4.3 Theory and independence

This component is designed to allow students to read widely, to choose their own texts (if appropriate) and to understand that contemporary study of literature needs to be informed by the fact that different theoretical and critical methods can be applied to the subject. This area of the course provides a challenging and wide-ranging opportunity for an introduction to different ways of reading texts and for independent study. The title 'Theory and independence' highlights the important idea that, within a literature course, students should have the opportunity to work as independently as possible. A range of differentiated texts and tasks will ideally be seen across a school’s or college's non-exam assessment submission for this component.

This process is supported by the AQA Critical anthology, which has accessible extracts on the following critical methods and ideas:

  • narrative theory
  • feminist theory
  • Marxist theory
  • eco-critical theory
  • post-colonial theory
  • literary value and the canon.

In this component, students write about two different literary texts. One of the texts must be a poetry text and the other must be prose. Each text must be linked to a different section of the Critical anthology. Students cannot choose texts from any of the A-Level exam set text lists.

Texts chosen for study must allow access to a range of critical views and interpretations, including over time, and must maximise opportunities for writing with reference to the AQA Critical anthology.

The study of the Critical anthology supports the exploration of different meanings in literary texts and offers different ways of reading. Having explored their chosen text in the light of some critical ideas, students then demonstrate their understanding through their written work, comprising of two pieces of writing, one on each of the chosen texts. Students produce two essays of 1250-1500 words. One response will be a conventional essay; the second can be re-creative. It is possible to submit two conventional responses.

A conventional essay will focus on debate and explore potential meanings in a literary text using critical theories and ideas. A conventional task drawing on the post-colonial section might be:

'Forster has written A Passage to India in such a way that it is impossible to sympathise with any of the English characters as there is so little to redeem them.

Using ideas from the Critical anthology to inform your argument, to what extent do you agree with this view?'

A re-creative response allows students to explore aspects of a text and its potential meanings and at the same time show enjoyment in the creative aspects of their task. The purpose of a re-creative response is to offer a critical reading of the base text that has been informed by working with the Critical anthology.

Re-creative work can find the ‘narrative gaps’ or ‘absence’ in a base text and by filling some of these gaps students offer a critical reading of the text. New light can be shed on a text and its potential ambiguities by re-creating part of it through a new voice and genre. New light can also be shed on a conventional reading of a text by offering a reading from a different critical and/or contextual starting point.

There is no requirement for students to replicate the form and language of the chosen base text, but the selection of narrative voice matters. It is often far more effective and interesting to present the point of view of a character who is at times marginalised as a voice in the base text.

The re-creative piece is accompanied by a commentary which needs to establish a clear connection between the re-creative piece, the base text and the relevant section of the Critical anthology. The commentary should illustrate the significant choices that have been made in the production of the re-creative piece and explain how those choices led to a critical reading.

A re-creative task drawing from the sections on feminist theory and/or Marxist theory might be:

'Write a series of journal entries by Miss Kenton written at different points in the narrative of The Remains of the Day in which she reflects on her treatment by Stevens and others at Darlington Hall.

Use ideas from the Critical anthology to inform your work and include a commentary explaining how you have explored ideas from feminism and/or Marxism in your re-creative piece.'

4.3.1 Text selection

The following conditions apply to the texts chosen:
  • students must study one prose and one poetry text
  • set texts listed for the A-level exam components cannot be used for non-exam assessment, even if they will not be used in the exam.

All texts must be suitable for A-level study and should reflect the quality of the texts used for the exams. It is important that students are able to cover all of the assessment objectives while studying the text.

The poetry text could be either one longer narrative poem or a single authored collection of shorter poems. If using a collection of poetry and writing a conventional response, students must have studied the whole rext and select at least two poems to write about in detail as examples of the wider collection. If using a selection of poetry and writing a re-creative response, students must have studied the whole text and will choose an appropriate part of the base text as the focus for their re-creative piece, and thus it is acceptable to focus on a single poem.

Single authored collections of short stories are permissible. If using a collection of short stories, students must have studied the whole text and select at least two stories to write about in detail as examples of the wider collection. If using a collection of short stories and writing a re-creative response, students must have studied the whole text and will choose an appropriate part of the base text as the focus for their re-creative piece, and thus it is acceptable to focus on a single short story.

Texts chosen for study may include one text in translation that has been influential and significant in the development of literature in English. The translated text should be treated as the original writer's own words for assessment purposes. Therefore, schools and colleges should ensure that they use a version recognised by academia as being a high quality translation which supports the original author's writing appropriately.

NEA prohibited texts

Students cannot use the following texts for non-exam assessment as they appear on the exam set text lists.


Author Text
Kate Atkinson When Will There Be Good News?
Margaret Atwood The Handmaid’s Tale
W. H. Auden Miss Gee
Jane Austen Emma


Author Text
John Betjeman Death in Leamington
William Blake Songs of Innocence and Experience
Robert Browning The Laboratory
Robert Browning My Last Duchess
Robert Browning Porphyria’s Lover
Robert Burns Tam o’ Shanter (A Tale)


Author Text
Geoffrey Chaucer Extracts from the Prologue of The Monk’s Tale
Geoffrey Chaucer The Monk’s Tale
Geoffrey Chaucer The Nun’s Priest’s Tale including Prologue and Epilogue
Agatha Christie The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
Samuel Taylor Coleridge The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
George Crabbe Peter Grimes
Jim Crace Harvest


Author Text
Charles Dickens Oliver Twist
Charles Dickens Hard Times
John Donne The Flea
Carol Ann Duffy Mrs Sisyphus


Author Text
U. A. Fanthorpe Not My Best Side
F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby
Robert Frost Out, out -


Author Text
Oliver Goldsmith She Stoops to Conquer
Graham Greene Brighton Rock


Author Text
Thomas Hardy Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Thomas Hardy The Convergence of the Twain
Tony Harrison V
Tony Harrison National Trust
Tony Harrison Them and [uz]
Tony Harrison Divisions
Tony Harrison Working
Tony Harrison Marked with D
Khaled Hosseini The Kite Runner


Author Text
Henrik Ibsen A Doll’s House


Author Text
John Keats Lamia
John Keats Isabella or The Pot of Basil
John Keats La Belle Dame Sans Merci
John Keats The Eve of St. Agnes


Author Text
Philip Larkin Sunny Prestatyn
Andrew Levy Small Island
Liz Lochhead My Rival’s House


Author Title
Ian McEwan Atonement
Arthur Miller Death of a Salesman
John Milton Extract from ‘Paradise Lost’


Author Title
Christina Rossetti Jessie Cameron


Author Title
William Shakespeare Othello
William Shakespeare King Lear
William Shakespeare Richard II
William Shakespeare The Taming of the Shrew
William Shakespeare Twelfth Night
William Shakespeare Hamlet
William Shakespeare Henry IV Part I
Jonathan Swift A Satirical Elegy On the Death of a Late Famous General


Author Title
Alfred Tennyson Tithonus


Author Title
Oscar Wilde The Importance of Being Ernest
Oscar Wilde The Ballad of Reading Gaol


Author Title
W. B. Yeats The Death of Cuchulain