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Edexcel English IGCSE: Explorer’s Daughter by Kari Herbert

Q4. How does the writer portray the importance of the narwhal to the Inughuits in the passage from ‘The Explorer’s Daughter’?

In your answer, you should consider:

  • the Inughuits’ way of life;
  • the writer’s feelings towards the hunt;
  • the use of language techniques.

You should refer closely to the passage to support your answer. You may use brief quotations.

Edexcel English IGCSE Model Essay by an Expert

Although Kari Herbert has an emotional attachment to the narwhal, she emphasises that the hunting of it is necessary to the survival of the Inughuits.

Throughout the passage, Herbert shows the centrality of the narwhal to the Inughuits’ lives. She describes the narwhal as an “essential contributor to [their] survival”. The word “survival” highlights the fact that these people simply could not live without hunting the narwhal. Using scientific and factual language, Herbert describes how every part of the narwhal is used by the Inughuits, for things that the reader considers essential, such as food, shelter, light and heat. Every part of the narwhal is used by the Inughuits, showing that no part of the animal is wasted, and that its body has many essential purposes. The informative tone of this paragraph contrasts with the emotive description of the natural setting opening the passage, which contains poetic imagery. This shows the importance of considering the practicalities of surviving in such an environment, rather than simply being sentimental about its beauty.

By portraying the hunt as dangerous, Herbert shows that the narwhal is so important to the Inughuits that they risk their lives to catch them. This danger is evident in the reactions of the women who watch their family members hunting; their body language “spinning round at a small gasp or jump” – shows their anxiety. Herbert’s description of the hunt also positions the hunters as skilled but vulnerable. In particular, the equipment that they use to hunt is portrayed as insufficient to keep them safe. The emotive word “flimsy” is used to describe their kayaks, suggesting that they could easily break. Herbert describes their weapon with its composite parts: “two heads and one bladder”, which sounds makeshift and homemade, as if it would not be enough to defend the hunters against the large, powerful whales. The fact that the hunt is so risky and difficult shows that the Inughuits only do it because they absolutely have to.

Because Herbert feels sentimental about the narwhal, she feels conflicted while watching the hunt. This comprises a battle between her head, which understands the necessity of hunting the narwhal for the Inughuits, and her heart, which wants these beautiful creatures “to dive, to leave, to survive”. The triple infinitive structure and alliterative sounds create an exaggerated sense of tragedy which shows Herbert’s awareness that she is being sentimental. The passage ends, however, with a statement of clear certainty which leaves the reader in no doubt about the importance of the narwhal to the Inughuit’s survival: “Hunting is still an absolute necessity in Thule.”

By admitting to her own sentimental attachment to the narwhal yet still defending the hunt, Herbert persuades the reader to consider the practical necessity of the practice.

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