DNA strands lying on a bed of letters
See if you can get ten out of ten in this quiz.

DNA - Understanding the Text

This GCSE English Literature quiz takes a look at Dennis Kelly's DNA. In order to be able to write about a text, you’ll first need to make sure you understand it. “Comprehension” is often discussed as if it is the easiest of literary tasks to master, but it is trickier than it seems. If texts only had a single simple meaning, authors would not write entire books to convey the message.

DNA is a short play with relatively few characters, written in four brief acts. The content of the play is brutally straightforward.

One group of teenagers is responsible for the death of a peer and decides to deflect any suspicion away from themselves by inventing a suspect. While the events are simple to describe, the play deals with relationships between individuals and groups, as well as the existence of groups within wider society. It is in this area that the play becomes much more complex.

Authors use a variety of methods to convey meaning. Authors might well state their meaning directly, but it is more typical for an author to communicate through other aspects of fiction, such as character, setting, plot, theme and dialogue. Focussing on each of these elements will help to increase your understanding of the text. If you have time, try to re-read the text, too. When you read a book only once, you are very likely to miss important details. If you find that you need to read certain sections several times in order to understand them, don’t worry! Noticing that you haven’t fully understood a section means that you are paying close attention to the complex nature of the text.

Making a timeline of events is a practical approach to revision. Draw up a list of acts and scenes, noting the key events which happen in each. Think about how each of these relates to plot development overall.

Consider the relationship between characters’ actions and motivations. Can you find reasons for the ways in which individual characters behave? What clues exist in the text? Are there trustworthy characters, whose words can be taken at face value? As you think about the text, consider how you might justify your views through evidence.

Remember to pay especially close attention to the beginnings and ends of the text. Why might the author have begun the text a certain way? What does the setting for each scene tell the reader? What do we know, or learn, about each character – and how? By devoting some attention to careful and detailed analysis of this sort, you can greatly improve your understanding of the text.

Read the questions below on DNA and test your knowledge and understanding of the text.

The play opens with Jan asking the question, "dead?". To which of the following does the question refer?
Someone in Mark's family has died
Jan and Mark are hoping that Adam is dead
The group of friends believe that Adam is dead
Someone in the group of friends has been joking about killing Adam
After quizzing Mark on whether he's talking about the "living dead", whether there has been a mistake, it's all a joke, or if Adam can be hiding, Jan asks, "what are we going to do?" How the group responds to the terrible event which takes place before the beginning of the play is its central problem
Why are Cathy, Danny and Mark instructed to fetch one of Adam's jumpers from his house and place it in a bag without touching it?
Adam gets cold living in the woods and needs an extra jumper
The group plans to use Adam's jumper for a joke they are planning
The jumper will be used to gather the DNA of the "suspect"
One of the boys plans to wear the jumper to make witnesses believe they have seen Adam in the woods
Phil tells the three that they must place the jumper in the bag without touching it. He plans the operation carefully so that no traces lead back to the group of young people actually responsible for Adam's disappearance
Whose evidence is essential for convicting the postman for the "murder" of Adam?
Adam's mother
Brian was first ordered to tell the head that a stranger had exposed himself in the woods. When the blame has been pinned on a real person, Brian at first refuses to go to the police station to identify him; he is coerced into going when Phil threatens to give him the same treatment as Adam
What is the supposed reason for the group's abuse of Adam?
They wanted to see how far they could push him
They never liked him
Adam was responsible for getting one of the members of the group in trouble at school
All of the above
Jan and Mark hint that Adam was willing to go along with the "joking" because he so desperately wanted to join the group
Which of the following best describes Leah's speech in the scenes she shares with Phil?
Malicious gossip
Thoughtless chatter
Leah discusses herself, the state of the world, the people they both know, philosophical matters and other topics with which she occupies her thoughts, while Phil remains silent. She tries to provoke a reaction from him, but does not succeed
Act Four opens with Jan and Mark discussing how Leah has "gone". Who takes her place in trying to win attention from Phil?
John Tate
Richard, like Leah, cannot get any type of reaction from Phil. In the face of Phil's silence, Richard, like Leah, begins to speak philosophically, wondering about the universe and the meaning of life
What "problem" is created by Adam's reappearance?
If Adam reappears, the town will lose its new-found fondness for him
Adam's reappearance will draw attention to the activities of the group
If Adam reappears, the falsely accused postman will certainly go to prison
Adam will try too hard to be part of the "gang" again
The authorities, including the police, will not only discover that the group believed they had killed Adam, but also that they hadn't tried to save him or get help for him, had remained silent after his disappearance and framed someone for his murder
What did the group do to Adam?
They made him eat leaves
They made him steal vodka, run across a motorway and walk over a grille
They punched him and stubbed out cigarettes on him
All of the above
The group talk about the way in which they abused Adam, beginning with the smaller acts of bullying, insisting that Adam was enjoying the joke, and ending with the moment they begin to throw stones at him as he walks over the grille. The horrifying nature of their recount draws power from the slow buildup to this moment
Whose response to the event gives the play its title?
Phil has a response ready instantly when John Tate asks him what they should all do. His plan involves collecting DNA from an innocent man
Which of the following is correct?
Everyone in the group is in denial about what they did to Adam
John Tate, who tries to ban the word "dead", is the only person denying the reality of the group's actions
Everyone in the group responds differently to the "murder" of Adam, some with honesty and others by slowly coming to recognise reality
No one in the group denies what they did to Adam
The recount of events shows how differently each person reacts, with even John Tate eventually accepting reality by using the word "dead" himself
Author:  Sheri Smith

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