Context of composition
If writers are influenced by their context, then we will have to learn more about these contexts in order to understand their texts. Writers can be influenced by the times in which they live, the place in which they write or the families from which they come. These factors contribute to what we call the 'context of composition'.
Knowing more about the context of composition will make you read a text differently. You may be looking for evidence to support any hypotheses you have about the author. For example, if you knew that Franz Kafka had a difficult relationship with his father, this will influence your interpretation of The Metamorphosis.
The activity below offers a simple way of exploring the context of composition. While the context of Grace Nichols is explored in this lesson, you can do a similar activity with any text that you are reading for Part 3.
Do a quick search online for biographical information on the author of a text that you are working on. Here is some biographical information from the Wikipedia page on Grace Nichols.
Read through a lens
Try to take four key points from your author's life and create a table like the one below, which should allow you to explore a text more effectively. Reading a text this way is like looking through a lens. We are looking for evidence to support what we know about the context of composition. This method has its advantages and disadvantages. On the one had you see what you did not see before. On the other hand you may be limiting yourself to interpretations that only support your hypotheses.
|Key aspect from author's life||Evidence from text that relates to each aspect|
|She is from Guyana and likes Caribbean rhythms and culture.|
|She is an immigrant to the UK.|
|She is a Christian.|
|She was once a teacher and a journalist in Guyana.|
This lesson raises questions about the role of Wikipedia in the classroom and the effects of teaching context before text. Are we limiting ourselves by reading Grace Nichols' poetry with this contextual knowledge? Or are we opening our eyes to details we would not have otherwise seen?
Paper 2 - After doing several exercises like this with the texts that you are reading for Part 3, you may test your contextual understanding of a work by answering a Paper 2 question.
Written task 1 - For a creative written task 1 you may want to write a transcribed interview with the author of a work that you are reading. Comment on how his or her life is reflected in the text that the interview focuses on.