The Children in the Classroom
The children in the classroom all exhibit similar behavior. Most of the time they reveal their inattentiveness. While the first boy is reading, they whisper among themselves instead of following along in the text. They also spend a lot of time staring at a paper puppet hanging at the front of the class. They apparently fear the teacher, as noted when they look toward the teacher and reveal “a vaguely questioning, or fearful, expression.” As soon as the first boy stops reading, their attention immediately returns to the book.
The first boy is one of three boys in the classroom to whom readers are introduced. At the beginning of the sketch, he reads aloud. As he is reading, he suggests that he is obedient as he has been following the teacher’s rigid directions about pauses for punctuation. When the boy suddenly pauses, the narrator concludes the boy has come to a period and states “he gave the impression that he was making an effort to indicate the end of a paragraph.”
The boy’s actions suggest boredom as he reads each passage “with the same studious voice, expressionless and a bit too slow.” Perhaps it is this boredom that causes him to appear inattentive, even a bit rebellious, when the teacher confronts him. When the teacher demands that he continue reading, the boy looks behind the teacher at the paper puppet before beginning again. At another point, when the teacher criticizes him, the boy pauses, glancing around the room before he tries to defend himself. The narrator does not make clear the motives behind these actions.
The schoolboy is standing by a tree outside of the classroom. He is described as peering intently at the tree, exhibiting a tremendous degree of concentration as he alternates between staring at the branches and the bark. He also shows determination as he continually attempts to reach the leaves that are just outside of his grasp. He is periodically watched by the teacher.
The teacher calls on the second boy after the one who was reading first could not answer a question. The second boy appears intelligent, providing a correct answer to the question posed, but he also shows the same boredom and possible rebellion as did the first boy. When the teacher asks the second boy to summarize the entire passage they have been reading, he pauses and looks out the window. Like the first boy, he clearly has not been thinking very much about the passage, since when he summarizes the story, under orders from the teacher, for the rest of the students, he does it “almost coherently.” He does not hit all the main points of the story, stressing instead minor details.
The teacher shows his impatience and his shortness of temper when, in “a severe tone,” he asks the first boy who has stopped reading, “What are you waiting for?” Later, he slaps the desk with his hand, correcting the boy’s reading of the story and telling him to pay attention to what he is reading. Like his students, the teacher also appears bored with the lesson, frequently looking out the window, apparently at the schoolboy who is peering at the tree.
The third boy starts to read after the teacher interrupts the second boy’s summary. The third boy reads with the same bored attitude as the others.
Carol Ullmann (Editor) Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 15, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Published by Gale, 2002.