Chapter 2 Summary
Kathy reflects on why she would have helped Tommy and decides it was part of a phase she was going through in which she tried to challenge herself every day. But she all but forgets the incident before Tommy stops the flow of children ascending and descending the stairs to thank her. Given that they are thirteen at the time, this is anything but acceptable behavior. However, Tommy does his best to express his gratitude. Kathy wonders why the children pick on Tommy. When Kathy asks her friends, Ruth finally responds that although the pranks are cruel, Tommy needs to change his own attitude.
Tommy does not even contribute art to the seasonal exchanges. The exchanges are important at Hailsham because it is the only time the children can acquire personal possessions, such as a work of art to put on the wall. However, Tommy is not as artistically skilled as the other students are. Kathy reflects that the teasing may have started when their “guardian,” Miss Geraldine, once noticed Tommy’s paintings. Tommy’s painting was not as skillful as that of his peers, so he painted childish paintings to hide his weakness. Miss Geraldine felt compassion for Tommy and decided to praise his work, which invited the resentment of the others. The exchanges may have stigmatized an untalented artist like Tommy. However, later when Kathy is Ruth’s carer, Ruth praises the art exchanges as being what made Hailsham so special.
The pranks never lead up to physical abuse, perhaps because Tommy is a gifted athlete. However, they are often awful and even go as far as wiping Tommy’s toothbrush in the toilet. Yet over time, Kathy notices that the pranks begin to wane, and over the space of a month they stop altogether. On the field, when Tommy lines up for a kick and a student imitates him, no one else joins in. When people try to get a rise out of Tommy, he rises above it. It seems that Tommy has changed his attitude.
Kathy feels curious and decides to investigate. She thinks there is something in Tommy’s eyes that was not there before. When she confronts him one day in the lunch line, Tommy admits that things have changed for him. Kathy presses him for more detail, and he shares that Miss Lucy explained that it is alright if he does not feel creative. However, Kathy cannot believe this and walks away from Tommy. Tommy catches up and insists that it was true and promises to tell her if she will meet him at the pond after lunch.