends/sex/love/family/country/world/ religion/etc, sense of humour, etc
Professional/Public Life – job/career/occupation, accomplishments in society’s eyes, clubs/
organisations belongs to, public causes supported/protested, etc;
Telling Details/Likes/Dislikes – conservative/traditional or liberal/radical, ability to act “out of
character”/contradictory, vegetarian or carnivore, substance abuser or abstainer;
How Would The Character React To – death of loved one, unexpected compliment/kindness,
serious illness, natural disaster, etc.
(You can build additional categories and criteria into this model).
For the classroom:
• Compare and contrast these character inventories.
• Which is the most useful inventory in thinking about and designing a character
appropriate to your exploration of ideas in this Context?
• Apply one of these character inventories to a character you have studied in a selected
text. What does this suggest about aspects of the character’s construction?
• Using one of these character inventories, create a character for your own writing about
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section D: Student texts 30
Appealing and unappealing personalities
For the classroom:
• Drawing on the individuals you have encountered in the selected texts, complete the
• List the personality aspects that you find appealing (10-15).
• List the personality aspects that you find unappealing (10-15).
Authors build clusters of tags to signify their characters’ personality and their central,
motivating concerns. A tag is a specialised and recurring label which may manifest in the
character’s appearance, abilities, speech, mannerisms and attitudes. A character tag is a
concrete representation of abstract aspects of personality.
For the classroom:
• Give a concrete tag to indicate each of the appealing and unappealing personality
aspects you have listed.
• Develop some of these into a descriptive paragraph.
Additional character-based writing improvisations
For the classroom:
• Monologues: explore the structure and psychology of monologues; re-write monologues
into third person narratives, noting how this alters the strategies available to represent
• Stream-of-Consciousness: examine the linguistic features (especially sentence
construction variety) and structural focus of this mode. Write original stream-ofconsciousness
piece for one of the characters in your selected texts.
• Point of View: re-write scenes from the selected texts from a different point of view, to
note what is revealed or omitted, highlighted or downplayed, compared with the original.
Propositions, forms and contexts: anecdotes and expositions
For the classroom:
• Write an anecdote to explore one or more propositions, relevant to the Context, provided
by your teacher. An anecdote is a brief illustrative story. Draw the anecdote from either
your direct experience or observed experience. The anecdote may support or challenge
• Once you have written your anecdote to illustrate the proposition, your teacher will give
you a specific target audience. Consider whether you need to make alterations to the
anecdote’s language features in order to communicate better with the specified
audience? How did writing for a specific target audience influence your presentation of
ideas about the Context?
• Working with the same proposition, explain and support your viewpoint in a short piece
of expository writing.
• Once you have done this, your teacher will give you another specific target audience.
Consider whether you need to make alterations to the language features in order to
communicate better with the specified audience? How did writing for a specific target
audience influence your presentation of ideas about the Context?
• Compare your anecdote and expository piece – which text is the most effective in
presenting your views about the same proposition? How did writing in a different form
influence your presentation of ideas relevant to the Context?
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section D: Student texts 31
Thinking like an author
Authors have to consider four key questions when designing a presentation of their ideas:
Why am I writing? This is the purpose of the presentation.
What will I write about? This is about the content and focus of the presentation.
How will I write about it? This is about the way in which the content and focus are
presented. Here the author makes decisions about techniques and strategies that will be
used to convey their content.
Who am I writing for? This is about identifying the specific audience for the presentation.
The best answers to these questions will be interdependent and the process in coming to a
decision about them is likely to be recursive and ongoing.
For the classroom:
• Prepare a brief on different presentation options for propositions you locate or those
provided by your teacher, by completing the chart. This may be done individually or in
Where humans are concerned, conflict is inevitable.
WHY WHAT HOW WHO
What type of writing
will you choose:
Give overview of
the form and the
such as “the school
• Review the options you have outlined. Discuss the different strengths and weaknesses
of the strategies available to you when using particular forms of writing.
Further activities for student writing on Encountering conflict
• In small groups choose one particular example of conflict identified in The Age, The
Australian and Herald Sun (print or online) and track it for a week by collecting all related
articles, blog posts and taking notes on any TV coverage. Give a brief presentation to the
class in either oral or written form on your example and using at least three texts.
− how the conflict began
− who is involved
− the various points of view presented
− how the text positions the reader to view the example of conflict presented
− suggest alternative ways conflict could be resolved.
• From these, choose examples of different forms of media texts that deal with conflict.
Write analyses of the way the author presents the conflict to justify their point of view.
Include analysis of the language and textual references. Revisit the work you have done
in the study area, ‘Using language to persuade’ to help you.
• Write a personal recount for an older audience related to a situation of conflict you either
witnessed or were involved in. Brainstorm for 15 minutes and write down any points.
Include the circumstances, persons involved, actions, colours, your feelings, what people
said (direct speech) and any immediate consequences.
− You could represent it as a mind map with the event in the centre.
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section D: Student texts 32
− Write a personal recount of the situation using your brainstormed points and mind
map as research.
• Analyse an extract from a text, that you read before you began the study Encountering
conflict, that demonstrates the inner conflict of a character. Discuss how the author has
achieved this, i.e. what stylistic features and language they have used. For example, you
could examine one of Macbeth’s soliloquies. You could present this as a tutorial or as a
written analysis to your class.
− Create your own character(s) and write a text that demonstrates their conflict. You
may choose to write a monologue, dialogue, dramatic scene, free verse poem or
short story to be presented at a year level assembly.
• Write a presentation that you will give at a Youth Forum on the topic, ‘The fight for peace’
after the publication of the Ombudsman’s report about the Omagh bombing.
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section D: Student texts 33
Section E: The Outcome for Area of Study 2
In all likelihood, teachers will discuss and model structures and features of forms of texts as
the class considers the selected and supplementary texts for this Context, and their own
writing, in preparation for the Outcome. Examples of forms of writing that challenge or modify
conventional forms should be noted and explored as well as more traditional forms. For
instance, it may be useful for students to consider the Time Magazine Essay formats as a
model for essay writing and to discuss the ways that these differ from scaffolded structures
that they have been introduced to previously.
Students should be encouraged to construct forms of writing that challenge some traditional
conventions, and modify or combine traditional forms of text in order to present their ideas in
the most interesting and engaging ways. Forms of writing that incorporate elements of
narrative, exposition and argument, such as feature articles or opinion pieces or human
interest stories published in the print media, give students flexibility in the ways that they
might approach the tasks and structure their writing, as well as literary texts which
incorporate a range of forms.
Schools must decide whether students will complete this Outcome by putting together a folio
of 3-5 shorter pieces of writing, or by presenting at least one extended piece for each of
Units 3 and 4.
The Examination task requires students to write an extended response, exploring ideas and
using detail from at least one text selected from the English/ESL Text List. Students are
required to base their writing on unseen stimulus material or prompts associated with the
ideas and/or arguments suggested by the four texts set for each Context. (Taken from the
VCAA Sample Exam Version 2, May 2009.)
Teachers are encouraged to give students experience in making decisions about form and in
learning to trust their own judgment about such matters. The prompts suggested below
specify an audience and purpose for the student’s text, without specifying a particular form.
However, teachers can easily include a specific form if they wish.
Sample assessment tasks
Include a statement briefly explaining decisions you made as an author to present your ideas
in this piece of writing. In particular, describe how choices you made about language features
and structures were influenced by your sense of the audience and purpose for your text, and
explain reasons for the judgments you made about what would be most appropriate and
effective in terms of register and form.
• Write a piece that explores a character’s personal reflections on an aspect of conflict.
This writing will be published on the classroom noticeboard as a showcase for writing
about Encountering conflict.
• Choose one aspect of conflict explored in a selected text and use it as inspiration to write
a piece of flash fiction for a Year 12 audience, to be published in the Education section
of a daily newspaper.
• Write a speech for a Youth Forum on the topic, ‘Where humans are concerned, conflict is
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section E: The Outcome for Area of Study 2 34
• Write an obituary for a person who has died as the result of conflict, to be published in a
daily metropolitan newspaper of the city in which they lived.
• Write about families of victims of a terrorist bomb dealing with conflict in the aftermath of
the attack. This writing will be published on the classroom noticeboard as a showcase for
writing about Encountering conflict.
• Write a text to be published in the daily metropolitan newspaper that explores a recent
incident of cultural conflict in Australia.
• Produce a piece of writing to be sent to a person affected by conflict explored in one or
two of the set or supplementary texts.
• Produce a collection of 3-5 short interrelated texts in different forms offering different
points of view on the topic, ‘family conflict’.
• Choose a passage (approximately 40 lines, or 10 minutes of a film) from one of the texts
you have studied in the Context Encountering conflict. Write an analysis of that passage,
looking at the relationship between the style of the writing and the central ideas raised in
the passage that are relevant to the Context. Your writing will be placed on the notice
board in the school Library during parent teacher interviews.
• Adopt the persona of a character from one of the texts you have studied in the Context
Encountering conflict. Explore that person’s inner life in relation to the conflict that
• Write a personal/imaginative piece about a situation of conflict you have experienced in
your own life.
• Write a dialogue between characters from two of the texts you have studied in the
Context Encountering conflict. Compare and contrast their experiences of and reactions
• Write a fictional story of psychological and emotional conflict set against an apparent
backdrop of calm.
• Write from the perspective of the children of characters in the texts you have studied in
the Context Encountering conflict. Examine how their perspectives on conflict and their
reactions to it might differ from that of their parents.
• Take plot and characterisation elements from one of the texts you have studied in the
Context Encountering conflict. Transpose these to a setting and context familiar to you in
a piece of original imaginative writing.
• Adopt the persona of a character from one of the texts you have studied in the Context
Encountering conflict. In prose form, speculate on alternative paths for the character to
take in response to conflict(s) he/she experiences.
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section E: The Outcome for Area of Study 2 35
Section F: Glossary and resources
Glossary: definitions have not been provided and it may be a useful exercise for the class to
develop the explanations as they work through the Context.
close-up reaction shot
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section F: Glossary and resources 36
size and movement
third person narration
wide camera shot
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section F: Glossary and resources 37
Grenville, Kate. Searching for the Secret River A writing memoir. Griffin Press 2006
Hayes, Andrea. ‘Cut to the Chase: A guide to teaching film as text.’ Australian Screen
Education 45 2007
Hayes, Andrea. ‘Cut to the Chase: A guide to teaching documentary texts.’ Australian Screen
Education 46 2007
http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/events/events/omagh/spener/spencer05.htm - Stanley Mc Combe
http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/events/events/omagh/spener/spencer05.htm - Stanley Mc Combe
http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/issues/police/ombudsman/po121201omahg1.pdf- Ombudsman’s report
http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/index.html excellent website on Conflicts and politics in Northern Ireland
(1968 to the present) by University of Ulster
McCombe, Stanley. Omagh Voices of Loss by Graham Spencer. The Appletree Press Ltd,
McLeay, Jo, Blog: www.theopen.classroom.blogspot.com
Milne. G, ‘A political witch-hunt will get us nowhere’ The Australian 13/03/07
‘When enmity transforms into mutual respect’ The Age 28/03/07 p.14
www.imdb.com website for film texts
Inside Contexts: Encountering conflict Section F: Glossary and resources 38