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St. Columba’s College

Transition Year Programme:

English Department Extended Essay

 

 

 

 

 

 

Childhood

By Ally Boyd Crotty

 

 

 

 

 

Michaelmas Term 2012

 

 

Table of Contents:

 

1.                        Introduction

2.                        Main Characters

3.                        Relationships

4.                        Difficulties

5.                        Conclusion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction:

 

My choices of books were mainly based on childhood. I chose this theme because I am interested in books about childhood and I thought I would find it rewarding to study these books in more depth than I have before.This theme made all three of my books interlinked in a great deal of ways even though they all had their own unique stories. The contrast but similarities of the books made it a very broad topic. I never really felt stuck or had any reason to ponder on what I needed to write.

 

                My first book is the award-winning novel Room, by Emma Donoghue.I was given quite a few reviews of this book from different people before reading it and after reading the blurb I decided I would take a stab at it. Jack, the main character, is being held captive in a room along with him Mother, “Ma”. He was born in this room, and the captor, Old Nick, is his father. Jack does not know this.  The book is based on the Fritzl case, and knowing it is based on a true story made it feel extra chilling to read. Ma hasn’t told Jack that there is anything outside Room. So through Jack’s eyes I find room to be quite a remarkable and fascinating place. Most of the book is set in Room, until the escape. I really enjoyed this book because it was very unusual and tragic. I would definitely recommend this to a friend, anyone my age or older.

 

                The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon is my second novel. I know many people who have read this novel and I had never really had the chance to read it myself before now. The book is about a boy, Christopher Boone, who has Asperger’s syndrome. Asperger’s syndrome is a form of autism. The book is a ‘murder mystery novel’ about a dog that Christopher found curiously murdered from across the street. As the novel unfolds, Christopher finds out more than he wanted or needed to know. From the beginning, Christopher’s father is completely against him writing this book. We don’t figure out why until later on which really does make it a mystery novel for the reader. I have never read a book written in this type of style, or through the eyes of someone who has autism. It was an extremely good read, and I would recommend it to anyone my age.

 

                My third and final book is The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. This novel is set in Kabul, Afghanistan in the 1970s. A bit of it is also set in the United States. I guess it is kind of a historic novel about pre-Taliban rule as well as the main story. It starts with Amir, the main character, explaining his past that can never be forgotten. The book then retells his story from beginning to end, definitely not leaving out any descriptions. What I especially loved about this book is that I could never predict what would be coming next – As soon as a dramatic scene would unfold, I would wonder how Hosseini could write anymore. Yet, at these points, I was usually no more than half way through the book. I think this is a book that everyone must read at some point in his or her life.

 

                I noticed during this essay that when you examine books closer than you usually would that you find they are more related than just the main storyline appears. By the summaries I have just written, it seems like there are limited connections linking the three books. However, I soon figured out this is false. The books are related in more ways than I would have thought possible.

 

 

                           

 

Main Characters:

 

My three books are all narrated in the first person, by the main character. Each of these characters are boys, but all of different ages, living in different places, and from different backgrounds. The one central thing in common with these boys is that they are all confronted by different problems during the course of their story.All three of these characters have to face their fears and make decisions to try to sort out these problems.

 

                A 5-year-old boy called Jack narrates my first book, Room. I found this strange to read a book from the perspective of a 5-year-old, and especially one such as Jack. But after I had finished I realized this was the main reason I couldn’t put the book down. Jack believes at the beginning of the book that Room is the world, and there is nothing else. He thinks that everything he sees on TV is made up for his entertainment. I find it hard to imagine that Jack simply believes that he and his Ma are one of a kind, the only humans, other than Old Nick, their captor.

 

I had heard the basic storyline of Room before reading it. Personally I thought that it would be quite depressing, but also a little boring to read over half a book set in an eleven-foot by eleven-foot room. When I read the book it did reach my initial expectation that it would be terrifying to think about, but thanks to Jack’s narrative it was anything but boring. Even though his daily routine is in the tiny space of Room, you wouldn’t think that by the way it’s described.Jack is a very tough character. He loves Room because he has grown up there. So when Ma devises a plan to escape Jack is totally against it, because he is frightened of the outcome. Finally however, Ma convinces him and he plucks up the courage to face his fear. This, to me, shows his real personality.

 

                My second book is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. A teenager, Christopher, narrates this book. Because Christopher has Asperger’s syndrome, he thinks differently to everyone else. The fact that he has Asperger’s makes me realize what it’s like to live with such a disability, and how difficult it must be. Christopher’s narrative differs to any other book I have ever read, similar to Room, and this makes it so much more engaging. We see from Christopher’s point of view, which is fascinating as he has very few social skills. A great deal of the time he narrates the book with math puzzles and diagrams, because this is what Christopher is interested in.

 

I found that Christopher was quite like Jack in Room in some ways. The main similarity is that Christopher doesn’t like lots of people and noise, and prefers to be alone with his rat, Toby. Likewise Jack, especially when he leaves Room, would rather be alone with Ma. When Christopher goes to find his Mother, he has to use all his courage to go on his own to noisy places packed with people he doesn’t know. However despite his fears, he completes this journey. This is also very similar to Jack from Room, even though the journeys they accomplished were completely different.

 

                My third book is The Kite Runner.Amir is the main character, and he narrates this book. Even though he narrates it as an adult, the book mainly focuseson his childhood and the mistakes he made. Amir had many troubles in his life, and he dealt with most of these in quite a cowardly, self-centered way. I think that Amir is the character that underwent the most significant change out of any of the characters in my three books. He went from being a coward, to being the hero. I found Amir to be quite an odd character. He is very selfish, and even though his father brought him up alone, they hardly have anything in common.

 

You can tell Amir has changed drastically during this story. After running away from his mistakes and trying to cover them up as a child, he is called back to Afghanistan to go on his last journey. This journey is to find his best friend Hassan’s son,  Sohrab. Amir uncharacteristically accepts the challenge, just like Jack and Christopher accept their challenges, but Amir’s completes his journey for forgiveness and for other people rather than for his own benefit.

 

As you can see, each of the main characters in these books is quite alike. They all have their differences, from age to backgrounds, but I think when their real personalities shine through it connects them.

                

 

Relationships:

 

I think that relationships are a large part of each of these novels, and probably the most important topic I’m writing about. Each of these books have main relationships –either parental or friendship. But coincidentally, each of these main relationships is based on a lie.

 

                Room’s main relationship is a parental one, between Ma and Jack. They are the only people in Room together for the majority of the book. Ma and Jack have a very close relationship, and Ma, in my opinion, is a very good mother to Jack. Jack and Ma’s relationship is important because it holds the two of them together. They both depend on each other.

 

                Jack doesn’t have a relationship with anyone else; as Ma is the only person he has ever met until near the end of the book. Because of this, he has very few social skills, or manners. This makes it very hard for him to trust people or begin new relationships when he leaves Room.

 

Even though Jack and Ma have this inseparable relationship, this relationship is based on a lie. Jack thinks that there is nothing outside Room, because Ma has tried to shade him from the truth- that Old Nick is holding them captive. She treats it as normal while he was growing up that they were only allowed in this small cell. Jack’s world was Room, and the people in the TV were his friends. He talked to the characters on the screen as if they were real. I think in some ways this was wrong of Ma, but in other ways it was probably a form of escapism for her too.It probably helped her cope with reality, and with all the questions Jack would have asked if he had known the truth at a younger age.

 

In The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, Christopher has only a few relationships. With his father, his rat, (Toby) his mother, and his counselor from school, Siobhan. He and his parents never touch because Christopher doesn’t like human contact. For instance, to show affection they touch fingertips, as this shows minimal contact. This is very unlike Jack and Ma, as they always show affection by contact. Christopher has a good relationship with his father at the start of the book, because he lives alone with him.

 

Christopher has another relationship with his counsellor and helper at school, Siobhan. Although we never see Siobhan, he speaks of her often. Christopher and Siobhan have a reasonably strong relationship. She is the one who persuades him to write his book in the first place. I think that Christopher and Siobhan’s relationship is similar to Jack and Ma’s relationship, because Siobhan is the one who Christopher turns to when he has any questions or queries. He never confides in his parents, and would rather confide in Siobhan.

 

Christopher and his Father have a strong relationship until quite late on in the book. His father has lied to him about his Mother dying, because she had run away with another man. This lie was the easiest form of escapism for his father; I think he wanted to try to escape from the embarrassment of being left by his wife for another man. This lie was a lot like Ma’s lie to Jack – they both only lied to make life easier and better for their children. Even if the children don’t understand this at the time, I think they will when they’re older.

 

When Christopher finds out he has been lying by finding letters written by his mother in his father’s room, he runs away. He goes to find his mother without telling his father. His relationship with his mother used to be a good, kind and caring one, but due to her leaving, this relationship obviously ended. Nearing the end of the book, this relationship ends up strong again, while his relationship with his father falls apart.

 

 

In my third book, The Kite Runner, there are two main different types of relationships, one being parental, and the other friendship. In my opinion, the parental relationship between Amir and his father, “Baba”, is the most important. Amir wants full attention from his father, but he seems to fail every time he tries to get this. But on the other hand, his best friend (and servant’s son) Hassan is adored by Baba, and Amir is secretly extremely jealous of this. Amir takes part in a Kite Running Tournament to try to improve him and his father’s relationship. He wins, and I think that the relationship improves from then on, but not drastically. From then on Amir lives a guilty troubled life because he betrays his best friend Hassan. He fakes thievery and doesn’t help him when he is being attacked and raped by boys in an alleyway. Baba and Amir (bringing his guilt with him) leave Afghanistan for America. From then on they live a secluded quiet life until Baba dies.

 

In my opinion I think there is tension throughout the book between Amir and Baba. As Amir’s mother died during childbirth, I think this could be a main reason why the relationship is strained. But also I think it is because of the high expectations Baba has for Amir. Baba is a very successful man, and wants Amir to be the same, but Amir and Baba see the world in different ways. Rahim Khan, Baba’s friend, tells him, “children are not colouring books, you don’t get to fill them in with your favorite colours,” I think this is very true. Even as Amir grows up, he turns out not to want to be a doctor, or a lawyer like Baba would like, but a creative writer instead.

 

Like my other two books, there is a lie behind this relationship also. Hassan and Amir have an unbreakable friendship, as they have grown up together. Baba treats them both equally. This had always angered and confused Amir – he couldn’t see why he wasn’t treated with more affection. Near the end of the book, Amir finds out that Hassan is actually his brother, and that Baba had been with another woman. Amir feels lied to and betrayed by everyone. I think that if Baba had still been alive when Amir found this out, he would have been in quite a similar situation to what Christopher was in.

 

Ma, Christopher’s father and Baba all lied for the same reasons – first, for their own benefit. All of them had errors they wanted to try to forget. But secondly, as a child it would have been so much more difficult for Amir and Hassan, as well as Jack and Christopher, if they had known the truth. Therefore I think that the relationships in these three books are very similar. All three of them chose the easiest escape they had. All in all, I think they made the right decisions, even if it affected the bond they had with their children.

 

 

Difficulties:

 

I have decided to write about some of the difficulties the characters in my book had to go through in their everyday lives. Some of these difficulties are less substantial than others, but even so, each character goes through some suffering.

 

                I couldn’t choose in Room if Ma or Jack had a more difficult life. I understood that Ma had been abducted at a young age and had been held captive and raped for a huge part of her life by Old Nick, but I still think that Jack had just as much of a traumatic experience. Jack grew up, in his eyes, having a normal, content childhood in Room. He was actually missing out on the most substantial part of his life. He had to live off the bare minimum, and for the majority of nights he spent in room, he had to sleep in a wardrobe.

 

                I think the worst part of this is that Jack thought this was an ordinary life.  He had no idea that there were other people alive never mind that their lives were much more superior to his. Jack also had to leave Room – and I think this was his biggest difficulty. He had to leave a life that he had had for the first few years of his life. When he went to his new life it was filled with unknown people and things. At first, Jack was unable to cope with this. However, slowly but surely I think he was beginning to understand how the world works and how to interact with people also.

                

                Christopher, as well as his mother and father, in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, go through their own difficulties. These difficulties aren’t as serious as the difficulties that the characters in Room went through.  In the way Christopher writes, he makes it seem like the world depends on his problems being resolved. In reality they are only his problems and no one else’s.

 

                Christopher’s parents have had to try to raise Christopher. This probably proved to be very difficult, and I think Christopher was the reason his mother and father were driven apart. After his mother left, his father was left alone to take care of him. I’m sure this wasn’t easy. Christopher goes through problems that no one else would understand. He thinks differently to everyone else. Because of his disability, he doesn’t understand how other people think. It must be tough for him to try to explain the reasons for his actions quite regularly to other people, and he even finds explaining this hard. He doesn’t understand sarcasm, and he never lies. This is a bit like Jack. Because Jack has been with Ma in Room, he doesn’t understand how people react to things. And he doesn’t understand how to interact with other people, so even though their difficulties are so dissimilar, in some ways they are very alike.

 

                In The Kite Runner, I think that Amir went through the most difficulties. Most of these, in my opinion, were completely his fault, but some were just unlucky. Firstly, his mother died in childbirth, so he was left motherless. He had to grow up with a very distance father. Secondly, he had formed a strong jealousy over his best friend Hassan, which led him to betray him by not helping him when he most needed help. To forget this memory, he then betrayed Hassan again by framing him. These proved to be the biggest mistakes of his life and as war starts in Afghanistan, he moves away, trying to leave these memories behind.

 

                Amir’s biggest difficulty is living with regret. Amir had to go through most of his life feeling guilty and ashamed for what he had done to Hassan when Hassan had always been such a kind and loyal friend. As he got older, he ran into more difficulties when his father died, and as he found out unknown things about his past.

I do think what Amir did to Hassan was appalling, but Amir tries to redeem himself when he goes back to Afghanistan to find Hassan’s son, Sohrab. Here he also gets badly beaten up by the bully who had beaten up Hassan. Bravely he stands up to him, showing how much he has grown up since he was in Kabul before. This book goes in three main stages in my opinion – Amir, as a child in Kabul, Afghanistan; Amir as a young man, in America; and then Amir, back in Kabul Afghanistan, grown up, as a man. The difficulties that Amir went through are different to the difficulties any of the characters in my other books went through. I think they are his own personal problems, but they are very serious. Instead of there being one main difficulty, there are plenty of small ones that seem to just keep coming. Even so, out of all the characters in my three books, I think Jack led the most difficult life.

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion:

 

Last year, I remember speaking to the 4th form students and hearing all about the dreaded Extended Essay. It sounded daunting, incredibly long and altogether just a nuisance to write. Then I began reading my books, and I enjoyed each of them greatly. So when I began to examine the books to a further extent I didn’t find it as difficult or boring as I had first expected. I’m not saying that the extended essay was a joy to write and not a hassle, but it certainly was more enjoyable than I had previously thought.

                I really enjoyed all three of my books. I was especially fond of Room because it is based on a true story. This lured me in and made me feel for the characters in Room more than the other two books. I’m glad that having to do this essay made me read these three books because I’m not sure if I would have read them otherwise.