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The Woman in Black - Themes
What did you think of The Woman in Black?

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.

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?
The ghost of Jennet Humfrye haunts the house and island, but not the town
Arthur is too rational to be haunted by his experiences at Eel Marsh House
The townspeople are haunted by their past losses and fear of future grief, as well as by the Woman in Black
Mrs Drablow was not haunted at all by the ghost of her dead sister
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 appearance and disappearance of the Woman in Black at the burial ground
The sudden mist in which Arthur nearly loses the causeway path as he attempts to cross to the mainland
The opening of the nursery door which had previously been locked
The panicked neighing of a pony, cries of a child, and sucking sounds of the mud which Arthur hears repeatedly out on the marsh
The mist is eerie but entirely explicable. Arthur struggles to explain the other events
3.
How is nature presented in the novel?
Always a comfort to human beings
Always malevolent to human beings, like the ghost of Jennet Humfrye
Always beautiful and peaceful
As indifferent to human beings
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?
He is excited to have another person to talk to during his tedious journey
He is glad to be able to question Mr Daily intensively about Mrs Drablow and her affairs
He is rude and angry at Mr Daily for expecting conversation
He is polite, but avoids discussing his business with 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?
They tease Arthur for his fears
They prefer not to talk openly about their fear
The people of the town try to persuade Arthur to be cautious, explaining why he should be afraid, but he ignores their warnings
The people of the town are so familiar with the Woman in Black that they no longer fear her
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 are behaving unnaturally
Arthur thinks it odd that the children mourn Mrs Drablow
Arthur thinks the children are actually hungry orphans
Arthur worries that the children are actually ghosts
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?
Isolation
Domesticity
Vengeance
The reality of the supernatural
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?
She wishes to cause random strangers intense grief such as she experienced
She attempts to cause travellers to drown in the marsh as her son drowned
She wishes to kill parents, out of jealousy at their happiness
She wishes to make parents suffer grief such as her own by causing the unexpected deaths of their children
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?
Arthur is widowed at a young age, losing his child in the same accident
Crythin Gifford is geographically isolated, being located vaguely up "North", at the end of a minor branch line and barely worthy of being called a town, rather than a village
Samuel Daily lives a life isolated from the rest of the town
Eel Marsh House, where Mrs Drablow lived alone for many years, is cut off twice daily by the tides
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?
Arthur makes a living as an author, or professional storyteller
Arthur writes the experiences of his younger days in response to his step-children's demands for a Christmas ghost story
Arthur repeats Jennet Humfrye's story to everyone he meets
Arthur distrusts storytelling and never takes part
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
Author:  Sheri Smith

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