Pineapple and Tomato Paste

play by Mark Konik , illustrated by Michel Streich

Learning Intention:

I am learning how a composer uses tension in an imaginative text so that I can understand the features which make texts engaging to read.

Success Criteria:

  • I can define the literary term tension.
  • I can plot the changes in tension over time using a line graph.
  • I can explain why a composer uses rising tension in a text.

Essential knowledge:

  • More information about how the author has a unique way of structuring textual features such as tension can be found in the English Textual Concepts videoStyle.

Prior to reading the play, define the term tension: the elements of a story that create emotions such as worry, fear or irritation on the part of both the characters and, in turn, the reader. The highest point on the graph (the most tense moment) is called the climax.

Brainstorm a list of common examples of tension in a text: cliffhangers, flashforwards, flashbacks, life-threatening situations and misunderstandings between characters.

Read the play as a class. After reading, highlight the steadily rising tension throughout the play.

Create a tension graph on the board. Label the x-axis (horizontal line) time. Label the y-axis (vertical line) rising tension. Then complete the graphs using the steps outlined below. You may initially model how to plot tension before gradually releasing responsibility to the students.

First, as a class determine how to measure time in the play. The most obvious way would be based on the series of phone conversations that Brent has / the number of operators that Brent speaks to. However, students may come up with other ingenious ways to measure time.

Second, label the time increments in the play along the x-axis.

Third, for each time and event associated rank the level of tension felt by Brent. This is achieved through making a cross sign at the appropriate junction of the x-axis and y-axis. Again, you may wish to lead a class discussion initially on how to make this judgement.

Finally, once all time periods have been ranked according to tension, connect all the crosses to make a line graph.

Discuss the results of the tension graph with the class. Students should notice a steadily increasing line, with a slight dip at the end, when Brent believed that he had finally found someone who would make his pizza. The tension then rises further still at the play’s conclusion when Brent finds out that the shop has run out of pineapple and his problem remains unresolved.

Then discuss the function of tension in this play. Usually, the emotion of tension is shared by the character and audience. However, in this play while Brent becomes increasingly agitated as he is transferred through a series of operators, the audience finds the situation funny rather than stressful.

Extension: explain that tension is a key feature of Mark Konik’s writing, however it is often used for different effects. Ask students to complete a tension graph on another one of his stories and compare the different ways that he uses tension in imaginative texts. (Suggested story: ‘Loud and Clear’, Orbit Issue 1, 2023.)