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Boy by Roald Dahl

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Kim van der Toorn

on 4 May 2015

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Transcript of Boy by Roald Dahl

Early life (Boy!)
- boarding school

Royal Air Force
- Crashed (first work: A Piece of Cake)
- C.S. Forester

Family life
- Children

Roald Dahl
The portrayal of adults
"Any reader of Dahl's autobiography, Boy, will see that Dahl's writing for children bears unmistakable marks of his childhood memories, particularly of his early school years.
Obviously, terrible Miss Trunchbull is only a slight exaggeration of how little Roald saw (or, rather, how old Roald remembered) his own headmaster at Llandaff Cathedral School
, "a giant of a man with a face like a ham and a mass of rusty-coloured hair that sprouted in a tangle all over the top of his head."" (Petzold 190).
Visual summary of
Roald Dahl's works
Children’s fiction
: The Gremlins (1943), James and the Giant Peach (1961), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964), The Magic Finger (1966), Fantastic Mr Fox (1970), Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator(1972), Danny, the Champion of the World (1975), The Enormous Crocodile (1978), The Twits (1980), George's Marvellous Medicine (1981), The BFG (1982), The Witches (1983), The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me (1985), Matilda (1988), Esio Trot (1990), The Minpins (1991), The Vicar of Nibbleswicke (1991)

Children’s poetry:
Revolting Rhymes (1982), Dirty Beasts (1983), Rhyme Stew (1989)

Adult novels:
Sometime Never: A Fable for Supermen (1948), My Uncle Oswald (1979)

Adult short stories:
Over to You: Ten Stories of Flyers and Flying (1946), Someone Like You (1953), Kiss Kiss (1960), Switch Bitch (1974), The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More (1977), The Best of Roald Dahl (1978), Tales of the Unexpected (1979), More Tales of the Unexpected (1980), Two Fables (1986), The Collected Short Stories of Roald Dahl (1991), The Great Automatic Grammatizator (1998), Skin and Other Stories (2000), Roald Dahl: Collected Stories (2006)

The Mildenhall Treasure (1946), Boy: Tales of Childhood (1984), Going Solo (1986), Memories with Food at Gipsy House (1991), Roald Dahl's Guide to Railway Safety (1991), My Year (1993)

The Bells of Hell Go Ting-a-ling-a-ling (1966, unfinished), You Only Live Twice (1967), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), The Night Digger (1971), Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

presented by
Kim van der Toorn

by Roald Dahl

Memory and evidence
Letters and pictures throughout
The Cane and Embodiment
"Many pages in Boy are devoted to unpleasantly detailed accounts of adult men caning children - an obsessive theme in Dahl's work. [...] It is difficult to avoid the feeling that Dahl [...] enjoys writing about violence, while at the same time condemning it. In Boy the confusion is neatly demonstrated" (144)

"In the next paragraph he contradicts this reasonable statement: "There is nothing wrong with a few quick sharp tickles on the rump. They probably do a naughty boy a lot of good." No evidence is produced to substantiate this" (144).
Autobiographical pact: "Some are funny. Some are painful. Some are unpleasant. I suppose that is why I have always remembered them so vividly.
All are true.

Not autobiography?

"[T]hroughout my young days at school and just afterwards, a number of things happened to me that I have never forgotten" (Dahl 7).

Memoirs of Childhood
Mrs. Pratchett
"Her name was Mrs Pratchett. She was a small skinny old hag with a moustache on her upper lip and a mouth as sour as a green gooseberry. She never smiled. She never welcomed us when we went in, and the only times she spoke were when she said things like, 'I'm watchin' you so keep yer thievin' fingers off them chocolates!' Or 'I don't want you in 'ere just to look around! Either you
our or you
out!'" (Dahl
Headmaster Coombes
"The Headmaster is the only teacher at Llandaff Cathedral School that I can remember, and for a reason you will soon discover, I can remember him very clearly indeed. His name was Mr Coombes and I have a picture in my mind of a giant of a man with a face like a ham and a mass of rusty coloured hair that sprouted in a tangle all over the top of his head" (Dahl
The Matron
"The Matron was a large fair-haired woman with a bosom. Her age was probably no more than twenty-eight but it made no difference whether she was twenty-eight or sixty-eight because to us a grown-up was a grown-up and all grown-ups were dangerous creatures at this school. [...] Looking back on it now, there seems little doubt that the Matron disliked small boys very much indeed. She never smiled at us or said anything nice, and when for example the lint stuck to the cut on your kneecap, you were not allowed to take it off yourself bit by bit so that it didn't hurt. she would always whip it off with a flourish muttering, 'Don't be such a ridiculous little baby!'" (Dahl
Captain Hardcastle
"[Captain Hardcastle] was slim and wiry and he played football. [...] His legs were as hard and thin as ram's legs and the skin around his calves was almost exactly the colour of mutton fat. The hair on his head was not ginger. It was a brilliant dark vermillion, like a ripe orange, and it was plastered back with immense quantities of brilliantine in the same fashion as the Headmaster's. The parting in his hair was a white line straight down the middle of the scalp, so straight it could only have been made with a ruler. On either side of the parting you could see the comb tracks runnig back through the greasy orange hair like little tramlines" (Dahl
Miss Trunchbull

"Miss Trunchbull, the Headmistress, was something else altogether. She was a gigantic holy terror, a fierce tyrannical monster who frightened the life out of the pupils and teachers alike. There was an aura of menace about her even at a distance, and when she came up close you could almost feel the dangerous heat radiating from her as from a red-hot rod of metal. When she marched - Miss Trunchbull never walked, she always marched like a storm-trooper with long strides and arms aswinging - when she marched along a corridor you could actually hear her snorting as she went, and if a group of children happened to be in her path, she ploughed right on through them like a tank, with small people bouncing off her to the left and right" (Dahl
Wish-fulfilment and Subversion: Roald Dahl's Dickensian Fantasy Matilda
"Boy often shows "the helpless and innocent trying to withstand a cruel authority." Dahl said of the incidents that he has "never been able to get them out of [his] mind" It is inevitable that he should use his writing to resolve the more unsatisfactory elements and to reexperience the happier ones. With the vividness of his recall, Dahl captured much of what it is like to be a child in the unhappy scenarios. His books were not only cathartic to him but are of use to children who are, or have been, caught up in similar situations. "Whatever a child reads, voluntarily, can be helpful to him." Books choosen by the child may" "satisfy a subconscious need." One might well expect Dahl to be used by bibliotherapists exploiting his therapeutic qualities with children" (Culley 67)
"The trouble with Dahl's world is that it is
black and white
- two dimensional and unreal - and that he has a habit of elevating personal prejudices, ordinary likes and dislikes, into matters of morality" (Rees 144).
Dahls Chickens: Roald Dahl

Dahl tempts us to believe that all hairy men are horrid and foul, and capable of all the things Mr. Twit is capable of later in the book. By using vivid descriptions of villains and melding their physical characteristics with their personalities, Dahl forges an association of one with the other" (Culley 61).
Roald Dahl -"It's About Children and It's for Children" - But Is It Suitable?
"It is astonishing how little one remembers about one's life before the age of seven eight. I can tell you all sorts of things that happened to me from eight onwards, but only very few before that" (Dahl 22-23).
"I am writing these words in 1984" (Dahl 14).

Emotional issues, and the lack thereof

[W]ith no penicillin or any other magical antibiotic [...] the patient had to fight to survive. My father refused to fight. He was thinking, I am quite sure, of his beloved daughter, and he was wanting to join her in heaven. So he died. He was fifty seven years old" (Dahl 20).
"The predominantly negative view of adults in Matilda cannot be explained exhaustively by referring to the author's childhood experiences. They reflect an attitude toward the child which may seem typical of the "anti-authoritarian" 1970s and 1980s but which, in fact, can be traced back to Rousseau and the
The notion that children are basically pure and innocent and need to be protected against selfish, exploitative, and power- obsessed adults who will abuse, neglect, and corrupt them is most obvious in Dickens but pervasive throughout in nineteenth-century literature
" (Petzold 191-192).
"It's hard not to be struck by the
incompleteness of this account
, which appears in the first volume of Dahl's autobiography. After spending just two paragraphs on this most catastrophic of events, Dahl moves matter-of-factly on, at greater length, to lighter fare. Since Dahl "
had always found it impossible to talk to anyone about his feelings
," and during difficult times tended to say "nothing of
what he was going through" (Treglown 147), it should not be surprising that Boy avoids discussing the psychological effects - short- and longterm — of Harald's and Astri's deaths" (Schultz 467).
"I can remember very clearly the journeys I made to and from school because they were so tremendously exciting. Great excitement is probably the only thing that really interests a six-year-old boy and it sticks in his mind" (Dahl 23).
Interaction narrating I and narrated I:
"In 1920, when I was still only three, my mother's eldest child, my own sister Astri, died from appendicitis. She was seven years old when she died, which was also the age of my own eldest daughter, Olivia, when she died from measles forty-two years later" (Dahl 20).

"Even today, whenever I have to sit for any length of time on a hard bench or chair, I begin to feel my heart beating along the old lines that the cane made on my bottom some fifty-five years ago" (Dahl 145).

"When I was about nine, the
half-sister got engaged to be married" (Dahl 127).

Bestemama and Bestepapa

"The sweet-shop in Llandaff in the year 1923 was the very centre of our lives. To us,
it was what a bar is to a drunk
, or a church is to a Bishop" (Dahl 33).
Ideological issues
"Did they preach one thing and practise another, these men of God? And if someone had told me at the time that this flogging clergyman was one day to become the Archbishop of Canterbury, I would never have believed it.
It was all this, I think, that made me begin to have doubts about religion and even about God.
If this person, I kept telling myself, was one of God's chosen salesmen on earth, then there must be something very wrong about the whole business" (Dahl 146).
Connection with fiction
Cadbury & Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
"It was lovely dreaming those dreams, and I have no doubt at all that, thirty-five years later, when I was looking for a plot for my second book for children, I remembered those little cardboard boxes and the newly-invented chocolates inside them, and I began to write a book called
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
" (Dahl 149).

The Cane

That he puts canes in the hands of such deeply loved characters
is worth noting, for both in Boy and “Lucky Break,” his story of how he came to be a writer, Dahl goes on at great length about his and his friends’ canings at the hands of assorted Headmasters. “The fear of the dreaded cane hung over us like the fear of death all the time,” he explains, “That cruel cane ruled our lives.”
Absorbing the cane into the characters of Wonka and Grandmother (in The Witches) would appear to strip it of some of its fearsomeness
” (Schultz 480-481).

Works Cited

Culley, Jonathon. Roald Dahl – “It’s About Children and It’s for Children”—But Is It Suitable?”
Children’s Literature in Education
. 22.1 (1991): 59-72. Web.
. 26 Apr. 2014.

Dahl, Roald.
Boy: Tales of Childhood
. London: Penguin Books, 1984. Print.

. London: Jonathan Cape Ltd., 1988. Print.

Petzold, Dieter. "Wish-fulfilment and Subversion: Roald Dahl's Dickensian Fantasy
" Children's Literature in Education. 23.4 (1992): 185-193. Web.
. 26 Apr. 2014.

Rees, David. "Dahl's Chickens: Roald Dahl"
Children's Literature in Education
. 19.3 (1988): 143 - 155. Web.
. 26 Apr. 2014.

Schultz, William Todd. Finding Fate’s Father: Some Life History Influences on Roald Dahl’s
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

. 21.4 (1998): 463-481. Web.
. 26 Apr. 2014.

Quoted is a part of the assigned reading by David Rees. What do you think? Read the exerpt from
again in pairs and discuss.
David Rees:
The confusions and contradictions are evident in Boy. "This is not an autobiography," Dahl writes in its preface; "an autobiography is a book a person writes about his own life and it is usually full of all sorts of boring details." But Boy is an autobiography full of details -none of which is, in fact, boring; it is a realistic, but
, account of Dahl's childhood and adolescence: it omits, for example, because he has a child reader in mind, everything to do with his teenage emotional and sexual development.
The comment about autobiography being "usually full of all sorts of boring details" is a sweeping generalization, the purpose of which is, presumably, to suggest to the reader that autobiography is a big word that might deter him or her from buying the book, so it won't be used"
(Rees 143).
Can you suggest any other explanations for this statement in the preface?
"I am awfully lucky to have something like this to refer to in my old age" (Dahl 82).
His childhood is not the only explanation for this...
First of all: It is a great book!
You should all go read it.

Dahl was greatly affected by his
childhood memories
, and therefore used them in his writing.

There is varying distance between
narrating and narrated I

There are recurring themes of
the cane
and the
portrayal of authority figures as evil

Thanks for listening!


Ideological issues related to time and space
Mother, upon hearing about the children being brutally beaten in school, goes to Headmaster Coombes.

"About an hour later, my mother returned and came upstairs to kiss us all goodnight. 'I wish you hadn't done that,' I said to her. 'It makes me look silly.'
They don't beat small children like that where I come from,
' she said. 'I won't allow it.'
'What did Mr Coombes say to you, Mama?'
He told me I was a foreigner and I didn't understand how British schools were run
,' she said.
Full transcript