Please summarize "A Special Occasion" by Joyce Cary.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Irish author Joyce Cary's "A Special Occasion," a little boy (Tom) is in his nursery—a playroom for children of the upper classes. We can assume that he comes from a wealthy home: not only because he has a nanny, but also because he is dressed in very nice clothes. He is described as...

... a dark little boy, aged five, also in a party suit, blue linen knickers, and a silk shirt...

The nanny shows a little girl into the nursery that is also dressed up—in a silk party dress. The little boy pays close attention to his guest for a moment:

Tom, having stared at the girl for a long time as one would study a curiosity, rare and valuable, but extremely surprising, put his feet together, made three jumps forward and said, "Hullo."

The little girl (later identified as Jenny) returns his greeting. As the children come together, they seem to associate in an unusual manner—at least from an adult's standpoint. The little boy runs around the room, hollers ("twanky tweedle") and then sits down to play with his train. The little girl rides his bike around the room, talks briefly to the boy, and then sits under the table to read a book. Both are particularly occupied with what each is doing, but seem satisfied to "play" in this way.

When Nurse returns to the room, she scolds the little boy for being "naughty," in not playing as she believes he should. Imposing her sense of appropriate behavior between children, she tries to make Tom interact with Jenny as she wants him to. She tells him that he is not playing with Jenny as a mannerly boy should—leaving Jenny all alone under the table. He explains that she is not alone—for Tom and Jenny understand that they can be in the same space and share quiet camaraderie; ironically, Nurse (the adult) cannot fathom this sophisticated concept. Nurse tries to force the little boy and he becomes frustrated and angry. When Jenny notes also that he is "naughty," Tom loses control, and the children go after each other:

Tom flew at her, and seized her by the hair; the little girl at once uttered a loud scream, kicked him on the leg, and bit his arm.

Nurse picks the little girl up under her arm, threatens Tom with punishment when his father gets home, and leaves the room. Tom is now beside himself with fury and frustration, and howls for a good five minutes, throwing things about the room, sobbing. Then the door opens...

...and the little girl walked in. She had an air of immense self-satisfaction as if she had just done something very clever. She said in a tone demanding congratulation, "I've come back."

Tom looks at her with tears on his cheeks, sobs (still angry), but begins to play with the train once more. Studying the toy, he suddenly speaks with "surprise and pleased excitement." That quickly, his good humor is restored. Jenny, in the meantime, has daintily lifted her party dress out of the way so as not to crush it, and sits under the table, soon immersed in her book again. Then she...

...gave an enormous sigh of relief, of very special happiness.

It would seem that the children better know how to play than Nurse; they also understand that playing is not defined by one kind of interaction; and Jenny quite simply works things out by returning to Tom (we can assume unnoticed) to continue their play in a way that completely satisfies both children—even if Tom's nanny doesn't understand. But why should she? She is not a child and does not understand how to play.