Edexcel English IGCSE: The Last Night by Charlotte Gray
Q4. How does the writer portray the thoughts and feelings of the deportees in ‘The Last Night’?
In your answer, consider:
- the adult deportees;
- the children deportees;
- the experience of Andre;
- the writer’s use of language techniques.
Refer closely to the passage to support your answer. You may use brief quotations.
Edexcel English IGCSE Model Essay by an Expert
The deportees experience a range of emotions in reaction to their terrible situation, such as fear and resignation to their fates. In this passage, Faulks portrays the unthinkable experience of waiting for death.
Because of their knowledge of their predicament, the adults have to deal with their impending deaths. At the beginning of the passage, they differ in their responses, as highlighted by the repeated structure, “Some…”. Some adults react emotionally, writing with “sobbing passion”. This emotive language is shocking to the reader, as the tone of the passage so far is relatively factual. It is a sudden reminder of the human emotional cost of the Holocaust. The adults are “slumped” against the walls, which suggests depression and a lack of hope. This hopelessness is reflected in the adults’ compliance with the guards’ instructions. They even help to pull children onto the buses, essentially bringing them to their deaths. The deportees are aware of their fate, as shown by their unified reaction of fear to the sound of the buses: “a quickening of muscle and nerve”. Their compliance, then, displays their utter hopelessness that they might be saved.
Perhaps even more tragic than the adult victims is the fact that young children are also being deported to concentration camps. Their desperation for basic things is evident in their reaction to the woman who brings them food and water: they “clustered” around the water pail, showing that they are too desperate to wait patiently for their turn. One boy hugs the woman “in his gratitude”, showing the rarity of such generosity. Unlike the adults who recognise the futility of resistance, the children display their fear with open defiance: “In the filthy straw they dug in their heels and screamed”. By positioning the description of the disgusting environment at the beginning of the sentence, Faulks shows the children’s recognition that even their current circumstances are better than those to which they are heading.
Andre is one of the children being deported to a concentration camp. The fact that he lies his cheek “uncaring, in the dung” shows that he has become accustomed to his horrific environment. He is also poignantly obedient to the guards’ instructions; this is a moving reminder that adults should be keeping children safe, not bringing them to harm. However, “he held on hard to Jacob”, the alliteration here evidencing his fear. Andre also gradually realises the severity of their situation. He recognises that the “terrible ferocity” of a mother’s glare is not hatred, but an attempt to remember her child “for ever”. This realisation that the children will not be returning to their parents is tragically mature for such a young person.
Understandably, the experience of the deportees is largely characterised by fear. That children have to fear for their lives is particularly tragic, since they are so clearly innocent and undeserving of their terrible treatment.