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Private Peaceful

Style: Good

Attitude: Take Care

This review was contributed by Ben G

Cover of Private Peaceful

Author: Michael Morpurgo

Publisher: Collins

Published in: 2003

Age Range: Young Teens

Period: WWI

Setting: Britain/trenches

Genres:  HistoricalThought-provokingWar


Characters:

  • Tommo: The slightly shy protagonist who follows his fiercely loyal and fearless brother Charlie off to war.
  • Molly: The childhood friend of the two brothers who eventually has a relationship with and marries Charlie.
  • Big Joe: The simple brother of the two boys who clearly love him.
  • Sergeant Hanley: Brutal and vindictive officer who takes an immediate dislike to the brothers.
  • Grandma Wolf: A cantankerous, vicious old woman who is grandmother to the boys. She does not appear very often, yet her character makes a stark impression.
  • Mrs Peaceful: As with the grandmother we do not see her very often yet she makes a firm impression, though for different reasons. She is loyal and protective of the boys despite their flaws.

Synopsis:

Like many other English soldiers in WWI, 'Tommo' Peaceful is too young to fight, however he lies about his age. He spends his time at the trenches in a lonely vigil waiting for an event that occurs right at the end of the story. The passing time, and subsequently the chapters, is marked by a watch given to Tommo by his older brother Charlie who is also at the front. Tommo looks back, while out on the front, to his childhood with Charlie, big Joe, his simple brother and the girl he loves: Molly. Tommo recounts various memories, both happy and upsetting while the watch slowly ticks down. As the time progresses he begins to recount the events on the front; the mutual loathing he shares with Sergeant 'horrible' Hanley and the death of some of his comrades. We learn that Charlie, Tommo's guardian and protector at the front, has disobeyed a direct order from Hanley to stay with Tommo while he is injured on No-man's-land, while fully aware of the dire consequences of his actions.

Notes:

Literary: The book is simply written and could easily be read and an understood by a 10 year old, yet this simplistic style allows the book to flow despite the fact that it touches on some weighty themes. The way in which the passing chapters are marked by the time on the watch also gives the book a rather refreshing air. The first person narrative is also successfully manipulated, providing the reader with a present day feel, rather than the idea of a distant event that took place nearly 90 years ago. General: Morpurgo clearly has an axe to grind. Charlie is killed for 'cowardice and desertion' and the author states that hundreds of other men who were also killed for this reason have not been pardoned. However, despite the fact that his intentions are honourable it gives the story a cynical and depressing feel which is very real to the reader. There are also some rather morbid descriptions of dead soldiers which some would find upsetting, however this all adds to the story's realism.

Family and loyalty: The Peaceful family, with the exception of the vindictive Grandma Wolf, are all very loving. Charlie's love and loyalty to his younger brother Tommo are such that he is prepared to lay down his life for him. The family are also fiercely united around the simple Big Joe, who they all love very much. We see this loyalty on another level as Mrs Peaceful does everything to defend her children.

Modesty and decency: Tommo clearly loves Molly who is 2 years older than him, however she is very much in love with Charlie. In the end she has Charlie's child and she and Charlie are forced to marry. While not too much is made of the relationship Molly's parents who frown upon it are portrayed as selfish and cruel. Religion: The attitude taken to religion is perhaps slightly cynical. Tommo suggests at on point that after the horrors he has witnessed he cannot really believe in God anymore. However, perhaps this too is merely to add to the sense of realism that the author successfully maintains.

“They came pouring out, skittering away over my boots. I recoil in horror for a moment and then set about stamping them to death in the mud. I don't kill a single one. And we see them everywhere after that. Fortunately we have Little Les, our own professional rat-catcher, who is now called upon whenever a rat is spotted, whatever the time, day or night, he doesn't mind. He jokes that it makes him feel at home. He knows the ways of rats, and kills with a will each time, tossing their corpses into no-man's-land with a flourish of triumph.”

Saturday 16th July 2005