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IGCSE A Passage of Africa by George Alagiah Model Essays Question 05

IGCSE A Passage of Africa by George Alagiah Model Essays Question 05

Edexcel English IGCSE: A Passage to Africa by George Alagiah

Q5. How does George Alagiah make the reader feel uncomfortable in the passage?

In your answer, consider:

  • the situation in Somalia;
  • the journalism industry;
  • the use of contrasts;
  • any 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

A Passage to Africa’ is uncomfortable to read. The journalism industry is presented as conflicted and complex, and the reader’s own position in relation to the suffering people of Somalia is similarly uncomfortable.

Alagiah makes the reader uncomfortable with graphic descriptions of the suffering he witnesses in Somalia. In the description of the injured old woman, for example, adjectives create a vivid and disturbing image for the reader: “decaying flesh”, “festering wound”, “shattered leg”, “putrid air” and “struggling breath”. In order to portray an impression of the horrendous feeding centres, Alagiah appeals to the reader’s senses: “hear and smell the excretion of fluids” and “held the clammy palm”. In response to these descriptions, the reader also experiences the “revulsion” described by Alagiah. This in itself is an uncomfortable reaction to suffering, as it seems disrespectful to consider their suffering distasteful or disgusting.

Alagiah’s portrayal of the journalism industry is also troubling. He describes the journalists’ search for an appropriately shocking image as “ghoulish”, acknowledging that it is morbid to have to search for the most terrible suffering they can find. He uses the simile of “craving for a drug” to describe the need for such an image, which suggests that this need is like an addiction, and beyond the journalists’ control. Indeed, he traces this “craving” back to the people who look at the images: “people in the comfort of their sitting rooms back home”. This is particularly uncomfortable for the reader, who is likely to be one of these people; the reader provides the demand for shocking images from war zones, and the journalists have to go “on the hunt” for these images.

The reader is drawn into Alagiah’s discomfort when he sees the man smiling in embarrassment at being seen in such terrible conditions. Alagiah is unsettled because the man’s apologetic expression highlights the injustice of the differences between their circumstances. If the man is embarrassed about being so weak, surely Alagiah should feel even more embarrassed for being so strong in comparison. To highlight the contrasts between them, he employs opposites in the description: the man is “weakened” and “ground down”, while Alagiah is “strong and confident”, for example. The reader, as a presumably relatively healthy and wealthy individual, is included in this disparity. The resulting discomfort is heightened by a reminder that the man, and all the other suffering people described in the passage, is just like the reader. This is highlighted by the use of the second person pronoun in the description of the man’s smile: “the kind of smile you might give”.

By highlighting and challenging the emotional distance between suffering individuals and those who read or watch programmes about it in the privileged world, Alagiah makes this passage an uncomfortable read for the people “back home”.

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IGCSE A Passage of Africa by George Alagiah Model Essays Question 04

IGCSE A Passage of Africa by George Alagiah Model Essays Question 04

Edexcel English IGCSE: A Passage to Africa by George Alagiah

Q4. How does George Alagiah portray the journalism industry in ‘A Passage to Africa’?

In your answer, think about:

  • the priorities of the journalist;
  • the reactions and feelings of the writer;
  • the significance of the man’s smile;
  • the writer’s use of language techniques.

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

Edexcel English IGCSE Model Essay by an Expert

This passage offers an honest and troubling view of the journalism industry. It highlights both the practical priorities of the journalist, but also the necessity of the industry.

Alagiah describes the apparently callous attitude of the journalists who must hunt for the most disturbing pictures. Troublingly, he suggests that journalists become accustomed to, even bored of, seeing terrible suffering. They “tramped from one hunt to another”, suggesting a sense of drudgery, as if they have seen it all before. He admits that scenes which would have “appalled them” at first, now “no longer impressed them”. The word “impressed” is usually used for something positive; this refers to the conflicting feelings of the journalist, who is glad when he gets a ‘good’ image of someone suffering terribly. Alagiah acknowledges the sinister nature of this practice. He describes it as “ghoulish”, making it sound spooky and even morally wrong. He describes the search as being “like the craving for a drug”. This simile clearly has extremely negative connotations, and also suggests that the ‘need’ for shocking imagery is beyond their control.

This account of journalism in Somalia offers the reader a graphically honest portrayal of what it is like to be in such an impoverished place. Alagiah gives the reader an insight into the experience of these terrible scenes by appealing to the senses: “the smell of decaying flesh”, “putrid air” and “held the clammy palm”. The horror of such scenes make it even more shocking for the reader when Alagiah admits that he is usually “inured” and “accustomed” to such poverty. As well as expressing pity for the suffering Somalians, Alagiah explains that he experiences “revulsion”. He predicts the reader’s surprise with the short sentence which responds to their predicted disagreement: “Yes, revulsion.” This can be seen as insensitive and even disrespectful of the people who are suffering, but it is an insight into the realities of the journalism industry.

The man’s smile highlights to Alagiah the troubling relationship between journalist and subject. He outlines in simple terms the established relationship: “The journalist observes, the subject is observed.” The man’s smile challenges the subject’s established passivity; by expressing embarrassment at his condition, he makes Alagiah feel uncomfortable about his relative privilege. As a result, Alagiah resolves to portray the story of the village with “power and purpose”. The plosive alliteration reflects the strength of his determination. This decision reminds the reader of the positive impact of journalism; whilst it might be an industry steeped in controversy and discomfort, the purpose is to “move people” back home, who need to be made aware of the situation across the world.

The journalism industry is portrayed as conflicted and complex. Whilst the activities of journalists and their relationships with their subjects might be troubling, the industry is necessary for telling people’s stories across the world.

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IGCSE A Passage of Africa by George Alagiah Model Essays Question 03

IGCSE A Passage of Africa by George Alagiah Model Essays Question 03

Edexcel English IGCSE: A Passage to Africa by George Alagiah

Q3. In ‘A Passage to Africa’, how does Alagiah present the significance of the experience of the man smiling at him?

In your answer, you could write about:

  • the description of the experience;
  • his relationship with the man;
  • the role of the journalist;
  • the writer’s use of language.

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

Edexcel English IGCSE Model Essay by an Expert

Alagiah’s relationship with the smiling Somalian man is complex. The smile challenges established boundaries between observer and observed, and causes Alagiah to question his role as a journalist.

Throughout the passage, Alagiah refers to the face he “will never forget”, showing the significance of the man’s smile. By giving no detail about it until the end of the passage, tension is creating as the reader awaits the details of the experience. When describing the experience, Alagiah repeatedly refers to the brevity of the experience: “only a few seconds”, “fleeting meeting” and “brief moments”, for example. This shows that although the experience was momentary, it was powerful enough to leave a lasting impression on him. He refers repeatedly to “that face”, “the face” and “its owner”, seemingly separating the face from the person. The effect of this is to draw the reader’s focus onto the man’s smile, as opposed to the state of his body or health. The rest of the passage focuses on bodily dysfunction and graphic descriptions of injury and sickness. The important thing about this man is his expression, not his poverty or ill health.

Alagiah’s reaction to the smile highlights how unusual and significant this encounter was. His initial reaction is confusion. He lists the things that the smile was not, and asks questions – “how could it be?” and “what was it” – to express this confusion. He is also confused by his own emotional reaction to the experience, as he is moved beyond the “pity” and “revulsion” which he expresses in the first half of the passage. The short, direct sentence, “I had to find out,” reveals his determination to get to the bottom of the strange smile. It transpires that the man smiled because he was embarrassed to be found in such terrible conditions.

This embarrassed smile shocks Alagiah, because it challenges his position as a journalist in relation to the people he investigates. The experience “cut to the heart” of this relationship; the language is idiomatic, but also gives the impression of physical violence, as if this experience has caused Alagiah to suffer, too. He is made suddenly aware of the privileges that he enjoys as a strong, wealthy and healthy individual. The use of opposites highlights the contrasts between the two men: “us and them”, “the rich world and the poor world”, the man is “weakened” and “ground down”, whilst Alagiah is “strong and confident”. The man’s smile breaks down these differences, and reminds Alagiah of the shared humanity between them, and the injustice of their vastly contrasting circumstances.

This moving experience gives Alagiah renewed determination to portray the story of the Somalians’ suffering with “power and purpose”. The relationship between himself and his subjects is troubling and uncomfortable; through this experience, Alagiah resolves to use his privileged position to share his subjects’ stories.

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IGCSE A Passage of Africa by George Alagiah Model Essays Question 02

IGCSE A Passage of Africa by George Alagiah Model Essays Question 02

Edexcel English IGCSE: A Passage to Africa by George Alagiah

Q2. In ‘A Passage to Africa’, how does George Alagiah portray the horror of the situation in Somalia?

In your answer, consider:

  • how the people in the poem are described;
  • the writer’s feelings about the situation;
  • the use of language.

Edexcel English IGCSE Model Essay by an Expert

This passage provides a frank portrayal of the horrific circumstances endured by the Somalian people during the war. Through Alagiah’s graphic descriptions of suffering, and his own reactions to the scenes, the reader gains an insight into the realities of the situation.

The terrible circumstances of the suffering people in this passage are described with moving honesty. Alagiah first informs the reader of the scale of the suffering: he saw “a thousand hungry, scared and betrayed faces”. This triple adjective structure portrays the multiple ways in which the Somalians are suffering. There are children lying on a “dirt floor” while their mother searches for “edible roots”. This description emphasises the differences between the lives of these people and our own. In another terrible situation, an injured old woman has been “abandoned by relations”, which initially evokes anger in the reader. However, we then learn that they were “too weak” to carry her on their search for food; this highlights the complexity of the situation, and the agonising decisions people have had to make – this family were so desperate for food that they had to leave a relative behind to die.

Alagiah also describes the people’s physical suffering in so much detail that the reader almost recoils in horror. The description of the old woman’s injury is grotesque. Graphic adjectives are used to add vivid, horrific detail to the description: for example, “festering wound”, “shattered leg” and “putrid air”. In the description of her injured leg, a disturbing contrast is created between the soft, playful imagery and the terrible thing it describes: the leg had the “gentle V-shape of a boomerang”. He also appeals to the reader’s senses to reflect the overwhelming horror of these scenes: “the smell of decaying flesh”, “to hear and smell the excretion of fluids” and “held the clammy palm”. Admitting to his own revulsion at such scenes, Alagiah describes in horrifying detail the physical impact of injury, hunger and disease on the human body.

The experience with the smiling man contributes to the horror of the situation by reminding Alagiah and the reader of the injustice of our relative privilege. The man’s smile is apologetic, which causes Alagiah discomfort because he feels that he is the one who should be offering an apology, because of his privileged circumstances. The smile is “the kind of smile you might give if you felt you had done something wrong”. The use of the second person pronoun reminds the reader of the essential similarity between themselves and the suffering people: their shared humanity. This brings the distant suffering somewhat closer to home.

By reminding the reader of what they have in common with the Somalians, whilst also highlighting the vast differences in their circumstances, Alagiah portrays the true horror of the situation in Somalia.

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IGCSE A Passage of Africa by George Alagiah Model Essays Question 01

IGCSE A Passage of Africa by George Alagiah Model Essays Question 01

Edexcel English IGCSE: A Passage to Africa by George Alagiah

Q1. How does George Alagiah create a sense of pity in ‘A Passage to Africa’?

In your answer, you should write about:

  • the descriptions of the people he sees;
  • the writer’s feelings;
  • the significance of the man’s smile
  • the use of language techniques.

Refer closely to the poem in your answer. You may use brief quotations.

Edexcel English IGCSE Model Essay by an Expert

In ‘A Passage to Africa’, Alagiah evokes sympathy in the reader as he describes the terrible situation of the people he sees in war-torn Somalia. The man’s smile reminds Alagiah and the reader of the humanity that we share with these people.

The passage describes with great pathos the plight of the Somalians, in one particularly affected village, Gufgaduud. The passage begins with a brief description of “a thousand hungry, scared and betrayed faces”. The triple adjective structure quickly informs the reader of the many struggles that the Somalians have faced, and the large number shows that the few people described in this passage are representative of a large population of equally affected people. One particularly pitiful scene in the passage is the death of Habiba. The sentence, “Habiba had died”, is blunt and brief, reflecting the speed of her departure and the finality of the event. The triple structures in “no rage, no whimpering, just a passing away” and “simple, frictionless, motionless deliverance” shows the writer’s surprise at how silent and effortless the death was, creating a sense of sadness and poignancy. That the death of a ten-year-old can be so unremarkable is unthinkable to the reader.

Alagiah is open in his reaction of revulsion towards the scenes that he witnesses, inducing a complex mixture of disgust and pity in the reader. The use of graphic adjectives in the description of the old woman creates a grotesque image: “decaying flesh”, festering wound”, “shattered leg”, “putrid air” and “struggling breath”. Similarly, the use of the senses of smell and touch in the description of the feeding centre makes the reader empathise with Alagiah’s disgust: “smell the excretion of fluids” and “held the clammy palm”. The alliterative ‘m’ sound in the latter phrase encourages the reader to linger on this sensation, contributing to their disgust. Of course, this disgust is combined with sympathy, as the reader pities the people who have to survive in such circumstances.

Although the reader pities the people because of Alagiah’s graphic descriptions of their plight, there is a sense of distance between “us and them”. The man’s smile of embarrassment encourages both Alagiah and the reader to reflect on the humanity that unites the rich and poor world. The use of opposites in Alagiah’s explanation of this experience highlights the contrasts between the two men’s lives: “me and him, between us and them, between the rich world and the poor world”; the man is “weakened” and “ground down”, and Alagiah is “strong and confident”. The man’s embarrassed smile cuts across these differences, appealing to a sense of common humanity.

For Alagiah, the experience with the smiling man goes “beyond pity”. It reminds the reader that the people experiencing these atrocities are humans like us.

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