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Edexcel English IGCSE: Chinese Cinderella

by Adeline Yen Mah

Q5. How does the poet address the theme of being multi-cultural in ‘An Unknown Girl’?

In your answer, consider:

  • her attitudes to education;
  • her relationship with her family;
  • the writer’s use of language techniques.

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

Edexcel English IGCSE Model Essay by an Expert

In this passage, we learn about Adeline’s home life, particularly her relationship with her family. She is also ambitious, and sees education as a means of escape.

The reader quickly learns that Adeline does not come from a happy home. The opening paragraph contains the dramatic escalation from the “end of term” to “the end of school forever”, which shows Adeline’s dread about having to leave. When she is told that she has to return home that day, she runs “as in a nightmare”; this simile shows the extent of her discomfort and terror, which almost disconnects her from reality. She reveals her dismay at having to return home with the repeated structure “full of”, showing that her “foreboding” and “dread” are overwhelming. Furthermore, she believes that she is being brought home either because someone has died, or because she has done something wrong; this shows that her family only contact her in negative circumstances.

We learn more about Adeline’s family life from the reactions of her family when she arrives home. Her family do not bother to greet her, even though they are not busy: they are “playing bridge” and “sunbathing”, showing that Adeline is a very low priority in their lives. Adeline also displays fear and distrust of her father. She describes his room with the metaphor, “the Holy of Holies”, giving her father an almost religious status, and showing that she is intimidated by him. Although he seems friendly, Adeline’s reactions reveal that this is not how he normally acts. She even suspects that his friendliness is a “giant ruse”, revealing that perhaps he has played such a cruel trick in the past.

In this passage, we also learn about Adeline’s attitudes towards education. She is clearly happy at school, but part of this is that it keeps her away from her unwelcoming family. She has a similar attitude towards her ambitions for university. Her “heart gave a giant lurch” when she realises her father may give her permission to study in England, suggesting a physical reaction of joy. She compares going to England with “entering heaven”: a hyperbolic simile which shows that she believes England to be a perfect place where she will be happy forever. The reader learns, however, that it is being in England which is her priority, rather than having a passion for a particular subject. She admits she “would study anything [her father] wished” if she could just go to England. This suggests that she values education as a potential route of escape from her life in China.

Adeline is clearly an ambitious and brave teenager, who dares to make a request of her dominating father in order to gain independence in the future.

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