The Happiest Days of Your Life

This study guide will help you analyse the short story “The Happiest Days of Your Life” (1978) by Penelope Lively.You can also find a summary of the text, as well as inspiration for interpreting it and putting it into perspective

Here you can read an extract from our study guide:

From the beginning of the story, a simile appears to suggest Charles’ feeling of isolation or the emotional distance between him and his parents: “The sunlight was (…) remote as a coloured photograph” (p. 54, l. 4). A similar feeling is suggested by another simile: “the comb went through her hair and he saw the grooves it left, neat as distant ploughing” (p. 56, ll. 6-7).

The Spokes are “like paired cards in Happy Families” (p. 57, ll. 31-32), a simile which suggests their similar clothing but, more importantly, the harmonious image they want to project. Happy Families is a traditional British card game in which players must match picture cards that depict members of the same families. Also, you might say that a reference to happy families is ironic since this text describes Charles’ family is a distanced, cold one.

Two similes are used to suggest Charles’ powerlessness against Mrs Spokes’ authority, when she takes him to meet his potential classmates. She “simply bears him away like some relentless tide (…) she tows him like a frail craft” (p. 57, ll. 42-44). These similes emphasise Mrs Spokes’ authority by comparing her to a natural force, and it also suggests that Charles’ enrolment at the school is inevitable and will be decided without reference to him.

When his future classmates begin to ask him many questions, Charles becomes overwhelmed, which is suggested through another simile: “There is a noise in his ears like rushing water” (p. 58, l. 21).

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The Happiest Days of Your Life

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