Intermediate 2 ‘The Test’ by Angelica Gibbs
‘The Test’ by Angelica Gibbs Pre-reading activiites
‘The Test’ by Angelica Gibbs ‘The Test’ is a short story which follows a woman taking her driving test. Before you read the story, think about the following questions: • Would you describe yourself as good or bad at passing exams/tests? • How do you feel when you know you have an exam/test coming up? • Have you ever been given an exam/test that you felt was (genuinely) unfair?
‘The Test’ Active reading
‘The Test’ As you listen/read the story make two lists: • List all the times the driving inspector calls Marian by the wrong name. Each time, take a note of the paragraph number and of the name he calls her. • List of all of the times the driving inspector uses what he thinks is a southern accent, or a southern dialect or expression. Each time, note the paragraph number and then quote what he says.
‘The Test’ Wrong name Southern accent, dialect or expression Paragraph 16 – “Mandy” Paragraph 18 – “Mandy-Lou” Paragraph 25 – “Mandy- Lou” Paragraph 38 – “Mandy” Paragraph 40 – “Mandy” Paragraph 42 – “Mistress Mandy” Paragraph 22 – “pickaninnies” Paragraph 29 – “young blood” Paragraph 30 – “whistle ‘Swanee River’. Make you homesick?” Paragraph 32 – “You-all ain’t” “dog my cats” “You –all” “yondah” Paragraph 34 - “you-all” Paragraph 38 - “You-all sho” “d’you-all” Paragraph 40 – “dog my cats”
‘The Test’ Understanding the story Discuss in groups: • When is the first point in the story where we realise that Marian is black and the other characters are white? Paragraph 2 “ ‘ They probably do like it better if a white person shows up with you.’ ” First creates idea that Marion is not white. Paragraph 4 “Mrs Ericson watched her dark competent hands” Clarifies that Marion is black • Why does Marian keep failing her driving test? She cannot put up with the instructor’s prejudice comments anymore and loses her temper, “ ‘Damn you!’ ” (paragraph 42) • In your opinion, would she have passed if Mrs Ericson had gone along in the car with them?
‘The Test’ This story is obviously about **injustice, prejudice and racism. The author, Angelica Gibbs, doesn’t tell us what to think about these serious issues; she doesn’t tell us what she thinks either. Instead she puts her message across by showing how the issues affect one person on one day. **These are the THEMES**
‘The Test’ Remember as we study the text that, while Marion is black, everyone else in the story is white.
‘The Test’ Setting
‘The Test’ • Which country do you think the story is set in? This should be easy to answer. Certain words/phrases in the story give you clues.
‘The Test’ Some of these clues are dialect words, words that belong to the kind of English spoken in a certain place. • Which word in paragraph 5 tells you the story is set in this country? “flunk” • Which word in paragraph 34 tells you the story is set in this country? “blocks” Some of the words used in the story were factual • Which word used in para 23 tells you the story is set in this country? “Buick” • Which word in paras25 and 30 tells you the story is set in this country? “Pennsylvania” “Scranton, Pennsylvania”
‘The Test’ You should be able to work out if the story is set in the north or south of this country. • Look at paragraphs 29 and 31. Which area of the country do you think it is set in? “homesick” implies it is in the north as ‘Swannee River’ is in the southern state of Missouri. “you-all ain’t Southern!” suggests they are not in the south We also need to consider the setting in time, as well as place. • Look at paragraph 30. What does Marion do that drivers do not need to do nowadays? • She signals her turn with a hand signal rather than using an indicator light Finally • Did you spot anything else in the story that helped you work out the time or place?
‘The Test’ Setting: Summary These answers all help to place the story in a historical context. Marian is a young black woman living in one of the northern states of the USA. The fact that she has to put out her hand to signal when she turns in the road make it clear that she is driving a car made before indicator lights became standard. (It can’t be simply that she owns an old car. We are told the car belongs to her employer who is wealthy enough to employ staff and not have to work.) This helps to place the story in time – it is taking place around 1940.
‘The Test’ Background Context It is important to remember that America was a much more racially divided country in those days. The situation was much worse in the southern states but even in the north, where the story is set, few good jobs were open to black people. Not many black people had any education beyond high school level. The big civil rights movements of the 1950s and 60s, and black leaders like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, were not yet active. Although many in America were aware of the injustice around them, there was very little they felt they could do about it.
‘The Test’ Character
‘The Test’ • Character: Marion In this section we will be analysing what makes Marian a striking and interesting character.
Marian Marian has managed to get a degree at a time when it would have been very difficult for any black person to do so. She must have had to work before she was at college, and also while she was there, to pay for studies. Also, at the time this story is set, even white women did not often go on to University. Marian must have had to challenge many people’s prejudices and assumptions to get as far as she has already.
Buick Roadmaster Marian Gibb presents Marian as someone who is skilled, and aware. There is lots of evidence throughout the story that Marian is actually a very good driver. Complete table one of the hand out.
‘The Test’ Marian Summary Gibb wants us to admire Marian, and to dislike the driving instructor who fails her. It’s part of how she puts across her message about racism.
1950s Buick Roadmaster • Homework for Monday 25th February • Find 3 pieces of evidence to support this argument. Marian As well as being a skilled driver, Marian is very aware of the situation and society she lives in. There are several occasions in the first 15 paragraphs of the story where Marian knows she is more aware of the situation than her employer. Sometimes we can tell that Mrs Ericson herself realises that Marian knows best.
‘The Test’ Why does the author work so hard at making Marion seem very able, and much more aware than her employer of what the world is like?
‘The Test’ The author characterises Marian as being a likeable, determined and socially aware young woman. All of these contribute to the reader being on Marian’s side: we want her to pass her test and “beat” the instructor. The climax of the story is paragraph 43 when Marian finally loses her temper: ‘ “ Damn you!” Marian cried.’ It is at this moment that the reader realises that Marian has failed her test and the driving instructor has “won”. As readers, we should feel disappointed for Marian and hatred towards the instructor and his prejudice.
‘The Test’ Marian Summary Again, Gibb wants us to admire Marian. The relationship with Mrs Ericson helps to put across Gibb’s message about racism as it shows the naivety and ignorance of some white people to the prejudice that black people faced on a daily basis. All of the things that we have looked at so far are part of the author’s characterisation of Marian. So far we have seen that Marian is characterised as being skilled, aware and determined.
‘The Test’ Relationships
‘The Test’ • Relationships In this section we are going to look at the relationship between Marion and the driving instructor.
‘The Test’ Although not a positive relationship, Marion and the instructor do form a relationship through their conversation. 1.) Apart from the wrong name, how else does the instructor try to control Marion in this extract?
‘The Test’ One notable point about the relationship between Marian and the inspector is their speech style: the inspector often speaks in assumptions that show his own opinions and prejudices about black people; Marian tends to speak in facts.
‘The Test’ Task: Read through the story again. Each time you find an example of the inspector making an assumption, quote what he says. Then explain in your own words what he assumes or thinks about Marion. (Hint: look for assumptions about Marion’s background, family, sex life, education, intelligence and honesty)
‘The Test’ Task 2: This time, copy down each example where Marian speaks to the inspector using only a fact. Why do you think Marian only speaks in facts? What one example is there of Marian speaking to the driver in a different way? What are the consequences of this?
‘The Test’ The different ways they speak are just part of a whole collection of differences between the inspector and Marian. One difference you may not have noticed is their education. Marian has a degree, and it is the fault of the society she lives in that she has not been able to use that degree to get a good job. The inspector is a white man in a racist, sexist society. The job that he is in indicates that he almost certainly does not have a degree. Therefore Marian must be better educated than he is.
‘The Test’ Relationships In this section we will be looking at the relationships between Marian and Mrs Ericson.
‘The Test’ Marian is in the car with the inspector for most of the story, but at the start we see her with her employer, Mrs Ericson. Despite the differences between the two women, and despite the fact that Marian works for Mrs Ericson, the two women seem to have a close relationship.
‘The Test’ “ “Oh Marian,” Mrs Ericson exclaimed, “If only I could pay you half of what you’re worth!” “Now, Mrs Ericson,” Marian said firmly. They looked at each other and smiled with affection.” Paras 11-12 • Does Marian think there is any chance of Mrs Ericson giving her a pay rise? How do you know this? • List as many reasons as you can think of to explain why Mrs Ericson feels she cannot raise Marian’s wages.
‘The Test’ Word Choice
‘The Test’ Although the theme of the short story is clearly racism, there is actually only one instance of an explicitly racist term being used: “Old enough to have quite a flock of pickaninnies” The word “pickaninnies” is a very offensive and racist term for black children. Compounded with* the use of the word “flock” this statement is made even more insulting, as it compares black children, and therfore black people, to animals. *Together with
‘The Test’ Look at paragraph 13 of the story (“Two cars with official looking insignia…”) • There’s is a specific type of word choice used in this extract, state this type of word choice and write down 4 expressions which demonstrate this. • Why do you think the writer chose this type of word choice to describe what is happening at the test centre?
‘The Test’ Literal and Figurative language
‘The Test’ Literal language is language which is actually true. Figurative languageis language which has a deeper, wider meaning, and helps us to come to a deeper understanding by using comparison or creating imagery. METAPHORS, SIMILES, PERSONIFICATION and WORD CHOICE are all examples of figurative language techniques.
‘The Test’ For example, if we said: The rocket flew over the moon We literally mean the rocket took off from Earth and went up so high that it passed over the moon on its way out into space. However, we could also say: He was over the moon about his new job We figuratively mean that he felt excited about starting a new job.
‘The Test’ Look at the title of the story. Though it seems simple it is actually very clever because it is both literal and figurative. • Explain how the title literally fits the story. • Explain how the title has a deeper, more figurative meaning too.
‘The Test’ Quite often in the critical essay exam you will find a question about how a writer deals with, or handles, a particular theme. We have established that the them of this short story is racism. What do you think the author, Angelica Gibb, is trying to say to us about racism? What does she want us to realise or understand?
‘The Test’ Set your thoughts out in a mind map Racism holds people back from achieving their potential. E.g. Marian is a good driver but is never allowed to pass her test. Racism