(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Tom Brown is the son of a country squire who believes in letting his children mingle not only with their social equals but also with any children who are honorable. Before Tom left home to attend Rugby School, therefore, he had the advantage of friendship with all types of boys. This training would be of value to him at the famous school. When Tom alights from the coach on his arrival at Rugby, he is met by Harry East, a lower-school boy who has been at the school for a half year. East gives Tom good advice on how to dress and how to take the hazing and bullying that every new boy must endure. The two boys become immediate friends and are to remain so throughout their years at school.

From the first, Tom loves the school. He conducts himself with such bravery, both on the playing field and in dormitory scuffles, that he soon gains popularity among the other boys. One of the sixth-form boys, a leader among the students, makes such an impression on Tom with his talks on sportsmanship and kindness to weaker boys that Tom is almost a model student during his first half year. He does join in some mischief, however, and is once sent to Dr. Arnold, the headmaster. By and large, however, he and East profit by the lessons they learn in classes and in games.

At the beginning of the second half year, Tom is promoted into the lower fourth form, a large and unruly class dominated by bullies and ruffians. Formerly he had liked his masters and tried to please them; now he begins to believe that they are his natural enemies, and he attempts to do everything possible to thwart them. He cheats in his lessons and shirks many of his other duties. He and East disobey many rules of the school and often taunt farmers in the neighborhood by fishing in their waters or killing their fowl. All in all, Tom, East, and their friends behave in very ungentlemanly ways.

Nevertheless, Tom and East also do some good in the school, for they are basically boys of sound character. Both come from good homes and received good early training. They finally decide that something must be done about “fagging,” the custom under which the younger boys are expected to run errands for the older boys. Each older boy is allowed two fags, but some of them make every younger lad in the school wait on them. One particular bully is Flashman. Tom and East decide to go on strike against Flashman’s domination; they lock themselves in their room and defy his demands that they let him in. After attempting to break the door down, Flashman retreats temporarily, but he is not through with the rebels. For weeks, he catches them and tortures them at every possible chance, but they hold firm and persuade some of the other lower-school boys to join them in their strike. At last,...

(The entire section is 1128 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Despite Hughes's tendency to be didactic, his reticence about sexual matters, the remoteness of the time and school depicted in the novel,...

(The entire section is 173 words.)