Intermediate 2
‘The Test’ by Angelica Gibbs
‘The Test’ by Angelica Gibbs
Pre-reading activiites
‘The Test’ by Angelica Gibbs
‘The Test’ is a short story which follows a woman taking
her driving test. Before you read the story, think about the
following questions:

Would you describe yourself as good or bad at passing
exams/tests?

How do you feel when you know you have an exam/test
coming up?

Have you ever been given an exam/test that you felt was
(genuinely) unfair?
‘The Test’
Active reading
‘The Test’
As you listen/read the story make two lists:


List all the times the driving inspector calls Marian by the
wrong name. Each time, take a note of the paragraph
number and of the name he calls her.
List of all of the times the driving inspector uses what he
thinks is a southern accent, or a southern dialect or
expression. Each time, note the paragraph number and
then quote what he says.
‘The Test’
Wrong name
Paragraph 16 – “Mandy”
Paragraph 18 – “Mandy-Lou”
Paragraph 25 – “Mandy- Lou”
Paragraph 38 – “Mandy”
Paragraph 40 – “Mandy”
Paragraph 42 – “Mistress
Mandy”
Southern accent, dialect or
expression
Paragraph 22 – “pickaninnies”
Paragraph 29 – “young blood”
Paragraph 30 – “whistle ‘Swanee
River’. Make you homesick?”
Paragraph 32 – “You-all ain’t”
“dog my cats” “You –all” “yondah”
Paragraph 34 - “you-all”
Paragraph 38 - “You-all sho”
“d’you-all”
Paragraph 40 – “dog my cats”
‘The Test’
Understanding the story
Discuss in groups:
1.
When is the first point in the story where we realise that Marian
is black and the other characters are white?
Paragraph 2 “ ‘ They probably do like it better if a
white person shows up with you.’ ” First creates idea that Marion is
not white.
Paragraph 4 “Mrs Ericson watched her dark
competent hands” Clarifies that Marion is black
1.
Why does Marian keep failing her driving test?
She cannot put up with the instructor’s prejudice
comments anymore and loses her temper, “ ‘Damn you!’ ” (paragraph
42)
1.
In your opinion, would she have passed if Mrs Ericson had gone
along in the car with them?
‘The Test’
This story is obviously about **injustice, prejudice and
racism. The author, Angelica Gibbs, doesn’t tell us what to
think about these serious issues; she doesn’t tell us what
she thinks either. Instead she puts her message across by
showing how the issues affect one person on one day.
**These are the THEMES**
‘The Test’
Remember as we study the text that, while Marion is black,
everyone else in the story is white.
‘The Test’
Setting
‘The Test’
1.
Which country do you think the story is set in?
This should be easy to answer. Certain words/phrases in the
story give you clues.
‘The Test’
Some of these clues are dialect words, words that belong to the kind of English
spoken in a certain place.
Which word in paragraph 5 tells you the story is set in this country?
“flunk”
1.
Which word in paragraph 34 tells you the story is set in this
country?
“blocks”
Some of the words used in the story were factual
1.
1.
1.
Which word used in para 23 tells you the story is set in this country?
“Buick”
Which word in paras 25 and 30 tells you the story is set in this
country?
“Pennsylvania” “Scranton, Pennsylvania”
‘The Test’
You should be able to work out if the story is set in the north or south of this
country.
1.
Look at paragraphs 29 and 31. Which area of the country do you
think it is set in?
“homesick” implies it is in the north as ‘Swannee River’ is in the
southern state of Missouri. “you-all ain’t Southern!” suggests they are
not in the south
We also need to consider the setting in time, as well as place.
1.
Look at paragraph 30. What does Marion do that drivers do not need
to do nowadays?
1.
She signals her turn with a hand signal rather than using an indicator
light
Finally
1.
Did you spot anything else in the story that helped you work out the
time or place?
‘The Test’
Setting: Summary
These answers all help to place the story in a historical
context. Marian is a young black woman living in one of the
northern states of the USA. The fact that she has to put out
her hand to signal when she turns in the road make it clear
that she is driving a car made before indicator lights became
standard. (It can’t be simply that she owns an old car. We
are told the car belongs to her employer who is wealthy
enough to employ staff and not have to work.) This helps to
place the story in time – it is taking place around 1940.
‘The Test’
Background Context
It is important to remember that America was a much more
racially divided country in those days. The situation was much
worse in the southern states but even in the north, where the
story is set, few good jobs were open to black people. Not many
black people had any education beyond high school level.
The big civil rights movements of the 1950s and 60s, and black
leaders like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, were not yet
active. Although many in America were aware of the injustice
around them, there was very little they felt they could do about
it.
‘The Test’
Character
‘The Test’

Character: Marion
In this section we will be analysing what makes
Marian a striking and interesting character.
Character
Marian
Marian
Marian has managed to get
a degree at a time when it
would have been very
difficult for any black
person to do so. She must
have had to work before
she was at college, and also
while she was there, to pay
for studies.
Also, at the time this story
is set, even white women
did not often go on to
University. Marian must
have had to challenge many
people’s prejudices and
assumptions to get as far as
she has already.
Buick Roadmaster
Marian
Gibb presents Marian
as someone who is
skilled, and aware.
There is lots of
evidence throughout
the story that Marian
is actually a very good
driver.
Complete table one of
the hand out.
‘The Test’
Evidence
Explanation
Para 3
“Marian drove the car slowly through the
shady suburban streets.”
Para 10
Para 17
‘ “She’s a fine driver inspector” ’
Para 25
1. Marian’s employer is clearly impressed
by her driving abilities if she wants her
to drive her children every day.
2.
Marian is able to park the car in a tight
space without having to correct her
steering or angle of entry.
‘The Test’
Evidence
Explanation
Para 3
“Marian drove the car slowly through the
shady suburban streets.”
Lots of children live in suburbs. By driving
slowly Marian will be able to stop if one
runs out in to the road.
Para 10
‘ “marvellous to have someone dependable
to drive the children to school” ’
Para 17
‘ “She’s a fine driver inspector” ‘
Marian’s employer is clearly impressed by
her driving abilities if she wants her to
drive her children every day.
She praises her abilities in front of the
inspector
Para 25
“The two cars were close
together…Marian squeezed in between
them without too much manoeuvering.”
Marian is able to park the car in a tight
space without having to correct her
steering or angle of entry.
‘The Test’
Marian
Summary
Gibb wants us to admire Marian, and to dislike the driving
instructor who fails her. It’s part of how she puts across her
message about racism.
1950s Buick Roadmaster
Marian


Homework for Monday 25th
February
Find 3 pieces of evidence to support
this argument.
As well as being a
skilled driver, Marian
is very aware of the
situation and society
she lives in. There
are several
occasions in the
first 15 paragraphs
of the story where
Marian knows she is
more aware of the
situation than her
employer.
Sometimes we can
tell that Mrs Ericson
herself realises that
Marian knows best.
‘The Test’
Evidence
Explanation
Para 2
“They probably do like it better if a white
person shows up with you.”
Para 6 + 7
‘ “People say they only want you to slip
them a little something” ’
1.
‘ “No,” Marian said, “That would only
make it worse.”
2.
Para 5
‘ “It takes four mistakes to flunk you,”
Marian said, “I don’t remember doing all
the things the inspector marked down on
my blank.” ’
‘The Test’
Evidence
Explanation
Para 2
“They probably do like it better if a white
person shows up with you.”
Marian understands that the problem the
first time wasn’t caused by Bill talking, but
by them both being black.
Para 6 + 7
‘ “People say they only want you to slip
them a little something” ’
Marian knows that a bribe would not help
and a white instructor would be offended
by a black person offering them money.
May actually result in the instructor
contacting the police.
‘ “No,” Marian said, “That would only
make it worse.”
Para 5
‘ “It takes four mistakes to flunk you,”
Marian said, “I don’t remember doing all
the things the inspector marked down on
my blank.” ’
Marian believes that the inspector marked
her test unfairly because of the colour of
her skin. Evidence of Marian’s driving
skills from later in the story supports this.
‘The Test’
Why does the author work so hard at making Marion seem
very able, and much more aware than her employer of what
the world is like?
‘The Test’
The author characterises Marian as being a likeable,
determined and socially aware young woman. All of these
contribute to the reader being on Marian’s side: we want
her to pass her test and “beat” the instructor.
The climax of the story is paragraph 43 when Marian finally
loses her temper: ‘ “ Damn you!” Marian cried.’
It is at this moment that the reader realises that Marian has
failed her test and the driving instructor has “won”. As
readers, we should feel disappointed for Marian and hatred
towards the instructor and his prejudice.
‘The Test’
Marian
Summary
Again, Gibb wants us to admire Marian. The relationship with
Mrs Ericson helps to put across Gibb’s message about racism
as it shows the naivety and ignorance of some white people
to the prejudice that black people faced on a daily basis.
All of the things that we have looked at so far are part of the
author’s characterisation of Marian. So far we have seen
that Marian is characterised as being skilled, aware and
determined.
‘The Test’
Relationships
‘The Test’

Relationships
In this section we are going to look at the relationship
between Marion and the driving instructor.
‘The Test’
Although not a positive relationship, Marion and the
instructor do form a relationship through their
conversation.
1.) Apart from the wrong name, how else does the
instructor try to control Marion in this extract?
‘The Test’
One notable point about the relationship between Marian
and the inspector is their speech style: the inspector
often speaks in assumptions that show his own opinions
and prejudices about black people; Marian tends to speak in
facts.
‘The Test’
Task:
Read through the story again. Each time you find an
example of the inspector making an assumption, quote
what he says. Then explain in your own words what he
assumes or thinks about Marion. (Hint: look for
assumptions about Marion’s background, family, sex life,
education, intelligence and honesty)
‘The Test’
Task 2:
This time, copy down each example where Marian speaks
to the inspector using only a fact.
Why do you think Marian only speaks in facts?
What one example is there of Marian speaking to the
driver in a different way?
What are the consequences of this?
‘The Test’
The different ways they speak are just part of a whole collection
of differences between the inspector and Marian.
One difference you may not have noticed is their education.
Marian has a degree, and it is the fault of the society she lives in
that she has not been able to use that degree to get a good job.
The inspector is a white man in a racist, sexist society. The job
that he is in indicates that he almost certainly does not have a
degree. Therefore Marian must be better educated than he is.
‘The Test’
Relationships
In this section we will be looking at the relationships
between Marian and Mrs Ericson.
‘The Test’
Marian is in the car with the inspector for most of the
story, but at the start we see her with her employer, Mrs
Ericson.
Despite the differences between the two women, and
despite the fact that Marian works for Mrs Ericson, the two
women seem to have a close relationship.
‘The Test’
Mrs Ericson
Mrs Ericson thinks Marian deserves to
pass her driving test.
Mrs Ericson is able to accept that Marian
may know best.
Mrs Ericson wants to help Marian stay
calm.
Mrs Ericson encourages Marian.
Mrs Ericson relies on Marian.
Mrs Ericson appreciates Marian.
The two women are fond of each other.
Quotation
‘The Test’
Mrs Ericson
Mrs Ericson thinks Marian deserves to
pass her driving test.
Mrs Ericson is able to accept that Marian
may know best.
Mrs Ericson wants to help Marian stay
calm.
Mrs Ericson encourages Marian.
Mrs Ericson relies on Marian.
Mrs Ericson appreciates Marian.
The two women are fond of each other.
Quotation
‘The Test’
“ “Oh Marian,” Mrs Ericson exclaimed, “If only I could pay
you half of what you’re worth!”
“Now, Mrs Ericson,” Marian said firmly. They looked at each
other and smiled with affection.”
Paras 11-12
1.
2.
Does Marian think there is any chance of Mrs Ericson
giving her a pay rise? How do you know this?
List as many reasons as you can think of to explain why
Mrs Ericson feels she cannot raise Marian’s wages.
‘The Test’
Word Choice
‘The Test’
Although the theme of the short story is clearly racism,
there is actually only one instance of an explicitly racist
term being used:
“Old enough to have quite a flock of pickaninnies”
The word “pickaninnies” is a very offensive and racist term
for black children. Compounded with* the use of the word
“flock” this statement is made even more insulting, as it
compares black children, and therfore black people, to
animals.
*Together with
‘The Test’
Look at paragraph 13 of the story (“Two cars with official
looking insignia…”)
1.
There’s is a specific type of word choice used in this
extract, state this type of word choice and write down
4 expressions which demonstrate this.
2.
Why do you think the writer chose this type of word
choice to describe what is happening at the test centre?
‘The Test’
Literal and Figurative language
‘The Test’
Literal language is language which is actually true.
Figurative language is language which has a deeper, wider
meaning, and helps us to come to a deeper understanding
by using comparison or creating imagery.
METAPHORS, SIMILES, PERSONIFICATION and
WORD CHOICE are all examples of figurative
language techniques.
‘The Test’
For example, if we said:
The rocket flew over the moon
We literally mean the rocket took off from Earth and
went up so high that it passed over the moon on its way
out into space.
However, we could also say:
He was over the moon about his new job
We figuratively mean that he felt excited about starting a
new job.
‘The Test’
Look at the title of the story. Though it seems simple it is
actually very clever because it is both literal and figurative.
1.
2.
Explain how the title literally fits the story.
Explain how the title has a deeper, more figurative
meaning too.
‘The Test’
Quite often in the critical essay exam you will find a
question about how a writer deals with, or handles, a
particular theme.
We have established that the them of this short story is
racism.
What do you think the author, Angelica Gibb, is trying to
say to us about racism? What does she want us to realise or
understand?
‘The Test’
Set your thoughts out in a mind map
Racism holds people back from
achieving their potential. E.g.
Marian is a good driver but is
never allowed to pass her test.
Racism
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