Kindly Influence and Personal Healing in ‘Goodnight Mister Tom’

Child negligence can cause long term fear which may result in nightmares and flashbacks of the incident. During World War II parents in Britain often sent their children to live with foster parents in rural areas in order to escape the effects the war caused in urban cities. Goodnight Mister Tom (1981) written by Michelle Magorian is a historical fiction novel that explores the damage caused as a result of child abuse and further promotes the power of love to heal an individual, emotionally scarred from a troubled childhood.

Child negligence is a form of physical and mental abuse inflicted on a minor which may have a significant effect on their identity and personality development. Willie in Goodnight Mister Tom effecting his personality, confidence and social skills extremely has been abused both physically and mentally by his disdainful mother. Willie is talking very harshly about himself as he is scared upon the expectations that he thinks Uncle Tom has set for him behaviour due to the fact that he thinks the way his mother has raised him is normal, “‘I must be good,’ he whispered urgently, ‘I must be good,’. He was such a bad boy, he knew that. Mum said she was ‘kinder’ to him than most mothers.” Willie expresses the mental abuse that he feels by him being characterised with a shy and fearful personality as he stressfully says “I must be good”, also Willie’s mother shows a form of irony by saying she was kinder then most parents despite her being highly abusive. Mrs Veech explains in a letter to Uncle Tom that she put a leather belt in Willie’s suitcase, “I’ve put the belt in for when he’s bad”. The physical abuse inflicted onto Willie is revealed through ambiguity as it leaves readers to wonder what might happen in Willie’s household and the abuse he is subject to. Willie is hit by his mother in a dark room due to him being constantly argumentative, “Something heavy hit him across the head and he sank into a cold darkness.” The powerful adjective ‘heavy’ describes that Willie’s mother hit him intentionally and wanted to hurt him, also the metaphor ‘sank’ describes how Willie collapsed as the object hit him due to the powerful force of the object. Hence, Magorian’s novel reveals the harmful effects that both physical and mental abuse can have on an child’s personality and well-being.

Love and kindness has the power to heal broken individuals by helping them forget about their past and by restoring the happiness in one. Goodnight Mister Tom outlines the joyfulness that Uncle Tom brings to Willie by making him feel special and appreciated through simple acts of kindness. After Willie was scared about getting beat from Uncle Tom for hurting Sammy Tom replied with kindness saying that he won’t abuse Willie, “I don’t know nothing about children, but I do know enough not to beat em and make them scared.” Tom explains in a comforting tone that he won’t beat Willie because it is simply cruel he uses a metaphor ‘I don’t know nothing about children’ which means that he is inexperienced with children and knows little however he knows it is morally wrong to beat a child. Uncle Tom was proud at the fact that Willie was able to leave Little Weirwold and go back to his mother changed and developed, “Tom was terribly proud of him but then he had been for a long time.” After Willie left to go back to his mother Tom expresses with an adjective ‘terribly’ that he is very proud of Willie and has been for a long time due to his rapid development and his changing personality. After finding out that Tom was successfully able to adopt Willie he was overjoyed by the fact that he no longer had to go to his old life of being abuse, hurt and hated, “do you think you can die of happiness?… It’s jest that I feel as if I’m going to burst.” Willie rhetorically questions Tom sarcastically by asking if you could die from happiness which is a metaphor that he is very happy by Tom’s kindness. Subsequently the novel exposes how love and kindness can change an individual’s personality despite a troubling past.

The physical and mental abuse of Willie has had a huge effect on his personality and attitude since he was a very young child. Goodnight Mister Tom furthermore prompts readers to question child abuse and the irreversible problems that it may cause on individuals, and also how love and kindness can heal people no matter their circumstance. Child abuse can cause irreplaceable damage upon an individual that may last a lifetime.