“Previous Good Conduct” by Ruth Thomas

In the short story Previous Good Conduct, written by author Ruth Thomas, the protagonist stands out particularly; that is the character of the mother left at home to look after the children. She is portrayed as a woman who holds very peculiar views and her actions and thoughts are quite unreasonable. There are three important parts to the short story that are relative to the protagonist.

These are: the first few sentences that show her initial attitude to life, the flashbacks that show her negative views towards her children and lastly the way in which she convinces herself of the reasoning behind her actions. In the first part of the short story, Previous Good Conduct, the protagonist’s attitude towards life seems very blase. She is also painted as a person that deals with her emotions by hurting others, such as her nearly four year old son Bobby. She seems blase because in the first few sentences, her living area is described as very untidy and it seems unrealistic that a mother would ignore the mess and her children.

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It is untidy because there were ‘cornflakes crunching under her slippers’, ‘a trickle of milk running down the leg of the highchair’, and a ‘nappy resting where she had dropped it’. The protagonist doesn’t seem to be doing anything during this time, other than surveying the scene. The reader first discovers her fast changing anger levels when she screams ‘dirty little pig’ at her young, three year old son when he licks mucous that is running down his nose. This action seems to be very inordinate, seeing as her son is a young boy that wouldn’t understand what is wrong with his actions.

Overall, the first impression of the protagonist is an odd one, due to her unpredictable actions. Throughout this short story, the protagonist has many flashbacks; that give the impression that she lives more in the past and seemingly regrets her present life. The first notable flashback is that of when she used to work at an ice block factory, where she had friends. This memory is a fond one for her as she can reflect on the fun and ‘lot of laughs’ that she had with ‘Joan and Maureen and Peggy’.

The protagonist’s thoughts then turn to how great it would be to ‘talk to them’ again as ‘kid’s couldn’t talk – only grizzle, grizzle. ’ This shows a negative opinion towards her children and a lust for her old career and pastimes that she shared with friends. The second notable flashback is when the protagonist is thinking of her first date with her partner, Frank and how her friends had been jealous of her. She then remembers how Frank was this morning; ‘half-shaved’, ‘red eyes’, and shouting blunt demands at her such as ‘can’t you keep those bloody kids quiet for two minutes. Both of these flashbacks show that the protagonist always thinks of negative things regarding her children, and this reveals that she, in some ways, blames having children for her unhappiness; and would rather be living the life that she had before both Bobby and Johnny were born.

The final few paragraphs of this short story show that the protagonist convinces herself that her actions are rational. This is shown firstly when she decides to go to the hair salon; she calls for Bobby and he comes running out and outs on his gumboots. She thinks that it ‘didn’t matter that they were on the wrong feet. because going to the salon was ‘a treat for him too. ’ Not only is this selfish, but it is very unreasonable.

Walking for ‘over a mile’ with his gumboots on the wrong feet would have caused Bobby quite some discomfort, and a level-headed decision was not made by the mother. Another example of the protagonist justifying her action occurs when Bobby wets his pants and she screams at him ‘You can just keep them on! ’ and proceeds to smack him across the side of the face, so that his head ‘waggled backwards and forwards like a wooden doll’.

She thinks this is acceptable because her own mother had ‘belted all of them’ and it had taught them to ‘do as they were told. ’ This shows that despite her actions being extremely unwarranted, the protagonist cajoles herself to think that they are acceptable by referring to her own personal thoughts and experiences. The protagonist in the short story, Previous Good Conduct, is portrayed in a very negative light. The three main impressions of her all contribute to the concluding notion that she is not in a sane state of mind. This notion is supported by the ‘extract’ from the evening paper that is at the very start of the short story.

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“Previous Good Conduct” by Ruth Thomas. (2016, Dec 19). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/previous-good-conduct/