Edexcel English IGCSE: The Last Night by Charlotte Gray
Q2. How does the writer of ‘The Last Night’ evoke sympathy for the people who are being deported?
In your answer, consider:
- the treatment of the deportees;
- the actions of the other people;
- 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
The deportees in ‘The Last Night’ are in a pitiable situation. They are kept in terrible, dehumanising conditions, and are experiencing the fear of knowing that they will soon die. The actions of others simply confirm their terrifying circumstances.
The conditions in which the deportees are kept dehumanise them. The children are sleeping on “filthy straw”, like animals. Faulks evokes sympathy in the reader with the touching contrast in the description of sleeping Andre: the “soft bloom of his cheek”, which evokes beauty and innocence, contrasts with the ugliness and inhumanity of the “dung” on which it lies. Like animals in the cold, the brothers are intertwined “for warmth”. The area in which the deportees are kept is described as an “enclosure”, a term which is usually used in reference to animals in captivity. By suggesting that the deportees are being treated as animals, Faulks appeals to the reader’s sympathy.
The deportees experience the fear of knowing, at least partially, the terrible fate which awaits them. The adults are aware of their terrifying situation, which prompts them to react in fear to the buses which will take them to the concentration camps: there is a “quickening of muscle and nerve” when they hear them. The ironic use of the word “quickening”, which means to come alive, reminds the reader of these people’s impending death. The children are perhaps less aware of their fate. Nevertheless, they know that they are being taken somewhere even worse than their current environment: “In the filthy straw they dug in their heels and screamed”. The phrase “dug in their heels” is idiomatic as well as literal, showing that they are attempting to be stubborn. This is moving because the reader is aware that the children’s stubbornness is futile, as they have no control over this situation.
Other people’s actions confirm the deportees’ terrible fate. Some are kind to the deportees, for example by bringing water and food. However, these acts are somewhat ominous; they are reminiscent of prisoners being given a final meal before their execution. The behaviour of the officials also evoke sympathy for the deportees. The camp commandant sits at a “long table”, showing his importance and status. This extravagant furniture is in stark contrast to the conditions of the deportees, highlighting the tragic injustice of this situation. A policeman calls out names “in alphabetical order”, which makes the operation seem organised and clinical, as though the deportees are goods, not people. It is also an infantilising practice, which is often used in schools.
Faulks succeeds in evoking pathos for the deportees, who are being treated as animals and have no control over their lives. The reader is likely to be aware of the events of the Holocaust; this passage offers a detailed account of one such terrible event.