Class

Right from the opening line of the novel class is an important theme.

It is clear that Alec is rich and privileged.

He immediately refers to himself as “an officer and a gentleman”, and the rest of his narration shows that he is the son of an Anglo-Irish landlord, who grew up on an estate in Ireland.

This is contrasted with Jerry, who is the child of a poor family and later a labourer for a tenant farmer.

Social status

Johnston uses their close relationship to show however, that class does not matter to true friends.

Johnston employs imagery to symbolise the differing status of the boys.

The first thing Alec notices about Jerry is that his feet are “bare, dust-grey, and with soles obviously as hard and impervious to stones, thorns, damp, as were the soles of my expensive black leather shoes”.

This juxtaposition of Jerry’s bare feet with the expensive shoes Alec wears shows the difference in class between the two characters immediately.

Johnston also shows class related cultural differences through their dialogue and the colloquialisms used by Jerry.

Different rank

While Jerry becomes a labourer Alec travels to Europe, supposedly to further his education. And while Jerry has to make do with a “tinker pony”, Alec receives a “chestnut mare” that the groom comments cost a “queer price”.

Their experiences of life due to their differing classes is shown throughout.

This class distinction continues even when the men join the army. Here Jerry is separated from his friend by rank as well as the class barrier of their childhood.

Johnston uses the characters of Alicia and Major Glendinning to show class distinctions and the attitudes surrounding them which were common in the early 20th century, especially before World War One.

Alec’s mother is furious about his friendship with “that boy” from a lower class and Major Glendinning refers to their relationship as an “unsuitable friendship”.

Alec’s unfortunate piano teacher is discarded by Alicia because she cannot bear him “Dragging his disease and poverty into my drawing room.”

Johnston shows Major Glendinning’s harsh language as he describes his men as “Illiterate peasants, rascals and schoolboys”. Both characters believe themselves to be superior to others.

Unfair treatment

It is this strong belief in the inherent inferiority of people like Jerry that fuels their snobbery and unfair treatment of people who are less affluent.

Even Frederick - who does not seem as unpleasantly snobbish as his wife - agrees that class distinctions are “a sad fact, that one has to accept young” and advises Alec to “look at the advantages … Once you accept the advantages then the rest follows.”

It is very apparent that these advantages were only available to the upper classes.

This can be seen when Alec goes to ask Major Glendinning for Jerry’s compassionate leave.

Glendinning is playing bridge and drinking whiskey and soda from a “well-polished glass” in front of “a coal fire in the grate”.

This contrasts with the cold, damp, uncomfortable living conditions of the poor men who were actually fighting on the front line.

Move on to Video
next