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Anita and Me - Extract 1

This is the first of two GCSE English Literature extract questions for Anita and Me by Meera Syal. It takes place in chapter five, when Diwali is being celebrated in Meena’s household. In this passage, Meena is depicted to be on the edge of her group of friends and their experience as teenagers. They flirt and pair off with the boys while Meena looks on, partially comprehending the group’s actions as a form of ritual and realising how this ritual automatically excludes her.

How to answer an extract question in an exam:

The first thing to do, as you begin to prepare an answer to an extract question, is to read the passage through more than once. This is a good habit to develop because it is re-reading which allows you to notice the details and aspects of the passage you might have missed the first time.

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On your first reading, you should aim to understand the passage, thinking about the ways in which it relates to the question you have been asked. On your second reading, you could begin to make detailed notes and annotations. After such detailed preparation, you will be ready to plan your answer.

Ask yourself why this particular extract might have been chosen. Can you describe precisely how it relates to the text as a whole? What is its significance? Which themes are evident? Do different characters experience the depicted events in the same way? Describe how the extract relates to following events, mentioning, for example, whether there is any evidence of foreshadowing, or perhaps a turning point. Think about the place where the extract ends. Is its final line significant? How does the ending relate to the text’s themes and events?

Take a moment to consider the exact requirements of the question you will be answering. Try to clarify specifically what you are expected to write about. Extract questions can address any aspect of the writing; you could be asked to write about your own personal response, or you might be expected to discuss mood and atmosphere, character, dialogue, or themes evident in the passage. You should begin by explaining the passage’s immediate context: show how the passage is related to any events which have happened before, remembering to explain the relevance. Make sure you discuss the passage in detail, rather than writing more generally about the text. Planning out your answer before you begin will save time and help you to group related ideas together. Also be sure to cover the entire passage, rather than focussing only on one or two interesting parts.

Read the extract below carefully before answering the questions.

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As I got closer, I realised why I had not recognised them straight away. Sherrie was shivering in a short denim skirt and high heels, and had applied mauve eyeshadow all the way up to her eyebrows. Fat Sally was squeezed into a psychedelic mini-dress with a shiny scarf tied round the waist, and her lips looked wet and shimmery, like a goldfish.

"That's nice!" said Anita, pointing her finger at Fat Sally's mouth. "Giz some. Mum locked her door today, couldn't get nothing off her dressing table. Mean cow."

Sherrie and Fat Sally giggled, Fat Sally rummaged in a pocket and brought out a small tub of Miners Lip Gloss which Anita grabbed and began smearing over her lips with a practised finger. They did not seem to have noticed me.

All three girls then scrutinised each other's faces, toning down a streak of blusher here, wiping a wet finger over a lipline there, whilst the three by now sweaty blokes stopped work and straightened up, looking over at us curiously. Anita, Fat Sally and Sherrie immediately pouted to attention, flicking their hair and digging each other in the ribs. Not to be outdone, I took my anorak hood down and wiped my nose. I could see the three musketeers clearly now, in a uniform of dirty denims and skinny rib sweaters, streaked with engine oil. The tallest of the three, a lanky, mousey youth with a poetic mouth, scratched his crotch absentmindedly, and muttered something to his companions, a short Italian-looking guy and a stockier blonde bloke with a smear of acne lying across his chin like scarlet porridge. They must have been about Sam Lowbridge's age, eighteen or so, just growing into their clumsy long limbs and carefully groomed bum-fluff upper lips.

Anita hissed, "I'm having the tall one, roight?" and sauntered over towards them, her thin hips swaying to some far off radio which was playing "This is the captain of your ship, your soul speaking..." I wondered if a soul was the same thing as a conscience and if Anita Rutter was following or ignoring hers at this moment in time. She sat down on the half-erected stage, right in the midst of them, and began talking to the Poet, each question punctuated with her short barking laugh. Pretty soon, all three guys were smiling along with her; I stood open-mouthed in admiration, wondering what spell she had cast, to turn these boy-men, whom I would have crossed streets to avoid had I seen them hanging around any corner near my school, into grinning, pliant pets.

Sherrie and Fat Sally were similarly impressed. "Her always gets the best one," muttered Sherrie, pulling her skirt down so that it momentarily covered her goosepimpled thighs.

"Look! He's only putting his arm round her! Cow!" breathed Fat Sally, who pulled her scarf tighter around her belly, as if constant optimistic pressure would finally reveal a waist as tiny and perfect as Anita's.

Anita suddenly seemed to remember we were waiting, and after a brief exchange with her new admirers, beckoned us over. I hesitated at first, wondering if it was five o'clock yet and if I should be getting back, but I sniffed something unfamiliar in the crisp late afternoon air, something forbidden and new, and I did not want to miss out.

"These am me mates, Sherrie and Sally..." Anita said, her hand resting proprietorially on the Poet's knee. "This am Dave, that's Tonio, he's Italian like me dad, and Gary..."

Sherrie immediately plonked herself next to Tonio, once she realised she towered over him by about six inches. They seemed as relieved as each other to have not drawn the short straw and ended up with either spotty Gary or Fat Sally, who now faced each other sullenly over an empty dodgem car. There was an uncomfortable silence in which anger and pity overtook both their faces as they realised fate and their appearance had consigned them, inevitably, shamefully, to each other. If spotty Gary and Fat Sally had any illusions that they deserved better, they only had to look across and see their own miserable reflection in the other's eyes.

For one brief, mad moment, Gary's gaze flickered round wildly, seeking an alternative, hoping there might be someone else on whom he could hang his rapidly diminishing status. He came to rest on me, took in the winter coat, the scabbed knees, my stubborn nine-year-old face, and dismissed me with amusement and yes, relief. He had not got the short straw after all and I knew, I knew that it was not because I was too young or badly dressed, it was something else, something about me so offputting, so unimaginable, that I made Fat Sally look like the glittering star prize.

Meera Syal, Anita and Me (Fourth Estate, 2012)
  1. What is the immediate context for this passage?
    Meena goes out even though it is Diwali and her mother wants her to help chop vegetables
  2. What immediately follows this passage?
    Meena later returns to the fair after humiliating herself in front of the Aunties and Uncles by repeating the crude phrase she'd earlier learnt from Anita
  3. Who does Anita introduce as her mates?
    Notably, Anita does not introduce Meena to the young men. Meena does not realise this fact until later, although she is blinded by her admiration for Anita and does not realise how the older girl has deliberately excluded her
  4. Which of the following sentences draws upon a military metaphor?
    The three girls "immediately pouted to attention", bringing to mind the way soldiers stand to attention
  5. Why is this particular passage significant?
    Anita seems grown-up here, but terribly innocent in contrast to Deirdre, who has sex with the same young man Anita likes. Anita's loss of her mother later leads to her precocious behaviour
  6. "I stood open-mouthed in admiration, wondering what spell she had cast, to turn these boy-men, whom I would have crossed streets to avoid had I seen them hanging around any corner near my school, into grinning, pliant pets." Which literary device has been used in this sentence?
    Anita's charm has turned the boys into "pliant pets". The metaphor creates the impression that wild creatures have been tamed
  7. Which of the following is true of the girls?
    The passage includes several references to grooming and to the girls attempting to create particular impressions with their clothing, pulling down skirts, flicking hair and attempting to pull in the waist with a scarf
  8. "All three girls then scrutinised each other's faces, toning down a streak of blusher here, wiping a wet finger over a lipline there, whilst the three by now sweaty blokes stopped work and straightened up, looking over at us curiously. Anita, Fat Sally and Sherrie immediately pouted to attention, flicking their hair and digging each other in the ribs. Not to be outdone, I took my anorak hood down and wiped my nose." These sentences are an example of ...
    The very young Meena, unaware of such feminine tricks as hair flicking and pouting, makes herself presentable by taking down her hood and wiping her nose
  9. Which of the following lines does NOT contribute to an overall impression of seediness?
    The use of bodily imagery, reminders of how uncomfortable and under-dressed the girls are, and how underwhelming the boys are emphasise the seedy nature of the meeting between the boys and girls. Meena's wondering about returning home is a reminder of how young she is, how early the night still is, and how she is witnessing something she does not fully understand
  10. What does Meena come to realise is viewed as off-putting and unimaginable by Gary?
    She is aware that she is still a child in comparison to the other girls, but knows that Gary's response is racist. The thought of choosing an Asian girl makes him reappraise Sally and believe that "he had not got the short straw after all"

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