My Mother Said I Never Should - Language

This GCSE English Literature quiz takes a look at language. Language in My Mother Said I Never Should by Charlotte Keatley draws on emotion, relationship, childhood rhymes, birth, life, work, protest and death. The language is simple, clear and modern, which makes the richness of its subtext all the more outstanding. The women in the play can barely communicate to one another without causing offence or dragging up old grievances. Interspersed with the scenes set in real time are those of the Wasteground, in which the characters as children communicate in the long-remembered superstitious short-hand of the playground.

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Analysing language in a text

Texts are understood primarily through the language with which they are written and read. All authors choose individual words, phrases and imagery with precision. Paying very close attention to the detail of language will help you to begin to understand the symbolic meanings and associations which lie beyond the obvious literal meanings. Imagery, such as metaphor, simile and personification, and other literary effects, are created through an author’s skilful and thoughtful use of language. The effective creation of setting, characterisation and dialogue also depend on an author’s care and ability in using language.

Paying very close attention to the language of a text will help you to increase your understanding dramatically. Find time to linger over the words and imagery, thinking about the multiple possible meanings which exist in addition to the surface meaning. Ask yourself what each individual choice of words, or combinations of words, might suggest. Note any ideas that come to mind as you read. Any time and care which you devote to the language will be repaid by an increased ability to analyse literature.

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  1. DORIS: When Jack's parents came visiting I used to borrow the silver teapot from Next Door. Got in a fix one day, because Next Door's in-laws popped by the same afternoon.
    What effect does the capitalisation of "Next Door" have?
    "Next Door" becomes a proper noun. It somehow becomes grand and yet generic at the same time (in some ways, Next Door could be anywhere)
  2. ROSIE: My outside's the same as my inside. That's why when I talk Mum thinks I'm being rude.
    What does Rosie think Margaret perceives as rudeness?
    Rosie expresses outwardly what she feels inwardly, but Margaret perceives this as being rude
  3. DORIS: And do you know, she doesn't look the sort to even open a book. But she's quite the best, the comments she comes out with in class. She can't spell, of course. (Pause.) But it just goes to show: you can't judge by appearances. Jack was wrong.
    What information is conveyed by Doris's pause?
    Doris is changing the habits and attitudes of a lifetime and has learned to challenge her own prejudice
  4. DORIS: We're coming at Christmas. Or don't you want us this year?
    What is the effect of Doris's negative phrasing?
    This is one of the many examples of passive-aggressive communication in the play. Margaret is required to reassure Doris that of course they are welcome
  5. ROSIE: But your job's only typing, Mum.
    What effect does the use of the word "only" have here?
    Margaret's job cannot compare with the glamour of Jackie's
  6. ROSIE: Secrecy kills. (Pause.) — Nuclear secrecy.
    What effect does the pause have in this line?
    Rosie has no awareness that she has accidentally stumbled into Margaret's and Jackie's discussion of the biggest secret in the family
  7. MARGARET: After you phoned . . . after you asked us . . . Daddy went upstairs and got your old high chair down from the attic. (Pause.) Like sisters, he said. A new little sister . . .
    Which of the following words describes Margaret's and Ken's emotions at the thought of taking Rosie in?
    Margaret and Ken, who were unable to have more than one child, respond eagerly to the idea of raising their grandchild as their own daughter
  8. DORIS: I'm not talking about that. (Cradles folded sheet). I'm talking about the desire . . . for little arms reaching up and clinging round your neck. (She buries her face in the sheet, then holds it out to Margaret to do likewise.)
    Which of the following emphasises the domesticity in Doris's lines?
    The word "cradles" is appropriate because she and Margaret are discussing the desire for children; Doris cradles the sheet as she once cradled her daughter
  9. DORIS: My father turned up once, after we'd moved to Jubilee Street. Mother took him back, of course.
    Which use of language demonstrates that Doris sees some aspects of male/female relationships as inevitable?
    Doris has fairly low expectations and goes on to express her feeling that she's lucky at least that her own husband didn't beat her
  10. MARGARET: Will we win the war?
    DORIS: Not if you don't keep quiet and go to sleep.
    How might Doris's response best be described?
    Doris repeatedly avoids answering Margaret's fearful questions, either truthfully or comfortingly. She avoids emotions by behaving as if life is perfectly normal

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