Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The primary theme of Hudson's autobiography is man's relationship with nature, seen not as adversarial but rather as nurturing to body and spirit. By presenting selected episodes from his childhood and youth, Hudson clarifies his own experiences in nature. Besides the wondering, sensitive, and thoroughly appealing protagonist, few characters receive more than brief sketches. Hudson's father, a kindly but somewhat incautious man, is recalled primarily for his courage, having shown himself fearless in the face of human and natural dangers. His mother, who receives greater attention, appears warm and supportive. Neither parent believes in punishing children; they seldom interfere with the children's activities, and Hudson praises their laissez-faire attitudes. Among his siblings, Hudson feels closest to a younger brother, and this attachment, he says, prolongs his own childhood. Yet he receives more guidance from his independent older brother Edwin, who introduces him to the work of Charles Darwin.

Besides family members, numerous other characters are briefly sketched, but they usually have only small parts in single episodes. Among the more memorable ones, a beautiful young woman, Margarita, the children's nursery maid, contracts tuberculosis, and on a visit to her home following her death, Hudson cannot bear to see her body. Of the three tutors who help briefly with the children's education, Mr. Trigg remains the most memorable. A former actor with a split personality, he entertains adults with mimicry and endless collections of stories but becomes tyrannical in the classroom. On one occasion, he goes too far by using his riding crop on the children and is dismissed in disgrace. In another sketch, an English neighbor, Mr. Royd, a man with a pleasing manner and endless schemes for acquiring wealth,...

(The entire section is 739 words.)