A Level English Lit Paper 2B – A Moan + Tasks!

When I talk to students of any level who have had two years of teaching in their school and they tell me certain things, I want to shout out my ranting obscenities at their teachers. I really do. Teachers may blame Covid but that is no excuse for being rubbish at their job! Today has been no different because I shared my final tuition session with a student today on the subject of Protest Writings at A Level and the 2B paper he is about to sit on June 20th, 2022. 

It is now June 14th so he has six days left, so we went through the novel, The Kite Runner and although he knows the novel well and can tell me about themes and ideas, characters and stylistic devices, authorial methodology and the likes, he knew nothing about the context of when and where this novel was written. 

Now this got me asking him questions. Did the teacher teach him about the theatre in Shakespeare’s day when reading King Lear? Did she teach him about the political and social ramifications of Shakespearean England and its monarchs when reading Richard II and all that that does entail? Did he know about the 1980s when reading the five Tony Harrison poems, one of which is a real beast? To each question (and the same before, in previous sessions, with Gatsby) did he have that in his lessons with his teacher? 

The answer was in the negative!

Did he know why Hosseini wrote Kite Runner? I found out the answer before I saw him. He saw that before 2003, when it was published, the Taliban had banned a very popular pastime in Afghanistan, which is why he chose initially to write a short story because they had banned children from flying kites. I have zero idea why they banned it as an activity for children, neither do I care regarding their choices made, but the fact that this was missing from his knowledge and skill set six days before the final exam of 2022 made me want to scream! 

And I can scream with the best of them! 

So, I had to backtrack and thought of sharing it here, but in more detail. 

Ask yourself what was happening when the writer you have studied was writing. Then make a list of what life was like then and in which country. Taking the Hosseini novel for a second, as an example, it was published in 2003, so presumably it was written post 2001. 

What does that date mean to you, as a reader? What would it mean to him, as being from Afghanistan, but living in America at the time and presumably being the recipient of some serious racism? Do you, when you see 2001, remember the history of the 11th September in that year? Does the thing known as ‘9/11’ mean anything to you? It should, for that is when the planes hit the twin towers and within two years, this novel is published, suggesting a causal link between the after effects of that heinous day in American history, with the inception of this protest novel. 

The World Trade Center south tower (L) burst into flames after being struck by hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 as the north tower burns following an earlier attack by a hijacked airliner in New York City September 11, 2001.

Now consider what I created with this student’s aid. 

1950-59……children expected to obey parents and much more confined in their attitudes to home and life. Rebellion building though with the inception of Rock n Roll in 1958. Elvis Presley. Jerry Lee Lewis. Cliff Richard et al. 

1960-69……the rise of the Swinging Sixties, flower power, the summer of love, drugs, drink, rebellion happening between parents and families, Vietnam, wars on different continents et al

1970-79……in the UK, the 3 day week, unemployment, recession, the rise of the Thatcher government and all its austerity measures that would destroy and devastate the UK. worldwide panic and loss of confidence. Punk Rock. Sex Pistols. New Wave music (just) et al. 

1980-89……1982 Falklands War, 1984 UK Miners’ Strike (watch Full Monty again) and the effects of the now ensconced Thatcher reign. Trouble and strife everywhere, riots, protest marches against nuclear weaponry (I went on one in London) and rebellion, as well as major poverty, Thatcher being outed. Continued rebellion across the country. 

1990-99……changing times across the world as policy regarding all manner of things changed. New Presidents and Prime Ministers, but never a real change for the better or for the positive. The O. J. Simpson trial. American President Bill Clinton was accused of dodging the draft and doing naughty things with his intern. But, 1997 though, in the UK, saw a real change when Labour won their election and Tony Blair entered Number 10. A landslide victory for a centrist candidate (he was never so far left or right but more like a Liberal) but jobs started happening as we went into the year 2000, often remembered as Y2K. 1997 saw the death of Princess Diana and the rise of dislike in how the Queen dealt with it. In the end, it was Blair who helped her to see a better way. A very rocky decade for some.

2000-2009…..this is a time when Labour lost power in the UK because of what happened post 9/11 and because Blair went into Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein, with President GW Bush at his side. British troops died in Iraq and the country became disaffected by his desire to go to war. Britain was fed up with war after Thatcher in 1982. Lies were told and the Tories came back into power under David Cameron and then, later, Theresa May. Facebook appeared in 2005. Twitter thereafter. Social Media became a platform for anyone to add comments, whether true or not. The Beslan Murders. Soham Murders. The arrival of the CRB and now, the DBS Disclosure. Thousands accused of crimes they never committed. Growing distrust in the authorities, Police, justice system. 

2010-2022…..same sex marriages legalized. Prince William and Katherine married. War on Terror still going on. British Olympics in 2012. Queen longest reigning monarch. Brexit (need I say more?) Boris Johnson. Freedoms being eroded yet again. Covid19 emerged to kill indiscriminately, throughout the world. Russia invading Ukraine. 

We did this in a short time and I have since added to it here, but the point is to look at when your writer was writing? So, if it is Tony Harrison and X, on the death of coal, it is the 1980s to 1990s and how Thatcher closed them all (the mines) more or less, down and we started buying coal and energy from the likes of Russia. Need I say more there in the present climate of war in Ukraine? 

When you look at the context of when the texts you have read over the past two years were written, you then understand more about why a writer chose to put pen to paper, or press a key on a computer and create a masterpiece. 

That much is important to remember as you revise for this exam.

So, here are some tasks for you to do before the 20th……..have a go at them all, where applicable. 

  1. Read about when Shakespeare was alive. 
  2. What was society like?
  3. What was the attitude of the ruling classes to those in the theatre? 
  4. Why did he write the play he wrote? 
  5. How was it received by the public and those in authority?
  6. Did it (Richard II) cause things to happen? 
  7. Why did your writer actually write their work? 
  8. What socially was happening at the time? 

Do it for all your texts read and studied before the 20th June exam. Google has all the answers so there is no excuse. Make your own mind up on each text. 

By doing this, you will be able to add some real and concrete, social and historical context to your exam answer. You will score more points and get a higher grade, for sure!

God bless. 

RJ