Editor's Choice

Explain the last lines of Chapter 12 in To Sir, with Love.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The incidents of chapter 12 represent a real turning-point in Rick Braithwaite's relations with his pupils. At the beginning of the chapter, he takes them on a field trip to the Victoria & Albert Museum. Despite a particularly unpleasant experience of racial intolerance on the London Underground, the visit is a positive experience for all concerned. Although, even on the train, it's notable that Pamela is vocal in sticking up for Mr. Braithwaite after two old ladies mutter their disapproval of a black man (Braithwaite) going with a white woman (Gillian).

Braithwaite is greatly encouraged by the enthusiasm of his pupils during the field trip. But even he can have no inkling of what's about to follow. The next day, when Rick walks into class, the children all greet him with one voice:

Good morning, Sir.

Rick's momentarily astonished; this has never happened before. He stares at the children in amazement before he returns their greeting. As he makes his way over to his desk, he gets an even bigger surprise: there's a large vase of flowers sitting there waiting for him. Some of the flowers are a little bedraggled, and it's clear that they've come from the children's gardens and window boxes. But Rick doesn't care; to him, it's the most beautiful bouquet in the world, and he's deeply moved by the gesture. The children's warm greeting and their lovely, thoughtful gift demonstrate that, at long last, they've accepted Mr. Braithwaite and taken him to their hearts.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This is actually a hugely significant moment in the novel that marks real progression in terms of the narrator's battle to reach his students and to teach them. Having had so many problems with them and having had to be very strict, he finally sees that they are beginning to respond to him, but not just out of fear or dislike, but through a genuine appreciation and understanding of what he is trying to do in teaching them, as the gift of flowers that lies on his table demonstrates. Note how the narrator describes these flowers:

In the centre of my table was a large vase in which was neatly arranged a bunch of flowers. Some were slightly bedraggled; all had evidently been collected from the tiny backyards and window boxes of their homes. For me this was the most wonderful bouquet in the world; it was an accolate bestowed collectively by them on me.

Note how, in spite of their bedraggled appearance, the narrator sees these flowers for what they represent: an "accolade" given to him by them, which explains why he is able to say thank you with such a "full heart." He appears to have finally gained their confidence, respect and love.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial