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Commentary - Next Term We'll Mash You (extract)

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Introduction

"Next term we'll mash you." - Penelope Lively This extract by Penelope Lively is a piece written in direct language, entwining semi-colloquial terms with underlying violence to enforce a message. The extract addresses the experience of a child by the name of Charles, during a visit to a potential boarding school with his parents. The passage begins for the slightest moment in the first person - in Charles' viewpoint - when the passage indicates Charles' being spoken to, '...and this is Charles? Hello there Charles.' As the story progresses, the narration switches to third person, indicated by Charles being referred to as 'the child'. The reference to him as 'the child' objectifies him as he is portrayed through the extract as a silent vessel. ...read more.

Middle

The author uses certain characteristics to indicate a number of atmospheres and 'feelings', including confusion, loneliness, singularity, impending negativity, and to create a sinister element that pervades the piece. This effect is created by the author's use of vocabulary, punctuation and diction indicated in the passage. For example, when the headmaster's wife leaves the room after leaving Charles to the mercy of the boys in the lower third, the entire passage takes an immense atmospheric turn, like a sharp intake of breath when the door is shut. The first indicative tone appears with the statement, 'She is gone.' Short, sharp and concise, that single sentence carries a world of meaning. From that sentence onward, the atmosphere in the passage changes completely. The author begins using deliberate punctuation and assonance, for example, 'The circle of children contracts...strange faces, looking, assessing.' ...read more.

Conclusion

This may have been used as a simile for the headmaster's power, similar to the overwhelming strength that a bird of prey has over their kill. This extract as a whole has multiple underlying messages, and not all have been described in this commentary, however, the central tension remains the paradox between power and weakness, indicated by Charles and his encounters with everyone, and his unwillingness to stand up for himself. His parents speak to him in a condescending tone of voice, believing that a child is unworthy of due respect. From the beginning we are given a very frail, fragile impression of the boy, and Penelope Lively uses multiple instances of imagery, vocabulary and diction to show the contrast between child and headmaster, as well as Charles versus his entire class. Even the title of the extract gives the impression of someone being weak, and therefore getting 'mashed.' ...read more.

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