“In The Lumber Room despite ill-treatment, Nicholas remains happy.” Support your answer with examples from the text.
The short story The Lumber Room is written by Hector Hugh Munro in the 1890s. According to many critics the story reflects some of the experiences he had to go through as a child at the hands of his harsh aunt. It is a story of a young boy who has a resilient mind and an unyielding and daring spirit. Through his joy and courage, he remains optimistic/hopeful and does not allow the aunt to crush his spirit.
The aunt is portrayed as a vindictive and malicious character who terrorizes the children and seeks to submit them into obedience through fear and shame. Her punishments are not meant to teach them good values or build their character. They rather instill fear in the children. She is obsessed about her authority over them and feels threatened when Nicholas refuses to be intimidated by her. She is in the habit of planning trips not for the enjoyment of the children, but to shame and deprive a ‘guilty’ child of a fun-filled day in the name of discipline. Making them feel shameful and remorseful satisfies her; this is quite sadistic.
In the case of Nicholas, he has no reprieve from her wrath as he defies her disciplinary action and openly and fearlessly challenges her. Therefore, he is treated with further animosity and has to bear the brunt of her anger. While the other children would not dare speak up against her ill-treatment, he spoke up bravely; he knew that this would guarantee him an extra serving of her punishments, but he was crafty enough to use it for his own advantage.
The aunt deprived the children of simple pleasures such as strawberry jam for tea even when there were four jars of it. She lies about the jam and even the breakfast they routinely eat is just bread and milk, which does not sound appetizing. Nicholas mentions how the aunt ignores their grievances;
You often don’t listen when we tell you important things.
Bobby’s boots were too tight for him and she was told twice about it, but she takes no notice of it. He has to go for the outing with the boots cutting into his feet; an experience which is painful.
While the aunt’s ill-treatment of the children is evident, Nicholas’ unyielding and unbroken spirit stands out as he is able to maintain an optimistic attitude. It is his courage which allows him to keep his spirits up even in a house full of such miserable practices. He challenges the aunt and proves that ‘older, wiser and better people’ can be wrong, and goes to the extreme of putting a frog in his food. Even though it seems rather radical, it is quite creative and daring – it is this unyielding spirit which allows him to stay optimistic and happy.
His creativity and craftiness in devising a plan to enter the lumber room gives him purpose and motivation. He perceives the house as ‘bare and cheerless,’ and in contrast, is delighted with the treasures in the lumber room. When he enters in and muses about the tapestry, he sees it as a ‘living and breathing story.’ His creativity and imagination feeds his curiosity. He occupies himself in the world of the tapestry, and contemplates about the stag, the wolves, the huntsman and how he has only two arrows left in his quiver. Entering into this world of his imagination seems to be a coping mechanism he uses to escape the grim reality which he faces at the aunt’s house.
Even though the aunt claims to be ‘older, wiser and better’ than the children, Nicholas continues to challenge her assumption; by the end of the story the readers are quite convinced about the narrator’s sarcasm in the statement. The aunt comes off as petty, vindictive and authoritarian. Nicholas’ intelligence and shrewdness allows him to challenge her, and his wit gives him the opportunity to prove her wrong. When she tries to outsmart him, he is one step ahead of her and manipulates her movement in such a way that she puts herself on ‘self-imposed sentry duty.’ This ability to outwit his aunt is another reason why he is able to be optimistic in such conditions.