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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 624

Although the literary style of The Black Arrow might make it difficult for younger adolescents, the story’s quality rewards the effort. As a young adult, the hero must shape his existence in a world of conflicting loyalties. He confronts a series of interconnected choices, all of which can be subsumed into the choice between love and violence. Southern England, the novel’s setting, is fraught by war and local unrest. All the people Shelton respects and loves are threatened by John Amend-all: his foster father, his spiritual adviser, and even Shelton’s best friend, a soldier in Brackley’s service. Curiously, Shelton himself is excepted from the grievance list; vengeance is claimed in his name.

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Caught on the horns of a dilemma between friendship and suspicion, Shelton vacillates between the two extremes. Another young man, “John Matcham,” begs Shelton to help “him” escape from Brackley and forces Shelton into action. As the two steal away, they become friends, although Shelton frequently complains about Matcham’s physical weakness and sensitivity. Kindness to others is not weakness, however, which the novel points out. Matcham, really a pampered young noblewoman in disguise, is easily the equal of Shelton. First of all, she is just as brave, vowing to stay by him in spite of all danger. Further, she is more compassionate; he is frequently ruthless, as for example, when Shelton surprises and kills one of Amend-all’s followers with a hunting knife.

As the reader might expect, Shelton is little more than a boy when he first helps Matcham escape; he learns about caring from Matcham and matures as a result. When the two are angry at each other, they come to blows and decide to go their own ways; afterward, ashamed of himself, Shelton agonizes about his friend’s safety. At first, Shelton offers to leave his crossbow; when Matcham refuses to use it, Shelton decides to swallow his anger and continue along with his friend. This loyalty to his friend is the first stage in Shelton’s growth, clearly intended for the novel’s young adult audience.

Shelton’s choices are difficult, particularly when they are compounded by a secondary theme in The Black Arrow , that of disguised intentions. In a very real sense, Brackley’s true motives and character are always hidden behind a disguise. For example, although he murdered Shelton’s father and usurped his domains,...

(The entire section contains 624 words.)

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Critical Context