Charles and Nicholas are characters that are very different in some ways but quite similar in others. Charles (from Next Term We’ll mash you) is portrayed as the “victim” of his story. How he is portrayed by Penelope Lively makes us pity Charles. He is described like this, “His [Charles] ears, too large, jutted out, transparent in the light of the window, laced with tiny, delicate veins”. These images that the author feeds us make Charles look small, weak and indeed pathetic.
She uses these images to make us see him as to emphasis his role as the victim, as the small, innocent child powerless to control events happening around him. Obviously this would not have been as easy to do if the author had described Charles as a tall, strong athlete. Charles is a character who, unlike Nicholas, is not accustomed to controlling events but, in a sense, being controlled by them. He is afraid to stand up for himself. As he is leaving the school with his parents, his face is “haggard with anticipation” as he thinks about going back.
It shows Charles’ pitiful character clearly. If Charles is portrayed as a victim, then Nicholas, from The Lumber Room, is portrayed by Saki as a hero within the context of his story. Although nothing much is said about his physicality, we immediately see him strong and able-bodied with the maturity of a “young adult” rather than a child. When we read through the story, his intelligence and cunning show clearly, as does his creative imagination.
However, the lack of detail placed on Nicholas’ physicality places an emphasis on how insignificant he is thought of by other characters in the his environment, especially his aunt who has a very low opinion of him indeed. This lack of description also adds to the mystery of Nicholas’ character and power he exerts in the story.. In fact, it is quite ironic that the pathetic Charles has been given so much space addressed to his physicality whereas Nicholas, the shroud, clever and cunning one of the two is given none.
For Nicholas however, it is not important that we know what he looks like or how old he is, as it is his mind that makes his character. We find out how he has developed coping strategies for his somewhat monotonous life by setting himself challenges and aims, such as exploring the lumber room. Another direct comparison to Charles’ character is that Nicholas is able control and manipulate events in his environment, unlike Charles who just lets things happen to him.
It is also ironic that the characters would seem to be better suited in each others environments. They are both not suited to their environments, both of them seeming quite “alienated” to their surroundings. They would thrive in each others environments. Charles looks to be the kind of character that would be quite happy with a breakfast consisting of bread-and-milk and also being left on his own all day to play by himself, without anyone else controlling him or telling him what to do. +
Also Nicholas, the complete opposite of Charles in character and (we can assume) physicality, would be suited to a boarding school life, getting into mischief, organizing late-night “sorties” and so on. Having said this the two characters are from totally different periods. Nicholas seems to be from an Edwardian background, this suggested by the horse-drawn carridge and old-fashioned house. Although the house could be contemporary, the type of rooms such as the library and the “lumber room” seem to suggest otherwise.
There is also a great emphasis placed on manners and respect to elders which, although Nicholas does not seem to care for them, would suggest an Edwardian or Victorian period, most likely in the late 19th century. The family itself in The Lumber Room seem to be of upper-middle class status in society, although there is an element of a reduced social status from unknown circumstances. The items in the lumber room itself seem to support this view. Having said this social class is not emphasized or talked about in the story, which suggests security towards their present social status and indeed wealth.
Again we see a direct comparison between the two, this time in their context and period. Next Term We’ll Mash You takes place in a contemporary setting, 1978 being the exact date. However, there is another comparison between the two. Unlike Nicholas’ family, possibly a once wealthy upper class household who “fell down the social ladder” into a secure, middle-class existence, Charles’ and his parents are an unsecure middle-class family who desperately want to rise into the upper-class “elite”. Weber denied mariana’s structuralism idea.
It seems ironic that the family in The Lumber Room is what the Manders family would like to be in Next Term We’ll Mash You, a wealthy, upper-middle class family. Another irony is that the somewhat old-fashioned language used by the Manders in Next Term We’ll Mash (such as “beastly”, said by Charles’ mother) would fit better into an earlier period like the setting for The Lumber Room, rather than in a contemporary one. From the story, we get the feeling they would do almost anything to “climb the social ladder”.
Their decision to send Charles to a “posh” boarding school rather than “that Seaford place” obviously a public school Charles used to go to, is a very direct attempt to climb socially. Charles’ father already sees an opportunity to make “social contacts” almost immediately after they enter the school. We see they are also prepared to make sacrifices to do this. This is obvious when they are talking about the price of the school, “its pricey” but they are prepared to pay for their own gain. Nicholas and Charles role within their family is also important.
Nicholas is the “black sheep” of the family. In conclusion, we see Charles and Nicholas representing different aspects of boyhood. Nicholas is the sort of boy who people would want to be if they were taking part in the story. He is the kind of person the reader would want to connect with and grow to like as they read through the narrative. Most people would admire him for the way he copes with situations and how he controls his environment. Charles however is the complete opposite. He is the thin, weedy person who people would pity rather than grow to like .