‘To Sir With Love’ is written by E. R. Braithwaite and includes some key themes throughout the novel. Racism, values, and relationships are some themes that are explored with the use of Braithwaite’s relationship with his class. He explores the relationships not only with the individual class members but with the class as a whole. Braithwaites relationship with his class goes through three stages in the novel; silent treatment, noisy treatment and open protest. It is only after experiencing these stages that Braithwaite is finally accepted by the class and given respect.
These stages explore the maturity of the class and how their values change throughout the course of the year. When Braithwaite first begins teaching he is faced with racist comments and the uncooperative rudeness of his students. The teenagers refer to him as “a new ‘blackie’ teacher”. This illustrates the racial prejudice which existed in the East End of London at that time. The students are obnoxious to the person he is, all they see is the colour of his skin. Braithwaite experiences a cold attitude from his class, “I begun to feel a bit uneasy under their silent, concentrated appraisal”.
They do not offer to participate or raise their hand to answer a question, the teenagers seem focused on ignoring Braithwaite’s efforts and are ignorant to their education. This first stage of silent treatment explores the theme of values, the students obviously do not value their education. This reflects on how in this era children often left school at a young age and education was not as vital as it is now. Another theme touched on is racism. Braithwaite endures prejudice from the children although it is usually quite sly or hidden from an outside point of view.
He wil never be called a ‘blackie’ or ‘darky’ to his face but behind his back the children will happily speak of him in such a foul way. Perhaps this is a reflection of one idea in the novel which is how Britain hides the racial prejudice present whereas in America it is more forward and obvious. Braithwaite uses the relationship between him and one of his students Pamela Dare to explore the themes of maturity, relationships and racism in the novel. Pamela is one of Greenslade High School’s more intelligent students.
She develops a crush on Braithwaite during the novel and stands up for him against the ignorant and naive student Potter. When Braithwaite cuts himself and Potter is shocked that he has red blood and his colour is only skin deep Pamela is angered, “What did you expect, fat boy? Ink? ” This shows that Pamela is not racist and is disgusted by others ignorance. She is obviously a more mature student because her attitude towards racist comments is very educated and she creates smart and snappy arguments.
She was wonderful, tremendous in her scorn and towering anger”, Braithwaite is fascinated by this girls ability to voice her opinions, it touches on the themes of relationships. Pamela begins to fall for Braithwaite because her life may of lacked a male inspirational figure who was clean and tidy. So when she mets him, he is immediately attractive to her. Pamela stands up against racism on another occasion. On the train to a school trip, the class and Mr Braithwaite overhear some woman talk about Mr Braithwaite in a derogatory manner. “Suddenly she turned to face them, her eyes blazing with anger.
He is our teacher. Do you mind? ‘ ”This shows that Pamela is a fearless character who is not afraid to speak her mind. Her character allows Braithwaite to show the theme that racism is a behaviour which is slowly dying out and that the children are the future society. If you work on the younger generations there will be hope for later years to come. Barbara Pegg is another student at Greenslade High School. She is not racist in the slightest however her mother is. Braithwaite uses this character to further explore the theme that racism is a learned behaviour and is not as common in younger generations.
Braithwaite is looking for a better location to stay while he is teaching and so, out of coincidence, ends up asking Barbara Pegg’s mother to stay in her house without realisation of who she is. He turns up on their doorstep and is faced with a racist comment from Barbara’s mother, “Some darky here asking about the room. ” Although offended Braithwaite is then given an apology. Barbara forced her mother to apologise and was extremely embarrassed about the whole situation. The fact that Barbara was grown up enough to tell her own mother to apologise for something bad she had said is a role reversal of the mother and daughter relationship.
This shows perhaps that Braithwaite’s teaching has created a independent woman who will not be sucked into racism even if it is the thoughts and opinions of her own mother. Braithwaite again touches on the theme that in future generations racism will not be passed down or forced upon children. Braithwaite manages to cover a variety of themes throughout his novel ‘To Sir With Love’. He uses the many different relationships between characters which enables him to explore lots of ideas. Braithwaite is very skilled in the way that he uses characters to represent different themes and it works well in this particular novel.