“Previous Good Conduct” by Ruth Thomas

Table of Content

Written by Ruth Thomas, the short story “Previous Good Conduct” focuses on the protagonist, specifically the character of the mother who takes care of the children at home. The mother is depicted as having unusual beliefs and behaving in irrational ways. The story can be divided into three key parts that revolve around the protagonist.

In the short story “Previous Good Conduct,” the protagonist’s initial attitude towards life is portrayed as indifferent. Additionally, through flashbacks, it becomes evident that she holds negative views towards her children. The story also explores how she justifies her actions to herself. The first part of the story focuses on her blase attitude towards life, as her living area is described as untidy, raising questions about her neglect of both the mess and her children, such as her four-year-old son Bobby.

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The scene is messy with ‘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 main character appears to be merely observing without taking action. The first glimpse of her escalating anger is seen when she shouts ‘dirty little pig’ at her three-year-old son for licking mucus from his nose. This reaction may seem excessive considering the young boy’s lack of understanding about his actions.

On the whole, the protagonist’s initial impression is peculiar because of her unpredictable behavior. The short story is marked by numerous flashbacks in which the protagonist appears to dwell in the past and express remorse for her current life. The first standout flashback portrays her time at an ice block factory, where she enjoyed the company of friends. This memory holds a special place as she fondly recalls the enjoyable moments and laughter shared with Joan, Maureen, and Peggy.

The protagonist reflects on the desire to communicate with her children again, as they are currently unable to do so and only cry. This signifies her negative opinion of her children and her longing for her previous career and activities that she used to share with friends. Another significant flashback involves the protagonist reminiscing about her first date with her partner, Frank, and how her friends had envied her. She then recalls Frank’s appearance this morning, with half-shaved facial hair, red eyes, and shouting direct demands at her, such as asking her to keep the kids quiet for two minutes. Both of these flashbacks indicate that the protagonist consistently associates negative thoughts with her children, suggesting that she partially holds them responsible for her unhappiness and would prefer to live the life she had before having Bobby and Johnny.

In the concluding paragraphs of the story, the protagonist justifies her actions as rational. She demonstrates this by making the decision to visit the hair salon. When she summons Bobby, he enthusiastically rushes out wearing his gumboots. She believes that it is inconsequential that his boots are on the wrong feet, as going to the salon is also a treat for him. This behavior is not only self-centered but also highly illogical.

Bobby’s mother acted unreasonably when she allowed him to walk for ‘over a mile’ wearing his gumboots on the wrong feet, causing him considerable discomfort. Another instance of her justifying her behavior is seen when Bobby wets his pants, and she yells at him to keep them on while smacking him across the face, causing his head to move back and forth like a wooden doll.

The protagonist justifies her actions by recalling how her own mother had disciplined them with a belt, which taught them to obey. While this demonstrates the protagonist’s reasoning for her unwarranted behavior, it ultimately portrays her in a negative light. The three main impressions of the protagonist in the short story, Previous Good Conduct, collectively suggest that she is mentally unstable. This idea is reinforced by the introductory ‘extract’ from the evening paper.

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“Previous Good Conduct” by Ruth Thomas. (2016, Dec 19). Retrieved from


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