Paper 1 sample response #10

Higher Level response to Lost Oasis: In Search of Paradise by Robert Twigger

This is a response to the non-fiction text used on one of the IB's specimen papers for the course, an extract from Robert Twigger's 2007 travelogue, Lost Oasis: In Search of Paradise.  

The extract, response and teacher's grades and comments can all be seen below.  While not perfect (whatever that might mean), this is an excellent response which demonstrates how a close and thoughtful focus on the guiding question can lead to a coherent and convincing interpretation of the text.

The extract

The extract and guiding question can be seen by clicking on the icon below.  

It was a canyon of great promise. The cliffs were three hundred or more feet high and rose in a concave curve to an abrupt crumbly steepness at the top. They looked impossible to climb. I was cowed by the canyon’s vastness, content at first to leap from boulder to boulder along its rocky bottom. There were plants but no trees, gravel slides, rounded hillocks of shale and side wadis* winding into rocky clefts in the canyon walls. The air was brilliantly clear. Bright blue sky in front and, when I turned to look back, the city squatting under a foggy haze. You could actually see the start of the smog, worryingly near the place where my kids’ school was, but as I walked up the canyon I turned my back on it.

In the ultra-clear air of the desert you can see as far as you want to. Small details are visible far away. A falcon floating in the distance above the canyon top was like an inkstroke, a precise piece of calligraphy. 

There were two ruined blockhouses in the wadi, remnants of its time as a military training area. These became my landmarks. I would reach them quickly and decide where to explore. On the ground I found fossils but no stone tools. I followed a path up a rocky defile and rediscovered the pleasure of hauling myself up short boulder-faces. Each sub-wadi was a series of steps that water had once poured down. They looked unclimbable but up close there was almost always a way. Under the cliffs were animal tracks and burrows but for days I saw no animals, only birds including the black and white wheatear, the zerzur, after which Zerzura had been named. At the top of the side wadi I was on the plain, flat and gravelly. In the far distance were new tower blocks being built. Ahead it was clear to the horizon and behind, in the hollow of the Nile valley, lay Cairo under its pall of greyness.

I had been keen on rock-climbing when I was younger, but it had been years since I had done any. I was surprised to find I’d become trepidatious about heights, nervous about scrambling up shale cliffs. Slowly, I regained the old skills needed, not pausing too long on a hand- or foothold, not thinking too much, just moving upwards. Instead of seeing unclimbable vertiginous cliffs I began to see routes, ways up and out of the canyon. I deliberately sighted up a possible route and found my way quite easily to the very top edge. The drop made me keep clear of the edge, gave my knees a slight wobble. Looking across the canyon, which was maybe a half-kilometre wide, the plains on the other side stretched away to hills marked only by a distant radio tower. Coming down the same way I saw my first desert fox, not a big-eared fennec, but a red fox. I sat still and watched it as it watched me. The time spent watching in the cool, clear high-up air was like an inner breath of some neglected part of me, which neutralized the heavy sense of self, made me transparent again.

Robert Twigger, Lost Oasis: In Search of Paradise (2007)

*wadis: wadi is an Arabic term for a valley or dried-up riverbed

- To what effect does the narrator combine objective facts and subjective perception in this text?

 Sample HL paper 1 response

Sample HL Paper 1 response

- To what effect does the narrator combine objective facts and subjective perception in this text?

In the extract from ‘Lost Oasis’ by Robert Twigger, the narrator describes a canyon he finds himself in, the city of Cairo behind him and the desert around him. The narrator is able to effectively combine objective facts and subjective perception in the text through the use of personal and creative observations combined with detailed descriptions of the environment from a more objective lens.  In doing so, he uses his physical journey of climbing the cliffs of the canyon as a means of exploring a more personal and emotional journey of rediscovery and reflection.

The narrator uses imagery and adjectives when describing or relating to the environment around him which gives insight into the narrator's own perception of the physical environment. Through the use of simile, the narrator is able to relate these new experiences to familiar ones, such as when he describes a distant falcon to be “like an ink stroke” and a “precise piece of calligraphy.” This establishes the distance between him and the falcon as distant birds in art are usually depicted as single strokes, as well as his appreciation of the bird by comparing it to calligraphy, precise and delicate. He also compares each sub-wadi as a “series of steps”, which gives us objective physical details while also emphasizing his fascination with the natural world as he almost perceives it as something laid out for him to explore and overcome. The narrator uses adverbs and adjectives when describing the environment around him, describing the air as “brilliantly clear” and “bright blue” as well as describing the “canyon’s vastness.” These choices give us factual information about the environment while also conveying the narrator’s subjective perception of the scenery around him and its emotional impact: there is a growing sense of awe as he sees this environment as open and bright and is drawn further in to explore it.

As the narrator’s subjective experience develops through the extract, he maintains a sense of objective truth by providing the reader with detailed descriptions of the environment and nature around him. He describes the cliffs as “three hundred or more feet high” and how they rose in a “concave curve.” Once on top of the cliffs he looks across the canyon and states that it is was maybe a “half-kilometer wide.”  All of these descriptions are factual, as is the note of a “distant radio tower” he sees once he reaches the top, a seemingly irrelevant detail but one that further shows his ability to recognize specific details and use them as a means of orienting himself and his readers in this landscape. He also writes about the foliage around the canyon making note that there were “plants but no trees'', an overly specific detail that shows the narrator's attention to the details around him. This is further seen when describing the wildlife around him, specifically naming the “black and white wheatear” and the “zerzur”, accurately naming a couple of the birds native to the area. He also goes on to describe his encounter with his “first desert fox”, stressing that it was not a “big-eared fennec” but rather a “red fox” making sure the reader is aware of specific breed of fox and yet again highlighting his acute attention to specific details in order to establish a sense of trust for the readers that he’s able to provide objective truth intertwined with his own subjective perception of these truths.

Through this intertwining, it becomes clear that here are two journeys of discovery in the extract: the physical journey through the canyon, delineated with the noting of these objective details, and something more personal, possibly even spiritual, which is conveyed the subjective elements and statements made when noting things around him.  This is suggested early on in the extract when he describes the contrast between the “bright blue sky” before him and “the city squatting under a foggy haze” behind him.  The imagery used to describe Cairo is unappealing and the mention of this smog being “worryingly close” to his children’s school is a deliberate and specific detail that connects him personally to this city. However, the description of him turning his back on this and choosing to walk up the canyon is also very deliberate and indicates a turning point of sorts, not just in the journey but also perhaps in a broader and more personal sense.  This contrast between what lies before and behind him is repeated later in the passage: “Ahead it was clear to the horizon and, behind, in the hollow of the Nile valley, lay Cairo under its pall of greyness.”  Again, an objective portrayal is used to convey a personal perception of the city and a sense of needing to escape from this city; the imagery connects this need to escape to the fact of its pollution, but the expansiveness of the sky and horizon “ahead” of him suggests the journey has a significance beyond just this objective fact. 

That this journey is about more than just escaping pollution is reinforced by the subtitle of the travelogue, “in search of paradise” denoting a spiritual rather than - or as well as - a physical destination.  This personal journey is outlined in the way he describes the physical obstacles of the cliffs and his climbing of these cliffs.  At first he says they “looked impossible to climb” but once he got closer to the “unclimbable vertiginous cliffs” he “began to see routes.” His perception of the world around him changes as he gets further in and the reader’s understanding changes alongside the narrator’s, creating a sense of personal discovery and adventure. This is further developed when he describes how he “rediscovered  the pleasure” of climbing and by stating that there is “almost always a way”, creating an optimistic and encouraging tone as the narrator overcomes what he first assumed to be impossible. The narrator further connects his own past and personal experiences to overcoming these new obstacles when he details how he was “a keen rock climber when [he] was younger” and how he was able to “regain[ed] the old skills needed.” This highlights how this journey is driven by the narrator's own past and passion, making this trip one of reconnection with oneself which is further supported by the final line of the passage. The imagery in this line is interesting and clarifies that the narrator has reached some sort of personal epiphany through the physical climb and the objective reality of his surroundings: “The time spent watching in the cool, clear high-up air was like an inner breath of some neglected part of me, which neutralized the heavy sense of self, made me transparent again.” The narrator’s focus on “me” and his “sense of self” makes it apparent that this journey was about a lot more than escaping the smog of Cairo, and that the physical climb and view from the top have allowed him to achieve a more important personal perspective. 

In this extract, Robert Twigger is able to effectively combine objective facts, specific details and descriptions of his experiences with his subjective perceptions of these same details in order to create a balanced and engaging narrative with underlying themes of rediscovery and personal enlightenment. This extract takes the reader through the narrator's own physical and personal journey and we are able to visualise this new environment, as well as experience his emotional state, through detailed descriptions combined with subjective perceptions and reflections.

Teacher's comments
  • How well does the candidate demonstrate an understanding of the text and draw reasoned conclusions from implications in it? 
  • How well are ideas supported by references to the text?

5 out of 5

The response gives a perceptive and insightful response to the guiding question, with thorough and precise references to the text used to support a convincing interpretation of the extract. 

  • To what extent does the candidate analyse and evaluate how textual features and/or authorial choices shape meaning?

5 out of 5

There is an insightful and convincing analysis and evaluation of the author's choices, all skilfully connected to the central interpretation of the text in response to the guiding question. 

  • How well organized, coherent and focused is the presentation of ideas?

5 out of 5

This response is very well-focused, effectively organised and coherent. 

  • How clear, varied and accurate is the language? 
  • How appropriate is the choice of register and style?

5 out of 5

This is written with accuracy, fluency and precision. 

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