"The Gifts of War" by Margaret Drabble: Analysis
In "The Gifts of War" by Margaret Drabble, we see the interesting relationship of Mum to Kevin.
Mum is living a deprived and hard life, married to an abusive drunkard, yet she sees her husband in a better light because she compares his actions with Kevin's childish antics.
She therefore prefers Kevin's current expressions of hidden love rather than his babyish cuddling, kissing and clinging.
When Kevin does things like spilling his flakes on the oilcloth, which is characteristic of a child, in her mind she compares this to the actions of her husband, such as when he vomits all over the floor.
"It was as though she said to herself: "If my little boy doesn't mean it when he shouts at me, perhaps my husband doesn't either; perhaps there's no more serious offence in my bruises and my graying hair then there is in those harmless childish moans.'In the child, she found a way of accepting the man.'"
She loves her son very much, and knows that he is innocent and simply has the nature of a child, yet what is normal behavior for a child should not be expected from an adult.
An adult should be more responsible and have better self control.
When her husband displays this same childish behavior, which is abusive and unacceptable from an adult, she compares it in her mind to her child's actions of love.
Since she sees her son as a miniature of his father and uses this vision as a way of excusing the father's actions, she therefore enjoys arguing with her son, withdrawing from him and scolding him, although she doesn't really mean what she says.
She prefers this over direct signs of affection, for his bratty attitude towards her seems to show her the true love that she hopes her husband has for her.
She teases her child, and feigns ignorance in order to give him joy, such as when he asks her about his birthday present and she pretends not to know what he was referring to, in order to keep him in gleeful anticipation and suspense.
Mum likes to appear indifferent to the world, strong and non-emotional.
As she brought her husband tea and spoke to him, "her face had only one expression, and she used it to conceal the two major emotions of her life, resentment and love."
She did not want others to read her easily, but tried to hide behind a mask that would not display her true feelings.
As she walked down the road to town to buy her son a birthday present, she made various attempts to appear natural and not let anyone guess where she was going.
This was because she tried to avoid going to town since it reminded her of the glorious dreams of her innocent youth.
She reflects bitterly on the dashed hopes of yore.
She finds comfort in life from her relationship with her son.
She enjoys teasing him, acting strictly towards him, and giving him her own version of love: "her life which had seemed after that bridal day of white nylon net and roses to sink deeply and almost instantly into a mire of penury and beer and butchery, had been so redeemed for her by her child that she could afford to smile with a kind of superior wisdom… at those who had not known her trials and her comforts… to find in an object which had at first appeared to her as a yet more lasting sentence, a death blow to the panic notions of despair and flight- to find in such a thing love, and identity, and human warmth… she fed off it: her maternal role, her joy, her sorrow."
This one sentence summarizes her whole maternal relationship with her son. It describes the disappointment of her marriage and the subsequent combination of joy, comfort and sorrow that she finds in her maternal identity.
Part of this joy and sorrow is because Mum sees herself as enforcing her child's innocence.
For his birthday, she had pondered getting something useful for him, but decided instead "to get him what he wanted- a grotesque, unjustifiable luxury, a pointless gift."
She feels the joy of making him happy, but mourns the pointlessness of a gift that has no use. At the same time, she is aware of the ugliness of her life with her husband, yet appears to be in a state of denial, since she stays with him and makes no attempt to get out of these circumstances.
Mum appears to think that she has gotten away from the violence. She refuses to acknowledge the violence in her life. She is rudely awakened by the strangers in the shop that seem to hint to her that she is contributing to the violence in her child's life, while she thought that she was doing the opposite. She had escaped thoughts of violence, and was harshly reminded by strangers of the violence in her life and in the world around her.
One would assume that she wishes there was no violence in the world and in her son's life; therefore, when the toy is identified as an object of violence, she symbolically sheds the violence in her life, throwing it abruptly and emotionally onto the floor and away from herself.
She suddenly comes to the realization that she has a part in choosing whether her child gets accustomed to ideas of violence.
She realizes more than ever the effect that she can have on her child as a mother.
Until now, she gave to her child only for selfish reasons, to make herself feel good, and now she realizes that she can truly give to her child and try to help him build a solid character.
Perhaps she sees an irony in the words that she is hearing.
She experiences domestic violence as part of her every day life, and these people are concerned about the war in Vietnam and preventing children from playing with toys that resemble weapons.
This is ironic, considering the more realistic signs of violence that she and her son are exposed to due to her husband's drunken acts of abuse.
The reader is struck by the irony of why people do not address those concerns, and don't try to help domestic abuse, but rather focus on the indirect effects of toys.