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“The Happiest Days of Your Life” by Lively

This essay analyses a short story titled, ‘The Happiest Day of Your Life,’ written by Penelope Lively from England. The story is told by a third person omniscient narrator from Charles; the main character’s point of view. The events of this book unfold in South England at a place called Sussex. Charles, the main character in the story, is taken to one of the wealthy class boarding schools (St. Edwards Preparatory School) in Sussex. The short story talks about Charles’ life in school and the perception of his parents, and the personal reasons his father decided to take him to St Edward preparatory. The short story reveals the setting, attributes of various characters, and themes. The main themes that manifest in the short story include parent-child relationship and social class. These themes, character traits, and the scenes setting have been explained exhaustively in this paper.

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The first theme in Penelope Lively’s book ‘The Happiest Day of Your Life,’ is the parent-to-child relationship. Charles’ mother says to him, ‘It’s a lovely place. Those must be the playing-fields. Look, darling, there are some of the boys,’ (Lively, 1978) but he never answers. The above comment reveals that there is no reasonable relationship between Charles and his mother. Charles’ mother, Mrs. Mander, makes her opinion about the school but Charles never answers but remains quiet. Despite this, Mrs. Mander does not find out why Charles is calm and even listens to his perception about the new school. Her mother proves ignorant about her son’s feelings and never bothers to know how her son feels. Mr. and Mrs. Spoke they are concerned about Charles presence and the idea that of enrolling to St Edward is of much import to him.

Further, within the story, she also calls Charles, ‘Come here and let me tidy your hair,’ (Lively, 1978). His mother is more concerned about the boy’s outward appearance, and she complains about the boy’s hair is dirty. Throughout the drive to school, Mr. Mader, Charles’ father, does not talk to Charles and never bothers to know why he is quiet and about the school. Meanwhile, the child remains dumb and very uncomfortable with the whole idea of enrolling in St Edward Preparatory, but his father ignores him. Charles seems timid by assuming that he will be intimidated by other students, but he does not share with his parents because he lacks trust in them. Both parents Mrs. and Mr. Mander, are materialistic and self-centered. They only bother about their financial conditions- their impression of others, the school fees they are required to pay, and the connections they expect to get from other wealthy parents.

Another theme that depicts itself in the book is social and economic class. The author describes Sussex, ‘the trim Sussex landscape flowed past the windows: cows, white-fenced fields, highly-priced period houses,’ (Lively, 1978). The way he describes Sussex, the highly-priced homes, reveals that the people of higher social class inhabit the place. Charles’ family lived in Hampstead, an area known for high social class people, while Finchley is the place for the average class individuals. The headmaster wrongly judges Charles’ family from appearance and concludes that they come from Finchley, but Mrs. Mander hypocritically denies and says he comes from Hampstead. She does not want to be related to the low-class families of Finchley (lively, 1978). The appearance of the headmaster’s wife, according to Penelope lively ‘…She worked over the headmaster’s wife from shoes to hairstyle, pricing and assessing. Shoes old but expensive…’ (Lively, 1978) indicates that she is stylish and come from a higher social class. St Edward, the way the author puts it –the school is huge and luxurious and has games like cricket- shows the school was for the rich; this also unveils the theme of social class.

The setting of Penelope Livery’s short story, ‘The Happiest Days of Your Life,’ could be probably the time of its publication within the 20th centuries. This can be drawn from the idea of the preparatory school that was commonly established in British within the 20th century and the famous outfit brand in that century known as Spencer. From this conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Mander, ‘Are we all right for time?’ ‘Just right. Nearly twelve,’ (Lively, 1978) we can conclude that the scene occurs some few minutes before noon. The physical setting is in St. Edward preparatory located in Sussex in the United Kingdom. The onset of the story occurs in Mr. Mender’s car and later in the school compound, as we can see from this, ‘The building was red brick, early nineteenth century, spreading out long arms in which windows glittered blackly. Flowers, trapped in neat beds, were alternate red and white.’ (Lively, 1978) Charles’ family, later on, proceed to the headmaster’s office, where the author describes the office decorations as a typical UK ancient school. Finally, the author takes the scene to class where Charles negatively describes it showing his dissatisfaction.

From the above illustrations, the author Penelope Lively draw themes such as socio-economic class and child-adult relationship from different occurrences in the story. He also used various actions of the characters to unveil the character traits of the characters in the book. He successfully showed how Mr. and Mrs. Mander were so bothered about their impression of people and ignorance towards their son. The setting of the whole scene also gives a clear depiction of the class of the people.

Reference

Lively, P. (1978). The Happiest Day of Your Life. Penelope Lively. (Original work published 1978).

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StudyCorgi. (2022, October 3). “The Happiest Days of Your Life” by Lively. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/the-happiest-days-of-your-life-by-lively/

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "“The Happiest Days of Your Life” by Lively." October 3, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/the-happiest-days-of-your-life-by-lively/.

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