Celia Rees Witch Child Witness Tasks



Knowing she is in great danger, Mary describes what she witnessed, including “the shadow of dancing figures turning on the walls”. After “a series of afflictions”, Mary believes a “dismal black cloud has settled over the town” and there are rumors of witchcraft.

These essay questions focus on Celia Rees and the devices she uses to engage the reader. Therefore, your response should concentrate on the writer. Compare the subtle but important difference in following two examples:

  • The image of how “the storm broke over” the girls suggests their world is as disturbed as the weather.
  • Celia Rees refers to how “the storm broke over” the girls, which suggests their world is as disturbed as the weather.

Essay Question (1)

Read Entries 94 and 95. Explore how Celia Rees creates a sense of urgency and danger in the chapter. You should consider:

  • setting;
  • character; and
  • language, including imagery.

Essay Question (2)

With reference to Entries 96 and 97, explore how Celia Rees presents Deborah, Hannah and the other girls in this section. You should consider:

  • the characters’ behaviour;
  • how others react; and
  • language, including imagery.

Essay Question (3)

This essay focuses on how Celia Rees engages the reader in Entries 98 and 99.

Read from “these are, perhaps, the last words I will ever write” to “I heard him slide the bar back and saw the door bulge as he settled his bulk behind it”.

How does the writer sustain the reader’s interest in this passage?

Essay Exemplar

Read Entries 94 and 95. Explore how Celia Rees creates a sense of urgency and danger in the chapter.

Celia Rees creates a sense of urgency and danger in this chapter through her descriptions of the scene, characters and their situation. Entry 94 begins with a serious tone: “I write this as fast as can be”. This suggests to the reader that the character is in a huge rush to complete her thoughts because she needs to get somewhere or that someone is coming to interrupt her writing. This sentence suggests to the reader that she is in imminent danger because if she is caught her secrets could be exposed.

When the author mentions that the “girls” were “conjuring spirits” when they were out that night, the reader knows that the consequences will be severe because the speaker’s grandmother was executed for being a witch and the elders of the settlement have threatened anyone practising witchcraft with the most terrible punishments. This image creates a lot of mystery and curiosity around what the “girls” were doing and what might come of them.

The speaker, Mary, believes the girls previous behaviour on “midsummer night”, and how they were almost caught misbehaving, should have put “an end to their madness”. This creates an ominous feeling that something awful will happen because of their actions. Instead of recognising their insanity, the girls now “feed upon it”. This food metaphor suggests that the girls cannot stop what they are doing and need to satisfy their wicked hunger and power. In fact, they now believe they can “conjure storms”. Since people in the 1600s believed in these supernatural powers, this is really scary. They could cause real damage to the settlement.

Mary thinks there might be an explanation for the girls’ madness. She says that “each month when the moon waxes to full”, their “antic behaviour increases”. The full moon is influencing their manic and absurd activity, but I think the girls faking their evil witchcraft because they just want to have fun and misbehave. The girls might have heard stories and tales about witches and they are fascinated by their power. There is a lot of confusion in this entry concerning what is going on with the girls and their motivations for their attempts at conjuring.

The strange and unsettling behaviour has been noticed. For example, Hannah was “removed twice from Sunday service” for “interrupting, talking loudly and laughing uncontrollably”. This sentence about how “Hannah” is acting in public creates a sense that she is crazy and scaring the settlers. She is not safe to be near. At this point the reader might seem very worried or concerned about the girls. This chapter could really intrigue the audience to reading more and finding out what is really wrong.

Celia Rees describes their actions “like a sickness” ad “a fever in the blood”. This simile comparing their actions to the symptoms of a disease makes the reader aware of the serious danger they pose. Mary could catch their illness and makes her situation more urgent.

The writer explains where the girls practice their ‘witchcraft’: “not only in forests, in barns and each other’s houses”. This suggests to the reader that the girls are addicted to practising ‘magic’ because they are performing evil rituals in every place possible. It suggests to the reader that they could be using barn animals in their ‘witchcraft’. Why else would they be practicing in a barn full of animals? Earlier in the story, Mary was warned to stay from the Vanes’ “evil-tempered hogs” in case she was accused of witchcraft so the reader knows the girls are in serious danger.

The speaker claims she has seen “the candle flicker” and “the shadow of dancing figures turning on the walls”. This is a description of the girls playing with puppets suggests they are casting spells on the settlers. They could be cursing the animals or making love potions. There are many possibilities, but all against the Puritan law.

In Entry 95, the writer describes the fields “ripening towards autumn” and that the woods “bring colour”. This gives you a sense that things may have lighten since the summer, but it also reminds the reader that the dark winter is coming. This setting helps continue the urgent and dangerous tone because the harvest is not going so well and “the turning year has brought a series of afflictions”. It is an unexpected turn from what the reader thought might be a pleasant autumn.

The milk is “thick and yellow” and “bloody in the pail”. There was a “tremendous hailstorm” which “beat the crops down”. Since these settlers had a more limited understanding of the world, they often blamed supernatural forces for these disasters. Could it have something to do with the young witches? Although the girls have not appeared yet in the entry, they are still in our minds from the previous chapter. This juxtaposition creates curiosity and suspense in the reader.

Celia Rees describes this dangerous atmosphere as “a dismal black cloud has settled over the town”. By using the word “settled”, the writer suggests that this “dismal cloud” might not be moving for a while and there will be no escape from the danger. It gives the reader a worrying sense that something bad or unforgiving might happen to this poor innocent town.

Overall, I think this chapter of the book is intriguing because it builds tension between the wicked characters and the darkness in the settlement. There is also a a cliff-hanger at the end of entry 95, which hooks the audience to continue reading.

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