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Literature / Goodnight Mister Tom

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A book by Michelle Magorian, set in the village of Little Weirwold in Britain, during World War II.

September 1939 saw over 1.5 million evacuees sent out of Britain's major cities, and into the countryside. Among them is William Beech, a shy and easily startled boy who ends up having to live with Mr Thomas Oakley, a sour and gruff man who has little time for anyone outside of his dog, Sammy.

As the book progresses, the abused and perpetually terrified William grows into a confident and well-rounded young man, while "Mister Tom", as William calls him, also begins to open up again, and becomes an active part of the local community. William and Tom become extremely close, to the point where William sees the old man as the father figure he never had, and Tom grows to love the boy as his son.

A film was made in 1998, starring the late John Thaw as Mr Tom.


Contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Will's mother is mentally and physically abusive to him, to the extent where William is starved and beaten so badly he has welts, bruises and scars on his back. She ends up leaving William alone for days on end with his baby sister, who ends up dying from starvation in her big brother's arms despite his best efforts.
  • The Ace: When William gets an opportunity to reveal his talents, he turns out to be highly intelligent with an excellent memory, a magnificent artist, a good writer, a skilled method-actor, a connoisseur, a natural caregiver, physically strong and robust, and endowed with good social skills.
  • Adaptational Badass: In the Film of the Book, Tom directly confronts people who trouble him or William on a regular basis; the book's Tom is grumpy, but patient in getting his way.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • The Second World War seems to impact on peoples' lives only slightly in Little Weirwold. The farming community gets on with life as though their workload hadn't just tripled, and people regularly consume things such as bacon and eggs, fresh lemonade, butter, roast chicken, cocoa, chocolate and cake that would have been rare treats during rationing. However, somewhat justified especially in the beginning of the book before William went back to his mother, suring the first 6 months of the war. Rationing was introduced in January 1940, 4 months after William arrived. His brithday party was only a week after war began, so it's affects on the avalbility of food would not have been felt yet. Little Weirwold is also rural, and therefore would have greater access to many rationed goods like butter, meat, and eggs.
    • Heavily averted with Neville Chamberlain's announcement of the declaration of war, which is given in its entirety rather than just indicated.
  • Asshole Victim: Even though it was suicide, none of us felt a need to shed a tear or pity Will's horrible excuse of a mother.
  • Big Friendly Dog: Sammy. While William is scared of him at first, Sammy quickly becomes a loyal companion to him.
  • Blitz Evacuees: The story starts with a group of evacuees being sent to Little Weirwold. William and Zach are two of the more notable ones.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: George is the strongest of the Little Weirwold kids, and loud-mouthed, opinionated, generous, and fun to be around.
  • British Accents: Eye dialect is extensively used to flavour the text. the Little Weirwold folk speak with West Country accents, William's mother speaks with a cockney accent (as does William in the start of the book, developing a distinct idiolect as the book progresses) and Zach speaks with a "posh B.B.C. accent".
    • True to life, the various British accents in this period are distinct enough that they can be difficult to mutually understand. William chats awkwardly with a Scottish Highlander whose accent is deliberately made difficult to read, and Tom pronounces William's home borough of "Deptford" as "Deppeteforrard" - in London pronunciation, which Tom then copies, it's "Detferd".
  • Can't Hold His Liquor: In the original novel, in Salmouth, Will, Tom and Zach consume a gallon of locally-brewed cider and, not realising quite how strong it is, end up sitting around for the rest of the evening drunkenly teasing each other. The page-long passage is frequently cut from juvenile editions.
  • The Chain of Harm: A policeman blames Will's abuse at his mother's hands on her having been a victim of her late husband.
  • City Mouse: William initially struggles to cope with moving from London to the countryside.
  • Death by Newbery Medal: Poor Zach, who died in a bombing. Not, as one might have thought, Sammy.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Will is locked in the coalroom with his baby sister for at least a week with no food, and when he's found she's been dead in his arms for God knows how long.
  • During the War: Goodnight Mister Tom is set during World War II.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Tom is so absolutely disgusted when he discovers the bruises and welts on William's back that he immediately throws the belt provided by William's mother in the garden.
  • Feeling Their Age: Towards the end of the book, when William is entering puberty and Tom is settling into his old age, both Tom and William notice the change in their respective sizes and health; William is bursting with life and approaching Tom's height, and Tom's beginning to look old and feeble rather than the ancient, implacable giant William originally took him for.
  • Foreshadowing: When one of Mrs Beech's neighbours is asked where she went, the lady states she said she was "going to the coast. A few chapters later, it is revealed she committed suicide.
  • Film of the Book: A TV movie was made in 1998 and was fairly loyal to the book while missing out a lot of the emotion which made it great. Huge amounts were cut for time, as the exploratory, almost dreamlike pace of the book wouldn't translate well to film.
  • Foil: The shy, easily startled Will who has been raised by an abusive fundamentalist in contrast to the outgoing and confident Zach, who has been raised around everything Will's mother deems sinful (namely theatres and picture houses).
  • The Fundamentalist: Will's mother threatens him with Hell for even the slightest offence, and sees alcohol and sex as inherently sinful.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Tom, of course. Yes, he is grumpy, reclusive, and initially not too happy about taking in William. However, he quickly warms to the boy when he realises how badly William suffered at the hands of his mother. He also warms to other people in general.
  • Madden Into Misanthropy: Tom became misanthropic and reclusive as a result of losing his wife and baby son, 40 years before.
  • Mistaken Age: Owing to his deprivation at the start of the story, William, who's nearly nine, resembles a five- or six-year-old to a doctor.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: In addition to being The Fundamentalist, Will's mother is also an anti-Semite and flies into a rage when she finds out that her son is friends with a Jew.
  • Pride: Will's mother refuses the clothes and gifts he brings back from Little Weirwold, offended at the thought of taking "charity".
  • Promotion to Parent: Tom. "He called me Dad."
  • Rage Against the Heavens: William's reaction when learning of the death of Zach.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Zach's use of the words delumptious and scrumplicious, two portmanteaux (delicious & scrumptious) coined by Enid Blyton.
    • He also uses nonsense phrases such as Calloo! callay!, coined by Lewis Carroll.
    • Although it's more specifically called out (because Tom read the story to Willie) also Rudyard Kipling's language from the Just So Stories.
  • Survivor Guilt: Will blames himself for his sister's death because he wasn't able to escape.
  • Take That!: To BBC organist Sandy Macpherson (a real wartime performer):
    Tom:[grumpily] I been hearing that blessed organ music on and off all blimmin' day. Can't he play no other instrument?
    Draper: That's Sandy Macpherson. Wonderful man. Holding the B.B.C. together hin this national time hof stress, Mr. Hoakley.
    Tom: Sure he ent causin' it?
  • Wham Episode: (Or rather chapter). There are two. The first, where William returns to London to find his mother insane and is left to die with his newborn sister (who does) is more predictable than the second — after a series of "everything's all right again" chapters, Zach is suddenly called back to London and killed in an air raid.
  • You Are What You Hate: One possible interpretation of one of Will's mother's neighbours mentioning a lot of banging sounds at night as if the furniture were being moved around is that Will's mother is a prostitute. Her fanatic hatred of sex could be a result of this. Will's mother's neighbour also mentions that Mrs Beech takes in lodgers, who have her bedroom, and she sleeps downstairs - "or, that's what she says". It's also how she would have fallen pregnant with Trudy.

Alternative Title(s): Goodnight Mr Tom