Lissa Paul. Reading Otherways. Stroud, Glos.: Thimble Press, 1998: Portland, ME: Calendar Islands, 1998.Chapter 4, "Carrie's War: Reading Feminist Changes," furthers the discussion of feminism's flexibility, illustrating that twenty years worth of discussion can change interpretations, and that even the interpretation of the work by the author can alter over time. Paul ultimately offers two possible approaches to Carrie's War, one drawing on archetypal criticism, the other upon Marxist and post-colonial criticism, both presenting illuminating consideration of the novel.
From book review by Teya Rosenberg in The Lion and the Unicorn 23.3 (1999) 446-450
Walter, Virginia A., 'Making Sense Out of Senselessness: The Social Construction of Adolescent Reality in the War Novels of Robert Westall', The Lion and the Unicorn 24.3 (2000) 432-444The late Robert Westall returned again and again to several themes and motifs in his novels for young people: cats, antiques, and motorcycles, to name three. Perhaps his greatest contribution to children's literature, however, is his depiction of war and its impact on young protagonists. In this essay, I would like to focus on the three war novels by Robert Westall that have generated the most critical acclaim: The Machine Gunners (winner of the 1976 Carnegie medal and runner-up for the Boston Globe/Horn Book award), Kingdom by the Sea (winner of the Guardian award and runner-up for the 1991 Carnegie medal), and Gulf (runner-up for the 1993 Carnegie medal). My thesis is that in each of these novels, the young hero's sense of himself and his place in the world is socially constructed, a product of the boy's relationships with other people who are culturally situated in a world at war. I will look at the ways in which the adolescent protagonists in the novels try on roles, acquire social knowledge, and construct a reality that enables them to make sense out of the apparently senseless events that war has introduced into their lives.
The Social Construction of Reality
The idea that reality is socially constructed is a concept from phenomenological social science. In The Social Construction of Reality, Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann describe the reality of everyday life as an intersubjective world, shared with others and characterized by a web of human relationships, arranged in patterns that impose themselves on our understanding of the world. According to this world view, the process by [End Page 432] which we come to understand and be a part of the reality of everyday life is socialization. While socialization is a lifelong process, childhood is a particularly salient period for acquiring the understanding of what it means to be a member of a particular society. As Berger and Luckmann make clear, that understanding is not the result of independent reasoning by isolated individuals, but rather the consequence of the child's "taking over" the world in which others already live. Children try on roles and see how other people react to them, modifying their own behavior accordingly. They learn how knowledge is distributed in their society and acquire the knowledge that is available to them. Over time, they come to acquire personal definitions and understandings of social phenomena that are shared with other members of their society and culture. This web of shared meanings within a society is, as philosopher John R. Searle points out, "weightless and invisible," taken for granted by its members (4). It is the shared meanings that hold society together.
Wartime places particular stresses on societies. New shared meanings must be generated to account for the new conditions and norms. Governments are more likely to control the dissemination of information, and new values may be encouraged or even legislated. Novels written for children about wartime present interesting case studies in the social construction of reality in a time of societal stress, when new sets of shared meanings are being formed. Joel Taxel has examined the heavy ideological weight that is carried by children's novels about the American Revolution. He finds that they tend to mirror the values and shared meanings about such issues as war, patriotism, and governmental authority that prevail during the time in which they were written. Thus, he finds antiwar sentiment in books about the Revolution that were written during the Vietnam era, while books written during and just after World War II see the Revolution as a "just war" (28).
The Machine Gunners
Robert Westall's first novel, The Machine Gunners, was written to explain to the author's son what it was like to be an English boy during World War II. It is the story of Chas McGill and his friends, young teenagers living on the northern seacoast of England. The novel opens with Chas awakening in the family air-raid shelter and looking for clues about the status of his world. Hearing the milk cart coming, he deduces that the all clear must have sounded. He climbs out of the shelter and sees that everything looks just the same, a good sign. Then he notices that the milk cart carries too many full bottles, a sign that some families had been bombed out during the night. [End Page 433]
Going into the kitchen, Chas finds his mother frying bread for breakfast and his father drinking tea, wearing his air-raid warden's uniform. His parents are talking about the previous night's events, and Chas listens carefully to their talk of bombers and damage. "He ate silently, listening to his parents. If he shut up, they soon forgot he was there. You heard much more interesting things if you didn't butt in" (2). His father reports on the night's damage: the woman who works at the greengrocers was killed; six panes in the greenhouse were smashed; a German plane crashed on the old laundry. While the father concentrates on the objective events, the mother talks about more subjective matters--the dead woman's fear of being buried alive, concern that Christmas won't be the same without chrysanthemums from the greenhouse, her own night terrors.
On his way to school, Chas looks for war souvenirs--bits of shrapnel, bullets, tailfins from bombs--that he and his friends like to collect. His parents might have access to information about numbers of bombs and casualties, but the children specialize in information about these artifacts of war.
Silly kids looked on the pavements or in the gutters; as if anything there wasn't picked up straight away. The best places to look were where no one else would dream, like in the dry soil under privet hedges. You often found machine-gun bullets there, turned into little metal mushrooms as they hit the ground. (3)
Thus, in the first three pages of the novel, Westall has provided rich details about the distribution of knowledge in a small English seacoast town during World War II. Adults know what's going on in the world. Men are privy to the objective events; they can be counted on to know what happened during a German bombing raid on the town. Women are tuned into emotional and subjective reality; they express both fear and compassion for the rest of the community. Children, a subculture of their own, have their particular domain of knowledge as well. While the men view a bombing raid as an objective event to be quantified and categorized and women experience it emotionally, the children see it as an opportunity to collect the war souvenirs that would have accumulated during the night.
Adults, and parents in particular, are the primary agents of socialization in a child's life, the first and dominant interpreters of the social world. As Berger and Luckmann point out, "[t]here is no choice of significant others. Society presents the candidate for socialization with a predefined set of significant others, whom he must accept as such with no possibility of opting for another arrangement" (134). Adults set the [End Page 434] rules in the game. We have already seen how Chas has learned to sit quietly in order to go unnoticed and listen in on adult conversation when it suits him to do so. He is consciously trying to acquire some of the knowledge otherwise monopolized by adults. Later in the novel, he and his friends will actively conspire to get an adult to reveal some of the expert knowledge that is ordinarily concealed from children.
The expert knowledge that the children need is technical information about how a machine gun works. They have found the ultimate war souvenir, a working German machine gun. Their plan is to mount it secretly at a strategic location and then help to defend the town from the projected German invasion. One of the boys in the gang, Cem, has a sister whose soldier boyfriend is home on leave. Cem hangs around the couple, playing the role of a pesty little brother. The couple, intent on having some privacy, tries various strategies to get him to leave them alone. At last the sister fumes, "Isn't there anything you want to do?" Cem replies, "Yeah, sit here with me blocks. Course, I could go to my bedroom and use these blocks to build a machine-gun emplacement for my model army--if only somebody would show me how." The boyfriend hesitates a moment and then decides that drawing a gun emplacement for a child couldn't possibly harm the war effort and reaches for the notebook and freshly sharpened pencil that just happen to be at hand. "'Mind you make it absolutely authentic,' said Cem savagely" (80). He succeeds in getting a detailed diagram of a gun emplacement that the children are able to duplicate in their fortress. Chas and his friends are sophisticated enough to know who has the knowledge that they lack and crafty enough to get access to it.
Frequently, however, the knowledge is passed from adult to child without the child's asking for it. Some socialization is intentional. Adults consciously transmit values and information they want children to acquire. For example, when Chas gets in a fight with a bully and cuts a great gash in his forehead with his gas mask, the hospital nurse is appalled and calls Chas a wicked, vicious boy. Chas points out that the bully was bigger than he was. "That's no excuse. British boys fight with their fists!" says the nurse (64). His father and the headmaster echo these words, and Chas feels like a criminal. Even his classmates ostracize him. The point has been made.
Even more often, however, adults keep information from children, or tell only half the story. His father tells Chas that he must not play with the Nichol boy again. Chas asks why not, and the father replies, "Never mind why not. Because I bloody well say not." The father and mother exchange embarrassed looks. "We can't tell you. You're too young to [End Page 435] understand" (69). The adult reader understands from an earlier episode that the Nichol boy's mother is an alcoholic who is carrying on promiscuously with the military personnel billeted in her large estate. One of the children in the gang is able to fill in the information gap for Chas. Audrey confesses that her mother has also told her not to go to the Nichol house. Chas asks, "'What's everyone got against the poor kid?' 'I think it's because his mother . . . drinks.' 'So does my granda, but everybody likes him.' 'Well it's . . . you know . . . sailors'" (70). So the children put together the pieces and create a shared meaning that is actually very close to the objective reality.
The children are less successful in piecing together the objective reality about the imminent and much-talked-about German invasion. While reading the newspaper, Mr. McGill often speculates about how and when Hitler's troops will invade Britain. This is critical information to Chas and his friends, who want to be ready with their machine gun fully operational when the attack occurs, so Chas pays particular attention and asks probing questions. One night, Mr. McGill announces that the Germans will come with the spring tides, when the seas are higher than usual and can lift their flat-bottomed barges up over the beach defenses. Chas asks what flat-bottomed barges are and gets a detailed answer; grown-ups like to give this kind of information to children. It is educational. The conversation goes on, and Chas asks, "Do you really think they'll come, Dad?" (116). Mr. McGill responds with a businesslike assessment that Hitler can't afford to hang about forever. Later Chas mulls all of this over, trying to assess the information he has received, wondering if the Germans are really going to invade. This question will continue to preoccupy all of the characters in the novel, but only the children know why the question is so important to them.
While Chas and his friends are consciously and unconsciously absorbing information and values that combine to form a worldview for a society at war, adults are trying to penetrate the children's knowledge domain and locate the missing machine gun. By the time of the novel's climax, children and adults are in an adversarial relationship, each side actively manipulating knowledge to gain the upper hand. The consequence for the children is that their socialization is flawed. Berger and Luckmann discuss the unsuccessful socialization that results when significant others present different, competing objective realities for the individual. In this case, the adults are, on the one hand, presenting a model of patriotic behavior that includes arming the civilian Home Guard. They advocate preparedness and speculate that the German invasion is imminent. They encourage the children to participate by [End Page 436] collecting scrap metal and newspapers for the war effort. On the other hand, by withholding information about Allied troop movements in the area and by treating the children as suspected criminals who are concealing the missing machine gun, the adults make it unlikely that the children will come to them voluntarily or seek their advice. They create a situation in which the children must rely on imperfect knowledge about machine gun operations, the impending German invasion, and adult expectations as cues to proper behavior.
As the novel approaches its climax, then, Chas is once more in the air raid shelter, this time at midnight during the worst raid of the war. In the midst of the confused noise of explosions and artillery fire, he hears church bells--the predetermined signal that the Germans have invaded. Chas remembers all the newsreels he has seen of Nazi troops jackbooting triumphantly through European cities and imagines them storming through his own town of Garmouth. He is determined to fight and die if necessary and runs from the shelter. The other children in the gang join him at the Fortress where their gun is cocked and ready. Polish troops, allied with the British, move out to patrol the beach. Soon the authorities know that it was a false alarm, but there is no way for the children to know. They see a mass of foreign troops moving through the mist, wearing gray uniforms and speaking to each other in a "harsh foreign tongue" (177). Chas calls to his comrades that "Jerry's here," and they leap into action. They load the gun, set the sight, and fire. Then the Poles, for these are the troops which the children have mistaken for Germans, return the fire, shooting at the enemy they assume to be the Nazis.
When it's all over and the adults are trying to sort things out, the schoolmaster asks Chas, "'Will you tell me how it all started?' Chas looked at him. 'No, sir. You'd never understand. Grownups never do'" (183). And so it ends, with no reconciliation or renewed understanding on either side. The assigned roles of child and adult and the different knowledge that is distributed to each have created a reality in which the children could only play at being soldiers, with disastrous results. Adults withheld knowledge that would have enabled the children either to play more effective war games or to decide to leave war to the grownups. Children withheld knowledge that would have enabled the adults to intercede more effectively. The adults seem more culpable somehow. As the agents of socialization, they are the ones responsible for transmittal of knowledge.
At the time of its publication, Aidan Chambers noted that there were two qualities about The Machine Gunners that set it apart from other children's books about World War II. First, based on the author's clear [End Page 437] memories, the book is unflinchingly truthful about the English civilian experience of World War II. Secondly, it tells a more universal story about "the brutalized initiation into adulthood of children who reach adolescence in wartime" (442). Westall retold this universal story again in Kingdom by the Sea, set once more in his boyhood home of Tyneside.
Kingdom by the Sea
Chas McGill belonged to a youth subculture that formed its own understanding of the war that went on around it. For Harry Baguley, the protagonist of Kingdom by the Sea, there is no tribe of peers to support him when his parents and sister apparently die in a German bombing raid. He takes off on his own, one of the loners who appear so often in Westall's fiction. Desperately afraid that he will be forced to live with his dreadful Cousin Elsie, he grabs the family's precious attaché case of valuable papers and runs from the authorities who tell him that his parents are dead.
Harry is disoriented, cut off from the ordinary interactions with trusted adults who would help him make sense of these circumstances. He wanders aimlessly at first, unable even to make sense of the town where he has grown up.
But what did Rudyerd Street mean? What did Nile Street mean? Sometimes he thought he would go home, and Dulcie would be swinging on the front gate, shouting rude things at the big boys as they passed, but running to the safety of Mam's kitchen if they made a move to attack her. And Mam would be doing the ironing, or putting the stew in the oven.
But the moment he turned his steps toward home, the truth came back to him; the burning pile of bricks. And he would turn his steps away again. (13)
At last Harry finds himself on the sheltered beach, where he falls asleep and finds a dog, an apparent war orphan like himself, who will be his companion on an odyssey along the seacoast. Boy and dog are both hungry, and at first he is panicked. "And then he remembered his father's voice saying, angrily, 'Don't flap around like a wet hen. Think, son, think'" (17). Harry has so internalized his father's rough words of advice that he turns to these remembered maxims over and over for help in constructing a world in which he can survive on his own.
The social world that he sees around him offers no safe refuge; rather, it is a web of potential entrapments. Even the purchase of fish and chips becomes a frightening series of interactions with malevolent adults. Harry has been dislocated from his familiar setting and his familiar role; he must create a new role for himself, that of "bombed-out boy." Later, [End Page 438] inspired by John Bunyan's book, through which he browses in an abandoned cabin on the coast, he tries on another identity, that of "pilgrim."
In his role as pilgrim, Harry and Don the dog meet an old recluse who teaches the boy some good survival skills before sending him on his way. His next social encounter is with a company of soldiers, who accept his story that he lives nearby with his family and who do not question too closely his apparent lack of obligations or occupations. The soldiers adopt Harry and supply him with his next role, that of surrogate son, filling in for the children they left at home. These are comfortable relationships for Harry, and he feels particularly close to a corporal, Artie Blenkinsop, who acts as his special friend and father-figure. The relationship is twisted and corrupted, however, when Corporal Merman returns. Corporal Merman, a particularly nasty fictional depiction of a homosexual, plays on the boy's trusts and makes advances that the boy only half understands but rejects forcefully. Artie rescues him from the unpleasant situation, but now Harry must move on, once again betrayed by a web of social contracts from the adult world.
Harry's next encounter is with an old lady, known as "the mermaid" in her youth, a female counterpoint to Corporal Merman. Her interest in Harry is also strangely sexual, as she flirts and asks for a good night kiss. "I might be sixty, but I still enjoy being kissed by handsome young men," she says (116). Leaving this strange but not altogether unpleasant siren's song, Harry resumes his pilgrimage, making for the holy island of Lindisfarne.
After a frightening encounter with the treacherous tides between the mainland and Lindisfarne in which the dog is injured, Harry is awakened from a sleep of extreme despair by a man who is different from the rest. Mr. Murgatroyd is concerned about the dog's paw, and the dog trusts him right away. He takes the dog to the vet and the boy to his home. Harry senses something strange and sad about Mr. Murgatroyd, and he reads pity in the responses of the townspeople to this lonely old man. He learns that Mr. Murgatroyd is a widower whose beloved son has been killed on the way to battle in Malaya. He has a "boy-sized hole" in his life that Harry will come to fill. This role is the last that Harry plays on his quest and the one that fits him best of all. Plugging up the emotional hole in Mr. Murgatroyd's life suits Harry well, so it is hard to explain the dread that he feels when the old man sets off to London with him, intending to document the boy's orphaned state and formally adopt him. They learn that the Baguleys had not perished in the Blitz after all, but had been badly hurt and mistaken for the neighboring Simpson family. [End Page 439]
It is not a happy family reunion when Harry meets up with his parents and sister. His father opens the door and looks down at Harry. "'You little bugger,' he said angrily. 'Where've you been? You've had us worried out of our mind'" (172). The Baguleys accuse Harry of being a coward by running away. They tell him to get rid of the dog. Mr. Baguley even harbors suspicions of Mr. Murgatroyd's intentions toward Harry.
Mr. M. takes the dog back to his seaside home. Harry returns to the lonely world of silence he inhabited when the world fell in on him the day of the bombing. He manages to defend Mr. M. by telling his parents that his son had been killed in the war.
That shut them up. But he stared at their faces, and wondered how he was going to keep his own mouth shut, over all the years.
The years before he got back to his kingdom by the sea. (176)
Harry and Mr. M. had shared moments of silence that were comfortable and companionable. This new silence between father and son is more poignant. Loners like Harry, whether they are alone by choice or by circumstance, must invent their own reality with few cues and clues from the external world. Writing in Children's Literature in Education, Peter Hollindale points out that Harry was running away from reality when he left his bombed-out Tyneside home; he was not running toward anything in particular (156). Encountering a sequence of alternate realities on his journey, he finally stumbles on an identity that fits when he meets old Mr. Murgatroyd. The return home, sadly, brings not reconciliation and redemption, but a sense of being exiled from his true self whose identity was forged in a kingdom by the sea.
Alienation from self is more than a psychological construct in Westall's 1992 novel Gulf; it is the metaphysical event that drives the story. In this angry, polemical novel, an English schoolboy's identity is subsumed and taken over by that of a young Iraqi soldier fighting in the Gulf War.
It is fifteen-year-old Tom who tells the story of his extraordinary little brother Andy, nicknamed Figgis. Tom begins by telling about the utter normality of their family, with its big, powerful father and nurturing, caring mother. Tom had welcomed the birth of his little brother when he was three; Figgis would help ease the loneliness of an only child.
The social reality created by this typical, happy English family is sufficient for Tom. But Figgis needs more than normal, everyday reality. [End Page 440] Even as a very small boy, he is more interested in the unseen and the unknown than in the surface reality of things. His parents are oblivious to his telepathic abilities, but Tom is aware of them, even a little jealous of them, and tries to crawl into Figgis's dream reality with him.
The extrasensory experiences become increasingly invasive of Figgis's everyday reality. When he bonds telepathically with a starving Ethiopian boy, Figgis goes on a hunger fast--becomes that boy--until his parents make a donation to the famine relief effort. Still, he is seen as merely a sensitive child. So even Tom, who has observed more of the telepathic dream episodes than his parents have, is shocked to wake up one night and find Figgis perched outside on the family Volvo, screaming in a gutteral, unknown language. The next day Tom hears on the news that Iraq has invaded Kuwait.
Figgis's waking behavior becomes increasingly strange. He shaves his head like a soldier, and he develops a mysterious skin rash that resembles an extreme attack of lice. At night, he sits cross-legged in his bed, cradling an air rifle. Tom discovers that there is an intermediate state between Figgis's waking and sleeping when he can communicate with his brother's "dream" self, who, it turns out, is an Iraqi soldier named Latif. He finds Figgis/Latif's tales of the Iraqi war fascinating--and keeps them secret. He is afraid that if he tells his parents, they will intervene, and his own fascinating vicarious adventures with his brother in the Middle Eastern desert will stop.
When Figgis falls asleep in the barber chair one afternoon, the Latif personality emerges publicly for the first time, alarming all who see it. Figgis is sent to the hospital for tests and soon is admitted to a mental ward.
Meanwhile the father is mesmerized by the endless television accounts of the war. The mother may intuitively know that it is the war that is responsible for her son's illness because she rails against both the war and the mindless, amoral television reporting of it. Both parents, however, are diminished by their helplessness in the face of Figgis's worsening condition; and Tom begins to feel guilty for not telling what he knows. When Dr. Rashid recognizes the language Figgis/Latif speaks as Arabic, Tom tells him about his brother's telepathic experiences. He asks Dr. Rashid if his brother is mad. The doctor replies, "Your brother is not mad, Tom. He suffers from a mystery of nature . . ." (75).
As the Allied air strike against Iraq increases in intensity, Figgis/Latif seems to grow worse. The Latif personality is dominant all the time, but one night Tom is able to make contact with Figgis briefly. Figgis tells him that he is inside Latif, watching what is going on. Tom asks him if he [End Page 441] can come back, but Figgis explains that Latif is too strong. Then, during a night when the land war begins, and the Allies rack up a great "body count," Latif dies. Tom is watching:
Then my brother rose to his full height, and raised his burned hands, and screamed abuse at the black night sky of Kuwait. At the Americans, who lurked in darkness, and would not come to be killed, even when Latif had nothing left to kill them with.
And then his own body was writhing, being tossed into the far corner of the room, not, it seemed, by its own power, but by the power of something that was tearing it to bits. And there it lay, a little untidy bundle. (90)
Tom is unable to approach that untidy little bundle; he knows that his brother has died. Yet a moment later, he hears a voice--not Latif's, but Figgis's voice--ask quite cheerfully, "Where am I?"
Figgis emerges from this experience a different boy, no longer telepathic, or even unusually sensitive. He develops an interest in athletics and begins playing rugby like his father. Tom, on the other hand, takes on more of the traits of the pre-Latif Figgis, aware of the suffering of small creatures and faraway people. Later he will think that when Latif died, Figgis actually died too. In making sense out of a senseless war, he had overloaded his capacities. His circuits became overloaded, and he died, to be reborn as a conventional, ordinary boy.
Gulf is Westall's most political novel and perhaps his most didactic, written with an urgent anti-war message. It is interesting to place it at the end of a progression of Westall's war novels, beginning with The Machine Gunners. In that first novel, the adolescent protagonist was a hero in his own terms, if not that of the adults around him. He had a close circle of friends who shared his games and his understanding of the world at war. Their reality was not the reality of the adults around them, but it was one that enabled them to make sense of the events that mattered to them and to act in a way that enabled them to have an effect on those events.
In Kingdom by the Sea, the war disrupts the everyday reality of the young protagonist, sending him off on a lonely odyssey in quest of his own self. The war is terrible, but its heightened events provide the catalyst for self-understanding. In Gulf, however, Tom watches as his brother's very identity becomes a casualty of war. It is a powerful statement of the interconnectedness of human realities and a powerful metaphoric statement of the ultimate horror of war. Westall seems to be saying that we are all casualties of war, not just those who are killed in battle. [End Page 442]
Social construction theory underlies the work of psychologist Kenneth J. Gergen. In The Saturated Self, he writes about the dilemma and difficulty of constructing a coherent identity in contemporary, postmodern society. He finds that, like young Figgis, we are all bombarded with multiple realities, arising largely from the kind of telecommunications technology that enabled the father in Gulf to watch a sanitized war of surgical air strikes conducted in the Persian Gulf from the comfort of his living room in Britain. Media personalities play as much a part in creating our sense of who we are as the people who inhabit our physical world. We interact and communicate with friends, associates, and strangers by a bewildering multiplicity of media: electronic mail, fax, telephone, audiotapes, videotapes and videoconferences, and sometimes even print on paper. Young people invent and reinvent themselves, proclaiming their new identities through their clothing and their music.
While my discussion has focused on the phenomenological aspects of the interactions of characters in three novels, it is important to note that the reader also has an interactive relationship with the text. Even as the people in Chas's world are interacting with him to create the shared meanings that form his social reality, so is the reader interacting with the text in a way that helps to form the reader's notion of reality. Wolfgang Iser describes the transaction between the reader and the text as a kind of discovery, in which the reader "discovers a new reality through a fiction which, at least in part, is different from the world he himself is used to; and he discovers the deficiencies inherent in prevalent norms and his own restricted behavior" (xiii). Margaret Meek describes the discoveries that young readers begin to make once they have mastered the conventions of narrative and their relationship with an author. "Here begin two kinds of explorations, of the value system that prevails in the world and the one revealed in the text. . . . Both life and text have to be interrogated about 'the way things might be'" (29).
Narrative has been one of the traditional means by which human beings make sense of their lives, no matter how senseless the chaos of war or adolescence or other circumstance might make them. The inevitability of narrative, its persistent cause and effect, have enabled many of us to become "heroes of our own lives," exploring the limits of "what is" and "what might be."
Knowledge is socially distributed between the author and reader, just as it is between characters in the novel. Westall was a boy himself during World War II and writes from personal experience, colored with an inevitable nostalgia for a past that was full of the promise of hope and [End Page 443] glory. He also writes about contemporary events with barely suppressed rage. In either case, he knows the territory about which he is writing, and he controls the tone. Peter Hunt notes that this is a process in which the power is inevitably unequal; the child reader can never bring the literary or actual experience to the text that the author or even the adult reader does (87-97). Westall leaves a lot of space for young readers to insert themselves in the text, however, making his novels rich fields of vicarious experiences, with a wealth of data to be incorporated into the child's own social reality.
Virginia A. Walter, Associate Professor in the Department of Information Studies at UCLA, is the author of many scholarly publications about children's literature and two books: "Hi, Pizza Man!" (1995) and Making Up Megaboy (1998).
Berger, Peter L., and Thomas Luckmann. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Garden City, NY: Anchor, 1967.
Chambers, Aidan. "Letter from England: Children at War." Horn Book 52 (1976): 438-42.
Gergen, Kenneth J. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York: Basic Books, 1991.
Hollindale, Peter. "Westall's Kingdom." Children's Literature in Education 25.3 (1994): 147-57.
Hunt, Peter. Criticism, Theory, and Children's Literature. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.
Iser, Wolfgang. The Implied Reader: Patterns of Communication in Prose Fiction from Bunyan to Beckett. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1974.
Meek, Margaret. How Texts Teach What Readers Learn. Stroud, Glos., Eng: Thimble P, 1988.
Searle, John R. The Construction of Social Reality. New York: Free P, 1995.
Taxel, Joel. "The American Revolution in Children's Fiction: An Analysis of Historical Meaning and Narrative Structure." Curriculum Inquiry 14.1 (1984): 7-55.
Westall, Robert. Gulf. London: Methuen, 1992.
------. Kingdom by the Sea. London: Methuen, 1990. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990.
------. The Machine Gunners. London: Macmillan Children's Books, 1975; New York: Greenwillow, 1976