Chemical symbols and DNA strand
Prepare for the GCSE English Literature exam by playing this quiz.

DNA - Language

This GCSE English Literature quiz takes a look at language in DNA by Dennis Kelly. Because all of the characters in DNA are school-aged, language is natural and appropriate to how young people actually speak. This means that the effects created by language are sometimes subtle and allusive. Many of its effects depend on interaction, for instance, the way characters interrupt one another, complete each other’s sentences, speak when no one is listening, or demonstrate that they themselves are disengaged from the conversation the rest of the group is holding. It is also useful to look at punctuation in the play, which shows where sentences trail off, are interrupted, or where two characters are weaving their own contributions together.

Analysing language in a text

Since texts are composed of words, they are – rather obviously - primarily understood through their language. Authors choose the individual words, phrases and imagery they use with precision. By devoting your attention to the language of a text, you can understand its symbolic meanings and associations. The use of the term “wordsmith” to describe an author emphasises the skill and craft involved in creating worlds out of language. Prose texts, including plays, as well as novels, use language you might be more likely to associate with poetry, including metaphor, simile and personification, and other literary effects. Setting, characterisation and dialogue rely upon the author’s skill with language.

You will greatly increase your understanding of the text by paying very close attention to its language. Spend some time in lingering over the words and imagery, asking yourself how many possible meanings might be perceived beyond the surface meaning. Consider the suggestions expressed implicitly by each individual choice of words, or combinations of words. While you’re reading, or re-reading, be sure to note any ideas that come to mind. Time spent in this way will greatly develop your ability to analyse literature.

Answer the questions below to develop your understanding of the way language choices affect the reader’s interpretation of DNA.

LEAH: Did you see Jan at Adam's memorial? Floods of tears. It was wonderful, everyone felt wonderful, I felt terrible of course, but everyone felt wonderful. It's incredible. The change. This place. You're a miracle worker. Everyone's happy. You know that?

What does Leah contrast here?
Her feelings and Phil's feelings
Phil's feelings and everyone else's feelings
Her feelings and everyone else's feelings
Her terrible nature and Phil's kind nature
Leah marvels at the atmosphere created when a community comes together to mourn someone. As one of those complicit in Adam's "murder", she cannot share in the community spirit
DANNY: They're looking for Brian.
LEAH: Why?
DANNY: Because he can identify him.
LEAH: No he can't.
LOU: Because he saw him in the woods.
LEAH: He didn't
LOU: He did

In this conversation about the arrested man, what does Lou's dialogue tell the audience?
Lou is deliberately trying to confuse Leah
Lou does not distinguish between fact and fiction at this point
Lou is frightened of the consequences
Lou is concerned for the innocent man who has been arrested
Lou discusses Brian identifying the suspect as though the invented story reported to the headteacher and the police is actually true
PHIL: This is a bad situation. We didn't want this situation. But we've got this situation. It wasn't supposed to be like this. But it is like this.

What technique does Dennis Kelly use here in Phil's dialogue?
Phil uses repetition to imply that no one in the group has any choice over what happens next. He implies that if they accept the terrible situation they are actually in, rather than wishing for something impossible, they will understand exactly what needs to be done
ADAM: I fell, I falled into, I fell onto this...
wake, woke, wake up, I woke up with liquid on my head, leaves, dead and rotting, I remember leaves, but just dark maybe a light high, high, high, high, high....above

Adam finds it difficult to explain his experience to the rest of the group. With what is "waking" associated?
Adam's words contrast falling, darkness and rotting with the experience of "waking". "Waking" is difficult since the light is high and far away and Adam is surrounded by death and darkness, almost as if he had awakened in his own tomb
A Field. RICHARD sits with PHIL.
PHIL is not eating. He stares into the distance.
Suddenly RICHARD gets up.

Which of these stage directions is surprising?
RICHARD sits with PHIL
PHIL is not eating
Suddenly RICHARD gets up
This stage direction is unusual because it states what Phil is NOT doing. In the scenes set in the field he is always eating. Not eating shows the audience that something has changed for Phil
JOHN TATE: So if me and Richard are mates now, which we are and all that silliness is over, which it is, and you're on someone's side, Danny, then you're on your own side, which is very, well, to be honest, very silly and dangerous.

Which of the following words describes John Tate's tone?
John Tate is trying to intimidate Danny into placing group loyalty (and personal loyalty to John Tate as the group's leader) above any other consideration
LEAH: A chimp'll just find itself on the outside of a group and before he knows what's happening it's being hounded to death by the others, sometimes for months. For years we've thought that chimps were our closest living relative, but now they're saying its the bonobos. Bonobos are the complete opposite of chimps. When a stranger bonobo approaches the pack, the other bonobos all come out and go "Hello, mate. What you doing round here? Come and meet the family, we can eat some ants."

Which of the following phrases sheds some light on the title of the play?
"A chimp'll just find itself on the outside of a group"
"Before he knows what's happening it's being hounded to death by the others"
"For years we've thought that chimps were our closest living relative, but now they're saying it's the bonobos"
"Come and meet the family, we can eat some ants"
Leah believes that humanity would have a different view of itself if it considered its genetic closeness to the gentle bonobo, rather than seeing itself reflected in the violence of chimpanzees
JAN: I mean he was still joking all the way, but
MARK: you could tell
JAN: He weren't really
MARK: fear

Which of the following is correct?
Mark and Jan are arguing
Mark and Jan contradict one another
Mark and Jan don't make any sense
Between them, Mark and Jan tell the truth
Mark and Jan, who form the chorus in the first scene of each act, here complete each other's thoughts in order to express the truth: Adam was terrified and they knew it, even though he was laughing
LEAH: Okay. Now things are strange. Things are really, really strange, Phil. I mean with the greatest of respect, Adam, you are supposed to be dead.

Which of the following describes the effect of the phrase "with the greatest of respect" here?
Its formality emphasises the very oddness of the situation Leah describes
Leah doesn't really respect anyone
The phrase sounds childish and unlike Leah's usual way of speaking
The phrase has no effect on the meaning of the line
"With the greatest of respect" seems both formal and somehow rather adult. The phrase draws attention to the unprecedented situation in which Leah and Adam find themselves
LEAH: And I mean, there's been a service, there's been appeals, there's been weeping...They're naming the science lab after him, for God's sake.
ADAM: I'm...dead?

Which one of the following is correct?
Leah is talking about Adam to the others
Leah is explaining the group's quandary to Adam
Leah is talking to herself
Adam has a clear understanding of everything taking place
Leah's use of pronouns demonstrates that she is talking to the group about Adam, rather than talking to him. She uses the third person pronoun, "him", showing that she is discussing the problem with the group, almost as if Adam is not present and has no say in what happens next
Author:  Sheri Smith

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