“The Darkness out There”, by Penelope Lively
“The Darkness out There”, by Penelope Lively is a short story about Sandra, a young girl, growing up. At first she is young and innocent, and thinks the world is separated into categories where people’s appearances determine what kind of people they are. As the story progresses, we see the transition from her innocence to her allowing herself to face reality, where an experience has an effect on her life, helping her to grow up and leave her stereotypical behaviour and child-like views behind.
At the beginning of the story we are met with a lively tone, as Sandra is described as walking through flowers, giving us a pleasant image as she is walking towards a cottage to visit an old lady, Mrs Rutter. This is our first encounter with a stereotypical image, as we are told, “She’s a dear old thing, all on her own, of course. A wonky leg after her op. ” This makes us imagine a fragile, sweet old lady, which is how Lively wants us to see her, as this is how Sandra imagines her.
The journey, which is described in the opening paragraphs, is important in giving us a sense that the story is going to be an important symbolic journey for Sandra, and we as the reader, are invited to accompany her on this journey. She describes the lady who runs the Good Neighbour’s Club, which she is a member of as, “Pat had a funny eye, a squint so that her glance swerved away from you as she talked. ”
She then goes on to say, “Are people who help other people always not very nice looking? This is an interesting quotation, as it is another stereotypical view of a person, and we can sense her immaturity and lack of knowledge of the world, by the way she speaks. The story goes on to explain about the Good Neighbour’s Club, and we are told that the notice in the library has the slogan “Adopt a Granny. ” “And the jokey cartoon drawing of a dear old bod with specs on the end of her nose and a shawl. ” This drawing reinforces the stereotypical images of old people and gives us an insight into how Sandra views them. As Sandra’s journey to the cottage continues, we are told about Packer’s End.
It is described to give the feeling of a dark and almost enclosed place, which gives us a sense of fear, and we realise that this place is going to play a large and important part in Sandra’s journey, from the way it is described. We are told of Sandra’s thoughts, as she walks by, and they are those of stories which had been told of a German plane going down in the area during the war, and the aircrew being killed. “There were people who heard them talking still. Chattering in German on their radios, voices coming out of the trees, nasty. Creepy.
People said. ” This shows Sandra’s fears which she has clearly had since she was very young. As she walks on, we are told, “She kept to the track”, which makes us think of her rushing on, in the light, carefully so as to keep away from the danger and her fears. At this point in the story we are first introduced to the idea of fairy stories, which crop up frequently in the story, and symbolise Sandra’s innocence. She explains that before she had known about the German plane, Packer’s End had brought her fear in the form of wolves, witches and tigers.
This shows Sandra’s dream world, and the lack of reality in her thoughts. We are also told that she liked going home, away from Packer’s End when she was younger. “It was cosy to think of Packer’s End, where you weren’t. ” This tells us that Sandra tends to run away from her fears as small children often do where they can be protected from danger by the cocoon their parents provide for them. Through the story, Sandra has a tendency to daydream about her wishes and hopes for the future. “One day, this year, next year, sometime, she would go to places like on travel brochures and run into a blue sea.
She would fall in love and she would get a good job. ” These dreams which she describes are all unrealistic, and this shows Sandra’s innocence of the world. As Lively is describing Sandra hurrying along towards the cottage while thinking about her dreams, she suddenly stops mid-sentence and says, “He rose from the plough beyond the hedge. ” This is important in showing us Sandra’s fears. As the reader, our minds immediately turn to rapists, murderers, and ghosts, which were all described by Sandra herself a moment ago.
This leads up a false trail and builds us up for an imagined attack. However, we find out it is a boy, whom she knows is called Kerry, who will be her partner in helping Mrs Rutter. It is very important the way in which Sandra describes Kerry, because this is another stereotype. She tells us that he doesn’t come from a good part of town, and also says, “Some people you only have to look at to know they’re not up to much. ” This implies that although she doesn’t know him very well, Sandra has taken one look and stereotyped him as she does with everything.
However, we are then told, he offers her a part of his Aero bar, which contrasts with the image Sandra has given us of him, and he shows himself to be quite pleasant. On our first meeting with Mrs Rutter, she seems to fit into Sandra’s stereotypical image of how she would be. “A creamy smiling pool of a face. ” This gives us a soft and comforting approach. However, Lively has also hidden a sense of menace in the words she uses to describe the old lady, as we are told, “her eyes snapped and darted”, which is quite unnerving, as if she is eyeing the children up in an unpleasant way.
The same thing is done with the description of the house, as it gives the impression of a stereotypical decorative old lady’s cottage, but looking deeper into the description, the place is in fact a bit shabby and almost unpleasant, for example, “there was a smell of cabbage. ” Mrs Rutter we find, stereotypes her visitors into typical male and female roles by telling them which jobs to do. She asks Kerry to mow the lawn, while Sandra cleans the cottage. Lively gives a description of Kerry as Sandra views him. We are told, “His chin was explosive with acne; at his middle, his jeans yawned from his T-shirt, showing pale chilly flesh.
This description portrays Kerry as unpleasant, and Lively does this so we will feel the same way as Sandra does towards him at first glance. As Sandra is cleaning, we get the impression that the cottage is not very well cared for. For example, “The cupboard, stacked with yellowing newspapers, smelt of damp and mouse. ” This contrasts with Sandra’s stereotypical views of old people being neat and tidy. As Sandra and Mrs Rutter are alone, the old lady tries to be friendly and make conversation. Sandra asks about a photograph and Mrs Rutter confirms that it is of her late husband who was killed during the war.
This is a crucial piece of information in showing us later, why her feelings against the Germans were so strong. As Sandra walks outside to offer Kerry a chocolate, she drifts off into another daydream. “One day she would have a place in the country. A little white house peeping over a hill, with a stream at the bottom of a crisp green lawn and an orchard with old apple trees and a brown pony. ” This dream is nothing like reality and shows that Sandra’s whole existence is based on dreams and she also has innocence, as if she wants to escape real life.
As Sandra and Kerry talk, we are told they do so by leaning over a fence. This is an important metaphor as it shows the barrier between them, which has been built due to their differences in the way they both view life. An example of this is shown as Sandra’s thoughts show us her dislike of dirt. “A rim of grime under her nails could make her shudder”, whereas Kerry simply shrugs it off by saying, “Nothing wrong with a bit of dirt. ” This gives us a clear example of how Sandra views life. She wants to shut out reality and live her life as if in a fairytale. Kerry however, is down to earth.
He may not have as many dreams as Sandra but he is enthusiastic and realistic in his views of life. This is shown by the jobs they each want to have. Kerry has a job lined up at a garage, but Sandra wants to do secretarial work. These are stereotypical roles, and again, Sandra’s choice is shut off from reality. An important quotation is when Kerry, talking about Mrs Rutter, admits, “I don’t go much on her. ” Sandra disagrees, but as we find out later, Kerry turns out to be a better judge of character than Sandra thinks. As Sandra walks back to the cottage, we are told, “Mrs Rutter watched her come in, glinting from the cushions.
The word “glinting” makes us think of something sharp and dangerous and has a sense of hidden terror in it. However, as Sandra continues with her work the old lady seems pleasant enough and makes conversation. When Kerry comes in, he is described as, “The boy was bringing in the filled coal-scuttle and a bundle of sticks. ” As the reader, we are given the impression that he is seen as inferior to Sandra. “His shirt clung to his shoulder blades, damp with sweat. ” This gives us an unpleasant view of Kerry, which is how Sandra sees him.
When Kerry brings up the subject of the German plane, we think this is just typical behaviour of a young boy to show interest in such things. Sandra also plays up to a stereotypical role of a young girl, in that she continues to try to stop him talking about it. “Don’t start on that,” said the girl. “It always gives me the willies. ” This shows that she is still reluctant to face up to reality and she wants to remain in her dream world. Lively has referred to Kerry and Sandra as “the boy” and “the girl” at various points in the story, but she does it to a much greater extent here, to emphasise the differences between them.
Up until now, Mrs Rutter has seemed to more or less fit into a stereotypical old woman role, but in this part of the story we start to see changes. She describes the plane crash as “good riddance to bad rubbish”, which implies that she didn’t think of it as people losing their lives, and she sees it as perfectly acceptable. Kerry continues to ask questions, but what shocks the reader most is the fact that Mrs Rutter seems quite comfortable and almost proud of admitting she played a part in this incident.
We are told, “She chuckled”, when asked if she had seen the plane come down, which is not the kind of behaviour you would expect from a stereotypically sweet old lady As she continues to describe what happened, we find out that she was more concerned about the awful weather conditions than the fact that people had lost their lives. “It was a filthy wet night. ” She then tells the children something which confirms that Mrs Rutter does not fit into the stereotypical old woman role. She says, “We didn’t know if it was one of ours or one of theirs. ” This means that they would have to check first before they bothered to go and get help.
This is the first moment where we can sense Kerry’s shock. He says, “But either way… “, as if to say it didn’t matter if they were German or British, they were still people. Mrs Rutter however, does not sense his feelings and carries on with her story and even admits to herself and her sister cheering when they found out the plane was German. We are told, “The boy stared at her over the rim of the cup, blank-faced. ” He shows that he cannot believe what he is hearing and is completely shocked that this woman could behave in such a way when people’s lives were at stake.
The old lady tells the children that she found that one of the men was still alive, but badly injured and trapped in the broken plane, but she did nothing to help him and left him while she went back to the cottage, because of the awful weather conditions. “It was bucketing down, cats and dogs. ” At this point, as the reader we can feel the discomfort which the children are feeling. “The boy and girl sat quite still, on the other side of the table. ” Mrs Rutter said, “That was eighteen months or so after my hubby didn’t come back from Belgium. ” Her eyes were on the girl; the girl looked away.
This tells us that as a female she was looking to Sandra for sympathy, in the hope that she would also feel that the German pilot deserved to suffer. However, the girl clearly does not agree, and we can see that by turning away she is still trying to shut out reality, but she is also starting to face up to real life. As Mrs Rutter continues with her story it becomes more horrific, as she tells us she went back to have a look the next day, when it was convenient for her, and she describes it as if it was almost entertainment to keep seeing if he was still alive, and even though she had opportunities to do so, she refused to help him.
She admits that the pilot must have only been about twenty years old, which hits Kerry hard, as he realises he could have been in the same situation back then. We are told, “The boy’s spoon clattered to the floor; he did not move. ” As the reader, we are also deeply shocked as we think about the words which the young pilot had been saying as he crashed. “Mutter, mutter”. This is German for “mother”, and shows us a picture of a young boy who is dying and calling out for his mother. The way in which Mrs Rutter tells of her experience is as if she expects some support from the children.
Her bitterness is also clear, as she continually talks about her husband being killed, and gives us the impression that leaving the pilot to die was her revenge on the Germans. The language she uses is also not what would be expected from a stereotypical old lady. “He must have been a tough bastard. ” When she gets round to telling the children that people came to take souvenirs from the plane, Kerry has had enough. We are told, “The boy had got up. He glanced down at the girl. “I’m going”, he said. “Dunno about you, but I’m going. This is important in showing that he has taken initiative and taken a stand against Mrs Rutter. He also proves that his initial judgement of her was correct and Sandra’s was wrong. As the children leave, Mrs Rutter says, “I’ve got a sympathy with young people. ” This statement is full of irony, considering she left a young person to die and did not show a hint of sympathy towards him. If this were true she would have tried to help.
The story ends with Sandra’s thoughts, as Kerry continues to talk about the pilot. He uses words with real feeling, for example, “I won’t ever forget him, that poor sod. This makes Sandra fell admiration towards him for making a stand at something he felt strongly about, and also showing sensitivity and sympathy which she didn’t think was possible for him to do. As they pass Packer’s End Sandra thinks. “There were not, the girl realised, wolves or witches or tigers and there were not chattering ghostly voice. Somewhere there were scraps of metal overlooked by people hunting for souvenirs. ” This quotation shows us that Sandra has allowed herself to face reality and this has helped her to suddenly grow up, and realise that childlike views and fairytales are not part of real life.
She suddenly views everything in a different light, including Kerry. “He had grown; he had got older and larger. His anger eclipsed his acne, the patches of grease on his jeans, his lardy midriff. You could get people all wrong, she realised with alarm. ” This shows us that she now knows that to stereotype and categorize people before getting to know what they are really like is wrong because, at first glance your judgement can be very wrong, and she has now learnt this. An important quotation is, “The darkness was out there and it was a part of you and you would never be without it. Ever. Firstly, this shows us that Sandra’s lovely world, which she had been looking at through rose tinted spectacles had come crashing down, and she has also recognised that bad things in life exist in human beings, in the way how people choose to live, being kind or evil.
She has learnt that the world is not as comfortable and as safe as she thought and problems cannot be solved by running away from them, as she used to as a child. The last words in the story are, “She walked behind him, through a world grown unreliable, in which flowers sparkle and birds sing, but not everything is as it appears, oh no. This implies that she now realises that she cannot trust everyone, and you cannot know what to expect in life, and cannot have stereotypical ideas about everything. The title of the story, “The Darkness out There”, doesn’t seem to fit in with the cheery tone we are met with at the beginning of the story. However, by the end, we realise that the title is given as a hidden threat in the wonderful world which Sandra lives in. Although she doesn’t realise it at the beginning, the darkness is waiting for Sandra to face up to reality, and realise that she cannot shut out all of the bad things in life and keep running away like a child forever.
Sandra has realised, by the end of the story that it is wrong to have pre-conceptions of people when they first meet. She has experienced this first hand with her initial judgements of both Kerry and Mrs Rutter, which turned out to be very wrong. The beginning of the story shows Sandra as young and naive, but by the end she has learnt valuable lessons and has finally allowed herself to come to terms with reality, and this has helped her to grow up and become more mature, with more understanding of life and more experience.
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