Student Question

What is the rising action in To Sir, With Love?

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The rising action of the book To Sir, With Love begins with Ricardo Braithwaite's difficulty in securing employment aligned with his considerable abilities because he is an immigrant of color in post-World War II London. The discrimination he encounters, the reception he receives from his colleagues at the East End school, and the social and academic difficulties that his students experience comprise a range of conflicts to which he will find no easy resolutions.

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The rising action portion of any work of literature is characterized by an escalation of conflict(s). In the 1959 autobiographical novel, Mr. Braithwaite, the teacher, is tested again and again by his behaviorally and academically-challenged secondary students in their post-World War II East End classroom. The misbehavior of the students comprises much of the novel's rising action. However, the first five chapters concentrate on the racial and class discrimination that Braithwaite has experienced since his immigration to England, helping readers understand the divisive nature of social class in Britain and foreshadowing the problems he and his students will face together. The friction between Braithwaite and his colleagues with regard to how to handle the students is another part of the rising action.

In the sixth chapter, Braithwaite encounters his students for the first time as their teacher. He finds their foul language and sexualized behavior troubling, though what he seems to find more disturbing is their academic shortcomings. Braithwaite discovers that the majority of his students don't read or speak well and know very little about everyday math subjects, like weights and measures. By chapter 8, the students are openly defying him, interrupting his lessons by banging their desktops, using profane language, and entering the classroom late. The climactic event of the students burning a used sanitary napkin in the classroom's fireplace grate pushes Braithwaite over the edge, and he berates the students for their coarseness. It is here that the novel's action takes a turn as he modifies his approach to teaching.

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