CIE English Lit: Passage Question, an approach.

This is a PowerPoint and timed response to a passage question based on the Summer 2014 examination. Feel free to use it as a marking exercise. I am not claiming A* quality – rather an attempt to hit the criteria in a limited time and to focus on the passage, rather than trying to use the question to put al my knowledge into a single response.

IKOTC setting

A screencast can be found here:

How does Hill create atmosphere in the passage beginning “ Kingshaw stood at the gate…”?

This passage comes from late in the novel, after Kingshaw and Hooper have been climbing on the walls of Leydell Castle. Hooper has fallen and broken his leg and Kingshaw is left alone at Warings with time on his hands to consider his action and begin to explore his guilt. The passage can be seen as a stage in Kinghaw’s journey from innocence to experience and possibly as a key step towards his eventual suicide.

The passage opens with Kingshaw “stood on the gate for a long time” as he considers crossing the boundary from the man made world to that of nature. He decides, however to remain on the side of the Church and to enter the building. Hill creates a sense of order and of nature being harnessed to man’s wishes by describing the “clipped… and neat” grass and the “straight” hedge. The setting is one of order and suggests that transgression will not be tolerated. This sense of potential threat is increased by the gargoyles, although Kingshaw “would not be afraid of them in the daylight”, suggesting that the absence of fear is only temporary. A she enters the church, Hill use sensory imagery to highlight the unwelcoming nature of the building: it “smelled as if no living, breathing creature had ever been there”. By introducing the idea of an absence of life, Hill is preparing the reader for Kingshaw’s confession which will appear later in the passage – he wishes Hooper were dead. The atmosphere of decay is further highlighted by the piles of Hymn Books with their “spines and backs hanging off.” The books are described in technical language, but the notion of personification and therefore of death is clear to see.

In this setting, Hill uses verbs to highlight aspects of Kingshaw’s character to develop the sense of threat which pervades the whole passage: He”dared” himself to enter the chancel and later, when interrupted by the voice which we know to be Fielding, he “spun round in alarm”. Although he enters the church on a whim, Kingshaw is affected by the religious aspect of the building once in side and falls “abruptly” to his knees, the adverb suggesting a spontaneous response. He has not planned his Confession, though it comes. He explores his guilt and finds no release from it. Indeed his final “cry” of “Oh God…” suggests total despair. Within the church, his immediate feeling is one of powerless ness as he recognises the enormity of “God and Jesus and the Holy Ghost”. He is a young boy being made to face up to his inner fears.

It is in this section that Hill uses a variety of sentence structures to help to convey the rising panic in Kingshaw’s mind and to increase the sense of tension in the passage. Sentences are generally quit short and matching action to sentence length. However on 173.5 Kingshaw begins his Confession. Hill writes without the use of speech marks here possibly to convey a sense of this being spoken inside his head. The sentence is long and confused – mirroring Kingshaw’s state of mind: “O God I didn’t mean it -yes I did…” The punctuation allows the change of thought to interrupt the flow – it is not a new idea, rather it is a development of the first idea: a correction. The paragraph closes with a powerful short sentence “I am trying to be sorry.” which adds a sense of desperation to Kingshaw’s thoughts. He is “trying”, which suggests that the feeling may not be sincere. In the paragraph that follows, Hill switches back to the Omniscient Third Person narration which dominates the novel. It adds a sense of detachment to the narrative, as though there is a higher power who knows the working of Kingshaw’s mind and is sharing them with the reader. This continues the sense of weakness and insignificance that Kingshaw felt on entering the church. As Kingshaw again begins to “speak”, outlining his sense of panic with the repetition of “please” as he begs God to help him and culminating in his despairing cry “O God”, Hill uses an ironic touch by introducing direct speech for the first time the passage. It is as though God has responded. The tone is abrupt and non-comforting – “what’s the matter with you?”. The voice continues by asserting boundaries and showing that Kingshaw has transgressed by entering beyond the chancel railings. The irony is that the reader will discover that this is not the voice of God or of any authority figure, but of another small boy – Fielding who offers a short-lived chance of hope to Kingshaw, before Hooper can poison this final chance of friendship.

The passage shows Kingshaw to be at the end of his emotional tether and becoming aware of the notion of morality with regards his thoughts. The fall at Leydell Castle had not been his fault and had come after his one and only real triumph over Hooper. What he realises is that he actually wishes Hooper to be dead. This is is conveyed in a passage in which the atmosphere is by turns threatening and full of despair.