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In the story, Witch Child, Celia Rees uses many different components of language to make the reader empathise with the main character, Mary. Witch Child is a book, compiled of diary entries, written by a young woman called Mary, who lived in the 17th century. Rees uses empathy to make the book seem more personal, like the reader is the only one reading it. Empathy is also important, because it is when you understand and identify with somebody else’s problems or emotions, and if the reader feels a bond with Mary then they are going to continue reading the book.
It keeps the book gripping and stimulating. Celia Rees creates empathy in many ways, using a clever but subtle style. She uses factors such as sentence structure, emotive language and tone to provoke a feeling, similar to the one she has created for Mary. Rees’s style means that without the reader realising it, they become hooked. In this essay, I will be finding out how she uses language to do this and will be including quote from the book.
At the beginning, before the story begins we are given a little background information. This information is not true but we are told that the diary entries were found hidden and that they are a true story. Witch Child is in fact entirely fiction but this prologue helps with creating empathy because if the reader believes it is real then their emotions are also more likely to be real. If something is realistic then you are going to believe it where as if you know it is made up, then you will not relate to it.
Also the way that it is in diary format helps as well. It makes it seem more personal and make the reader feel valued because they have been allowed to read personal thoughts and feelings.
The language Celia Rees uses has a large effect on the way the reader interprets her words. Some of the language is in the style of how it would have been written in the time the book is set. Sometimes the words in the sentence are in a different order to what is familiar today, and sometimes she just uses uncommon words. However, Rees has used a simplified language, to appeal more to her target audience, of teenage and older children. This is sensible because a diary in the 1600’s would have been written in such a way that modern children/teenagers may have struggled to understand the meaning behind her words. Celia Rees intentionally chose this language, and it has helped the book seem more realistic.
Mary goes through a lot as she grows from a girl to a woman. At the beginning her grandmother, who was her main guardian and who she was very close to, was killed after being accused of being a witch. This is a key part of the story, and is carried through the story. It makes the reader empathise with Mary because her grandmother is her only family, and the only one that has ever cared for her, so when she is taken away it would have been very upsetting. One quote from the book that I think illustrates this well is ‘The men watched, as the woman did this and my grandmother was forced to stand before their gloating eyes, a naked old lady…’ This quote is from when her grandmother is going through witch tests. The reader empathises with Mary at this point because Mary empathises with her grandmother.
The words ‘naked’ and ‘old’ make her grandmother seem vulnerable and helpless. She sounds vulnerable because she is naked and being watched by strangers. The way she is described as ‘old’ makes her seem defenceless, which to some extent was probably true. She had no dignity in front of the men and was probably embarrassed and ashamed. The word ‘forced’ makes it sound like the men have bullied her into it. Rees tells the story so that the men seem higher and superior (but cruel) and her grandmother seems humble and this makes her sound innocent. The men seem quite sick and perverted for wanting to watch an old woman naked. The word ‘gloating’ makes it sound like they are proud of themselves and happy that an old woman is being hurt. The men’s eyes are described which implies that they are watching intently.
We feel empathy for Mary because she must have been there, to know the story is such detail, and the reader feels bad because they know there is nothing she can do. Also the reader feels guilty because the way Mary has written ‘my’ makes it sound like she is quite protective of her grandmother. Also you get the impression that, understandably, Mary resents the woman that is hurting her grandmother and as I have already said, the reader automatically thinks the woman and men are cruel and the bad ones, therefore again the reader empathises with Mary. This is also near the first time the witch theme is mentioned. The quote seems so horrific it makes you think that they wouldn’t just do it to anyone. This makes you wonder whether she was actually a witch, and this question is continued to be asked throughout the book.
Another quote from the book is, ‘I seized on this, turning the leaves, hoping that here I would find the answers to ease my heart’. The first thing the reader thinks about and pictures is Mary, searching in desperation. This shows she is curious to find out about her past. You get the idea she is so frantic that she has forgotten her surroundings and is lost in her own world. You think of her searching because Rees says ‘find answers’ and ‘turning the leaves’. The whole quote creates a distressed and quite depressing atmosphere. ‘Seized on this’ makes her sound even more fraught because it makes it sound like she really noticed it, and immediately thought it could solve her uncertainties.
The way Rees uses the phrase ‘ease my heart’ makes you realise that Mary must have been fretting over it for a long time. ‘Ease my heart’ is also an example of emotive language because it is powerful and provokes a reaction from the reader. Another example of emotive language in the quote is ‘hoping’ and both of these makes you feel empathy with Mary because you feel her longing, and therefore create a stronger bond with her. Emotive language adds to empathy between the reader and Mary because if you feel a bond then you are going to understand her emotions and link it to yourself. Rees also uses quite an old fashioned style of language.
She uses the word ‘leaves’ which these days is unlikely to be used, a more familiar word would be pages. This makes it more realistic, which means the reader is more likely to connect with Mary and feel empathy. You feel empathy with Mary because most people have really wanted to know or find something out. The reader also feels empathy with Mary because the quote is quite personal and, I think, quite obviously from a diary. This makes her emotions seem raw and unchanged, and this makes the bond stronger between her and the reader because it sounds like her feelings are truly coming from her heart. The bond strengthens as the quote goes on.
This is because with each clause she adds more detail, creating a more intense image and making your emotions more extreme and that therefore increases the level of empathy between Mary and the reader. In this quote you also start to get the impression that Mary is an outsider. This is because she has just boarded the boat she will be travelling on and is sat on her own looking through a case at this point; instead she could be meeting new people or exploring the boat. This is a theme that is carried on throughout the book.
Rees carries on portraying Mary as an outcast throughout the book. The reader wonders why this is. It could be because Mary’s grandmother was killed, or it could be to do with the fact that she has to cover up any signs of her supernatural background. The next quote shows the way she has to hide her abilities in order to try and fit in, ‘I have seen his past. I have seen his future. I know how death will come to him and I feel the knowledge like a burden. Grandmother said never to reveal the manner of someone dying.’ This quote continues both the witch and the not fitting in theme. It goes against the common belief that witches don’t exist because it’s saying she has seen an extraordinary thing, and has powers. It makes the reader wonder whether she is actually a witch or whether she was hallucinating. The reader feels sorry for her because she has just seen something very important and she has to keep it to herself. The reader empathises with Mary because she can’t do anything about the powers she was given, she didn’t ask for them, she was just given them, and all she wants to do is live a normal life, and she can’t. She is trying to be good and please everyone, her grandmother wouldn’t have wanted her to tell but she is probably wondering if it would be the best thing or not. The whole quote creates a stressed atmosphere and there is definitely a sense of confusion, while she is trying o work out what to do for the best. The way Rees says ‘like a burden’ makes it sound like Mary really didn’t want to have that vision, and now she has to keep it to herself it’s even worse. It also makes it sound like it strains her, which probably means she has had more than one of these visions. You also get the impression that she has had numerous visions because it says ‘Grandmother said’ which make it sound like her and her grandmother talked about how to deal with them. The fact that she has had several premonitions intensifies the empathy connecting the reader and Mary because she must have been put under a lot of stress. The quote sounds almost like she is keeping something to herself, and that she is not really saying how she feels about the event. She doesn’t say whether she is angry, proud or any emotion. This could be Rees cleverly linking in the time when the book was supposedly written. In the 1600’s, the norm was not to show what you were feeling inside. This would explain why she has not written it. However this explanation has a weakness because the book is composed of diary entries, so why would she hold her feelings back. The quote has quite a few short sentences in it. These make it dramatic and it gets to the point. It can mean a point is emphasised, and in this case it does. It means that there is only one point in the sentence and so the reader’s attention can’t be diverted.
Mary never seems to be sure of what she is meant to be doing. She doesn’t really stand up for herself and nearly always does what other people tell her. A good example of this is, ‘I do not know what this place has in store for me. The ship is familiar to me; it has been home to me’. This quote is appropriate because Mary doesn’t want to leave her comfort zone, but will when everybody else goes. She doesn’t really stand up for herself because she has got on a boat and is now in America, with no-one she knows. This quote makes the reader feel empathy connecting themselves and Mary, because most people have been reluctant to do something and to leave their comfort zone which is exactly what Mary is feeling at the moment. Sentence structure plays a key part in how the sentence comes across. Short sentences often sound more dramatic and can add pace to a sentence. Long sentences can be used to add detail and make an image in the readers mind. Witch Child uses both short and long sentences add different effects, including empathy. In this quote short sentences help the reader to understand Mary’s emotion. The short sentences make it sound like she is speaking fast which could be linked to panicking and not wanting to do something you have to. This adds to the empathy because if she is panicking it means it is something she really doesn’t want to do, which makes the reader feel almost guilt. The short sentences add pace and make you realise she can’t go back. You feel guilty because even though it isn’t your fault you feel like your taking the only thing that’s normal away from her. The word ‘familiar’ makes you think the boat is comforting and she is happy on board. The quote also makes you realise that even if she did protest, they had already made the journey and there was nothing she could do about it, she was stuck in America. The reader also questions why Mary doesn’t want to leave the boat, whether it is just that the boat is familiar or whether there is something more to it. The reader could wonder, maybe she doesn’t want to have to make a whole new life, maybe she’s scared of being rejected by the others or maybe she’s scared the new people will find out she’s a witch. Again her emotions are not clearly written about; instead the style in which it is written means you can pick it up from the context. It could be as before, the age problem, nobody then talked about their feelings. Another explanation could be that she doesn’t want to come to terms with her feelings because they will upset her. If that were true then there would be a stronger sense of empathy because the reader would feel sorry for Mary, not being able to display her emotions openly.
Rees uses powerful words to get through to the reader. In each of the quotes I have chosen so far I have picked at least one word out, and I probably could in most of the book. ‘My few precious things. All I have to show for my life so far lived’. There are powerful words in this quote that are very important, without them, the quote wouldn’t mean the same thing. The words ‘precious’ and ‘few’ makes the items seem very dear and valuable to her and makes it sound like she’s needy. They are all she’s got, which makes her sound like she’s alone. You also get the impression that she relies on them and this makes her sound vulnerable. The outcast theme is continued here because she is alone and has been rejected by the group. This is a depressing part because she has nothing positive in her life. However she values what she has and is not being a brat by saying that she wants more. The words ‘all I have’ also makes her sound weak. The reader understands Mary’s feelings at this point because she sounds vulnerable and susceptible which makes her sound innocent and the reader is more likely to trust and feel close to her if they think she is innocent. The reader also feels empathy with Mary because she has been rejected by a group, which is what she has always feared, and this makes the outcome even more damaging. The quote again is written in an old fashioned/ unusual style. This time it is not the words used but actually the word order; ‘so far lived’ is an unusual way of arranging the words, the normal way today would be ‘lived so far’ or just simply ‘so far’.
Celia Rees uses many effects to get the reader to feel empathy, and they have all worked. She cleverly made choices so the reader was drawn in and made to feel a connection and friendship with Mary. From analysing quotes I have learnt a lot more than at first glance.