My Mother Said I Never Should - Context

This GCSE English Literature quiz will challenge you on context in Charlotte Keatley's My Mother Said I Never Should. When used specifically in reference to a work of literature, “context” means the environment in which a text was written. The social and political environment in which an author wrote, in addition to where and when he or she wrote, are each aspects of context. Do these sources of influence sound familiar to you? If so (and they should!), it’s because you will be used to discussing these same elements within the text as “setting”. Whereas setting refers to the fictional aspects of the world contained in the text, context refers to the same aspects of the author’s own world. Sometimes the author’s historical context can be very similar to the fictional setting of the text, as is the case with My Mother Said I Never Should.

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Remember that the meaning of a text is never dictated by its context; it is important to remember that authors are only influenced by their environment and that this influence appears in various ways in the texts which they write. Personal beliefs can also affect the text, although it is important not to make assumptions about the precise way in which beliefs influence the text.

How to write about context

Challenge yourself to learn as much as you can about the context of any fictional work you study. This will help you to understand how the text was shaped by its environment. Avoid leaping to conclusions by assuming that particular events or political views act by dictating the meaning of a text, however. The influence of context on meaning can be a subtle one and it is always wise not to assume that a particular historical event is represented in an unbiased and clear way in the pages of a fictional text. Nevertheless, any effort you make to gain some knowledge of context will not be wasted.

Research the context of Charlotte Keatley’s My Mother Said I Never Should, remembering everything you have learned in your English lessons, and try these questions to see how much you know about the context of the play.

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  1. Who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at the time the play was written?
    Margaret Thatcher was the first female Prime Minister of the UK; Rosie, the most political of the characters and a supporter of the Greenham Common protest, would not have agreed with the Prime Minister's policies
  2. Keatley writes, "Theatre is an art form where male work is seen as universal, women's work an aberration from the norm." What does she mean by this statement?
    Keatley argues that plays by and about men are seen as being universal, that is, applicable to everyone. She set out to write a play about women, so that their characters would also be seen as applicable to society in general. Her point is that a play about mothers and daughters is not just for women
  3. In reference to the work she does for Rosie, Doris says: "Forced to do piecework, tying scraps of coloured paper to lengths of string all day long..." What does Doris mean by "piecework"?
    "Piecework" is a traditional occupation, especially for poor, female, rural workers. To Doris, doing such work appears to be going backwards
  4. When was My Mother Said I Never Should first performed?
    The play was first performed at the Contact Theatre, Manchester
  5. In Act Two, Rosie takes a sheet to make a banner for her Greenham protest at school. What is she protesting specifically?
    Protesters, mainly women, camped outside the base at Greenham Common in opposition to the presence of cruise missiles at the airbase. The protest began in 1981 and the Peace Camp was officially closed in 2000. The fact that the protest is planned to be outside the physics lab at Rosie's school is significant
  6. Charlotte Keatley wrote the play for four female characters only, explaining that she wanted the audience to learn about how women are under "pressure to be 'good women of their time'." What does being a "good woman" mean for Margaret?
    Margaret tells her mother that she will have a job, rather than children. Later she blames the necessity of working for her husband leaving her towards the end of the play. Life in Britain, as well as expectations for women, changes dramatically between the fifties, when she marries, and the eighties, where the play comes to an end
  7. By the end of the play, Rosie is beginning to make money through a small business she has developed selling what?
    The 80s was a time of vigorous political protest; the success of Rosie's business surprises her great-grandmother
  8. Over the course of the play, a shift can be seen in attitudes towards which of the following?
    While the women wrestle with the same types of issues, their own attitudes and those of the people around them change over the course of the play. Rosie, who is a teenager during the same decade in which the play was written, represents the unknown future. How do you think she might work these issues out in her own life?
  9. In the Wasteground, Rosie tells Margaret that she might 'grow' a baby even if she doesn't marry, making Margaret fearful. Considering Rosie's life coincides with times contemporary to the play, what does this conversation tell the audience?
    The four characters share an almost timeless state of girlhood which is characterised by superstitious beliefs and raw emotions. While some aspects of women's lives are shown to have changed over the course of the 20th century, others remain stubbornly entrenched
  10. Which of the following wars does NOT have an impact on the events and characters of the play?
    The First World War takes place during Doris's teenage years, although it is not specifically referred to by the characters; the Second World War affects Doris and Margaret, as the audience sees in the second scene; and the Cold War impacts on all the characters, but most specifically Rosie, who is prompted into political activism during her teens

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