To what extent do you agree?

Dear Year 10,

Here is my answer to Q5 on the ‘Fun with a Stranger’ extract.

The writer encourages the reader to change their opinion of Miss Snell by the end of the story. To what extent do you agree?

The story is structured to change the reader’s mind about the character of Miss Snell. Firstly we hear about her before we see her as the class have been ‘warned about her’. This means that we, like the children, have certain expectations: she will be strict, draconian, old-fashioned, and not much fun.

Initially, the writer does nothing to challenge such views. Mrs Snell is described as ‘a woman with a man’s face’ which makes her seem harsh and aggressive (sorry, men) and as ‘strict’ and ‘humourless’. She gives ‘lectures’ and speaks in imperatives, making her appear ill-humoured and bossy. She even makes the ‘good girl’ burst into tears.

However, as the text progresses, we become aware of time passing: ‘Towards the end of autumn…’ and ‘Finally, it was the last week before the Christmas holiday’. Phrases such as this structure the text so as to indicate the changing of the seasons. As the seasons change, so do the children’s opinions of Miss Snell, and consequently, so do ours. Her ‘homely, shy smile’ hints at a warmth beneath the harsh exterior and when she tells them that she wants them to ‘have fun’ and has ‘made friends’ with them we feel that she is much more companionable than she appeared at first. We begin to change our minds. The loyalty displayed by the children makes it difficult to continue to dislike her: children, after all, are excellent judges of character. John Gerdhart’s defence of Miss Snell is particularly touching.

Finally then, as the text builds towards the end of the Christmas term, we are not sure whether or not Miss Snell will melt into a softer version of herself and allow the children a party. The writer hints that this is a day like any other, repeating the phrase ‘like any other morning’ and ‘like any other rainy day’. This, coupled with the setting of a grey, rainy day,  makes us feel that there will be nothing special about the last day of term and it is therefore a surprise not only to John Gerdhardt, but the reader too, when the door is ajar just enough to reveal the ‘neat little pile of red and white wrapped packages’ on Miss Snell’s desk. Pleasantly surprised, we notice that she has wrapped them in ‘white tissue paper’ which is delicate, and contrasts with her ‘man’s face’ at the beginning. She has thoughtfully wrapped and chosen them, with separate (if a little stereotyped!) presents for the girls and boys, and this might remind us of her treating them as individuals earlier on in the passage. There is no party, but she is clearly, as John thinks, ‘human after all’.

At the end of the passage we feel that our opinion of her has definitely changed. She is no longer the stereotype that we feared to meet at the beginning, but instead thoughtful and caring. Ultimately, she has become human.


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