I am going to explore the theme of bullying in the novel Kes. The novel is set in the north of England (Yorkshire). The social context of the novel is that the society offered them very little. Most of the children only got jobs in coal mines so the community was full of coal miners. The economic context of the novel is that they are quite poor. People left school at the age of fifteen before the raising of the school leaving age. Students like Billy felt that school and society offered them very little.
The writer explores many different themes in this novel; some of these are to with people feeling imprisoned, family conflicts, freedom, nature and education. However the theme of bullying is of particular importance because Billy is subjected to a wide variety of different forms of bullying which almost crush his spirit and his sense of humour. The novel opens with Jud; Jud is Billy’s older brother, so we have been told in the novel. Jud is the kind of person that likes to get his own way at home.
As soon as Jud comes in to the scene we are shown the way in which he bullies Billy. This begins by the alarm going off for Jud. Jud is in a bad mood. Jud physically bullies Billy this is shown in the novel when ‘He swung his fist under the blankets and thumped Billy in the kidneys’, This is a very bad place to hit someone especially someone as small as Billy he can suffer really badly and would be in agony. He also verbally bullies Billy this is by telling him things that had happened to him that he was not pleased with such as growing up to become a coal minor and getting up early in the morning.
‘Another few weeks lad, an’ tha’ll be getting up wi’ me.’ The reason that jud is like this is maybe because, Billy is smaller than Jud. Jud can not do anything to change the way in which he lives. He does not have power in his own life, he has no money, he hates his job, and he wants to make someone suffer, so he uses Billy as a scapegoat. In the assembly we are shown the way in which they use institutional bullying. ‘Hymn number one-seven-five, “new every morning is the love” This sounds sarcastic because this is the opposite of the life they normally have. While the hymn was going, Pupils tried to stand up for themselves by coughing and making the head angry No one really saw who it was, so when the teachers picked out the students, they just did it randomly as if they knew who it was even though the pupils protested and it was not even some of them but instead the head lied and said he saw who it was.
‘Don’t argue lad, I saw you.’ When Billy arrives at school he is immediately bullied by his teacher because he falls asleep in assembly. The head teacher humiliates the children he shouts at the pupils for little unnecessary things. The pupils are the victims. ‘I’ll make you sing like you’ve never sung before.’ The head is bossy and threatens them. But although this is the case the Head still seems powerless. It is shown by his role. The smallest boy is bullied by smokers; they force him to take the cigarettes. When he tries to tell the head about the message he was told to pass on the head does not listen to him, and instead punishes him along with the others.
‘I’m sick of you boys, you’ll be the death of me.’ ‘ so for want of a better solution I continue using the cane, knowing full well that you’ll be back time and time again for some more.’ ‘Please, sir…’ ‘Quiet, lad! And get your pockets emptied!’ The head finally discovers that the smallest boy has the cigarettes so he smacks all of them on their hands with the cane Head uses cane to conflict pain/humiliation. Wants to dominate through fear. The head does not care about what they have to say. Not caring about any of the students. He wants to make sure nothing gets out of control, quite afraid of what will happen if they do get out of control. As you can see the head master wants to feel in power.
Mr Sugden is particularly cruel to Billy and bullies him physically, mentally and emotionally this is in his pe lessons. ‘I bet that was stimulating for him, wasn’t it?’ ‘Every lesson it’s the same old story, “please, sir, I’ve no kit.”‘ The teacher mimics him, makes a joke out of him. Mr Sugden shows his anger towards Billy by throwing the ball at him with a lot of force and wanting to hurt him very badly. Then he purposely humiliates Billy by giving him shorts for pe that are way too big for him, and makes him wear them. ‘What are you talking about, lad? You can get them on, cant you?’ Finally Mr Sugden makes Billy suffer by forcing him to shower in freezing water an example of his physical strength is: ‘Sugden back-handed him hard across the cheek, swinging his face, and knocking him back into an avenue of clothing.
When Billy goes into the shower, Mr Sugden does not care if Billy gets ill. In the playground, MacDowall, another student, tries to bully Billy by insulting his mother but Billy defends himself and is supported by Mr Farthing. He bullies the bully back to show him how it feels to be bullied. Mr Farthing is a different kind of teacher he actually listens to what Billy has to say. The worst bullying Billy experiences is when Jud kills Kes, Billy’s only friend, just because Billy did not place a bet for Jud. I think that Billy goes to the cinema as a source of comfort. This is the last memory he has being happy with his farther. All of a sudden an abrupt change of mood, his mum is having an affair and then his dad leaves. Then the memory is over. Billy wants to escape in to a better life. Where Kes is alive, Billy is powerful and Jud can’t do any thing to Billy or Kes. But there is no escape. Billy returns to the same situation.
The writer creates sympathy for Billy by showing that he can survive no matter what life throws at him. He shows that Billy is resilient, that he does not get defeated by anything. My own personal response to the novel is that, Bullying is in the whole society. And that there is not many choices given to anyone in the society to become anything of themselves. I have not actually experienced this myself but it did make me think about people and life. It is a harsh society.