If you study HSC English, then you’ve probably heard of textual integrity. It’s one of those concepts that students often struggle with because it’s incredibly abstract and confusing to wrap your head around. Don’t fret. In this article, we’re going to clarify what it means and even include some examples!
Note that textual integrity is particularly important to understand when studying Module B and writing your essay.
What is textual integrity?
First off, let’s clarify what textual integrity means.
Textual integrity, as NESA describes it, is “the unity of a text; its coherent use of form and language to produce an integrated whole in terms of meaning and value”. To put it simply, it’s the way in which different elements of a text come together, to convey a specific message that is valuable to modern-day audiences.
Imagine the different elements of a piece of text (such as its themes, form, techniques, characters, messaging etc.) to be different pieces of a huge jigsaw puzzle. Textual integrity is basically “how well do all the elements, the puzzle pieces, come together to form a nice big picture?”
To help you understand it better, here are some questions you could ask yourself, or even jot down some notes for:
What ideas or messages are created by this text? Could this message have been conveyed without all the pieces? Lastly, why is this message even important, and why do we continue to discuss these ideas decades or even centuries after the author wrote the text?
Students develop detailed analytical skills in Module B
How can I tell if a text has textual integrity?
To help break down the concept of textual integrity, here are some key terms that describe texts with textual integrity:
Organic unity refers to how all the elements of form, content (themes), and techniques come together to create a cohesive whole.
What are the main ideas or themes discussed in this text? Based on what the author has written, what is their perspective or message on these themes? How does their use of techniques contribute to this messaging? How does their use of form (e.g. choice of writing a play versus writing a poem) contribute to the message?
In other words, a text that consistently presents the same perspective on a topic through different elements such as its thematic content, choice of textual form, structural composition, and techniques, has organic unity.
Edwin Landseer, William Shakespeare, Dream Scene of a Summer Night
Universal themes that are relevant to the human condition (i.e. key events or characteristics essential to the human experience) that are experienced by people across different contexts, times, cultures, and backgrounds. Common themes include love, identity, power, and death, to name a few. This is important for textual integrity because discussing universal themes gives a text enduring relevance. It helps audiences interact and relate to the author’s message, and draw comparisons with their personal experiences, which helps them create meaning.
Think about the context in which this text was written (e.g. 500 years ago in Elizabethan England, where there was a rigid social class structure), and how that influences what the author is saying about a particular topic. How is this same topic viewed in our modern times?
Texts with textual integrity can often generate critical discussion amongst modern audiences due to their intentional ambiguity in meaning. By being deliberately open to interpretation, it allows the audience to interpret, express views, and contribute their own opinions to a broader societal discussion. By perpetuating a discussion, these texts can also provide more value to the reader/audience.
Why is textual integrity important?
When analysing texts in your English essays, many students understand the importance of finding quotes and analysing them. Now, this is great and is important to back up your overall argument. In fact, the importance of this has been demonstrated in our previous article “Ultimate Guide to English Literature Techniques”.
However, to achieve that high Band 6 mark, and to distinguish yourself from the masses, you want to show that your knowledge extends beyond surface-level analysis. This is where textual integrity comes in. As mentioned before, this concept is particularly important in Module B (Critical Study of Literature).
Having critical knowledge of textual integrity means you have analysed the text in terms of organic unity, its discussion of universal themes, and whether it sparks critical engagement. If you’re looking at a collection of texts (e.g. a selection of poetry, like T.S Eliot’s), and thought about how they work in conjunction with one another - how do they support one another? How do they work together to create an image or message that may not have been able to convey when looking at each other in isolation? Including these in your essays and personal responses brings your response up a notch, and helps you perform well in Module B.
Breaking this down with some examples…
Status, Henry IV, King of England
Organic Unity in King Henry IV Part 1 by William Shakespeare
One of the key themes in this play is the theme of order and disorder. This theme underpins much of the play. For example, we see brewing tensions between the House of Lancaster and the House of York, as well as King Henry’s precarious claim to the throne leading to political unrest, throwing the country into disorder. We also see a breakdown of social order when nobility and lower class interact with each other (e.g. the characters of Hal and Falstaff interacting in the tavern), which is unusual in a society with limited social mobility (which was Shakespeare’s context when writing the play, and also the period where the play was set). Much of the play depicts this yin-and-yang struggle between order and disorder on multiple levels and plotlines. However, we see some order being restored at the end of the play, following the Battle of Shrewsbury, where Hal resolves tensions with his father through an act of heroic redemption. Despite this, we get the sense that there is still disorder in the country, to be discussed in King Henry IV Part 2. This ending raises an interesting question - is it even possible to be entirely rid of order or disorder? We see a similar exploration of order and disorder through the dramatic construction of the play, namely the deliberate organisation of court and tavern scenes in an almost alternating manner, as if reflecting the concept that one must follow the other. Shakespeare might even be suggesting that order and disorder exist in tandem, forever. Hence through both themes and structure, Shakespeare presents a view on order and disorder, giving this play organic unity.
Learn more with this deep dive by written by Marko Beocanin (8th in NSW for English Advanced) and Katriel Tan: “Module B: King Henry IV - Critical Study of Literature”. In addition, to help you generate new ideas and get more value of our your study, here is a link to a state ranker exemplar essay written by Marko on King Henry IV for Module B.
Creative and critical texts by T.S. Eliot - poetry and books
Textual Integrity in T.S Eliot’s Poetry
Let’s look toward T.S Eliot’s poetry for an example of textual integrity. Usually when studying a poet, you are given a selection of their poetry to look at. Applying the concept of textual integrity could mean looking at each of the poems which you have selected to study in Module B, and attempting to find common themes and ideas across each of them.
So, when looking at Eliot’s poetry cohesively, rather than in singular fragments - it is clear that Eliot’s poetry is dominated by his critique of the modern world. Eliot consistently refers to the idea of how individuals and their societies work alongside one another to perpetuate the scary and unknown realities of modern life. It can be argued that Eliot’s poem ‘Preludes’ establishes the nature of this society, which is hostile and bleak. His poem, ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ works alongside this to show us the lives of individuals living within this society. However, this is something that can only be observed when looking at his poetry as a whole, rather than simply attempting to analyse them individually.
Learn more in this exemplar Module B essay written by Project Academy English tutor Fenna Kroon: “T.S. Eliot Exemplar Essay - Module B HSC English Advanced”
Marko Beocanin, Project Academy English tutor
Learn how to write 20/20 HSC English Advanced essays
Now that you’ve learnt textual integrity, our English tutor Marko Beocanin (8th in NSW for English Advanced) has written a guide on how to consistently achieve 20/20’s in English Advanced. Be sure to use this as you prepare for your next essay. If you are also curious about learning from Project Academy, learn more about our popular HSC English Advanced courses today