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How does R.Gerallt Jones make us feel sorry for Johnny in "The Letter"?

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14th February 2002 Anglo/Welsh prose: The Letter How does R.Gerallt Jones make us feel sorry for Johnny in "The Letter"? "The Letter" is a short Anglo/Welsh prose written by R.Gerallt Jones, era 1950's. The story is set on a train travelling to the protagonist's, Johnny, first experience of boarding school, and the emotions and changes he has to deal with whilst growing up and leaving home. Johnny is a young, naive Welsh boy, bought up in a small Welsh town, Pwllheli. He is sent by his mother to an English boarding school, where his older brother has already boarded. On the train journey, he is mocked and excluded by English, more experienced schoolboys. The atmosphere is one of child like pathos and harsh 'growing up'. The reader establishes, whilst reading "The Letter", an image of Johnny being young and vulnerable. This is created by, in pages 14, 15 and 16, Johnny reading the young boys' comic, "Hotspur". The comic shows that its readers are inexperienced as they prefer to read passages and cartoons centered on football, not learning about new things that surround them. Which is why Johnny asks, 'Do boys read newspapers in Shwsbri ? Dear God, what sort of place am I going to ?', as he is shocked to see a boy like him reading something other than a comic or boys' football magazine. This is also backed by Johnny referring to Chinese children as 'little yellow children' in his imaginary games and relating 'Shrewsbury' to 'strawberries' and calling it 'Shwsbri'. ...read more.


The train and its station is described as 'dirty' and 'drizzly'. A comparison is used in relation to the swans Johnny remembers at 'The bridge' and the train he's on. 'Swans...black feet pumping like trains' wheels underneath them', this similie is used to comfort Johnny, taking something he knows and putting it into context with something that he's unfamiliar with. Previously, Johnny refers to swans as 'Old snobs', which, in my opinion, as he has already related swans to the train, describes maybe the future arrivals that Johnny will meet in a train; the snobby, English preps. The letters that Johnny considers writing back home to his 'Mam' are a way the writer uses to emphasise Johnny's feelings at that particular moment. The letters in his mind are all negative, 'I don't like school,' 'please can I come home' etc... These echo his emotions and feelings, which are miserable and depressive, and are a way of undermining his courage. Also shown by speaking to his 'Mam' and speaking Welsh, 'Diawl', to console himself and feel protected, again, making the reader take pity on Johnny as a little lost boy needing his mother. The writer also uses a similie involving the people Johnny meets on his train journey. As a boy 'stares into' Johnny's face (an image of Johnny being threatened), the writer writes that Johnny could 'see the black spots in the end of his nose'. ...read more.


The final letter Johnny writes differs greatly to those he and the reader imagined him writing. 'Dear Mam. I've got a pain my belly. I have jumped off the train. I am going to India because I don't want to go to Shwsbri away to school. Please can I come home,' is replaced by 'hope you are O.K., like me. The food is quite good and the school is quite nice.' His attitude has changed as, firstly, he has been told to write the letter by the 'head' but, secondly, that Johnny has changed. The final letter might not express his true feelings but, grown up during his voyage, he knows what is the right thing to write as not to worry his parents and to be respected by himself, the first step of "growing up". The writer makes us feel sorry for Johnny by, at first, making him an accessible stereotype; village bred and naive, Johnny still being very dependant on his 'Mam'. Once at school, he's in the minority because he's Welsh, the writer makes him the victim by letting Johnny be easily manipulated by impressionable, snobby and sophisticated English school boys, consequently leading the reader to feel more sympathy towards Johnny. I think that the reader feels sympathy rather than pity for Johnny as the reader can relate to similar situations. The final letter warms the reader to Johnny as he has realised that to grow up and experience new things, he is going to have to do things alone and respect himself as a person, not just a 'Welshie'. ...read more.

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