The Net

The 2021 HSC paper offered students this characteristically miserable image, and the instruction to ‘Use the image provided to craft a central metaphor in a piece of imaginative, discursive or persuasive writing (for 10 marks). For another 10 marks you had to Evaluate how your study of figurative language in The Craft of Writing influenced the creative decisions you made in part (a). In your response, make reference to one or more of your prescribed texts.

I did Part (a) in 25 minutes, which you can read below. Then, to be honest, I just couldn’t face the Part (b). As a tutor, I’ve gone through most of the prescribed texts for Advanced Module C and not a single one of them actually informed what I wrote, and I couldn’t be bothered lying about how Margaret Atwood’s rather underwhelming ‘Spotty-Handed Villainesses’ made me think about metaphors. Sorry for that.

***

For the longest time I thought my name was African. Ananke sounds African (I admit it; I’m so white that everything south of Cairo seems undifferentiated, just as my Botswanan friend Alan refers to everything north of Paris as Pastyland). My mother, who bore me, named me, and raised me alone, was an anthropologist, and her personal language – I mean that unique wearing-in that everyone gives their native tongue, the same way that every home with an IKEA kitchen has made it look different – her personal language was full of words from other places, other portholes onto that great ocean of life.

As it turned out, she was sailing beautifully on that ocean when I came along, like some kind of squall, and almost shipwrecked her. She went from gadding about the islands of the south Pacific, where she studied Systems of Reciprocity: Gift-giving in two Solomonese Islands, and wrote about the significance of betel-nut to the Malaitans, to an overheated office at the University of Nottingham. Once sun-brown and bangle-armed, she became a bulky huddle of jumpers, splashing a pram through puddles in the prison-yard round of work, nursery-school, home, and shopping.

I have called her Ananke. It is not musical. When I sit with her, being smiled at by other women – mothers, I must think of myself as a mother now – and she grizzles for my breast, I think that her name isn’t singable the way the Lilys and Pollys, the Phoebes and Daisys are. Lullaby children, with their smiling mothers and soft, singing names.

That’s from her diary. She wouldn’t mind me reproducing it’ she died last month, leaving me the problem of her possessions. And now, I see, the problem of my name’s meaning. I found it, like an old unpaid bill, among her effects.

How much has been lost, transformed, withered, of my life, so that this other little life can happen? If it were anyone else – if I were observing it – I could make a paper from it. I have watched women on Malaita, on Guadalcanal, do it – the giving up of chances, the retreating behind the wire of motherhood, and seeing that wire grow around itself until it is a net, containing you, eventually constituting you. I see now why they took my congratulations with a kind of resignation that said, ‘Just wait. You’ll see.’ We make a sugary blessing of maternity, when in reality you’re both prisoner and warder, free to do no more than poke a pencil through the wire and draw a set of footsteps, fleeing.

It’s a strange thing, to read your mother’s thoughts and realize that you were a shackle, no less loved but entirely undesired, and that behind her dutiful attendance at the million small, cutting, events (parents’ nights, school plays, first days of this and that, endless nights of cleaning up and shushing down) she had longed to get out and go, go anywhere, but where you were.

I wasn’t much into other people, but I did like their words, so I did linguistics at university. When my mother died a few weeks ago I found a book in her library – Reciprocity in Classical Greek Culture. It feel open at a picture of a woman with a net, a chain-linked thing designed to capture – well, who knew what. Beside it, underlined, was an explanation of the figure. The woman was Necessity, depicted always with her restraining, constraining net. Her name, it said, was Ananke.

Want more help with HSC English? Visit https://divingbelleducation.com/ for sample answers and teaching resources.

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