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The Exercise by Bernard MacLaverty

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1 The Exercise by Bernard MacLaverty
About the author: Born Belfast 1942 Worked as a medical laboratory technician for 10 years Studied English at Queen’s University, Belfast Moved to Glasgow, Scotland 1975 Taught English Writer-in-residence at various universities Writer of short stories, novels, screenplays, libretti.

2 The Exercise by Bernard MacLaverty
Plot Structure Kevin gets help from his father, who is hurrying to get ready for work, with Latin homework. Waldo chooses Kevin to read out in class his answers to Latin homework to be corrected. All Kevin’s answers turn out to be wrong. Waldo mocks Kevin’s father and his occupation as barman when Kevin lets slip that father helped him with homework. Waldo canes Kevin as punishment for getting homework all wrong. (Climax of plot.) Waldo apologises to Kevin for having ridiculed his father. Kevin goes to meet his father off the bus home from work. His father asks about Latin homework and Kevin hesitates to reply. Kevin lies and tells father all went well. (Turning point.) Father is pleased and admits he has worried about it since it was done so hurriedly. Kevin happy he has spared father from feeling guilty and lost pride in academic ability.

3 The Exercise by Bernard MacLaverty
Setting Mid 20th century, 1950s / 60s approximately, mostly in Kevin’s home and at Kevin’s school. No central heating, one warm room where all family together to keep cosy, typical of the time: “a good shovel of coal for that fire”, “they sat in the warm kitchen”, “cold lino of the bathroom floor”. Close, affectionate family atmosphere: “Kevin’s father joined him in his work, helping him”, “Often his wife took a hand out of him”, “The three boys shouted and danced around” when told dad has night off work. Catholic boys’ grammar school: Waldo wears “soutane”, “hard Roman collar”, showing he is priest as well as teacher; “they said the Hail Mary in Latin”. Very strict school: “The palm upward gesture brought the class to its feet”, “a thin yellow cane”, “it was four for anyone who lied about his answer”.

4 The Exercise by Bernard MacLaverty
Characters Kevin Clever: “had started grammar school”; studying Latin. Conscientious: does his homework, “trying to get help”, wants to do it correctly. Close relationship with father: “loved to smell his pyjama jacket and the shirts”, “standing on the arm of the chair to get the slippers down from the cupboard”, “he would go down to meet his father coming home from work”, “slipped his hand into the warmth of his father’s overcoat pocket”. Nervous of Waldo: “his finger trembling under the place in the book”, “Kevin hesitated, stammering”.

5 The Exercise by Bernard MacLaverty
Characters Kevin’s Father Academically able: despite fact he “never got the chance” to pursue education when young himself; mother says “he’d be teaching or something now instead of serving behind a bar”; “doing the exercises out of the text books on his own”. Loving father: children “shouted and danced around” when told he has evening off work; “Before their bedtime he would read the younger ones a story”; “gave Kevin money for sweets”; helps Kevin with his homework; “leaned forward to kiss Kevin”.

6 The Exercise by Bernard MacLaverty
Characters Waldo Catholic priest: wears “soutane, narrow and tight fitting at the shoulders, sweeping down like a bell to the floor”; “hard, white Roman collar”; pupils address him as “Father”. Neat and tidy in both appearance and habits: “gleaming buttons”; lifts a dirty jotter with “the corner of one leaf between his finger and thumb”; writes on the blackboard in “geometric columns…defined by exact, invisible margins” then “would set the chalk down and rub the used thumb and finger together”. Snob: favours professional and business people’s children – “You’re not Dr John’s son, are you?”; “Or anything to do with the milk people?” Intimidating to pupils: “In his presence nobody talked”; closes classroom door “with a crash” and “cracked his books down with an explosion”; “with a flourish produced a thin yellow cane, whipping it back and forth, testing it”. No one makes eye contact with him, afraid to be noticed: “all eyes looked down”. Lets pupils carry on getting things wrong while he “remained impassive”. Sarcastic and mocking: “And where does your father teach Latin?”; “your brilliant father”; “After all, I have taught you some Latin”.

7 The Exercise by Bernard MacLaverty
Theme Truth and Lies Story explores whether lying is sometimes justifiable. Kevin tells truth to Waldo that father helped with Latin homework and is punished for it –ironic, since particularly in strict Catholic school, lying would be considered a sin and truth something to be encouraged and rewarded instead of punished. Kevin lies to father that Latin was fine and is rewarded by father feeling relieved because he “was a bit worried about it” and has not hurt father’s pride in academic ability nor made him feel guilty as might be if knew that Kevin had been caned for his wrong answers. Kevin “laughed and slipped his hand into the warmth of his father’s overcoat pocket, deep to the elbow”. Story ends showing happiness and closeness of Kevin’s relationship with father intact, which would not be case if he had told truth; author inviting reader to decide whether lying sometimes justifiable, therefore.

8 The Exercise by Bernard MacLaverty
High point of plot structure: when Waldo canes Kevin. Decisive moment on which subsequent events depend: Kevin hesitating while considering whether tell truth or lie to father. Plan of events in story. This story is in three parts: at home doing Latin; in school and incident with Waldo; bus stop scene with father. Truth and lies – whether lying is sometimes justifiable. Answers to questions on Prose should refer to the text and to such relevant features as characterisation, setting, language, key incident(s), climax, turning point, plot, structure, narrative technique, theme, ideas, description. Relevant – relating to what question specifies. How author creates character, eg: description, use of dialogue, etc. Consider what effect setting has on content of story. Important events in the story.

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