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My Mother Said I Never Should - Dialogue

This GCSE English Literature quiz will challenge on on dialogue in Charlotte Keatley's My Mother Said I Never Should. "Dialogue" in literature refers to any direct speech, although the term technically means a conversation between at least two people. A significant aspect of characterisation, dialogue gives the reader important information about the characters. By devoting some attention to the style and content of each character’s speech, you will be able to form mental images of the characters. Dialogue is also important because it instigates action, provoking change and plot development. A play, of course, is almost entirely created from dialogue.

One approach to thinking about the dialogue in a work of fiction is by comparing and contrasting one character’s speech with another’s.

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How can you distinguish between two characters? Can you identify differing vocabularies or registers? Do characters change their style of speech over time, or vary it by situation? Can you identify any patterns in how characters vary their speech, perhaps by hierarchies of relationship according to social standing or familial position?

My Mother Said I Never Should appears on the surface to be about the most mundane of events. The characters gather for birthdays, for brief visits, stop by after a holiday, fold laundry and sort household objects. Yet the dialogue is rarely simple: each apparently innocent statement or question is revealed to have a subtext only understood by those conversing. This technique requires close attention, especially if you are reading the play rather than watching it.

One highly practical method of preparing for a literature exam is by memorising some dialogue. Choose a few key lines for each character, always taking care to identify which theme or themes the lines touch upon. This practice will aid your memory and help you to decide which quotations might be useful in an exam essay.

The quiz below asks you to remember which character speaks the words. Think for a moment about the significance of the quoted dialogue before answering. How might you decide if the language is specific to a particular character? Is it possible for two different characters to have spoken the same words? Why, or why not? What does this tell you?

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  1. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "Don't sound so worried. Why d'you always think things are your fault?"
    Rosie tells Jackie to stop blaming herself, warning that she will turn into Margaret, who also apologises constantly
  2. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "We'll have less passion and more perseverance, please"
    Doris is strict with Margaret concerning manners and education (and piano practice)
  3. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "And we'll get some string, and take Mummy down by the railway line where there's a hole in the fence, and I think you have to put a stake through her heart"
    In the Wasteground, it is Jackie's idea to kill their mothers. As a character, she is the one with more self-blame than any of the others and also experiences everyone's hurt and anger
  4. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "Only think about her at night, her cheek against mine, soft and furry, like an apricot..."
    Jackie cannot cope in a tiny flat with a baby on her own and with friends who do not understand her differing priorities; at the same time she loves her daughter and grieves to give her up
  5. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "Look at you now, a year ago you had everything, you were so excited about the art school, new friends, doing so well — "
    Margaret wants Jackie to succeed in her education and career; she is disappointed in her daughter for having a baby at nineteen
  6. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "I hope lots of people came to your opening and thought your gallery was brill"
    At the death of Margaret, Rosie finds out that Jackie is her birth mother, not her sister. She is angry with Jackie for not being present at Margaret's death and for a lifetime of lies
  7. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "Exactly. It's all my fault. He loved me, Mother....but he didn't want to share me"
    Margaret blames herself and her job for her husband leaving her, but is also bewildered because she had no other option than to work
  8. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "You have to travel lots, and your work's the most important thing, isn't it"
    Rosie, who still believes Jackie to be her older sister, has absorbed the family's expectation that Jackie is the career woman. The family push Jackie into success while also resenting her for not visiting frequently enough
  9. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "I had a job once too. I know it was only teaching, but...."
    Doris feels wistful for the career she once had but was unable to continue as a mother
  10. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "When you're old...if you're rude...they just think your mind is going. They never understand that it's anger"
    Doris is filled with resentment from never speaking her mind and never asking for what she wanted. Faced with losing her home after her husband's death, she reflects on a lifetime's habit of not being honest about her feelings

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