This just encourages candidates to do the wrong thing in the exam: focus on the background and context of the writer and spend the bulk of the time available on a re-telling of the story.
The short story Tyres came up recently in a CIE Literature exam paper. The Examiner's Report says this:
- 'How does Thorpe make the ending of Tyres so sad? Few candidates scored highly on this question. In many cases, the response was essentially a narrative run through of the whole story, with the sadness left as self-evident. Candidates who focused on the end of the story tended to dwell on the effect of the accident on the rest of the narrator’s life, without much consideration of Cecile herself or the manner in which the accident is described. The wartime context was sometimes considered, although the unintended consequences of the narrator’s actions were seldom highlighted as a contributory factor to the overall effect.'
Writing about Literature in an exam context is meant to be, 'an informed personal response with close reference to the text'. Close reference means examining the narrative structure/language choice/characterisation etc in detail by exploring what the author actually writes. The informed personal response means that, yes, you have to understand the impact of the socio-historical context of story, but what is really required is YOUR personal reaction to what you are reading. Trust yourself to do this.
First, think hard about the question, then plan your essay. Does your plan actually address the wording of the question? It sounds like few of last year's candidates did.