Opening Worlds

Notes on Opening Worlds for GCSE English.

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Opening Worlds
Setting: Town/Country; Social/ Political
1. Achebe, Dead Men's Path: Nigeria; village school, made 'beautiful' by 'Nancy's dream
gardens' (48). Headmaster is appointed by 'Mission' (=Christian); the 'almost disused path'
(55) 'connects the village shrine with their place of burial' (61-62) and is part of a pagan
belief system (87) which Obi wants 'to eradicate' (90), and ridicule (92, 101-2).
2. Head, Snapshots of a Wedding: Botswana; village life; beginning of education for girls, so
boys want to marry for wealth and job-prospects. But K is 'stamped' by his own society's
'particular brand of wealth' (90): 'an engaging humility and eagerness to help' (91). Yards
and traditional African wedding are described: K brings ox to N's family. Her maternal
aunts give her to K's.
3. Gordimer, The Train from Rhodesia: South Africa: on the station are 'native
the dust' (5-6); poverty is stressed: 'barefoot children...grey mud huts', hungry dogs, 'tin
shed', 'sheep's carcass'. On the train, high up, 'leaning down' are wealthy whites; out of the
window 'there was nothing; sand and bush; a thorn tree' (90-91). The train represents safety
from this abject poverty. The old native is left behind.
4. Srinawk, The Gold-Legged Frog: rural village in Thailand; heat of sun emphasised; there is
a whirlwind, portent of death; extremes of cold and heat. Poverty: narrator tells of eating
frogs for meal, and searching for snails and clams. Fear of authorities: village chief finally
tells him to go to get 200 baht otherwise he might face jail (for life). Govt. seems arbitrary
and capricious: 'We're subjects'. The deputy district officer is very rude and harsh. We
discover Nak is a RICE FARMER.
5. Tan, Two Kinds: USA (Chinese immigrants), California in the '50s. Town/city: TV.
Contrast between mother's Chinese view of obedient, very disciplined children and child's
(American) view of her own freedom to choose. After M's death, she takes the Chinese silk
dresses home with her.
6. Ji-Cai, The Tall Woman & Her Short Husband: China, the Cultural Revolution (1960s),
time of great political conformity: town ('Unity Mansions'); 'Unity' suggests uniformity:
uniformity of behaviour is summed up in the idea of 'habit'. After 1966 (the 'Cultural
Revolution') Unity Mansions is described as 'like a microcosm of the whole country' (131-
2): so the story is meant to be typical of the country as a whole. Mr Short, as 'chief engineer'
is accused of 'passing on scientific secrets to foreign capitalists' (137-8). He is finally
imprisoned as 'an active counter-revolutionary' (253).
7. Sealy, The Pieces of Silver: the Caribbean ­ a school where many pupils are poor: some
live in shacks, whereas Mr Megahey lives in a fine house with a veranda.
8. Khan, The Red Ball: Port of Spain, capital of Trinidad; they've moved from Tunapuna, a
small village near the sea; father has new job at American Base. Their 'room' is very, very
poor. They have v. little money and their rent goes up.
9. Jhabvala, The Young Couple: India, a town, where Naraian has family and friends, all very
well off. N and friends 'living at the expense of their families' (49). Their spare, hot, cheap

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­ with marvellous views ­ is contrasted with the very heavily-furnished family home of
N ­ 'too rich' (374), too 'ornate' and over-materialistic (132). She will miss the view of the
birds circling freely and lightly round the mausoleum dome (338; 485). She sees her high
flat as a nest (441) and so identifies with the free birds: wants to see mausoleum from the
outside, not be in it ' a decadent...mausoleum, very large, very ornate, with a vast dome'
10.…read more

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Opening Worlds
1. Achebe, Dead Men's Path: Old (wise) village priest; Michael Obi, new Headmaster; young
(26), energetic, over-enthusiastic, 'outspoken in his condemnation' of others (10). Wife,
Nancy; 'beautiful gardens' ­ 'everything will be just modern and delightful' (15); easily led
by husband; vain: sees herself as 'the queen of the school'. Self-admiring couple, and heavy-
2.…read more

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She helps the
police (like an 'informer'). Insight into her motivation given (128): she feels 'resentment' of
Mrs Tall's 'luck' at marrying a rich man, and seeks power. She allies herself with 'the
revolutionaries from the institute' (159) who are persecuting Mr Short after the 'Cultural
7. Sealy, The Pieces of Silver: a pompous acting Headmaster ('cold eyes') ­ Mr Chase ­ who
humiliates boys who haven't brought contribution for retiring Headmaster, inviting the
whole school to share in the humiliation.…read more

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N doesn't defend their 'nest' and eventually seems to agree with his mother about it. He
complains about their flat. He has changed: he has 'outgrown' all his friends. She is sorry
about this loss in his life. Then N 'dismissed their old sweeper-woman' (467). Finally N
tells her they are moving back into his family's home: after being in England only 5 years,
he has now totally reverted to type ­ come to resemble the rest of his family and been
reclaimed by them.…read more

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Opening Worlds
1. Achebe, Dead Men's Path: Nigeria; Headmaster and wife are over-zealous and self-
admiring. Danger of aesthetic view ('a place of beauty' ­ 48) colliding with, and over-ruling
a moral view. They're keen to fulfil their dreams, but don't respect the old tribal traditions:
the old path represents older, different, pagan beliefs (85-88). Village priest urges tolerance:
'let the hawk perch, and let the eagle perch' (96-7). Obi's intolerance and smug self-
righteousness undo him: 'pride comes before a fall'.
2.…read more

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Ji-cai, The Tall Woman and Her Short Husband: People who are different at a time of
great conformity are treated as outsiders and mocked, ridiculed, persecuted; they become
objects of ridicule but also of curiosity, gossip and profound interest/speculation/intrigue.
The story brilliantly depicts malice and vicious meddlesomeness in the tailor's wife, and
love and courage in the devoted inseparable couple who suffer social and political
7.…read more


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