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Olive Schreiner

The woman's rose

Easy questions to cut your teeth on!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 6 March 2014
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This story is about the conflict between two young women in a small South African town.

The older one has defined her territory as centre of attention of the young men. And then a rival appears and invades her territory.


I have an old, brown, carved box; the lid is broken and tied with a string. In it I keep little squares of paper, with hair inside, and a little picture which hung over my brother's bed when we were children, and other things as small. I have in it a rose. Other women also have such boxes where they keep such trifles, but no one has my rose.

When my eye is dim, and my heart grows faint, and my faith in woman flickers, and her present is an agony to me, and her future a despair, the scent of that dead rose, withered for twelve years, comes back to me. I know there will be spring; as surely as the birds know it when they see above the snow two tiny, quivering green leaves. Spring cannot fail us.

There were other flowers in the box once: a bunch of white acacia flowers, gathered by the strong hand of a man, as we passed down the village street on a sultry afternoon, when it had rained, and the drops fell on us from the leaves of the acacia trees. The flowers were damp; they made mildew marks on the paper I folded them in. After many years I threw them away. There is nothing of them left in the box now, but a faint, strong smell of dried acacia, that recalls that sultry summer afternoon; but the rose is in the box still.

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

Explain the following expressions taken from the story:
  • my eye is dim; (2)

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  • quivering green leaves; (2)

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  • mildew marks. (2)

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How did it come about that the narrator owned the rose in the box? (5)

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The narrator speaks of the time when her "faith in woman flickers".
  • Is the word "woman" used correctly here? Should it not be "women"? How do you know? Explain your answer carefully. (3)

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  • Why therefore has the author used the word "woman". To what is she referring? (3)

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"Spring cannot fail us."
  • To whom is the narrator referring when she speaks of "us"? (2)

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  • Explain the meaning of this expression. (4)

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Explain the expression "but no one has my rose". (3)

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For how long did the writer own the rose? (1)

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