The Woman in Black - Themes

This GCSE English Literature quiz challenges you on theme in Susan Hill's The Woman in Black. Theme, in literature, is an idea conveyed by a text. All works of literature contain multiple themes. These can range from the most obvious of ideas to the most subtle. You can often see an interplay of themes in a text as each theme develops in combination with the others. Authors use the essential elements of fiction, including setting, character, plot and dialogue, in order to develop theme.

Have you noticed the way that related ideas and concepts appear repeatedly in a text you’ve read? These repeated ideas are the text’s themes. Consider how these ideas are each introduced and developed over the course of the text. A good place to start this analysis is by examining your own response to the text, especially if you have been prompted to reconsider any of your own opinions on the ideas with which the text is concerned.

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If a text makes you think hard about an issue or maybe even persuades you to change your mind, then the author has successfully encouraged you to engage with one or more of its themes. You may even find that you strongly disagree with other readers, your classmates, or your teacher. This is natural: it would be strange to share identical views with everyone else! Your response will be deeply personal because you bring your own thoughts, beliefs and experiences into consideration of the text.

Spend some time comparing the thoughts and views you hold after finishing a book with those you held before you began to read. Do you notice any views which have changed, or been strengthened? See whether you can identify why/why not. Try to discover the specific place in the text which has challenged or confirmed your personal views.

The themes of this novel include the power of the past to haunt the present, domestic comfort versus terror, the intractability of nature, companionship, grief, loss, vengeance, and the fear inherent to parenting, among others. Read the questions below and test your knowledge of the themes of The Woman in Black.

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  1. Which of the following is correct?
    Mr Daily believes Mrs Drablow lived for decades with the terror inflicted by the Woman in Black's malevolence
  2. Arthur always tries to find a rational explanation for his experiences. Which of the following events has such an explanation?
    The mist is eerie but entirely explicable. Arthur struggles to explain the other events
  3. How is nature presented in the novel?
    The open sky, fields, sea and marshes around Eel Marsh House make Arthur feel insignificant. Sometimes he finds this feeling comforting, as at the novel's opening when he is gazing at the stars while knowing that his family is safely indoors ready to continue their Christmas festivities
  4. How does Arthur react when he is joined in the train compartment by Mr Daily?
    As narrator, Arthur admits to having been snobbish towards the signs of Mr Daily's newly acquired wealth. Mr Daily's companionship and generosity later becomes essential to Arthur
  5. How do the residents of Crythin Gifford deal with fear?
    Arthur dismisses even those fears which the villagers only hint at. Nevertheless, he collapses from overwhelming fear on several occasions while alone in Eel Marsh House
  6. "Lined up along the iron railings that surrounded the small asphalt yard of the school were twenty or so children, one to a gap. They presented a row of pale, solemn faces with great, round eyes, that had watched who knew how much of the mournful proceedings, and their little hands held the railings tight, and they were all of them quite silent, quite motionless. It was an oddly grave and touching sight, they looked so unlike children generally do, animated and carefree." Why does this sight seem so odd to Arthur?
    The children's young lives are haunted by the ghost of Jennet Humfrye and her grief at the loss of her own child. The terrible events of the past have the power to affect their young lives in the present. They are not carefree, as young children should be
  7. "I took one last look at the frosty darkness, sighed contentedly, called to the dogs, and went in, anticipating nothing more than a pipe and a glass of good malt whisky beside the crackling fire, in the happy company of my family. As I crossed the hall and entered the drawing room, I felt an uprush of well-being, of the kind I have experienced regularly during my life at Monk's Piece, a sensation that leads on naturally to another, of heartfelt thankfulness." To which of the following themes does this passage relate?
    This little description expresses Arthur's idea of domestic bliss. It is spoiled in short time by the request for him to tell a ghost story
  8. What type of vengeance does the Woman in Black seek?
    The Woman in Black's vengeance takes a very specific form. As narrator, Arthur still suffers his own grief at the loss of his first wife and child; many of the townspeople in Crythin Gifford suffer grief after losing children to accident or disease
  9. Isolation is experienced in many forms in the novel. Which of the following is NOT an example of this?
    Isolation in the novel is experienced both physically and emotionally. Mr Daily's home is not particularly isolated
  10. The Woman in Black is structured as a story, within a story, within another story. At the heart is the history of Jennet Humfrye and her dead son. How does storytelling relate to Arthur?
    The novel opens with Arthur choosing to write the story he refused to tell. The final words of the novel are "They asked for my story. I have told it. Enough." These closing words imply that storytelling is a form of exorcism and that Arthur believes he might now be rid of the ghosts of the past

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