How do references to classic works of literature help shape the narrative structure and character development in “The English Teacher”?
The English Teacher by Lily King is a story fuelled by the traumatic event occurred in our main characters life- Vida, who is an English teacher at Fayer Academy, and its sub-conscious influence on her relationship dynamics and manner including familiar, romantic, motherly and social relationships whilst suffused with an intriguing domestic drama.
This story begins in October 1979 where Vida and her son Peter are getting ready for the day however we receive a frightening imagery immediately at the start of the novel That she had not killed him in her sleep was still a great relief of every morning thus far showing her anger and resentment towards Peter, her fifteen year old son. Peter is the product of her traumatic event- her rape, causing her to have no affection or closeness towards him. They have lived on the school campus in a small house isolated from the world around them.
Tom is widower and a father of three children as well as the romantic interest, we are told that Tom and Vida have been dating for months. It is clear that Tom is head over heels in love with Vida and consequently asks her to marry her right on that morning in her house, however Vida doesnt feel the same towards him alas this doesnt stop her from accepting the marriage proposal. She married Tom not out of love but for the need to give Peter a normal life Tonight theyd go home to a regular house on a regular street. (7)
Vida has given herself the sense of control of her life over the years, as far as appearances go, to the extent of emotionally detaching herself from any people close and co-existing with he, including her son, her colleagues, Tom and his family. They all perceive Vida as a mature, analytical, well-composed and wise woman
The references to other literature throughout the novel come from the literary works of Thomas Hardy -Tess of dUrberville and The well beloved. As the story proceeds our main character, Vida is shown to be having parallels to Tess and Hardys method of writing
It is shown that she compares characters from the novel with her new family,
Vida shows a deep hatred towards Tess when teaching her students the novel Tess of dUrberville, even if it is known as her signature novel. She has taught the novel for 14 years to the point where she knows the novel by heart. She has no sympathy towards Tess, claiming that reading Tess was torture (page 38) and sees her as an overly na?ve, peony-mouthed girl who is buffeted by series of impossible coincidences. She cared more for the Industrial Age described and shown in the book, Vida marvelled at her students attachment to Tess by until the end of the book, Tesss passing causing emotional heartbreak on them.
We learn that Vida spends majority of her time engrossed in books from an early age, to no surprise she became an English teacher. However, Vida is so absorbed by books to this extent of causing her to lose grip of reality it startled her, how easily reality could slip off her shoulders (111), analysing every scenario which happens to her and the people around her like a book character/scene. This is evident when she has an argument with Tom in the kitchen after a quarrel between her and his oldest son, Stuart.
At this point of stage, Vida is clearly intoxicated and not in her best mindset, showing hostile behaviour alongside morbid humour. You might as well give him a shotgun so he can blow his head off. The argument was regarding Stuarts method of coping with his mothers death- Mrs. Belou- he uses Taoism as a way of detachment to life and its occurrences and seeing meaningless in remaining fixated on the thought of death. Vida hates this way of living, calling the people who practice it cowards living in an illusion of mirrors and smokes. This angers her greatly, she calls herself a humanist - very different beliefs compared to the Taoism, her justification for her hostile manner towards Stuart is Someone has to stand up to this Buddhist bully. (119)
Vida Is convinced that Stuart has no idea of what he speaks of throwing big words and hoping it lands somewhere(118). One can say that she is being too harsh and unnecessarily cruel as her main objective seems to be to shut him down and come out victorious no matter the cost, even after Tom tried to ask her to let him be. Regressing to the fight in the kitchen, Tom becomes frustrated with her as she is finishing his sentences in a smug demeanour as if she has deciphered him to his core.
Stop looking at me with that smirk like you can see all around me, like Im a character for you to analyse. You dont have to be a goddamn English teacher all the time. Just be yourself. (120)
This of course offends her, being an English teacher is a major component of Vidas identity. That is all she know how to be and how to pursue the world, she struggles to be a loving and good mother to Peter and now she has to take in the role of being a step-mother, which she is not ready ending up causing chaos and more disfunction into the household. Her interactions with Toms children are unpleasant, awkward or hostile. Taking up the place of Mrs.Belou is too much pressure for her, she doesnt want this married or family life.
Chapter nine is a dream sequence, Vida is the one dreaming.