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.
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.
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|
|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|
|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|
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.
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.