Choose a novel in which the fate of a main character is important in conveying the writer’s theme.
Robin Jenkin’s meditation on the nature of pity, ‘The Changeling’, has a tragic ending. The story emphasises 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 edge.
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 quite ironic that a boy who has never seen the sea can ...view middle of the document...
When he tries to ‘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 Tom Forbes that he 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 him in as he tries vainly to keep contact with the ‘decent’ family who gave him a temporary home. However, the trouble with being the ‘mythical Tom Forbes’, is that he 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. He pinches two items of no consequence which is his way of keeping his feet firmly on the ground. This reinforces for him that he is Tom Curdie, a petty thief from Donaldson Court. He does purchase however ,a brooch for Mrs Forbes. Tom is now beginning to realise his predicament, he has really enjoyed living with the Forbes but realises that this will not last and that he will resume his life in the slum area of Glasgow. This is seen through the eyes of Gillian Forbes, Charlie’s daughter.
“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”.
Gillian is torn between pity and jealousy towards Tom; her sympathy however grows for him as the story continues, and it is she who finds him after the suicide. She begins to feel 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. This suggests 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 dilemna is finally solved by Tom’s tragic end. This book considers the suffering of others and asks what we can really do for them, exploring the theme through the fate of Tom.