The Badness within Him. (Susan Hill)

The Badness Within Him

by Susan Hill

Theme: Male Adolescence

  • The restlessness of adolescence: frustration with routine and being caught in between childhood and adulthood – Col’s desire for ‘a storm’ or some kind of change to the hot, sunny weather that seemed dragging (adolescence)
  • aggression and violence against his family
  • the end of childhood
  • Oedipus Complex – Also allusion to Oedipus complex, where son feels rivalry with his father and siblings for his mother’s attention.

 

Purpose:

  • To reflect on Col’s rationalization of his father’s death. Clearly, there is no connection between his father’s unfortunate accident and Col’s desire for swift change. However, with his father’s death, the chance for Col to be a child is lost and with no other means of rationalizing such an irreversible event, he sees his father’s death as a punishment for his wish for change and his negative behavior within his family during adolescence.
  • To define ‘the badness within him’; good vs evil and the more implicitly, the position of man before traditional constructions of God –  ‘prayer’ and ‘punishment’

Col saw his father drowning but was emotionally distant until the very end of the story where he cathartically weeps. He blames himself: “I am punished.”

 “finally he knew the power of the `Badness within him`.

“But even while he prayed he had known that there could be no answer because of `The badness within him `.
 

 

Structure:

Chronological style combined with few flashbacks in which Col remembers his childhood and family when he was younger. From the starting point of the prayer to Col’s response to his prayer after it is fulfilled – within the space of 24 hours.

Can be divided into three parts – childhood, present (before father’s death) and uncertain future (after father’s death).

He thinks back on the past, were he felt good time in the summerhouse, were he felt like being apart of the family, while Cole and Jess still were “fitting” together, and able to have fun and enjoy their time together. (Refer to quotes in section mood).

Imagery:

1.the Cliff – his (self-)alienation from his family; his ability to view his life and family from a detached and distanced view where he is large and everyone he sees is ‘beneath’ him. Col has a superiority complex, believing that his family is content with routine and uninteresting activities

2. sandcastle (metaphor for the family), the tower coming down first. A castle made of sand is fragile – his family relationships are unstable. He kicks the sandcastle (He wanted to do some violence in this house) and the tower falls first – the tower represents his father which is a foreboding of his father’s pending accident and death. It also relates to Oedipus complex where absent/dead fathers are connected to the male child’s desire for the mother’s attention

3. colors which represented Col’s family used when he was looking at the dots from the cliff

4. Badness – analogy: like a cancer – illness/madness of adolescence. “But even while he prayed he had known that there could be no answer, because of the badness within him, a badness which was living and growing  like a cancer

5. Black dog on his shoulder – ‘A perfectly enormous, coal black, monster of a dog’ – a black dog has often been associated with evil or the Devil. This is another allusion to Col’s ‘badness’. (NOTE: BADNESS is an informal word. The correct term is evil. Good vs evil). A dog is also an animal or a beast which has the connotation of being irrational and possibly violent

6. Analogy – ‘sea still like glass’. Stillness/stagnation/paralysis of adolescence is likened to glass that can be shattered in a moment, which is what happens when Col’s father dies.

7. The house –  metaphor for the family. See characterization – setting.
8. The weather – represents Col’s state of mind (see Characterisation of setting)

9. the storm – change/ drastic change from the hot summer

 

 

Mood:

  • Depressive – the tone is desperate and hopeless in the beginning when he prays. The tone is also angry and frustrated.
  • tense, dark and ominous as if a storm were brewing – his aggressive behavior; tone is one of anger, frustration and rage
  • vacant/emotionless  after the father’s death – tone: detached
  • cathartic – when he weeps and realizes that it is the end of his childhood as he had longed for. Tone – hopeless, regretful, guilt-ridden
  • Nostalgic – when he reminisces about the time when they were all younger (flash backs), the mood/his mind seems to change into a happier state, when he thinks about the time he spent with his sister, Jess, in their summerhouse when they were younger, “He and Jess had collected buckets full of sea creatures from the rock pools and put them into a glass aquarium in the scullery”; “He and Jess had sat up all night by moon or candles watching them”.
  • oppressive – present situation, his adolescence

 Characterization:

  • Col
    •  frustrated – “For days now Col had wanted to quarrel. How he ever been able to bear it? And he cast about, in his frustration, for some terrible events, as he felt the misery welling up inside him at the beginning of another day. I  hate it here.”).
    • confused with his family’s dislike and alienation of him: (Jess looked up slowly. This year for the first time, Col felt the difference in age between them, Jess was changing moving away from him, to join the adults), ( when Jess sits and play with the baby together with Fay and the mom where he is left out of the play)
    •  attention-seeking male adolescent lacking his family’s attention: His violent actions seem to be a cry for attention: What is happening with “me”? Why do “I” have these thoughts? Why do I have these feelings, a part of the fact of going from childhood-adulthood)
      • Experiences an awful feeling of rejection:  always get pushed away, no one is there for him, in the sand castle episode, his mom pushes him away, instead of asking him what is wrong,”Why don’t you go have a swim? Can’t you find something to do? I really dislike you just hovering over us like that”  or the example with Jess has been growing away from him, the person that he used to have is suddenly gone )
      •  Feels violent: (He wanted to do some violence in this house – he hated his family)
      • Has a very negative/low self-perception – believes that his prayers will not be answered because of his ‘badness’. Believes that his father’s death is his fault because of his ‘badness’. “The fog horn sounded outside. Then he knew that the change had come, knew that the long hot summer was at an end, and that his childhood had ended to, that they would never come back to this house again. He knew, finally the power of the badness within him, and because of that , standing close to his father’s body, he wept”. 
  • Jess-his sister. She is few years older than he is. She used to be close to Col when they were younger children but she does not want to play with him anymore. Jess had already passed through adolescence and now has learnt to fit into the world of grown-ups.
  • Fay-his other sister. She had just given birth so her whole attention is on her baby as is the attention of his family’s. The baby represents the other extreme in the continuum between child and adult. Col is caught right in between.
  • Mother- spends a lot of her time with the sister. Pushes Col away during the sandcastle incident on the beach when he starts behaving anti-socially
  • Father – hardly any mention of him except that he joins the family in the afternoon after work. Suggests the absence of the father’s attention. His death relates to Oedipus complex – see  Characterisation, sandcastle.
  • Family-  typical modern family with lack of time for children
  • Setting:
    • weather – reflects Col’s state of mind e.g. hot summer (summer is the middle of the year in the northern hemisphere) – oppressive stagnation,  fog – uncertainty of the future. The fog alarm suggests a warning of an uncertain future
    • house and rooms – Reflects the family’s state. Col reflects on the different parts of the house in their past and present states.  The house used to be well- maintained but is now in poor condition, dilapidated and untidy – the deck chairs.  There is one room which is well-maintained where he feels most comfortable and nostalgic in it.

 

Narration:

Third person, sympathetic with Col’s point of view.

Narrator: The narrator could be an older Col reflecting on the child, Col, in hindsight

Tone: See Mood

Questions on the restlessness of adolescence:

  • Why is he praying for bad weather and storms? (Is he praying for something bad to happen?  What is the storm?
  • Why does he go to the cliff?
  • Why does he feel guilty?
  • What is the badness within him?
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