The following essay questions have all been taken from official SQA past papers. If you are to write a good critical essay you MUST keep to the task set. If you do not answer the question you cannot pass.
For each task, you will find an essay plan. The plan contains suggestions as to the points you might make when tackling each question. You should keep in mind, however, that the examiner is looking for your PERSONAL response to the text.
Choose a play in which a character gains your sympathy because of what happens to him/her in the play.
Say what happens to the character in an important part of the play and explain why you feel sympathy for her or him.
In “The Terrible Fate of Humpty Dumpty’ by David Calcutt, Terry Dumpton, nicknamed Humpty Dumpty by a gang of bullies at his school, is electrocuted and killed when he climbs a pylon to retrieve a frisbee.
This happens right at the very start of the play but it is not until the end that we find out that this was not an accident.
Through flashbacks we find out about the events leading up to his death. In other scenes we learn about the police investigation and how Terry’s parents and others in the community are affected by what has happened to him.
We feel sorry for Terry for a number of reasons:
- His father spent a year in prison and the family decided to move to a new area where no one would know them. However, the school knows about his dad and so do lots of the neighbours. Terry is ashamed of his dad. At one point he tries to make his dad’s crime seem more exciting/daring than it actually was and he denies being a thief like his dad when his mum accuses him of stealing money from her purse.
- He has to start at a new school. This is tough enough but he is bullied almost from the beginning.
- His only friend, Sammy, is a member of the gang but Sammy is too afraid to stick up for Terry.
- Terry ends up stealing money from his mum to pay Stubbs not to beat him up. We know he feels bad about it because he says he’s not like his dad and he smashes up his models which obviously meant a lot to him.
- The bullying gets so bad he stops going to school altogether.
- The head teacher at his school refuses to believe that he is being bullied. She blames Terry himself and tells his dad that Terry is making it up to excuse the fact that he has been skipping school.
- Stubbs sees Terry’s dad at the school and uses that as an excuse to set up the ‘task’ to prove that Terry is not a grass. This leads us back to the wasteground where the play opens and we see that Pete and Stubbs had set up the whole stunt with the frisbee. It seems unlikely that Stubbs will feel sorry for what he has done.
In the final scene of the play we find out that Stubbs and Pete had planned to send Terry up the pylon to test him. They may not have expected him to die but Stubbs doesn’t care. It is terrible that Terry should die simply because a bully couldn’t deal with his victim’s response to the bullying.
Choose a play in which the characters have to face an issue such as bullying, family problems, racism or any other issue.
Say what the issue is and show how successful or unsuccessful one of the characters is in dealing with the issue.
The issue explored in the play ‘The Terrible Fate of Humpty Dumpty’ by David Calcutt is bullying.
Fourteen-year-old Terry Dumpton, nicknamed Humpty Dumpty, is bullied almost from the moment he begins a new secondary school.
The bullying gets so bad he ends up not going to school. The head teacher sends a letter to his dad and Terry is forced to tell his dad the truth.
Terry tries to deal with the bullying by simply doing whatever the bullies ask him to do.
- He is forced to answer to the name Humpty Dumpty
- He says nothing when the girls make fun of him
- He pays money to not get beaten up which leads to him stealing from his mum’s purse and lying to her
- He does not tell his parents or a teacher what is going on
- He does not try to stick up for himself.
Unfortunately, this just makes Stubbs, the gang’s leader, even angrier.
Telling his dad the truth is a turning point. The head teacher does not want to believe that bullying takes place in her school and blames Terry, tells his dad that Terry must be lying and implies that dishonesty runs in the family (a reference to Terry’s dad having been in prison).
Stubbs sees Terry’s dad at the school and decides ‘to get’ Terry once and for all. Pete deliberately threw the frisbee into the pylon – on Stubbs orders
At the wasteground, Terry stands up for Sammy. He refuses to run away even after Sammy warns him. He is no longer willing to do nothing. However, he climbs the pylon because he feels he has no choice and is killed.
We feel sure that Stubbs will not say he is sorry for what he has done but at least some members of the gang feel guilty. Sammy turns to the audience a number of times to explain that he should have done something to prevent Terry being killed.
The play lets us see how bullying affects not just the victim but his friends and family and even, sometimes, the bullies themselves. There are many reasons why Terry dies. He could and should have told his parents sooner; Sammy should have done something earlier; the head teacher should have done something to tackle the bullying problem in her school; the witness should have told her story to the police not to a journalist.
(What else might have made a difference? Will Terry’s death make a difference?)
Choose a play which interests you right from the beginning.
Say what happens at the beginning and how the characters in the play keep you interested right to the end.
In the opening scene of the play “The Terrible Fate of Humpty Dumpty” by David Calcutt Terry Dumpton, nicknamed Humpty Dumpty by a gang of bullies at his school, is electrocuted and killed when he climbs a pylon to retrieve a frisbee. This is a very interesting and dramatic opening.
Although this happens right at the very start of the play it is not until the end that we find out that this was not an accident and we discover why Terry was at the wasteground that day.
Through flashbacks we find out about the events leading up to Terry’s death. In other scenes we learn about the police investigation and how Terry’s parents and others in the community are affected by what has happened to him.
There are lots of interesting characters in the play.
Sammy is a member of the gang and Terry’s only friend. At times he speaks directly to the audience. He tells the police and the audience about how and why the bullying started. Sammy is just as frightened of Stubbs and the rest of his gang as Terry was. He tells the police what happened even though Stubbs and the others warned him to keep quiet. He is guilty about the part he played in Terry’s death.
The police interview Mrs Dumpton, Terry’s mum and we find out from her about how the bullying affected Terry. He kept coming home late but wouldn’t talk to her or to his dad. When she accused him of stealing from her purse he denied it angrily. We see how angry and upset she is.
We also get Mr Dumpton’s point of view when he recalls getting a letter from Terry’s head teacher telling him that Terry has been skipping school. His meeting with the head is told from the head’s point of view when she is interviewed by Ross Webster, a journalist. We can see that what actually happened and what she tells the journalist are two different things. The head could have helped Terry simply by taking his bullying claim seriously and by believing him.
There was also a witness to what happened on the wasteground. She did not tell the police at the time but is quite happy to have her name in the papers.
Despite the fact that Stubbs warned the other members of the gang not to say anything to the police, Sammy does talk to them and some of the girls obviously feel bad about their part in Terry’s death.
The second part of the final scene is exactly the same as scene one. The difference is that we find out what happened immediately before Pete throws his frisbee into the pylon. We find out that Stubbs was determined to ‘get’ Terry and that he and Pete had planned everything. Terry, at last, stands up for himself and for Sammy. That is, perhaps, why Sammy feels so guilty and tells the truth. He should have done something, anything, to prevent what finally happens to Terry but he was just too scared.
Why not try answering this question?
Choose a play in which a character gains your sympathy because of the way he or she is treated by the other characters.
Describe how the character is treated by others, and how he or she reacts and explain why you feel sympathy for the character.