Themes and message

The main theme addressed in the short story “Tell Me” by Zoë Sharp is the consequences of a toxic environment. The theme of justice is the second most important theme in the story. Through the example of the girl, the author sends a powerful message: the girl’s case is not unique and there are plenty of other young girls and boys who have been or will be in a similar tragic situation.

The consequences of a toxic environment

This theme is illustrated by the young girl in the story. Since she was young, she lived in a toxic environment characterised by pain and violence. The following extract reveals that the girl was most likely beaten and abused as a child and that nobody ever helped her:

‘Don’t tell me,’ Grace said, setting her bag down and opening it. ‘You were always walking into doors at home, falling down the stairs.’ She shook her head. ‘Did no-one stop to wonder?’
The girl’s face darkened. ‘They knew, all right,’ she said. ‘They just didn’t give a –’ (p. 40, ll. 9-13)

As she grew up, the girl was forced to live without a father and with a problematic mother, who “lost herself in the bottle – pills or booze, or possibly both” (p. 41, ll. 18-19).



The theme of justice is illustrated by Grace McColl and her desire to find out the truth about the girl and the man who attacked and eventually killed her. Throughout her dialogue with the girl, Grace insists that her job demands her to find out the truth and punish the guilty criminal.


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