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Edexcel English IGCSE: Chinese Cinderella

by Adeline Yen Mah

Q3. In the passage from Chinese Cinderella, what does the writer reveal about Adeline and her family’s attitudes towards education?

In your answer, you should think about:

  • Adeline’s attitude towards school and education;
  • her father’s attitude towards education;
  • gender roles;
  • the writer’s use of language.

You should refer closely to the passage to support your answer. You may use brief quotations

Edexcel English IGCSE Model Essay by an Expert

Adeline probably values education because of the opportunities it affords for escape. Adeline’s father has traditional ideas about acceptable forms of education.

Adeline loves school and aspires to university, but she sees education as a form of escape. Early in the passage, Adeline expresses her desire never to leave school. The repeated time phrases such as “Saturday again” and “eight weeks more” show her discomfort at the passing of time, bringing her closer to leaving school. She describes the thought of leaving school with the simile, “like a persistent toothache”. This comparison with physical pain suggests that she is intensely worried; this hints that her love of school may actually be fear of home. Her reactions of fear and dread when told that she has to go home suggest that she loves school not just because she values education, but because it is an escape from her unwelcoming family.

Similarly, Adeline’s desire to study in England may be a result of her desire to leave her life in China. The intensity of her desire to go to university in England is displayed by her emotional reactions to the possibility of her father agreeing to it: her “heart gave a giant lurch”, suggesting a physical reaction of joy. However, like her passion for school, it is possible that Adeline appreciates the opportunity for escape more than the study itself. She describes going to England as “entering heaven”: this hyperbolic simile suggests that she has put England on a pedestal. The scornful question, “What does it matter what you do after you get to heaven?” shows that she does not even care what she studies; this shows that her priority is to be in England, rather than to gain a specific type of education.

Adeline’s father values education, but this value is dependent on the kind of education gained. He is proud of Adeline for winning the writing competition, but Adeline recognises that this is because she has given him “face”: that is, her achievement made him look good in front of his colleague. He then makes his feelings about writing and literature clear. When Adeline suggests that she could study literature, he “scoffed” and uses scornful questions to make her doubt her abilities. He decides on a ‘female career for her, stating his views on women’s preferences as if they are facts, showing that he believes himself an authority on suitable careers for women. He decides for Adeline that she will study to be an obstetrician, since he clearly believes that this is an acceptable educational route for a woman.

Adeline and her father both have other priorities alongside valuing education: Adeline, to escape her life in China; and her father, to look good and to find his daughter a ‘suitable’ career.

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