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Explore How Themes Develop in 'Before You Were Mine'

In this worksheet, students will evaluate how key themes develop in 'Before You Were Mine'.

'Explore How Themes Develop 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

Want to revise how key themes develop in 'Before You Were Mine?'

 

Thought bubble

 

This activity will help you understand how Duffy's language choice and tone develop these key themes in the poem. In other words, what is the effect of these key themes on the reader? What exactly is Duffy trying to show about these key themes? First, let's identify the main themes in the poem:

Motherhood

Childhood

Freedom

Past/Present

Guilt

Possessiveness

Sexuality

 

This activity is designed so that you not only identify these key themes and ideas in the poem by the language Duffy uses, but explore how these themes develop in the poem. So how does Duffy develop one of these themes in her poem?

 

 

Here's an example of an evaluation of the theme of childhood in the poem:

 

"Duffy uses the theme of childhood to illustrate her close relationship with her mother. In the fourth stanza, Duffy writes that, as a child, she was "loud" and "possessive" suggesting that her childhood resulted in the end of her mother's best decade, as shown by the sentence - "the decade ahead [...] was the best one, eh?""

 

If you want to make this activity more of a revision exercise, then jot these themes down. If you want to use this activity to test yourself, then go ahead and try to memorise these key themes. It's up to you how you want to use this activity.

 

 

Remember, it's not a race. So take your time with each step.

Let's begin with the theme/motif of motherhood. 

 

How does Duffy present the idea of motherhood when she talks about her hands in her mother's "high-heeled red shoes"? What image of motherhood does this create?

 

Pick the answer which you think is the most detailed.

 

Duffy's hands in her mother's heels presents motherhood as a negative thing

Duffy's hands in her mother's red heels presents motherhood as a sacrifice of fashionable items

Duffy's hands in her mother's red heels portrays motherhood as something sad

Looking at childhood.

 

 

Pick two quotes which show this theme.

"I'm not here yet"

"My loud, possessive yell'

"Before you were mine"

"Clear as scent"

Let's link how Duffy's childhood and possessiveness are connected.

 

In the table below, tick the box if you think the quote shows either theme. If the quote shows both themes, then tick under both.

 

In this context, try and think about possessiveness as a loss of freedom.

 ChildhoodPossessiveness
"Before you were mine"
"Loud possessive yell"
"My hands in those high-heeled red shoes"
"Whose small bites on your neck...?"

Looking at the theme/motif of guilt.

 

What quote best shows Duffy's guilt?

 

"You'd teach me the steps..."

"You reckon it's worth it"

"Even then, I wanted the bold girl... before I was born"

"I'm ten years away from the corner you laugh on"

Looking at the theme/motif of past/present.

 

How does Duffy use this theme to make her poem more interesting to read?

 

Tick the most detailed answer.

 

Duffy, as the present day speaker, imagines her mother's past

Duffy, as the present day speaker, imagines her mother's past as full of freedom and independence, but uses impending motherhood to give the poem a sad undertone

Duffy, as the present day speaker, uses the theme of the past to present ideas about how motherhood will eventually come and ruin her mother's life

Duffy, as the present day speaker, uses the theme of the past to show how the mother had freedom before she had Duffy, giving the poem a happy undertone

Let's have a look at this quote:

 

"Your Ma stands at the close with a hiding for the late one. You reckon it's worth it".

 

Write down one theme which you think this quote expresses.

Which quote best shows the theme/motif of sexuality?

 

"You bend from the waist"

"Marilyn"

"...small bites on your neck"

"Sparkle and waltz and laugh"

"The bold girl winking in Portobello"

Let's look at how past/present and guilt are connected.

 

In the table below, tick the box if you think the quote shows either theme. If the quote shows both themes, then tick under both.

 

What are the connotations of certain language choices that Duffy makes, which suggest that she feels guilt. What tone is used?

 Past/PresentGuilt
"I'm not here yet"
"The decade ahead of my loud possessive yell..."
"Even then I wanted the bold girl... before I was born"
"I'm ten years away..."
"Stamping stars from the wrong pavement"

Looking at the theme/motif of sexuality.

 

 

Pick the answer that you think best shows how Duffy develops this theme in the poem. There are two correct answers.

 

 

Duffy presents sexuality as something which her mother has had to sacrifice in order to have her

Duffy presents her mother's sexuality as vibrant and strong

Duffy presents her mother's sexuality as something to be sacrificed

Duffy presents sexuality as something her mother had to get rid of

Last question! An easier one, for all your hard work.

 

Which two themes/motifs out of the five listed are the most obvious in the poem?

Sexuality

Guilt

Past/present

Femininity

Motherhood

  • Question 1

Let's begin with the theme/motif of motherhood. 

 

How does Duffy present the idea of motherhood when she talks about her hands in her mother's "high-heeled red shoes"? What image of motherhood does this create?

 

Pick the answer which you think is the most detailed.

 

CORRECT ANSWER
Duffy's hands in her mother's red heels presents motherhood as a sacrifice of fashionable items
EDDIE SAYS
How did you get on? The imagery of Duffy's hands in her mother's high-heeled shoes presents motherhood as a sort of 'giving up' of luxurious, beautiful items. Duffy's hands almost replace her mother's feet.
  • Question 2

Looking at childhood.

 

 

Pick two quotes which show this theme.

CORRECT ANSWER
"My loud, possessive yell'
"Before you were mine"
EDDIE SAYS
Both the second and third quotes showcase Duffy's childhood. Themes tend to overlap, but we definitely get a strong sense of childhood being linked to possessiveness and the mother's loss of freedom.
  • Question 3

Let's link how Duffy's childhood and possessiveness are connected.

 

In the table below, tick the box if you think the quote shows either theme. If the quote shows both themes, then tick under both.

 

In this context, try and think about possessiveness as a loss of freedom.

CORRECT ANSWER
 ChildhoodPossessiveness
"Before you were mine"
"Loud possessive yell"
"My hands in those high-heeled red shoes"
"Whose small bites on your neck...?"
EDDIE SAYS
Childhood and possessiveness tie in nicely because the poem is about the loss of a mother's freedom after having a child. It's interesting when we look at how themes overlap because then can gain a wider insight into the meaning of the poem.
  • Question 4

Looking at the theme/motif of guilt.

 

What quote best shows Duffy's guilt?

 

CORRECT ANSWER
"Even then, I wanted the bold girl... before I was born"
EDDIE SAYS
Is this becoming less daunting? Once we've identified the presence of certain themes, we often have to infer meaning, we need to be able to read between the lines. We can also look at the language used and question what kind of tone it creates. Duffy writes that her mother is on the "wrong pavement" - an admission of guilt, as Duffy implies that it is due to her being born that the mother is not where she should be. There is a feeling of accountability here.
  • Question 5

Looking at the theme/motif of past/present.

 

How does Duffy use this theme to make her poem more interesting to read?

 

Tick the most detailed answer.

 

CORRECT ANSWER
Duffy, as the present day speaker, imagines her mother's past as full of freedom and independence, but uses impending motherhood to give the poem a sad undertone
EDDIE SAYS
Duffy actually imagines her mother's past but does so with a touch of present-day sadness. The first sentence, "I'm ten years away" is particularly interesting, because Duffy is imagining her mother's past as something temporary because she knows that her mother will have her. You could argue that this is an example of Duffy's possessive control over her mother (if you wanted to). Duffy seems to be dominating her mother's past with references like "I'm not here yet" which seems to replace the pure happiness of her mother's memories with feelings of foreshadowing.
  • Question 6

Let's have a look at this quote:

 

"Your Ma stands at the close with a hiding for the late one. You reckon it's worth it".

 

Write down one theme which you think this quote expresses.

CORRECT ANSWER
Freedom
Sexuality
Rebellion
EDDIE SAYS
What did you go with? The themes expressed by the quote are freedom, sexuality and rebellion. Freedom is expressed through the mother's desire to come home late (offset by the fact that it is obviously against her own mother's rules). There is a suggestion that the mother's sexuality is the reason why she is late. As Duffy points out, "the right walk home" is probably the reason why her mother is late to come home, it implies she was with a boy. Rebelliousness is probably the most explicit theme here. This is visible in the tone of "you reckon it's worth it" which is defiant and carefree.
  • Question 7

Which quote best shows the theme/motif of sexuality?

 

CORRECT ANSWER
"...small bites on your neck"
EDDIE SAYS
Out of all of these quotes, the reference to the love-bites reflects the mother's sexuality the most. It's interesting that Duffy is asking "whose" bites they are. It implies either that the mother hasn't told Duffy about her past suitors, or, perhaps, that the mother had more than one suitor, so Duffy is asking which one is doing the biting this time!
  • Question 8

Let's look at how past/present and guilt are connected.

 

In the table below, tick the box if you think the quote shows either theme. If the quote shows both themes, then tick under both.

 

What are the connotations of certain language choices that Duffy makes, which suggest that she feels guilt. What tone is used?

CORRECT ANSWER
 Past/PresentGuilt
"I'm not here yet"
"The decade ahead of my loud possessive yell..."
"Even then I wanted the bold girl... before I was born"
"I'm ten years away..."
"Stamping stars from the wrong pavement"
EDDIE SAYS
Don't worry if you found this one tricky. The theme of past/present is relatively easier than guilt because you have to infer guilt from Duffy's tone and language use. Think about the idea of injustice and unnaturalness implicit in the language used when Duffy writes that the mother is on the "wrong pavement", we must infer that is because of Duffy being born. Therefore, Duffy obviously feels guilty for taking her mother away from her potential. Inference is your best friend!
  • Question 9

Looking at the theme/motif of sexuality.

 

 

Pick the answer that you think best shows how Duffy develops this theme in the poem. There are two correct answers.

 

 

CORRECT ANSWER
Duffy presents sexuality as something which her mother has had to sacrifice in order to have her
Duffy presents her mother's sexuality as something to be sacrificed
EDDIE SAYS
Sexuality is presented as something which belongs in Duffy's mother's past and is sacrificed in order to become a mother. This is interesting if you want to look at the way gender and motherhood play a part in the poem. Why does Duffy's mother have to sacrifice the fun, sexual part of her life just because she had Duffy?
  • Question 10

Last question! An easier one, for all your hard work.

 

Which two themes/motifs out of the five listed are the most obvious in the poem?

CORRECT ANSWER
Past/present
Motherhood
EDDIE SAYS
The past/present and motherhood are the two main themes of the poem, as there are many more explicit ways to prove that these themes exist within it. They require less inference and can be your go to themes when you want to write in detail about the content of the poem. Well done, that’s another activity completed!
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