A key word in the title The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ is “secret.” Adrian Mole reveals his secret thoughts and desires in his diary. In this way, major themes of adolescence unfold, observed not objectively by a third-person narrator but subjectively through the eyes and words of one of literature’s teenagers, in the tradition of Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Holden Caulfield. Adrian’s struggles, while occurring in a specific time, place, and culture, have universal appeal for adolescent readers and a humorous treatment of sometimes bleak themes that will be appreciated more fully as the reader grows older. This is a book that can be read again with pleasure at different stages of life.
A major coming-of-age theme is searching for, and finding, an identity of one’s own, separate from parents and family. Adrian’s decision to become an intellectual is the beginning of that search for identity. His criticism of his parents’ lifestyle and values is a universal symptom of adolescence. The class difference between Adrian’s family and Pandora’s family is well illustrated, not only by the fact that Pandora owns a pony while Adrian reports on unpaid utility bills and his father’s unemployment but also by the choice of summer vacation each family makes: Adrian’s family goes off to Scotland or Skegness, while Pandora vacations in Tunisia.
Separation and divorce, and the stress and pain that they cause to family life, are issues that, while no longer unusual...
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While The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ falls within the genre of young adult coming-of-age novels, its specific setting in Thatcher’s England and the working-class status of Adrian’s family place it within the political context of Sue Townsend’s adult fiction. She has written a number of plays and novels that are humorous social commentaries focusing on England’s lower classes. It was the enormous success of her Adrian Mole diaries, however, that brought her to the attention of the public. By the mid-1990’s, the novel had sold more than five million copies in England and had been translated into twenty-two languages.
Some critics in the United States have complained that the distinctly British flavor of Townsend’s humor, as well as some specifics of vocabulary and political context, limit the universality of her themes when translated to an American audience. Others have countered that Adrian’s Britishisms, rooted in his place and his class, are grasped and appreciated even by young adults and that they add to the humor of the situations.
The diary format of the novel emphasizes the individuality of Adrian Mole’s singular point of view. The social realism of the setting and the author’s subtle wit contribute to the work’s literary merit. The universality of the adolescent themes is the basis for the enormous popularity of the novel.