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To Kill a Mockingbird - Context

This GCSE English Literature quiz challenges you on context in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. A text’s context is the environment in which it was written. Be careful not to confuse context with setting. Whereas the setting includes the geographical location, political and social environment and the time in which the events of a text take place, context includes all the aspects, but as they apply to the author. In addition to these aspects, issues and events from the author’s past can have as much effect on a text as those occurring contemporaneously. Any personal beliefs of the author’s which help to shape the text are considered context.

How to write about context

Learning about the context of a fictional work gives you an insight into some of the important influences which help to shape a text.

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Context does not dictate the substance and meaning of a text, however, so sometimes it is merely useful information to bear in mind as you read and think about a piece of writing. Context works its influence through the author’s own aims and purposes. In To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, Harper Lee has been influenced both by her childhood experiences and memories of racism in the South as well as by events which were taking place as she was writing. Although the novel was set in the recent past, she captured many of the tensions in American life which would soon lead to great changes.

Pay close attention to the text to find out what it says about history, about politics, or about social issues. Researching the work’s context will help you to develop a deeper understanding of these issues. What was happening at the time the text was written? Are the issues at the heart of the work related to real-life events? If so, is this in a straightforward or more subtle manner? Compare your knowledge of historical context to whatever the text says about these issues. Remember that works of art exist beyond their context and that good texts continue creating meaning long after the time when they are written. Finally, when analysing a text, be careful to distinguish between the setting of the text and its context.

Research the context of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, remembering everything you have learned in English and (perhaps) history lessons, and try these questions to see how much you know.

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  1. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 also prohibited discrimination on the basis of which of the following?
    The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed a few years after To Kill a Mockingbird was published. It outlawed several forms of discrimination besides racial, including by religion or sex, among others
  2. Traditional "Southern" views on lineage, family and community are expounded by which of these characters?
    Family history and lineage is very important to Aunt Alexandra. Her views conform with those of Maycomb society and Alabama more generally
  3. What is the Scottsboro Case?
    The case took place in Alabama during the 1930s. Eight of the young men were sentenced to death after being convicted by the all-white jury
  4. When was To Kill a Mockingbird first published?
    Harper Lee first published the novel in 1960. The southern states of the US were still plagued by the same injustices of the 1930s, when To Kill a Mockingbird is set
  5. What is the name for a collection of segregation laws which relied on the assertion that black and white people were "separate but equal"?
    Jim Crow laws were challenged during the Civil Rights Movement
  6. Racial segregation is evident in which of the novel's settings?
    Boo Radley is saved from prison as a young man because the sheriff does not feel it fair to jail him with the black prisoners
  7. What is meant by the term "lynching"?
    Vigilantes, acting outside of the law, often lynched people they believed had escaped justice. Such violent acts took place while those responsible for enforcing the law deliberately chose to look the other way, allowing the perpetrators to evade punishment. Atticus knows that white men will attempt to take Tom Robinson out of jail in order to lynch him. This is why Scout and Jem find him keeping watch over the jail door
  8. Which of the following took place, bringing about great changes, during the decade following the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird?
    The Movement ended in 1968
  9. Which of the following does NOT invite reflection on gender roles in To Kill a Mockingbird?
    Scout is under pressure from all sides to conform to a specifically Southern ideal of femininity
  10. Where did Harper Lee live as a child?
    Harper Lee lived in New York when the novel was published. The story is set in a small Alabama town similar to the one in which she lived as a child

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