Section1 – Study of the text
Character of Tom Curdie
Character of Charlie Forbes
Symbolism and Emblems
Section2 – Learner Activities
Section3 – Critical Essay Tasks
STUDY OF THE TEXT
Character of Tom Curdie
Brought up in a slum (Donaldson’s Court)
Intelligent, sly, secretive, emotional armour
Thief – clever and cunning
No respect for Mr & Mrs Curdie
- doesn’t show affection
- doesn’t open up to anyone
Baby sister is a threat to Tom, he feels a soft spot for her
- when he arrives in Towellan he goes to pat her on the head but he stops himself
“Changeling” idea – doesn’t fit in or belong at home or in school
Fights the Forbes’ kindness but learns to accept i
Learns to respect Charlie and Mary
Feels a surge of love
- wants to be part of the Forbes’ family
- “Tom Forbes” on the phone
Tries to lose contact with his friends (Chick and Peerie) from Donaldson’s Court
- steals to remind himself of his “old life”
Taken in by family
- can’t see a way out
- doesn’t want to return back to Donaldson’s Court but knows he cannot stay with the
Suicide – only option
“... in a ragged man’s jacket, the filthy long trousers, and the sandshoes with the canvas
top in tatters.” (p2)
“Curdie’s smile was notorious, other teachers called it sly and insolent.” (p2)
“Link a squire carrying his knights shield, was Charlie’s verdict; like a dog with the sense to
lick the band that fed it, was Mrs Storrock’s.” (p73)
“It was likely that the boy would ultimately become debased.” (p3)
“his accomplices had stolen cigarettes and sweets, he packets of butter.” (p3)
“Tom had stolen the tin-opener and the ointment to convince himself that he was Chick
and Peerie’s friend, and Alec’s brother, and that his home was Donaldson’s Court.” (p19)
“Pity was never shown by him, only comradeship.” (p21)
“...struck it several times with surgical coolness and accuracy. Only when it lay utterly still
did he drop the bloody and messy stone.” (p83)
“In his consternation Peerie put one hand on his heart and held the other up to heaven.”
“Not far from her Tom, at the rail, gazed so earnestly shore wards she thought he was like
an emigrant going to some country like New Zealand, thousands of miles away, from which
he might never return.” (p68)
“That feeling which he could not control, of being among his own family, world
immediately grow again.” (p144)
“The danger lay in falling into resentment against Tom Curdie, in seeing the boy’s
admirable reticence as some kind of sinister senile composure, such as was shown by the
changeling of Highland legend, that creature introduced by the malevolent talk of the
other world into a man’s home, to pollute the joy and faith of family.” (p59)
Add some of your own quotations in this space
Character of Charlie Forbes
Charlie thought highly of his family
He is a family man
He is tolerant – especially towards his mother-in-law
He is encouraging. For example, towards the children “Go-as-you-please”
Lives in suburb – obviously well-off Chubby/plump
Houses all the same Looks quite healthy
Unperturbed by looking a little
Charlie tries to be a good Samaritan Personality
He wants some prestige for his deed
Firm but fair.
“My wife is a very generous woman” p8
“as architecturally interesting as match boxes” (Forbes’ House) p12
“a suburban sanctuary” p12
“It’s for the boys own sake” p54
“He dreamed that at some future promotion” p59
“Although it was fat, Mr Forbes faces was also long and bleak; even the little bags under
his eyes were lugubrious” p1
“His hand that rested on the blotted page was plump, soft and pink” p1
“Charlie sounded his defiance: here he was arrived in his Kingdom, where regret,
humiliation, mercenariness and failure did not exist” p68
“Like a squire carrying a knights shield” p73
“If ever there was a crusader without a sword its poor Charlie Forbes” p27
Drunk man hangs around the landing
Metaphor of the dying cat in relation to Donaldson Court – foreshadowing
Tom recognises himself in the dying cat, offers the cat no sympathy or pity however he
gives the cat a bite of his apple – pg21
Tom steals an apple for his brother
School is a haven for Tom due to his upbringing in Donaldson Court
Tom does not fit in here or Towellan
Nice, peaceful area, popular with tourists
Safe haven, quaint, clean, unique, varied
Castle – rabbit event
Lighthouse – peace, calm, reassurance
The rundown house where Peeie, Chick and Tom planned on staying thought to be
Canada Hill – nice views
Note the strong contrast between two settings
“One of the worst slums in one of the worst slum districts in Europe” p3
“Polluted, by the garbage, filth, and overflow from broken prives” p20
“Newly-born babies...in two years or less, they had begun to acquire the characteristics
which would enable them to survive amidst that dirt savagery, but which naturally
detracted a great deal from their original beauty” p20
“Donaldson Court isn’t a very prey place” p182
“Comes from a slum district, I thought he needed a tonic like a Towellan” p65
“The roadsides were gardens of honeysuckle and wild white roses” p70
“and the hills on every horizon save the sea’s reading into a blue legendary remoteness”
“He knew their house would be bright and warm and cheerful” p140
“Canada Hill was really the highest point of the course; crowned with pine trees, it has a
popular and magnificent viewpoint” p177
Social Class Altruism vs. Selfishness
- upper class suburbs vs. slums - Charlie initially feels he is taking Tom with
- Forbes’ vs. Curdies’ (Donaldson’s Court) him to give him a second chance in life,
but eventually he realised he is only doing
Family Relations it for himself.
- Tom & Queenie vs. Tom & Mary
- Tom & Gillian vs. Tom & Charlie Jealousy vs. Compassion
- Charlie vs. Mary - Gilliam’s jealousy drives all the negativity
- Shoogle vs. Queenie around Tom, for example her jealousy lead
- Tom’s relationship with Alex & Molly to Tom’s stealing being told. Then how
Gilliam cares greatly for Tom.
- referred to as Changeling Change in Characters
- doesn’t fit in at home or at school - Gillian selfish compassionate /guilty
- Towellan – Gillian makes things very - Charlie – selfless selfish (or simply more
difficult for Tom honest)
- Family try to stop him going on family - Good Samaritan & doing what is right
outings, e.g. Dunroth his family come first, does what’s best for
- Tom – closed off more emotional
Symbolism / Emblems
Trumpet...blowing your own trumpet (pompous)
- symbol of salvation
Myxamatosis Rabbit...defenceless and poisoned by society like Tom?
Tom described as Wildcat...independent/untamed
Tom relates himself to the crab at the ocean floor
Gilliam described as a hawk...watching Tom
Dead cat in Donaldson Court...theme of death apparent again (cat, rabbit, Tom)
Good Samaritan, biblical stories
The Changeling is Tom...not literally brought by fairies. Doesn’t fit in with the Forbes or with
Significance of presents...buys a brooch for Mary but nothing for own mother. Says he
prefers the life with the Forbes but steals a tin opener and ointment despite having the
money to establish his roots (Donaldson Court)
“Though no one would be little the benevolence of the Good Samaritan in one respect he was lucky: he was
alone with his conscience and his neighbour in trouble” p1
“Snatching up the trumpet put it to his lips and blew, not very musically but loud enough...thus Charlie
sounded his defiance: here he was arrived in his Kingdom, where regret, humiliation, mercenariness and
failure did not exist” p68
“So simple those wild roses, so spare, so austere, with their five petals, their untamed bushes, and their
thorns as sharp as a wild cat’s claw, they symbolised for Charlie his country’s sad harsh history, ___ against a
background of magnificent loveliness...Yes, a wild white rose was the badge for Tom Curdie to wear in
“Like a squire carrying his knight’s shield” Page 73
“Like a dog with the sense to lick the hand that fed it” Page 73
“In Towellan, Gillian, your father thinks the very crabs on the shore protect him” Page 78
“He pulled up his line and found hooked to it the rabbit that had been killed at the castle” Page 90
“He wished he could have been a crab at the dark bottom of the firth. In his imagination he saw that crab
entangled in strange submarine vegetation, and it was he” p190
Plot – Structure and Key Events
Charlie realises that Tom has potential / Charlie decides to take him to Towellan
Tom steals the photo money before leaving
Charlie blows the trumpet – shows Tom a different side of Charlie compared to at school
Charlie, Tom, Gillian and Alastair go to the castle and Tom kills the rabbit – revelation of characters
Go-as-you-please. Gillian’s jealousy is shown
Tom sings at the go-as-you-please. He begins to feel part of the Forbes Family – Charlie is very proud
Mrs Storrocks gives money to children
The theft – Tom steals ointment and a tin-opener but buys a brooch for Mary – doesn’t buy anything for
his own mother
Chick and Peerie arrive in Towellan
Tom pretends he doesn’t know Chick and Peerie
Revelation of Gillian realising why Tom stole
The Curdies arrive in Towellan
Gillian starts to show an understanding of Tom
Tom punches a tree to let out his emotion
Tom reveals that he stole the money from the school to Charlie
Gillian tries to help Tom when police arrive by running away to the shepherd’s hut
Tom commits suicide by hanging himself
Charlie’s realisation that “Tom on the other hand had one of the best intelligences in the school”
Charlie blew the trumpet and “sounded his defiance: here he was arrived in his Kingdom...”
When Tom killed the myximatosis rabbit, he “struck it with surgical coolness and accuracy”
Gillian is horrified by this and says “He liked doing it!”
When Tom sang at the go-as-you-please, he “sang as clearly and so movingly...their hearts yearned”
Mrs Storrocks is pleased and “handed him a half-crown”
“She saw him steal only once more...”
“he modestly held out the box...”
Chick and Peerie arrive. “Then he heard a screech shriller than any seagulls...made by Chick...Beside him
“a traitor someone who says he doesn’t know his friends”
“Did you steal those things...because you didn’t want to get too fond of us?”
“ “I see you’ve got visitors” said Willie”
“I’m sorry, I’m terribly sorry...”
“yet his hand, red from blood was like an emblem of eerie distinction”
“ “I stole Mr Todd’s money” said Tom”
“Seeing the police she had rushed to the hut where he was seated on a wall”
“Then she made out around his neck...the rope...the rope was not loose”
Before reading the text:
1) Find out what a changeling is. What does this suggest the novel will be about?
2) Examine the photo on the cover. How would you describe the boy? His expression? His hair? Clothes? The
background? What clues are we being given about the novel?
1) The novel opens with a reference to the “Good Samaritan”. Who was he and what did he do? Charles
Forbes, the teacher is directly compared with him: “he, too, decided not to pass by on the other side”. What
point is Jenkins making about CF? What differences does he see between the two?
2) CF’s face is described as fat, long and bleak with gloomy bags under the eyes; his hands are plump, soft,
pink and with a ring.
Tom Curdie is described as a “little scarecrow” wearing dirty, ragged clothes, and worn sandshoes. What is the
point of this contrast?
3) P2 Make notes on Donaldson’s Court, home to Tom.
4) P3 Tom has been given probation for his part in a shop burglary. He says “If I do anything wrong in the next
year I’d better no’ be found out”. CF sees this as “a flash of sad but valiant irony”. What does he mean?
5) P3 What is the significance of Towellan for the Forbes family? What is CF’s plan for Tom?
6) P6 What is the headmaster’s reaction to the scheme?
7) P8 CF sees Tom as an example of “magnanimity and indomitability”.
The headmaster describes Tom as “a sly wee rogue”.
How does the difference in LANGUAGE underline their different attitudes?
8) Your reaction to CF is likely to be a complex one. What are you initial impressions? Look at:
a. His view of himself (comparison with the Good Samaritan, one of Xenophon’s men)
b. Tom’s view P4 “These queer noises....shown”.
c. The headmaster’s view of him.
What is it about Tom that appeals to him? What does he mean when he says “If there is to be salvation, there
must be a sacrifice”? What do you think of his scheme for Tom?
9) What is the narrative style of this novel? How does it affect you reaction to the people described? How is it
used to manipulate you view of events? Examine the last sentence in the chapter.
1) Describe the Forbes’ “suburban sanctuary”
2) what are you first impressions of Mary? Consider her attitude to the neighbours; to Charlie
“You dream too much about what should be; you don’t see what really is”.
3) List her objections to Tom coming on holiday with them. What does “was it a last desperate move to attract
the favour of the councillors” P15 tell you about her?
4) What might a psychoanalyst make of CF’s dream P16?
1) What details can you add to the picture of Donaldson’s court?
2) Jenkins writes many striking and original similes. Make notes as you observe them e.g. P18 “His face looked
like an apple out of which several bites had been taken”. What makes this effective?
3) In this chapter we are given an insight to Tom’s view of life: “Never to whine; to accept what came; to take
what you could; to let no-one, not even yourself know how near to giving in you were”. What do you think of
this as a philosophy for living? How does Jenkins account for these views in the description of his home life?
4) Teachers have causes Tom many problems. Miss McIntosh was “always bothering him with kindness”.
What does she do any why will Tom not forgive her? Although he thinks there is a hidden motivation behind
the offer of Towellan, Tom decides to go. Why?
5) P25 “he chose that moment to say: “Mrs Forbes is going, and they’ve got two children.” His mother’s
reaction was not anger for being deceived, or relief at having her fears dispelled, but rather solicitude at
Shoogle’s peculiar disappointment”.
6) Comment on the juxtaposition of chapters 2 and 3 in terms of setting and characters.
1) How does Tom demonstrate intelligence in “the most ambitious theft of his career”?
2) “If ever he were to be grateful to anybody his confidence in himself would be destroyed”. “Home was not a
word he would use: all that it seemed to signify, comfort, security, help and permanence were absent there”.
How do these add to our picture of Tom?
3) So far, what clues do you have about the theme of the novel?
1) This chapter deals with several confrontations:
a. CF and Todd.
b. Todd and Tom.
What do we learn about the three characters from these encounters?
2) How do the other teachers view CF? See, for example, P36 “If ever there was a crusader without a sword
it’s poor Charlie; and without a shield”.
3) What is the effect of the dialogue on P38?
4) This scene takes place immediately before the trip to Towellan. Why?
1) Mrs Storrocks is a minor character, yet Jenkins introduces her with great care. How?
a. P42 CF’s reaction to her coming on holiday with them
b. P44 the list of her prejudices
c. P44 the metaphor comparing her to “an insatiable tigress”
d. P44 and 45 her appearance
e. P46 the motivation she attributes to CF in taking Tom on holiday
2) Gillian’s eyes “in their nests of freckles were as sharp as beaks”. What does she learn from her “inquisition”
P43? What conclusion does she come to P45?
3) Mrs Storrocks is a tigress, CF’s ideals are “does”. What animals would you choose to represent Tom, Mary,
1) How would you react if sharing a carriage with Mrs Storrocks? Explain why.
2) CF claimed he wanted to “introduce the boy from the squalid slum to all this cleansing and liberating
beauty” yet he now acknowledges that he also had a hidden motivation. He remembers Todd’s voice “Guff,
Charlie; admit it’s a lot of guff”. P51 What danger does he now see he must guard against in his attitude to
3) Note the information we are given about the changeling of Highland legend.
4) Imagine there is a photographer on the St Columba. In groups compose a group photograph of the
characters. What pose will you arrange for each? Who will be in the middle? Where will Tom be? Each person
in turn should speak their thoughts at this moment. Give your photo a caption. The class should discuss each
1) Tom begins to see a different side to CF which awakens “an astonished affection”. What behaviour brings
2) P60 CF notices white roses. What do they symbolise for him? How are they connected to Tom?
3) P61 Tom says he likes the house. CF realises that his is the first time Tom has committed himself to
anything. Why is this? What dangers are there for his “principles”?
4) What hints of future problems are there in Mary?
1) “Like a squire carrying his knight’s shield, was Charlie’s verdict; like a dog with the sense to lick the hand
that fed it, was Mrs Storrock’s”. What do these views tell us about their attitude to Tom, and to CF? P63. How
does the sentence structure underline Jenkins’ point?
2) Jenkins frequently shows us CF’s view of himself, before undercutting it by exposing it to farce. How does
he do that in this chapter?
3) P66 What is the significance of Tom sleeping in the hut for Mary, and for CF?
4) Gillian sees herself in a particular role, with the qualified approval of her mother. What is it? What is she
hoping to prevent?
5) The expedition to the castle, and the evening’s fishing are described as “ill-fated”. Why?
6) Explain the dilemma Tom finds himself in. P73 and 74.
7) What is the problem as Mary sees it? P74-77. What effect does their quarrel have?
8) CF has another dream at the end of the chapter. What do you think this one means?
1) What is CF’s normal reaction to the “go as you please”? How is it confirmed by the performances they
hear? Find a quotation to back your point.
2) Consider Tom’s solo performance starting P82. Look at: the choice of song; his manner of singing; the
reaction of the crowd; Charlie’s reaction; Gillian’s; Mrs Storrock’s.
1) What does Gillian see which shocks her? Why does it “in a dreadful way” satisfy her?
2) Why does Tom steal things he could afford to buy?
3) What is the significant about the purchase of the brooch? What does it reveal about Tom’s relationship
with his mother? With Mrs Forbes?
4) What do Gillian and Alistair do with their money?
1) Who says the following, in what circumstances, and what does it reveal about them?
a. “This boy has bewitched us all”
b. “I regard it as the first victory in the battle of Tom Curdie”.
c. “Either our daughter’s a nasty, spiteful liar, or Tom Curdie’s a thief”.
d. “Affection? He doesn’t need it, he doesn’t want it, and he’s not got it to give; in fact, he’s more likely to
take it away”.
e. “If he goes, I go too”.
f. “Your pet delinquent from the slums.
2) P98 CF achieves self-knowledge. Explain the conclusions he comes to.
3) How do you account for Gillian’s lie?
4) CF describes himself as being “in the grip of inimical non-human forces, whose instrument was indeed Tom
Curdie”. What does this mean? Why does he need to describe his situation thus?
1) Why had Tom stolen the tin-opener & ointment? Why does Jenkins switch to Tom’s perspective here?
2) Tom feels “a surge of love” for CF. NB the irony that immediately CF calls him a “changeling”.
3) Make notes on the signs of stress in the family in this chapter.
1) Tom researches the meaning of “changeling”. What effect does the knowledge have on him?
2) Why does Tom not sing?
3) How do Tom’s friends behave? Quote some dialogue you think is effective.
1) What does Tom’s desire to phone the Forbes’ signify? How is this underlined by the name he calls himself –
Tom Forbes? (Find out about Freudian slips if you don’t know the answer).
2) “He could not go back to his old life, he had left Donaldson’s Court forever”. Why?
3) “This feeling of unobtainableness would become a terror, worse than any ghost”. Try to sum up Tom’s state
of mind at this point.
1) CF “sat for a little while examining those fresh lacerations on his soul”. Comment on the current
relationship between CF and Mary.
2) How does Tom betray his friend Peerie?
3) “Love had failed amongst them, and for the rest of their lives they, and their children must live in the
shadow of that failure”. What causes love to fail? How does Jenkins underline the gravity of the situation?
What does Alastair admire in Peerie’s behaviour? When his parents realise this they are forced to admit an
unpleasant truth about their son, which is?
1) P148 CF recognises that “his compassion was academic not creative; and his love was cowardly”. What
makes him see this? What effect does this self-awareness have on your reaction to him? Since he recognises
the truth, why doesn’t he change?
2) When Tom is told he must leave Towellan how does he react?
3) Comment on CF saying to Tom: “I don’t think it’s right to harden your heart against your friends in the
way’re Tom’s behaviour towards Peerie. Notice YOUR home, YOUR people, YOUR friend.
4) Why does Tom cry? Why does Gillian cry? Explain “a feeling of the profoundest complicity with Tom”. What
does she now understand?
1) What change is there in Mrs Storrock’s attitude to Tom?
2) What does Gillian sense about Tom’s state of mind?
3) Why does Tom compare himself to a crab?
1) P165 Why does Jenkins describe the “tinks” in such detail? (p194/195)
2) Once again Charlie is given the chance to behave like the Good Samaritan. How does he show that, “his
heart was or ordinary composition and quality”? (p199)
3) What helps Mary find the situation of the Curdie family visit funny? Do you? What does Jenkins insert this
humour? (p200 onwards)
1) What self-destructive tendency does Tom display when his mother speaks to him?
2) What is Mrs Curdie’s understanding of Tom’s feelings? Make note of her “eloquent sorrow” (p208).
Comment on effectiveness of word choice.
3) As he dresses Tom’s hand Charlie recognises the spiritual stress he suffering. (Notice the hints in the
bandage used: “which reminded CF of the cerements of a mummy”).(p209)
4) Why does Tom now confess to the school thefts?
5) “Into what dark realms of tragedy had he walked, with his few matches of faith?” (p210)
Comment on the imagery. What is Charlie doing to come to terms with his treatment of Tom?
6) What was the Curdies’ plan to exploit the situation? How is it foiled?
1) How does Gillian demonstrate her understanding of Tom? Find at least 4 items.
“her father had wandered off in the wrong direction”. What point is Jenkins making?
2) Notice the hints of the ending we are given (at least 6).
Do you find it satisfactory?
Can you find anything positive in it? How would you change it?
Why would Jenkins reject your version?
Who is/are responsible for Tom’s fate?
CRITICAL ESSAY TASKS
Answers should relevantly address the central concern(s)/theme(s) of the text and be
supported by reference to appropriate techniques of prose fiction such as: characterisation,
setting, key incident(s), narrative technique, symbolism, structure, climax, plot,
atmosphere, dialogue, imagery…
1) Choose a novel which is influenced by the presence of a powerful or overbearing
character. Show how the novelist creates this impression of the character and discuss to
what extent you felt you could sympathise with him or her.
2) Choose a novel or short story in which a family disagreement plays an important part.
Explain the circumstances of the disagreement and show how the writer uses it to
develop theme and/or character.
3) Choose a novel in which the novelist makes effective use of symbolism. Show how the
writer made use of this technique to enhance your appreciation of the text as a whole.
4) Choose a novel which reaches a climax which you find dramatic or moving or disturbing.
Explain how the writer achieves the effect and discuss how it contributes to your
appreciation of the text as a whole.
5) Choose a novel in which there is an incident involving envy or rivalry or distrust. Explain
the nature of the incident and go on to discuss its importance to your understanding of
the novel as a whole.