Sir himself tells the reader that he is an outsider on many levels, especially with regard to race and geography. What are three very distinct aspects of Sir’s heritage which make him unique?
Certainly, the England of To Sir, with Love, published in 1959, depicts a London much, much different from this city that is now a mixture of so many races. But, in 1959 the races that lived in the British colonies had not yet come to England as Braithwaite has when he was in the service at the R.A.F. Station at Hornchurch in Essex.
1. So, in Chapter One, when Mr. Braithwaite rides the bus on his way to his interview as a teacher, a woman refuses to sit beside him and remains standing, instead. Then, when Braithwaite arrives in London's East End, his romantic notions of the city of Chaucer and Shakespeare are dispelled as he views the squalor of the area.
2. In Chapters Four and Five, narrator Braithwaite flashes back to his attempts to obtain a position as an engineer. On his first interview, the receptionist reacts somewhat angrily when Braithwaite identifies himself. In his interview, Braitwaite demonstrates his competency; however, the four men who conduct the interview are "faced with a certain difficulty." They explain further,
"Employing you would mean placing you in a position of authority over a number of our Enlgish employees, many of whom have been with us a very long time, and we feel that such an appointment would adversely affect the balance of good relationship which has always obtained [sic] in this firm."
As he departs, Braithwaite realizes that his name must have caused the people at this firm to have assumed that he is white. Disappointed in his youthful ideal of the "British Way of Life," Braithwaite realizes "it is wonderful to be British--until one comes to Britain." Having been brought up British, he was taught to appreciate classical and contemporary English literature. But, he has learned that outside the sphere of the colonies, the Colonial must
meet the indignities and rebuffs of intolerance, prejudice, and hate....The Briton at home takes no responsibility for the protestations and promises made in his name by British officials overseas.
Braithwaite is "British, but evidently not a Briton."
3. When he accepts the teaching position at Greenslade School, and he first meets with his large class of forty-six, Braithwaite asks them to read aloud, but few can do so without faltering. The girls are dressed rather inappropriately in revealing clothing. While others read, one boy inflates a nude doll. Then, in Chapter Eight, Braithwaite returns to his room to discover that one of the girls has throw a used sanitary napkin in the grate, attempting to burn it. He is appalled at this unseemly behavior,
"There are certain things which decent women keep private at all times, and I would have thought that your mother or sisters would have explained things to you...Only a filthy slut would have dared to do this thing...."
This culture shock is one that Braithwaite has not expected. Before his arrival in East London, he has had no idea of the sordid lives of such Britons. Educated in fine schools, Braithwaite has associated with proper Englishmen and has had no exposure to the lower class. These students are as foreign to him as he is to them.