In the exam you will also be asked to write an essay. There will be a choice of two essay titles and you will be asked to pick one. Your essay must focus on the play as a whole and therefore it is very important that you know the play extremely well before you sit your exam. You must make sure you have a clear idea about:
- language, form and structure
When you are in the exam, it is a good idea to write a brief essay plan before you start writing the actual essay. This will help you to have control of the structure of your essay and make sure that you do not end up repeating points or even worse, missing out valuable points.
Below, there are examples of essay titles from a higher tier and a foundation tier exam on A Taste of Honey.
What do you think of Helen and the way she is presented in A Taste of Honey?
What do you think about Helen?
- Write about the way she speaks and behaves with Jo.
- Write about the way she speaks and behaves with Peter.
- Write about the way she speaks and behaves with Geof.
- Write about anything else you think is important.
Planning your answer
- Introduction. Explain who Helen is and why she is significant in the play.
- Comment on Helen’s relationship with Jo and her attitude to her daughter.
- Comment on Helen’s attitude to men, Peter in particular and how this has impacted upon her life.
- Comment on the way Helen treats Geof. Why is she so mean to him? What does this tell us about her as a person?
- Conclusion. Here you should provide a general summing up of your main points.
Higher tier sample answers
Here are two sample answers that refer to point four of the essay plan.
Sample answer one
Helen is always rude to Geof and makes it quite clear to both him and Jo that she does not like him. She does not care how her daughter feels about him, or that Jo tells Helen that Geof is her only friend. Helen is selfish and is only interested in the fact that she does not like Geof. One of the reasons Helen dislikes Geof is because she is homophobic and because of this she calls him names. The other reason seems to be because Helen herself now wants to live with Jo. Helen’s husband Peter has thrown her out of their house because he has been having an affair with another woman. Therefore Helen needs somewhere to live. It is important that she gets rid of Geof in order to make room for herself at the flat.
Feedback comments – good, but improvements need to be made.
This answer shows a solid understanding of the main reasons why Helen dislikes Geof.
However, it is not written in a very sophisticated manner and it feels rather basic.
There is a lot of retelling here as to why Helen dislikes Geof but there is not textual support provided.
This answer also lacks the textual analysis that is needed in order to gain a higher level.
Sample answer two
Helen first meets Geof in Act Two Scene One of A Taste of Honey. Despite the fact that it was Geof who contacted Helen and asked her to visit Jo, she shows him very little gratitude at all. Instead she is rude and bitter towards him, , she tells him when he reminds her that she is the baby’s grandmother. Helen also humiliates him by calling him, , and then shouts at him, Later she questions Jo as to why she would want to stay with a and her use of this term to describe Geof indicates just how homophobic she is. She is also determined to remove Geof from Jo’s life despite everything he has done for her daughter. She makes things so uncomfortable for him that by the end of the play he is forced to admit,
Feedback comments – a much better answer.
This answer is much better. The language used is more sophisticated and the use of words such as indicates is effective.
This answer contains textual evidence in the form of quotes from the play.
This answer does not simply retell how Helen behaves but it also explains her behaviour and links this to events that happen in the text.
Foundation tier sample answers
Here are two sample answers that refer to point five of the essay plan.
Sample answer one
Helen is not a very good mother and she is not a very good wife or friend to Geof. She leaves Jo alone for much of the time and does not even care if she does not see her at Christmas. This is usually a time for families to be together but Helen would rather be with Peter than looking after her own daughter. Helen is a selfish woman who only cares about herself. She only comes back at the end of the play because she has nowhere else to go. She gets rid of Geof so that she can sleep on the sofa and does not think about the fact that he will now be homeless. She is a selfish and horrible woman.
Feedback comments – some interesting ideas but improvements need to be made.
This answer shows a solid understanding of Helen’s personality.
However it does not give reasons for why she behaves in the way that she does.
This answer is inaccurate in that it was Peter who was not a good husband. He is the one who had an affair, there is no mention of Helen having an affair and she never suggests that she will be a good friend to Geof; that was never her intention. It is important to know the play and the characters extremely well before the exam begins.
This answer would benefit from the use of textual evidence to support opinion.
Sample answer two
In conclusion, Helen is not portrayed as a particularly pleasant character. Indeed, Shelagh Delaney presents her as a character who has many flaws. She is selfish and always puts her own needs before Jo’s. Jo has had to get used to fending for herself and this has had a negative impact on her daughter’s life. Helen is not kind to Geof, even though he has been helping to look after Jo when she is pregnant. She calls him a revealing how homophobic she is. Helen does come to stay with Jo at the end of the play but the audience wonders how much of this is down to love and how much of it is down to having nowhere else to go. She is shocked when Jo reveals her baby is black and instead of discussing how she feels with Jo she leaves her daughter alone in the flat in order to have a drink in the pub.
Feedback comments – a much improved answer
There is much more detail in this answer, with reasons given for why Helen behaves as she does.
Textual evidence is provided to support opinions.
This answer provides a solid summing up of points that will have been made in the essay.
This answer also mentions the audience. As this is a play and not a novel, the examiners like answers to make reference to the audience.
These notes were contributed by members of the GradeSaver community. We are thankful of their contributions and encourage you to make your own.
A Taste of Honey is a play written by Shelagh Delaney. Delaney, a British dramatist, was only 18 when she wrote the play. Originally, she wrote it to be a novel, but changed it into a play because she wanted to bring important social issues back into British theatre. It was first performed in 1958, and later the play was made into a movie, also titled A Taste of Honey, in 1961.
Set in Salford in the 1950s, the protagonist of the play is named Jo, who is seventeen years old. She is a worker in her town, but her mother doesn't hold the highest morals and has a lot of relationships for money. Helen, Jo’s mother, begins a new relationship with a younger but rich man named Peter and leaves Jo in their house. During that time, Jo begins a relationship with a colored sailor named Jimmy, who proposes to Jo and then leaves on a trip after getting Jo pregnant. Jo has to find a new place to live, and she ends up making housing arrangements with Geoffrey, who is a homosexual and later acts as the child’s father. As Helen returns and more complications arise, the play becomes much more than just a social commentary.
A Taste of Honey highlights and questions the social tensions stemming from different opinions in working class, race, gender, and sexual orientation in Britain during this time period. In addition, the mother-daughter relationship is strained by poverty, sexism, and racism, yet the lessons taught are done so through humor and optimism. As Jo tries to grow up as a young woman in her small town, she becomes somewhat a heroine as she tries to answer some social questions for herself.