Appropriation of Language in dystopian fiction

Reading Time: 8 minutes As an English teacher – and student, still, I think! – I love novels that engage with the idea of language itself. For me, literature’s how we enter and understand the world, and dystopian novels often bring that to the forefront. They explore communication, memory, story-telling, and the way that language works to soothe, manipulate, warn, and memorialise. In particular, I’ve been studying The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984 with A-Level students, and both novels have some interesting discussions about language’s role in our society. World-building Setting a novel in the future, as many speculative fictions do, language is a good …

The symbolism of clothing and colour in The Handmaid’s Tale

Reading Time: 5 minutes One of the texts I’m teaching this coming year is Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, as part of the dystopian topic for OCR A-Level literature. Re-reading it (again!) it’s striking how much the colours play a part in the makeup of this novel. Clothing in dystopian fiction is an important signifier. The totalitarian dystopias – The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984 and so on – use clothing as a method of control, ensuring that divisions (often power hierarchies) are respected, and that people are in their appropriate places. In 1984, the Party members wear black or blue overalls (a working man’s clothing, removing …

Creating readers – or literary critics?

Reading Time: 6 minutes While writing this post on the importance of colour symbolism, I was writing about the ways we often expect students to implicitly understand the symbolism in literature, and I wrote the sentence: “it’s part of our job as literary critics to figure out whether that choice is important.” I almost edited it to write “as readers”, but then decided it crystallised a few things for me that I’d been thinking about. One was the ongoing debate about how to create great readers, and the other was something that had stuck in my head from reading the research of model texts …

Shelley’s Love’s Philosophy: analysis and linked text ideas

Reading Time: 5 minutes Percy Bysshe (“Bish”, apparently) Shelley is a Romantic poet – the capital R meaning not necessarily overcome with love all the time, but part of a group of poets who took a particular attitude towards life. They used a lot of natural imagery, thought and wrote about the excesses of emotion, and were often a little melodramatic. Shelley also has some extremely scandalous personal life-stories, which I’ve found great hooks for students! He was married to Harriet, when she was 16, and they had two children together before he abandoned her for Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin – also 16 at the …

Why colour matters: symbolism in literature

Reading Time: 5 minutes Towards the end of the summer term, I was teaching a lesson on “Your Shoes”, leading to monologue writing – it’s a nice one, usually provokes interest and some creative responses. But this time, one girl in particular was very frustrated by the shoe imagery and ended up exclaiming “how am I supposed to know that white means innocence?” It got me thinking about the use of literary symbols – what I’ve started thinking of as a literary shorthand – and the way that I often take for granted that students will see some of them. Not all, of course, …