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