This GCSE English Literature quiz will test you on Susan Hill's The Woman in Black. Understanding a text is essential if you expect to analyse and write about it. Comprehension might sound as though it is a simple task, but it can be trickier than it seems. If texts only had a single “message”, authors would not need to expend so many words in expressing it.
The Woman in Black is written as a full-length ghost story in the tradition of M. R. James, Henry James and Charles Dickens. It is richly atmospheric, with evocative descriptions of landscape. Fairly ordinary settings such as a reasonably comfortable home, a small town, and a small island are revealed to harbour a terrifying presence. This presence, in its turn, is no more than that ordinary figure - a mother. And yet, such a terrifying mother, wasted as she is by disease, grief and the desire for vengeance!
Authors use a variety of methods to convey meaning. There are times when authors state the meaning directly, but it is more typical for the 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 can, try to re-read the text, too. When you read a book only once, you are very likely to miss important details. If you feel you need to read certain sections several times in order to understand them, don’t worry! Noticing when you haven’t fully understood a section means that you have been paying attention to the complex nature of the text.
Making a timeline of events is a practical approach to revision. Draw up a list of chapters and note the key events which happen in each. See if you are able to relate each of these chapters to the overall plot. Consider the relationship between characters’ actions and motivations. Why might characters behave in the way they do? Can you discover any clues in the text? Are there trustworthy characters, whose words can be taken at face value? Do you perceive any foreshadowing of later events? 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 tell the reader? What do we know, or learn, about the character? Think about possible answers to these questions when you consider individual chapters, too. 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 The Woman in Black and test your knowledge and understanding of the text.