Discovery Of A Father Essay

You need to see what a Band 6 Discovery essay looks like before you can write your own. That’s why we’ve included one below. We recommend reading it carefully and breaking down what it does so successfully. How is the introduction structured? How does the student analyse evidence? And how do they bring it all together in the conclusion? Once you’re finished, apply the strategies you uncover to your own AOS: Discovery essays. We also have a detailed overview of how to write creatives in our Our Beginner’s Guide to Acing HSC English – Part 6: Writing Creatives.

Essay Question

‘An individual’s experience of discovery is determined by their context.’ To what extent is this statement reflected in your prescribed text and ONE text of your own choosing?


Band 6 Discovery Essay

The unique context of an individual is what defines their process of discovery and in so doing, shapes their perspectives on interpersonal relationships, personal identity and existential outlook. These ideas are exemplified in both Robert Gray’s poems, Diptych and The Meatworks, and Matthew Thorne’s short film, Where Do Lilacs Come From. We see in these texts that discovery can only take place when our context challenges us, whether it is a change in context or the confronting nature of situational context itself. Only then can transformation occur.

The contexts in which the interpersonal relationships of an individual take place are what fuel discoveries to occur. In Gray’s Diptych, elements of the persona’s family life are embedded throughout, in particular the ongoing tension between the persona and his father. The father’s dialogue, “Nothing whingeing. Nothing by New York Jews; / nothing by women,” provides insight into the personality and character of the father. The anaphoric repetition of the harsh, despairing “nothing” portrays the father in his limited relationship with the persona, denoting the disconnect between the two and the persona’s negative perceptions of his father as a result. However, the transformative powers of context are revealed after the character experiences the death of his father. It is only after this event that he discovers newfound feelings towards his father and reconsiders their past relationship.  His death provokes a newfound acceptance and nostalgic fondness within the persona. The accident, “my pocket knife slid / sideways and pierced my hand – and so I dug with that one / into his ashes,” is central to the persona’s final emotional discovery. The mixing of his blood and his father’s ashes symbolically unifies the two, highlighting the change in perspective that has occurred with this change in context. Therefore, it can be argued that an individual only truly discovers his feelings towards others when their relationship is challenged by a change in context. The experience of loss following the death of his father caused Gray’s persona to reflect upon their past relationship and in doing so, he discovers feelings of clarity and acceptance that replaced past feelings of resentment and hostility. In other words, contextual experience has the potential to re-determine one’s interpersonal relationships.


Similarly, Matthew Thorne’s film Where Do Lilacs Come From explores the transformative powers of context. Much like Gray’s Diptych, Thorne depicts a change in context, in particular one that challenges an individual’s personal beliefs, as a fast catalyst to self-discovery. The film follows Chris, an elderly man with Alzheimer’s disease, as he struggles with the strain his condition places on his relationship with his son, Michael. This is symbolised by the reoccurring large spaces which separate the two characters in each frame, implying their emotional disconnect. A tracking shot of Chris chasing his younger self down a long, brightly lit corridor symbolises his desire to rediscover his lost memories. The responder is able to gauge from this Chris’ perspective on his condition. Senility is a burden on his identity. However, at the end of the film Michael discovers he is able to reconnect with his father by showing him home movies. The movies, displayed as hand-held camera footage with a muted colour palette evoke the same sentiment of nostalgic fondness that changed the persona’s perspective in Gray’s in Diptych. The restorative experience of bonding is shown by a return to the metaphor of distance as the space between two characters is breached and the pair embrace. Not only does this show the characters re-discovering their love for each other, but the discovery they are still able to bond is a revelation within itself, one that allows Chris to view his Alzheimer’s in a new context. He is able to challenge and transform his personal beliefs of his condition, coming to terms with his ageing as he rediscovers hope. Therefore, not only can a physical change in context shed new light on interpersonal relationships, but the way in which an individual contextualises their unique experience within their own mental framework can transform one’s very identity.


However, a change in context is not the only determining factor of personal discovery. One’s contextual environment alone has the immense ability to provide incentive for internal transformation through the process of discovery. In Gray’s poem, The Meatworks, the persona’s existential contemplation of life and death is entirely due to his experience working at a slaughterhouse. The self-discovery commences at the start of the poem, as the persona reflects upon the other workers and their disregard for the lives of the animals. The compounded sensorial imagery of the passage, “Most of them worked around the slaughtering / out the back / where concrete gutters / crawled off / heavily, and the hot, fertiliser-thick, sticky stench of blood / sent flies mad,” establishes and sustains an oppressive sense of death. The use of alliteration in ‘s’ and ‘h’ creates a cacophony of emphatic sounds which combine to create a disturbing synesthetic response, illustrating the violent nature of death. It is this horrid setting that facilitates the persona’s inner discovery of existential turmoil, and with it a renewed appreciation for life in all its forms. The symbolic gesture of hand washing in, “I’d scoop up the shell grit and scrub my hands, treading about through the icy ledges of the surf”, illustrates the persona’s desire for purification following his change in perspective. The use of personification in the poem’s last line further conveys the persona’s changing belief regarding the lives of animals: “the ways those pigs stuck there, clinging to each other”. The persona discovers that in death, animals and humans are the same. This revelatory, existential experience perfectly exemplifies how the process of discovery is shaped by an individual’s contextual environment. It shows the true transformational power of context to shape an individual’s outlook and their very understanding of life.


In conclusion, it is highly evident that an individual’s context, whether it be their physical environment, or the experience of a change in context, determines their process of discovery. Robert Gray’s poems Diptych and The Meatworks, and Matthew Thorne’s short film Where Do Lilacs Come From, all convey these ideas to a great extent. In these works responders come to understand how the relationship between context and individual experience define the discoveries which impact interpersonal relationships, personal identity and one’s very perceptions of existence. Only when our context challenges us can we discover, and it is the impact of our discoveries that define who we are and our unique, individual experience.


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Discovery Questions

Congratulations to the 2012 Reading Project Contest winners!
Complete text of winning essays 2013(pdf)
Students were asked to write a one-page essay (plus bibliography) on one of the topics below.

Discover When the Emperor Was Divine


When the Emperor Was Divine describes an American family’s experience in an internment camp in Topaz, Utah, during World War II. This facility presents the mother and children with a new kind of life, very unlike their home in Berkeley, California.

Essay topic: Write a description of some of the experiences one might have had in an internment camp during World War II.

This topic asks you to explore and summarize what you learn about living in the internment camps by viewing one or more of the sites included in the Cornell University Library Guide for When the Emperor Was Divine, posted on the Cornell Book Project web site at: Library Guide – Internment

In writing your essay, consider this quote from the novel: “It was not like any desert he had read about in books. There were no palm trees here, no oases, no caravans of camels slowly winding across the dunes” (53).


In the first chapter of the novel, called “Evacuation Order No. 19,” while preparing to leave home, the mother takes several actions that indicate her sense of responsibility and values, including packing up items in the house, and ending by taking actions in relation to the family cat, macaw, chicken, and dog.

Essay topic: Describe the mother’s actions in relation to the family’s animals in the first chapter of When the Emperor Was Divine, and explain why you think she acts as she does.

In writing your essay, first consider this quote from the novel: “There were things they could take with them; bedding and linen, forks, spoons, plates, bowls, cups, clothes. These were the words she had written down on the back of the bank receipt. Pets were not allowed. That was what the sign had said (9).” Second, consider the question: what do you learn about the mother from her behavior in relation to the animals?

This essay does not require you to consult additional sources.


In the chapter entitled “Train,” the girl and her family are taken from south San Francisco to Topaz, Utah. Outside the train, the girl observes people that they pass as they travel—a man “trimming hedges” (23), a man and woman “riding their bicycles across a bridge” (26), the man wearing boots and a cowboy hat who “touched the brim of his hat” when the train passed (38). Within the train, the girl notices and talks with other passengers— the soldier with “very nice eyes (27), the old man who is “missing two fingers” (28), Ted Ishimoto who wore “a handsome gold watch” (32).

Essay topic: Write an essay about two of the girl’s observations—one from outside and one from inside the train. What do you think the girl is feeling or learning in these moments?

In writing your essay, consider this thought that the girl has when all the shades are lowered: “There were the people inside the train and the people outside the train and in between them there were the shades” (28).

This essay does not require you to consult additional sources.


The chapter entitled “When the Emperor Was Divine” shows the boy’s many thoughts and dreams during the years that the family is interned in the Utah desert. Consistent throughout this section of the novel, however, are the boy’s visions of his father. He “thought he saw his father everywhere” (49); he seeks the smell of his father in the “black Oxfords … with the oval depressions left behind by his father’s toes” (67); he goes over the image of his father being taken away “without his hat on…and… in his slippers” (74); he remembers how “his father had promised to show him the world” (78); he sees his father as an “outlaw… riding a big beautiful horse named White Frost” (83); and he considers that “none of the other fathers had been taken away in their slippers” (84).

Essay topic: Describing at least three of these images of the father, write an essay explaining what you think the boy’s memories and dreams of his father mean to him during his internment.

In writing your essay, consider the boy’s fear that the envelope with the “strands of his father’s hair [hidden] beneath the loose floorboard under his bed” at home is gone—“‘I should have taken it with me,’ he said to himself” (78-79).

This essay does not require you to consult additional sources.


In the chapter entitled “In a Stranger’s Back Yard,” the family returns to their home in Berkeley hoping to “pick up our lives where we had left off and go on” (114). But their lives are not the same. The family’s experiences during and after the war reflect the effects of what has been called racial profiling—political practices that have affected other ethnic and racial groups at other times, in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Essay topic: Write an essay connecting the experience of the family in When the Emperor Was Divine with that of another racial or ethnic group.

This topic asks you to explore and summarize some of what you observe and learn based on your reading of the materials on racial profiling on the Cornell University Library Guide, posted on Book Project web site at:
Library Guide – Racial Profiling

In writing your essay, consider this quote from the novel: “On the street we tried to avoid our own reflections wherever we could. We turned away from shiny surfaces and storefront windows. We ignored the passing glances of strangers. What kind of ‘ese’ are you? Japanese or Chinese?”(120).


In the last chapter of the novel, called “Confession,” the father seems to be describing many traitorous acts against Americans and against the U.S., as if he and other Japanese Americans are “treacherous and cunning, … ruthless [and] cruel” (143-144). Did he really do all these things?

Essay topic: Write an essay describing what Japanese Americans actually did contribute to the U.S. war effort.

This topic asks you to explore and summarize some of what you observe and learn from the photographs and information describing Japanese American soldiers in World War II, in one or more of the sites provided in the Cornell Library Guide posted on the Book Project web site at: Library Guide – World War II

In writing your essay, consider this quote from the novel: “Who am I? You know who I am. Or you think you do.” (142). Second, consider the question: how does the community to which the family returns “know” the father, the mother, and the children? How do we know our fellow Americans?

Cornell University Library

In support of the 2013 New Student Reading Project featuring the book When The Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka, the Cornell University Library has created a guide to complement the Project’s web site. This guide provides all who have read the book links to a vast amount of resources to help all expand on the many themes found in Otsuka’s book. These materials stretch across multiple disciplines, in various formats (i.e. print, video, and electronic). The guide can be found at:

Within the guide there is an overview of the Cornell University Library and the various services and resources it provides.


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