Anita and Me - Context

This GCSE English Literature quiz takes a look at context in Meera Syal's Anita and Me. Context, in literary terms, applies to the environment in which a text was written. Context includes an author’s geographical time and location, along with contemporary social and political events. These aspects of a text’s context might sound familiar, because their fictional counterparts form what is known as “setting”. Just as a text’s setting refers to the fictional aspects of the world contained in the text, “context” describes the same aspects of the author’s own world. Where a text is set in the recent past, as in Anita and Me, historical context might seem very close indeed to the novel’s fictional setting, especially when the author explicitly addresses social and political issues. The consequences of Britain’s colonial past are very much evident in the novel, as they were at the time the novel was written (and still are now).

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How to write about context

It is always a good idea to make the effort to learn about the context of a work of fiction. Your understanding of the environment in which the text was produced will enhance your analysis of its other aspects. Consider how the text has been shaped by its context. Where do you see evidence that the author has responded to contemporary events or issues? Be aware context never dictates the meaning of a text, however. The influence exerted by the context of a novel can be subtle and always interacts with the author’s own intentions in writing the work. Historical events, or issues, are not represented in a clear and unbiased manner in the pages of a fictional text.

Research the context of Meera Syal’s Anita and Me, remembering everything you have learned in your English lessons, and try these questions to see how much you know about the context of the novel.

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  1. When was Anita and Me published?
    This semi-autobiographical novel was published in 1996, but is set in the early 1970s
  2. In what language do Meena's parents communicate when they wish to speak privately in front of her?
    At an early point in the novel, Meena recounts a private moment between her parents: "Papa found her lying on her bed, crying. He'd said it was a migraine and then talked softly to her in Punjabi, which I knew was a sign that something was a secret and therefore, probably bad news." Meena finally begins to learn Punjabi from her grandmother, who does not speak English
  3. Who imprisoned Meena's grandfather for four years?
    Nanaji is imprisoned for four years for refusing to fight for the British army. During this time his family do not even know whether he is alive
  4. Which of the following is correct?
    As a second-generation immigrant (meaning she was not born in India, although her parents were), Meena locates herself by cultural inheritance and by specific geographical location. She does not typically think of herself as English, using the term instead to differentiate her parents' neighbours and colleagues from her own family and their friends
  5. The young Meena is usually protected from hearing her parents', aunties' and uncles' stories of living through Partition. What is meant by this term?
    The sudden division of India into predominantly Muslim Pakistan and predominantly Hindu India led to violence and death as people found themselves on the "wrong" side of the border. All of Meena's relatives witnessed horrific and seemingly random violence
  6. "Once, after I had heard papa and the Uncles getting very angry over someone they referred to as 'That Powell Bastard with his bloody rivers' and had added, 'If he wants to send us back, let him come and damn well try!' I had asked mama if the cases were ready in case we had to escape back to India at short notice." Who is meant by "That Powell Bastard"?
    In 1968, Enoch Powell, a Conservative MP and shadow minister, gave his notorious and inflammatory "Rivers of Blood" speech claiming that immigration from the Commonwealth to the UK would lead to the "native" (i.e. white) population being overtaken by a significant "alien element". He compared the encouragement of immigration to a "country heaping up its own funeral pyre", declaring the necessity of encouraging emigration (that is, sending immigrants such as Meena's family "home"). His speech justified discrimination and stoked racism
  7. What is Jackie?
    Jackie was the first British teen magazine for a female audience. Meena feels she should begin reading Jackie magazine as a sign that she is grown up
  8. After Auntie Shaila berates the family for allowing her to attend Sunday School and Meena expresses regret at not having a shrine at home, where does Meena's mother take her?
    While her father was brought up in some ignorance of Hinduism, Meena's mother is Sikh and feels prompted by events to introduce her daughter to the Sikh community
  9. Which of the following is NOT a television programme Meena watches?
    Meena makes multiple references to popular culture as conveyed through television broadcasting. This culture so rarely includes anyone who is not white that her family gather round to watch on the rare occasion that an Indian actor appears. Instead, Indians appear more often in the news as suffering victims
  10. Meera Syal described Anita and Me as semi-autobiographical. What does this mean?
    "Semi-autobiographical" means that parts of the story and the characterisation are true to Syal's childhood, although some elements are invented. Interestingly, the mixed-genre nature of the novel corresponds to Meena's own approach to storytelling, lying, and telling fabulous versions of the truth

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