Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

William Plomer’s “The Child of Queen Victoria” vividly illustrates race and class prejudices that dominated the historical period in which he sets his story. The tale’s ironic theme suggests that human nature remains the sole constant in issues concerning social justice; despite the individual’s desire to eradicate inequality, individual pride in righteousness will cause one to feel superior and therefore unequal to those whom one wishes to befriend. In addition, Plomer suggests that human nature, with all its flaws, resists redemption or transformation by man or woman alone. He further suggests that people are—by their very natures—destined to conquer one another, and implies that although such a truth is terrible, people can rise from their state of pathos and approach tragic nobility only when they fight what must be a losing battle against their natural, evil impulses.

At the beginning of the story, MacGavin and his wife appear pompous, prejudiced, and insensitive. Motivated by greed and insecurity, they must isolate themselves in their imagined superiority. Their notion that Africans are subhuman may be attributed to common white racial prejudices; however, their belittling of Frant—a fellow white man who gives them valuable free labor—proves that they have developed their prejudices even beyond those in vogue at the time.

Frant initially appears to be superior to the MacGavins in questioning the racial ideas with which he was reared. He is able to communicate honestly with Africans, who recognize his sincerity. One elderly African man, for example, pays Frant mock homage by calling him “Child of Queen Victoria.” MacGavin cannot believe Frant allows an...

(The entire section is 697 words.)