My Mother Said I Never Should - Themes

This GCSE English Literature quiz is about themes in Charlotte Keatley's My Mother Said I Never Should. A theme, when speaking of literature, is an idea conveyed by a text. Even the simplest work of literature will contain several themes. These can range from the unmistakeable to those you might only notice after reading a work for the third time. The themes of a text usually interact with one another, as if in conversation, rather than operating in isolation. Authors develop themes through the use of the essential elements of fiction, including setting, character, plot and dialogue.

You will certainly have had the experience of noticing related ideas and concepts popping up in different places in a text you are reading.

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These related ideas are, of course, the themes and to analyse them, you should begin thinking about how these ideas develop over the course of the text. A good place to start is by considering your own opinions: has the text prompted you to change your own thoughts on the topics? Or perhaps your pre-existing ideas have been confirmed? If an author has successfully encouraged you to engage with the themes of the text, you will find yourself thinking hard about the issues and maybe even changing your mind.

When you finish reading a text, try comparing your thoughts at the end with those you held as you began reading. Do you find that you can explain why your views might have changed or grown stronger? See whether you can identify the section of text where your personal views have been challenged (or confirmed). It is important to remember that you do not have to agree with other readers. Your response to a text will be personal, because you, like other readers, bring your own thoughts, beliefs and experiences into consideration while reading.

Most of the themes of My Mother Said I Never Should relate to the experience of women. Society’s expectations of women, women’s expectations of themselves, the relationship between mothers and daughters, are the basic themes of the text. Each theme is multi-layered, however, especially through the passage of time for each character and for society as a whole. The women’s experiences vary over time while retaining continuity. Doris can relate perfectly well to her great-granddaughter’s experiences in many ways, despite the societal shifts which take place over the twentieth century.

Read the questions below and test your knowledge of the themes of My Mother Said I Never Should.

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  1. How does the ordinary feature in the play?
    The play is entirely concerned with the most ordinary of relationships, settings, and experiences. Even birth and death are almost stripped bare, allowing them to be as ordinary as possible. The family's decision to raise Rosie as Jackie's sister is perhaps the least ordinary event in the play, but certainly happened often enough in the past
  2. The play presents career advancement as a trade-off with which of the following?
    While attitudes towards work change (Doris, for example, is expected to give up her work), none of the women successfully manages both home life and work. Margaret appears to do so, raising two daughters and having a job during the second half of her life, but blames the pressure for her husband leaving her
  3. Inheritance is one of the themes of the play. This theme is apparent in all but which one of the following?
    Objects, troubles and character traits are passed down or reappear in each generation
  4. In what sense is "judgement" a theme of the play?
    This is one of the reasons that Margaret and Jackie are both considered apologetic by Rosie. They are not, however, imagining the sense of being under judgement, since characters explicitly criticise one another throughout the play
  5. Which of the following is correct?
    Men are very much part of this play, despite never appearing onstage. The relationship between women and men is explored through the women's memories and conversations, as well as the structure of the play in which scenes jump between different times, encompassing proposals and deaths
  6. Doris keeps her resentments inside; Rosie openly supports political protests. Which of the following is true of Margaret and Jackie?
    Protest and honesty about feelings are shown to be related; when characters suppress their feelings, they often are revealed in a low-level, but destructive, manner such as the bickering between mother and daughter (or between Ken and Margaret)
  7. Whom does Rosie describe as always sounding apologetic on the phone?
    Rosie is often able to articulate the issues facing the women in her family. In Rosie's eyes, both Margaret and Jackie feel a perpetual sense of shame, a sense of responsibility for everything that goes wrong and a need to apologise
  8. Objects in the play are shown to be meaningful as triggers for ....
    The few objects in the play function as holders of memories; objects such as photos, clothing, a cup and the piano prompt the sharing of memories
  9. "We need bits of her finger-nail and hair and stuff." To which theme does this line spoken in the Wasteground relate?
    The Wasteground is a semi-magical place. When Jackie tries to create a spell to kill the Mother, her magical practices resemble the types of activities in which children engage on the playground. The child Margaret, however, disappears after the spell is enacted as if the wish to be rid of the Mother really had been responsible for Margaret's death
  10. Which of the following does NOT relate to the themes of dishonesty and secrecy in the play?
    The circumstances of Rosie's birth are the source of many, but not all, of the secrets in the play

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