The central characters of Good Night, Mr. Tom are William Beech and Tom Oakley. When he appears at Mr. Tom's door, Willie is nearly nine, but he looks like a six-year-old. The thin, malnourished boy is covered with bruises and cuts from his mother's beatings. Because of his lifelong abuse, everyone and everything terrifies the boy, leaving him uncommunicative, inept, unable to read or write. He vomits from excitement and wets the bed nightly. Gradually Mr. Tom's kindness and encouragement overcome Willie's fears, and he becomes a happy, normal boy who loves his benefactor dearly. Through association with other children, particularly the lively Zach, he develops friendships for the first time.
Tom Oakley, embittered by the death of his artistic young wife and infant son, William, has been the village recluse for years. Now in his mid-sixties, Mr. Tom agrees to take an evacuee child because "It's obligatory and it's for the war effort." The sickly Willie is more than he bargained for, but under Mr. Tom's abrupt manner lies a kindly heart. As he patiently cares for the youngster's needs, Tom develops a great love for the child, whose companionship fills his lonely life. While helping Willie, Mr. Tom changes his attitude toward other people, acting as the church organist and choir director when Mr. Bush is drafted. To enrich Willie's social life, Mr. Tom opens his home to other children, who find the former recluse to be a good friend.
Willie's best friend, Zacharias Wrench (Zach), is his opposite in many ways. The gifted son of traveling actors, Zach is also an evacuee, staying with kindly Dr. and Mrs. Little. Zach's ebullient personality, extensive vocabulary, and Jewish religion make him an unusual character in the quiet little village. But with his gift for fitting into a group, he soon earns the affection of the village children. Imaginative and enthusiastic, he is a natural leader. His encouragement and admiration of his shy friend's talents in art and acting help Will develop confidence in himself. In spite of his tragic death, Zach's strong influence on his friends remains a positive force.
The Thatcher children also befriend Willie. George Thatcher, a stolid sturdy village boy, dislikes school but has considerable ability in nature study. George teaches Will to enjoy outdoor activities,...
(The entire section is 956 words.)