The Human experience: The HSC Common Module for Advanced and Standard English.


NESA requirements

This module will allow you to explore other people’s perspectives and experiences influenced by culture and personal values. Now your job will be to identify “what ideas and assumptions are embedded in the text?” Yikes! – All this means is that if you write a story, it might reflect your personal attitude or view of the world which will be based on how you have been raised, your gender, culture and life experience; so, you as a student will understand that this is your view or perspective – therefore your set of assumptions. By “ideas and assumptions” we mean concepts and ways of looking at the world or people. They are assumptions became they reflect your interpretation only. The purpose of this module is to encourage you to identify types of human behaviour conveyed in your text and consider what this suggests and how the suggestion is represented.

Understanding the set text for human experience.

The Common Module is an important module as English Paper One of the HSC is entirely devoted to a student’s conceptual understanding of how human experience is shaped. Students will need to be able to speak about the ideas of their text, the influence of the composer’s context and how the linguistic and or cinematic features (techniques) of their required text, reflect on the very core nature of “human experience” both in relation to themselves, and the worlds created by the composer of their text.

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The human condition

The human condition largely refers to what makes us human and what we identify as human, and a large part of being human is not only about survival but concern for one’s fellow man. Your texts on the human experience reflects on the ethical and moral choices available and sometimes unavailable to the characters. Once again, I must stress that the capacity to exercise moral and ethical choice and the reader’s own opinions are invariably subject to their own interpretation and values. All of the texts set for study on the human experience presuppose that part of being human is the collective struggle to live a meaningful and ethical life.

So, what is the human experience?

The title “The human experience” presupposes a collectively understood experience, one that most of us have undergone or at least can identify. Occasionally, the human experience crafted in texts can be fanciful, exaggerated or drawn from real events however it remains recognisably human. The human experience may also reflect an individual character’s experience in their world of fiction, and again if they are authentically crafted, we the readers will be able to relate to their experience.

For example, Orwell’s character Winston Smith, in Nineteen Eighty-Four experiences a world which is politically terrifying and confronting. His responses to his world are recognisable. Big brother reflects the human behaviour of dictators and resonates with the reader’s understanding of events which have occurred historically and may even be witnessed as part of the reader’s own experience today.

In Arthur Miller’s The Crucible the experience represented In Salem Massachusetts is drawn directly from the annuls of history. The persecution undergone by the characters also allows for a metaphoric / symbolic collectively realised experience during McCarthy’s communist purges. Scapegoating and repression are two key ideas explored in The Crucible which are recognisable phenomenon.

Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, juxtaposes the individual alienating and suffering world of Shylock and pits it against the privileged and bigoted Venetian elite. The human experience of the Jew is contrasted against that of the Christian. We the reader are presented with a fictional world which nonetheless finds its inspiration from historical events.

In All the light we cannot see, Doerr uses storytelling and the perspectives of two victims of war from opposing sides to provide the reader with a window into the impact of war on civilian life, soldiers, the disempowered, and marginalised members of society. Again, the experiences presented are individually experienced but reflect on the greater experience of suffering and war.


The reality of human experience

Human experience as we know is both experienced and perceived, it is almost always tempered and influenced by our context, the events which impact on lives and the manner in which we interpret such events and the context of our world. It is the same for characters in novels, plays and films.


In Nineteen Eighty- Four, what contributes to the horror of Winston’s world is his inability to authenticate his reality.

In The Crucible, we see how difficult it is even for noble characters such as Hale, to seek truth.

In The Merchant of Venice, The Christian Venetian world is incapable of perceiving Jews as equal in status and humanity.

In All the light we cannot see, the harsh truth of the human condition can only be accessed when the reader is able to relate to the collective experience of war and understand, that the human experience is not divided by culture, but united by our collective experience of humanity and tragedy.


What do I mean by the manner in which we interpret context?

Sometimes characters and people only have partial access to their context- we are not privy to all of our society, world history or even information. Thus, understanding of context is often limited and therefore a character’s human experience is subsequently also shaped and curtailed by their world.

What is a narrative and how might it contribute to the human experience?

A narrative is a story. Most information we receive today to a lesser or greater degree can be perceived as a story. What I mean by this is that the facts which are included or excluded with deliberation of by mistake make up a story of sorts. Who gets to tell the story is dependent on many criteria. Generally speaking, those who have power in the society get to tell their story and many who would otherwise promote a different story are forgotten or deliberately excluded.


When we read fiction, the reader is provided with a window into the contextual reality of a character’s world. It is against this we measure a character’s behaviour and experience, and it is against this we feel empathy or antipathy for characters. When commenting on the human experience it is important to consider the context and the choices available to the characters as all of these inform on the human experience.

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