This is an analysis of the short story “The happiest days of your life”. The short story is written by Penelope Lively, who was sent away from her home to a boarding school in the rainy England. The short story is with an omniscient narrator, and takes place in the southern England – or more preciously in a area called Sussex. The story stretches over a day while a boy named Charles and his parents is going to visit an boarding school. The Sussex area is a part of the upper class, which indicates that the environment is rich. The boarding school (St. Edwards’s Preparatory School) is very big and luxurious. That can also be seen in the fact that the school is a big mansion with a swimming pool. It’s very formal inside the school, and the parents meets the maid who is all done up – which the mom approaches a lot (page 56, line 15).
The school is very expensive, which tells that it’s not middle class area. In the end of the story the parents mentions that the school is a bit pricey, which indicates that they aren’t entirely upper class, but more upper middle class. Something that underlines, that they are upper middle class is that they uses a very formal language. There is no slang, and they are very correct in what they say and with their grammar. In page 56 they are talking about cricket, which is very upper class. They uses direct speech, but most of time the short story are in is past tense. Charles is the main character in the short story, and from the text I would say that he is an only child, since the parents want to send him to a expensive boarding school. Charles parents are both very self-centured. They think they care about Charles, and his feelings but without noticing they don’t see that Charles is not very happy or positive about the boarding school. Charles parents are very positive about the boarding school.
The parents have a conversation, where Charles father says “Wilcox says quite a few City people send their boys here. One or two of the merchant bankers, those kind of people. It’s the sort of contact that would do no harm at all”. Those lines dedicates that Charles’s father is a businessman. The “City” is probably London, and thinks a lot about his career and to earn money. I think one of the main reasons the father sends his son away to that particular boarding school is to get contacts, because he know that the kids at that school has great families (page 56, line 25-30). He actually mentions that he could play cricket with them, which I already mentioned, is very upper class. The mother is kind of the same way. Also very self-centered, but she don’t have the same reason as Charles father.
She is concerned about her son, but not as much as she is concerned about her own image and others opinion about her and their family. When the mother first entered the school she thought about her friend Sally, who bought an entirely new cream-linen-coat just for coming there, so now she has to be fine and live up to the standard. The mother corrects the headmasters wife, when she says “You live in Finchley, is that right?”. The mentions fast, that they don’t live in Finchley, but in Hampstead instead. Hampstead is for the upper class and rich and important people, when more normal families lives in Finchley. She don’t want the headmasters wife, to get an wrong impression about them. We don’t know much about the headmaster and the headmasters wife, but we know that they are fine people. The kids at the school probably likes the headmasters wife, because when she entered a room they became quiet and when she leaves they hold the door for her.
Charles might be about 6-8 years because he is about to start at a preparatory school. Charles doesn’t like the situation and he is very uncomfortable. This can be seen in the beginning of the short story, when Charles sits in the back of the car with an unopened box of chocolate and a folded comic book. That isn’t a normal behavior for at child in that age, because usually they like sweets and comic books. Charles is very quiet, so he doesn’t say much at the boarding school. In the end when he sits in the car he hears the echo of the boy who said they shall mash him next term. The boys seems to appear nice, so maybe it was a joke but Charles really takes it to him and becomes afraid. That really indicates that he is insecure, because he even don’t want to tell his parents about that episode in the short story.
The main conflict in the short story is that conflict between Charles and his insecure personality. He can’t say his opinion about the boarding school to his parents. Maybe he can feel that his parents are more interested in business contacts and their own reputation instead of him being happy, and that creates a misunderstood parent-child relationship who can serious consequences later in Charles life. The short story is called “The happiest days of your life” and that is something you usually says about the time on a boarding school, but maybe in this case it could mean that those days are over.
The time in the story changes, and all before the headmaster’s wife is taking Charles away is in past tense, but after that it goes to present but in this case it could mean that those days are over. The happiest days were until the time at the boarding school and now it is over. The time until the headmaster’s wife takes Charles away is in the past tense and that is what was and is no more. The boarding school is now and in present. The beginning of the boarding is the ending of his happiest days of his lives. Penelope Lively maybe had it at the same day, when she was forced to a boarding school and her life is an inspiration to this short story.
Courtney from Study Moose
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