Veronica, a model response. EDEXCEL IGCSE lit, paper 2.

How does the writer try to bring out the contrasts between the life of the narrator and of Veronica?
This is the first point. The exam allows you around 45 minutes for this question.  Do not rewrite the title but number the answer clearly.  Then highlight the key points in the question to focus your writing…  It’s a “how does the writer…” question and so requires analysis of writers’ craft, supported by quotations.  Also, the focus is the contrast in the lives, nothing else!

By giving Okeke the role of narrator, the writer is able to show clear contrast between his life and that of Veronica.  Here I try to show that a) I understand the narrative voice and b) I am focused on the specific question.  There is no need for a long introduction… Get on with the essay! 

It is clear that both children were born into poverty in their village, but Okeke draws attention to their relative positions when he describes Veronica’s family as “even poorer” than his.  The emphasis given by “even” suggests shock and surprise that this was possible.  He then focuses on the fathers and curses his for his “weak” response to the evident abuse taking place in Veronica’s hut. Her father is a “brute” and clearly is violent towards the women in his family.  In my first paragraph I have tried to show clear understanding of the link between “the narrator” and Okeke.  I establish that his is the narrative voice and focus on the early years of their lives. A couple of quotations are embedded along with simple, clear explanation at word level of a point I wish to make.  The next paragraphs of my thesis will focus on their teenage years, the move to the city and the return to the village.

As the children get older, the differences of gender become more evident.  As the oldest daughter, Veronica is expected to stay at home bearing the responsibility which had “fallen on her” of bringing up the younger children. Life is hard and physical and although Okeke says that he “helped her fetch water from the stream and occasionally chopped firewood”, his life takes a different path and he attends school.  The pair begin to become attached to the stream, which runs as a symbol throughout Okeke’s narrative, suggesting both a place of peace, but also the passing of time.

Once Okeke is old enough he leaves school and begins his further study. He recognises his possible over confidence at eighteen- “I thought I knew my own worth”- and tries to encourage Veronica to leave with him. Her reply, that “they are my family, that is enough” shows the clear contrast between a boy who has ambition and a girl who is trapped by her culture and has reduced her outlook on life to reflect this.  Okeke is aware that he can do little to change her mind and describes himself as “appalled”.

Their lives diverge, Okeke goes to the city, qualifies and having  “made good” moves his parents to the city. Veronica, we learn, marries and remains in the diseased squalor of the village.  When Okeke returns as a doctor he realises how far his life has moved on.  He talks of the village “crawling with disease” evoking in the metaphor both the disease carrying insects and the disease ridden children, yet his attempts to bring Veronica out of the village to the safety of the city are rejected due to her strong sense of service: “no, don’t be sorry for us, God has blessed us with a son…”.  It may be simple faith, or an inability to look beyond the cultural barriers that makes Veronica say this.  She opts to say in the village and Okeke is eventually faced with the task of disposing of her body.  Her short life has been ravaged by an abusive father, servitude as a daughter and mother and she eventually succumbs to disease once war has destroyed her life.  Okeke, the ambitious and successful young man must come to terms with this.

He takes her body to the stream that linked them as children.  He describes breaking twig and casting it into the water at the time of his first departure .  The twig seems to represent the lives of the pair, separate yet somehow linked across time.  Now, Veronica weighs “no more than a ten year old” and there is no comforting metaphor.  Okeke watches the stream until it was time for him to go, ” for the last time”.  He is alone, unmarried and, if we believe his comments about the girls of he city and their materialism, unsuited to his new life in many ways.  There is a finality in the short concluding sentences that suggests that there is little optimism left in Okeke’s life.  
In my conclusion I have tried to link up some ideas about Veronica’s death and Okeke’s life that remains.  I have also tried to make a final linguistic point about the stream which runs through the story and their lives.
Hopefully each paragraph has made a clear point of comparison to link back to the question.  It is not possible in 45 minutes to include everything and I have chosen to merge Okeke’s visits to the village for the sake of moving the analysis forward.  I have tried not to digress – when discussing gender, there is no need to waste exam time by explaining that boys are often freer than girls in such a society.   The examiner knows this and wants to see comment entered on eat is actually included in the passage.  He is not testing your general knowledge and trying to make you comment on the gender inequalities of the world as a whole!

This response is flawed, no doubt.  Apart from anything else, it might be considered brief, but I prefer writing that aims for concise expression. Do not copy and memorise it.  It might have received a high mark, but it is not your voice speaking.  Find your own way through the text, and use this model to help you develop a clarity and focus in your writing.