The Changeling -Fate Essay

The Changeling Essay Question – Choose a novel in which the fate of a main character is important in conveying the writers theme. Robin Jenkin’s downbeat meditation on the nature of pity, ‘The Changeling’ has a tragic ending; it emphasizes that the ‘Good Samaritan’ Charles Forbes fails to redeem the life of his pupil Tom Curdie. He sees himself as the boy’s saviour and makes the decision to take him on holiday, to show another side of life from the slum in which he grew up. Yet Tom’s stealing and strangeness set him apart from the family and finally the pain of the experience pushes him over the end.

The opening chapter reveals that Charlie’s interest in Tom is self-righteous: At last he spoke, in his most pontifical tones: ‘Tell me, Curdie, have you ever seen the sea? ’ ‘Pontifical’ has overtones of pomposity, and suggests Forbes’ religious nature; the first meaning is supported by the headmaster’s opinion of Forbes as a ‘pompous bore’. It is ironic that a boy who has never seen the sea can write eloquently about it; and Forbes takes him on holiday in order to ‘improve’ him. Yet this decision is to lead to Tom’s suicide.

In some ways, Tom is a character we should pity; however, in chapter three we learn that he is a strong character who lives by a matter-of-fact set of ‘principals’: Never to whine; to accept what came; to wait for better; to take what you could; to let no-one not even yourself know how near to giving in you were. One therefore has to ask – why would someone like this need Charlie’s help? It is only when he is taken away from Donaldson’s court that he feels the gulf between his circumstances and those of ‘decent’ people. When he tries o ‘take what you could’ to please them, the estrangement begins. The turning point of the novel is where Tom calls the Forbes family and introduces himself as ‘Tom Forbes’: ‘I mean, Tom Curdie,’ he said; but it was really that mythical person Tom Forbes, he still thought he was. At this point in the book, he is in a phone box with the hapless Peerie pressing his face up against the glass. It is as if Tom’s background is crowding round him as he tries vainly to keep contact with the ‘decent’ family who have given him a temporary home.

However, the trouble with being a ‘mythical person’ is that one has to live in the real world. The distance between myth and reality is explored in one of the turning points of the novel, when Tom steals so that he can afford the brooch for Mrs Forbes. The chapter is seen through the eyes of Gillian, who sees a truth about Tom before anyone else: “She began to realise that this suit of armour, of calmness and patience, forged somehow in the dreadful slum where he had been born, must be heavy and painful to wear. ”

Yet she does not tell as she wants to avoid ruining the ‘presentation’; Gillian is torn between jealousy and pity towards Tom; her sympathy grows for him throughout the book and it is she who discovers him after his suicide. The ‘suit of armour’ continues the idea that he is a figure out of a myth who doesn’t belong in her world, which indicates that she feels the stirring of respect for him, even though he is a thief. Their relationship provides a note of optimism before the bleak climax. From her point of view, Tom has a kind of nobility, even when he strikes the tree in anguish:

His face was hard and aloof, like a young Prince’s out of a story book. His hand red with blood was like an emblem of eerie distinction. These continue the idea that he is someone who doesn’t belong to the time in which he lives, with the allusions to being a Prince and wearing an ‘emblem’ he has won through pain and violence. This impossible dilemma is finally solved by Tom’s tragic end. Therefore I would argue that the book considers the suffering of others and asks what we can really do for them; it explores this theme through the fate of Tom.

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