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The Great Mouse Plot (Roald Dahl)


In Boy: Tales of Childhood, Roald Dahl tells us about his youth, focusing on some of his most remarkable childhood memories. A lot of irony is introduced by the first person narrator who describes these scenes with the hindsight of age.




My four friends and I had come across a loose floor-board at the back of the classroom, and when we prised it up with the blade of a pocket-knife, we discovered a big hollow space underneath. This, we decided, would be our secret hiding place for sweets and other small treasures such as conkers and monkey-nuts and birds' eggs. Every afternoon, when the last lesson was over, the five of us would wait until the classroom had emptied, then we would lift up the floor-board and examine our secret hoard, perhaps adding to it or taking something away.
One day, when we lifted it up, we found a dead mouse lying among our treasures. It was an exciting discovery. Thwaites took it out by its tail and waved it in front of our faces. 'What shall we do with it?' he cried.
'It stinks!' someone shouted. 'Throw it out of the window quick!'
'Hold on a tick,' I said. 'Don't throw it away.'
Thwaites hesitated. They all looked at me.
When writing about oneself, one must strive to be truthful. Truth is more important than modesty. I must tell you, therefore, that it was I and I alone who had the idea for the great and daring Mouse Plot. We all have our moments of brilliance and glory, and this was mine.
'Why don't we', I said, 'slip it into one of Mrs Pratchett's jars of sweets? Then when she puts her dirty hand in to grab a handful, she'll grab a stinky dead mouse instead.'
The other four stared at me in wonder. Then, as the sheer genius of the plot began to sink in, they all started grinning. They slapped me on the back. They cheered me and danced around the classroom. 'We'll do it today!' they cried. 'We'll do it on the way home! You had the idea,' they said to me, 'so you can be the one to put the mouse in the jar.'
Thwaites handed me the mouse. I put it into my trouser pocket. Then the five of us left the school, crossed the village green and headed for the sweet-shop. We were tremendously jazzed up. We felt like a gang of desperados setting out to rob a train or blow up the sheriff's office.
'Make sure you put it into a jar which is used often,' somebody said.
'I'm putting it in Gobstoppers,' I said. 'The Gobstopper jar is never behind the counter.'
'I've got a penny,' Thwaites said, 'so I'll ask for one Sherbet Sucker and one Bootlace. And while she turns away to get them, you slip the mouse in quickly with the Gobstoppers.'
Thus everything was arranged. We were strutting a little as we entered the shop. We were the victors now and Mrs Pratchett was the victim. She stood behind the counter, and her small malignant pig-eyes watched us suspiciously as we came forward.
'One Sherbet Sucker, please,' Thwaites said to her, holding out his penny.
I kept to the rear of the group, and when I saw Mrs Pratchett turn her head away for a couple of seconds to fish a Sherbet Sucker out of the box, I lifted the heavy glass lid of the Gobstopper jar and dropped the mouse in. Then I replaced the lid as silently as possible. My heart was thumping like mad and my hands had gone all sweaty.
'And one Bootlace, please,' I heard Thwaites saying. When I turned round, I saw Mrs Pratchett holding out the Bootlace in her filthy fingers.
'I don't want all the lot of you troopin' in 'ere if only one of you is buyin', ' she screamed at us. 'Now beat it! Go on, get out!'
As soon as we were outside, we broke into a run. 'Did you do it?' they shouted at me.
'Of course I did!' I said.
'Well done you!' they cried. 'What a super show!'
I felt like a hero. I was a hero. It was marvellous to be so popular.

Roald Dahl, Boy: Tales of Childhood, 1984

 

Key questions


1) "When writing about oneself, one must strive to be truthful." Do you think this statement is honest or ironic? Are there elements in the story that sound exaggerated?

2) Which narrative devices make this tale very lively and entertaining?

3) What shows that the protagonist, like most children, is very self-centered?

4) Find elements showing that the narrator makes fun of the children's enthusiasm and excitement.

5) "I felt like a hero. I was a hero." What does the use of italics on "was" suggest? Does the adult narrator use the hindsight of age to judge or comment on his appraisal of the scene as a child?


Further readings

- L’autobiographie et les nouveaux outils de communication
Un texte de Philippe Lejeune

- Je de l’écrivain et jeu de l’écriture, discussion avec Alexis Jenni
Lire la transcription de l'entretien, écouter deux nouvelles lues par l'auteur

- La quête du moi au XVIIIème siècle en Angleterre : des philosophes empiristes aux romanciers
Un article de Marion Lopez

- Hugo Hamilton on memory and fiction
Un texte de Hugo Hamilton

- Narration in the Human Mind
Un texte de Siri Husdvedt

- Living, Thinking, Looking
Une interview de Siri Hustvedt

- The Last Hundred Days
Une interview de Patrick McGuinness
 
 
Mise à jour le 26 janvier 2015
Créé le 25 novembre 2014
ISSN 2107-7029
DGESCO Clé des Langues