3 What happens in “Snowdrops”? This story is important as much for what we do not learn directly as for the surface narrative.The story appears to be about a boy and his day at school. He goes to a primary school in Wales - in a town that seems like the author's hometown of Merthyr. Apart from a few very specific details that tell us this, the town could be almost anywhere.His teacher has promised the class that they can go outside to look at the snowdrops that are now coming up. While the children are looking at the snowdrops, they can see a funeral procession passing the school. The boys' parents have spoken earlier about a young man, killed in a motorbike accident, and it is his funeral. Evidently the teacher knows this, for she stands watching and crying.The story that Leslie Norris does not tell directly, but tells indirectly by hints and clues, is about the love between the young man who has died and the teacher, Miss Webster.
4 Themes in “Snowdrops”The title of the story suggests one of its themes - it is literally about snowdrops.But, for the reader and for the children in the narrative, snowdrops symbolize the renewal of life that comes in the spring, or perhaps eternal life beyond the grave for those who have died.We also see, in the contrast of the adult conversation and the viewpoint of the child the idea of childhood and growing up.There may be other themes, too. Look at the list below, and put them in order, according to how strongly you agree or disagree.The story is about:frustrated loveparents and childrenhopethe idea that in the midst of life we are in deaththe dangers of motorcyclingnaturehow children see and hear more than they are meant to- What other suggestions would you add to this list?
5 Characters in Snowdrops The boyThe boy's friends, Edmund and GeraldThe boy's familyMiss WebsterThis story does not have fully developed characters as we might meet in a novel or a play.Not only that, but we seem to be looking outward - the writer does not describe the characters directly.But there are many details that enable us to form a sense of some of them.Let’s look at these characters:
6 Characters in Snowdrops The boyThe boy (whose name we do not know) is present throughout the narrative. We see the story through his eyes, though he is not a narrator. We know something of his outlook, therefore and what things matter to him. Here are some of these things:He takes an interest in everything around him - he notices how his brother, Geraint, plays with his porridge.He enjoys playing with the other boys. At first he does not understand why Gerald falls over - and only sees what is happening when Edmund points it out. He knows the boys by name (Edmund, Gerald, Bernard) but thinks of the girls collectively.He wants very much to see the snowdrops - whereas Edmund seems rather unconcerned (having seen some already).He observes many things but with limited understanding - so he does not know why his parents become secretive about the boy who has been killed, nor why Miss Lewis takes the class instead of Miss Webster.
7 Characters in Snowdrops The boy (Cont.d)He already has a sense of masculine pride in being tougher than the girls - so he thinks the boys are more likely to be taken to see the snowdrops if the weather should be cold.He has a sense of innocent wonder - he is eager to see the snowdrops and looks upon his home town as a place of adventure, because of things like receiving a glass marble and Edmund's finding a running medal. He enjoys drawing a robin and is pleased when Miss Webster pins it up. He also watches his mother's knitting with fascination as the pullover grows behind her fingers. He is fascinated by the unfamiliar taste of his sandwich. (Tara – it’s the bacon!)He touches on the adult world of his parents and teachers, but also is at home with his peers, and has a sense of Geraint as much younger.
8 Characters in Snowdrops The boy's friends - Edmund and GeraldThe boy looks up to Edmund, who seems a little more worldly-wise. He asks Edmund what is wrong with Gerald, and seeks his advice on the strange-tasting sandwich. Later the boy gives his mother Edmund's opinion about Miss Webster's injured hand. His mother comments on his admiration for Edmund: "Oh, you and Edmund Jenkins." (Line 140)Edmund impresses the boy with a joke, and also plays a trick on Gerald. He seems brave because he is ready to speak when he is meant to be silent. Edmund also has less sense of wonder about the snowdrops. Edmund also knows about the death of the Meredith boy, and that the procession is for his funeralGerald is more naïve and childlike. He cannot understand why he is falling over. Yet when the boy and Edmund untie his laces, he is not angry but enjoys being able to play freely again.
9 Characters in Snowdrops The boy's familyWe see several family members in the story. Both of the boy's parents seem to take an interest in him - his mother in getting him ready for school, and his father in joking with him. His father seems to be the source of information (perhaps from his work) about the funeral of the young man. His mother has more sense that the boy might hear things that are not suitable for him, and warns her husband with a cough and a look.The parents both express concern for their friends whose son has been killed - the father recognizing that the young man was an only child, and the mother recalling that he was "nice-looking".We also see three-year-old Geraint as he plays with his porridge - a detail that rings true.
10 Characters in Snowdrops Miss WebsterIn a way this story is more about Miss Webster than about the boy through whose eyes we see it.Leslie Norris tells us little directly, but much indirectly. Here are a few things that we learn directly about her:She is absent from school at the start of the day.When she arrives she is dressed in black.She once trapped her finger in a cupboard door but did not cry.She reads a story about a dragon.She takes the class out at two o'clock.She does not explain about the snowdrops.She stands by the gate, crying, as the funeral passes.Which do you think are the most important details?What was the author telling the reader about Miss Webster?i.e. why did he include that detail?
11 Characters in Snowdrops Miss Webster and her story (Cont.d)We also learn a few things from what people say - the boy's parents discuss her friendship with the young man who was killed, while his mother seems to expect Miss Webster to be absent, as she asks the boy whether she was in school in the morning. Why does his mother think this?Behind this is another story. We know few details but we can see the important outline - it is a story of unfulfilled love.Miss Webster is in school while all the men of the village are able to attend the funeral: why? Maybe she had no official or open relationship with the dead young man that entitled her a place at the funeral and a day off school; why might this have been?The young man has taken to the grave any secrets there might have been. Possibly there was no relationship between Miss Webster and the Meredith boy – maybe it was one-way and her feelings were not returned, but people in the small village were aware of this.We do not know what was between them: Norris leaves us to think what might have happened.
12 Characters in Snowdrops Miss Webster and her story (Cont.d)Think about the way the boy sees her and the way she appears to you as you read the story.The boy is certainly not wrong in what he sees - he is very attentive and observant. But he does not always understand what it means as an older person would.For example - he does not seem to notice why Miss Webster has chosen the time to take the class to see the snowdrops. But the reader sees that she has another reason for being in the playground at this time.When she cries, the children become frightened - perhaps because they expect adults not to cry, but to comfort them.The boy remembers that Miss Webster did not cry when she trapped her finger in the cupboard door. He does not see, as the reader does, how this shows the difference between physical pain and emotional suffering.
13 Snowdrops The Setting: Time and Place The story is set in the valleys of South Wales - once a coal-mining and steel-smelting area. There are a few clues that tell us this:The boy in the story does not speak Welsh but recognizes it because of his grandmother - this strongly suggests that the story is in South Wales (in the north he would learn Welsh from an early age; in South Wales this might come later).The boy's father speaks of working in a "rolling mill" - this would be part of a steelworks, like those once found in the valleys of South Wales.Leslie Norris conveys a sense of a close community, where people know and care about each other.But it is also quite traditional, with clear rôles for men and women - and this excludes Miss Webster from having a more active part in the funeral ceremony for the young man she loves..
14 Snowdrops The Setting: Time and Place (Cont.d) The story takes us into the places where the boy goes - his home, the streets on the way to school, the classrooms and the playground.There is a detailed description in lines 141 to 149, when Norris has the boy describe various landmarks so that we see things through his eyes. . Think about what these details suggest:"...being very careful of the traffic" - this shows that the boy remembers what he has been taught about road safety. (The story is set before the time when parents in the UK began to take their children all the way to school - and in doing so increased the danger from traffic by adding to it)"...by the fire station in case the doors were open" - this shows that the boy is interested in, or excited by, the chance to look at the fire engines."...outside Jack William's garden" - we do not know if Jack is another child or an adult, but the detail suggests that the boy knows who lives in different parts of town: he belongs there.
15 Snowdrops The Setting: Time and Place (Cont.d) The author tries to show a sense of the boy's wonder at these things, and his expectation of adventure.His idea of adventure may seem very unremarkable to the teenage or grown-up reader - who may not be impressed by the idea of being given a glass marble or finding a silver medal for running – but Norris invites you to see things through the child’s eyes… in preparation for the child’s observations on Miss Webster..His innocence also appears in his idea that the police give rewards to people who find things and hand them in.Can you see other details that are interesting?What do they suggest to you as you read the story?
16 Snowdrops The Viewpoint Maybe the most striking or important thing about this story is the point of view.The author has chosen to tell the story about the boy and his day, though it seems it is Miss Webster to whom the most important event has happened.Or has it?What we have here is a story of a particular day in their lives - involving both the young teacher and her class - and the boy is actually best placed to see it all.For example, Miss Webster would not hear the comments made by adults like the boy's parents. Because he is small, people may not notice him and may say or do things they would not do in the presence of adults. An adult might not see all the things that happen in the playground.
17 Snowdrops The Viewpoint (Cont.d) The author also presents the reader with things and does not directly explain them. Look at the opening:"Today Miss Webster was going to show them the snowdrops...“Immediately we are thinking of questions:Who is "Miss Webster"?Who are "they"?What is so special about showing snowdrops to "them" on this particular day?However, we soon see, too, that this is not simply telling a story to the reader - it is a series of events as they appear to the boy.So this opening sentence records his thoughts and expectations.
18 Snowdrops The Viewpoint (Cont.d) Although we see the boy's viewpoint directly we see that of other people indirectly - he sees the evidence or hears it. But he often does not know what it means - whereas the reader does.For example:"He had known all the time that Miss Webster would not forget, and at last she was taking him to see the miraculous flowers." (Lines 168 and 169)He sees that Miss Webster has not forgotten - he is right about that. But does he see why she has made a point of taking the class to see the flowers? What do you think?.
19 Snowdrops The Viewpoint (Cont.d) Here are three possible answers. Do you agree or disagree with them? Which reason do you think is most likely?Miss Webster remembers that she promised to take the class out even though her mind is on other things, because she is such a kind teacher.Miss Webster plans the visit to see the flowers so that it is at the same time as the funeral, which she has not been able to attend.Miss Webster always planned to go at this time and it is a coincidence that she sees the funeral pass.Norris shows us that Miss Webster has planned the day in some ways - she reads a story to fit the occasion. But it does not quite fit the time and she does not complete the story. This shows that she is more concerned to see the funeral pass, than to read the story.
20 Snowdrops Style – Grammar and Syntax The narrative style is vivid and direct - we find lots of sentences that are very simple:The boy didn't know. (Line 49)The boy drew a robin. (Line 103)He thought about this for a long time. (Line 136)The boy nodded. (Line 186)We also find sentences that have a passage of speech followed simply by "said [his mother/Edmund and so on]" or "he asked".This is the pattern of thought and speech a child his age would have; it is straightforward and uncomplicated – innocent.However, he is learning all the time – as when he draws the robin and realises there are aspects to record that he didn’t notice and wasn’t able to represent before.In many ways, this story is an insight into the growing understanding of a child.
21 "The taste was incredibly new and marvellous..." SnowdropsStyle – VocabularyAt other points the author uses a vocabulary (lexicon) that suggests the boy's thinking - his sense of wonder at what adults might not notice.We see an example when he tastes the cold bacon and is not sure what it is:"The taste was incredibly new and marvellous..."The author makes the boy's wonder appear through his actions. After telling us about how the boy "was incredulous" and says "It can't be", he shows us how the boy "opened the second sandwich to inspect the filling" - suggesting the way children rely on their senses to confirm what people tell them. It is not that he doubts what Edmund has said, as that he wants to see the evidence.
22 Snowdrops Style – Use of Direct Speech Think about how much of the story is taken up by speech, and how this compares to other stories in the collection.The speech of adults is different from that of the children. The boy speaks simply and enjoys Edmund's pun: "What's the biggest rope in the world? Europe" (Lines 48 and 49.)Children don’t always understand adult conversation. For example, the boy's mother calls Miss Webster "Poor girl" (Line 135) when he tells her that the teacher did not arrive until playtime. The mother is thinking about Miss Webster's coming late because of her grief at the death of the young man. But she (the mother) does not see that this may puzzle her son.The writer suggests this puzzlement with: "He thought about this for a long time." (Line 136). Trying to work out why his mother says this, eventually the boy thinks it may be because of Miss Webster's physical pain, and says, "She's got a bad hand." (Line 137)The author is showing us how far the child can understand the world at this time in his life, and what it’s like to be a child.
23 SnowdropsMoodHow important is the sense of the cold weather and the early spring in establishing the mood of the story?Would the story work just as well if it were set in midsummer or just before Christmas?Think about this – what reasons would you give?.Consider the symbolism of the title…
24 Snowdrops Symbolism - the snowdrop This story has a very familiar symbol in it - the snowdrop as an emblem of new life.Throughout the story the author builds up a sense of the boy's expectancy and hope - that is finally rewarded with a sight of the flowers.When this happens, the boy has a very complex experience; he sees the snowdrops, and thinks of them as both resilient and fragile. They look slight, but bend with the wind and survive the very coldest weather. And they come back every year, bringing new life with the spring.There are other passages referring to the snowdrops, for example:
25 Snowdrops Symbolism - the snowdrop the snowdrops had been asleep under the ground, but now they were up, growing in the garden. (Lines 3 and 4)...the boy smiled, thinking all the time of the snowdrops. Would it be too cold to go and see them? (Lines 26 and 27)It was a good story about a dragon who guarded a hoard of treasure in his den underground, where the snowdrops slept all through the winter. (Lines 156 to 158)...at last she was taking him to see the miraculous flowers, pale and fragile as the falling snow. (Lines 169 and 170)He turned again to the snowdrops, concentrating, willing them to turn marvellous in front of his eyes. (Lines 191 and 192)The boy began to see their fragility. (Line 194)- Think about the significance of these references to the reader.
26 Snowdrops Attitudes in the text In this story we see a range of attitudes - from the boy and his friends, from the adults at home and those at school.These are both about immediate childish concerns, and about very serious things.The story shows the attitudes of Edmund, Gerald and the boy to Edmund's tying Gerald's shoelaces together, and the attitude of a young woman to the death of her lover.There is a mixture of innocent trivial things ands serious matters of life and death.- Why has the author presented us with this mixture?
27 Snowdrops Attitudes behind the text How far does the story show (or suggest) assumptions about the world that the author makes?Does the story show a view of the world in which people's roles are determined or influenced by their sex or age or status, for example? (Can we see why Miss Webster cannot attend the young man's funeral?)More positively, does the story present a picture of a real community, where the school is at the centre or heart of everything?
28 Snowdrops Attitudes in the reader Can you find any evidence of what Leslie Norris assumes about his readers?One way to check this is to make a list of things you did not at first understand, or which you had to ask about.If an author’s purpose is to express ideas, and engage the reader to explore these ideas, how well do you think Leslie Norris has achieved this? What has “Snowdrops” made YOU think about?Consider those things in the story that are not what they at first seem, and the situations that are gradually revealed to be other than what first appears: can you relate this to your own experiences?
29 Snowdrops Comparisons It is easy to make comparisons within the story. We are led to make comparisons between these things, among others:the attitudes of children and grown upswhy Miss Webster first wanted to see the snowdrops and why she wants to do so nowdeath and renewal of lifeholding on to things and letting them gohome and schoolthe safety of school and the dangers outsideinnocent wonder (the boy) and taking things for granted (Edmund)You can also, of course, compare this story with others that have a similar theme - stories about growing up and gaining independence.
30 Snowdrops: Questions to consider The snowdrops keep being mentioned throughout the story. Why are they so important to the boy?The story is told from the boy’s point of view. The reader is told what he does, thinks and feels. Why do you think the writer chose to tell the story in the 3rd person (“he”) rather than 1st person (“I”)?What different things does the reader understand that the boy doesn’t? How does the writer create this sense of dramatic irony?Examine some details which present things from a child’s point of view and consider the effects this has.The bacon in the sandwich seems different but the same. How does the writer explore this idea in the story as a whole?Why do you think the writer spends so long on the paragraph about the boy’s drawing of the robin (lines 103 – 117)?Why do you think the boy “felt a slow, sad disappointment”? (line 188)Line 194 says “The boy began to see their fragility”. How does this take on more meaning for the reader than it has for the boy when you think about the story as a whole?Why do you think the writer ends the story with the children being “frightened”?Children often sense that something is wrong without understanding what. How is this shown in the story?In what ways do you think the snowdrops are symbolic in the story?