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[Dominique Hecq] [Salt] [Rubbish] [Essay questions] [Sample essays]

Dominique Hecq

Dominique Hecq was born in 1961. She grew up in the French-speaking part of Belgium and studied Germanic philology at the university of Liège where she took an MA in literary translation. 1n 1985 she won a scholarship to read Australian literature at La Trobe University. She now lives in Melbourne with her husband and their three children, combining the pleasures and torments of motherhood with those of writing and teaching. She is the author of The Book of Elsa (Papyrus), Mythfits (Penfolk), Good Grief & Other Poems (Papyrus), The Gaze of Silence (The SideWaLK Collective), One Eye Too Many. Also, with Russell Grigg and Craig Smith, Female Sexuality: The Early Psychoanalytic Controversies (Rebus, UK). She is an active member of the Victorian Writers' Centre.

2. Salt

Then will your light shine like the dawn and your wound be quickly healed over. Isaiah, 58:8

The daughter was too far gone already. The nurse had just been. She had wasted three needles on the injection. Over the last few weeks, it had, in fact, become harder each time for her to stick a needle in the rough husk the daughter's skin had become. It now all seemed pointless. The oily fluid would remain trapped between scales and bone, forming a cracking and oozing bubble on the surface.
'I'm doing more harm than good here,' the nurse said. 'Just as well it's the last shot, you poor cookie.' She turned towards the mother, 'I'm sorry.'
The mother did not argue. Did not even think of arguing.

It had all started with rumours of an affair between the daughter's boyfriend and their science teacher. The daughter had said nothing to her mother at the time, but the mother had soon heard about the scandal, for such news travels fast, getting juicier and juicier as it passes from one mouth to the other. And so the mother who could see the sorrow on her daughter's face said that it was best to forget all about boys who were not worth their salt. The daughter perceived her mother's loathing in the way she pronounced the word boy. The tone of her mother's voice was as hateful as when she told the daughter she was fat and ugly. The daughter looked at her mother's painted bps. She took a few steps back-wards, side-stepping the sack-cloth mat in the pool of light where the cat lay curled in a tight ring. She left the living room.
From then on, the daughter started to play with her food. She also worked harder at school. Each day of the week, she would get up before everyone else and make the coffee. Next she would take a slice of bread and shake it above her plate. She would then shove the slice of bread back into the paper bag and pour herself a cup of coffee she'd drink scalding and black. She would do all this before closing the door on a house full of steep and head off to school. At lunchtime, she would dream of fresh bread rolls while working on her maths under the stairs leading to the gymnasium. She would come home at about five and study until dinner.
Dinner was always a problem. 'The whole family sat in silence at the table, the children from time to time stealing a glance across the plates at their father. Unlike the other children, the daughter was aware of her station in the family. She concentrated on her plate She would have very small helpings. If no one was watching, she would toss some of her food to the dog under the table.

One day, she discovered that she could tuck small amounts of food in her cheeks and spit it out later in the toilet bowl. She did this until she was caught.
Then came the exams. The daughter did little more than work out ways of avoiding meals or making time for learning. She would often study late at night and into the early hours of the morning. She would sleep for a few hours, then she'd get up to recap. She would get dressed without thinking about it. She would never look at herself in the mirror - she knew how fat and ugly she looked from her mother's words. The day of her last exam, the daughter smashed the mirror in her room. The mother disappeared from the daughter's sight, but her words and loathsome tone kept ringing.
The daughter did well at school, yet neither mother nor father praised her. Nothing was dearer to the daughter by now that neither self-mortification nor distinction would bring love.
During the holidays, the daughter invaded her mother's kitchen. She read cooking books from cover to cover, choosing elaborate recipes of rich dishes for every single day of the week, and more elaborate recipes of richer dishes for Sundays and birthdays. She cut out exotic recipes from magazines to paste in an exercise book. She borrowed gardening books and grew herbs in pots. She bought new measuring cups and spoons, a new set of kitchen scales and new preparation utensils. She also bought all sorts of little jars and filled them with spices and seeds. And she cooked.
The daughter cooked French meals, Spanish meals, Italian meals; she tried Greek, African, Chinese, even Indian. As the daughter cooked in her mother's kitchen, she lost sight of herself. She cooked for the whole family and for friends of the family. She cooked for the pleasure of watching others eat. She made iced sorrel soup, minestrone and bouillabaisse with rouille sauce, game pate with Juniper berries and brandy; she deep-fried courgette flowers dipped into a light batter and poached nasturtium leaves stuffed with cheese and herbs in oily white wine; she pounded olives and anchovy fillets and tuna fish soaked in freshly squeezed lemon juice to make tapenade, she made gnocchi flecked with fresh coriander and also hot curries; she stewed squids, steamed mussels, and flamed grilled sea-bass over beds of dried fennel. On her mother's birthday she roasted a whole kid on the spit. And she baked jalousies, rolls and tarts, all with impeccable crusts. She knew it foodstuffs well over the top, but the names of foodstuffs were her livelihood. She gorged herself on words. When came the evening, the mother would sit at the kitchen table, working out the balance in her bank account, with the daughter washing up in the other room, adding up and subtracting calories in her head.

Towards the end of the holidays, the mother complained about her weight. She blamed her daughter's cooking for the extra kilos hugging her waist. She also blamed water retention. The daughter stopped using salt in her cooking, but she kept cooking.
With the university year about to start, came new resolutions. The mother knew nothing about the university, She had not been lucky enough to study past Leaving. Yet she knew that it was going to be hard work, so she promised the father to watch the daughter closely.

The daughter set herself high goals for the year. She would jump through all the hoops and even distinguish herself but she would have to toughen up. She would therefore study hard and banish all form of recreation, except for half an hour of solid exercise every night followed by a cold shower to wake herself up before further study. She would wear as little clothing as possible, and skip, or run, whenever possible, in order to boost her own energy. She would train herself never to feel hungry, cold, or tired. She would also do her best not to displease her mother.

But some time into the year, as things seemed to be getting tougher and tougher, it had become clear to the daughter that she had underestimated the watchful eye of her mother. One rainy afternoon, the daughter met her old boyfriend on the train. He rubbed it in, as it were, saying that she looked terrific. When the daughter got home later that evening, the mother asked if she'd met anyone she knew. The daughter acted innocent. 'And yet you look skinny as a take and so terrific: said the mother knowingly.

From then on, the deceptions became more frequent and the lies more diverse. The daughter, who could no longer control what she ate in the evening without upsetting her mother, started to drink chamomile oil to make herself vomit. She would in fact spend hours in the toilet either to get rid of what she didn't want to hold down, or to devour books, while just sitting there.

Then came the rows. The mother hit the daughter and the daughter dreamed of hitting the mother. 'The key to the toilet was confiscated.

More rows followed. Savage ones. All pretence had dropped.

Everyone in the family got involved in some way then, yet mother and daughter remained centre stage.
The mother took her daughter who was sick in' the head because she hadn't bled in two years to her own doctor, a specialist of high renown in women's troubles. The doctor prescribed pills and injections with a Greek name. He told the mother not to worry as all teenage girls were like that.

The mother told her daughter that she was mad and evil. 'The salt of evil' she said, meaning the root.
Things got worse, for now the daughter was expected to act like mad! She tried to hide from the nurse at first, but the price was too high. So she tried to resist the needle by contracting her buttocks or squeezing her flesh until it bruised. And though she pretended to take her medication, she'd slip the pills under her tongue and spit them out later. Small amounts of food would also be found rotted up in her napkin, stuck under her seat, or inside her pockets.
Madness brought about the suspiciousness and the monitoring, the checking and double-checking. And the weekly weighing on Sunday before breakfast, in full view of the whole family with stones in the pockets and a tummy full of water. All of this before the rules changed.

And so the daughter is now back in the old living room, all curled up in an ugly heap of clothes with her head on her knees and her arms around her shins. With no hope in her eyes, she looks like the stray cat the mother once picked up out of a rubbish bin. From underneath the clothes grown baggy, you can see the daughter's bones sticking out. You can hear her moaning 'Let me die - Oh PLEASE. God let me die.'
The mother stands next to the door, where she has been ever since the nurse left. She takes a look around the room, up at the chandelier, and back at her daughter. She takes off her apron and throws it on the floor-boards. She raises her fists above her head, then swings them down. She turns around and marches up to the dining table. There is nothing on the table except for an empty fruit bowl and a tray with useless vessels on it: a pepper mill, salt shaker, a set of oil and vinegar carafes. Gone is all taste. Gone all tight. And so the mother raises her voice like a trumpet and screams: 'Oh God. Oh Shit! And the mother takes hold of the Wedgewood salt shaker and smashes it to pieces on the boards.
The daughter has stopped moaning.
She now slowly, very slowly, turns her head towards her mother. She lifts a spider from her lap. Two. Two spiders for hands. You do not want to see the arms, but they follow the gesture, the awkward movement, so that you could see it all, if you tried hard, see it all as two arms stretching out.
The mother looks at her daughter. She takes a few steps, kneels and sits down. She spreads her wide woolen skirt and takes the heap of bones in their bag of clothes in her arms. She cradles and rocks her daughter to rest.
It is noon and the shadows of the shadows of mother and daughter shimmer on the sackcloth in the pool of winter sunshine.

Sample essay question:

Discuss the daughter's predicament and her relation to her mother. Consider the structure of the story, the shifts in perspective, the different uses of the word "salt" and the relevance of other images.

3. Rubbish


Language is wakefulness dubbed onto our actions


November 1st, 1996

Dear Nicky,

It's funny being back. I'm too much again. My footsteps are too loud, my breathing too heavy, my smell too pungent and my fingers are shrinking on doorknobs even though no one is home.

They knew I was coming back today though. When I walked in the door I saw my own letter pressed on the fridge with a frog magnet.
Why didn't they leave a note then? I could see none. The only clue was a large yellow envelope from The Royal Melbourne Hospital with X-rays of mother's guts next to it. All spread out on the table. Typical, I thought. They cut us off and then they expect us to feel guilty. It looks as though mother's back on the billiard table.
Remember the first time? Remember how we tried to cheer each other up, saying things like 'no wonder with all the rubbish she eats' and how we were caught at our own game when it all got too much and we both had to go and be sick? Well, looks like it's happening all over again, except that we weren't told this time. I keep trying to remember how we were told back then, and how we coped. It would help if only one could learn from one's mistakes.

And who told us? Father?
But, did we cope?
It felt like coping at the time, but in retrospect I think you were right: we lived parallel to reality. Let's face it: we went berserk. I certainly did.

Now I'm scared. Last night I woke up and saw my bed covered in rubbish. Rubbish and vermin. just like all those years back. I'm scared shitless of old nightmares. Scared of what they might bring. I sit up late, dreading the moment I'll have to switch the light off because I know that there are knives lurking in the dark recesses of my mind, waiting to appear in my field of vision and cut me all over.
Mother wasn't herself when she came back either. Remember how he told everybody that father'd punch her in the stomach if he got half a chance? And how she said it was all too much for her and took sleeping pills and hid boxes of white powder in her underwear drawer for the day she'd decide to cut it all off.
Father on the other hand never seemed to lose any control. He didn't even take one day off. He went on locking up the house every morning before going to church and locking up rooms and cupboards every time he had to go out of the house. If anything he sounded more sarcastic than ever.
I'm sorry now I didn't mention any of this on the phone when you rang me in France. It might've helped exorcise the old demons. And now I come back to an empty house and have to use the telephone to find out where the hell the family's gone. The irony is that I can't actually speak to you, get my message across.
Mother's OK. I rang the hospital when I got my act together.
Visitors are allowed only in the evening at this stage (between 6 and 8 pm). There is no concession for relatives.
Do you intend to come back for a visit? What's Launceston like, by the way? It must be getting a bit warmer at this time of year.
Love,

Bap


November 2nd, 1996

Dear Nicky,

You were out when I tried to ring today, busy getting ready for Christmas and that kind of rubbish, I guess, so I'm sending you a note. I remembered another dream last night as I was trying to remember the time when mother first went to hospital, the dream where father cuts off my head while mother is cutting her own throat. I'm sure I first had that dream back then. That's when you started to burn and hit your fat stomach to make your guts come out. And that's also when you started to tell the world how much I hated you. I only wanted to help. But you said I was tricking you to find out your secrets.
I thought I'd write this down when it was still fresh. I've got to go now - a job interview. I'll try to get to the hospital this anno.
Take care,

Bap

November 2nd, 11 pm

Dear Nicky,

I went to see mother. I got to her room as she was having her first meal, believe it or not. She looked at me so much as to say, you ungrateful little shit, where have you been all this time when I was in agony. She complained about the food. 'All you get is rubbish,' she said. She can have only slops. She asked after you, screwing up her nose as she does sometimes. So I told her we'd been out of touch.
'Rubbish,' she said. And that was it. She pressed the button for the nurse and I was ushered out. There is a lot of rubbish in our life, isn't there?
Keep well.
Lots of love,

Bap

November 3rd, 1996

Dear Nicky,

I dreamed a terrible dream tonight and I woke up with the image of you sprawled on the floor in your cottage at Basalt. I tried to stop the dream but the hands in my mind turned your body over to look at your face and I saw a huge bleeding gash where your features had been: you had blown your brains out through your mouth with father's rifle.

Now don't freak out. It's no wish-fulfilment. Still, all that hush and rush of blood in your mouth in my dream. It must be because you told me the other night that you'd been spewing blood. I reckon you should see a doctor.
l' m sorry to keep sending you notes, but your phone seems to be out of order. All I can hear is the dial tone. The answering machine isn't on either. Please check and call me.
Lots of love,

Bap

November 3rd, 4pm

Dear Nicky,

I did as you asked. I took all the books out of your bookshelf and collected all the notes you had hidden behind the spines of the boo's. I shoved them in a C5 size envelope. I'll post it later today. I also went through mother's jewel box and I retrieved your gold bracelet as well as your two swimming medals. I also found two envelopes addressed to you. They had been opened. One of them contained a couple of photographs of you and Deidre.
So Mother Knew.
And If Mother Knew Everybody Must Have Known.
There was also one of your letters addressed to A. Rip. It had been skillfully opened, probably with steam, for it looked as though it had never been sealed. You say a few things in it mother would've found offensive - that she'd do anything to get her own way, or that she hates her kids and tries to trick them all the better to control them. Well, I don't know. She certainly would've loved these about yourself: 'I've never allowed myself to feel sexual before test I'd go crazy' and 'I was something when I was born and until mother went to hospital! It certainly did set me thinking. I didn't like your comments about me though: 'I can't trust Bap lest I be contaminated.'

I hope it was all right for me to read that stuff. I'm all self conscious now. I just thought you expected me to, entrusting me with the mission of tracking down old secrets as you did.
Hope you feel better.
Best of love,

Bap


November 4th, 1996

Dear Nicky,

I keep thinking about you. I keep trying to ring you too, and missing you. Happy hours and going-away parties and other such rubbish, I suppose. Fair enough. I noticed that your answering machine was back on. I'm getting sick of the message.
I've been quite obsessive lately. Thinking about the same things all over again. You imagining cutting yourself all over before going to sleep, and us laughing our heads off every time we'd manage to cut one another off at the dinner table. That was priceless: 'que j'te coupe, they say in French. Then how we'd decide one Sunday that we were rubbish and garbage and went off to the tip in father's absence to come alive and how this became a sort of prelude to our secret ritual of exploration before we became naughts and split off after mother's hysterectomy. We used to say we'd become neuter. Do you sometimes think of all this?
Perhaps I'm just a little out of sorts. Perhaps I'm just living parallel to reality again.
Lots of love,

Bap

November 5th, 1996

Dear Nicky

Why don't you answer my letters? I'm worried about you, you know. I keep waking up at night with bad dreams about you only to see my bed covered in rubbish and find that all doors are locked.
Do you remember the old days when father used to lock us in before going to church? I think that we were all too much for him despite all that I'm in control look of his. And now he doesn't even took at me when I visit mother. He just sits there, gazing past us, haughtily. He won't say a word either. So, how can you tell?
I've been thinking about something else too. There seems to be a curse on the women in this family (I'm not being frivolous here: words are like knives and I'd rather have a sharp one in my own hand). just look at our names: Domenica and Baptista. It's as though mother had wanted to take revenge on us, or simply pass on the burden-Gilda is hardly an easy name to bear. She is God's servant while you belong to the Lord who has cleansed me of the original sin! Then there's Deidre, of course. Sometimes I think that her name might have been an omen. But how did sorrow first enter our family? Beware of copy cats. Please do write.
Take care,

Bap


November 9th, 1996

Dear Nicky,

I am sick of this all. The moment I get in mother's ward I feel the chill cut me through to the bone. Mother won't even look at me now. She doesn't listen when I speak either. Everything I say is rubbish. Father is silent and looks away as soon as I open the door. And you don't answer my calls, nor do you write back. If this goes on I'm catching the ferry. No, I'll catch the plane. Be prepared.
Take care,
Lots of love.

Bap


November 13th, 1996

Dear Nicky,

That's it. I'm coming over.
Why am I always the one who makes the step?
Why do I always try to rescue things?
Never mind. I've got my ticket. Ansett. Stand by. But somehow it feels wrong.
Mother went home today (sorry, I can never bring myself to saying came: it's their home). Father hired a qualified nurse full time. I went out as they were coming in, an awkward pas de trois around a huge pile of old newspapers. I struck up the git from next door, of course. But all she wanted to know about was you. What should I have said? What should I say? I keep thinking of the night father (or was it mother?) told you to go and jump in the lake.
Rat a tat tat. Tap tap tap, raps the door. Nobody hurries downstairs. I have bad vibes.
Rubbish, I tell myself as I make my way down the hall way. But then it hits me and I make a mental note for myself.
Rub all rubbish out.

Sample essay question:

Examine what we are given to perceive about the relationship between "Bap" and "Nicky", their position to their mother, and the connection with the story's title.

Extra Questions

1. In the last paragraph of Joyce's “In The Boarding House” Polly forgets and then remembers what she has been waiting for. What does this tell us about Bob Doran’s situation in the story.

2. Analyse Thomas's imagery in “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”, explaining how it relates to his main themes, and how it makes interpretation of the poem more open.

3. Explore the theme of obsession in John Steinbeck's “The Snake”.

4. Explain the central metaphor of Ted Hughes'“The Thought Fox”. What does the poem tell us about Hughes'experience as a writer?

5. Explore the themes of generosity and guilt in Bradbury's “The Beggar on the Dublin Bridge”. Does the narrator change his attitudes and ideas during the course of the story?

6. Discuss Peter Porter's ‘Mort aux chats’ as a poem dealing with various forms of intolerance and prejudice. (This poem was in the 2000-2001 syllabus - click here to read it)

Sample essays on 'Salt'

The essays, written a couple of years ago for the May/June session, have been copied word for word. A detailed discussion of the good and weak characteristics follows. Interpretation, analysis, engagement with the essay question, use of grammar and structure are the main points looked at here. It might be useful for you to think about the strengths and weaknesses of each essay before reading the detailed comments.

NB: We will not offer complete rewritings and improvements of each sentence. It should be obvious that many of the sentences could be better written, or at the very least written differently. Most, if not all, of the expressions or words which are wrong, weak or clumsy are italicised. If there is a particular construction or phrasing that you find puzzling then please don’t hesitate to ask.

First essay: 13

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§ 1 (1) In ‘Salt’ Dominique Hecq deals with the difficult relationship of a daughter with her mother, and with the feelings of despair that can arise during the teenage years when there is no maternal love. (2) Through the story, we follow the girl’s descent into hell, in the indifference her family show towards her.

§ 2 (1) Right from the start, we understand the dramatic end of the story. (2) The beginning is in fact linked to the end and this brings a particular feeling when we read the story. (3) The mother’s cruelty is immediately perceived and the role she played in her daughter’s decadence is quite evident.

§ 3 (1) And the mother’s attitude is in fact the main point in the story. (2) She does not understand how important her opinion is for her daughter and how much a teenage girl needs to be reassure. (3) She told her child that she is ‘fat and ugly’ and this sparks off the decline.

§ 4 (1) The girl’s attitude towards food is of course a consequence of the complex her mother gives her. (2) She does not want her to see that she gives her food to the dog or that she spit it out in the toilet bowl. (3) She has lost her boyfriend and her mother ‘helped’ her to understand that it was probably because she was not pretty. (4) She feels humiliated but does not want her mother to know it. (5) She does not want her to know that she has reached his goal.

§ 5 (1) That is the reason why she needs to find a way to escape. (2) She begins to work very hard to forget that food exists. (3) She reacts a lot and feeds herself with words and sentences. (4) She does it for herself, because she knows that nothing could make her mother loves her. (5) Then she begins to cook. (6) But ‘for the pleasure of watching others eat.’ (7) Because she will not eat what she prepares, she ‘eats’ the names of foodstuffs, which give her energy.

§ 6 (1) Then, if we take the perspective of the mother, we can see that she is in a way paradoxical. (2) She promises to keep an eye on her daughter when she goes to university, but does not seem to care when she looks like a skeleton. (3) As if her daughter was born to give her everything she never had in her own life. (4) The girl must have good results, she must correspond to a rigid image she has in her mind. (5) She probably wanted to have a beautiful girl, and she is fat and ugly. (6) The disappointment is too heavy.

§ 7 (1) The symbolism of the mirror is another important part. (2) The girl destroys it because she does not have the impression to see her own image. (3) Maybe she feels that she does not have the right to be herself. (4) As soon as she has broken the mirror, Hecq tells us that ‘the mother disappeared from the daughter’s sight.’ (5) When she looks at herself, she hears her mother’s words and nastiness.

§ 8 (1) Then the image of salt appears to be very important. (2) Salt is an absorbent product, when the girl rejects everything. (3) When her mother asks her not to salt her cooking, it is as if she asked her to stop living. (4) Then she is for her mother ‘the salt of evil,’ in opposition with ‘the salt of the earth.’ (5) She is nothing. (6) She can only be something bad.

§ 9 (1) The fact that the girl is called ‘cookie’ by the nurse is very ironic. (2) It shows us that she does not look like a human being anymore, she is about to be ‘eaten’ by death. (3) It is also ironical because the nurse gives her the name of a food when she has not eaten for months. (4) The mother does not react.

§ 10 (1) And this is not surprising when we understand that her daughter could never have satisfied her. (2) She reproaches her to be fat, and later she reproaches her to ‘look skinny as a rake.’

§ 11 (1) However, the daughter’s perspective is very courageous. (2) She refuses to displease her mother and pays attention not to upset her. (3) In a way she does not want to see that her mother is responsible. (4) She wants to stay alone in her dramatic situation. (5) She harms herself to be somebody important.

§ 12 (1) When the conflicts begin to be more frequent between mother and daughter, the girl understands that she will never escape from her mother’s ‘watchful eye.’ (2) She will never have her own life, her own personality. (3) It is not worth living and she decides not to take the pills and to resist the injections. (4) She is mad for the family.

§ 13 (1) But at the end of the story, the mother becomes more human. (2) It is as if she suddenly had an epiphany. (3) She looks at her daughter, she looks at the empty table and discovers the importance of her lack of love and support. (4) She smashes the salt shaker and the daughter stops moaning. (5) They have come full circle. (6) The girl can begin to live.

§ 14 (1) In conclusion, I would say that this story teaches us a lot about the importance of comprehension between children and parents. (2) Dominique Hecq shows us a different perspective so that we can understand the mother’s and daughter’s point of view. (3) The parents must help their children to grow but not identify themselves with them. (4) The teenagers need to be supported to develop their own personality. (5) This short story is a very good example and can help us not to do the same mistakes when we are parents. (6) The title summarises the whole symbolism of the short story.

General comments

‘Salt’ is a complex and nuanced story concerning family relationships and eating disorders. It is by no means a story which is easy to get to grips with. Here the student has written a competent essay which includes some insight into the main themes and imagery of the story. An honest attempt is made to answer the essay question. The essay is well structured on the whole: it moves from point to point relatively clearly, avoids unnecessary repetition, avoids merely retelling the story, and most of the paragraphs are self-contained and well handled, dealing relatively clearly with a single point. The paragraphs usually begin strongly and thus the reader is always able to situate him or herself. The student quotes well, using key phrases to underline her points, and the quotations are unobtrusively integrated within the essay. Having said that, at times the student should have quoted more as evidence for the validity of some of the more speculative points. In terms of language ability the level of English is fair and overall the basics are in place, although there are some classic errors and one or two sentences which are badly constructed and as a consequence very difficult to understand

A weak point is that both the introduction and conclusion are either a bit thin, slightly misleading, or a little moralising. Also, some of the points are a little weak, even redundant. They need to be developed and taken further at times. Points need to be made fully and sometimes just one or two additional sentences would be enough. Some points in the essay are too speculative and are made without any evidence from the story itself. Furthermore the verb tenses are inconsistent..

Overall then, an essay which attempts, reasonably successfully, to interpret and analyse the story, and which is quite well structured and written in an English in which the basic grammar is more or less in place. Perhaps the 13 is a little generous; it is at least a solid 12 and certainly this is not an essay that would ever gain a 14. To have done better the student would have needed to write much more fluently, eliminating basic errors and using more complex sentences, and should have tackled the imagery with greater subtlety and insight.

There are a number of points that could have been dealt with better. One is sexuality. What is the significance of the rumoured affair between the daughter’s boyfriend and the science teacher? How might the mother’s ‘loathing in the way she pronounced the word boy’ be interpreted? Also, significantly, the daughter’s subjectivity is not fully analysed, nor is the fact that overall we see the story from her perspective. We do not know that ‘there is no maternal love’: the mother appears devastated when the daughter actually dies. The fact that the daughter has to go to elaborate lengths to conceal the fact that she is not eating suggests that the mother is not indifferent. Did the mother mean to hurt her when she said that her daughter looks fat and ugly? It may have been a way of suggesting that she dress differently, said in full confidence that the daughter knew she was actually pretty and slim. What is certainly highlighted is a teenager’s sensitivity to personal comments and how an unfortunate word may trigger a self-destructive spiral.

Detailed comments paragraph by paragraph:

Paragraph 1. The introduction could be better. It is not so much that it is short but that it says little about the essay overall, and how the story will be analysed. The main theme of eating disorders is not mentioned, and the reference to hell is overly melodramatic. (1) ‘deals with a daughter’s difficult relationship with her mother’ (2) ‘hell, which stems from her family’s indifference towards her’. It should be stated that we do not really know if her family is really indifferent, as the daughter’s perspective dominates the story.

Paragraph 2. Much of this is redundant, or the sentences are more or less empty. A classic flaw is the inappropriate use of the word ‘dramatic’. Also, the student does not signal how she understands the ending of the story. What the student is probably trying to refer to is the fact that the beginning of the story takes us to a moment in time that occurs right at the end of the story. This is often done in fiction, stimulating curiosity and prompting the reader to find out how the situation that is bluntly presented in the opening paragraph has come about. (1) The sentence is unclear (2) ‘brings a particular feeling’ says nothing. ‘and thus a particular tone is established and maintained throughout the reading’? This is better English but not much better at the level of content. ‘Particular’ is too vague (3) ‘perceived, as is’ (3) ‘daughter’s decline’. ‘Decadence’ is wrong.

Paragraph 3. Beginning a paragraph with ‘And’ is a bit clumsy. In fact this paragraph should be integrated within the previous one, which ends with a statement about the mother’s cruelty. As this paragraph does not talk about the cruelty in a significantly different way there is no need to start a new paragraph. (1) ‘the main point’ is too vague. Does the student believe everything stems from the attitude of the mother, or that ‘Salt’ is mainly about the mother? (2) reassured (3) Inconsistent tenses.

Paragraph 4.This is a fair paragraph, but not a tightly organised one. A flaw is that there is no clear definition of what the mother’s aim is. Is it to make her daughter starve? This is not really borne out by the story, which states that the mother does try to make her daughter eat. Is it to humiliate her? Possibly, but the student needs to provide, or at least suggest, evidence that this is so. Furthermore, it has still not been clearly stated in the essay what the daughter’s attitude to food is. A further weakness is that the connections between the sentences are a little loose. (2) ‘that she spits it out’ (5) ‘she has achieved her aim’.

Paragraph 5. Again some of this is fair but some of it is also poorly written and somewhat unconvincing at the level of interpretation. (1) ‘a way of escaping’ is a preferred alternative (1) using the verb ‘to escape’ is a little suspect as it is not entirely clear that this is what the girl is doing by immersing herself first in her studies and then in cooking. Possibly she tries to escape her home situation by throwing herself into work at school, but is she not doing this to gain approval at home? It can also be argued that she cooks sumptuous meals to make her mother gain weight. To describe this as a form of escape misses the point. (2) This is perhaps fair but doesn’t take into account her dreaming of ‘fresh bread rolls’ at school. (3) This is a meaningless statement. ‘she starts to act obsessively and’? (4) ‘her mother love her’ (4) Is she doing it for herself? (5) (6) (7) should be one sentence, not three. (6) This is not a sentence (6) A bit more could be made of the fact that she takes ‘pleasure’ in this, given that much of what else she does involves disciplined hard work and self-denial (7) (3) One or two more sentences could usefully interpret the eating of words and names.

Paragraph 6. Some of the argument here is a little too speculative and difficult to sustain in the face of what is actually said in the short story. (1) Not ‘then’, which is misleading, as is ‘perspective’. ‘Turning to the mother’s attitude, it can be said to be paradoxical in some ways’ (3) ‘As if’ is wrong here in terms of linking words. There is no logical connection between (2) and (3) (3) Is there any real evidence for this statement? (4) Why not ‘the daughter’? (5) One point that remains unresolved is whether or not the girl ‘is fat and ugly’. This is an important question in a story dealing with perception, and self-perception. (6) ‘heavy’ is too colloquial. ‘too heavy to bear’ ‘too much’ ‘too difficult to deal with’.

Paragraph 7. The student shows some insight here and in a better essay this would have been taken much further. Self-image is indeed a vital aspect of the story. The suggestion in the story that when she looks at herself in the mirror the daughter sees her mother could have been analysed further and is not clearly acknowledged in the essay. The smashing of the mirror could have been looked at in relation to the smashing of the salt-cellar. Are the same impulses and / or insights at work? (1) ‘another important element’ ‘another important motif’ (2) Unclear. Poor English. ‘because she does not want to see her own image’? ‘because she does not really see herself in the mirror’? (3) This is a good point but the student needs to say more and make the point more fully. (5) This is fine but some confusion is caused by the slip between hearing and seeing.

Paragraph 8. This is a confusing and unconvincing paragraph. (1) See paragraph 6 on ‘then’ (1) ‘appears’ is too hesitant. If the student does not think the imagery is important, why write about it? (2) Frankly this is such a botched sentence it is impossible to understand what the student is trying to say. What is the significance of salt’s absorbent properties? Does the girl ever reject everything? (3) Tense inconsistencies. This is potentially an interesting point but the student does not take it far enough. (4) Again, a problem with the use of ‘then’. (4) ‘as opposed to’ (4) ‘salt of the earth’ is not actually mentioned in the story (5) (6) Repetition. (6) is a clumsy sentence.

Paragraph 9. This is fair enough but not exactly breathtaking analysis. The student should have taken the points further. Given that they are insufficiently interpreted it might even have been better to not mention them. (2) ‘anymore, and that she is’. The argument in this sentence is somewhat farfetched. (4) Poor paragraph construction. This sentence should begin the next paragraph.

Paragraph 10. In nine and ten paragraph construction is in a critical state and has ceased to function properly.. This two sentence paragraph floats around unhinged in the essay. (2) ‘reproaches her for being fat’ ‘reproaches her for look[ing] skinny’. Note the convention for adapting quotation content.

Paragraph 11. There is some insight here but the points need to be made more fully. (1) ‘daughter’s attitude’. Is ‘brave’ or ‘courageous’ the best way to describe her? (2) This is a weak sentence. ‘she does not want to displease her and takes care not to upset her’. This is repetitive. (3) There is potential here but the point is lost by not being fully developed. (4) This says nothing. ‘dramatic’ is too vague, too general. (5) A weak sentence. Important to whom? To attract attention to herself?

Paragraph 12. This is pretty good but more could have been done with the theme of watching, seeing and surveillance, and the extent to which the two women’s personalities are fused in some way. (3) ‘and refuses the injections’ ‘and tries to refuse the injections’ (4) Unclear. Colloquially, to be mad for something – or to be mad about something – is to be very enthusiastic about something. Does the student mean that the family think she is mad (insane, mentally unstable)? Either way this sentence should not be here, as it has little in connection with the main points of the paragraph.

Paragraph 13. A flaw here is that there is too much retelling of the story at the expense of analysis. Also the story makes it clear that the girl will die so the final sentence of the paragraph is misleading and reveals some misunderstanding on the part of the student. Another explanation of why the girl’s moaning stops is required. Is there some trace of victory here? Mutual understanding? (3) This is fair but ‘significant effects’ is better.

Paragraph 14. As a concluding paragraph this is too moralistic and treats the story, unfairly, as a simple morality tale or fable. It should really say something about the treatment of eating disorders, for one thing, and about the psychological battle taking place for another. (1) ‘of understanding between’ (2) This sentence is unclear, and also very misleading. ‘Hecq’s use of shifting perspective allows us to view the spiral into psychological decline from both the mother’s and the daughter’s points of view’. (3) Article. ‘Parents’, not ‘the parents. (4) Article. ‘teenagers’, not ‘the teenagers’. (4) ‘encouraged to develop their own personalities’ (5) ‘help us to avoid making’. One ‘makes’ mistakes; one does not ‘do’ mistakes. (6) This sentence is empty and tells us nothing about how salt is used symbolically in the short story.


Second essay: coming soon