‘The Test’ by Angelica Gibbs Exam revision




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‘The Test’ by Angelica Gibbs
Exam revision
Summary of the Story – This short story is about an Afro-American lady called Marian who is going to take her 2nd driving test. Mrs Ericson, her white American employer, goes with her to the test centre. Marian takes the test alone with the driving inspector. The inspector is progressively more and more racially abusive throughout the whole test. He feigns a joking manner but he becomes furious when Marian reacts to his comments. He has no qualms about failing Marian on things she has not even done. The story ends with Marian accepting the injustice of the situation as she “slid over to the right-hand side of the car”.
Structure – Whole story is set in one afternoon.
Start = Conversation between Marian and Mrs Ericson on way to test centre – made clear Marian is a good driver and an excellent worker who is highly thought of by her employer.
Middle = The actual test – we are made to see things from Marian’s point of view – imagine how annoying, humiliating and upset Marian would feel. Also worse the fact society at time allowed this sort of behaviour and Marian just has to accept it. When she reacts, the inspector gets revenge by failing her.
End = “Oh, Marian, again?” Mrs Ericson says – the use of this question and the fact the word “again” is highlighted in italics in the story shows Mrs Ericson’s disappointment, sympathy for Marian etc. Marian’s response is one of someone who has been downtrodden and resigned unhappily to an unfair treatment in life. “Marian nodded. “In a sort of different way” she said and slid over to the right-hand side of the car”. – We are left feeling sorry for Marian and furious with the inspector.

Revision Note Questions


Setting


  1. Where is the story set?

When the reader knows the place in which the story is set, they might have certain expectations and bring some information to their reading of the story.
In this story, what expectations might the reader have about how the environment may affect the behaviour or fortunes of the characters?


  1. Is the setting of individual incidents important?


Is the setting of individual incidents important?


  1. When is the story set?



Is it recent? Or is it set in the past where a certain set of historical circumstances might affect the behaviour of the characters?
Make a quotation bank for all of the important SETTING quotations.
Plot
Briefly summarise all that happens in the story – including all the RELEVANT details.
Are there incidents of particular significance in the story?
Does the author prepare the reader for the ending?
Create a quotation bank for important PLOT quotes.
Character
In every short story the way in which a character speaks to others will reveal that character’s personality.
Find two examples of each character’s language and note what it tells you about their attitude to others.


Style

Look for words, phrases or images which are included by the author to add to the meaning of the story and to increase your understanding of the characters or the themes.
Themes
These are the issues and the values which the story examines. All stories say something about the way in which we human beings lead our lives and treat each other.
What is the central theme of ‘The Test’?
Attitude
All authors have an attitude to their subject matter and to their characters. It can be seen in descriptions and dialogue.
What is the writer’s attitude to her subject matter in ‘The Test’?
Purpose
The purpose of the writer is connected to his/her attitude. The author might want to criticise some aspect of human behaviour and his/her purpose would be to convince the reader that such behaviour is wrong. Once you have decided what the writer’s purpose is, you can decide whether the writer was successful in achieving it.
What is the writer trying to achieve by writing this story? What is its purpose?
Personal Response
In all critical essays you will be expected to include your personal response to the text and be able to explain why you did or did not enjoy it.
Give your personal response to the short story, ‘The Test’.
‘The Test’, by Angelica Gibbs
Critical Evaluation/Exam Preparation


      1. Introduction

‘The Test’, by Angelica Gibbs is a short story that successfully tackles the theme of racism. The story is set in the United States of America and is about a young woman, Marian, who sits her driving test for the second time. She is the hard-working housemaid of a Mrs Ericson, has a college degree and is a reasonably good driver. But she fails her test for a second time when she reacts to the constant abuse that she receives from a racist driving inspector.




P

The reader is not told which town or state in which the short story takes place.

C

At the start of the short story we encounter some hints:

E

“boulevard” and “suburban”

E

Here, Angelica Gibbs uses effective word choice so that the reader may assume that it takes place in America, but the point she is trying to make is that what happens to Marian can happen anywhere in America – and perhaps the world.



P

The theme of Racism is introduced quickly; the author does not give large amounts of detail about the setting, etc.

C

In the second paragraph, when Marian and Mrs Ericson are driving toward the second driving test.

E

“They probably do like it better if a white person shows up with you.”

E

  • At this point the author remains vague: we cannot assume that Marian is an Afro-American, or other race; she is just not ‘white’.

  • We can assume that the reason for her failing her last test was due to the colour of her skin.

  • Also, as with the rest of the short story, Angelica Gibbs relies on dialogue (i.e. ‘showing’) to reveal racist attitudes.

C

As the story progresses, the writer tells us how Marian drives:

E

She “drove the car slowly”;

Has “dark, competent hands”;

Has a “soft unaccented voice”;

And “slid up to the curb”.



E

  • We can assume that Marian is a careful driver – and her “dark” hands re-enforce the suggestion that she is non-white.




P

We feel even more sympathy for Marian’s domestic situation.

C

As they drive, Mrs Ericson thinks to herself:

E

“slatternly white girls”

“housework demeaning…care of children an added insult”



E

This shows us that Mrs Ericson relies heavily on Marian, perhaps having her performing work more than a “white girl” would.

C

As Marian and Mrs Ericson sit in the parked car and await the Inspectors, Mrs Ericson tells Marian:

E

“…if I could only pay you half of what you’re worth!””

E

Not only is Marian overworked, it would appear that she is unfairly paid. Again, dialogue has revealed the ‘actions’ of its speaker.




P

The writer continues to reveal more about her characters through dialogue than simply describing them.

C

When the Inspector finally appears with his colleague:

E

“very brisk and military in their neat uniforms”

E

This gives an impression of harshness, or that they are a threatening or worrying sight.

C

However, when he first speaks:

E

“Mandy and I…”

E

  • He is addressing Mrs Ericson, totally ignoring Marian.

  • He has used an informal mode of address.

  • The dialogue with which the Inspector engages shortly undermines any aspect of professionalism.

C

As the driving inspector enters the car:

E

“slid into the seat beside Marian”

E

  • Alliteration (‘s’) emphasises the unpleasantness of this character’s behaviour

C

As the driving inspector questions Marian:

E

“small black book”

E

  • Alliteration (‘b’) harshness of this character as opposed to Marian’s

  • Mirrors the shortness of his ‘clipped’ questioning (minor sentences).




P

During the course of the driving test, the Inspector makes a number racist and sexist comments towards Marian:

E

“flock of pickaninnies”

“Mandy-Lou”

“some young blood”

“Swanee River”

“you-all”


E

Angelica Gibbs is using a lot of dialogue and not describing what is going on, so that we can make up our minds about a character by what they say. Marian maintains her resolve (calm), not reacting to any of his taunts but keeps her mind concentrated on the examination.




P

Marian finally reacts to the inspector’s taunts.

C

Just as the engine stalls, Marian shouts:

E

“Damn you!”

E

Marian’s anger is finally shown.




P

Angelica Gibbs shows us that the racist driving inspector is – and was – in total control of the situation:

C

After Marian’s outburst he becomes annoyed and instructs her to return to the starting place.

E

“…four very black crosses at random”

E

Here, the writer shows us how randomly and uncaringly the inspector is marking her “application blank”. Also, there are connotations of the ‘Klu Klux Klan’ from the effective word choice: “black crosses”.




P

Marian is upset at failing both tests.

C

On returning to the starting place, Marian meets Mrs Ericson, telling her:

E

“…in a sort of different way”

E

The real test for Marian was the psychological or human ‘test’ she eventually failed by reacting – angrily – to the racist inspector’s sexist and racist language; she failed herself.

‘The Test’ – Essay Plan Templates


Identify what you consider to be the central theme running through the short story ‘The Test’ by Angelica Gibbs.
By detailed reference to at least 2 of the following techniques, show how, in your opinion, the writer has effectively illustrated her theme.
Dialogue, setting, characterisation, contrast, imagery, key incidents.
Plan
Introduction
-What is the central theme in the story?

-Short summary of story’s main ideas/what happens.

-Link to essay question. Writer has used many/several/three effective techniques to illustrate the theme.
P1. Dialogue.


  • Topic sentence

  • Point – For example Mrs Ericson’s attitude to Marian…

  • Quotation

  • This shows….

  • Point – Also when she…, she says…

  • Quotation

  • These pieces of dialogue illustrate…

  • Point – By contrast, the driving inspector’s comments show…

  • For example, when he says...

  • Quotation

  • This shows…(explain how quotation links to theme)

P2. Characterisation


-Topic sentence

-Point - For example, when the instructor is described

-Quotation

-This shows us that

-Point – make another point about how characterisation is used to show the central theme.

-Quotation



-Discuss point fully.
P3. Any other technique


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