Dr. Chelsea Rathburn
20 March 2014
“The New Boy” Analysis
The actions of the pale, blonde haired students towards Joseph throughout the time spent in the elementary school together, can be understood through learned behavior through adults. While one of these students in particular constantly teases a new student, a foreigner, we experience the race accounted prejudice through this bullied boy’s eyes. In “The New Boy,” Roddy Doyle, illustrates how the world feels through the eyes of a new student known as the shy African child, Joseph. Joseph allows these students to mock, tease, and make him take the blame of many incidents within the classroom, as he still does not fully understand the Irish slang terms used by many of the students and the teacher. Through “The New Boy,” Roddy Doyle pushes readers to understand a deeper, consistent problem occurring in the everyday world by demonstrating a distinct dialogue, emotional flashbacks that Joseph uses to handle situations, but despite the negative issues he ends on a hopeful note. Doyle exposes racism in Irish culture by illustrating how pervasive it has become in all age groups, rooting from prejudice in adults and plunging down to the actions among children on the playground.
These children on the playground represent the students of an Irish school’s fourth grade class. While these students have been in school together for five years already, a newcomer arrives in the hands of the teacher-lady. This new student happens to be named Joseph, an African refugee from Rwanda. Joseph is the only black student in the class except for quiet Pamela who sits in the corner alone, avoiding the other students. Like Pamela, Joseph remains quiet through the entirety of the class except when incidents arise from the class troublemaker. These incidents first begin when the troublemaker makes an unnecessary comment about Joseph’s arrival. After being introduced to the class by the “teacher-lady,” an irrelevant remark is made by one of the students: “So what” (Doyle 78). Without saying a word, because he does not comprehend the language being used, Joseph stays quiet and thinks, “He does not like this” (Doyle 78). This innocent, young boy takes the teasing very maturely and hardly reacts as it continues with one boy in particular – Christian Kelley. While Joseph adapts to the different environment and actions of these Irish students, the verbal bullying continues steadily. Christian Kelley, the “so-what” boy, sits behind Joseph and makes another racial remark as they’re working on math problems. “The so-what boy whispers. Live-Aid. Hey, Live Aid. Do they know it’s Christmas?” says Christian Kelley as he continues to poke Joseph (Doyle 80). This reference to “Live-Aid” refers to a charity concert for issues in Africa. With this comment, the Irish boy is trying to annoy Joseph by teasing him about his home country’s issues and problems. Joseph stays quiet, as he does not understand this reference, however, he understands that it was meant to make him mad. Another incident occurs where Christian pokes Joseph’s shoulder with a snot covered finger, Joseph reacts by pulling his finger while Christian overdramatically falls to the ground “in pain.” Following this, the “teacher lady” makes Joseph pack his bags and come with her (Doyle 87). While she is in the process of relocating him to another seat, another student jokes, “ ‘He should sit beside Pamela.’ Many girls laugh. ‘No,’ says the black girl who sits beside the map” (Doyle 88). This comment and Christian’s “Live-Aid” remark are both racially judgmental, illustrating that these students are not just teasing for fun, but based off appearance as well. Through these subtle but serious verbal remarks, Joseph remains calm, and in tact. Joseph calmly addresses the situation and understands the statements and actions of those around him. With each situation, Joseph carefully interprets the problem and evaluates the situation. In one instance, Hazel O’Hara sits beside him, looks over, and smiles with her glasses on her face. Christian responds to him watching Hazel by saying, “ ‘Specky fancies, yeh.’ It is Christian Kelly. ‘You’re dead’” (Doyle 81). As he repeats Christian’s comments in his head, he figures out what the boy is conveying. “This boy has just told Joseph that he is dead. Joseph must understand this statement, very quickly. What did Christian Kelly mean? You are dead. Joseph thinks about these words and this is not difficult. Christian Kelly’s words are clearly intended as a threat, or promise. I will kill you. But Christian Kelly will not murder Joseph just because the girl with the magnified glasses smiled at him. I will hurt you. This is what Christian Kelly means” (Doyle 82). Joseph’s thoughts here show how he deals with the bullying; he uses the remarks as a problem and sorts and figures them out through logic. He uses each situation as another question and composedly works through each one. As he’s thinking this through solutions, his thoughts come traveling back to his past and his father. Following each situation, Joseph has thoughts about his past that lead to in depth flashbacks. One flashback occurs after Christian Kelly “threatens” to kill Joseph. Joseph thinks this is strange since “he must protect himself from a boy he has not seen. Perhaps not so very strange. He did not see the men who killed his father” (Doyle 82). At this point we understand that his father was killed, and that Joseph was present when the murder occurred. He flashes back to the setting of the murder after being swiped and drenched with milk from a milk carton leading to a confrontation by Christian Kelly himself. “Joseph remembers the soldier walking out of the schoolhouse. He held the bell up high in the air. It was the bell that called them all to school, every morning. Joseph loved its peal, its beautiful ding. He never had to be called to school. He was there every morning, there to watch the bell lifted and dropped. Joseph’s father was the teacher” (Doyle 93-94). Flashing back, we are given insight to Joseph’s lifestyle in his home country. We understand that he loves school, and he would always be there everyday for each lesson his father, the teacher, would teach. A deep message is conveyed through this passage, that his father meant a lot to him, through his love for school. At the Irish school he is in currently, he feels different, and out casted by the Irish students. While he is being pushed, prodded, and yelled at to fight, the flashbacks continue and intensify with the physical bullying. Christian pushes Joseph, expecting him to stand up for himself, and suddenly Joseph grabs his hand. At this moment he flashes back, “The soldiers had gone. Joseph waited. He wanted to find his father. But he was frightened… He wanted to call out to his father but his throat was blocked and too dry. He had dirtied himself, but he could not move… He found his father behind the schoolhouse. He knew it was his father, although he did not see the face. He recognized his father’s shirt and shoes. He ran” (Doyle 95). Through each of these flashbacks we are allowed to connect and empathize with the young, grieving boy. This allows us to put ourselves in Joseph’s situation and fully connect with him. Joseph finds the fight with the young, Irish boy unnecessary. As the bell rings harshly, we understand the sadness and emotional pain that Joseph deals with following his father’s death. We understand that he is ridden with sorrow and feels the pull to run away, leading him to the country and place he is in now. With these emotions conveyed through the flashbacks we understand more of the underlying reasons for Joseph’s actions. Each of his actions is displayed not only through these specific, emotional wrenching flashbacks, but also through the way this dialogue is written. Roddy Doyle’s short story is written very simply to portray the short, simple thoughts of Joseph. This allows readers to connect on how easily we can understand the text and how we each thought when we were children ourselves. As children we would never concentrate on what everyone had to say; we thought very simply and straightforwardly. Through the story, there are not any quotation marks distinguishing who is speaking from when Joseph is thinking. Quotation marks were not used so that the story would flow together as a whole and connect each line word by word. The way Roddy Doyle wrote this dialogue made it easier to understand and connect it as a being set in an elementary school and thought out through a child’s mind. Through these thoughts we are able to connect, empathize, and comprehend the racial slurs these children make each other. While racial comments are made throughout this story, the predictable troublemaker, Christian Kelly, seems to always want to pick a fight with quiet, innocent Joseph. Following their confrontation and pushing, the “teacher lady” catches Christian, Joseph and Seth fighting after the bell rings. She brings them inside the building, outside of the classroom to talk with them about their misbehavior. While she tries to understand what happened outside by questioning them, none of the three would answer. “‘Well, Joseph. Your turn. What happened?’ ‘Nothing happened,’ says Joseph. Miss says nothing, for three seconds. These seconds, Joseph thinks are important. Because in that time, the three boys are united. They are united in their silence and stand there together against Miss” (Doyle 97). During this moment while she stares at the boys, Hazel pokes her head out the door, and the teacher lady tells her to get back inside. Following this moment when Hazel walks back in, she says, “‘She’s a bitch, that one. I was only telling her’” (Doyle 98). While the teacher lady runs in after Hazel telling everyone to put their hands in the air, Seth responds by saying, “‘She thinks she’s robbing a fuckin’ bank.’ Christian Kelly and Seth Quinn laugh quietly. Joseph laughs. He laughs because the other boys are also laughing. The three boys laugh together. This is, perhaps, the funniest thing that Joseph has ever heard” (Doyle 98-99). In this moment, all three boys begin to bond over this funny incident and begin to accept each other. During this moment, he has realized he is no longer saddened by his father’s death. “He thinks suddenly of his father; a great weight drops through his chest. He cries now as he laughs. He feels the weight, the sadness, fall right through him” (Doyle, 99). In this moment, Joseph has finally accepted his father’s passing and had bonded and come to a truce with these two boys. They have accepted him for who he is and where he came from, and he has been able to move on from a troubling past. At this point, we see that there is still hope for humanity with prejudice and racism towards others. If children, who learn to judge from the older adults, can accept people for who they are and not their skin color, we should be able to do the same. Through Roddy Doyle’s use of dialogue, flashbacks within thoughts, and Joseph’s responses to the bully, he illustrates how racism develops towards others in all age groups. He demonstrates this through a little boy seeking refuge in a majority white country, Ireland, who deals with bullying and copes with his recent father’s brutal death. In this short story, Doyle emphasizes Joseph’s shy, soft character against the other students. While Joseph endures racism, he copes with memories of his father and home country during a mass genocide. Racism is demonstrated here by seemingly innocent children not through the typical, average adult. Doyle illustrates through an emotional story how pervasive racism has become and how children as young as those in elementary school deal with the matter. He does however, demonstrate in the ending of “The New Boy” how not all hope is lost for humanity. If we can learn to accept others for who they are and not judge and get prejudiced based off looks, we can overcome this discrimination. Roddy Doyle illustrates his hope through these kids, as we should through humanity.
Doyle, Roddy. “The New Boy.” “The Deportees and Other Stories.” Class handout for ENGL 1102 (20), Young Harris College. 20 March 2014.