Tom's Midnight Garden

by Phillipa Pierce

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How does Tom's Midnight Garden create a strong sense of place in relation to the depiction of childhood?

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In Chapter Three, when Tom first manages to go back in time to the garden as it was at the time of Hetty's youth, instinctively he is attracted to the garden and the sense of possibility that it contains. This is something that is expressed through his plans to make the most of the garden and play in it. Note what he plans to do the following day when he goes to it (this is before he realises that the garden is in the past):

He would run full tilt over the grass, leaping the flowerbeds; he would peer through the glittering panes of the greenhouse--perhaps open the door and go in; he would visit each alcove and archway clipped in the yew-trees--he would climb the trees and make his way from one to another through thickly interlacing branches. When they came calling for him, he would hide, silent and safe as a bird, among the richness of leaf and bough and tree trunk.

Tom's temptation to go out and play is described and this is something that is so powerful in the evocation of place in this novel. The author creates a garden in the past that is the perfect playground for a child, and for vast sections of the novel, that is precisely what Tom and Hetty use the garden for: it is the place of childhood imagination as they play together and have adventures there. Thus the strong sense of place, represented in the garden, is wedded to childhood and imagination.

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For Tom, the garden represents some of the magical qualities that setting can possess in connection to childhood.  On one hand, the garden represents a realm of escape.  From the condition of isolation from home that Tom experiences as well as the pain of seeing his brother ill, the garden is a realm where there is escape into a new world.  Tom is able to parlay this experience into letters that help his brother improve in his own health.  The depiction of the garden is linked to the novel's depiction's childhood, one in which there is escape and a sense of the unknown in the world.  The fact that Tom can enter when no one else can also is a device used in order to create a strong sense of place in the narrative.  This is linked to childhood because its depiction is one in which there is something special or unique to the experience.  Finally, like childhood, the garden is eventually closed off to Tom.  This construction helps to make the garden akin to the depiction of childhood.  In this, a loss of innocence is evident, one in which the transcendent notion of childhood ends up becoming temporal and one in which the individual's awareness of this passing element of childhood makes the garden all the more poignant.  In these example, one can see how Pearce's work is able to create a strong meaning attached to the garden in relation to its depiction of childhood.

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