Themes and message

Relationship between children and adults

One of the themes in Penelope Lively’s “The Happiest Days of Your Life” is the relationship between children and adults. The theme is explored through the lack of communication between Charles and the adults around him.

Charles’ parents show little interest in Charles. His mother asks him superficial questions and complains about the boy’s physical appearance with no consideration of how this will affect him. This suggests that she is more concerned with how Charles’ appearance reflects on her. Charles’ father never interacts with him and he thinks that enrolling Charles at St Edwards is a good investment . Both parents seem more concerned with their own social and financial status – the impression they make, the fees they will have to pay, and the connections they will make with other parents.

Meanwhile, Charles remains quiet, clearly uncomfortable at the prospect of going to a new school. He seems unable to reach out to either of his parents and communicate his feelings, probably knowing that they will not take his opinion into consideration. This is confirmed at the end of the story, when Mr and Mrs Manders decide to enrol Charles at St Edwards without consulting him first . Charles, on the other hand, seems paralysed by the idea that he will be bullied, but does not say anything about this to his parents, further suggesting his lack of trust in them: “The child does not answer. He looks straight ahead of him, at the road coiling beneath the bonnet of the car. His face is haggard with anticipation. ‘Next term, we’ll mash you…’ ” .

Mr and Mrs Spokes try to be considerate with Charles, acknowledging his presence and the fact that going to St Edwards is also important to him: “ ‘ after all, you’re choosing a school for him, aren’t you, and not for you’ ” .However, they cannot form a real connection because they quickly assume their roles as authority figures – Mrs Spokes takes him away “like a frail craft” , while Mr Spokes makes an apparently kind but dominant gesture, putting his large hand on Charles’ head. This comes across as threatening to Charles: “His large hand rested for a moment on the child’s head (...) It was as though he had but to clench the fingers to crush the skull .

The theme is also bri...

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