A short story by Penelope Lively
Clara is fifteen and a half when the story takes place. She lives with her mother and Stan in Britain. It does not seem as if she has any real friends or if she has a boyfriend. It is difficult growing up and that is what Clara is going through. She feels the seriousness of growing up and she is having trouble finding out her sexuality. She is a girl who is afraid of growing up and afraid of her own sexuality. Due to her lack of friends she is very lonely and demands a lot of attention. She finds it hard to express herself and her feelings so she walks naked through the school. She is very aware of the fact that she will draw a lot of attention and that the headmaster will send a letter to her mother and that is why she does it. Stan, who is Clara’s mother’s boyfriend, is very masculine. She describes his smell very detailed but not very positive. “He was a stocky muscular man with a lot of black hair on his chest. The smell of him, across the landing, was powerful – a huge inescapable wave of man smell: sweat and aftershave and something you could not put your finger on.” For Clara Stan could represent the sexuality of men. That could explain why Clara seems to be so afraid of him. Clara and her mother do not have a very good relationship to each other. Her mother is very selfish, self-centred and broad minded. The mother wants Clara to change, she does not want her to be a Victorian prude, but to be a broad minded person like herself. When the mother receives the letter from the school she is very proud of Clara. But that was not the reaction that Clara wanted. By taking her clothes off, she only does violence to herself. “Clara, I simply do not believe it! Stan, just listen to this… Isn’t she most incredible girl! Guess what she did! She took off all her clothes in school assembly and walked out starkers!” What she did to get her mothers attention had the opposite effect and she became more like her mother and...
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