Sample Essay on Kestrel for a Knave

Topics: Charles Dickens


” The effect of him descending into darkness is symbolic of him going down into the dark pit. It is literally and metaphorically a low point in the story and is almost a diametric opposite to the moment where Billy climbs the tree “caterpillar like” to reach the freedom, symbolised by the Kestrel. Throughout the story Hines appears to associate rural areas with good things, and urban areas with bad things. Good things, such as Billy finding his Kestrel, the beautiful setting, Billy being happy and having decent conversations with adults, all occur in the rural setting.

It is never actually suggested by Hines that Billy’s school is in an urban area, but with the amount of grief he suffers there on a regular basis, we are led to believe that it is an urban setting. Hines seems to link urbanisation with entrapment and nature with freedom. It is a recurring theme throughout the book and possibly reflects his own personal opinion on each environments way of life.

Hines’ intentions seem clearly indicated in the contrasts between Billy’s relationships with adults in urban and rural settings.

In the town, Mr Porter does not treat Billy with respect, “they’re all alike off that estate,” but in the countryside the farmer he talks to does treat him with respect, “the farmer laughed and ruffled the hair of the little girl who was standing just behind him. ” I believe the previous line is symbolic of the farmer ruffling Billy’s hair, rather than the little girls, possibly for his persistence in wanting to find the hawk’s nest.

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When in the town, at the recreation ground, the fence shakes Billy off, but in the countryside, Billy climbs up a large tree and a wall successfully.

I think Hines is perhaps commenting on our ability to spoil natural environments and what industry has done to nature. The weather in these two areas also contrasts. The weather where Billy lives is described solemnly, “The sky was a grey wash, pale grey over the fields behind the estate, but darkening overhead, to charcoal away over the city. ” The area in the countryside is described as the opposite, “The sun was up and the cloud band in the East had thinned to a line on the horizon, leaving the dome of the sky clear.

” This scene conveys Billy’s happiness at the time and the use of the word “dome” gives me the impression that nature is almost sacred. I think that Hines intermingles the two settings partly because this is what the environment he describes is actually like, but also because he wants to show a conflict between them. He juxtaposes them to accentuate how bad the urban environment is for its inhabitants and especially for children like Billy. Similarly to A Kestrel For A Knave, David Copperfield’s teachers and his experience of schooling are presented in a negative light.

Mr Murdstone and his sister Miss Murdstone teach David, along with his mother. Dickens begins in first person narrative as David describes his time at school as “the bane of both our lives. ” He uses other words such as drudgery and misery to reinforce the picture of his protagonist’s feelings. Similarly to Hines, Dickens uses solemn words such as “death” to convey the feelings of his main characters and also uses negative words to give the reader a sense of what is approaching in the text.

However, these negative words and images are used directly to comment on David’s feelings, whereas Hines usually links them to the environment as an indirect reflection of how Billy might be feeling. Hines might be doing this to insinuate that Billy’s misery is due to the society and environment in which he has been bought up. Dickens introduces the episode with the Murdstone’s using a kind of flashback, just as Hines does. However, their purposes are different. Hines uses the flashback to give more depth to Billy’s character and to set up the juxtaposition between rural and urban environments.

Dickens uses the technique in a more conventional way. It is as if he is settling us into the story and then moves us into the present tense to make the memory more vivid. It almost gives a hallucinatory quality to the writing. The Murdstone’s teaching methods are unorthodox by 21st century standards as they expect David to memorise whole topics. They are also very similar in their actions, “I trip over a word, Mr Murdstone looks up. I trip over another word, Miss Murdstone looks up. ” The short sharp sentences used create suspense and help the reader to sympathise with David for having to suffer their treatment.

The almost mechanical nature of their actions reinforces Dickens’s image of them as predatory animals. The Murdstone’s remind me of both Mr Gryce and Mr Sugden, as they fail to give David a chance, “He does not know it. ” I think David, as he says himself, is “apt enough to learn,” just as Billy is, but the pressure that he is put under makes him doubt himself and his ability, “for I am very stupid. ” Yet those words also take on some irony, as we are aware of the adult narrative voice as a kind of extra layer when David is speaking.

David finds it difficult to concentrate and the Murdstone’s teaching methods don’t allow him to prove his ability, similarly to Billy in Mr Gryce’s class. Dickens again emphasises David’s mood using negative words such as hopeless, despairing and miserable. He even describes Miss Murdstone as a predator, “lying in wait” to discipline David and his mother, and the Murdstone’s as two snakes focusing on a “wretched young bird. ” Both Billy and David have no friends and David is banned from any recreation as the Murdstone’s think that all children should be separated.

The Murdstone’s have a completely negative effect on David, and he describes himself as “sullen, dull and dogged. ” Similarly to Billy, he feels alienated from his mother, though for different reasons. David’s mother, unlike Billy’s, makes the effort but David is alienated from her due to the Murdstone’s regime. Both boys are separated from their fathers for different reasons – David’s father is dead and Billy’s father has left home. David claims that his only saving grace is the books, which his dad left him, “the Vicar of Wakefield, Don Quixote, and Robinson Crusoe came out, a glorious host, to keep me company.

” I think that David reads these books to escape from reality and to imagine a better place somewhere else. It develops his imagination. He even states that he put Mr and Miss Murdstone into all the bad parts of his books. “This was my only and my instant comfort. ” He imagines, “the boys at play in the churchyard. ” This emphasises how lonely he is and how he yearns for a friend. I think that Billy reads the book about the Kestrel for the same reason – to escape from his life. It gives both the boys hope.

The books, in both cases seem to be commenting on the idea that young people will learn and develop, almost in spite of the adults rather than because of them. Mr Murdstone seems to enjoy toying with David and having control over him, “you must be far more careful today than usual. He gave the cane another poise. ” I think he does this to intimidate David just as Mr Gryce did to Billy. He even winks at his sister just before going upstairs to cane David, “I saw him wink, solemnly, at his sister. ” This aspect of his character makes him different to Gryce.

David is caned frequently, similarly to Billy, and he even believes Murdstone enjoys it, “I am certain he had a delight in that formal parade of executing justice. ” David even begs him to stop, but he won’t, “He beat me then, as if he would have beaten me to death. ” It is very obvious that Dickens portrays the Murdstone’s in such a bad light so that the reader dislikes them and sympathises with David. Hines also makes it clear that we are not meant to like Gryce or Sugden and like Mr Murdstone, these two teachers are almost presented as caricatures, rather than characters with any depth.

As he is getting beaten David bites Mr Murdstone. He is very brave to do so and it shows how much Murdstone has affected him. On the other hand Billy doesn’t stand up for himself against his teachers. There is more of a sense that he has given up on his schooling and this will reflect the age difference between the two characters. After biting Mr Murdstone he leaves, “and the door was locked outside, and I was lying, fevered and hot, and torn, and sore and raging. ” The repetition of the word “and” emphasises that it is a child speaking.

David claims that he begins to feel “wicked” and his face almost frightened him. Perhaps after committing this act, he feels as though he is turning into Murdstone himself. I think that each writer creates sympathy for their main character by emphasising their loneliness. Throughout the story Billy is never mentioned as having any friends, he gets into fights and doesn’t seem to enjoy being at school. He also has a dysfunctional family and neglectful mother. From the first few pages of A Kestrel For A Knave, we know how lonely Billy is.

Hines’ chilling description of his house and surroundings reinforce this. The repetition of the words empty and grey convey how alone he is. Hines even describes the recreation ground, a place of play, almost like a prison, “the lamps went out, the gate was locked. ” We can sense Billy’s mood throughout the story from just the opening few pages. Even at the end of the story, Hines uses the same dull description as Billy revisits every place that affected him that day, “a row of derelict houses, a derelict cinema. ” There are different kinds of loneliness suffered by each main character.

David feels like a prisoner, trapped under the regime of the Murdstone’s. In the much shorter episode describing David’s education at home Dickens manages to give an equal, even epic, scale to David’s misery. He claims five days there; occupy the place of years in his remembrance. “The ringing of bells, the opening and shutting of doors, the murmuring of voices. ” The repetition of “ing” gives a melancholy and musical note to the writing and accentuates how bored he felt, noticing and remembering even little things.

“I was a prisoner,” clearly shows how alone he felt, especially as he was unable to mix with other children. Ironically Billy is able to mix with other children, but is unwilling to initiate a friendship. Dickens also emphasises his main characters mood using sombre words such as “gloom, fear and remorse. ” Both writers present all teachers in a negative way, to enable the reader to sympathise with the main character. Both get caned and treated unfairly. The writers also use symbolism to get across thoughts and feelings.

The fact that both Billy and David are separated from their father helps the reader to empathize with them. However, on occasions, both writers perhaps over play their descriptions of the teachers’ behaviour, possibly to gain more sympathy for their main character. By Ravneek Gahunia 1 Show preview only The above preview is unformatted text This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Barry Hines section.

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Sample Essay on Kestrel for a Knave. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from

Sample Essay on Kestrel for a Knave
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