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Here is an analysis of each chapter in Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee.

Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee : chapter analysis photo

A general summary

In Cider with Rosie, Laurie Lee recalls his childhood and adolescence. He was one of seven children in a close family headed by his mother : he grew up in England, in a Cotswold village governed by tradition.

The book is organised in accord with his own early exploration of his widening world. He examines his infant sensations, his cottage, his yard, his village and Cotswold valley, then local superstitions, village education, his neighbours, public tragedies, private life-stories, his childhood games, village celebrations, sexual initiations, and the eventual changes as his childhood, his close family life, and the traditional village life pass away for ever.

Chapter 1 : First Light

In this chapter, Lee gives a three-year-old’s perceptions and misconceptions : small in relation to objects around him, Laurie crawls among “forests” of household objects : he believes autumn is a season and the war’s end means the end of the world. Lee uses metaphors and similes (often of water) to communicate the child’s sense of adventure.

This chapter introduces most of the themes that will be developed in the story throughout the different episodes of Laurie’s childhood : the importance of family ties, the constant presence and role of the women in his own development and the absence of a father, the magic in the world surrounding him causing numerous fears, the importance of the seasons and the overwhelming presence of nature and death.

Chapter 2 : First Names

The second chapter is divided into three sections. It begins in dark winter with peace and the men returning from war and it ends in the “long hot summer of 1921”. It roughly has to do with night-time feelings: dreams, terrors and superstitions.

The village legends : ignorance and superstition were common features shared by all the people of the village, and they led them to fear a world which seemed totally unpredictable and was governed by magic laws. Some animals or natural phenomena were given a particular meaning and there were ill omens that brought bad luck to those who crossed their path.

The village freaks : the freaks such as Cabbage Stump Charlie, Albert the Devil, Percy from Painswick… were all more or less physically or mentally peculiar. The reader might be surprised at the number of handicapped people who populated the area. This phenomenon could be explained by the fact that there was so great mixing of the population, which led to the problem of consanguinity. Besides, diseases and malnutrition must have led to further handicap. These freaks with their “cartoon” nicknames were probably the most striking and frightening people whom the little boy had heard of or seen in his narrow world.

The flood : the chapter ends then with another apocalyptic scene : the flood following a particularly dry summer. This part enables the narrator to emphasize the role religion played for the villagers at that time. In their eyes, the world was driven by magic forces that could be influenced, either by appeals to god, the Christian God, or if this did not work, by resorting to other methods: “as the drought continued, prayer was abandoned and more devilish steps adopted”.

Chapter 3 : Village school

The third chapter focuses on Laurie’s school experiences, from his first day of the Infant Room to the day he left Miss Warldey’s Big Room forever. The realization that he had to leave the house one morning and go to school came as a shock.

This second stage in the process of growing up proved as frustrating and painful as the first one (leaving his mother’s bed): he discovered a world which appeared to be hostile, violent, and full of dangers. It is as if his progressive discovery of the world followed a recurring pattern : shock, terror, the impression of being alone in an hostile world, then a final, unexpected rescue when things seemed to be at their worst.

School was the place where Laurie learnt how to discriminate between right and wrong, which was his first step toward losing his innocence. School was also the means through which tradition was perpetuated. It enabled the children to accept those who, for some reason, were different, by forcing them to mix together.

Chapter 4 : The Kitchen

In this chapter, he presents his home life – centered on the kitchen – on a typical day (using the same pattern as in other chapters), thus he catches the atmosphere which was predominant in his early childhood. He emphasizes the importance of the light in the room and the necessity of a good fire. Laurie Lee’s mother’s behaviour around the fire suggests that keeping the fire alive was a question of life and death.

Chapter 5 : Grannies in the Wainscot

Chapter 5 is devoted to the history of the Lee’s seventeenth century Cotswold house. It was once a country manor, then a “public beer-house” or a pub, and it was later divided into three “poor cottages”. In the other two cottages lived Granny Wallon and Granny Trill, two old ladies who were life-long enemies. Their death happened sometime during Laurie’s childhood.

Chapter 6 : Public Death, Private Murder

The events recounted here (Vincent’s murder, Miss Flynn’s suicide and the death of old Mr Davies) date back to an early period of Laurie’s childhood. Following the recollection of those tragic events, the narrator reflects upon the values and beliefs of the people in this valley, insisting once again on the durability or persistence of ancient traditions and attitudes.

At that time, death was no directly feared. What the villagers seemed to fear most was the presence of ghosts, haunted spots, ominous sighs from the sky, weird looking creatures which were actually substitutes for death itself. The villagers’ metaphysical fear of death had shifted to other objects.

Chapter 7 : Mother

A whole chapter is dedicated to Laurie’s mother. It encompasses her whole life, from her birth to her death, at which time the narrator was an adult. He insists on his mother’s personality and the characteristics that made her so unique, so exceptional. It is no surprise that Laurie Lee’s mother should occupy the central chapter of the book : in the same way, she occupied the center of his life when he was a child.

Chapter 8 : Winter and Summer

Life in the village was dominated by two main seasons – Winter and Summer. In chapter 8, Lee condenses a childhood of summer and winter days into an account : one typical winter day and one typical summer day. The chapter is constructed on a symmetrical plan : early morning lights and sounds, then outdoor activities, helping farmers with their cattle and playing with other boys, then roaming the countryside in the evening.

In the week before Christmas, they spent the evening singing Christmas carols in the whole area. Each section revolves around Jone’s pond, which is described at length.

Narratives

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

Macbeth by Shakespeare

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare

Richard III by Shakespeare

World War One Poetry

Regeneration by Pat Barker

Introduction

Laurie Lee belongs to a large family, due to his father’s two marriages.

The first time, his father got 8 kids but only 5 survived: Marjorie, Dorothy, Phyllis, Reggie and Harold.

The second time, with Laurie’s mother, he got 4 kids and just 3 survived: Laurie, Tony and Jack. There are 8 members in the family and Laurie is one of the youngest.

Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee : chapter analysis photo

I. The 3 half-sisters

Marjorie: is the eldest. She’s a blonde Aphrodite. She’s tall, long-haired, and dreamily gentle, and her voice is low and slow. She’s quite unconscious of the rarity of herself, moving always to measures of oblivious grace and wearing her beauty like a kind of sleep. (p.61-62)

Dorothy: is a wispy imp, pretty and perilous as a firework. She is an active forager who lives on thrills, provoked adventure, and brought home gossip. She is agile as a jungle cat, quick limbed, entrancing, noisy. In repose she is also something else: a fairy-tale girl, blue as a plum, tender and sentimental. (p.62)

Phyllis: is the youngest of the three. She’s cool, quiet, tobacco-haired, fragile girl, who carries her good looks with an air of apology. She is an odd girl, an unclassified solitary, compelled to her own devices, quick to admire and slow to complain. (p.62-63)

Laurie gives us an account of his sisters’ personalities with a very detailed description. He seems to admire his sisters :

  • “These half sisters I cherished”, p.63
  • “Generous, indulgent, warm-blooded and dotty, these girls were not hard to admire. They seemed wrapped as it were in perpetual bloom, the glamour of their grown-up teens, and expressed for us boys all that women should be in beauty, style, and artifice. For there was no doubt at all about the beauty or the naturalness with which they wore it”, p.61

Laurie’s sisters protect and rescue him:

  • “Faces of rose, familiar, living; huge shining faces hung up like shields between me and the sky; faces with grins and white teeth (some broken) to be conjured up like genii with a howl, brushing off terror with their broad scolding and affection”, p.9
  • “Marjorie, the eldest, lifted me into her long brown hair, and ran me jogging down the path and trough the steep rose-filled garden”, p.10
  • “How magnificent they appeared, full-rigged, those towering girls, with their flying hair and billowing blouses, their white-mast arms stripped for work or washing; at any moments one was boarded by them, bussed and buttoned, or swung up high like a wriggling fish to be hooked and held in their lacy linen”, p.15

Moreover, when Laurie’s mother went to see his father, the sisters played a preponderant role. They played a part in Laurie’s education. They appeared as a second parents and formed a microcosm closer to their brothers than their mother :

  • “Suddenly there where only girls in the house, tumbling about with brooms and dishcloths, arguing, quarrelling, and putting us to bed at random. […] Marjorie was breathless and everywhere; she was fourteen, with all the family in her care. […] But we ate; and the girls moved about in a giggling flurry, exhausted at their losing game. […] All this time the sisters went through the house, darting upstairs and down, beset on all sides by the rain coming in, boys growing filthier, sheets scorching, saucepans burning, and kettles boiling over. The doll’s-house became a mad house, and the girls frail birds flying in a wind of chaos. Doth giggled helplessly, Phyl wept among the vegetables, and Marjorie would say, when the day was over, “I’d lie down and die, if there was a place to lie down in”, p.20-21

II. The girls’ lovers

Marjorie’s is Maurice. Dorothy’s is Leslie, “a shy local scoutmaster, at least until he met her”. Phyllis’s is Harold the Bootmaker, “who had fine Latin books, played the piano by ear, and sang songs about old-fashioned mothers”, p.225

  • “The sisters, as I said, were about to get married. Harold was working at a factory lathe. Brother Jack was at grammar school, and his grammar was excellent; and Tony still had a fine tremble voice. My mother half-knew me, but couldn’t help, I felt doomed, and of all things wonderful.” p.231
  • “Marjorie was off to her Milliners’ Store. Dorothy was off to her job as junior clerk in a decayed cloth-mill by a stream. Phyllis was off to her Boots-and-shoes” p.68

III. The 2 half-brothers

Reggie : the first born, is only once mentioned because “he lived apart with his grandmother”, p.63

Harold : “was handsome, bony, and secretive, and he loved our absent father. He stood somewhat apart, laughed down his nose, and was unhappy more often than not. Though younger than the girls, he seemed a generation older, was clever with his hands, but lost.”, p.63

IV. The 2 true brothers

Jack: “was the eldest. He was the sharp one, bright as a knife, and was also my close companion. We played together, fought and ratted, built a private structure around us, shared the same bed till I finally left home, and lived off each other’s brains.” p.63

Tony: “the baby, strange and beautiful waif, was a brooding, imaginative solitary. Like Phyllis he suffered from being the odd one of three; worse still, he was the odd one of seven. He was always either running to keep up with the rest of us or sitting alone in the mud. His curious, crooked, suffering face had at times the radiance of a saint, at others the blank watchfulness of an insect. He could walk by himself or keep very still, get lost or appear as wrong moments. He drew like an artist, wouldn’t read or write, swallowed beads by the boxfull, sang and danced, was quite without fear, had secret friends, and was prey to terrible nightmares. Tony was the one visionary amongst us, the tiny hermit no one quite understood…”, p.63

Laurie seems to be very close to Jack:

  • “My brother Jack, who was with me in the Infants, was too clever to stay there long. Indeed he was so bright he made us uncomfortable.” p.47
  • “Jack, already the accepted genius, was long past our scope or help. It was agreed that his brains were of such distinction that they absolved him from mortal contacts. So he was left in a corner where his flashes of brilliance kept him twinkling away like a pin-table.” p.52-53
  • “He was jumpy, shifty, and quick-off-the-mark, an electric flex of nerves, skinny compared to the rest of us, or what farmers might call a ‘poor doer’. If they had, in fact, they would have been quite wrong, for Jack did himself very well. He had developed a mealtime strategy which ensured that he ate for two. Speed and guile were the keys to his success, and we hungry ones called him The Slider.” p.69