Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The novel depicts a constant struggle between the powerful and the disenfranchised. The wealthy manipulate and dominate the poor. Aunt Theodora, in giving money to the Aubreys, expects subservience from Clare; the other children at school look down on the Aubrey girls not because of their different values, as Rose believes, but because their clothes are shabby; the wealthy Mrs. Phillips is amazed that the poverty-stricken Clare and Constance can block her desires to have Rose read her fortune. The children are twice oppressed: As Rose points out, “Most adults are rude to children, and many rich people are rude to the poor. We were children, we were poor, so we were victims of a double assault.” Clare and Piers treat their children as understanding and feeling people, but others do not. Cousin Jock is shocked that Rose, a child, would dare to touch his piano even though he knows that she has long been studying music; Mrs. Phillips, underestimating Rose’s intelligence, tries to bribe her with chocolate. The more strongly placed in society, the rich and the adults, impose on the weaker.

The most obvious example of oppression, however, is found in the relationship of the men and women. In the novel, Piers controls the family finances, often gambling away their meager resources, leaving Clare to scramble to pay the debts. She must accept Piers’s conduct even though she is obviously better suited to the management of the household budget. Constance is...

(The entire section is 565 words.)