This study guide will help you analyse the short story “The Happiest Days of Your Life” by Penelope Lively. You can also find a summary of the text, as well as inspiration for interpreting it.
Presentation of the text
Title: “The Happiest Days of Your Life” 
Author: Penelope Lively
Genre: Short story
Dame Penelope Margaret Lively (b. Low, 1933) is a British author of fiction for both adults and children. Born and raised in Cairo, she was sent to England to study at a boarding school in Sussex. Lively published more than twenty books for children – among her most successful children’s fiction books are The Ghost of Thomas Kempe (1973), which won the Carnegie Medal, and A Stitch in Time (1976). Her novel for adults Moon Tiger (1987) won the Booker Prize. Lively has received the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for her contribution to the arts.
Below, you can read an excerpt from our study guide:
The title of the short story - “The Happiest Days of Your Life” - hints at the fact that the narrative is probably going to be related to some childhood event as, in our culture, adults tend to associate childhood with happy times. However, after reading the short story, the title reveals its irony; the boy character in the text is not about to experience the happiest days of his life; quite the contrary – the prospect of a new school where he is likely to be bullied makes him scared and unhappy.
The short story “The Happiest Days of Your Life” by Penelope Lively is structured around the boy character – Charles – and depicts the impact the prospect of the new school has on him, without actually disclosing his opinion. In the story, the boy does not talk, but his position and inner conflict are revealed through the interactions with his parents, the headmasters, and the other children.