My Life as a Daddy in Books

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 I am a daddy. Not a ‘father’ or a ‘dad’, nor ‘papa’ and definitely not ‘Puff Daddy’ the last time I checked. This informal word encapsulates everything I hold dear in life, and as of 10.07 last Thursday 31st July, I blissfully and worryingly became a daddy for the second time.

If you’ve had the unfortunate pleasure to spend more than thirty-eight seconds with me, you will know that I have a beautiful daughter named Ellie. She is used in nearly every metaphor I make in the classroom, included in all digressional anecdotes that only I find funny, and is definitely the cause of my rapidly receding hairline. It’s her second birthday in less than two weeks, and her early birthday present was called Toby William and weighed a whopping 9lbs 9oz (or the equivalent of 74 Big Macs). Ellie already loves her little brother as all big sisters do: in a different room entirely. ‘Chubba Tubs’ as he’s been nicknamed by his evil and despicable dada, has cheeks the size of a male orang-utan and a plethora of chins to rival Rik Waller.

My favourite educational heroes are currently writing blogs concerning the books that make them the wonderful folk that they are. As I could never match their witty and erudite responses, I thought I would muddy the water a little and reflect upon the books that have made the greatest influence on my bumbling attempt at fatherhood.

The Newborn Stage: On Accepting Responsibility and Becoming an Emotional Wreck

Before daddyhood I think I could count the amount of times I have cried as an adult on one stoically-clenched fist. Only The Land Before Time and The Lion King had the ability to draw a single tear from my barren ducts, in addition to the heart-wrenching closing sequence of The Incredible Hulk (the classic 80’s TV series kids, not the recent film when Iron Man rocks up like he’s drunk and at the wrong party).

However, one book managed to break me. I often have the tough kid at the back of the room who thinks that books can’t reduce bad-asses to tears. So I tell them a story. A story of a young man who continuously fights against his social background to fulfil his dream of becoming a university graduate from society’s most elite institution. The hero falls for the wrong woman at the wrong time, before meeting the woman of his dreams, his cousin (you get over the weirdness), and settles down with her to start a family. Cue evil woman arriving back on the scene, proclaiming to our protagonist he’s got an heir, before jaunting off on her merry way again. Newly adopted son takes it upon himself to reduce the stress in the family, by hanging his two half-siblings and himself in the wardrobe. The hero’s lover abandons him as she believes that their relationship is impious and doomed; he returns reluctantly to his wife, before dying of illness and a broken heart.

The tough kid then looks at me, and I’m all like desperately fighting to retain my own street cred by not bawling pitifully, and he like, states with gusto, “Sounds pretty shit, Sir.” I pay the biggest chap in the class a tenner to take full opportunity of his ridiculously low-hanging trousers and give him the wedgie of a lifetime.

Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure is my favourite book of all time. When I first read the moment Jude and Sue find their beautiful babes hanged, I was unfortunately travelling to work and had to be consoled by an 80 yr old lady sitting next to me for about half an hour; I believe I still have the handkerchief she charitably offered me to mop up my snot-covered mush in my sock drawer. This harrowingly bleak moment in the novel haunts me, as the thought of losing a child is something quite unbearable.

However, Jude’s ambition has inspired me to constantly break constraints and try to achieve unimaginable success; yet his flaws have taught me how to value the more important aspects in life and know when to realise that some dreams are unattainable. Although Jude’s failure echoes the fallibility of Icarus, the novel encapsulates the poor and disadvantaged’s struggle to find their place in a bourgeois world perfectly, and can radicalise a young mind to take full advantage of their education in order to achieve aspirational feats.

Other significant texts that have impacted on my sense of responsibility are Mary Shelly’s philosophical epic Frankenstein, John William’s heart-wrenching Stoner, Cormac McCarthy’s gritty dystopian The Road and Tony Parsons’ moving novel that’s very close to home, Man and Boy.

The Babbling Stage: On Role Models and Super Heroes

When I was five my Mother bought me a Batman costume. For seven weeks and three days I wore nothing else because I believed that my superpowers would diminish if I wasn’t dressed as the Caped Crusader. Within a year, I also asked for a Spiderman suit and Superman cape to add to the collection. At every opportunity, I would badger my Mum to let me don my Dark Knight outfit and pretend to protect and serve the community, with such missions as saving snails from the soul-crunching genocide by Doc Martin soles after it had poured with rain. I grew up on DC and Marvel comic compilations by stealing them from my older brother; but it wasn’t until I started my degree that I found the critically acclaimed wonder that is The Dark Knight Returns.

Possibly the greatest graphic novel of all time, Miller’s masterpiece has a variety of complex themes embedded throughout. However, the transition of the ageing and morose Bruce Wayne to the gritty and dark Batman represents the difficult decisions that have to be made to protect and inspire others. Now, I’m in no way comparing myself to the crime fighting hero, but I take great comfort in the fact I’m trying to be a role model for my children as much as possible and if that means reading What the Ladybird Heard seventeen times before bath time, then that’s fine by me.

Another book that had a great impact on me was written by one of my real life heroes, the explorer, writer and lover of all things derring-do, Sir Ranulph Fiennes. Deep down I always wished for someone to define me as Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know, but the fact that I enjoy listening to James Blunt and soaking in a nice bubble bath probably limits my chances. However, Fiennes’ autobiography of this name has inspired me to achieve many gruelling challenges and I look forward to all the adventures I will accomplish with my children. At the age of sixty five and the oldest Briton to do so, Fiennes finally achieved his life-long dream of summating Everest (his third attempt), and in the process made a total of £2.6 million of charitable sponsorship on behalf of Marie Curie Cancer Care’s Delivering Choice Programme. Furthermore, in 2003 he ran seven marathons in seven days in seven continents only three and a half months after a massive heart attack, three day coma and double bypass. Add to this his other achievements of crossing the Antarctic continent unsupported (the longest polar journey in history), discovering the lost city of Ubar, and being thrown out of the SAS for being ‘too nails’, and you basically get the greatest chap on the planet. The detailed accounts of his triumphs makes you want to push your own mental and physical boundaries to the limit, and the beautiful way he describes his marriage to his childhood sweetheart Ginnie, who sadly loses her battle with cancer, forces you to appreciate the wonderful people you love.

Other inspiration books about role models include: The Worst Journey in the World by the excellently named Apsley Cherry-Garrard, Alexander Dumas’ swash-buckling tale The Three Musketeers and Homer’s epics, The Iliad and Odyssey.

The Toddling Stage: On Innocence and the Power of the Imagination

Shockingly, each year I receive a few letters of appreciation from students who are leaving and it is interesting to note the similar adjectives pupils use to describe me: “enthusiastic”, “passionate”, “mental”. I take these sentiments to heart and they really are one of the highlights of the year. However, the greatest compliment I ever received was via a parent who stated that their child liked my lessons because I was the teaching equivalent of “Tigger on speed”. I try my hardest in the classroom to have the perfect blend of high expectations, rigour, challenge and fun. Critics may argue that dressing up as a tramp to teach a poem about homelessness is superfluous or singing Bob Marley while students analyse Agard detracts from the learning outcome and reduces authenticity, but I’m afraid I don’t give a hoot. At home, I don’t have to worry about the fact that my children have to pass a plethora of demanding exams yet, so I just get to be Tigger in all his drug-fuelled excitement.

A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh speaks directly to the child within us. The anthropomorphic Bear of very little brain ironically has one of the finest philosophical minds of all time and can always bring a smile to me even in the darkest days of controlled assessment season. Furthermore, his lyrical ballads and happy hums are the work of a creative genius. Pooh’s thoughtful, considerate and loving relationships with his fellows in Hundred Acre Wood should be replicated in every friendship and I can’t ruddy wait to read these marvellous stories with Ellie and Toby.

Other texts that influence me to become an excitable and passionate papa include: Danny Champion of the World by the delightful Roald Dahl, Marius Zusek’s heart-wrenching holocaust novel, The Book Thief and JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

The Terrifying Stage: On Loving Too Much

198. 178. 201. 211. 184. 192.

Each number represents my baby boy’s heartbeat on his dynamic cardiac monitor, which I have obsessively observed for the past five days.

I started writing this when Tubby Toby was three days old. On day four, he obviously disagreed with his new abode and decided he was going to return to the comfort and constant cooing of the midwives. After being pricked by more needles than an acupuncture patient, Toby’s white blood cell counted significantly above average (see, my lad’s already above average!) and the doctors started an aggressive course of antibiotics and antivirals. Within a few hours, the senior consultant visited us to state that Tubs had either viral or bacterial meningitis.

Now, the worst thing you could possibly do in this situation is whip out your smart phone and Google ‘what the deuce is viral or bacterial meningitis?’ But that’s exactly what everyone does and shares the same poop-in-your-pants experience as you read all the catastrophic after-effects of such a horrendous infection. Your eyes draw to one type more than others, and sadistically that’s the one the paediatrician proclaims your son to have, like he’s won first prize at the most bitchin’ disease awards. Congratulations little fella, you’ve successfully contracted Group B Streptococcal meningitis.

During these difficult days, a few books and lines from my favourite authors have returned to me. C.S. Lewis’ Narnia chronicles sparked a love of reading in me when I was a nipper, but while at university I stumbled across his beautiful reflections on bereavement, A Grief Observed. Throughout this collection of four notebooks written after the death of his beloved wife, he argues with, screams at and kicks God right in the gonads with angry violence. After helplessly watching ‘H’ succumb to cancer, Lewis questions his own faith and the theology he dedicated his life to. Unlike Lewis, I’m not a religious fellow at all, nor do I consider my love of Chubba Tubs to be in the context of God’s love; however, his description of the anger and most of all fear in these experiences strikes a chord with my current situation and I find his sentimental comforts honest and brave. I recommend this courageous text to all those who have dealt with bereavement or grief.

On a similar theme to Lewis’ reflections are Jean-Dominique Bauby’s masterpiece in the face of adversity, The Diving-bell and the Butterfly, Mitch Alborn’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven, and the book that’s currently making teenagers (and English teachers) cry that really ugly, snotty face cry, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.

Finally, my chap is more stable and is considering returning to the mad house he’ll call home. When he does so, I’ll happily have the highlights of the 2003 Rugby World Cup final ready and waiting, a song sheet of The Fresh Prince in Bell Air rap, and looking forward to read such literary classics as Owl Babies, Cows in the Kitchen and Pig’s Knickers.

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(Good Riddance) Time of Your Life

Overall, this has been another extraordinary year for the English department at Whitbread. Not only have we been privileged to see many students exceed expectations to achieve exceptional results, but we survived the most challenging year in teaching without Miss Smith head-butting anyone or Mr Morris losing any of his three remaining hairs.

If I try to define my short career in a single word for each year, it would be the following: 1st year was sleepless, 2nd year was delightful (mainly due daddyhood and 11Q/BM), and this year would be the return of ‘Crychan’. Crychan’s Challenge was the most bone-chilling, vomit-inducing, five day military thrashing in the darkest valleys of Brecon. However, at times it was so ruddy fun I was beaming from mud-caked ear to ear.

This year, battling against governmental change after governmental change meant that we were fighting fires left, right and centre. Teachers, students and parents were confuddled beyond belief. Furthermore, Ofsted decided to hit us right in the goolies towards the final weeks of Summer Term, leaving us all exhausted yet elated. This year, I earned my honorary elbow patches and became a proper teacher.

Despite all the kerfuffle, there were so many highlights. We have Year 9 students already expressing interests to read English at Oxbridge, and others who have never read for pleasure requesting recommendations. In Year 10, I believe we have our strongest cohort of young stars yet, with over 45% making four levels of progress and above. Exciting times indeed next year.

Due to our decision to enter the majority of Year 11 students early, we can already celebrate the accomplishments of many, many students. Especially Alexa Greer, who achieved full marks in her exam, full marks in her speaking and listening coursework, and was two marks shy of the whole shebang on her controlled assessment portfolio (just disgraceful). Danny Hanlon, Amy Chiswell, Jan Laming, Andrew Smith and Jonathan Hare also worked tirelessly to achieve the coveted A* grade. Furthermore, Luke Pease, who I believed must have slept though his KS2 SATS, was one mark away from achieving an A* and thus making six levels of progress; testament to his character, he of course re-sat the exam in June. George Longhurst and Jordan Drakes overcame great challenges and are two of the hardest working students I have met. And Laura Potts attended every single extra-curricular revision session in the hope of achieving the highest possible grade (she also happens to be the only student to buy me a beautiful plant as a leaving present, and I didn’t even teach her).

Year 12 Literature, Language, and Culture and Communication students have all performed admirably this year, with special recognition to Jess Fox, Rowan Lewis, Charlotte Dodd, Megan Burr, Megan Ward, Amelia Bacon, Eleanor Newton, Alex Mcinally and The Rt Hon. Head Girl Rachel G, for exceptional work throughout the year.

Our Y13 cohort was truly remarkable and each student will be sorely missed by their teachers. For two years we were impressed with your dedication to reading difficult texts, your ability to write critical and innovative arguments, and most importantly, you produced some of the finest baked delights for Cake Friday this school has ever seen. Our star students included Millie Morris, who excelled in both Language and Literature and will one day write a Booker Prize winning novel (and most hurtfully not include me in the dedication); Fiyal Malik, Ellie Corcoran, Hannah Marshall and Becky Reed for the most aesthetically pleasing notes, highlighted annotations and analytic essays; Beth Summerfield, with her wonderful combination of supreme intellect and illegible handwriting will one day be a GP; and finally Alex ‘Spoons’ GERT Ooms, who paraded himself to be as mathematically gifted as Alan Turing, but deep down was the greatest lover of all things literary and lexically pleasing. I hear he has rejected his offer from Exeter to read quasi-formulaic maths in favour of a creative writing course and a career as a beat poet.

And then there’s our bunch of pedagogical primates who have just gone from strength to strength. It has been a tough year for the department, with many feeling the pressure of striving for perfection. Yet most importantly, in addition to delivering extraordinary lessons to their pupils, the English department has grown into a more cohesive and collaborative family (Mr F is definitely the baby of the group). Highlights this year for the staff include: Mr Hetherington retaining the prestigious award for ‘Best Dressed Male Teacher’ despite worthy competition from ‘Bow Tie Friday’ and that dashing fellow from DT; Mr Constant has taken to skate-boarding and gives Tony Hawk a run for his money; Mrs Hopkins finished her magical garden containing fairies and elves; Mrs Baki remains as northern as ever; Miss Marvel has even more shoes than last year; Mrs Kerridge has become a Cambridge lady and is set to take over the world of educational research; Miss Croft became the Head of Drama and is looking forward to directing every James Joyce epic; Mrs Earp will be the Principal of Henlow Middle School next year, and will no doubt be teaching her favourite novel To Kill a Mockingbird to Year 5 pupils; Mr Forthergill got engaged (and no, she’s not a hobbit); and Miss Smith has lasted another year without shanking Mr Morris.

And finally, there’s Mr Price, who is leaving the department to become an Assistant Principal at a school in Milton Keynes. I don’t care much for the word ‘outstanding’ due to its bastardisation by the Dementor fellows from Ofsted, but Mr Price epitomises it in every essence of his character. Not only have his students consistently made exceptional progress, but have been truly inspired in his lessons. He has the remarkable capability to make the boring and monotonous exciting and inventive; he can take the most disheartened and disillusioned student and through the magic of creativity and drama, convert them into a passionate pupil who enjoys English. I have been in the privileged position of observing his teaching many times and have always left learning something new and feeling envious of the fact he didn’t teach me at school (despite the fact he is definitely old enough to have done so). Furthermore, he has always provided sage advice whenever it was sought, and mentored me to become the teacher I am today. But most importantly, he has been the greatest of friends. Mr Price will be dearly missed by all at SWA. The young pup taking over as Head of English has some exceptionally large shoes to fill.

And so, I hope that you have enjoyed your year as an English student at SWA and wish you a very happy and relaxing summer holiday. I hope that you continue to develop a life-long love of learning and literature in 2014-15!

Warmest regards,

Mr Morris

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What is the Purpose of Education?

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Last weekend Mr Fothergill and I abandoned our knowledge-thirsty students in favour of attending one of this year’s most anticipated and talked about festivals. However this was a festival with a difference. No glow sticks, whistles or bikini-clad ladies crushing their poor boyfriend’s shoulders whilst listening to their favourite bands. Instead, The Festival of Education is a collection of tweed-loving educationalists who just want to talk about improving teaching (however, when Mr F rocked up twenty minutes late to my house wearing shorts, a straw cowboy hat and cradling a can of Carling at 6:40 am, I suddenly got the feel that he was hoping to see McBusted).

Furthermore, to add to the overall geekiness of this so-called festival, instead of being located in a quagmire in the middle of nowhere, we were in fact in Hogwarts – this is not hyperbolic at all. Google ‘Wellington College’ and prepare to be amazed by images of whomping willows and half the England U18 rugby team playing quidditch in CCF uniforms on Wednesday afternoons.

Throughout the festival, many teachers and academics offered exceptional ideas and enlightened perspectives on how to improve education. From futuristic 3D printers to using The Simpsons to teach simultaneous equations, wherever you looked there was someone talking about something very interesting who had done it and bought the T-shirt, offering sage and helpful advice.

One particular highlight of the weekend was our final workshop. Mr F and I sat in a cramped tent on space-hopper chairs and discussed the purpose of education with some very intelligent and pleasant people. However, what was extremely interesting was that no one could really formulate and express with clarity what our opinion was. Was it to inspire a love of learning? Was it to ensure that students are fully prepared for the challenges ahead when they leave school? Was it to make people cleverer? Was it to enjoy mocking Hobbit-like teachers?

Therefore, I ask of you dear students to offer your own thoughts on the purpose of education and explain the important reasons you come to school. In your opinion, is it just to acquire new knowledge and skills? Or is there an additional function to schooling? Your responses in the ‘comments’ section below would be very much appreciated and I look forward to hearing them.

Kind regards,

Mr Morris

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(Actual scenes from the Festival of Education when teachers and academics were discussing exam reforms)

 

Our Recommended Reading List for Literary Lovers

From the classics and Winnie-the-Pooh to poetry, biographies and books that changed the way we view the world… we at SWA present to you our literary recommendations to enlighten, engross and entertain.

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POETRY

18th/19th centuries. Some poets worth getting to know:

Alexander Pope, P.B. Shelley, G.M.Hopkins, Lord Byron, John Keats, Elizabeth Browning, William Blake, Lord Tennyson, Christina Rossetti, W.Wordsworth, Robert Browning, Walt Whitman

20th century:

Wilfred Owen, Dylan Thomas, Robert Frost, Seamus Heaney, T.S. Elliot, R.S. Thomas, Sylvia Plath, W.B. Yeats, Philip Larkin, Douglas Dunn, W.H. Auden, Ted Hughes, Tony Harrison, Louis MacNeice, Stevie Smith, Simon Armitage, Stephen Spender, Derek Walcott, Liz Lochhead, Thomas Hardy, Ezra Pound, e e cummings, Langston Hughes, Carol Ann Duffy, Allen Ginsberg

 

DRAMA

Shakespeare’s time: Shakespeare! Marlowe, Jonson,Webster

19th century:Wilde, G B Shaw (spans both centuries)

20th century: Brian Friel, Harold Pinter, Caryl Churchill, Sean O’Casey, Arnold Wesker, Alan Bennett, John Osborne, John Arden, Alan Ayckbourne, Samuel Beckett, Arthur Miller, Tom Stoppard, Sam Shepherd, Tennessee Williams

 

NOVELS BY OLD, DEAD FOLK, BUT STILL WICKED

Thomas Hardy – Jude The Obscure, Tess of the D’Urbervilles

W.M. Thackeray – Vanity Fair

Charles Dickens – Great Expectation, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby

Charlotte Bronte – Jane Eyre

Emily Bronte – Wuthering Heights

George Elliot – Middlemarch, Silas Marner

Henry Fielding – Tom Jones

Elizabeth Gaskell – Mary Barton etc.

Harriet Beecher Stowe – Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Jane Austen – Emma, Pride and Prejudice

Mark Twain – Huckleberry Finn

Mary Shelley – Frankenstein

Bram Stoker – Dracula

Robert Louis Stevenson – Treasure Island, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Daniel Defoe – Robison Crusoe

Alexandre Dumas – The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo

Anthony Trollope – The Way We Live Now

Oscar Wilde – The Picture of Dorian Gray

Arthur Conan Doyle – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes etc.

Homer – The Iliad, The Odyssey

Virgil – The Aeniad

 

 NEWER STUFF THAT IS GENERALLY AWESOME

 Arnold Bennett – The Old Wives’ Tale

Joseph Conrad – Heart of Darkness

E.M. Forster – Where Angels Fear to Tread, Howards End

D.H. Lawrence – Sons & Lovers

James Joyce – Portrait of the Artist

Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby

Virginia Woolf – Moments of Being

Edith Wharton – The Age of Innocence

Graham Greene – Power & the Glory, Brighton Rock

George Orwell – 1984, Animal Farm

John Steinbeck – The Grapes of Wrath

Ernest Hemingway – A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls

Evelyn Waugh – Brideshead Revisited, The Sword of Honour Trilogy

William Golding – The Lord of the Flies

Jack Kerouac – On the Road

John Le Carre – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Kingsley Amis – Lucky Jim

Ian McEwan – Atonement

Alice Walker – The Colour Purple

Paul Scott – Staying On

Joseph Heller – Catch 22

Margaret Drabble – The Millstone

Fay Weldon – Life & Loves of a She-Devil

John Fowles – The French Lieutenant’s Woman

Margaret Atwood – The Handmaid’s Tale

Sebastian Faulks – Birdsong

Nick Hornby – High Fidelity, Fever Pitch, About A Boy, Juliet, Naked

Tony Parsons – Man and Boy

Carlos Ruiz Zafon – Shadow of the Wind

J R Tolkien – The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings

A A Milne – Winnie-the-Pooh

C S Lewis – The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters

Khaled Hosseini – The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns

John Boyne – The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

Yann Martel – Life of Pi

Aldous Huxley – Brave New World

Russell Hoban – Riddley Walker

Jonathan Franzen – The Corrections

Paul Auster – The New York Trilogy, Leviathan, The Book of Illusions

Truman Capote – In Cold Blood

Ken Kesey – One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

William Burroughs – Naked Lunch

 

GRAPHIC NOVELS (Grown up picture books)

 Alan Moore – Watchmen, V for Vendetta, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Batman: The Killing Joke, From Hell

Frank Miller – 300, The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One

Harvey Pekar – The American Splendour Series

Daniel Klowes – Ghost World

 

PHILOSOPHY

Plato – The Republic, The Death of Socrates

Aristotle – Poetics, The Nichomachean Ethics,

David Hume – An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

 

AUTOBIOGRAPHIES BY COOL FOLK

Ranulph Fiennes – Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know

Patrick Hennessey – The Junior Officers’ Reading Club

Bradley Wiggins – My Time

Mark Oliver Everett – Things the Grandchildren Should Know

Andy Behrman – Electroboy – Memoir of a Mania

William Burroughs – Junky

Hunter S Thompson – Hell’s Angels

 

TEACHER RECOMMENDATION

F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby (Mr Hetherington)

Pat Barker – Regeneration (Mr Price)

Alexandre Dumas – The Three Musketeers (Mr Morris)

John Kennedy-Toole – A Confederacy of Dunces (Mr Fothergill)

 

 STUDENT RECOMMENDATION

Stephen Chbosky – The Perks of Being A Wallflower

John Green – The Fault in Our Stars

Of Mice and Men – Analysis of Curley

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I’m betting my three remaining hairs that Curley will come up in the exam this year. To ensure you think carefully about how Steinbeck uses specific language and techniques to present Curley’s personality, please see the close textual analyses below.

 

Curley – Extract One

Part (a)  How does Steinbeck present the character of Curley in this extract? Refer closely to the passage in your answer.

Part (b)  In the novel as a whole, how are violence and hostility portrayed? How do these link to the economic and social conditions of 1930s America?

Curley's wife analysis

Part B – points you could mention: VIOLENCE & HOSTILITY

Violence is referred to when Crooks is first mentioned as being allowed in the men’s bunkhouse at Christmas but had to fight one of the men “If he coulda used his feet, Smitty says he woulda killed the nigger.” Demonstrates the casual  racism of the times.

Candy explains how Curley picks on bigger guys but whether he wins or loses, he comes off as the hero. “Seems like Curley ain’t givin’ nobody a chance.” – Steinbeck presents the win-win situation that those in positions of power exercised, whilst the underdog can never win.

Carlson is an aggressive, domineering and unsympathetic character – representing the type of man who has no roots, no friendships. He typifies the men of the depression era who moved from place to place in search of work, never getting close to people, unable to empathise with the friendship that George and Lennie share or even that of Candy and his dog. He is quick to seek retribution and join a search party for Lennie.

There is hostility shown towards Curley’s wife by the men “jail bait” “tramp” – typical of the double standard at the time shown towards women perceived as ‘easy’ whereas the men, married Curley included, openly visit the brothels.

Curley’s wife displays her cruel hostility towards Crooks when she threatens “I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny.” – as a woman, the only person over whom she has more status, is Crooks.

Crooks is hostile towards the white men, bitter at how he “ain’t wanted” in their room.

Curley’s rage towards Lennie on discovering his wife’s body is probably more to do with needing revenge for his humiliation and injured hand, than avenging her death. He intends to “shoot the guts outta that big bastard myself” – a slow painful death.

Conversely, the violent death of Lennie is shown as an act of mercy, with George deeply upset at what he does. “his hand shook violently” and he speaks “shakily” but ensures Lennie dies with the Dream on his mind.

Curley Extract Two

Part (a): How does Steinbeck present Curley in this extract? Refer closely to the language used in your answer.

Part (b): Life is hard and unfair for many of the characters in the novel. In the novel as a whole, consider how Steinbeck shows this and how it relates to the social/historical context of the era.

Curley's wife analysis II

 

The Woman in Black – Close Analysis of ‘Whistle and I’ll Come to You’

There is a possibility that there may be a question based around the Chapter Whistle and I’ll Come to You. (past years have looked at the preceding chapters in order, so maybe…..)

This is a précis of the key points of interest in this chapter. It is likely any question will be along the lines of how tension is created….

(all page numbers refer to the original books with small writing)

P123 – The chapter opens with pathetic fallacy as it describes a storm/heavy winds. “The house felt like a ship at sea” (simile) – Gives the reader a sense of imbalance, insecurity – prepares us for a rollercoaster ride ahead.

P123 – The description of the noises are also reminiscent of ghostly sounds: “Windows rattling …the sounds of moaning down all the chimneys”. On the following page, she compares the wind to a banshee which is a type of ghost said to signify impending death. This warns us that there may be trouble ahead…..

P123 – Hill briefly breaks this with Kipps remembering the safety and security of his own nursery, long ago, contrasts with how he heard “The wind rage round like a lion, howling at the doors and beating upon the windows but powerless to reach me.”

P124 – Tension is increased when Kipps forgets his torch, meaning he has to investigate the house in darkness. She plays with our imagination by describing the sense of someone having walked by Kipps, but shows his uncertainty by having him question this: “And the person who had gone by and who was now in the house with me?” Later on (p125) he admits that he was “beginning to doubt my own reality.”

P125 – Having set the reader up for the fear that Kipps is not alone, she then makes it even more tense when he drops the torch. The short sentences “No light came on. The torch had broken” are a dramatic end to this paragraph.

P125 – Kipps’ emotional state is also highlighted by the list of abstract nouns “despair and fear, frustration and tension”, followed by “violent rage”. The reader is invited to experience these emotions alongside him.

P125 – The dog, Spider, is yet again used to signify when the moment of tension has passed as she licks Kipps’ hand.

P126 – Kipps writes how “A man cannot remain indefinitely in a state of active terror” – this is precisely why Hill raises then drops the tension, for the reader cannot maintain this either. Therefore she allows this moment of fear to pass and reassures us that “all sense of another one’s presence had faded away.”

P127 – Kipps re-enters the nursery and is swept with feelings of “overwhelming grief and sadness, a sense of loss and bereavement, a distress mingled with utter despair” – This list of three pairs of negative emotions present a very different emotional response for the reader as they contrast with the sense of evil encountered so far and also add to the mystery surrounding the Woman in Black.

P129 – Having established a calm tone again, Hill then heightens tension again through Spider’s reactions. “scratching and whining at the door” so we expect ghostly activities again – only to be reassured she simply needed to be let out. Therefore we are not expecting trouble until the ghostly whistle comes: “not from any human lips”.

P130 – Tension is at its height here as Kipps struggles in the mud to rescue Spider. The use of many dynamic verbs here exaggerate the sense of action; Spider “yelped” and “struggled” and Kipps is “straining” against the “whirling sucking bog”.

P130 – the sense of isolation is again underlined – “alone in the middle of the wide marsh” – it is Kipps up against the power of the Woman in Black – Good v Evil.

P130-131 Hill’s use of adverbs “furiously” and “cautiously”, as well as more dynamic verbs, “lunged”, “grabbed”, “hauled”, “tugged” create a very frantic pace, whilst the adjectives “treacherous”, “agonizing” and “slippery” all add detail to the danger of the situation he is in.

P131 – Kipps triumphs and saves Spider but Hill’s use of a list of three shows us at what cost: “chest burning, lungs almost bursting, my arms feeling as if they had been dragged from their sockets”.

P131 – Just when we feel the tension starting to recede, Kipps looks up at the house and there he sees “A woman. That woman. She was looking directly towards me.” Short, sharp sentences reinforce the link between what happened to Kipps and her reappearance.

P132 – The chapter ends with the replaying of the terrible noise, which serves as a motif for the tragedy: “It was the sound of a pony and trap”. The pony and trap are a recurring motif, both as the replayed sound of the tragedy from years before, but also because the pony and trap are intricately linked to the woman in black. This means that when in the final chapter, Stella and the baby choose to ride it one, the reader recognises the significance and anticipate tragedy.

Tasks:

  1. Explain how Hill creates tension and fear in the chapter ‘Whistle and I’ll Come to You’

By Miss Marvell

The Woman in Black – The Structure and Plot

Book Cover - The Woman in Black

When answering section A of the AQA Literature exam on ‘Modern Texts’, it is essential for you to know the plot and structure of the novel you have been studying. Unlike section B, you will not have the opportunity to rely on an extract from the text, and therefore you must revise the main events, how these events unfold from chapter to chapter, and how Hill uses structure to make an impact on the reader. The novel is separated into the chapters, each with its own title. It

Conventions of a Victorian Ghost story:

  • A ghost (funnily enough)
  • An isolated haunted house
  • Extreme weather conditions
  • The motif of sleep and lack thereof
  • First person narrative
  • The use of women and children who are vulnerable/evil
  • A Byronic hero – A key protagonist who doesn’t believe in ghosts at the outset but changes when he has experienced the presence of one. They are intelligent, sophisticated and educated, but struggling with emotional conflicts, a troubled past and ‘dark’ attributes.

Chapter 1: Christmas Eve

  • Arthur Kipps (the narrator and protagonist), an old solicitor, is sitting by a serene fireside with his family on Christmas Eve.
  • Arthur’s wife, Esme, and her family are introduced to establish a pleasant domestic scene, and to begin the novel in a calm and peaceful manner.
  • However, as Kipps’ step-children begin to tell each other ghost stories, supressed emotions and fear is stirred up in Arthur and he rushes out of the house to calm himself and reminisce on his previous life.
  • These characters are only introduced in this chapter to provide a frame for Kipps’ narrative. We are reminded of this in the following chapters when Arthur mentions his love of Stella, leaving the reader to infer that all will not end well for their relationship.
  • Kipps resolves to write down his own ghost story

Key Quotations

  • “… a true story, a story of haunting and evil, horror and tragedy”
  • “Tomorrow was Christmas Day, and I looked forward to it eagerly and with gladness, it would be a time of friendship, fun and laughter. When it was over, I would have work to do”
  • “My spirits have for many years now been excessively affected by the ways of the weather…”
  • “I was trying to suppress my mounting unease, to hold back the rising flood of memory”
  • “I wanted to banish the chill that had settled upon me and the sensation of fear in my breast”
  • “The truth is quite other, and altogether more terrible”

Chapter 2: A London Particular

  • London is described in an atmospheric way, focusing on the engulfing fog and hell-like imagery – this add to a sense of foreboding for the evil that awaits the reader
  • A younger Arthur Kipps visits his employer, Mr Bentley.
  • He is sent by Mr Bentley to attend the funeral of Mrs Alice Drablow, who died in Crythin Gifford at the age of 87.
  • An air of mystery is built up around Mr Drablow, and the reader is only told simple facts about her life, courtesy of a reserved Mr Bentley.
  • After learning of Alcie Drablow’s remote and isolated past, Kipps leaves the office and writes a letter to his fiancé, Stella, stating that he will be away fro a few days.

Key Quotations

  • “ – but because of the fog, the thickest of London peasoupers, which had hemmed us in on all sides since dawn – if, indeed, there had been a dawn, for the fog had scarcely allowed any daylight to penetrate the foul gloom of atmosphere”
  • “It was a yellow fog, a filthy, evil-smelling fog, a fod that chocked and blinded, smeared and stained. Groping their way blindly across roads, men and women took their lives in their hands, stumbling along the pavements, they clutched at railings and at one another, for guidance.”
  • “Mrs Drablow was, as they say, a rum’un.”
  • “’Children.’ Mr Bentley fell silent for a few moments, and rubbed at the pane with his finger, as though to clear away the obscurity, but the fog loomed, yellow-grey, and thicker than ever, though, here and there across the Inn Yard, the lights from other chambers shone fuzzily. A church bell began to toll. Mr Bentley turned.

Chapter 3: Journey North

  • The journey by steam locomotives from King’s Cross to Crewe and across the fictional town of Homersby near the east coast.
  • The weather is emphasised (pathetic fallacy)
  • The introduction of Mr Samuel Daily
  • Note the curious place names and the author’s description of sounds.
  • ‘we tuck ourselves in with our backs to the wind, and carry on with our business’.

Key Quotations:

  • “We tuck ourselves in with our back to the wind, and carry on with our business.”

Chapter 4: The Funeral of Mrs Drablow

  • The comfort of the Griffin Arms
  • The strange reaction of the landlord when he discovers Kipps’ business
  • Introduction of Mr Jerome
  • The funeral
  • The appearance of the woman in black
  • Mr Jerome’s alarm (his reaction)
  • Kipps returns to the Gifford Arms
  • Mr Daily’s successful day at the auction
  • Kipps learns there will be no buyers for Eel Marsh House

Key Quotations

  • “Indeed, even now in later life, though I have been as happy and at peace in my home at Monk’s Piece, and with my dear wife Esme, as any man may hope to be, and even though I thank God every night tha it is all over, all long past and will not, cannot come again…”
  • “… it seemed poignant that a woman, who was perhaps only a short time away from her own death, should drag herself to the funeral of another”
  • “she was suffering from some terrible wasting disease”
  • “Mr Jerome stopped dead. He was staring at me.”

Chapter 5: Across the Causeway

  • Keckwick arrives in a pony and trap to take Kipps to Eel Marsh House
  • We see the magnificent landscape and wildlife as they cross the causeway
  • Eel Marsh House is described
  • Kipps sees the woman in black again
  • Seriously shaken, Kipps returns to the house
  • Kipps decides to set off for Crythin Griffin on foot.

Key Quotations

  • “the ill looking, solitary young woman”
  • “the sudden, harsh, weird cries form the brids near and far”
  • ‘a tall, gaunt house of grey stone”
  • “a desperate, yearning malevolence”
  • “an ugly satanic-looking thing”

Chapter 6: The Sound of a Pony and Trap

  • A sea fret descends and Kipps decides to return to the safety of the house
  • He hears the cry of a child and the sinking of a pony and trap in the quicksand. He assumes they are with Keckwick.
  • Kipps is helpless and once more returns to the house, terrified.
  • Fortified by brandy, he explores the house and finds a locked door with no key hole
  • He falls asleep on the sofa and is awoken by Keck wick at 2am
  • They return to the Gifford Arms where Kipps relives the nightmare, dreaming of the woman in black

Chapter 7: Mr Jerome is afraid

  • Kipps decides to stay in Crythin Gifford to complete his task
  • He goes to see Mr Jerome, Mrs Drablow’s land agent, to ask for help in sorting out her papers and possessions
  • He learns that no-one will dare to help him
  • Mr Jerome is visibly scared when Kipps tells him of the second apparition of the woman in black
  • Kipps now accepts that Eel Marsh House is haunted but in a fit of bravado determines to complete his business

 

Chapter 8: Spider

  • Kipps decides to spend two night at Eel Marsh House to complete his business
  • He goes to dinner at Mr Daily’s house
  • Daily fails to dissuade Kipps from returning to the haunted house and lends him Spider, his dog, for protection and companionship. 

    Key quotations

  • “At my feet stood a sturdy little terrier with a rough brindle coat and bight eyes”

Chapter 9: In the Nursery

  • Kipps returns to Eel Marsh House with Spider
  • From Alice’s letters he learns that she adopted Nathaniel Pierston, the illegitimate son of a close relative
  • Again he hears the ghostly sound of the pony and trap and the cries of the dying child
  • He discovers the source of the bumping sound and the nursery behind the locked door

 

Chapter 10: Whistle and I’ll Come to You

  • Kipps has another sleepless Night
  • Spider nearly drowns
  • The woman in black appears at the nursery window
  • Kipps hears the sound of the pony and trap again

Chapter 11: A Packet of Letters

  • Kipps has collapsed and is revived by Samuel Daily.
  • Spider survives but is exhausted
  • Kipps visits the nursery for the last time
  • Kipps recovers at Daily’s home
  • Kipps reads Alice’s papers and pieces the mystery together
  • Stella arrives

Chapter 12: The Woman in Black

  • Stella and Kipps return to London and marry six weeks later.
  • At Kipps’ request, Mr Bentley does not involve him further in Alice Drablow’s affairs.
  • A year later Stella gives birth to a son.
  • A year after Stella gave birth the woman in black reappears and causes the deaths of both Stella and their child
  • Kipps concludes his story

 

Character and Voice – AQA Literature Past Papers

poetry past paper

Please find below all the Character and Voice questions from the AQA Literature exam from the past few years. As you can see, the question asks you to compare a subject/topic with a specific poem from the cluster, and another one of your choice.

Furthermore, in both the Higher and Foundation tier, you will have a choice of two questions. You must only answer one of them. Therefore, if one question ask you to analyse a poem you absolutely detest (mine would definitely be the ridiculously annoying ‘Singh Song’), then avoid it like the plague. If you don’t like either poem, shed a momentary tear and crack on with the one you find less loathsome.

You should spend no more than 45 minutes answering this question. The remaining 30 minutes should be spent answering the unseen poem. There is no set rule, but I personally recommend that you spend five minutes planning your response (look at how both poets explore the theme/topic of the question using specific language, imagery and structural devices), write your response for 35 minutes, leaving 5 minutes for proofreading your work.

The question is marked out of 36, with 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.

Should you need assistance answering the questions, please look at our previous blog here on the poetry exam. Here’s our suggested four-stage structure on how to approach the comparative question:

  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.

Please 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.

Enjoy!

 

Higher Questions:

1) Compare the ways poets present ideas about identity in ‘The Clown Punk’ (page 4) and one other poem from Character and voice.   (Jan 2012)

2) Compare the ways poets present isolated characters in ‘The Hunchback in the Park’ (page 18) and one other poem from Character and voice.   (Jan 2012)

3) Compare the methods poets use to present an interesting character in ‘Singh Song!’ (page 9) and in one other poem from Character and voice. (Jan 2013

4) Compare how poets use language to present ideas and feelings in ‘Horse Whisperer’ (page 7) and in one other poem from Character and voice. (Jan 2013

5) Compare the ways poets present powerful characters in ‘My Last Duchess’ (page 15) and one other poem from Character and voice. (June 2011)

6) Compare the ways poets present strong emotions in ‘Medusa’ (page 8) and one other poem from Character and voice. (June 2011)

7) Compare how poets use language to explore ideas and feelings in ‘Checking Out Me History’ (page 5) and in one other poem from Character and voice. (June 2012)

8) Compare the ways poets present ideas about power in ‘Ozymandias’ (page 14) and in one other poem from Character and voice.  (June 2012)

9) Compare the ways the poets explore ideas about control in ‘The River God’ (page 17) and in one other poem from Character and voice. (June 2013)

10) Compare the methods the poets use to explore a character’s sense of identity in ‘Casehistory: Alison (head injury)’ (page 20) and in one other poem from Character and voice. (June 2013)

 

Foundation Questions

1) Compare how poets present an unusual character in ‘The Clown Punk’ (page 4) and one other poem from Character and voice.    (Jan 2012)

2) Poets sometimes use a speaker to narrate a poem. Compare how poets present the speaker in ‘My Last Duchess’ (page 15) and the speaker in one other poem from Character and voice. (Jan 2012)

3) The writer of ‘Checking Out Me History’ (page 5) expresses his ideas in an interesting way. Compare the ways he uses language with the ways one other poet uses language to express ideas in Character and voice.(Jan 2013)

4) Compare how the poets present an interesting character in ‘On a Portrait of a Deaf Man’ (page 21) and in one other poem from Character and voice. (Jan 2013)

5) Compare how the poets present characters in ‘Singh Song!’ (page 9) and one other poem from ‘Character and voice’.   (June 2011)

6) Compare how the poets present feelings about a person in ‘Brendon Gallacher’ (page 11) and one other poem from ‘Character and voice’. (June 2011)

7) Compare the ways the poets present characters suffering in ‘The Horse Whisperer’ (page 7) and in one other poem from Character and voice. (June 2012)

8) Compare the ways the poets present a character in ‘The River God’ (page 17) and a character in one other poem from Character and voice. What do you like or dislike about these characters?  (June 2012)

9) Compare how the poets use language and structure to present a character in ‘The Ruined Maid’ (page 19) and one other poem from Character and voice. (June 2013)

10) How do you feel about the character of the hunchback in ‘The Hunchback in the Park’ (page 18)? Compare how Dylan Thomas makes you feel about this character with the way a poet makes you feel about one other character in  Character and voice. (June 2013)

Of Mice and Men – Context

In Section Two of your AQA English Literature exam, you will have to comment on how John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men was influenced by its social, historical and cultural context. Essentially, this means that you need to explain how the novel encapsulates the thoughts and feelings of American society in the 1930s. Like much of Steinbeck’s work, and rather a large proportion of American literature at the time, Of Mice and Men depicts the relatively poor working class of men on whom the US economy depended. The novel is set during a time known as The Great Depression, in the state of California.

The Life and Times of John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck was born in 1902 in Salinas, near the coast of California, 40 km north of the region that became the setting for Of Mice and Men. Steinbeck’s father passed on a love of nature to his son, which can be seen in the opening paragraphs of each section. Furthermore, his mother was a former school teacher who encouraged a love of reading and writing in her son. As a teenager, he spent his summers working as a hired hand on neighbouring ranches, where his experiences of rural California and its people impressed him deeply and became the inspiration for many characters in the novel. In 1919, he enrolled at Stanford University, where he studied intermittently for the next six years before finally leaving without having earned a degree. For the next five years, he worked as a reporter and then as caretaker for a Lake Tahoe estate while he completed his first novel, an adventure story called Cup of Gold, which was published in 1929.

‘Steinbeck’s best-known works deal intimately with the plight of desperately poor California wanderers, who, despite the cruelty of their circumstances, often triumph spiritually. The economic conditions of the time victimized workers like George and Lennie, whose quest for owning their little piece of land was thwarted by cruel and powerful forces beyond their control, but whose tragedy was marked, ultimately, by steadfast compassion and love.

Critical opinions of Steinbeck’s work have always been mixed. Both stylistically and in his emphasis on manhood and male relationships, which figure heavily in Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck was strongly influenced by his contemporary, Ernest Hemingway. Even though Steinbeck was hailed as a great author in the 1930s and 1940s, and won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1962, many critics have faulted his works for being superficial, sentimental, and overly moralistic. Though Of Mice and Men is regarded by some as his greatest achievement, many critics argue that it suffers from one-dimensional characters and an excessively deterministic plot, which renders the lesson of the novella more important than the people in it.’ (SparkNotes)

The Great Depression

Even with an investment banker for a brother, I am still completely confuddled as to what actually caused the New York Stock Exchange to collapse in 1929, leading to what is known as The Great Depression. Wall Street’s value of shares in companies collapsed drastically, making investors sell their falling shares rapidly, which in fact just increased the speed of the crash. Consequently, businesses went bankrupt, fortunes were lost, and people became homeless, almost overnight. In the following months and years, unemployment and poverty increased dramatically, forcing men to travel great distances to find work.

The Dust Bowl

In addition to this widespread poverty, the problem was intensified by terrible drought and even worse farming techniques. In the mid-West of America, the once-fertile landscape was decimated due to over-farming and low rainfall, meaning the land became eroded and exhausted. This concoction of catastrophes is known as the Dust Bowl. Thousands of poor ranchers (farm workers) headed west to California in the hope of prosperity, just like to novel’s main characters, George and Lennie. This influx of unskilled and uneducated labourers meant they were at the mercy of the bosses, who treated the workers as they wished. Wages were low and living conditions were awful. Steinbeck tries to capture this hardship through certain characters and settings in the novel: the over-populated bunkhouse, the treatment of Crooks and the arrogance of Curley are just a few.

The American Dream

America has always been known as a ‘land of hope and opportunity’, where the likes of Dellboy and Rodney go to become mill-yan-airs. The early migrants to America went to achieve a better and happier life than the hardships they were escaping, and this mentality and faith that hard work will be rewarded with success has been passed from generation to generation. In its infancy, America was a land of rich material resources and copious amounts of space, and its society was not confined to the rigid class system of Britain. As the founding fathers had expressed, it was a land of equality, and possible for anyone to get rich as long as they were willing to work hard for it.

However, as many American novelists have portrayed in the past, in reality there is no society where only a handful of people become rich. In a depressed 1930’s California, the majority of people were poor and had very few opportunities to succeed economically. Nevertheless, the belief that the opportunities existed still created expectations and disappointments. Throughout the novel, Steinbeck cleverly shows the juxtaposition between the ideal of ‘the American dream’ and the reality of widespread poverty, loss and deprivation.

All the main characters in Of Mice and Men acknowledge, at one point or another, to envisaging a different and better life. Before her death, Curley’s wife confesses her desire to be in the ‘pitchers’. Crooks, ‘proud and aloof’ as he is, allows himself the idyllic fantasy of working on Lennie’s farm one day, and Candy latches on desperately to George’s vision of living ‘off the fatta the lan’. However, Steinbeck’s pessimistic view of the harsh reality of 1930s America is alluded to before the story begins: circumstances have robbed most of the characters of these dreams before they could become reality. Curley’s wife, for instance, has resigned herself to an unfulfilling marriage. What makes all of these dreams typically American is that the dreamers wish for untarnished happiness, for the freedom to follow their own desires. George and Lennie’s dream of owning a farm, which would enable them to sustain themselves, and, most important, offer them protection from an inhospitable world, represents a prototypically American ideal. Their journey, which awakens George to the impossibility of this dream, sadly proves that the bitter Crooks is right: such paradises of freedom, contentment, and safety are not to be found in this world.

Racism

Despite slavery being abolished in 1865, from the 1880s into the 1960s, a majority of American states enforced segregation through “Jim Crow” laws (so called after a black character in minstrel shows). From Delaware to California, and from North Dakota to Texas, many states (and cities, too) could impose legal punishments on people for consorting with members of another race. The most common types of laws forbade intermarriage and ordered business owners and public institutions to keep their black and white clientele separated. In Of Mice and Men, the theme of racism is expressed throughout by the character Crooks. The treatment of Crooks is both interesting and startling to a modern reader: he has some social contract with the rest of the ranch workers but is still persecuted by them for being black. In the routinely racist world of 1930s California, Crooks’ colour is his defining feature, as Candy explains, ‘Ya see the stable buck’s a nigger’. However, he follows this definition with an additional description of how he is a ‘nice fella’. We also learn that he is accepted into the men’s game of horseshoes, where he shoes proficiency, yet is entirely isolated in his stable room for the rest of the time. He is described as an ‘aloof’ man with ‘pain tightened lips’ connoting the harsh life of silence and deprivation he has had to endure. Finally, the racism in the novel is driven home dramatically when Curley’s wife expresses how she could ‘get [Crooks] strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny’. Afterwards, what little hope of Crooks fulfilling his American Dream with George and Lennie has been extinguished, showing he has no rights at all on the ranch.

TASK

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 how did Steinbeck’s life influence the themes, characters and narrative of Of Mice and Men?
  2. How did the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl create the poverty-stricken society that is the background of the novel?
  3. How is racism in the 1930s captured in the novel?
  4. What is the role of the American dream throughout the novel?
  5. How is the novel culturally and socially similar to modern Britain?

Finally, please watch this wonderful video by the English department at Portchester School… it’s spiffing.