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Explore Context in 'Before You Were Mine'

In this worksheet, students will explore the context in 'Before You Were Mine' and learn about Duffy's background and relationship with her mother.

'Explore Context in 'Before You Were Mine'' worksheet

Key stage:  KS 4

GCSE Subjects:   English Literature

GCSE Boards:   AQA

Curriculum topic:   Poetry

Curriculum subtopic:   Love and Relationships: 'Before You Were Mine'

Difficulty level:  

Worksheet Overview

QUESTION 1 of 10

Need to review your understanding of the context of 'Before You Were Mine'?

 

Thought bubble

 

Well, you've come to the right place! 

 

 

This activity is quite simple. We're going to be looking at the background of the poem, the time-period that Duffy's addressing and her underlying ideas and tone of voice.

 

 

As you do this activity, jot down some important facts that you learn along the way. It'll be really helpful for your exam.

 

 

 

 

Just a reminder: context is the background, environment and setting of a poem. 

Think about the time-period that the mother in 'Before You Were Mine' lived in. Bear in mind, Duffy was born in 1955.

 

What time-period do you think this was?

 

1930s

1940s

1950s

1960s

"Your Ma stands at the close... you reckon it's worth it"

 

What point do you think Duffy is trying to make about her mother, here?

 

Do you think Duffy's mother is a conventional or unconventional young woman of her time? 

 

 

Fill in the blank with the word conventional or unconventional.

1930s

1940s

1950s

1960s

Although the poem never mentions that Duffy is looking at old photos of her mum, why do you think this is probably the case?

Tick the three answers that you think are the most logical.

Duffy mentions in stanza four that she is looking at an old photograph of her mum

We can infer that Duffy is looking at old pictures of her mum because of the noun "ghost", which suggests that the mum has died

We can infer that Duffy is looking at old photos of her mum because Duffy couldn't possibly know what her mum was doing/wearing without visual aid

We can infer that Duffy is looking at old photos of her mum because each stanza showcases the mother in a different situation

We can infer that Duffy's going through old photos of her mum because the poem is quite visual and paints a picture in our minds

Why is the contextual reference to Marilyn Monroe so important? Think about what Marilyn is associated with.

 

Fill in the blank space with one of the eight options (there are two that are the most accurate in the context of the poem, so pick your favourite out of those):

 

Death

Love

Glamour

Beauty

Being Blonde

Her White Dress

Tragedy

Hope​

Duffy mentions in stanza four that she is looking at an old photograph of her mum

We can infer that Duffy is looking at old pictures of her mum because of the noun "ghost", which suggests that the mum has died

We can infer that Duffy is looking at old photos of her mum because Duffy couldn't possibly know what her mum was doing/wearing without visual aid

We can infer that Duffy is looking at old photos of her mum because each stanza showcases the mother in a different situation

We can infer that Duffy's going through old photos of her mum because the poem is quite visual and paints a picture in our minds

Duffy calls her mother's high-heeled red shoes 'relics'. What contextual point is Duffy making about motherhood?

 

Duffy is saying that motherhood is bad

Duffy is saying that motherhood equals a loss of femininity

Duffy is saying that motherhood means sacrificing femininity and sexuality

What one quote do you think really shows Duffy's disapproval of 1940/50s attitudes towards motherhood?

 

Think about inferring and tone.

 

Hint: also think about Duffy's views about her mother's potential.

 

"I'm not here yet"

"Stamping stars from the wrong pavement"

"Marilyn"

Match each contextual idea with a quote from the poem.

Column A

Column B

Loss of freedom in motherhood
"Stamping stars from the wrong pavement"
Unconventional rebelliousness
"You reckon it's worth it"
Unconventional sexual freedom
"Whose small bites on your neck...?"

Match each contextual idea with a quote from the poem.

Column A

Column B

Conventional maternal behaviour
"The bold girl winking in Portobello"
Unconventional female behaviour
"Home from Mass"
Ideas of 1940 glamour/sexuality
"Marilyn"

Tick one contextual theme that's not in the poem.

 

Attitudes towards young women

Attitudes towards mothers

Attitudes towards children

What idea from the options below seems to be the most important one in the poem?

 

The loss of individuality when a young woman gets married

The loss of individuality when a woman has a child

The loss of individuality in death

The idea of childhood possessiveness

The responsibility of having a child

  • Question 1

Think about the time-period that the mother in 'Before You Were Mine' lived in. Bear in mind, Duffy was born in 1955.

 

What time-period do you think this was?

 

CORRECT ANSWER
1940s
EDDIE SAYS
The time period of the poem is the 1940s- probably 1945 to be precise. We can work this out as Duffy was born in 1955 and states that she is "ten years away". But aside from doing some unnecessary maths, why do you think it's important to note the time period of the poem? Think about it - what do you think was expected from women in the 1940s? What do you associate with this time period? If you guessed that it was a very traditional time period where women were expected to centre their lives around their children and husbands, you're absolutely correct!
  • Question 2

"Your Ma stands at the close... you reckon it's worth it"

 

What point do you think Duffy is trying to make about her mother, here?

 

Do you think Duffy's mother is a conventional or unconventional young woman of her time? 

 

 

Fill in the blank with the word conventional or unconventional.

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
The mother is definitely presented as unconventional in her rebellious behaviour. Remember, we are thinking about the 1940s here and gender stereotypes were enforced strongly. Women weren't expected to be rebellious or outgoing. They definitely weren't encouraged to stay out late with their boyfriends. Think about the negative connotations of pre-marital (before marriage) sexual relationships. Now think about the positive way Duffy describes her own mother's lifestyle before Duffy came along and ruined it all. The poem makes the mother's rebellious nature subversive (turning something on its head) and empowering! It definitely doesn't adhere (stick to) to the stereotypes of the 1940s time-period.
  • Question 3

Although the poem never mentions that Duffy is looking at old photos of her mum, why do you think this is probably the case?

Tick the three answers that you think are the most logical.

CORRECT ANSWER
We can infer that Duffy is looking at old photos of her mum because Duffy couldn't possibly know what her mum was doing/wearing without visual aid
We can infer that Duffy is looking at old photos of her mum because each stanza showcases the mother in a different situation
We can infer that Duffy's going through old photos of her mum because the poem is quite visual and paints a picture in our minds
EDDIE SAYS
Aside from the fact that Duffy herself has confirmed that she wrote this poem after looking through old pictures of her mum, there is definitely something of a visual element to the poem which brings us to think of Duffy as looking through pictures. We have descriptions of outfits, glitz and glamour- there is a recurring motif of 'seeing' throughout the poem. Well done if you spotted this as it's not obvious straight away!
  • Question 4

Why is the contextual reference to Marilyn Monroe so important? Think about what Marilyn is associated with.

 

Fill in the blank space with one of the eight options (there are two that are the most accurate in the context of the poem, so pick your favourite out of those):

 

Death

Love

Glamour

Beauty

Being Blonde

Her White Dress

Tragedy

Hope​

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
Out of all these options, Marilyn is definitely known best for her beauty and glamour. Putting this into the context of the poem, we may think of Duffy's mother as larger than life or exceptional character.
  • Question 5

Duffy calls her mother's high-heeled red shoes 'relics'. What contextual point is Duffy making about motherhood?

 

CORRECT ANSWER
Duffy is saying that motherhood means sacrificing femininity and sexuality
EDDIE SAYS
The point Duffy is trying to make seems to lie in the unfair way that motherhood means a woman must sacrifice the things that make her happy. Frivolous, feminine things (like a pair of red heels, in this case) are relics - this symbolises the idea that the mother is unable to wear heels because she has become a mum. Upon becoming a mother, a woman must let go of anything sexual, anything that makes her feel sexy, anything which draws attention to her, and more specifically her body. It is a sexist and unfair ideology because a woman should be able to wear what she wants and feel however she wants, whether she's a mum or not! Don't you agree? Duffy seems to!
  • Question 6

What one quote do you think really shows Duffy's disapproval of 1940/50s attitudes towards motherhood?

 

Think about inferring and tone.

 

Hint: also think about Duffy's views about her mother's potential.

 

CORRECT ANSWER
"Stamping stars from the wrong pavement"
EDDIE SAYS
The adjective 'wrong' in "wrong pavement" conveys Duffy's disapproval of her mother's lifestyle after giving birth to her. Duffy feels that the social restrictions placed on mothers aren't just, she feels her mother deserved much more out of life.
  • Question 7

Match each contextual idea with a quote from the poem.

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

Loss of freedom in motherhood
"Stamping stars from the wrong pa...
Unconventional rebelliousness
"You reckon it's worth it"
Unconventional sexual freedom
"Whose small bites on your neck.....
EDDIE SAYS
Thinking about what is conventional and what is unconventional must be inferred from the time-period, yes, but also the content of the poem. Duffy takes a lightly chastising tone when she rhetorically asks "whose small bites [...] sweetheart?", suggesting that the mother's flirty behaviour would have been looked down upon with great disapproval. Similarly, the idea of Duffy's mother's "Ma" waiting to punish her (hiding) for coming back late definitely emphasises rebellious behaviour. Women were expected to do what they were told therefore, the mother's sexual freedom in the form of late-night sexual escapades would have been unconventional. Thinking about the motif of the mother, before she had Duffy, as unique with "a thousand eyes" watching her- do you think Duffy is presenting a brash, loud and uniquely sexual female as a sort of rebellious figure? And if so, don't you think it makes it even sadder that motherhood pulls Duffy's mother away from her uniqueness, and back into this zone of female conventionality?
  • Question 8

Match each contextual idea with a quote from the poem.

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

Conventional maternal behaviour
"Home from Mass"
Unconventional female behaviour
"The bold girl winking in Portobe...
Ideas of 1940 glamour/sexuality
"Marilyn"
EDDIE SAYS
Again, we have this link between what is implied and can be inferred by certain quotes, and their contextual meanings. Remember, context can change the meaning of certain quotes or give them multiple meanings/interpretations. For example, while the reference to coming "home from Mass" may suggest that the mother is religious, it also implies that she may be trapped in this conventional idea of a conservative, family unit. Similarly, the reference to 'Marilyn' implies the mother is glamorous, but it also suggests that she is sexually liberal as Marilyn was known to be. It may even suggest Duffy's mother is used to being watched - not just by men, but perhaps also by other women (and even her own judgemental mother).
  • Question 9

Tick one contextual theme that's not in the poem.

 

CORRECT ANSWER
Attitudes towards children
EDDIE SAYS
There's definitely a lot of implied attitudes towards young women and mothers - how they should behave and how a woman's life changes after having children. Duffy focuses a lot on these two themes throughout the poem, so try to spot some of these features/quotes and think about how they're subversive to the time-period in which the poem is set.
  • Question 10

What idea from the options below seems to be the most important one in the poem?

 

CORRECT ANSWER
The loss of individuality when a woman has a child
EDDIE SAYS
Did you get this one? The loss of a woman's independence and individuality upon becoming a mother is definitely the main focus of the poem, which is why Duffy stresses the changes from past to present. Duffy also seems to stress how wrong this loss of individuality is. Even as a child, Duffy picks up on how much more her mother deserves. There is a real sense of frustration towards the selflessness required in becoming a devoted mother. Well done, that’s another activity completed!
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