Texte d'Andrea Levy


« "I am a teacher and I understand this is the place at which I should present myself for a position in that particular profession." Through the woman's warm smile I detected a little confusion. Too well bred to say "What?" she looked a quizzical eye on me, which shouted the word just as audibly. I repeated myself clearly but before I had completed the statement the woman asked of me sweetly, "Did you say you are a teacher?" "I am, I said. My own smile was causing me some pain behind my ears but still I endeavoured to respond correctly. I handed her the two letters of recommendation which I had taken from my bag in anticipation of their requirement. She politely held out her slim hand, took them, then indicated for me to sit. However, instead of studying the letters she merely held them in her hand without even glancing at their contents." "What are these?" she asked with a little laugh ruffling up the words. "These are my letters of recommendation. One you will see is from the headmaster at–" Interrupting me, her lips relaxed for just a moment before taking up a smile once more, "Where are you from?" she asked. The letters were still held in mid-air where I had placed them. "I am from Jamaica," I told her. She was silent, we both grinning on each other in a genteel way. I thought to bring her attention back to the letters. "One of the letters I have given you is from my last post. Written by the headmaster himself. You will see that–" But once more she interrupted me: "Where?" I wondered if it would be impolite to tell this beguiling woman to read the letter in her hand so all her questions might be answered. I concluded it would. "At Half Way Tree Parish School," I told her. "Where's that?" "In Kingston, Jamaica." "Well, I'm afraid you can't teach here," and passed the unopened letters back to me. I was sure there had been some misunderstanding, although I was not clear as to where it had occurred. Perhaps I had not made myself as understood as I could. "If you would read the letters," I said, "one will tell you about the three years of training as a teacher I received in Jamaica while the other letter is concerned with the position I held as a teacher at–" She did not let me finish. "The letters don't matter," she told me. "You can't teach in this country. You're not qualified to teach here in England." "But…" was the only sound that came from me. "It doesn't matter that you were a teacher in Jamaica," she went on, "you will not be allowed to teach here." She shook the letters at me. "Take these back. They're of no use." When I did not take them from her hand she rattled them harder at me. "Take them," she said, so loud she almost shouted. Her smile was stale as a gargoyle. My hand shook as it reached out for the letters. And all I could utter was "but"– "Miss, I'm afraid there really is no point your sitting there arguing with me." And she giggled. The untimely chortle made my mouth gape. "It's not up to me. It's the decision of the education authority. I can do nothing to change that. And, I'm afraid, neither can you. Now, I don't mean to hurry you but I have an awful lot to do. So thank you for coming." Every organ I possessed was screaming on this woman. "What are you saying to me?" She went back about her business. Her face now in its normal repose looked as severe as that of the principal at my college. She picked up a piece of paper, wrote something at the top. She looked to another piece of paper then stopped, aware that I was still there. "How long is the training in England?" I asked her. "Goodbye," she said, pointing a finger at the door. "Must I go back to a college?" "Really, miss, I have just explained everything to you. You do speak English? Have you not understood me? It's quite simple. There is no point you asking me anything else. Now, please, I have a lot to do. Thank you." And she smiled on me – again! What fancy feigning. I could not stand up. My legs were too weak under me. I sat for a little to redeem my composure. At last finding strength to pull myself up. I told this woman, "I will come back again when I am qualified to teach in this country." "Yes," she said. "You do that. Goodbye." »
Abridged and adapted fromAndrea Levy, Small Island, 2004

1. What do you learn about the narrator: occupation, country of origin and sex?
2. In what country does the scene take place?
"I understand this is the place at which I should present myself for a position in that particular profession."
a) In the passage "the place" is not described in detail. What could the underlined words refer to?
b) Explain what the narrator has come there for.
4. "I handed her the two letters of recommendation…"
Who does the underlined pronoun refer to? Suggest what that character's status or job may be.
5. What does the narrator expect the other character to do with the letters?
6. What does the narrator feel these letters prove?
Questions 7 and 8. Read from "She politely held out…" to "… reached out for the letters."
7. There are three stages in the way the other character deals with the letters. Describe what these stages are.
8. Pick out two quotations from the text which show how this character justifies such an attitude.
Focus on the passage from "She did not let me finish" to the end of the text. Are the following statements true or false? Justify each answer with a quotation from the text.
a) This character is impressed by the narrator's professional experience.
b) This character is helpful towards the narrator.
c) This character is insulting about the narrator's mastery of the English language.
10. "Her face now in its normal repose…"
In what way have her face and attitude changed throughout the whole scene? Use elements from the whole text to justify your answer. (40 words quotations not included)
11. What do these changes reveal about this character's true feelings? (30 words)
12. Using the following quotations, analyse the changes in the narrator's state of mind and show the different stages the narrator has gone through.
"My own smile was causing me some pain behind my ears…"
"My hand shook…"
"My legs were too weak under me…"
"I will come back again…"
Choose subject 1(a+b) or subject 2.
a) Some time later the two characters in the text meet again. The narrator has become "qualified to teach in this country" and decides to go and see the same person again. Write their conversation. (150 words)
b) Should French diplomas be valid everywhere in Europe? (150 words)
2. How can overcoming obstacles at school or at work make someone stronger? Illustrate your point with one or two examples. (300 words)
Translate into French from "if you would read the letters…" to "she did not let me finish."


1. The narrator is a Jamaican female teacher.
2. The scene takes place in England.
a) This place could be a school office, an office at the national department of education or a job centre.
b) She has come there to apply for a job as a teacher.
4. It refers to the other woman who may be a secretary or headmistress.
5. The narrator expects her to take them and read them through.
6. She feels these letters prove she is a competent and fully qualified teacher.
7. She takes them but then she doesn't take the pain to read them. Eventually, she wants the narrator to take them back.
8. "You're not qualified to teach here in England."
"Well, I'm afraid you can't teach here."
"The letters don't matter."
"You can't teach in this country."
"It doesn't matter that you were a teacher in Jamaica, she went on, you will not be allowed to teach here."
a) False: "The letters don't matter."
"It doesn't matter that you were a teacher in Jamaica."
"Take these back, they are of no use."
b) False: "There really is no point your sitting there arguing with me."
"I can do nothing to change that."
"How long is the training in England? I asked her." "Goodbye she said, pointing a finger at the door."
"There is no point you asking me anything else."
c) True: "You do speak English? Have you not understood me, it's quite simple."
10. Although she was being polite, smiling and welcoming at the beginning ("the woman's warm smile", "sweetly", "polite") she became abrupt, interrupting several times ("Interrupting me", "once more she interrupted me", "She did not let me finish") and even laughed mockingly ("a little laugh").
She smiled again in an obviously insincere and hypocritical way ("taking up a smile, once more").
She then even became aggressive, shaking the letters at the narrator and almost shouting. In the end she openly laughed at her ("she giggled. The untimely chortle"). Finally she tried to ignore her and became dismissive/severe ("Goodbye, she said, pointing a finger at the door.")
11. They reveal she has been faking smiles all along since her natural expression is far more severe and less congenial. Only at the very end does she stop pretending. She is condescending throughout the scene. We may suspect she is prejudiced against people of colour.
12. At first, she feels slightly uneasy, as she is aware that her own smile is forced. Later on, the other woman's unexpected hostility and contempt upset her. Then she is so shocked that she is unable to do anything. Eventually, though, she pulls herself together and asserts that she will not be put off so easily.
a) Il faudra penser à présenter le travail sous la forme d'un dialogue (tirets, guillemets, retour à la ligne lorsqu'un personnage prend la parole). N'oubliez pas non plus ce qui s'est passé auparavant et pensez à respecter la psychologie des personnages. Attention également au niveau de langue à employer.
b) Pensez-vous que si les diplômes français doivent être reconnus partout en Europe, il en va de même pour les diplômes étrangers en France ? Le débat s'articulera autour de leur valeur et de l'harmonisation des enseignements dans les pays européens pour y parvenir.
2. There is no denying that when somebody overcomes obstacles at school or at work it is a way to become stronger.
Life is not a bed of roses and we have to face problems, hardships, reality and difficulties and to discover that life is made of joy and pain, but this is how we become stronger and stand on our two feet.
Ambition is necessary to overcome obstacles. We have to do our best to achieve our goals but we are also full of joy when we succeed in doing what we wanted.
Everything is not handed out to us on a silver platter. That's why we have to be full of perseverance and we must not get disheartened. We often think that it is impossible to get or achieve what we want because the amount of work that is necessary to obtain it seems impossible to do.
It is not because things are difficult that that we do not try, it is often because we do not try that things seem impossible. Depending on the situation, sometimes people do not try because they are too shy or they think they do not have the capacities to achieve or to get something.
When you have a dream, if you want to fulfil it you have to make efforts and of course there will be ups and downs but if you do not give up you can eventually get what you want. Not only do you have what you wanted but you also have a feeling of self-fulfilment. Stamina and optimism are necessary to attain a goal. It is a matter of personal work and ambition.
On a purely individual basis the realisation of one's ambition when overcoming difficulties is worthy of admiration for example great men or women who have a vision for the future of their country. Those who never despair of making a better world and dedicate their life to the benefit of others like Martin Luther King, Gandhi or Nelson Mandela.
In view of what has just been said, I think that overcoming difficulties is a virtue when it comes to surpassing oneself and achieving small or great things depending on what the aim is and it is clearly what strengthens and makes a person stronger.
« Si vous voulez bien lire ces lettres » , dis-je, « l'une d'elles vous renseignera sur les trois années de formation à l'enseignement que j'ai reçues à la Jamaïque alors que l'autre a trait à mes fonctions d'enseignante à… » Elle ne me laissa pas terminer.