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To Kill a Mockingbird - Understanding the Text

This GCSE English Literature quiz focusses on understanding the text in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Understanding a text is a basic precondition of analysing or writing about it. And yet it is not always an easy task. After all, if authors had a simple message to convey, it would not take them hundreds of pages and thousands of words in which to do so! Reading a text from long ago, or from another country, or even just written in a strong dialect can make the task slightly more difficult. Occasionally it takes a little time to get used to how a particular author writes.

Authors use a variety of methods in order to convey meaning. They do not often state what they mean directly.

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Instead, character, setting, plot, theme and dialogue are the means through which authors communicate with the reader. Consider each of these elements closely and try to understand the text as you read. Sometimes re-reading can be a big help, especially if you realise that you might not have understood everything the first time. If this becomes necessary, don’t worry! This happens to everyone and just proves that you are paying attention!

When you read a text, your comprehension works on several levels simultaneously. Consider how context and setting relate to events. Think about the way in which events relate to each other. Create a timeline of events: it can be one very useful method for understanding a text. Remember that events are not always revealed in the order in which they occur chronologically. Chapter summaries can be a useful aid to your revision, helping you to visualise the structure of the text, especially when that differs from the chronological timeline.

Think about the way in which actions reveal the characters’ motivations. Does the text offer clues to explain their behaviour? Should readers take their words at face value, or should the subtext of those words be examined more closely? Do the actions and beliefs of the characters match the words which they say? Try to answer why or why not, justifying your views by referring in detail to the text.

Analysing beginnings and endings is a great method of revision. Why do you think the text begins as it does? How do you find out about the characters’ pasts? Is there a distance between the narrator and the time when reported events took place? Are future events foreshadowed? How? Analyse individual chapters in the same way, considering the significance of their beginnings and endings. Undertaking careful and detailed analysis of this sort will really improve your knowledge and understanding of the text!

Read the questions below on To Kill a Mockingbird and test your knowledge and understanding of the text.

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  1. Why does the sheriff, Mr Tate, insist that Mr Ewell fell on his own knife?
    Mr Tate says that all of the ladies of Maycomb would be knocking on the Radley door and offering him cake in gratitude, if they knew he had saved the children's lives
  2. After Scout walks Boo Radley home, she tries to put herself in his place to imagine why he came to help her and Jem. She refers to herself and her brother as...
    Scout realises how attached Boo Radley had become to her and her brother over the years
  3. How does Atticus prove that Tom Robinson could not have caused Mayella's black eye?
    Atticus first proves that Mr Ewell is left-handed before revealing the uselessness of Tom's left arm. He then leads Mayella and the jury to realise that only a left-handed assailant could have blackened Mayella's right eye
  4. How are the professionals of Maycomb county often paid, according to Atticus?
    Many of Atticus's clients are poor and are only able to pay in kind. Over the course of a year, Mr Cunningham pays Atticus with firewood, hickory nuts, Christmas holly and turnip greens
  5. What is Atticus's profession?
    Atticus's profession is integral to the plot
  6. Why doesn't Scout like school?
    Jem tells Scout she won't learn anything until sixth grade
  7. Why does Dill run away from home?
    Dill feels that he has everything he could want except attention
  8. How old is Scout at the beginning of To Kill a Mockingbird?
    This is a trick question! Scout narrates the tale as an adult, although she doesn't tell us her age or how long ago the events happened. She begins her story, however, with events which took place when she was nearly six years old
  9. Tom Robinson has many reasons to be afraid of telling the truth when he is on trial. One of these reasons is that his testimony will cause shame to those accusing him. Which of the following is a source of shame for the Ewells?
    Black men and boys were very often accused, as Tom is, of raping white women. That a white woman could have thrown herself at a black man would be deeply shaming to the racists of the town. Telling the truth further endangers Tom's life
  10. Which of the following is NOT true?
    According to local gossip, Boo Radley was rather wild as a teenager

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