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IGCSE Set 1 From Taking on the World by Ellen MacArthur Model Essays Question 5

IGCSE Set 1 From Taking on the World by Ellen MacArthur Model Essays Question 5

Edexcel English IGCSE: From Taking on the World by Ellen MacArthur

Q5. Analyse the risks MacArthur faces when she climbs the mast in this passage from ‘Taking on the World’.

Edexcel English IGCSE Model Essay by an Expert

This passage describes the dangerous experience of climbing a mast on a moving boat to replace a halyard. MacArthur describes these risks, building tension throughout the passage.

The greatest risk MacArthur faces is that of personal injury. Before the climb, she describes the terrible possible outcomes of the climb, including being “thrown against the mast”: a violent image. This could cause her to “break bones”: another graphic image, intensified by the alliteration. During the climb, she is indeed “thrown away” from the mast, meaning she is in danger of “smacking back into the rig”. The use of the onomatopoeic word “smack” gives a vivid sense of the pain that she could easily experience. MacArthur also explains the physical difficulty of just staying on the mast; the repeated verbs “hang on” and “cling on” imply her desperation. Since the reader is aware of how disastrous it could be to fall off the mast, this creates tension and evokes a sense of danger.

These risks to MacArthur’s safety are heightened because of the terrible weather conditions. Throughout the passage, she emphasises the power of the sea in such windy conditions. Again, violent imagery is used: action verbs such as “ploughed into” and “pile into” describe the intense impact between the boat and the waves. Even the boat is described in negative, violent terms. The mast “slices” through the air, and MacArthur watches it “whip” across the sky. These verbs have connotations of pain and punishment, showing the dangers of MacArthur’s environment. In the phrase, “the wind whistled”, alliteration contributes to the reader’s understanding of the treacherous weather conditions, by echoing the sound of the wind.

Another risk faced by MacArthur is her total isolation, which means that if something were to go wrong, there would be nobody nearby to assist her. The repetition of the first person pronoun throughout the first two paragraphs reminds the reader that she is totally alone, and has to make these important judgements by herself. The hyperbolic observation that “the sea stretched out forever” provides a visual sense of the lack of other humans nearby. This isolation is particularly dangerous when she has to climb the mast, since if something goes wrong on the boat while she is up there, there is nobody to fix the problem. The repeated negative phrases – “you can’t”, “nor can you” and “you are not there” – show the extent of the risk. The use of the second person pronoun draws the reader into the scene, prompting them to imagine taking such a risk.

Climbing a 90 foot mast in windy conditions while alone at sea is clearly a risky undertaking. MacArthur prompts the reader’s admiration with her calm and determined approach to this dangerous task.

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IGCSE Set 1 From Taking on the World by Ellen MacArthur Model Essays Question 4

IGCSE Set 1 From Taking on the World by Ellen MacArthur Model Essays Question 4

Edexcel English IGCSE: From Taking on the World by Ellen MacArthur

Q4. In the passage from ‘Taking on the World’, what do we learn about Ellen MacArthur?

In your answer, you could think about:

  • the dangers and difficulties of the task;
  • MacArthur’s approach to the task;
  • the 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

In this passage, we learn about MacArthur’s sailing expertise and her admirable resilience in the face of a terrifying challenge. She is well-prepared, independent and determined.

The reader learns that MacArthur is an expert in sailing. The introduction to the passage reveals that she was the youngest and shortest in a race to sail a yacht around the world, which sets up the reader’s expectation for an admirable character. The use of technical language which isn’t necessarily familiar to the reader, such as “mouse lines”, “halyard” and “jumar”, show that MacArthur clearly knows what she is doing. She is also portrayed as cautious, as she is aware of the risks of the task ahead. She agonised for hours” about how to fold the halyard; “agonised” is a strong, emotive word, reflecting the importance of getting it right, and showing that she is not willing to take unnecessary risks. She decides that “the time was right” in the morning: the use of monosyllables creates a blunt and determined tone, showing her confidence in her decision about when to begin her climb.

By describing the challenges involved in climbing the mast, MacArthur displays her bravery in taking on such a difficult task. Before the climb, she outlines the many risks involved in replacing the halyard, including that of terrible injury. She states that she could be “thrown against the mast”, which creates a violent image, highlighting her vulnerability. Furthermore, she could “break bones” as a result, and the plosive alliteration emphasises the terrible pain that this would inflict. Another risk is that something could go wrong with the boat while she is “90 feet above” it. The use of statistics here provides a sense of scale for the reader; the fact that MacArthur is willing to climb so high on a moving boat is evidential of her bravery.

Once MacArthur has begun the difficult climb, the reader learns of her determination and ability to self-motivate. The use of comparatives shows that the climb becomes increasingly challenging, the higher she climbs: “harder and harder”, “heavier”, and “more violent”, for example. MacArthur also repeatedly refers to her exhaustion, showing that she is becoming physically weaker throughout the climb. Her mental strength, however, remains resolute. When the halyard becomes caught, her language shows that failure is not an option: the rope “had to” come free. She also motivates herself to continue towards the end of the climb – “not far now, kiddo, come on” – showing that she is able to provide for herself the support that is lacking from others.

MacArthur is clearly a remarkable woman. In this passage, she describes just one challenge involved in the admirable task of sailing solo around the world.

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IGCSE Set 1 From Taking on the World by Ellen MacArthur Model Essays Question 3

IGCSE Set 1 From Taking on the World by Ellen MacArthur Model Essays Question 3

Edexcel English IGCSE: From Taking on the World by Ellen MacArthur

Q3. How does this passage provoke sympathy for Ellen MacArthur?

In your answer, consider:

  • the conditions at sea;
  • the physical difficulties of her task;
  • MacArthur’s experience of the climb;
  • the writer’s 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

By describing the terrible weather conditions and the physical challenges of climbing the mast, MacArthur captures the  terrible difficulty of the task, and evokes sympathy in the reader.

There are a number of dangers involved in climbing the mast, including the risk of physical injury, which is made more likely by the threatening conditions at sea. In order to highlight her vulnerability in relation to the sea, MacArthur portrays the sea as a violent force which could easily harm her. The vocabulary used to describe the motion of the waves is violent, and creates an image of dangerous and painful impact: the boat “ploughed into” and “pile into” waves, for example. MacArthur also shows her own vulnerability up the mast: the repeated image of her being “thrown away” from and “smacking back” into the rig creates for the reader the impression that she is small and at the mercy of the waves. This makes the reader hope that she will be safe.

MacArthur also provokes sympathy by describing the physical challenges involved in climbing the mast. She “worked through the night” to prepare for the climb, meaning that she was not even able to sleep properly before embarking on her dangerous mission. Because of the violent motion of the boat, one of the hardest challenges is just to stay on the mast. The verbs “hang on” and “cling on” are used repeatedly throughout the description, showing the effort it takes to hold onto the mast, let alone climb it. The use of comparatives in the latter half of the passage emphasise the increasing difficulty of the task: for example, “harder and harder”, “heavier”, and “more violent”. The reader pities MacArthur because the task gets more difficult as she becomes more exhausted.

The description of the climb itself evokes further pity in the reader, as well as admiration for MacArthur’s resilience. Exhaustion seems to be central to the experience of climbing the mast: this strong, emotive word is used several times throughout the description. It also creates tension, since MacArthur knows that she will not have enough energy to do the climb more than once. The climb is described as a “physical drain”, which provides a metaphorical image of MacArthur’s energy pouring away. However, the struggle is not just physical; MacArthur is open about the need for mental determination to carry on. This is expressed when she describes how she talks to herself – “not far now, kiddo, come on” – to give herself encouragement. This provokes sympathy as it highlights her isolation and loneliness; there is nobody else there to support her.

The reader simultaneously pities and admires MacArthur for her ability to cope with such a mentally and physically challenging task on her own, and in such difficult conditions.

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IGCSE Set 1 From Taking on the World by Ellen MacArthur Model Essays Question 2

IGCSE Set 1 From Taking on the World by Ellen MacArthur Model Essays Question 2

Edexcel English IGCSE: From Taking on the World by Ellen MacArthur

Q2. How does this passage bring out the thoughts and feelings of Ellen MacArthur as she sails alone in a race around the world?

Edexcel English IGCSE Model Essay by an Expert

Ellen MacArthur experiences a range of emotions in this passage, ranging from exhaustion to elation. She has negative feelings of isolation and fear, but also reveals her determination and sense of accomplishment.

MacArthur expresses her sense of isolation as she embarks on this lonely challenge. The mention of “Christmas Eve” usually conjures images of family togetherness, highlighting by contrast her solitude. Similarly, her hyperbolic observation that “the sea stretched out forever” emphasises the lack of human company. In the first part of the passage, the singular personal pronoun (“I”) is used repeatedly, showing that MacArthur is the only one who can take responsibility for this difficult task. Later, she uses the plural personal pronouns “we” and “us”, to refer to herself and her boat; this creates the impression that the boat is her only friend on the trip. We can surmise from this personification that she misses human companionship.

While she is climbing the mast, MacArthur experiences fear and vulnerability. She uses the simile of “stepping out onto the moon” to describe her task; this simile portrays her frightening lack of control over the boat itself once she is on the mast. There is a sense of fear and tension, too, when she notes that “there would be no second climb”, since the climb would be too exhausting to complete twice. This places great pressure on her for the climb to be successful first time. When she is climbing the mast, the ambiguous phrase ”and hoped” finishes a sentence describing her fearful position on the mast. This suggests that the potential outcome of disaster is too terrible to state outright. As she descends the mast, she expresses her fear explicitly for the first time with the idiom, “I had my heart in my mouth”. The use of an idiom here shows the difficulty of finding adequate words to describe her fear.

In spite of her fear and loneliness, MacArthur’s dominant emotion seems to be that of determination and resilience. The description of the task emphasises its physical difficulty: “physical drain”, “clinging on” and “just to hang on”, for example. In combination with the language of physical fatigue, MacArthur uses the ‘Show Don’t Tell’ technique to show her determination: she holds onto the mast with “eyes closed and teeth gritted” and “wrists clenched together”. This provides the reader with a visual image of her determination in the face of exhaustion. She also talks to herself – “not far now, kiddo” – showing her desperate need for motivation, and her ability to provide it for herself. The final emotion that MacArthur feels is that of elation, as a reward for her determination. She uses the idiomatic simile, “I felt like a million dollars”, to express her pride and jubilation.

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IGCSE Set 1 From Taking on the World by Ellen MacArthur Model Essays Question 1

IGCSE Set 1 From Taking on the World by Ellen MacArthur Model Essays Question 1

Edexcel English IGCSE: From Taking on the World by Ellen MacArthur

Q1. How does the writer help us to understand the dangers and difficulties of climbing the mast?

In your answer, you should write about:

  • the weather and sea conditions;
  • what we learn about the writer;
  • the language that the writer uses.

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

Edexcel English IGCSE Model Essay by an Expert

By emphasising the violence of the weather and her own vulnerability, and by using comparatives and idioms, Ellen MacArthur portrays the danger of her task to the reader.

MacArthur’s task is made particularly difficult by the power of the sea, made worse on this occasion by the adverse weather conditions. The writer emphasises this with violent language and imagery. When describing the waves, she uses vivid action verbs, such as “ploughed into”, “thrown” and “smacking”. Such strong vocabulary highlights the strength of the sea in such windy weather, assisting the reader in understanding the difficulty of her task. The writer also employs imagery, such as “the sea stretched out forever”. This hyperbole creates a frightening sense of isolation. Thus the reader comes to appreciate the danger of MacArthur’s situation; if she were in trouble, no-one could help her.

In this passage, MacArthur portrays herself as vulnerable, despite her extensive experience and technical ability. At the start of the passage, the reader is informed that she is younger and smaller than the other competitors, meaning that the tasks involved in the race might be more difficult for her. On the other hand, the reader learns that MacArthur is clearly very skilled at sailing; this is in part revealed through the technical language she uses, such as “halyard” and “jumar”. She is thus portrayed as very capable, and yet she still struggles to climb the mast. One reason for this is because she has no control over the boat while she is up the mast. This is captured in the simile, “as if I was stepping on to the moon”, which captures the strange, alien nature of being so high above her boat. Because of the juxtaposition of MacArthur’s technical expertise with the revelation that she finds climbing the mast such a challenge, the reader’s awareness of the difficulty of the task is heightened.

Several language techniques are employed to portray the difficulty and danger of MacArthur’s ascent and descent of the mast, such as comparatives and idioms. Throughout the description of the climb, the writer uses comparatives to display the increasing difficulty of her task: “harder and harder”, “increasingly heavy”, “more violent” and “worse than ever”. This creates a sense of building difficulty. The reader also realises how dangerous the situation is through MacArthur’s fear; she uses the hyperbolic idiom “I had my heart in my mouth” to provide a graphic idiomatic description of her terror. This allows the reader to sympathise with her and appreciate the life-threatening nature of her task.

Although MacArthur is presented as brave and capable, the terrible conditions and the difficulty of her task put her in danger, and show how challenging it is to climb a mast while sailing alone.

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