The Son’s Veto by Thomas Hardy

The Son’s Veto: Thomas Hardy.

Written in the late 19th century and published in the collection Life’s Little Ironies, this story focuses on Hardy’s usual areas – rural England and its demise; the position of women in society; the class system and the role of the church in sustaining it and the ironic nature of much of life.

In brief:

The demise of rural England is best shown in the comparison between Gaymead (the name itself being telling) and London as shown at the end of the first chapter and in the second chapter in particular.  After the false rurality of the London park, the reader is transported back to the wide spaces and peace of rural life before the contrast with the dirt and enclosed nature of London (49.7) in a sequence of direct contrasts.  It is worth noting here Hardy’s use of the short sentence to drive home a point: “It was all on her account”.  Here the narrator seems both accusatory as well as explanatory. Indeed these short sentences might also suggest that the omniscient narrator is telling us precisely what Sophy is thinking.

Later the country comes to town in a sequence of brightly coloured carts in the small hours of the morning, each is however described as impregnable – “bastions… walls… howdahs” as if those living on the city can never enter the world of the country.

Women in society is a driving motif in much of Hardy’s writing –prose and poetry.  Here the focus is on Sophy for whom Hardy has great sympathy which shines through the whole piece from the opening.  Students should consider the ways in which Hardy generates sympathy in the opening (46-47.5).  Hardy repeatedly uses language to great effect – simple asides (“poor thing”) and specific adjective choice (“soft, brown, affectionate orbs…”) are mixed with a story that quickly puts the woman into the role of an object – “To the eyes of a man viewing it from behind…”- and a narrative that reproduces on a human scale the reality of the class system of the Victorian age: “Has, dear Mother, not have!” – where a son, even one as young as Randolph at this time seems to have complete ownership of his mother. This is highlighted throughout the tale: “Sophy the woman… Sophy the lady”; Mr Twycott knew perfectly well that he had committed social suicide…” and so on.  There are simply too many to list.

The church is often the focus of Hardy’s displeasure and here he attacks again the hypocrisy of the church and focuses on its propensity to attract clergy drawn by social improvement rather than by Christian virtues.  Randolph’s nadir, as he makes his mother kneel and swear away her happiness to protect his position (55.6) is a chilling example of this driven.  He is driven by his wish to maintain a position amongst the “gentlemen of England” and damns his mother, already lonely and infirm, to a miserable death.  There is no doubt that Hardy wants his readers to see Sam, the newman – tradesman and shop owner as a far better match for Sophy than her arrogant, religious, son.  For Hardy, humanity came before false religiosity and much evidence of this can be found here.

Narrative voice

An omniscient position is adopted throughout.  Hardy the “voyeur” is somewhat typical.  Not only does the narrator use the third person to tell his tale, but he seems to know the inner thoughts of the protagonists.  Moreover, he puts himself as an interlocutor with the reader as at the opening of part two: “the next time we get a glimpse…”.  Here there is a sense of collusion that firmly places the reader into a position of responsibility with regards to the morals being explored.  The narration is not impartial, however, and we should notice the techniques by which Hardy explores his sympathy for Sophy and distances himself from Randolph.  As suggested earlier, the great poet makes precise use of descriptors to make his point.

Even when she is upwardly mobile and marrying Twycott, Hardy after reminding us clearly of the necessity for women to marry (Sam can not provide a home, yet, and that is more important than love) describes Sophy using images associated with domestic pets – “kitten like, flexuous, tender” –undoubtedly attractive but surely also demeaning when associated with Twycott’s vision of his young wife.


Understanding the meaning of literary texts and their contexts, and explore text beyond surface meanings to show deeper awareness of ideas and attitudes

Using  grids to reinforce IGCSE questions on use of specific language, students should explore key sections and identify examples of specific language use:  E.G.

Section Word/phrase Conventional meaning Effect created here
Opening – 47.6 If somewhat barbaric Slightly uncivilised, implication of violence? The hairstyle is barbaric – it is uncivilised to expect women to adorn themselves in this manner.
  Soft, brown…orbs Tender, gentle little spheres. The orbs relate to the sun and the sense of life that is given by the sun.  The size is highlighted as is the nature of Sophy’s personality.


The three protagonists should be considered with individual character maps drawn up for each of Sophy, Randolph and Sam.  Care should be taken to address not just what they feel, but how others see them.  All must be based on evidence from the text.

Obvious ideas to focus on:  E.G.

Character Narrative view View of others evidence
Sophy “good “ country girl, in need of protection   48.3
    Ignorant and shaming even to a child (R) 47.5
  dutiful   48-49
  Trapped  by society and naive   50.5
  Natural in behaviour   50.8
    Needs protection, not independent 50.6
  Lonely and bored by life   51.2-4  53.5(response to Sam)
  Raised to new social status – untouchable Raised to new social status – untouchable (S) 52.7


Randolph Arrogant young man   47-48
  Socially mobile   50.9
    Unnatural in behaviour (So) 54.1
    Abusive of position in relation to Sophy (Sa) 54.2
  Guardian of morals and social system   55.5


Sam Hardworking and honest despite low status   48.4, 52.4 etc
    Indicative of moral corruption of weakening of class system (R) 54.8-55.4
  A good man, capable of real Christian feeling   55.9

 Suggested outline:

Lesson 1 2 3 4

Focus on Section 1, character of Sophy. Randolph from opening.  Social suicide idea to be followed into 2  HMWK: specific lang chart for opening sympathy.

2: social suicide – how shown.  Country/town clash.

Affect of Sam’s arrival (direct speech)

Randolph and Sophy: characters developed.

Language choice (pg 54.5)


HMWK specific language chart for negative view of Randolph.

Whole story:


Context starter based on prior HMWK

 Notes on typical essay questions – 10 minutes each.

  Typical essay questions for note activity:

  • ·         Write a diary entry by Sophy for the day at Lords on pg 54
  • ·         How does Hardy generate sympathy for Sophy?
  • ·         In the passage starting “It was only April” (51.9) and ending  at the close of part two, how does                 Hardy create a sense of excitement and disappointment?
  • ·         How does Hardy make the character of Randolph memorable?
  • ·         You are Sam.  Write your account of your relationship with Sophy for your memoirs.


Mansfield, brought up in New Zealand, was a notable writer of short stories.

Get students to explore the ways in which Mansfield presents Leila’s thoughts and feelings before and during the ball. It would be useful to consider the way in which Leila is different from the other girls and how this affects their (and our) impressions of her. How do they think Mansfield captures the excitement of the ball? Students should pay particular attention to the contribution to the story of the two men who dance with Leila, the odious fat man and then the young man with curly hair. They should examine carefully the words Mansfield uses in the dialogue and description to guide readers’ responses to the various characters.

Wider reading

Other short stories by Katherine Mansfield such as

The Daughters of the Late Colonel and The Garden Party


Students might enjoy the novel

The Getting of Wisdom

(by Henry Handel Richardson) about a twelve year old girl’s experience at a boarding school in Melbourne (which has been popular as a past IGCSE set text).

Compare with

The Yellow Wall Paper

by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Destructors

by Graham Greene

The Taste of Watermelon

by Borden Deal

To Da-duh, In Memoriam

by Paule Marshall

The Son’s Veto -Hardy (notes)


Hardy is the writer of a number of classic novels of the English Victorian era. He stopped writing novels altogether following the outcries that greeted Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895); both were judged in their day to be too explicit in their treatment of personal and social themes. Thereafter he concentrated on writing poetry.

In The Son’s Veto Sophy’s character is presented to us by concentrating on a number of telling moments in her life. The story reveals detail gradually in order to allow us to build up an impression of her. The narrator begins writing from the perspective of a man viewing the woman’s immaculate hair from behind. We hear the exchange of dialogue between son and mother in which the former rebukes the latter for her poor grammar ‘with an impatient fastidiousness that was almost harsh’. The boy’s sensitivity here will eventually lead to his veto over his mother’s wish to re-marry. The vignette of the public-school cricket match illustrates, perhaps best of all, the class consciousness at the heart of the story.

How do students respond to Hardy’s depiction of the boy who eventually becomes the ‘young smooth-shaven priest’ at the end of the story? Encourage them to consider how Hardy makes us feel sorry for the mother.

Wider reading

Encourage students to read other short stories by Thomas Hardy such as “The Withered Arm” and “Tony Kytes, the Arch-Deceiver”. They might also try novels popular at IGCSE/O Level including Far From the Madding Crowd and The Mayor of Casterbridge, and poems such as ‘The Voice’ and ‘The Darkling Thrush’.

Compare with

‘The Fly in the Ointment’ by V.S. Pritchett

‘The Village Saint’ by Bessie Head

‘On Her Knees’ by Tim Winton

Online biographical and critical texts on Hardy can be found at:


Pike by Ted Hughes (ESL/Starter Activity)

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In Pike Hughes offers a far from Romantic view of nature in his depiction of this primitive and malevolent fish. The poem begins with a description of a baby pike, and we are given the impression that right from the very  moment of birth this creature is in possession of some pretty chilling characteristics.

Task: Re-read the poem over and over again highlighting descriptive words/phrases and imagery. Once you have compiled a list of the visual characteristics of the pike, try to draw the fish from memory by referring to the description of the poem.

Using cardboard design your pike based on the poem, and as a class we will prepare an underwater world. After we have completed our fish we can select quotations from the poem and label our pikes.

Pied Beauty

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Pied Beauty


Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise Him.


Once we have analysed the poem, the task is to come up with a version of your own. Look at Hopkins poem closely and note the use of language features (alliteration, simile and assonance). When producing your own version take these into account. Hopkin’s poem deals with ‘dappled things’, yours can be on one of the folllowing: 

Yummy things

Scary things

 Musical things

Technological things

Scientific things

Living things

Pretty things

Floral things

Tasty things

Fruity things

Feminine things

Simple things

Masculine things

Aussie things

Aquatic things

Sporty things

School things

Glamrous things


Glory be to God for ———————– things

For ————— of ———————as a ————————–;

For ——————– all in stipple upon —————————;

——————————————; ————————————;

————– and ______ ­­­- _______, _________ and __________ .

All things _________ , ________. ___________, __________ ;

Whatever is ____________, ____________ (who knows how?)

With ______, ___________; _______, _____; _________, _____;

He fathers-forth whose ____________ is past change: Praise Him



The Hunting Snake by Judith Wright (ESL differentiated task)

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In the poem ‘The Snake Hunter’ Judith Wright describes the reactions of the travelers in the line ‘_________________________________________________________________’ . ‘Froze’ suggests that the both the speaker of the poem and the person/s accompanying her __________________________ because __________________________________________________________. ‘Reeling’ to describe the actions of the snake conveys the impression that ________________________________________ . In the second stanza the actions of the snake are further depicted when she writes ‘head-down’ and ‘tongue-flickering’ implying that _________________________________________________________.  The third line of the second stanza  ‘ the sun glazed his curves of diamond scale’ brings to mind the image of ______________________________________________ . This is followed up by the reactions of the walkers who ‘lost breath to watch him pass’, and can be initially interpreted on two levels. On one level _________________. On another level__________________________________. The tone shifts slightly in the third stanza and it becomes clear that the reason for the loss of breath expressed in the previous stanza is because ____________________ . Here Wright conveys her sense of _____________ which is evoked in the line ________________________ . In the final stanza of the poem, the moment finds a resolve when the snake ‘ ______________________’. The reactions of the travelers are express in the line ‘ ________________________________’ which suggests that _________________________. I find this poem to rather appealing because _________________________________________.

Summer Farm/Autumn Farm -Norman MacCraig

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Looking at your paper copy of ‘Summer Farm’ see if you can change it with the template below to create a different atmosphere.

AUTUMN FARM – (Your Name)

Straws like …………………………………lie about the grass
And hang …………………. on …………. .    …………………as…………….
The water in the…………………………………………………………………..
……………………………………………………….in two straight lines.

A …………. stares at ……………… with one eye,
Then picks it up. Out of a ……………………….. sky
A …………………………… falls and, flickering through
The ………………………………., dives up again into ………………………………

I lie, not thinking, in the cool, soft grass,
Afraid of where a thought might take me –
This ……………………………………………………

……………………………………………………………. .

Self under self, a pile of selves I stand
Threaded on time, …………………………………………..


Examination Techniques For Poetry

Hello everyone! Below are some examination tips provided by fellow teacher blogger Mrs. Najia Z. Nazir. Her blog is and is titled Words Infinitum. It is worth checking out particularly if you are in Grade 9 or Grade 10, or Year 11 and 12.

Examination Techniques Handout 1

              Responding to the Poetry Section

The emphasis in poetry questions is on ‘how’ the poet communicates. Obviously ‘what ‘is being communicated is important, but candidates should not think that merely summarizing and paraphrasing the poem(s) will be sufficient for a satisfactory answer. Nor will merely giving a list of poetic devices, such as:’ this is an example of paraphrasing ‘,’this is a metaphor’. Candidates are being assessed on the extent to which they understand and can evaluate the effect of the use of a particular word or image or sound on the meaning and impact of the poem.

Candidates can approach the question ( as any question) by determining the key issues that they are asked to address.

Activity 1

Following are some of the actual examination questions for Literature in English 2010. Underline the keywords in each of them.

Norman Nicholson uses childhood as a means of exploring other ideas in Rising Five. Identify the ideas of the poem and comment on the ways in which they are presented.
Comment on the ways in which changes in perspective between childhood and adulthood are explored in the following poems: Plenty and Rising Five

Comment on the ways in which Heaney presents the experience of grief in Mid- Term Break
Explore the ways in which the poet has used language and other poetic devices to present ideas in Rising Five and Mid-Term Break

How do Wordsworth’s words create the striking picture of a girl and illustrate the effect she has on the poet.

Comment on the ways in which changes in perspective between childhood and adulthood are explored in two of the following poems: Plenty, Rising Five, Little Boy Crying

Consider the significance of the ways in which women are presented in two of the following poems: Muliebrity, Plenty, She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways.

Explore how Heaney significantly portrays grief in Mid Term Break.

As you must have noticed, the questions direct candidates to consider the poet’s use of words: which require not merely a general overview or summary but detailed focus on that particular aspect of the poem. Hence this requires a strong personal response and invites selection of particular words and images.

It is therefore essential to plan the answer, to select the words and images that are particularly asked for in the question, and to explore their effects in depth. Quality is more important than quantity.

Phrasing of Poetry Questions
Essay type and Passage –based questions

  1. ‘Explore how/explore the ways’…the word ‘explore’ is used in a large proportion of poetry questions. It means more than/explain’. It is an invitation to probe as well as to examine, but most of all it requires an individual approach; what one person explores will not be the same as another. To explore these ways , sometimes the structure of the poem or language will be the tools to assist you .
  2. ‘memorable’, ’striking’,’ powerful’, ’unexpected’, are all words intended to trigger a strong response. Even if the question seems to be focusing on a specific topic, there will usually be some such stimulus somewhere in the question.
  3. Specific emotions such as ‘joy’, ’sadness’, ’anger’,’regret’ may be used to identify the tone or mood of specific poems and to give a specific angle to a question.

Compare or Contrast questions

Thematically linked, structurally similar or employing similar language attributes are the concern of such questions

  1. Consider the significance of the ways in which theme of ———–is presented in two of the following poems.
  2. Explore the ways in which the poet has used language and other poetic devices to present ideas in _____________ and __________