This GCSE English Literature quiz challenges you on context in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. A text’s context is the environment in which it was written. Be careful not to confuse context with setting. Whereas the setting includes the geographical location, political and social environment and the time in which the events of a text take place, context includes all the aspects, but as they apply to the author. In addition to these aspects, issues and events from the author’s past can have as much effect on a text as those occurring contemporaneously. Any personal beliefs of the author’s which help to shape the text are considered context.
Learning about the context of a fictional work gives you an insight into some of the important influences which help to shape a text.
Context does not dictate the substance and meaning of a text, however, so sometimes it is merely useful information to bear in mind as you read and think about a piece of writing. Context works its influence through the author’s own aims and purposes. In To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, Harper Lee has been influenced both by her childhood experiences and memories of racism in the South as well as by events which were taking place as she was writing. Although the novel was set in the recent past, she captured many of the tensions in American life which would soon lead to great changes.
Pay close attention to the text to find out what it says about history, about politics, or about social issues. Researching the work’s context will help you to develop a deeper understanding of these issues. What was happening at the time the text was written? Are the issues at the heart of the work related to real-life events? If so, is this in a straightforward or more subtle manner? Compare your knowledge of historical context to whatever the text says about these issues. Remember that works of art exist beyond their context and that good texts continue creating meaning long after the time when they are written. Finally, when analysing a text, be careful to distinguish between the setting of the text and its context.
Research the context of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, remembering everything you have learned in English and (perhaps) history lessons, and try these questions to see how much you know.