It has surprised me this term how much the skill of inference (or ‘gossiping about the characters in books’ as I have sometimes termed it) is strong in those not commonly recognised as skilled in English. Conversely, it has surprised me, too, how those who are commonly skilled sometimes struggle with devising (or, in their eyes perhaps, discovering) inferences. Maybe this is linked to my much-spouted notion that studying English is as much an act of personality as it is of intellect.
To give an example of the inference homework, I will paste the first part of a fictional story starting 10Anderson (my current class), alongside some inferential analysis afterwards. Feel free to play www.rainymood.com as you read!
Inside A5 the computers hummed as 10Anderson waited for their excitable teacher (who has looked strangely pale recently) to arrive. Despite the heat blasting out the back of a battalion of black boxes, the room felt iced like a bob-shop icecream. That had melted. And been refreezed again.
The class felt annoyed as if they had just chewed into a defrosted, and overpriced, iced bob-stop brickcream.
“I can’t believe we’re coming back!” Alex complained, rocking his chair backwards, chewing dangerously on the top of a black pen lid, until the fragile back snapped. Again. Mr Anderson would be devastated. Alex grinned.
“You know it’s worth it,” Robert exclaimed in his usual raucous tone. “It’s important for our education to take every advantage given to us. Especially if it’s extra. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Robert became suddenly aware of fourteen pairs of eyes glancing his way. Tara lipped a silent giggle.
“But I can’t believe we’ve had to come back, either!” Robert shouted suddenly. He jiggled his legs and leant backwards, wiggling his tongue at Cameron.
Cameron was already thinking of his Shakespeare essay, and so was fortunately not surprised to see an errant young Boro fan trying to distract him. He knew that, with hard work, he could conquer all before him. Or so Mr Anderson kept on saying. The truth was, for him, that he didn’t want what was before him. He knew that in English this would involve a lot of writing. But he could take that. What he couldn’t take, though, was the sound of moaning that seemed to be slowly creepig closer from outside.
“That sounds like it’s from Evie!” Robert shouted cheekily.
“Don’t be so cheeky!” Danny shouted, giving Robert a healthy clip round the ear. Robert rubbed his ear mounfully, and said, “I’m sorry Evie,” before cheekily giving a sacastic smile and a rougish fold of the arms. Evie laughed, happily knowing that Robert was being a cheek monkey.
The arguing students didn’t have time to carrying on their banter, though. From the edge of the door frame, bony fingers bent around the handle. Like a rotting dog poo that is still toasty warm in the middle and nicely crisp on the outside, a stench crept into the room. It was hunting their nostrils like a hungry lion.
“Mr Anderson’s hands aren’t looking too healthy!” Kendall whispers, sliding slowly from the seat near the door.
Ryan thought he knew what was coming next. He stood up strong. From his pocket he yanked a bandana. With a grim look to supress his fear, he wrapped the bandana around his sweating forehead, and preparing himself to fight to the death. The deathly hand was almost inside the room.
It was a toy hand. From the fake McDonalds in Hull that has food poisoining scares once a month. At least. Mr Anderson jumped in afterwards, his black suit – shredded and bloody – showing had been in trouble. Perhaps with Mrs Vaughan?
“We’re here, sir!” Adrian shouted. “Are you alright?”
“Help me!” Mr Anderson screeched, his scratched hands dancing before his face.
The students wondered what he was saying when a zombie, who had one hand missing, stumbled through the door. It heavily splat onto Mr Anderson who was scrabbling like a trapped snake. Desperately, Mr Anderson was trying to get something from his pocket.
“I’ll save you sir!” Tara shouted. “Everyone, out!”
They didn’t need telling twice. As an deadly, struggling herd they washed out the door. Only Tara stayed back to try to prise the zombie who was happily munching on Mr Anderson’s tasty – if equivalent to only one slice of cake – brain. This was a bad idea, as Tara was going to be the next thin-crust pizza topped with ketchup and salt.
They class flooded across the school and barricaded themselves into Mr Maycocks. As they washed across the playground, hundreds of zombie teachers and students were pouring from every window and door. Their multitude of moans was like a terrifying didgeridoo.
Trapped, the class cowered. There was no escape. By now the horde was battering in windows, their lifeless eyes hungrily gazing at their supper within.
“We’ve got to do something,” Flynn said. “We can’t stay here forever.”
“We’ve got to find a way out.” Cameron said. “My mum’s packed cheesy sandwiches again. And they’ve sweated. They smell like a sick-filled sock, with extra carroty bits.”
“Well guys,” Alex said, “This is where the fun begins.”
Examples of inference:
1) It heavily splat onto Mr Anderson who was scrabbling like a trapped snake.
The ‘splat’ of the Zombie’s fall evokes the heavy and liquid state of its rotting flesh. This contrasts with with the vitality of Mr Anderson’s ‘trapped snake…scrabbling.’ However, we are perhaps not meant to sympathise with the teacher’s predicament, though, as for a teacher to be likened to a ‘snake’ is to imply mistrust for an inherently sneaky creature.
2) Tara lipped a silent giggle.
The verbalisation of the noun ‘lipped’ suggests not only that Tara’s reaction is guttural and instinctual, but also that perhaps it is purposefully mischievous (as to give ‘lip’ infers talking back to someone in authority.) Furthermore, the ‘silen[ce]’ of the ‘giggle’ suggests that Tara knows that laughing at an errant student is an act that, while amusing, should be hidden. However, such repressing is not entirely controlled, as a ‘giggle’ is a playful, mirthful laugh, rather than something more earnest.
3) …hundreds of zombie teachers and students were pouring from every window and door
The word ‘pouring’ evokes the imagery of a huge number of zombies attacking the students. However, the word ‘pour’ implies domestication, something that perhaps deliberately contrasts the fantastic notion of a zombie attack with the mundane sense of a school environment. Despite this, the use of ‘pour’ (rather than, say, ‘spill’) suggests that there has to be an even larger number of zombies than cannot be contained by the buildings of the school, and hence perhaps cannot be contained by the confines of a literal image. Therefore, it is part of a continued attempt to lure the reader into accepting the fantastical in order to counteract the inherently dark tone of a zombie survival story.