The Singing Lesson Questions and Answers ISC Class 11 and Class 12

Short Questions

Part-1

(a) Why is Miss Meadows highly upset while going to take her singing lesson with her students?

Answer : Miss Meadows is a music teacher in a school. She is past the normal marriage age and has been tense and worried lest she should remain single and abnormal in the eyes of her colleagues. When she falls in love with Basil and they are engaged, they are really quite happy. But then she receives a letter from her fiancé who has expressed his inability to carry on with her saying that he is calling off the wedding.

This letter spoils her mood. She is rudely shaken by this letter from her lover expressing his inability to marry her. She is in despair and anguish, mixed with anger. She is highly upset. Unable to bear the depression, she changes what she had prepared for the classes. She asks the students to sing the saddest song ‘A Lament’, while she plays the piano.

(b) Sadness and despair caused by something undesirable affect not only the mind but also the body of the individual. Do you agree with this? Illustrate.

Answer : ‘The String Lesson’ explores the theme of sadness and despair. It describe the changing moods of Miss Meadows, a music teacher in a girl’s school. She is going to meet her class. Her singing lesson to her students of Forms Four, Five and Six in the school music hall is determined by fits of her moods. She has lately received a letter from her fiance calling off the wedding. So her mood is highly upset Unable to bear the desperation Miss Meadows changes what she had prepared for the classes and asks the students to sing the saddest song ‘A Lament’. She herself plays the piano and leads the students through the sad song all the while thinking of her fiance Basil. Her changed mood affects not only her mind but also her body. Once in the music hall, she gives sharps taps with the baton and asks for silence. Her glance sweeps over the babbing pink faces. She remains indifferent to the excitement and glee of the students. All this shows that despair affects the mind and also the body.

(c) In the story ‘The Singing Lesson’ how does Mansfield bring out the theme of the reliance and appearance?

Answer : In this story the writer has beautifully brought out the theme of reliance and appearance. As the story unfolds we come to know that Miss Meadows is extremely upset because she has just received a letter from her fiance who has expressed his inability to carry on with her affair. He has said that he is an unmarrying man. Miss Meadows is fully aware that if her engagement with Basil, is called off, she will never get the opportunity to marry. She is already thirty, five years older than Basil. She is totally reliant on Basil. She begins to feel that if marriage does not take place, she may have to leave the school, her job. This brings the theme of appearance also. Miss Meadows is highly disturbed to think, if she leaves school what will be her fate.

When the telegram from Basil comes asking her to apologize she feels relieved. She comes back to the class smiling. She asks her students to sing another song, happy and sweet.

It is evident from the story that Miss Meadows is prepared to settle for and marry a man who may or may not love her. She is desperate to get married. It appears that she fears how she will be perceived by others should she remain single. For Miss Meadows appearance is more important than whether Basil loves her or not.

Part-2

(a) Comment on the message conveyed by Katherine Mansfield in her short story ‘The Singing Lesson’.

Answer : Katherine Mansfield is an excellent short story writer. Her aim in writing ‘The Singing Lesson’ is not to convey any explicit message for the reader. She has a unique talent for realistically capturing a moment in time. This she has remarkably done in the singing lesson. It is upto the readers to deduce any relevant message from the story.

The message on the individual level is that we should have the guts to face and accept reality. We should not be an escapist. Miss Meadows in the story is unable to accept the fact that her fiance Basil does not love her, even if he revises his decision to marry her. His letter clearly reveals that he is no mood to marry a woman who is older than him and is possibly not good-looking. It is Miss Meadows who does not want to remain single as a social stigma is attached to the single status of a woman. That is why, she feels that she will have to leave her school and disappear if Basil breaks off their engagement.

There is, however, another message in the story. It is on the social level for the society. The society should ensure an atmosphere in which a single woman could live with honour and dignity.

(b) As soon as Miss Meadows reads the telegram sent by Basil, her mood changes . How is this change reflected in her conduct?

Answer : When Miss Meadows came to school she was in total despair and in an irritated mood because her fiance, Basil had written to her,”….I feel more and more strongly that our marriage would be a mistake. “Even in the classroom, she asked the students to sing the saddest song, “A Lament”.

But she she received the telegram from Basil asking her to apologize him for his rude letter, her mood at once changed. She felt completely transformed. She became happy.

“On wings of hope, love, of joy,” Miss beam went back to the music hall picked up the chrysanthemum and rapped with her baton. She turned to another page of the song book.

We come here to-day with flowers o’laden
With Baskets of Fruit and Ribbons to boot,
To-oo congratulate.

It was spring now. Everything had to regain its agility becoming eager. Beaming at the girls, she asked them to sue their imaginations . Now the sun was shining inside her.

(c) Write a note on Katherine Mansfield’s use of symbols in the story ‘The Singing Lesson’.

Answer : In ‘The Singing Lessons’, Mansfield has made a very skillful use of symbols. She has used symbolic names and symbolic situations.

Meadows means fields, greenland. That is the kingdom of Demeter, the material goddess of earth, harvest, seasons and fertility. She is usually represented beside a snake. Demeter is enraged and calm by turns in mythology. When she is united with her daughter, nature smiles and blooms; when they are separated the ground remains sterile, infertile, and it is autumn and winter.

Now this provides a symbolic set-up for the story. Miss Meadows is a symbol of the goddess Demeter. Basil, her fiancé, is the mythological creature basilisk, that is, an unbelievable kind of snake. As basilisk is able to kill with its breath, stare or physical contact, Basil can hurt just using the words of a letter. But as basilisk remains beside Demeter, Basil remains with Miss Meadows in absence or presence. It is to be noted that he is not merely hurtful-he is a companion.

Two important situations in the story are highly symbolic. The internal turmoil of Miss Meadows creates an atmosphere of utter despair and coldness. It is akin to the mood of Demeter who turns meadows infertile. Again Miss Meadows’s happiness is parallel to Demeter’s joyful mood when there is spring.

Part-3

(a) Describe briefly Miss Meadow’s meeting with the science teacher in the corridor. What is its significance?

Answer : Miss Meadows was treading the cold corridor in a highly disturbed state of mind. Cold, sharp, despair, buried deep in her heart was troubling her like a wicked knife. She was totally indifferent to the gleeful cries of girls of all ages who were hurrying ,laughing, running and calling out to one another. She was stopped by the science teacher on the way who bade her good morning. She asked her casually if it wasn’t very cold. Miss Meadows stared at the science Mistress coldly. Everything about the science teacher was sweet but due to her deep despair Miss Meadow did not relish this courtesy call. She answered grimly, “It is rather sharp.” The science Mistress gave her sugary smile and told Miss Meadows that she looked ‘frozen’. With her eyes full of mocking light, Miss Meadows answered, “…….not quite as bad as that.” With these words Miss Meadows gave the Science Mistress a quick grimace in exchange for a smile.

This brief meeting has a great significance. The science Mistress is in a cheerful mood. Everything about her is sweet, pale and honey. Her mood is in sharp contrast to the mood of Miss Meadows who returns the smile with a grimace, yellow hair of the science Mistress and blue eyes of Miss Meadows are also highly suggestive.

(b) Miss Meadows comes to the school in a very bad, irritated mood. Explain briefly how her mood affects her work?

Answer : Miss Meadows is a music teacher. She is about thirty years old. She is engaged to Basil, a handsome young man of twenty five. She hopes that she will be able to lead a happy life. But she is rudely shaken by a letter from her lover expressing his inability to marry her. She is in despair and anguish, mixed with anger. In this state of mind she comes to school . She feels confused, bitterly lonely and unloved. The students are making a noise. They are lively, full of fun and excitement. Miss Meadows brings apprehension with her.

Mary Beazley, her favourite student, “was turning the music stool”. That turn symbolizes the turn of the world, which stops. It is as if Miss Meadows had power to rule nature and to change the course of things.

She ignores the greetings, even the ritual by Mary Beazley of preserving the Chrysanthemum and asks the students to start singing ‘A Lament ‘ instead of the already chalked out lesson. The students are instructed to sing the song without expression. They sing with “mournful voices.”

Tension is mounting. “Every note was a sob, a groan of awful mournfulness.” While she is creating such an external disorder, Miss Meadows, undergoing internal chaos, wonders what could have happened to Basil as he had that attitude. Thus we see her work at school is totally disturbed due to her state of mind.

(c) One of the themes of ‘The Singing Lesson’ is illusion versus reality. How has the writer worked out this theme?

Answer : The story ‘The Singing Lesson’ has the background of victorian society in which single women were looked down upon as unwanted or deficient or abnormal. The single women were shown no respect. Even women would taunt them. So no women wanted to remain single for fear of derision or general dislike.

Miss Meadows is thirty. She is engaged to Basil who is barely twenty five. When Basil expresses his inability to marry her she is shocked. In her despair she forgets even the day-to-day courtesies. On the way to her class she meets the science Mistress. She greets her casually. In the class room her behaviour is abnormal. She does not accept yellow flowers from her favourite student who feels bad about it. Unable to bear her inner turmoil she asks the students to sing the saddest song ‘A Lament.’

Miss Meadows is afraid of facing the reality. She believes that she may have to leave her job and disappear if Basil called off their engagement. Evidently she is more concerned about how she will appear to others. She fears how she will be perceived by others should she remain single.

At the end, when she learns that Basil is ready to marry her, she is very happy. She knows the reality that Basil does not love her. Still she is ready to marry him. By marrying Basil she will be able to keep up the appearance of a happy married life. She is living in a world of illusion. Like other women of her age, appearance to her is more important than reality. How she is perceived by others is more important to her than whether Basil loves her or not.

Part-4

(a) Write a note on Mansfield’s use of colours in the story ‘The Singing Lesson’.

Answer : Katherine Mansfield is one of the best short story writers. She has made a skillful use of colours as symbols in the story. The ‘yellow’ hair of the science Mistress and the ‘yellow’ chrysanthemum offered by a student to Miss Meadows are very meaningful. The ‘yellow’ colour represents warmth, happiness. Miss meadows, in the mood of despair and sadness shows a dislike for this colour. Both these yellow objects are an unpleasant sight for Miss Meadows.

Again Miss Meadows recalls how once Basil looked very attractive with a rose in his buttonhole. He was in a bright blue suit at that time. The ‘blue’ symbolises pure and cold. Red of the rose is associated with health, beauty and youth. So Basil was attractive to her for his handsomeness. Thus we see that the colours used in the story have a symbolic significance.

(b) How far is the title of the story ‘The Singing Lesson’ justified?

Answer : ‘The Singing Lesson’ is a very interesting and meaningful story. Its title is very appropriate and suggestive. It is through the singing lesson that the writer conveys the inner turmoil in Miss Meadows’ mind. In a mood of deep despair Miss Meadows asks the students to sing a sad song ‘A Lament. It is sung in such a way that it brings out the feelings of despair in Miss Meadows’ mind.

Again when her mood changes after reading the telegram sent by her fiance, she asks the students to sing a happy song “We come here To-day.” It reflects the inner happiness of Miss Meadows.

The title ‘The Singing Lesson’ has a double meaning. It means a class where students learn how to sing. It also means a lesson that is singing itself as if it were alive. Life allows the music. May be music is played according to life. In ‘The Singing Lesson’ the songs sung by the students beautifully reflect Miss Meadows’ state of mind. Therefore the title of the story is quite justified.

(c) Although Basil does not appear in the story, yet he occupies an important place in ‘The Singing Lesson’, Discuss.

Answer : Basil is Miss Meadows’ fiance and an important character. He doesn’t appear in the story yet his presence is felt at every moment. It seems as if Miss Meadows is incomplete without him. He is an object of value for her.

Basil is described to be a young man of twenty five. He is committed to marry Miss Meadows five years senior to him in age. Miss Meadows remembers the last time she saw him. ‘How handsome he had looked in that bright blue suit, with that dark red rose.”

Basil appears to be selfish and wavering. “His letter to Miss Meadows reveals his personality. As a man he is more fixated on furnishing than on sending love notes to his betrothed. He appears to be an abnormal human being not capable of enjoying a mental bliss. Miss Meadows interprets Basil’s latest letter in her own way and sinks into deep despair. Only Basil’s apologetic telegram can lift Miss Meadows’s spirits.

Thus we see that Basil dominates the action of the story though he does not appear in the story. He can hurt with his words; he can also heal with words.

Long Questions

Question 1 : What torments Miss Meadows as she proceeds to take her singing lesson with the students? How does she treat her colleague the Science Mistress and the students?

Answer : Miss Meadows is a music teacher in a school. There is no physical description of Miss Meadows. She wears “cap and gown” and handles “little baton”, the symbol of her authority over her students. She is past normal marriage age and has been tense and worried lest she should remain single and ‘abnormal’  in the eyes of her colleagues. When she falls in love with Basil and they are engaged they are really quite happy. But then a letter from Basil expressing his inability to marry shocks her, throwing her into endless turmoil.

On her way to teach her first singing lesson of the day she comes across girls of all ages, laughing, running, calling out to one another. She is immune to their happiness. She is stopped by the Science Mistress whom she hated for her cheerfulness and her beauty. So she greets casually and walks down to the classroom where forms Four, Five and Six are waiting. She marches on to the stage and gives two sharp taps with her baton for silence. Mary Beazley, her favourite pupil, is at the piano.

The teacher fails to hide her anger as she addresses her students. We are told :”What could the thoughts of those creatures matter to someone who stood there bleeding to death, pierced to the heart, to the heart by such a letter.” The words ‘bleeding to death’ clearly reveal Miss Meadows’, state of mind. Miss Meadows is reminded of Basil’s words in the letter:

“………..I feel more and more strongly that our marriage would be a mistake.”

With such tormenting words that are killing her she asks the girls to sing a mournful song ‘Lament’. She does not accept a yellow Chrysanthemum from Mary. She asks the students to sing first without expression and then with expression. “Every note was a sigh, a sob, a groan of mournfulness.” Thus the song brings out the turmoil in Miss Meadows’ mind. As the song is sung, she thinks that she will have to leave the school and vanish. She is unable to face the questions of her colleagues.

To her good luck, she soon comes to learn that Basil has changed his mind and is ready to marry her. She, then, makes her pupils sing a happy song which expresses the new feelings in her heart. She feels that now it is possible to keep the appearance of being wanted and loved by Basil, even though it is doubtful if he really loves her.

Question 2 : Miss Meadows undergoes a change of moods. How does it affect her music lessons? Elaborate with reference to the text.

Answer : ‘The Singing Lesson’ reveals how the change in our moods affects our work. Miss Meadows is a music teacher in a school. She is in love with Basil. As she is past normal marriage age she is satisfied that now she will be able to lead a normal happy life like others of her colleagues. But she is rudely shaken by a letter from her lover expressing his inability to marry her. She is in despair and anguish, mixed with anger. She is naturally agitated.

Clad in her usual academic attire, Miss Meadows is going to teach he first singing lesson of the day. She is carrying the burden of the contents of the letter recently received from her fiance Basil, calling off the wedding. So she moves to the class “with despair – cold, shar despair” through the cold corridors leading to the music hall. She feels confused, bitterly lonely and unloved.

The students are making a noise. They are lively, full of fun and excitement when Miss Meadows arrives. She brings apprehension with her. Mary Beazley, her favourite student, “was turning the music stool”. That turn symbolizes the turn of the world, which stops. It is as if Miss Meadows had power to rule nature and to change the course of things.

She ignores the greetings, even the ritual by Mary Beazley of preserving the Chrysanthemum and asks the students to start singing ‘A Lament’ instead of the already chalked out lesson. The students are instructed to sing the song without expression. They sing with “mournful voices”. The lyric of the music is like that moment of life the character was passing:

“Fast! Ah, too Fast Fade the Ro-o-ses of Pleasure;
Soon Autumn yeilds unto Wi-i-nter Drear.
Fleetly! Ah, Fleetly Mu-u-sic’s Gay Measure
Passes away from the Listening Ear.”

The students are asked to sing without expression and the result is indeed tragic. Tension is mounting. ”
Every note was a sob, a groan of awful mournfulness.” While she is creating such an external disorder, Miss Meadows, undergoing internal chaos, wonders what could have happened to Basil as he had that attitude. She muses that Basil’s last letter had made her happy. It means that Miss Meadows is dependent on external events and on her relationship with her fiancé.

As the girls sing the lament, the nature of Miss Meadows also seems to echo her sadness. “The willow trees, outside the high, narrow windows, waved in the wind.” The willow tree, as we know is associated with the feelings of sadness and the idea of death. “They had lost half their lives. The tiny ones that clung wriggled like fishes caught on a line.” It looks as if all the leaves wanted to fall. The narrow windows, suffocating, cause anguish, as the singing lament. The ‘Lament’ is like a funeral march. Miss Meadows gets a dark aspect – of waning moon – darkening the environment as well. She asks the girls “Make that ‘Drear’ sound as if a cold wind were blowing through it. ” She utters ‘Drear’ so awfully that Mary Beazley ‘wriggled her spine’. The atmosphere is already surcharged when Miss Meadows says, “You must begin to die………. to fade …………until the Listening Ear is nothing more than a faint whisper.” It appears as if Miss Meadows wanted to express all the misery she was feeling. Such is the effect of the tension so created that some of the girls are ‘crimson’. One of them stats to cry. “Big spots of rain blew against the windows, and one could hear the willows whispering.”

But the situation is the opposite when Miss Meadows receives the happy telegram from Basil. She feels transformed, her mood is joyous. “On the wings of hope, of love, of joy.” Miss Meadows goes back to the music hall, picks up the Chrysanthemum and raps with her baton. She turns to another page of the songbook:

We come here To-day with Flowers o’erladen,
With Baskets of Fruit and Ribbons to boot,
To-oo Congratulate………

It is spring now. Everything has to regain its agility, becoming eager. Beaming at the girls, she asks the girls to use their imaginations. Now the sun is shining inside her. The air, the voices, the sound and all the rest become light. The girls are manipulated, influenced by the teacher, who tries to touch them with joy. It is the end of the nightmare : “Don’t look so doleful. It ought to sound warm, joyful, eager.”

Miss Meadows seems to be filled with instinctive , impulsive, spontaneous infatuation. She recovers motion, passion, fervour, moved by her satisfied desire. Now her voice sounds over all the other voices – full, deep, glowing with expression. She recovers her full aspect, her lost energy is restored.

Question 3 : Comment upon the theme of illusion and reality as worked out in the story ‘The Singing Lesson’.

Answer : The story ‘The Singing Lesson’ has the background of Victorian society in which single women were looked down upon as unwanted or deficient or abnormal. The single women were shown no respect. Even women would taunt them. They were the topics of veiled discussions and derisive laughter. So no woman wanted to remain single for fear of isolation and general dislike.

Miss Meadows, the protagonist in the story, is older than Basil, her fiance. She is thirty, whereas Basil is twenty-five. At her age she is aware that if she is not married at her age, she is in real trouble. When Basil expresses his inability to marry her, she is stunned. She is in real turmoil . In her despair she forgets day-to-day courtesies. She remains immune to the joyful calls and shouts of children. On her way to the class she meets the Science Mistress. She greets her casually. In her classroom, her behaviour is abnormal. She does not accept a yellow Chrysanthemum from her favourite student who feels bad about it. Unable to bear the inner turmoil, she asks the students to sing the saddest song “A Lament”. She leads her students through the sad song all the while thinking of her fiance Basil.

It is interesting that Miss Meadows believes that she may have to leave her job and disappear, if Basil calls off their engagement. She thinks:

She would have to leave the school, too. She could never face the Science Mistress or the girls after it got known. She will have to disappear.

She is, thus, clearly concerned about how she will appear to others. She does not, or rather cannot face harsh reality of her single status. She fears how she will be perceived by others should she remain single.

At the end of the story she learns that Basil has changed his mind and is ready to marry her. She becomes at once happy. She knows the reality that Basil does not love her. But she is happy that she will be able to keep up the appearance of leading a happy married life. Like other women of her age, appearance to her is most important. How she is perceived by others is more important to her than whether Basil actually loves her.

Question 4 : Discuss the use of symbols by Katherine Mansfield in her story ‘The Singing Lesson’.

Answer : ‘The Singing Lesson’ is structured in such a way that ordinary things acquire symbolic import. The author has used symbolic names and symbolic situations. The use of colours as symbols is prominent.

Meadows means fields, greenland. That is the kingdom of Demeter, the material goddess of earth, harvests, seasons and fertility. She is usually represented beside a snake. Demeter is enraged and calm by turns in mythology. When she is united with her daughter, nature smiles and blooms; when they are separated, the ground remains sterile, infertile, and it is autumn and winter.

Now this provides a symbolic set-up for the story. Miss Meadows is a symbol of the goddess Demeter. Basil, her fiance is the mythological creature basilisk, that is an unbelievable kind of snake. As basilisk is able to kill with its breath, stare or physical contact, Basil can hurt just using the words of a letter. But as basilisk remains beside Demeter, Basil remains with Miss Meadows in absence or presence. It is to be noted that he is not merely hurtful – he is a companion.

The two important situations in the story are symbolic, too. The internal turmoil of Miss Meadows revealed through the sad song creates an atmosphere of utter despair and coldness, something akin to the similar mood of Demeter who rules over meadows and turns them infertile, dead. This sense of ‘bleeding to death’ is experienced by Miss Meadows, too. Later, the second situation in which Miss Meadows is happy is parallel to Demeter’s peaceful joyful mood when there is spring everywhere.

Now many colours in the story acquire symbolic meaning. The ‘yellow’ hair of the Science Mistress and the ‘yellow’ Chrysanthemum offered by a student to Miss Meadows are meaningful. The ‘yellow’ colour represents warmth, happiness – the solar aspect of Demeter. Miss Meadows, in her utter despair, shows dislike to this colour. Both yellow objects are unpleasant sight to her. Miss Meadows recalls how once Basil looked attractive with a rose in his buttonhole and in a bright blue suit. Red is associated with health, beauty and youth. The blue colour symbolises the pure and the cold. So Basil was attractive to her because of his handsomeness and his innocence.

Thus, the structure of the story is replete with symbols which lend it to a certain depth and meaning.