Choose a novel in which the fate of a main character is important in conveying the writers theme.
Robin Jenkin’s downbeat meditation on the nature of pity, ‘The Changeling’ has a tragic ending; it emphasizes 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 end.
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 ironic that a boy who has never seen the sea can write eloquently about it; and Forbes takes him on holiday in order to ‘improve’ him. Yet this decision is to lead to Tom’s suicide.
In some ways, Tom is a character we should pity; however, in chapter three we learn that he is a strong character who lives by a matter-of-fact set of ‘principals’:
Never to whine; to accept what came; to wait for better; to take what you could; to let no-one not even yourself know how near to giving in you were.
One therefore has to ask – why would someone like this need Charlie’s help? It is only when he is taken away from Donaldson’s court that he feels the gulf between his circumstances and those of ‘decent’ people. 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 that mythical person Tom Forbes, he still thought he was.