Of Mice and Men – AQA Literature Past Papers

Of Mice and Men: with Notes (Longman literature: Steinbeck)


Please find below all Of Mice and Men questions from the AQA Literature exam from the past few years. As you can see, the question provides you with a short extract from the novel, and asks you to read the passage before answering part A and part B.

  • Part A asks you to closely analyse the methods and techniques used by Steinbeck to create a particular atmosphere, describe an important setting, convey a particular theme or present an interesting character. It is imperative that you think carefully about why Steinbeck has chosen specific words and images, and the effect this creates in the reader. For this question, really ZOOM IN on the connotations of language and feelings presented.
  • Part B will ask you to link the extract to the social, historical and cultural context of the novel – 1930s America. You will have to ZOOM OUT on the extract to examine how it demonstrates what life was like for those living in this particular time period, and how this is also presented in the rest of the novel.

You should spend no more than 45 minutes answering this question. There is no set rule, but I personally recommend that you focus on part A for 25 minutes, leaving 20 minutes for part B and proofreading your work.

The question is marked out of 30, with four marks being awarded for accurate and sophisticated spelling, punctuation and grammar. Therefore, please ensure that you edit your work in the final few minutes of the exam, correcting simple mistakes.

Finally, feel free to attempt any of the following questions and add your response in the comments section. I will happily mark all answers and provide you with critical feedback.



Higher Tier Of Mice and Men – Jan 2011


Read the passage and then answer part (a) and part (b).


The old man was reassured. He had drawn a derogatory statement from George. He felt safe now, and he spoke more confidently. ‘Wait’ll you see Curley’s wife.’

George cut the cards again and put out a solitaire lay, slowly and deliberately.

‘Purty?’ he asked casually.

‘Yeah. Purty … but ––’

George studied his cards. ‘But what?’

‘Well – she got the eye.’

‘Yeah? Married two weeks and got the eye? Maybe that’s why Curley’s pants is full of ants.’

‘I seen her give Slim the eye. Slim’s a jerkline skinner. Hell of a nice fella. Slim don’t need to wear no high-heeled boots on a grain team. I seen her give Slim the eye. Curley never seen it. An’ I seen her give Carlson the eye.’

George pretended a lack of interest. ‘Looks like we was gonna have fun.’

The swamper stood up from his box. ‘Know what I think?’ George did not answer.

‘Well, I think Curley’s married … a tart.’

‘He ain’t the first,’ said George. ‘There’s plenty done that.’

The old man moved toward the door, and his ancient dog lifted his head and peered about, and then got painfully to his feet to follow. ‘I gotta be settin’ out the wash basins for the guys. The teams’ll be in before long. You guys gonna buck barley?’


‘You won’t tell Curley nothing I said?’

‘Hell no.’

‘Well, you look her over, mister. You see if she ain’t a tart.’ He stepped out the door into the brilliant sunshine.


Part (a)

(a) What methods does Steinbeck use in this passage to present Candy?

 and then Part (b)

(b) How do you think Steinbeck uses the character of Candy in the novel as a whole to

convey important ideas about society at that time? (30 marks)



Higher Tier Of Mice and Men – Jun 2011

G and L

Read the passage and then answer part (a) and part (b)


‘I don’t want no fights,’ said Lennie. He got up from his bunk and sat down at the table, across from George. Almost automatically George shuffled the cards and laid out his solitaire hand. He used a deliberate, thoughtful, slowness.

Lennie reached for a face card and studied it, then turned it upside down and studied it. ‘Both ends the same,’ he said, ‘George, why is it both end’s the same?’

‘I don’t know,’ said George. ‘That’s jus’ the way they make ’em. What was Slim doin’ in the barn when you seen him?’


‘Sure. You seen him in the barn, an’ he tol’ you not to pet the pups so much.’

‘Oh yeah. He had a can a’ tar an’ a paint brush. I don’t know what for.’

‘You sure that girl didn’t come in like she come in here today?’

‘No. She never come.’

George sighed. ‘You give me a good whore house every time,’ he said. ‘A guy can go in an’ get drunk and get ever’thing outta his system all at once, an’ no messes. And he knows how much it’s gonna set him back. These here jail baits is just set on the trigger of the hoosegow.’

Lennie followed his words admiringly, and moved his lips a little to keep up. George continued, ‘You remember Andy Cushman, Lennie? Went to grammar school?’

‘The one that his old lady used to make hot cakes for the kids?’ Lennie asked.

‘Yeah. That’s the one. You can remember anything if there’s anything to eat in it.’

George looked carefully at the solitaire hand. He put an ace up on his scoring rack and piled a two, three and four of diamonds on it. ‘Andy’s in San Quentin right now on account of a tart,’ said George.

Lennie drummed on the table with his fingers. ‘George?’


‘George, how long’s it gonna be till we get that little place an’ live on the fatta the

lan’ – an’ rabbits?’


Part (a)

(a) How do the details in this passage add to your understanding of George and his

relationship with Lennie?

 and then Part (b)

(b) How does Steinbeck use their relationship in the novel as a whole to convey ideas

about America in the 1930s? (30 marks)



Higher Tier Of Mice and Men – Jan 2012


Read the following passage and then answer part (a) and part (b).


The bunk house was a long, rectangular building. Inside, the walls were whitewashed and the floor unpainted. In three walls there were small, square windows, and in the fourth, a solid door with a wooden latch. Against the walls were eight bunks, five of them made up with blankets and the other three showing their burlap ticking. Over each bunk there was nailed an apple box with the opening forward so that it made two shelves for the personal belongings of the occupant of the bunk. And these shelves were loaded with little articles, soap and talcum powder, razors and those Western magazines ranch men love to read and scoff at and secretly believe. And there were medicines on the shelves, and little vials, combs; and from nails on the box sides, a few neckties. Near one wall there was a black cast-iron stove, its stove-pipe going

straight up through the ceiling. In the middle of the room stood a big square table littered with playing cards, and around it were grouped boxes for the players to sit on.

At about ten o’clock in the morning the sun threw a bright dust-laden bar through one of the side windows, and in and out of the beam flies shot like rushing stars.

The wooden latch raised. The door opened and a tall, stoop-shouldered old man came in. He was dressed in blue jeans and he carried a big push-broom in his left hand. Behind him came George, and behind George, Lennie.

‘The boss was expectin’ you last night,’ the old man said. ‘He was sore as hell when you wasn’t here to go out this morning.’ He pointed with his right arm, and out of the sleeve came a round stick-like wrist, but no hand. ‘You can have them two beds there,’ he said, indicating two bunks near the stove.

George stepped over and threw his blankets down on the burlap sack of straw that was a mattress. He looked into the box shelf and then picked a small yellow can from it. ‘Say. What the hell’s this?’

‘I don’t know,’ said the old man.

‘Says “positively kills lice, roaches, and other scourges”. What the hell kind of bed you giving us, anyways. We don’t want no pants rabbits.’


Part (a)

How does Steinbeck use details in this passage to present the bunkhouse and its



and then Part (b)

In the rest of the novel, how does Steinbeck present the lives of ranch workers at that

time? (30 marks)



Higher Tier Of Mice and Men – Jun 2012

curleys wife

Read the following passage and then answer part (a) and part (b).


Both men glanced up, for the rectangle of sunshine in the doorway was cut off. A girl was standing there looking in. She had full, rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes, heavily made up. Her fingernails were red. Her hair hung in little rolled clusters, like sausages. She wore a cotton house dress and red mules, on the insteps of which were little bouquets of red ostrich feathers. ‘I’m lookin’ for Curley,’ she said. Her voice had a nasal, brittle quality.

George looked away from her and then back. ‘He was in here a minute ago, but he


‘Oh!’ She put her hands behind her back and leaned against the door frame so that her body was thrown forward. ‘You’re the new fellas that just come, ain’t ya?’


Lennie’s eyes moved down over her body, and though she did not seem to be looking at Lennie she bridled a little. She looked at her fingernails. ‘Sometimes Curley’s in here,’ she explained.

George said brusquely, ‘Well he ain’t now.’

‘If he ain’t, I guess I better look some place else,’ she said playfully.

Lennie watched her, fascinated. George said, ‘If I see him, I’ll pass the word you was looking for him.’

She smiled archly and twitched her body. ‘Nobody can’t blame a person for lookin’,’ she said. There were footsteps behind her, going by. She turned her head. ‘Hi, Slim,’ she said.

Slim’s voice came through the door, ‘Hi, good-lookin’.’

‘I’m tryin’ to fi nd Curley, Slim.’

‘Well, you ain’t tryin’ very hard. I seen him goin’ in your house.’

She was suddenly apprehensive. ‘Bye, boys,’ she called into the bunk house, and she hurried away.

George looked around at Lennie. ‘Jesus, what a tramp,’ he said. ‘So that’s what Curley picks for a wife.’


Part (a)

In this passage, what methods does Steinbeck use to present Curley’s wife and the

attitudes of others to her? Refer closely to the passage in your answer.

and then Part (b)

How does Steinbeck present attitudes to women in the society in which the novel is set?

(30 marks)



Higher Tier Of Mice and Men – Jan 2013


Read the following passage and then answer Part (a) and Part (b).

Crooks possessed several pairs of shoes, a pair of rubber boots, a big alarm clock and a single-barreled shotgun. And he had books, too; a tattered dictionary and a mauled copy of the California civil code for 1905. There were battered magazines and a few dirty books on a special shelf over his bunk. A pair of large gold-rimmed spectacles hung from a nail on the wall above his bed.

This room was swept and fairly neat, for Crooks was a proud, aloof man. He kept his distance and demanded that other people kept theirs. His body was bent over to the left by his crooked spine, and his eyes lay deep in his head, and because of their depth seemed to glitter with intensity. His lean face was lined with deep black wrinkles, and he had thin, pain-tightened lips which were lighter than his face.

It was Saturday night. Through the open door that led into the barn came the sound of moving horses, of feet stirring, of teeth champing on hay, of the rattle of halter chains. In the stable buck’s room a small electric globe threw a meager yellow light.

Crooks sat on his bunk. His shirt was out of his jeans in back. In one hand he held a bottle of liniment, and with the other he rubbed his spine. Now and then he poured a few drops of the liniment into his pink-palmed hand and reached up under his shirt to rub again. He flexed his muscles against his back and shivered.

Noiselessly Lennie appeared in the open doorway and stood there looking in, his big shoulders nearly fi lling the opening. For a moment Crooks did not see him, but on raising his eyes he stiffened and a scowl came on his face. His hand came out from under his shirt.

Lennie smiled helplessly in an attempt to make friends.

Crooks said sharply, ‘You got no right to come in my room. This here’s my room. Nobody got any right in here but me.’


Part (a)

In this passage, how does Steinbeck present Crooks? Refer closely to the passage in

your answer.


and then Part (b)

In the rest of the novel how does Steinbeck use Crooks to present attitudes to black

people at the time the novel is set? (30 marks)

SPaG: (4 marks) 


Higher Tier Of Mice and Men – June 2013


Read the following passage and then answer Part (a) and Part (b).


A tall man stood in the doorway. He held a crushed Stetson hat under his arm while he combed his long, black, damp hair straight back. Like the others he wore blue jeans and a short denim jacket. When he had finished combing his hair he moved into the room, and he moved with a majesty only achieved by royalty and master craftsmen. He was a jerkline skinner, the prince of the ranch, capable of driving ten, sixteen, even twenty mules with a single line to the leaders. He was capable of killing a fly on the wheeler’s butt with a bull whip without touching the mule. There was a gravity in his manner and a quiet so profound that all talk stopped when he spoke.

His authority was so great that his word was taken on any subject, be it politics or love. This was Slim, the jerkline skinner. His hatchet face was ageless. He might have been thirty-five or fifty. His ear heard more than was said to him, and his slow speech had overtones not of thought, but of understanding beyond thought. His hands, large and lean, were as delicate in their action as those of a temple dancer. He smoothed out his crushed hat, creased it in the middle and put it on. He looked kindly at the two in the bunk house. ‘It’s brighter’n a bitch outside,’ he said gently.

‘Can’t hardly see nothing in here. You the new guys?’

‘Just come,’ said George.

‘Gonna buck barley?’

‘That’s what the boss says.’

Slim sat down on a box across the table from George. He studied the solitaire hand that was upside down to him. ‘Hope you get on my team,’ he said. His voice was very gentle. ‘I gotta pair of punks on my team that don’t know a barley bag from a blue ball. You guys ever bucked any barley?’


Part (a)

In this passage, how does Steinbeck present Slim? Refer closely to the passage in your

and then Part (b)

In the rest of the novel, how does Steinbeck show that some people on the ranch are

considered more important than others? How does this reflect the society in which the

novel is set?(30 marks)


Themes in ‘Of Mice and Men’ – Loneliness


Of Mice and Men is rife with lonely characters, all looking for friendship and a better existence. However, it is interesting to note that no one is really alone: people live and work in close proximity to one another and have different forms of relationships. The theme is introduced early in the novel, when George states to Lennie that ‘Guys like us, who work on the ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place.’ (P31-32) The use of the superlative ‘loneliest’ suggests that the migrant drifters are outcaste from society, hoping that one day they will find their place in the world. However, George goes on to state that he and Lennie are different from other ranch workers as they have each other. Therefore, Steinbeck is creating a world where isolation and loneliness is everywhere, yet friendship is an escape from it.

The friendship formed between George and Lennie is the only true relationship presented in the novel. Characters such as Crooks and Candy are too different from the other ranchers to be viewed as friends; Curley is just too unpleasant and mean; the Boss and Slim may have buddies, but we never meet them as a reader; and Carlson is just a bit of a dick (who really shoots a guy’s dog?) One could suggest that this is Steinbeck’s clever tactic not to overload the short novel with a plethora of unnecessary and forgettable characters (such as Whit – Who? Indeed), but it also helps to emphasise the loneliness of most characters, when compared to the friendship George and Lennie have.

Steinbeck litters his narrative with characters on the ranch who are lonely: rootless souls with no family connection or friends; but the three loneliest people in the novel are those who have no chance of escaping in the future:



Candy is old. He has one hand, the other lost in a farming accident. His best friend is a dog, which Carlson takes out and shoots. As a swamper who cleans the living quarters of the ranch, he is denied the normal, masculine camaraderie of the heavy duty bucking of barley. He apparently has no family he feels he can go and live with in his old age.

Candy’s loneliness is reflected in his eagerness to gossip to newcomers George and Lennie when they arrive on the ranch, and is ready and willing to embrace and fund the dream George shares with Lennie. He enjoys George’s fantasy that he can ‘hoe in the garden even after [he] ain’t no good at it.’ (P88) but has a clear understanding that he will no longer be needed on the ranch soon. Steinbeck uses the metaphor of Candy’s dog to show that time is rapidly running out for him and that the boss will ‘can’ him just as soon as his use becomes unwelcome. Candy laments, ‘You seen what they done to my dog tonight? They say he wasn’t no good to himself nor nobody else. When they can me here I wisht somebody’d shoot me. But they won’t do nothing like that. I won’t have no place to go’. (P. 88) This evokes a feeling of pity and sadness in the reader, as Candy would rather end his suffering than continue his lonely and isolated existence. However, this feeling changes ever-so-slightly when his loneliness is matched by his bitter disappointment and anger when he finds Curley’s wife dead, and realises that now the dream will never come true. However, if one considers the cultural context of the time, as well as how tough and solitary his life is, we could perhaps forgive his lack of sympathy over the death of a ‘tart’ he believes has shattered his future.



Just like many characters in the novel, Steinbeck introduces Crooks from the perspective of other people before we meet him properly in section four. Characteristically, he is ‘aloof’ in his room, where he spends the majority of his time. Crooks is even lonelier than old Candy, due to him being a black, crippled man. He is entirely excluded from the bunk house, except for one occasion mentioned by Candy, when Smitty ‘took after him’ and ‘woulda killed the nigger’ if he was able to use his feet in the fight. (P. 41) In this brief introduction by Candy to George and Lennie, although repeatedly defined as a ‘nigger’, he is also classified as a ‘nice fella, too’, with ‘books in his room’, suggesting that this is one way Crooks stave off the loneliness he suffers as a result of his colour and ‘crooked back where a horse kicked him’ (P41).

Crooks is the only black character in the novel and is proud of the fact that he is not a ‘southern negro’ (P. 102), a reference to him having no recent family history of slavery. Nevertheless, if he was living in the southern states of Mississippi or Alabama, at least he would have much more of a black community around him. Here in Solidad, California, he does not suffer the obvious hatred and aggression of the South but he is very segregated and lonely. His one social outlet is playing horseshoes with the other workers, a game he seems to win a little respect for due to his prowess.

Crooks is a proud man, and it is this pride which makes him reject what he cannot have: Lennie’s friendship and a chance to share their dream of owning their own land. Therefore, when Lennie tries to befriend him at the beginning of section four, Crooks first tries to expel Lennie from his harness room, stating ‘You got no right to come in my room. This here’s my room. Nobody got any right in here but me’ (P. 99-101). Steinbeck’s repetition of the word ‘right’, highlights the fact that Crooks has very few civil rights on the ranch. Furthermore, he seems envious of Lennie’s close relationship with George, enough to torment the defenceless Lennie by suggesting that George has abandoned him forever and thus he will be left alone. Realising that he can state whatever he wishes to Lennie without anyone finding out, he confesses to him, ‘S’pose you couldn’t go in the bunk house and play rummy ‘cause you was black. How’d you like that? S’pose you had to sit out here an’ read books. Sure you could pay horseshoes till it got dark, but then you got to read books. Books ain’t no good. A guy needs somebody – to be near him’ (P. 105). This symbolises the shear isolation and seclusion suffered by Crooks, forcing the reader to empathise with his jealousy over Lennie and George’s friendship. The short pause created by the en dash after ‘needs somebody’ implies that Crooks realises he will always be lonesome, desperate for the need for human company.

Curley’s wife


The loneliness endured by Curley’s wife is different again from that of either Candy or Crooks, and perhaps the most pitiful for a modern reader. She is the only woman on the ranch; therefore she can only turn to her new husband or to other men on the ranch for company, but Curley is jealous and suspicious if other men give her any attention. Curley appears to objectify her, viewing her as one of his possessions. One could argue that it his own self-consciousness which leads him to believe she will be unfaithful. Furthermore, Curley’s aggressive nature means that most of the men will avoid his wife, for fear of losing their jobs. In addition to this, the men see her interest in their company as improper and call her ‘a tart’ and ‘a tramp’ (p. 50). As she states herself, ‘If I catch one guy, and he’s alone, I get along fine with him. But just let two of the guys get together an’ you won’t talk. Jus’ nothing but mad… You’re all scared of each other, that’s what’ (P. 110). It’s interesting to note that she just focuses on talking and nothing else, stressing how lonely she is in the company of her mean-minded and boring husband.

When she confides in Lennie, she again voices her dislike of Curley: ‘I don’t like Curley. He ain’t a nice fella’ (P. 125). The emphasis on like is one of the reasons modern readers feel most pity for her in the novel: some women of the 1930s were expected to marry someone they did not love, yet she is newly wedded to a man she does not even like. Furthermore, Curley’s ‘glove fulla Vaseline’ that ‘he’s keeping soft for his wife’ could represent the constant beatings she receives when he is mad.

Finally, her name also symbolises her loneliness and isolation from society. The fact that she remains nameless evokes a feeling of sorrow in the reader, as this represents the complete lack of power, freedom and identity she has in the novel.


Answer any of the following questions in the comments section below. In your response, try to include quotations, zoom in on the language used by Steinbeck, analyse the effect this creates in the reader, and try to link your ideas to the historical, social and cultural context of the novel.

  1. In your opinion, which character do you consider to be the most lonely? Think of at least three reasons for your answer.
  2. Who is especially lonely because of being ‘proud and aloof’? How does his character represent segregation in the 1930s?
  3. Do you think Curley’s wife’s deserved to be isolated, and even killed, for her relationships with other men?
  4. How is old age represented in the novel and how do the other characters feel about this?
  5. Why does Crooks victimise and bully Lennie in section four?

Any questions, please do not hesitate to ask.

Best wishes,


Glossary of Poetic and Literary Terminology



One simple way to impress the examiner in your literature exams is to demonstrate your understanding of poetic and literary techniques and analyse their different effects. Not only does this titillate the examiner into thinking you are an absolute genius, it is an easy way to extend your comparative analyses. For example, focusing on why two poems are both written in free verse leads you to explore what this implies about the different characters in each poem.

There are different categories of techniques, explored in detail below. Furthermore, there is a very simple and pleasant task to complete at the end.

How the Words Sound:

Words or portions of words can be clustered or juxtaposed to achieve specific kinds of effects when we hear them. The sounds that result can strike us as clever and pleasing, even soothing. Others we dislike and strive to avoid. These various deliberate arrangements of words have been identified.

Alliteration: Repeated consonant sounds at the beginning of words placed near each other, usually on the same or adjacent lines. A somewhat looser definition is that it is the use of the same consonant in any part of adjacent words.

  • Example from Clown Punk: every pixel of that man’s skin is shot through with indelible ink
  • Example from Medusa: My bride’s breath soured, stank

Assonance: Repeated vowel sounds in words placed near each other, usually on the same or adjacent lines.

  • Example from Horse Whisperer: when their horses snorted
  • Example from Clown Punk: three times out of ten you’ll see the town clown

Consonance: Repeated consonant sounds at the ending of words placed near each other, usually on the same or adjacent lines.

  • Example from Singh Song: vee share in di chapatti, vee share in di chutney, after vee hav mad luv like vee rowing through Putney

Onomatopoeia: Words that sound like their meanings

  • Example from Medusa: my thoughts hissed and spat on my scalp

Repetition: The purposeful re-use of words and phrases for an effect. Sometimes, especially with longer phrases that contain a different key word each time, this is called parallelism.

  • Example from Checking Out Me History: Dem tell me, Dem Tell me, Wha dem want to tell me
  • Example from Brendon Gallacher: Oh my Brendon, my Brendon Gallacher

Rhyme: This is the one device most commonly associated techniques used in poetry. Words that have different beginning sounds but whose endings sound alike, including the final vowel sound and everything following it, are said to rhyme.

  • Example from The River God: So I brought her down here to be my beautiful dear

Rhythm: Rhythm is all about vocal patterns. Such patterns are sometimes referred to as meter. Meter is the organization of voice patterns, in terms of both the arrangement of stresses and their frequency of repetition per line of verse. Poetry is organized by the division of each line into “feet,” metric units which each consist of a particular arrangement of strong and weak stresses. The most common metric unit is the iambic, in which an unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed one (as in the words reverse and compose).

A simple guide to meter can be found here: http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/meter.html

You don’t need to need to analyse the different section of stressed and unstressed feet, as this would just stress you out. However, knowing the rhythm could add to your analysis:

  • Example from Clown Punk : The poem consists of a single stanza of 24 lines. Every line is written in pentameters (they have ten syllables each) which could suggest that the speaker will never change his opinion, much like the meter of the poem.


What the Words Mean:

Most words convey several meanings or shades of meaning at the same time. It is the poet’s job to find words which, when used in relation to other words in the poem, will carry the precise intention of thought. Often, some of the more significant words may carry several layers or “depths” of meaning at once and if you can analyse these different layers, you will achieve very high marks.

Allusion: A brief reference to some person, historical event, work of art, or Biblical or mythological situation or character.

  • Example from Medusa: And here you come, with a shield for a heart and a sword for a tongue  (an allusion to Perseus, the killer of the mythological Gorgon, Medusa)

Ambiguity: A word or phrase that can mean more than one thing, even in its context. Poets often search out such words to add richness to their work. Often, one meaning seems quite readily apparent, but other, deeper meanings await those who contemplate the poem.

  • Example from Give: It’s not as if I’m holding out for frankincense or myrrh, just change

Apostrophe: In a dramatic monologue, this is when the speaker is speaking directly to a real or imagined listener or inanimate object; addressing that person or thing by name.

  • Example from My Last Duchess: Will’t plase you sit and look at her?

Connotation: The emotional, psychological or social overtones of a word; its implications and associations apart from its literal meaning.

  • Example from Les Grands Seigneurs: a bit of fluff = sexual plaything

Contrast: Closely arranged things with strikingly different characteristics.

  • Example from Les Grands Seigneurs: The best and worst of times were men

Denotation: The dictionary definition of a word; its literal meaning apart from any associations or connotations.

Hyperbole: An outrageous exaggeration used for effect.

  • Example from Clown Punk: every pixel of that man’s skin is shot through with inedible ink

Irony: A contradictory statement or situation to reveal a reality different from what appears to be true.

  • Example from Give: You give me tea. That’s big of you.

Metaphor: A direct comparison between two unlike things, stating that one is the other or does the action of the other.

  • Example from Les Grands Seigneurs: Men were my dolphins, my performing seals

Oxymoron: A combination of two words that appear to contradict each other.

  • Example from On a Portrait of a Deaf Man: his tie discreetly loud

Personification: Attributing human characteristics to an inanimate object, animal, or abstract idea.

  • Example from The River God: I may be smelly and I may be old – The poet uses the technique of personification to show the qualities of a river

Simile: A direct comparison of two unlike things using “like” or “as.”

  • Example from Horse Whisperer: So I could lead the horses, like helpless children, to safety

Symbol: An ordinary object, event, animal, or person to which we have attached extraordinary meaning and significance:

  • Example from Casehistory: Alison (Head Injury): (She looks at her photograph)


The Structure of Words:

Words follow each other in a sequence determined by the poet. In order to discuss the arrangements that result, certain terms have been applied to various aspects of that arrangement process. Although in some ways these sequences seem arbitrary and mechanical, in another sense they help to determine the nature of the poem. These various ways of organizing words have been identified.

Point of View: The author’s point of view concentrates on the vantage point of the speaker, or “teller” of the poem. This may be considered the poem’s “voice” — the pervasive presence behind the overall work. This is also sometimes referred to as the persona.

Line: The line is fundamental to the perception of poetry, marking an important visual distinction from prose. Poetry is arranged into a series of units that do not necessarily correspond to sentences, but rather to a series of metrical feet. Generally, the line is printed as one single line on the page. If it occupies more than one line, its remainder is usually indented to indicate that it is a continuation.

There is a natural tendency when reading poetry to pause at the end of a line, but the careful reader will follow the punctuation to find where natural pauses should occur.

Stanza: A division of a poem created by arranging the lines into a unit, often repeated in the same pattern of meter and rhyme throughout the poem; a unit of poetic lines (a “paragraph” within the poem). The stanzas within a poem are separated by blank lines

Stanza Forms: The names given to describe the number of lines in a stanzaic unit, such as: couplet (2), tercet (3), quatrain (4), quintet (5), sestet (6), septet (7), and octave (8).

Rhetorical Question: A question solely for effect, which does not require an answer. By the implication the answer is obvious; it is a means of achieving an emphasis stronger than a direct statement.

  • Example from The Ruined Maid: O didn’t you know I’d been ruined?
  • Example from Medusa: Wasn’t I beautiful? Wasn’t I fragrant and young?

Rhyme Scheme: The pattern established by the arrangement of rhymes in a stanza or poem, generally described by using letters of the alphabet to denote the recurrence of rhyming lines, such as the ababbcc of the Rhyme Royal stanza form.

Enjambment: The continuation of a line of poetry.

  • Example from Ozymandias: Round the decay / Of that colossal wreck
  • Example from Les Grands Seigneurs: But after I was wedded, bedded, I became / (yes overnight) a toy, a plaything, little woman

Caesura: The pause in the middle of a line of poetry.

  • Example from Give: I’m on my knees. I beg of you.
  • Example from My Last Duchess: I gave commands; / Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands,

Volta: the turn in thought in a poem that is often indicated by such initial words as But, Yet, or And yet.

  • Example from Les Grands Seigneurs: But after I was wedded, bedded,

Form: The arrangement or method used to convey the content, such as free verse, ballad, haiku, etc. In other words, the “way-it-is-said.”

Examples of different forms:

  • Free Verse: lines with no prescribed pattern or structure — the poet determines all the variables as seems appropriate for each poem: Give, Medusa, Checking Out Me History, Horse Whisperer, The River God
  • Ballad: a narrative poem written as a series of quatrains in which lines of iambic tetrameter alternate with iambic trimeter with frequent use of repetition and often including a refrain: On a Portrait of a Deaf Man
  • Elegy: a poem in memory of someone who is deceased: On a Portrait of a Deaf Man and Brendon Gallacher
  • Sonnet: a fourteen line poem in iambic pentameter with a prescribed rhyme scheme; its subject was traditionally love: The Clown Punk


The Image of Words:

A poet uses words more consciously than any other writer. Although poetry often deals with deep human emotions or philosophical thought, people generally don’t respond very strongly to abstract words, even the words describing such emotions and thoughts. The poet, then, must embed within his work those words which do carry strong visual and sensory impact, words which are fresh and spontaneous but vividly descriptive. He must carefully pick and choose words that are just right. It is better to show the reader than to merely tell him.

Imagery: The use of vivid language to generate ideas and/or evoke mental images, not only of the visual sense, but of sensation and emotion as well. While most commonly used in reference to figurative language, imagery can apply to any component of a poem that evoke sensory experience and emotional response, and also applies to the concrete things so brought to mind.

  • Example from On a Portrait of a Deaf Man:

But now his mouth is wide to let

The London clay come in.

…maggots in his eyes

…now his finger-bones

Stick through his finger-ends.


Sensory Language: The poet’s careful description of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Related images are often clustered or scattered throughout a work, thus serving to create a particular mood or tone.

  • Visual: the deflated face and shrunken scalp (Clown Punk)
  • Auditory: my thoughts hissed and spat on my scalp (Medusa)
  • Tactile (touch): For silver swallow swords, eat fire (Give)
  • Gustatory (taste): He like old City dining rooms, potatoes in their skin (Portrait of Deaf Man)
  • Ofactory (smell): I may be smelly and I may be old (River God)



Now that you have revised all the key poetic and literary terms, try to find at least two example of the same technique. This will be extremely helpful when comparing the poem in your exam. Focus on the different effects the same technique evokes in the reader. Think about whether they are similar or different, and whether they add to the overall attitude or tone of the poem. Post you comments below for others to see!

Finally, if you happen to know of any additional terms, please feel free to add them to the list.

Should you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to ask.

Mr Morris

Themes in the Character and Voice Poems

Apart from to add to your exam stress, each poem in the ‘Character and Voice’ section of your AQA Anthology has been carefully selected by some horribly dull fellow/lady because it conveys a particular theme. The ‘characters’ are depicted by the poets in a variety of ways, sometimes reflecting their own perspective and other times creating a persona by writing in the style and tone of a particular character (for example, Browning didn’t really knock-off his previous wife). Sometimes, the poem depicts the viewpoint of one person; other times we read about individual characters, either imaginary or real, named or unnamed, and asked by the poet to reflect upon how we feel about this particular persona and how we treat each other in everyday society.

As you should know, the exam question will ask you to compare one named poem with another of your choice; therefore, it is imperative you know the key themes that relate to the collection and similarities in the poets’ use of language, imagery and structure. Furthermore, it is your own personal interpretation and response to a poem’s character that is important. Always try to think about the effect on the reader and the poet’s intentions; this will allow you to write deep, perceptive answers to the question and achieve high marks. Finally, it is important to remember that some poems belong to more than one of the following categories:

Isolation and Alienation


This theme is absolutely ruddy everywhere in the English Literature exam: Of Mice and Men, To Kill and Mockingbird, The Woman in Black and the majority of the poetry. Alienation means the rejection or enstrangement from society; the state of being an outsider; of feeling isolated. This can refer to both physical separation, emotional detachment, or often a combination of the two.

The ‘Clown Punk’ and ‘Give’, both by Simon Armitage, feature characters rejected and scorned by society for being different to the norm. One is alienated from others for looking ‘like a basket of washing that got up and walked’ and for living in the ‘shonky side of town’, the other is forced onto ‘the streets’ to beg for ‘change’. The ‘town clown’ is depicted as a bogeyman type character by the speaker, describing his unsociable habit of pushing his face on to car windscreens.  However, the father in the car talking to his ‘kids on the back seat who wince and scream’ is also seen as an angry and judgemental character, forcing the reader to feel somewhat sorry for the persecuted ‘clown’. In a similar way, Dylan Thomas’ ‘solitary mister’ in ‘A Hunchback in the Park’ is cruelly treated by school children in a local Welsh park, and reduced to life of misery, fear and loneliness.

In a different form of alienation, ‘Medusa’ begs her unfaithful husband to acknowledge her beautiful and ‘fragrant’ youth before jealousy fuels her desire for revenge and isolates her in a ‘foul-mouthed’ Gorgon state. Furthermore, the imagery of her turning natural objects to stone (‘house brick’, ‘pebble’) due to her ‘bullet eyes’ means that she is physically isolated from society and defined as an outcast. This metaphor is paradoxical, since tears are commonly seen as weak, but bullets are violent. Alternatively, ‘Melia in Hardy’s ‘The Ruined Maid’, wryly accepts social estrangement when choosing prostitution as a preferable occupation to the hardship of a moral, yet poverty-stricken life.

Finally, the ‘poor, clever girl, Alison, is the unfortunate victim of a head injury that has defined her future and has mentally alienated her from her former self. This is similar to the ‘horse whisperer’; another victim of events beyond their control when, ‘scorned as demon and witch’, he is forced to flee his ‘tender giants’ due to the arrival of the technological revolution and farmers growing increasingly suspicious of his ‘legacy of whispers’.

Key Poems:

  • The ruined maid by Thomas Hardy
  • The river god by Stevie Smith
  • The hunchback in the park by Dylan Thomas
  • The Clown Punk by Simon Armitage
  • Give by Simon Armitage
  • Horse Whisperer by Andrew Forster

History and Heritage

who am i

Some characters from the collection are remembered from a poet’s own recent past, others are from specific historical events. In John Agard’s ‘Checking Out My History’, the poet protests that the history he has been taught has kept him ignorant of the brave and resilient freedom-fighters whose struggles changed the course of Black history, thus denying him a sense of understanding and appreciation of his own identity. However, ‘Ozymandias’, an ancient Egyptian, egotistical ruler, desired immortality by building many statues and monuments of himself to symbolise his wealth, influence and power; yet Shelley reflects how the character is powerless against the changing nature of time, with the sculptor’s ‘sneer of cold command’ being the only thing that remains of his legacy. Furthermore, Browning’s Duke of Ferrara, another powerful tyrant, is so utterly obsessed with material worth and protecting his ‘nine-hundred-year-old name’ that he totally neglects and fails to appreciate the true beauty of his young, good-natured wife.

Key Poems:

  • Checking out me history by John Agard
  • Singh Song! by Daljit Nagra
  • Ozymadias by Percy Bysshe Shelley
  • My Last Duchess by Robert Browning

Different Relationships: Love and Loss

love and loss

An interesting comparison can be made between Kay’s description of her speaker’s childhood reliance on her exciting imaginary friend, ‘Brendon Gallacher’, and the ‘best and worst of times’ outlined in Molloy’s ‘Les grandes seigneurs’. Both poets recognise how times have changed and that parts of their characters will be lost forever: the death of Brendon when the truth was exposed by the mother left the image of her friend ‘flat out on [her] bedroom floor’ and after Molloy’s speaker was ‘wedded, bedded’ all power and respect was lost forever. Disregarded by her husband, she is no longer treated to romantic gestures but instead reduced to ‘a bit of fluff’.

Conversely, the narrator in ‘Singh Song’ is delighted with his amorous and glamorous ‘newly bride’, and their relationship is still in the early stages of excitement and passion. This love results in the neglect of his father’s shop and the subject of harsh comments by his customers. The couple spend all night cuddling up behind the counter, staring at the beaches of England and sharing compliments. His nonconformist wife offers a form of escapism for the speaker as he takes pride in her ‘effing at [his] mum in all di colours of Punjabi’. The Duke views his nonconformist wife in a slightly different way: her ‘heart… too soon made glad’ increased his jealousy and envy, resulting in her eventual demise. Her constant ‘smile’ to other men brought shame upon his aristocratic family name and thus the Duke ‘gave commands’ for ‘all smiles’ to stop.

However, the theme of loss is arguably best depicted in Betjamin’s beautifully sombre description of a son’s love for his dead father. This unusual elegy in the ballad form, details the father’s likes and dislikes in a deeply affectionate way, yet juxtaposes these positive images with macabre, horror-filled descriptions of his imagined bodily decay. The poem perfectly captures all the contrasting feelings towards death: grief, sadness, fondness, anger and love. This culminates at the end of the poem when Betjamin questions his religious belief, and becomes obsessed with the finality of death. His heartfelt depiction of his ‘kind’ deaf father shows his definite affection towards him, but this is shadowed with by his own fear of death and its gruesome certainty. His contradicting imagery throughout the poem is startling and evocative, forcing the reader to reflect upon their own thoughts on love and loss and how they feel such a range of emotions during these events. The sensory and grotesque language creates a feeling of overwhelming grief in the reader, and this description can also be linked to the sudden death of Brendon Gallacher, as Molloy uses repetition of the possessive pronoun ‘My’, emphasising the idea that Brendan belongs to the narrator and portraying the theme of loss and longing for something that is gone. When the name Brendon appears without the surname or the “my” in the last line, as just “Oh Brendon”, the impact is much greater: losing the refrain highlights the loss of her imaginary friend.

Key Poems:

  • My Last Duchess by Robert Browning
  • The River God by Stevie Smith
  • On a portrait of a deaf man by John Betjamin
  • Casehistory: Alison by UA Fanthorpe
  • Les grandes seigneurs by Dorothy Molloy
  • Medusa by Carol Ann Duffy



Naughty Women – By Mrs S.J. Kerridge

naughty women


Women have a pretty poor representation in Literature; Charlotte Bronte’s Jayne Eyre had a mad woman in the attic, Wilkie Collins’ Woman in White had a character committed to an asylum and Shakespeare made Lady Macbeth into a controlling, but ultimately weak-minded figure of pity. Character and Voice has its fair share of women who are considered unusual because they do not behave in a way that is expected of them. A few of them are allowed this freedom, but most of them are punished for it.

The first of these is Melia in The Ruined Maid. The idea of a woman being ‘ruined’ has ancient, religious and moral connotations. To be ‘ruined’ or ‘corrupt’ is a state often ascribed to fruit, just as it begins to spoil or decay and this is applied metaphorically to the state of women who are ‘corrupted’ by some kind of illicit relationship, like Eve and that apple in the Garden of Eden. It may be why evil people are described as ‘rotten to the core’. Melia has clearly sacrificed her reputation for the sake of material gain (the clothes she gets, the expensive accessories, the fine manners, the easy life) and society at that time would have held her in contempt for it. What I love about this poem is Hardy’s ironic treatment of both women. Melia’s repetition of ‘ruined’ shows an unashamed acceptance of people’s judgement of her and even a touch of elitist pride when she claims that her friend ‘cannot expect that’. Her friend’s tone has just the right degree of envy for us to see that Hardy makes her virtuous, working class life less appealing than Melia’s comfortable life of sin.

Another materialistic, naughty woman is the ‘newly bride’ in Singh Song. She is an unusual Indian bride with her rebellious choice of ‘tartan sari’ and her poor treatment of Singh’s parents, as well as antics on…well, let’s call them ‘dating’ websites; at any rate, it is hardly the behaviour of a devoted wife. What makes it worse is that during their romantic evenings together, her questions are about money – ‘how much…?’ – whereas his replies are all about how highly he values her, ‘half di cost ov yoo’. Singh’s all-consuming devotion to his wife is what makes this poem so charming and amusing, because he loves her, in spite of her faults.

If only the controlling Duke of Ferrara had been so tolerant of his wife in My Last Duchess. Some people have argued that the Duchess was a bit too free with her affections and that her ‘smiles’ are a euphemism for affairs or flirtations, which is why the Duke seems so agitated when he talks about it. I’m not convinced. He is agitated by her appreciation of the ordinary things like ‘cherries’, ‘a white mule’ or a pretty sunset and wants her to be more impressed with his ‘nine hundred years old name’. She has not behaved in a way he expects and he punishes her for it. Now, just another possession of his, she is utterly controlled by him and can only be seen when he chooses to draw back the curtain.

My last choice for the Naughty Women category is Les Grand Seigneurs. It compares well with My Last Duchess because marriage leads to being controlled by men for both of them. Although there is strong romantic, courtly imagery (‘troubadour’, ‘queens’, ‘damsels’) suggesting that the narrator enjoys playing the fairytale of love, there is also a suggestion that she makes fools of men by demanding that they perform for her, ‘prancing’ like circus animals. Of course, the phallic imagery and sexual references are hard to miss (‘towers’, ‘peacocks’, ‘pink flamingos’) and I think this makes her a bit of a tease – ‘out of reach’-, and probably why the contrast of her married life is so stark.


The English Literature Poetry Exam

moon tides fingers

As you should already be well aware, your English Literature GCSE exams takes place on Tuesday 20th May (Exploring Modern Texts) and Thursday 22nd May (Poetry Across Time). Please do not panic, as you will be thoroughly well prepared to succeed in this exam, due to the inspirational teaching of the English department and the countless hours of revision you have completed!

The examination for Unit 2 of the AQA English Literature: ‘Poetry Across Time’, lasts one hour and fifteen minutes and is divided into two sections. Now, considering that you have to compare two poems analytically in Section A and write a response about a poem you have never seen before, the exam is incredibly short (much like Mr Fothergill). The entire paper is marked out of a total of 54 marks, with 36 available for section A and 18 available for section B. In section A, you have to choose one question (from a choice of two) from the ‘Character and Voice’ section. In the question, one poem will be named and you have to compare this poem with any other of your choice from the same cluster of poems. Whatever you do, do not try to answer a question from the other clusters (this happens at least once every year… and they always fail). Time-management will be covered in more depth later, but you should aim to spend 45 minutes on Section A and 30 minutes on Section B (the unseen poem).


In the AQA Anthology of poetry, ‘Moon on the Tides’, there are several clusters of poetry. For section A, you need to begin by finding the question on your cluster of poetry, ‘Character and Voice’. There are two questions to choose from, so the first mountain to climb after remembering your candidate number (or perhaps more worryingly the spelling of your middle name), is to decide which one to answer. The next task is to plan your response to the question, thinking carefully about which poem you are going to compare to the one named. Then, take the first five minutes to consider all the similarities between the named poem and the other of your choice.

To help you choose which question you want to attempt, you should think about the following questions:

  1. How much do I know about the named poem, apart from its title?
  2. How confident am I relating the named poem to the topic or theme mentioned in the question?
  3. Can I think of a second poem which I know well that would compare strongly, linking to the topic or theme mentioned in the question?

Moreover, how can you make sure that you are comparing the right aspects of the two poems? If you write about two poems without comparing them then you are not going to gain the marks your understanding deserves and your teacher will potentially throw their shoe at you. The crucial Assessment Objective the examiners are looking for demands that you compare and contrast the different ways each poem expresses menaing and the language, imagery and structures employed by the poet to achieve this. To meet this objective, one could divide this objective into four separate parts:

  1. What do I think the poet is saying in poem A? How does this compare to what the poet is saying in poem B?
  2. Why does poet A feel like this? What is their attitude to the theme of the question? Does the poet have a purpose? what is the tone/mood of the poem? Does this change towards the end of the poem? How does this compare to poet B’s attitude, feelings and tone?
  3. How does the poet express himself/herself through the language, imagery and structure used? Compare each technique you write about in poem A with a similar or different technique used in poem B. Then focus on the different effects this creates in the reader.
  4. Finally, focus on how you feel about the two poems. Compare your personal response to each poem, expressing a preference and stating why. Explain which poem you empathise with more, which techniques made the biggest connection with you and why you think the poet wanted you to feel this way.

An outline of this plan can be found below:

Question: ‘Compare the character presented in ‘Give’ to that in one other poem in the ‘Character and Voice’ cluster.’


‘Give’ ‘Clown Punk’
What? Homeless man

Asks for change

Loneliness, isolation, charity

Outcaste from society

Judged by speaker

Individuality, rejection, isolation

Why? Anger – ‘that’s big’

Sadness – ‘make a scene’

Destitute – ‘on my knees’

Rejection – ‘dyed brain’

Judgment – ‘shonky side’

Anger – ‘don’t laugh’

How? Imagery of homeless is positive – ‘under the stairs’ Imagery of homeless is negative – ‘basket of washing’
Fragmented form showing life is inconsistent Sonnet form to highlight no one loves the punk
Use of imperatives to show poverty – ‘Give’ Use of imperatives to show hatred – ‘think what he’ll   look like’
How do I feel? Empathetic for speaker – ‘just change’ Anger at speaker – ‘let it rain’

We will be looking at how to use this plan to structure your response after exploring each poem in detail. Just remember, it is imperative that you compare the two poems as much as possible throughout your answer.


In Section B of the exam, you must answer a question on an unseen poem. This involves reading the poem and structuring your answer in 30 minutes – no pressure. The main point about Section B is that you do not have to compare the unseen poem with one from the cluster. There is only one question, therefore you do have to waste time on deliberating which one to answer. The higher tier paper will have one part of the question; the foundation tier will be in two parts, and you must answer both. Here are examples of the types of question(s) you might be asked:


  1. ‘What do you think the poet is saying about the theme of war and how does he/she present these ideas?


  1. What does this poem have to do with war?
  2. How does the poet present his/her feelings towards war?

The beauty about Section B is that we practise it every lesson. Every time your teacher presents you with a new poem you are preparing for this section – analysing an unseen poem. Furthermore, the four-part plan will help you answer this section in exactly the same way, only you don’t need to compare this poem with any other.


Many students think that you can’t revise for this exam. Many students who think this fail the exam, much to my amusement.

The easiest way to revise for this exam is to read, read and read the poems again and again. Furthermore, brush up on your knowledge of poetic devices, descriptive language techniques and structural techniques – especially the more complex ones such as metre/rhyme/imagery. Zoom in on specific words and images and explore the different connotations one can infer from the lexis used. Think about the different interpretations from different audiences. Finally, create your own comparison chart for each poem. Think about where the similarities and differences are between themes/language/imagery/structure/attitude of the poet.

Next, there are a variety of different websites out there to help you revise (far better than this one, of course). Here are a few I recommend: http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/english_literature/poetrycharactervoice/, http://poetrystation.org.uk/search/topics/category/aqa-gcse-voice-and-relationships/, and http://www.mrbruff.com/ – also, there are many helpful videos on YouTube (just type in ‘AQA Character and Voice’)

Finally, attempt as many past papers as you possibly can in exam conditions. Make sure you are strict with your timings and have no distractions. All past papers can be found here on the AQA website: http://www.aqa.org.uk/subjects/english/gcse/english-literature-9710/past-papers-and-mark-schemes (look under the ‘Unit 02′ tab). If you would like to receive feedback for your answers, please do not hesitate to waft it under your teacher’s nose – we really do like this!

Well that’s it for the content and summary of your exam. Watch this space over the next few weeks for different posts for each poem. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Enjoy revising!