With or without ambitions

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Corpus Corpus 1 With or without ambitions

Séries générales • LV1


Idée de progrès


France métropolitaine • Septembre 2014

Séries générales • LV1

  text 1  Taking the social lift

Only one year ago the Smithforks were like families in East New York, Brooklyn. They lived in a brownstone house, built in 1880, that, except for plumbing and electricity, had not had much done to it since then. Their mom, Anne, loved architectural history, and she couldn’t bear to modernize old buildings. To her, adding ­conveniences to a building meant losing its original character. “Think of the family that built this house,” she would say. “Think how proud they were of this paneled wall, even if it has termites in it.” She had painted the old oak floors of their Brooklyn house green, and that’s how they had stayed – warped and green – the entire time the Smithforks lived there.

Maybe the best thing about their Brooklyn home was that they had a yard. It wasn’t much of a yard, so small and their mom said she could mow the lawn with her tweezers. Still, it was a piece of the earth that was theirs, and they could go outside whenever they wanted.

Now they were Manhattanites. It seemed everyone lived in apartments here, stacked on top of one another just like the moving boxes. Worst of all, their mom was too busy to spend her days with them the way she always had. She was meeting with interior decorators and shopping for furniture, and she hired Maricel, a stern woman from the Philippines, to be their nanny. Maricel was efficient and professional and used to working with families more structured than their own.

Their father wasn’t strict at all. Mr Smithfork used to be poor and now was rich. After college, when his friends went to work for investment banks on Wall Street, Bruce Smithfork couldn’t pull himself away from games – specifically video games. Not only was he good at playing them, he liked to invent them. He started a company in their Brooklyn basement called LeCube, and his game, the PeeWee, was a big seller.

Then something happened that changed everything. Bruce ­Smithfork sent the PeeWee to one of his friends for his fortieth birthday. His friend, who worked on Wall Street, liked it so much, he told Mr Smithfork that his game was better than any game he had ever played, and Mr Smithfork should take his company to the public, giving the family a lot of cash and allowing the company to be traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

Within weeks, their Brooklyn living room filled with men in suits. They spread long rolls of paper on the scuffed-up table and punched numbers into calculators. They drank a lot of coffee.

Finally the day came when the men in suits left and Mr Smith­fork rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange. The kids couldn’t believe it when he came home and said, “Hey, we’re millionaires!” He swung their mom, Anne, around, and they all went out to eat at a diner. They ordered whatever they wanted and didn’t take home the leftovers. After that, Bruce Smithfork went to work every day in a Manhattan office and wore a suit. He had real employees, rather than his own kids, to test his games on. He had shareholders who insisted his company grow and make more and more money.

Anne Smithfork spent most of her time getting ready to move the family out of Brooklyn. She searched Manhattan for the perfect apartment she shopped for furniture and curtains and schools for children. She was rarely around during the day anymore.

Maureen Sherry, Walls Within Walls, 2012.

  Text 2  An austere way of life

Miles Heller is a young New Yorker living in Florida.

He is twenty-eight years old, and to the best of his knowledge he has no ambitions. No burning ambitions, in any case, no clear idea of what building a plausible future might entail for him. He knows that he will not stay in Florida much longer, that the moment is coming when he will feel the need to move on again, but until that need ripens into a necessity to act, he is content to remain in the present and not look ahead. If he has accomplished anything in the seven and a half years since he quit college and struck out on his own, it is this ability to live in the present, to confine himself to the here and now, and although it might not be the most ­laudable ­accomplishment one can think of, it has required ­considerable ­discipline and self-control for him to achieve it. To have no plans, which is to say, to have no longings or hopes, to be satisfied with your lot, to accept what the world doles out1 to you from one sunrise to the next – in order to live like that you must want very little, as little as humanly possible.

Bit by bit, he has pared down2 his desires to what is now approaching a bare minimum. He has cut out smoking and drinking, he no longer eats in restaurants, he does not own a television, a radio, or a computer. He would like to trade in his car for a bicycle, but he can’t get rid of the car, since the distances he must travel for work are too great. The same applies to the cell phone he carries around in his pocket, which he would dearly love to toss in the garbage, but he needs it for work as well and therefore can’t do without it. […] His rent is low, since he lives in a small apartment in a poor neigh­borhood, and beyond spending money on bedrock3 20 necessities, the only luxury he allows himself is buying books, paperback books, mostly novels, American novels, British novels, foreign novels in translation, but in the end books are not luxuries so much as ­necessities, and reading is an addiction he has no wish to be cured of.

Paul Auster, Sunset Park, 2010.

1. to dole out : to offer.

2. to pare down : to reduce.

3. bedrock : basic.


Text 1

1 Say whether the following statements about the place where the family lived in Brooklyn are right or wrong. Justify your choice by quoting from the text.

1. It was old and very much in its original state.

2. It was in good condition.

3. It made them feel at home.

4. It made them feel closed-in.

2 Indicate in two sentences the two main changes which occurred in the family’s situation.

3 Choose the right statement to explain how these changes happened. Justify with a quotation.

1. The father went to work for an investment bank.

2. The family won the lottery.

3. The mother became a successful interior decorator.

4. The father invented a successful video game.

5. They sold the house and got a lot of money for it.

4 1. Quote two elements from the text that show how these changes affected Bruce Smithfork.

2. Quote two elements from the text that show how these changes affected the children.

Text 2

5 Choose the two adjectives which best describe Miles Heller. Justify your choice by quoting from the text.

ambitious – depressed – impatient – serene – frustrated – lazy – austere

6 Give at least three elements to describe the place where he lives.

7 What is the only activity he values Answer in one sentence.

Both texts

8 In your own words briefly compare and contrast Anne Smithfork’s and Miles Heller’s lifestyle choices.

Seul(e)s les candidat(e)s des séries S, ES et L traiteront la question 9.

9 Which of Bruce Smithfork and Miles Heller has more control over his life Justify with elements from the text.

Seul(e)s les candidat(e)s de la série L option LVA traiteront la question 10.

10 Briefly comment on the characters’ evolution in terms of spatial and social mobility.

EXPRESSION  10 points

1 One evening the Smithforks and their children talk about their new life and how they feel about it. Write their conversation. (150 mots au moins)

Seul(e)s les candidat(e)s des séries ES, S et L traiteront la question suivante.

2 To what extent can material possessions contribute to happiness (150 mots au moins)

Seul(e)s les candidat(e)s de la série L option LVA traiteront la question suivante.

3 To what extent do you believe the “ability to live in the present” (Text 2, l. 9) can be a key to a happy life (150 mots au moins)

Les clés du sujet

Texte 1


Maureen Sherry n’a publié pour l’heure qu’un roman, Walls within Walls, inspiré par ses quatre enfants et l’appartement dans lequel elle venait d’emménager. Elle a imaginé un mystère concernant les anciens propriétaires.

Pour en savoir plus : maureensherry.com

Résumé du texte

Un an auparavant, les Smithfork vivaient humblement à Brooklyn. La mère refusait d’altérer le caractère ancien du logement par respect pour l’architecture, mais la famille profitait du minuscule jardin. Suite au succès inattendu d’un jeu vidéo, créé par le père, qui se retrouve coté en Bourse, leur vie change. La famille habite désormais dans un appartement à Manhattan. La mère ne songe plus qu’à la décoration intérieure et engage une nounou philippine pour s’occuper des enfants.

Vocabulaire utile à la compréhension

Conveniences, l. 6 (des commodités)  warped, l. 10 (déformé)  a yard, l. 13 (un jardin)  to mow the lawn, l. 14 (tondre la pelouse)  tweezers, l. 14 (une pince à épiler)  stacked, l. 18 (empilé)  the moving boxes, l. 18-19 (les cartons de déménagement)  to hire, l. 21 (engage)  a nanny, l. 22 (une nounou)  the basement, l. 30 (le sous-sol)  in suits, l. 39-40 (en costume)  scuffed-up, l. 40 (éraflé)  to swing around, l. 45 (soulever et faire tourner)  the leftovers, l. 47 (les restes)  shareholders, l. 49 (des actionnaires).

Texte 2


Paul Auster (1947-) est un célèbre romancier américain, qui a publié notamment The New York Trilogy. Il a aussi réalisé quelques films et écrit des scénarios. Il a vécu quelques années en France mais son œuvre évoque principalement New York, sa ville natale.

Pour en savoir plus : www.enotes.com/topics/paul-auster

Résumé du texte

Il s’agit de la description d’un jeune homme de vingt-huit ans caractérisé par l’inaction et la passivité. Depuis la fin de ses études, il vit dans le présent, sans perspective d’avenir et sans ambition. Il a réduit sa vie au minimum, sans loisirs, sans rencontres, isolé du monde, néanmoins il ne peut se passer de livres.

Vocabulaire utile à la compréhension

Entail, l. 3 (signifier, impliquer)  to ripen, l. 6 (mûrir)  content, l. 6 (satisfait)  to strike out on your own, l. 8-9 (voler de ses propres ailes / devenir indépendant)  laudable, l. 10 (louable)  longings, l. 13 (aspirations)  a bare minimum, l. 18 (un minimum vital)  to cut out, l. 18 (arrêter)  to get rid of, l. 21 (se débarrasser de)  to toss, l. 23 (jeter)  the rent, l. 25 (le loyer).

Les points de convergence

Les deux textes ont un point commun : un certain rejet du confort matériel. Le premier texte met en scène le rejet de la mère qui refuse de transformer sa maison au détriment d'un meilleur confort. Le second présente celui du jeune homme qui ne vit que pour ses livres au détriment de tout autre plaisir ou intérêt. Cependant, ces textes s’opposent dans leur dynamique : le premier décrit une famille propulsée dans les sphères riches de Manhattan, rencontrant un succès financier qui bouscule leur mode de vie et leur vision des choses, tandis que le second montre un homme figé dans le présent à qui, semble-t-il, il n’arrivera jamais rien.

Le sujet d’expression

Pistes de recherche

Reprendre les éléments distillés dans le texte : la frustration possible des enfants de ne plus voir autant leur mère, l’abandon du petit jardin à Brooklyn, le confort, certes, mais aussi la société de consommation…

Vocabulaire utile

Consumer society (société de consommation)  complain about (se plaindre de)  to afford (avoir les moyens de), wish + prétérit modal (expression du regret).

Le sujet d’expression

Pistes de recherche

On dit que l’argent ne fait pas le bonheur. Ce peut être le cas, tel que le souligne le premier texte, si ce qu’il apporte est au détriment de sa famille ou va à l’encontre des choses importantes de la vie. Posséder des biens matériels procure une satisfaction immédiate et nous inscrit dans la société de consommation, mais est-ce réellement utile ou important  Des valeurs comme la famille, l’amitié, comptent sans doute bien davantage.

Vocabulaire utile

Money can’t buy happiness (l’argent ne fait pas le bonheur)  goods (des biens de consommation)  to matter (compter)  at the expense of (aux dépens de).

Le sujet d’expression

Pistes de recherche

Le deuxième texte montre que vivre dans le présent peut être positif  en effet, est-on maître de son destin  Tout peut arriver, autant donc en profiter, comme le disent les épicuriens (carpe diem). Cependant, ne pas se projeter dans l’avenir peut poser des problèmes : peut-on se contenter de vivre de façon médiocre, sans espoir d’amélioration 

Vocabulaire utile

Take advantage of, enjoy (profiter de)  be content with (se satisfaire de)  to improve/change for the better (s’améliorer).




Text 1

1 1. “They lived in a brownstone house, built in 1880, that, except for plumbing and electricity, had not had much done to it since then” (l. 2-4).

2. “even if it has termites in it” (l. 8-9) / “warped” (l. 10) / “except for plumbing and electricity, had not had much done to it since then” (l. 3-4).

3. “Still, it was a piece of the earth that was theirs” (l. 14-15).

4. “They could go outside whenever they wanted” (l. 15-16).

2 First, they went from rags to riches, or almost, as they became ­millionaires overnight. Second, which is a consequence of the first, they moved from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

34. The father invented a successful video game: “and his game, the Pee Wee, was a big seller” (l. 30-31)

4 1. “Bruce Smithfork went to work every day in a Manhattan office and wore a suit” (l. 47-48) / “He had shareholders who insisted his company grow and make more and more money” (l. 49-50) / He had real employees, rather than his own kids, to test his games on (l. 48-49)

2. “She hired Maricel, a stern woman from the Philippines, to be their nanny” (l. 21-22) / “their mum was too busy to spend her days with them” (l. 19-20) / “They ordered whatever they wanted and didn’t take home the leftovers.” (l. 46-47) / “He had real employees, rather than his own kids, to test his games on” (l. 48-49)

Text 2

5 Serene: “he is content to remain in the present” (l. 6-7) / “to have no longings or hopes, to be satisfied with your lot” (l. 13).

Austere: “he has pared down his desires to what is now approaching a bare minimum” (l. 17-18) / “he does not own a television, a radio or a computer” (l. 19-20).

6 He lives in a poor neighbourhood in Florida, far from work, where he owns a small cheap apartment.

7 What he values most of all is reading novels.

Both texts

8 At the beginning their choices are similar regarding their way of life: although he isn’t poor, Miles Heller has decided to let go of material comfort and go back to basics, while Anne prefers authenticity at the expense of conveniences. But they differ after Anne’s change of life, which makes her shop and look for material comfort.

Uniquement pour les candidat(e)s des séries S, ES et L.

9 Paradoxically, Miles seems to have more control (l. 11-12: “It has required considerable discipline and self-control”), although there is still one thing he is addicted to, reading. On the contrary, when Bruce has a bout of luck he makes no real effort to limit the consequences of this unexpected change in his life.

Uniquement pour les candidat(e)s de la série L option LVA.

10 The two texts are totally opposed in that matter, as text one is an illustration of upward mobility as well as actual mobility (moving to Manhattan) – but it leads the whole family to consumerism and degraded relationships – while although text two shows someone apparently immobile, this person still has cultural interests and control over his life.


1 Guidelines

That night, for the first time for weeks, the whole family gathered around the table for dinner.

“It’s nice to have you for dinner, Bruce,” Anne said. “It’s been a while.”

“You too, mum…” one of the kids mumbled.

“What do you mean ”

“!” the girl retorted. “In the past, you used to read us stories before going to bed! Now, it’s all over.”

“But Maricel is there to do that.”

“Yes, but it’s not the same.”

“,” one of the boys added. “I miss playing on the grass. And I miss being with you.”

“But we can afford anything we want now!” Bruce said. “ ”

“I simply wish you hadn’t given in to consumer society and still cared for your family.”

“Oh come on! Can’t we all happy here together, and make the most of ­everything that we have ” Anne replied.

“Forget it…” the boy mumbled again. “It doesn’t matter”.

2 Guidelines

Un peu de vocabulaire

To lack: manquer.

To provide: fournir.

, as the saying goes, but it’s always better not to lack it.

On the one hand, getting material possessions can make you feel more secure, and provide . It is thought to be very difficult to live without the basic necessities that money can provide, and in our consumer society, it is sometimes difficult to do without the latest trendy mobile phone or tablet.

But very often, we tend to forget what we have just received in order to moon over a new object – a laptop, a television set or any other technological device… Money enables us to have a more comfortable and easier life, but on the other hand, it : love, friendship and other similar values.

Sometimes, too much money can bring quite the opposite to happiness: think of all those child stars and new celebrities who can never know if the people that are interested in them are just there for the money!

Personally, I’d prefer to be poor and happy than rich and friendless!