The three short stories ‘Next Term We’ll Mash You’, ‘The Children of Grupp’ and ‘The Darkness Out There’ all deal with the theme of appearance and reality. Penelope Lively uses a variety of techniques to illustrate the idea. The stories are written in the third person but each one reveals the thoughts and feelings of the characters. She uses irony and symbolic description of settings to help create the mood in each of the stories.
‘Next Term We’ll Mash You’ is a sad tale which tells the story of an unnaturally quiet child named Charles who is going to be sent to “St Edwards Preparatory School”, a private school where he will be bullied or “mashed” by the other seven year old boys. His parents, on the surface, look as though they care for him but this is shown not to be true. They believe that “St Edwards Preparatory School” will be the best school for Charles. It has a good reputation and that their rich friends, the Wilcoxes, also recommend it. But as we know, the real reason is so that they can compete with them. They show no concern for Charles’ happiness, all they care about is their own reputation and their business interest, Charles never has his own opinion
“‘Are we all right for time?’
‘Just right. Nearly twelve.’
‘I could do with a drink. Hope they lay something on.’
‘I’m sure they will. The Wilcoxes say they’re awfully nice people. Not really the schoolmaster-type at all, Sally says'”
The buildings of the school are not seen as very well maintained even though it is supposed to be an excellent school. “The building was red brick, early nineteenth century, spreading out long arms in which windows glittered blackly.” This tells the reader that the school is old fashioned and very important but it also implies that there is a certain danger by using the colour red. This is true for Charles since the other boys in the school said that they’ll beat him up “‘Next term we’ll mash you’ ‘We always mash new boys'”
Bob Spokes, the headmaster and Margaret Spokes, his wife, make out that the school is well maintained and has excellent facilities “Did you see the lovely gym, and the swimming pool?” the mother asks Charles clearly about the things that the Spokes have been telling them. The reality for Charles is that the class is full of “Inky tables and rungless chairs and sprawled on a mangy carpet.” And not what the Spokes had described. The cricket pavilion is personified as “Mutilated.” This reveals to the reader that the boys are undisciplined and that Charles will suffer for going to that school.
This theme of things and people not being what they appear to be is also explored in ‘The Children of Grupp’. Again Penelope Lively draws us into this disturbing story and we only gradually realise that this is a horror story about a colonel who appears to be an upper class owner of a stately home but turns out to be a possible paedophile and truly sinister and strange.
She uses the theme to illustrate the idea that there are many scary and wicked things happening in the world like children going missing. This is like the themes seen in classical myths. The myth is the Medusa one where the gorgon is able to turn people to stone. It tries to express the disturbing elements in our society. Penelope Lively is trying to explain difficult problems. The idea to capture the awful suffering in society “Oh, but the thought of the Children of Grupp is beyond bearing”
The central figure is Trevor, a teenage gardener, who will be turned into a statue because of the colonel’s obsession with beautiful bodies. The story is a third person narrative but Penelope Lively gives us the thoughts of Trevor in places. “Waving their arses at you from among the trees” This makes the story witty but by the end of the story, the reader realises that he has liked the look of his aunt and other people who are now dead from the village.
This shows that nothing in the beginning of the story is what it appears to be. An example of this is the fountain itself “The Medusa fountain, at the end of the famous Yew Walk, is of course the piece de resistance. The Medusa, framed by ferns and the dripping grotto, presides over the great basin of the fountain.” The cherub’s statues are described as “Charming” but they are really dead babies from the village and “Luscious marble girls” are in fact only dead teenagers.
Trevor himself did not want this job in the garden, he wanted a job with machinery but in reality he will be there forever. This irony is expressed in the final paragraph “No longer a creature of flesh and blood”. Penelope Lively uses a striking metaphor. Trevor will be “Locked within the prison of his fine young body” followed by using repetition in the same paragraph “Locked in a dreadful eternity of weather and memory”. The colonel ends up being seen as truly evil and not just “A vaguely sinister figure” The story title indicates that the Children of Grupp will be children forever. They will never grow up.
In the final tale, ‘The Darkness Out There’, Penelope Lively is trying to make clear some of her ideas on how innocence is corrupted into experience. She writes about Sandra who goes to help an old lady who is disabled along with a lad named Kerry. Sandra learns that human beings can be cruel and vicious to one another and that life is not always a perfect picture. She is the one who realises that “Everything is not as it appears, oh no.” Penelope Lively uses many techniques to make this theme clear. One of the main ones is irony.
The old woman, Mrs Rutter, is initially seen as “A cottage loaf of a woman.” This implies that she is a homely old lady. She is also seen metaphorically as “A creamy smiling pool” this too implies that she is a comforting and cheerful old person. She also chats happily to Sandra. However, she is a cruel lady who let a young German soldier die. She licks her lips as she tells Sandra and Kerry the story of how she and her sister let the Germen soldier suffer for three days. This tells the reader she revelled in his death. It could be said she is justified in this because people are full of revenge during war time.
Sandra and Kerry are horrified at her story. Kerry’s spoon “Clattered to the floor; he did not move.” He is shocked by her actions. I also agree to that Mrs Rutter shouldn’t of let the soldier to die just because her husband had died due to it. Kerry decisively leaves the house. Penelope Lively presents Kerry through Sandra’s point of view at first xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. She see’s his acne and his “Lardy midriff.” However, when he stands up for this own view and his brave and honest, Sandra see’s him differently. “His anger eclipsed his acne…” This metaphor shows that she now admires him.
Penelope Lively shows that it is Sandra who grows up. She stops having a perfect picture of the world and realises that “You could get people all wrong.” The darkness is not the woods called Packers End where bad things had maybe happened. She knows life is not a fairy tale; there is no wolf in the woods. She now knows that human beings are “The darkness” They are capable of doing awful things. She has lost her innocence and the “Darkness” is not “Out there” but it is inside all of us.