Careful He Might Hear You, by Sumner Locke Elliot, is a complicated novel, revolving around the story of a six year old boy named PS and his search for personal identity amidst the conflicts of his closest relatives. The narration of these conflicts, as well as the history behind their origins, forms the basis of the novel, and while the different types of relationships between the characters are not the main focus of the novel, the author links them with each of the characters’ sense of identity and their personal desires. Careful He Might Hear You is a book about people finding their true identities, and the truth or imbalance of the relationships that result from this. Through comparison and contrast, Sumner Locke Elliot highlights the flaws in each of the relationships presented, and the ramifications these have on the individuals involved; their present lives and their probable futures.
The first significant relationship presented in the novel is that between PS and his Aunt Lila and Uncle George. PS sees himself solely as Lila and George’s child and this perception that he has on himself directly influences the nature of his relationship with them. Being a six year old child yet to develop his own personal sense of identity, PS trusts implicitly in Lila and George and believes, in his innocent naive way, that they will always do what is best for him. This is not so much carelessness on PS’s part, as an ignorance of any other type of upbringing and love than that administered to him by Lila and George. His unawareness of the outside world and any other style of life but his own causes the power of their relationship to be solely in the hands of Lila.
PS’s innocence and trust in Lila becomes one of the major contributors to the clash which develops between Vanessa and Lila once Vanessa takes partial custody of PS. The nature of the relationship Vanessa demands from PS is so entirely different to that of Lila that PS finds himself torn between two women who, with their secrets, lies and constant quests for the upper hand, disrupt his own sense of personal well-being and security. This inner disquiet and uncertainty causes PS to change, and the nature of the relationships he hold with both his Aunts changes with this. These changes run parallel to PS’s emerging sense of identity, and the highlight, in the end, how important it is to be sure of who one is and what one wants in order for one’s relationship with other people to work.
Both Lila and Vanessa want the power to be in their hands in their relationships with PS and this, ultimately, is why neither relationship lasts unscathed. Lila’s habit, developed over time, of expecting immediate compliance from PS and Vanessa’s expectations for PS to conform to her own stringent guidelines clash with PS’s emerging sense of who he, as an individual wants to be, and both sisters’ inability to perceive this eliminates any chances they each may have had for a successful relationship with PS. In a sense both sisters wanted the same things from PS but for different reasons, Lila wanted PS’s trust in order to protect him; Vanessa wanted him to protect herself.
The unsuccessfulness of Vanessa’s many relationships with others lies in her lack of surety in who she is and what she wants. Raised by a father who demanded the highest social standards from her, Vanessa learnt to listen to her head over her heart, and let the scruples her father had taught her influence her everyday life. Vanessa took her father’s instructions to heart and even believed that the person that her father shaped of her was who she wanted to be.
Vanessa only ever lived out the life her father wanted her to lead; never finding out (in her heart) her own wishes and desires. This lack of self knowledge - denying her true self to become what her father wanted - directly affected the relationship she had with others,...
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