The Antiwar Message of the WWI Novel Private Peaceful

In the novel Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo, it is self-evident from the beginning of the story that family, guilt and the injustices of war plays central themes in the novel Private Peaceful and Tommo’s life. Family plays an essential role in the novel Private Peaceful because it shows how a family can change and influence someone like Tommo’s life so dramatically. Guilt also plays a critical role in this novel because, without the loss of Tommo’s father, Tommo would have never had to work at an early age or even go to war which saw him lose more people he loved.

The final central theme is the injustice of war which caused Tommo to lose his brother because of an unjust trial and a sergeant with a personal vendetta.

The theme family is interwoven in the novel Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo. In this story, we find out about the admiration Tommo had for his family and how this caused dramatic changes in his life.

During the duration of this novel, it is very clear from an early age that family has affected the way Tommo acts and what Tommo does. On page 127, Tommo says “I can feel I live in his shadow”. This quote clearly shows the pain Tommo felt and the pressure on him to be better than his brother all because of the impression he had that he lives in Charlie’s shadow. In the story, Tommo always seems to take action because he felt that he did not belong; an example of this is him joining the army.

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Tommo joined the army just after Charlie and Molly (his crush since childhood) got married. Even though Tommo was too young to join the military, he still did it so that he could get far away from Molly. Tommo was also given much responsibility at a very young age after the tragic death of his father. Tommo, as well as his brother Charlie, were put to work at a young age to earn money for their family and so that their family could be able to live in their same cottage. If it were not for very dramatic and unexpected changes in Tommo’s life, he would have never had to go to war or work at a very young age, and all of this occurred because of influence from his family.

Guilt was a central theme in the novel Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo. From a young age, Tommo has felt a strong sense of guilt from the death of his father to the death of his brother. At the start of Private Peaceful, the reader learns of the death of Tommo’s father. During the duration of this story, Tommo felt guilty and blamed himself and his cowardice for the death of his father. Whilst everyone else in Tommo’s family made peace with his loss, Tommo still felt guilty about the death of his father. Tommo felt so guilty because he knew that it was because of his cowardice that his father jumped under the tree to save him. During the whole story, Tommo felt he had a “horrible secret” which he could not bring himself to say. It was because Tommo thought he was guilty and that he had a “horrible secret” which he could not tell that impeded any chance he had to heal. At the end of the story Tommo’s brother Charlie was executed and his new girlfriend Anna was killed by an incoming German shell in both of these situations Tommo never blamed himself which helped him deal with their loss. Tommo lost so many people he loved and cared for during this story after he was able to accept that it was not his fault; he managed to heal his pain from his losses quicker. Once Tommo can rid himself of guilt, he can move on from his loss, and this is very important to Morpurgo’s description of healing.

War is a thing which is often seen to be glorious or impressive, but in Private Peaceful, Michael Morpurgo wrote about the brutality and injustices of war. Morpurgo demonstrates this through characters like Tommo, Charlie and the other soldiers, many of whom seem to sacrifice their lives for no good reason. One of the central injustices of war is how the British Army used underaged soldiers even after they knew their real age. Another injustice of war is the executions imposed given to British soldiers by their army. Charlie’s execution is ruthless and unnecessary and is as the result of a profoundly unjust legal system and a spiteful superior, Sergeant Horrible” Hanley. When Sergeant Hanley ordered Tommo and Charlie’s section to go over the top of their hiding place in the dugout to face the German guns because their orders are to press home the attack”. When Charlie points out that there was “No point in going out there and getting ourselves killed for nothing, is there, Sergeant?”. Hanley tells him and all the other soldiers that they should sacrifice themselves -not for the sake of victory, but of “orders.” He also tells Charlie that if he disobeys his orders, he will court marshall him. The worst injustice of all in the novel came at its very end, with Charlie’s execution at the hands of his army. Charlie is executed simply for “disobeying” a ridiculous, suicidal order and refusing to abandon his gravely injured brother on the battlefield. He is persecuted because Sergeant Hanley has a personal vendetta against him. His trial is not really “a trial” at all, as the men judging him have “made up their minds that Charlie was guilty” before he even entered the room. The only other person at the trial is Sergeant Hanley. The judges did not even bother to listen to Charlie. If it were not for the injustices of war, Charlie would never have been killed, which changed Tommo’s life and the story quite significantly.

The novel Private Peaceful has many key themes, all of which are interwoven, if it were not for Tommo’s family, Tommo would not have felt guilty for the loss of his father. Not only that but if it was not for Tommo’s family and their circumstances Tommo and Charlie would have never gone to war, which is where both experience injustices of war and were Charlie executed because of these injustices. If some had to take out the most important lesson of this novel is that war is many things, and it is useless to pretend that war is beneficial for anyone or anything.

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The Antiwar Message of the WWI Novel Private Peaceful. (2022, May 10). Retrieved from

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