Tom's Midnight Garden

by Phillipa Pierce

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Describe Tom's conversation with Uncle Alan in Tom's Midnight Garden.

Tom's conversations with his Uncle Alan in Tom's Midnight Garden include discussions of proper sleep for children, lying, and especially the nature of time. These conversations are highly unsatisfactory for Tom because he does not connect well with his uncle, and they see the world from very different perspectives.

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In Phillipa Pierce's Tom's Midnight Garden , Tom goes to stay with his Aunt Gwen and Uncle Alan when his brother comes down with the measles. Tom is not overly pleased about this, for he does not connect well with his aunt and uncle. Tom actually has several conversations...

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with his Uncle Alan, usually resulting in frustration on both sides. Let's look at some of these.

When Tom gets up to get a snack at night (even though he does not really want anything), he runs into his disapproving uncle. Uncle Alan, at this point, insists that Tom must be in bed for ten hours because all children need ten hours of sleep. He makes Tom promise that he will observe this “reasonable” request. Tom has no choice but to do so.

While Tom does not particularly like his uncle, he still needs to ask important questions of an adult. After his first trip into the midnight garden, Tom asks Uncle Alan if “some special lies might be right, sometimes?” Tom is wondering if it is all right to withhold information or even to deny the presence of something. He cannot quite express himself, and of course, Uncle Alan has no idea what he is really talking about. Uncle Alan replies that of all lies, “this is surely the least justifiable,” and he scolds Tom for even doubting about it.

Even though Tom's conversations with Uncle Alan have been highly unsatisfactory so far, he tries again, for Tom is very curious about the nature of time. He wants to know what time is like, so he asks Uncle Alan. He also wants to know how a tree can be fallen one day and standing the next, for Tom has seen such a thing in the garden. Aunt Gwen, of course, immediately resorts to the idea of a fairy story or a dream, and Uncle Alan never really answers his questions. Tom again gives up and goes back to writing his letter to his brother, Peter.

Some time later, Tom speaks to Uncle Alan about the clock, wondering why it is in the hallway instead of in Mrs. Bartholomew's apartment and why the previous owners of the house didn't take it with them. Uncle Alan explains that the “clock couldn't be moved without damaging it.”

Tom tries again to ask Uncle Alan about the nature of time and how time works. Uncle Alan goes into a long lecture on the various theories of time, but Tom doesn't truly understand. Tom brings up the notion of angels, but this makes Uncle Alan angry, for he cannot see what angels have to do with scientific theories. Again, Tom and his uncle fail to connect. Their perspectives are just too different. Later in the day, Uncle Alan apologizes to Tom and tries to explain time yet again, in a complex manner complete with diagrams. Tom just wants to cry, for he doesn't understand his uncle one bit. Tom, however, begins to pursue his own ideas quite apart from theories and proofs, and this makes Uncle Alan rather upset again. Tom doesn't mind, though, for he is beginning to see something important.

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