Normally you would think, that parents would have the best interest and intensions for their children. And parents, who are very ambitious on behalf of their children, are often a good prerequisite for the kids to get really far in a prestigious world. But at the same time any parent must also be careful, that the excessive pressure of expectations and so early defined objectives do not take away the play of childhood and at a later stage the child’s wish to formulate own goals of life. If your parent’s devote to invest themselves, their time and savings to pursue the ambition they carry on behalf of their child – which more often than not are projections of own lost ambitions – it is a very big burden for any child to carry.
A 3rd person limited omniscient narrator tells Penelope Lively’s short story, from Charles’ point of view. But the narrator is partly an omniscient narrator, because we are very familiar with Charles emotions. Normally would a non-omniscient objective 3rd person narrator never know that Charles feels like the floor under him is shaking and the walls beside him is moving (p. 65 l. 7-9).
Most of the story takes place on Preparatory School St. Edward’s, and of course back and forth in the car. We are not told, when the story exactly is taking place. So it could have happened yesterday or many years ago. The environment in the story seems to be the upper class of society, which is clearly seen in this quote from the text; “She worked over the headmaster’s wife from shoes to hairstyle, pricing and assessing. Shoes old but expensive – Russel and Bromley.Good skirt. Blouse could be Marks and Sparks – not sure. Real pearls. Super Victorian ring.” (p. 63 l. 9-13).
A normal middle-class woman could not name a price and a brand on what a random woman is wearing from head to toe. It shows us, that she properly belongs to the upper class herself.
The lack of communication between Charles and his parents contribute to his parent’s lack of knowledge to know how Charles feels. And the lacks of knowledge result in they don’t recognize or understand that Charles actually doesn’t want to go to the school. But the problem is Charles’ parents are so busy trying to achieve all these things for their son, which they might not have had the opportunity to get, when they were at his age. There is nothing wrong with being ambitious for your children, but while the parents are very busy being just that, the consequences are that Charles disappears more and more in the background. They hear only what they would like to hear – they close their eyes to reality.
Charlie is around 6-13 years, since he is attending Preparatory School in the UK. You can feel that he’s really nervous. You certainly feel it when he sits in the car. He won’t eat the chocolate or read his comics. He is completely silent throughout visiting the school and just keeps on following the adult around the school halls, without saying a single word. I find the strongest signal on how Charles feels about starting at the school, when an echo of a boys voice saying he will mash him next term, running through his head. Another proof or signal that he’s hesitant is, when you see that he doesn’t respond or take actions when his mother asks; “Would you like to go there, Charles?” …. Charles does not Anwar … “His face is haggard with anticipation, ` Next year, we’ll mash you .. ‘”(p. 65 l 23-28). This excerpt from the text shows that although Charles is afraid of having to go to this school, then he’s to reluctant to say it.
And yet another example on how Charles feelings is known; “A bell goes somewhere beyond doors and down corridors, and suddenly the children are all gone, clattering away and leaving him there with the heaving floor and the walls that shift and swing.” (p. 65 l. 7-9)
He feels like the fear is getting out of hand. He does not thrive. He shuts everything out, but inside he is about to burst. His physical condition is there, but his mental state is not there. His mental state flees to a dreamlike state. And the dream-like state creates a kind of protection for him. Because he knows he can’t say it to anyone and certainly not to his parents. For no one is listening and if you are pressed enough, then these sorts of situations and circumstances will arise.
The story reflects the difficulties of growing up. I don’t think the parents are even near to chose the right school for Charles. If it was the right school, then he wouldn’t be feeling as he does. You never know how the situation will turn out – he might get some good friends or he might go through hell and being bullied by the other boys all the time. That’s at least what he thinks; “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…´”. (p. 65 l 23-28).
I think the title of the story is meant in an ironic way. I believe that the reason it’s called “The happiest days of your life” and not “The happiest days of my life” is because you always hear it from the parent’s perspective. They think the school is amazing and Charles is going to be so happy to go there. They never let Charles decide for himself. And I think the title of the story is based on the way his parents treats him.
Courtney from Study Moose