Planning for the ‘development of Lev’ in Significant Cigarettes.

I thought I would try a model answer.  This is not the most exciting short story in the Anthology but there is a good development of Lev’s character which can be tied directly to the structure of the passage, which should help the examiner to reward the writing….

In my brief introduction I want to outline Lev’s arc of development,drop in some textual reference and show awareness of structure:

In Tremain’s passage Significant Cigarettes, culled from the longer novel The Road Home, we follow the fate of a pair of migrants from Eastern Europe on their journey to an anticipated better life in London. The arc is not fully developed, this being an extract rather than a complete short story, but we can see a clear exposition, rising action and form of climax, even without the full falling action or denouement which would have been found in the longer version.

Now to get into writing, focused on Lev’s development and only Lev’s development. I will also be at pains to write about him as a construct, not a ‘real’ person.

At the beginning of the passage, Tremain introduces Lev as a figure ‘huddled’ at the back of the coach. This verb suggests an urge to remain detached and private, an impression heightened by his dress: the ‘leather jacket’ and ‘cap pulled low’ suggests clearly a wish not to be bothered and presents him in the typical clothing of the working man from Eastern Europe. His ‘grey-toned face suggests ill health and Tremain uses this colour, suggestive of a life washed out, to hint at the mental turmoil which he is facing. On einteresting feature which does not become developed in this passage is the red handkerchief ‘clutched’ in his hand. The urgency and desperation suggested by this verb is not fully explained, but the reader assumes as the story progresses that the handkerchief has an emotional significance for him.

Linking onto the next point now… this itaks gets no more than 45 minutes, so no time to waste.

Tremain provides a catalyst for the story to progress as Lev puts a cigarette in his mouth. By this action, he initiates a conversation with Lydia – his neighbour on the bus. Lev feels at a disadvantage here. Lydia politely initiates the conversation with a firm reminder of the rules regarding smoking and Tremain shows Lev’s interior monologue – hinting at an unsatisfactory marriage in the simile likening the pair to a married couple with their ‘separate aches and dreams.’ Only as the story develops do we begin to relate the ‘aches’ to the illness which will kill Marina, Lev’s wife. What we learn at this stage is Lev’s determination to ‘hold himself apart’ and to ‘break his back working’, suggesting an introspective character driven by a compulsion for hard work.

It is only as the conversation develops that we recognise the true nature of Lev’s character. By delaying the information about Marina, Tremain allows the reader to uncover the truth, much as might happen in real life. Once we read of the bitter-sweet suffering in the spa (with its ‘scummy’water suggesting both the poverty of the area and the nature of the illness) and the poignant dream of the storks, we can recognise Lev for what he is: a man traumatised by the death of his wife, the loss of his livelihood and the need to care for his young daughter. He is not given to hyperbole and tends to present ideas with little emotion. In answer to Lydia’s question about the sawmill, his terse ‘they ran out of trees’ is the unvarnished truth which captures both his lack of power over his life and the nature of an environment which has been bled dry and which can no longer sustain life.

I am happy to move around the text – there is no need to write in a linear fashion and flexibility allows you to explore ideas to their conclusion rather than being bound by the order in which ideas emerge.

Tremain uses Lydia to highlight another area of Lev’s character – his fear for the future. Whilst he appears determined, it is clear in the passage where he is practising his English the nature of his fear. His statements are short and disjointed; he has learned English phrases but has not the confidence and ability of Lydia. His fears are clear: homelessness and legality. ‘I am legal’ is his first utterance. He knows the potential hostility to migrant workers and seeks to dispel the fears of the Londoners. We also learn that he seeks cheap accomodation – later in the passage Tremain uses the symbol of the £10 note for another reason -to display his determination and hope for the future, something unexpected given the first references to him huddled and alone.

His £10 note highlights both his lack of intellectual engagement, when compared with Lydia’s Graham Green novel, but allows him to reflect on the nature of England. Although he does not recognise Edward Elgar, he begins to consider the character of the British. As night falls on the first day of the journey, his mind moves forward. The Queen is seen as ‘frumpy’ suggesting a man unmoved by the idea of monarchy and he considers the idea of the British as a people who have not lived in fear. Given this, his imagined ‘banker’ (a common symbol of capitalist states) seems to him to be blessed by an angel in the image. ‘The English [are] lucky’ he thinks. At this point we are shown the next stage of his character: ‘I’m going to make them share it with me’. His use of a verb of compulsion suggests an inner strength, a feature heightened by his final thoughts: ‘my time is coming’.

Use a short conclusion to bring the ideas discussed and ensure a clear link back to the question.

Lev’s character develops as the day passes and he opens up to Lydia. He begins in silence and isolation and though he is still alone as the passage ends  – Lydia turning to her book does not suggest that she wishes to develop a friendship – Tremain has established greater depth. We share his grief which helps to explain his remoteness and also shown his inner strength and purpose.


40 minutes.