Cause and Consequence

Slim Potato

This post is as much for the JC2s as it is for the JC1s, which is to say we are reviewing a JC2 Prelim question and preparing the JC1s for the upcoming Promos. The JC1s have spent many a lecture (and tutorial) going through expository cause-and-consequence questions, starting from our review of the MYE question on Martha as a ‘victim of her own expectations’ and concluding with a practice question on ‘a sense of fulfilment or lack of it affecting an individual’s identity.’ For both cohorts, we will elaborate once more on the question requirements and how to approach the question below.

Cause and Consequence

Cause-and-consequence questions, whether in Section C (Single text) or Section B (Set text comparison), comprise two self-evident parts: cause (death, family, social pressure, repressed desires) and consequence (the mind, identity).

In between, you will find a linking word such as ‘effects of’, ‘affecting’, ‘influencing’ or ‘shaping’; in more unique cases, you might see ‘responding to’, which posits a more active, conscious role of the mind or self. Regardless, the defence and coping mechanisms can be seen as a reflexive, reactive ‘effect’ or an active, chosen ‘response’.

Note that the word ‘effects’ in the context of ’cause and effect’ is not the same as literary, poetic, dramatic effects, which are qualities and emotions of words and methods. This is why I prefer the label ’cause and consequence’!

Single Text Essay Questions

  • Discuss the ways in which the play dramatises the effects of death on characters’ minds.  [A-Level Specimen]
  • Explore the play’s treatment of the ways in which family affects an individual’s identity.  [A-Level Specimen]
  • Explore the ways in which Ayckbourn shows the mind responding to crisis in the play.  [2017 EJC JC1 Mid-Year]

Set Text Comparison Questions

  • Compare the ways in which two texts you have studied show the effects of social pressure on the mind.  [A-Level Specimen]
  • Compare the ways in which two texts that you have studied show the effects of repressed desires on the mind.  [2018 EJC JC2 Prelim]

It should also be obvious that these questions: (i) provide you a cause that is open to interpretation; (ii) beg you to consider the consequences or impact on the mind or the self; and (iii) expect you to link a specific cause (e.g. the death of a loved one) to a specific consequence on the mind or self (e.g. melancholia, intense grieving, loss of self, breaking down of relationships).

A competent response must show the link between the cause and consequence, in other words demonstrating sufficient analysis of both parts: we can start with a 50-50 ratio as a guideline, and emphasise more of how the writers portray the consequence if we wish (e.g. 30-70, 20-80).



The rule of thumb is to never lose sight of both parts in your writing: you cannot show how a leads to b, if there is no a or if there is no b. Logical, right?

You can structure your paragraphs according to cause-and-consequence: (i) the topic sentence will outline the link between cause and consequence; (ii) we present the cause; (iii) we present and explain how this leads to the consequence.

Alternatively, we can write about cause-and-consequence across paragraphs: (a) paragraph 2 can analyse the cause fully; (b) paragraphs 3 and 4 may then focus on how this ’cause’ leads to two different consequences.

Generating Ideas

Using the 2018 EJC JC2 Prelim set text comparison question on ‘the effects of repressed desires on the mind’, we consider the questions we should be asking ourselves and the answers we might generate along the way.

This section is more for the JC2s. For the JC1s, don’t worry too much about the complexity of ‘repressed desires’. You’ll be assessed on ideas / concepts you’ve been taught and practised analysing multiple times this semester.

Q: What are repressed desires?
A: Repressed desires are intentions, wants, yearnings that are restrained, kept secret or completely unconscious (i.e. the character is unaware).

Q: What kind of repressed desires do we see (or not see) in the text?
A: The audience of Woman in Mind is able to ‘see’ and ‘hear’ Susan’s repressed desires; they are not kept secret, but are represented on stage. These include her desire for: (i) an idealised domestic life and home; (ii) an attractive, loving family that includes a romantic husband and a sycophantic, dutiful child; (iii) superlative praise, validation and recognition of her non-domestic talents.

Q: Where and how are these repressed desires presented in the text? What are the methods used and what are their literary effects?
A: We can consider the opening scenes in Act 1 of the play. She outrightly rejects Bill’s account of reality and overwrites it with her own interpretation. In the presence of her real husband, she indulges a self-pitying lamentation of all that she has lost or lacks. Ayckbourn channels Susan’s repressed desires via inversion: what she wants is expressed in what she does not have.

Arguably, her imaginary family is a manifestation of her repressed desires. However, we can choose to position this as an effect on the mind instead, which brings us to the next question.

Q:  What are the effects of these repressed desires on her mind? How are these presented to us?
As above, the mind responds by creating an imaginary world and transiting between reality and imagination freely. We can analyse: (i) the appearance and description of the imaginary family; (ii) their unrealistic, fantastical dialogue; (iii) the lighting changes that suggest these transitions; (iv)

The repressed desires also have a destructive effect on Susan’s mind. As seen above, she responds violently to Gerald, Muriel and Rick when her repressed desires are continually denied (e.g. Rick’s reticence), either outwardly in bitter dialogue or subconsciously through her imaginary family (burning Gerald’s book, playing a prank on Muriel).

Lastly, as many students explored, these repressed desires are seen to have a debilitating effect on her mind, leading to her completely losing touch with reality. It is important to note that these events are triggered by marital feuds: Gerald rejects and abandons her twice, and the compensating / coping mechanisms she has come to rely on fail her too, where voices are confused, appearances are transfigured into the bizarre and mental events are no longer within Susan’s control.

Q: What are not repressed desires or their consequences? What is unnecessary, superfluous, or downright irrelevant?
A: We do not need to consider the effects of repressed desires on the self or on relationships. The question narrows down to consequences on the mind, so we are

Gerald and Rick’s treatment of Susan may indeed be a cause or abet her repressed desires. However, we are examining these ‘repressed desires’ as a cause, and not the cause of the cause.

The conjuring of fantasies or the indulgence of illusion may be an effect or consequence of Susan’s repressed desires. However, we do not need to analyse or discuss the effects of effects, consequences of consequences — the alienation and isolation are indeed portrayed in the play, but are a stretch too far for the question’s scope.

Preparing Yourself Mentally

The JC1s are the primary audience of this section. This is basically a summary of key pointers and reminders that you can apply to one of the two Woman in Mind essay questions. The JC2s might find this useful in approaching future cause-and-consequence questions too.

  • Identify the expository cause-and-consequence question. Do not at any point in your essay charge into the consequence / ‘effects’ (you will be tempted to!) without discussing the cause.
  • Expand and contextualise the cause. Paraphrase the words of the ’cause’ and consider a range of effects (i.e. least intense to most intense). Consider the most relevant episodes in the play that exemplify this part of the question; this shouldn’t be difficult because we’ve dissected a range of relevant episodes from the start to the end of the play. 🙂
  • Brainstorm the ‘consequences’ on the mind or self. Be careful not to end up writing about the other theme (as some of you did for ‘mind losing touch with reality’), even if I’m confident you won’t. Consider what happens to Susan’s mind (disoriented, loses consciousness, hallucinates, invents a family… and so on) or her self (ignored, neglected, unloved, victimised, isolated… and destroyed).
  • Elaborate clearly on the link between cause and consequence. In other words, explain how one leads to the other. Spend about one or two sentences on this, no more. End the paragraph by commenting on the purpose / significance of the consequence — what is Ayckbourn suggesting about the cause or the mind / self? 
  • Follow the ‘logic’ of the question. The flow of the question should guide the flow of your response. Address the cause, analyse how the cause is presented, link it to a consequence, analyse how the consequence is presented and end with a response to why this is so. Do not venture into the cause of the cause (e.g. what caused Susan’s repressed desires?) or the effect of the effect (e.g. her repressed desires cause a mental breakdown which causes her alienation).

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