Chapters 21 and 22

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Last Updated March 25, 2024.

Chapter 21

The last days of the term are the happiest days for Braithwaite since he left the R.A.F. He and Gillian are growing closer, and they go to visit her parents. The Blanchards are reasonably affluent white people who raised their daughter to be independent and strong. Though they are not immediately comfortable with the man their daughter loves, they are pleasant and do not try to change Gillian’s mind. Most people are asked the hypothetical anti-prejudice question: “Would you allow your daughter to marry a black man?” and do not really have to answer it. The Blanchards have to ask it and answer it, and Braithwaite feels sympathy for them.

They enjoy a pleasant enough lunch and ask about his current and future plans, but there is still no real connection between Braithwaite and Gillian’s parents. Afterwards, while they are smoking in the lounge in front of a fire, Mr. Blanchard mentions Aruba, a place Braithwaite knows well. They recall many things, but the one outrageous thing they both remember is the lines of men waiting to visit the state-sponsored prostitutes. The island was full of men from all over, coming to work at the oil refinery, and there were no accommodations for their wives. The men lived in barracks with community bathrooms, dining rooms, and other living spaces. Their one opportunity to escape, even for a short while, was to visit the prostitutes shipped over to the island every two weeks. Neither man ever visited the brothel, but both had seen the lines and it is their discussion of this shared experience that creates a connection between them.

Finally Gillian’s father talks plainly about his and his wife’s feelings about the relationship between Braithwaite and their daughter. He speaks clearly about their hopes that this relationship would fade, until Gillian brought him home to meet them. Now, he feels he must outline the dangers of such a marriage, knowing there will be difficult times ahead for them as a couple. He candidly explains that he would not have called himself a prejudiced man, but now he is forced to admit that he would prefer to break up this relationship if it were possible, knowing how difficult things might be for his daughter. And if the couple has children, there will certainly be problems, for they will not belong in either world.

Braithwaite is tired of these kinds of ridiculous arguments and reminds Mr. Blanchard that, years ago, Blanchard could not guarantee his wife that their children would be healthy and happy, either. If he and Gillian marry and have children, they will just have to take their chances, as the older couple had. Mr. Blanchard asks them to wait another six months to be sure of their feelings and to experience life together as a couple so they will understand the ramifications of such a venture. He then assures Braithwaite that both he and his wife like him and, if he will be joining the family, they will be friends.

Chapter 22

Near the end of the term, representatives from local industries come to Greenslade to recruit workers. Though many students take the proffered jobs, others have more ambitious plans and have already found more promising situations to begin their lives as adults. At first, all the students spoke eagerly of their plans to move on and have some money to spend, but as the time to leave approaches they grow more subdued and even frightened. Braithwaite knows, though, that they are frightened of jumping into the stream of adulthood but are not frightened of the stream itself. They use their last days in school to make sure everything gets said and asked and answered; in the last week there is not one absence.

Formal lessons are impossible in the excitement of these last days, so the class simply talks. Braithwaite is thrilled with many of the views they express about the relationships between people. Braithwaite reminds them that without barriers, people from all places can make their way to Britain, and these people of different races, religions, and color require nothing more from them than the common courtesies one would offer any stranger to their country.

Clinty comes into Braithwaite’s classroom one morning during recess, looking smug and announcing that Gillian will not be returning to Greenslade after next semester. Braithwaite is surprised but does not show it. Clinty said Gillian must be through “slumming,” since she told the Old Man that she could not commit to returning past the next term. Braithwaite notes Clinty’s obvious dislike for Gillian, which explains why she feels the need to tell him this news. He feels as if she came for some other reason but did not disclose it.

The Christmas party is a school-wide feast prepared by the senior girls in the Domestic Science Room with the assistance of the senior boys. The meal with the younger children goes well, but when the seniors serve the juniors, Braithwaite is dismayed at what he sees. The younger students are wasteful, rude, and disrespectful. At six o’clock, the seniors have their party, so they leave to get dressed for the festivities. Braithwaite meets Pamela in the hallway and she asks if he will dance one dance with her tonight; he assures her he will, though “no jiving.” She promises to bring a special record for him and asks if he will call her Pamela instead of “Miss Dare” tonight. He will.

As the staff greets the students at the door, they are pleased with the transformations. All of them look their best, but the shining star of the evening is Pamela Dare. She looks sophisticated and dazzling, and Gillian exclaims that she is a beautiful girl. When Pamela comes to greet them, Gillian is struck with a bit of jealousy and takes Braithwaite’s hand, not caring who notices. It is a “very happy occasion,” and everyone is enjoying themselves.

Braithwaite dances with Gillian whenever he can, and when he dances a waltz with Clinty she remarks that he is “really gone” on Gillian. Braithwaite acts innocent and they both laugh. Pamela takes a record to Weston and soon “In the Still of the Night” is playing and Braithwaite is dancing with her. It is a lovely dance, and afterwards she asks if she can come see him sometime. He tells her she is welcome to visit whenever she is able.

The last day of school is full of good-natured teasing about the night before, and Braithwaite realizes that while some of these young people will be unexceptional, most will be productive members of society. One of the girls stands and offers a thank-you to Braithwaite on behalf of the group for treating them as grown-ups, with respect and dignity, despite their behavior. The class erupts into applause, and Pamela rises with a package in her hands. She walks to the front of the room with great dignity, but after Braithwaite takes the package from her she quickly turns around and goes back to her seat. She is not quite an adult in all ways yet.

Florian had slipped into the room when he heard the cheering, and now he and his newest teacher look at the label on the package: To Sir, With Love. Below it are the signatures of every student in the room. Florian looks at him and smiles, and Braithwaite looks over the headmaster’s shoulder at his students.

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Chapters 19 and 20