Feet from Reading in the Dark: Exploring the Concept of Childhood

Topics: Childhood, Sibling, Child Pages: 5 (1994 words) Published: November 20, 2011
Name: Salathiel R. Wells Date: 14th July 2011 English Commentary
September 1948
The extract ‘Feet’ taken from Reading in the Dark (1996) explores the concept of childhood, an excelled level of maturity, neglect, fear as a dominant mood and the significance of “feet”- using it as a synecdoche to represent people. The writer conveys his message further through the use of imagery and many literary features namely: metaphors, repetition and personification. The extract tells of a child (who is the narrator) who is hiding under a table witnessing the ultimate fate of his younger sister, who is being taken to the hospital, and will probably die. “Feet” becomes a consistent motif throughout the extract as a means of anonymizing the characters. Deane uses this anonymity to extract emotion from the situation. “The plastic tablecloth hung so far down that I [the child] could only see their feet,” this opening sentence portrays the location of the narrator (under the table). This conveys a message of fear and nervousness the child may be experiencing and shows that the child has found ‘solace from the storm,’ from the danger, for the child does not have to face what lies beyond the surrounding tablecloth; all that lies beyond the hideout (which are lethal diseases that result in the death of a loved one-his younger sister Una). The reality of these threats that lie beyond the table cloth are emphasized by the boy’s keen observations. Already in the first paragraph we can visualize the table cloth and hear the voices of the adults.

The concept of childhood is explored through various parts of the extract. “Although I was so crunched up” may give way to a fetal position. This position reiterates the point and reminds the audience that the narrator is a young child; it further represents the sense of fear within the child. This concept is further explored in line 3 where it states “our collie dog, Smoky.” Smoky proves to be a vital character for he is personified (this is seen in “the whimpering dog”), thus showing that the dog feels the dread surrounding the child and this personification includes the dog as a unit of the family, however in the concept of childhood the dog symbolizes the typical social convention to have during one’s childhood. Childhood may be further conceptualized in lines 26 and 27 which read, “I could feel Una’s eyes widening all the time and getting lighter as if helium were pumping into them from her brain.” This may be understood as a concept of childhood, considering the powerful imagery of helium “pumping into them [Una’s eyes] from her brain,” which emphasizes the wild imagination children seemingly possess (this further shows the child’s perspective of the disease as something uncontrollable); helium in this instance may also represent balloons, which may be also seen as a childhood convention. Deane further expresses the concept of childhood in lines 49 to 50 where is states “She would go to heaven, for sure...What could you do in heaven, except smile?” The narrator’s contemplation about his sister’s death makes clear his young age, for the child is unable to grasp the concept of death and heaven in a spiritual respect, his understanding of heaven is limited to a “smile.” This mentioning of heaven also echoes the faith of Christianity, and may give a sense of the religious upbringing of the child. The audience is also further reminded about the young age of the narrator through the use of the metaphor “a bright oatmeal sleeve,” which represents this stereotypical childish humor. “Cough-crying” may also be seen as childish language which may be deliberately used by Deane to emphasize the narrators young age.

The excelled level of maturity is a very important part of this extract, for although Deane portrays the narrator as a child, he depicts the child as one with a particular level of maturity not normal to children, probably in an attempt to appeal to audience members...
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