Summary of the shorty story 'Chemistry' by Graham Swift

This document summarises Chemistry (by Graham Swift), the short story which you are required to study, should you be taking English Literature.

There is information about the author, the narrative, the setting, the structure, the themes, the characters and the style. It is a very useful document to help you should you be required to compare this short story in the exam.

I have also attached a work-sheet which you should complete once you have read through and made notes on the story. This has blank spaces where you should write your answers. These are very easy and the answers can be found within the text.

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Preview of Summary of the shorty story 'Chemistry' by Graham Swift

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The Author
Graham Swift was born in London in 1949. He studied at Cambridge and York universities. Much of
his writing is about ordinary people, dealing with relationships, family and death.
Chemistry depicts the relationship between a young boy, his mother, his grandfather and the
mother's partner.. following the death of the boy's father when he was seven.
The boy is very close to his grandfather, who adapted the role of father, after the boy's biological
father died.
When his mother's new partner, Ralph, moves in, the boy resents this intrusion into their lives as
from then on, the family dynamics totally change.
The story begins with the boy recalling the sailing of his motor boat with his grandfather on the park
pond. It is a happy time but when Ralph arrives, everything changes.
As the story progresses, the relationship between the boy's mother, Ralph and the grandfather
deteriorate and the grandfather retreats to live in the shed where he practices chemistry. The boys
takes an acidic substance from this shed, which he plans to throw in Ralph's face so that his
mother will no longer find his attractive. But, before this occurs, the grandfather commits suicide by
taking a poison, he made himself. The boy, his mother and Ralph then move house.
At the end of the story, the boy goes back to the pond and sees his grandfather reaching out to him.
The pond at the beginning of the story is a metaphor for life: the boy stands at one end, as he is at
the beginning of his life and the grandfather stands at the other as he is near the end of his.
The house originally belonged to the grandfather and it gradually become a place of tension,
confrontation and aggression with the arrival of Ralph. It metaphorically represents the protection
that the grandfather had given to his daughter and his grandson.
The shed is a place of retreat and escape, where the grandfather practices chemistry. He moves
away from the house and at the same time he is rejecting his daughter and Ralph. The grandson is
welcome both in the house and in the shed.
Narrative Structure
The narrative moves in a circle ­ it begins and ends at the pond. This represents the cyclic nature
of life. The story begins positively by describing the bond between the family members, but when
the boat sinks, the family dynamics do, too.
The story moves back and forward in time and is punctuated by the boy's dreams and the life that
his grandfather had with his wife. Death and loss also punctuate the story.
The story ends with the bond between the grandfather and the boy being reestablished. As his
grandfather stated, 'the elements don't change'. He is describing chemistry here, but this also

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Childhood and family relationships
How relationships change
Male and female relationships
Different generations.
Role reversal.
The boy has many loses to face ­ the deaths of his father, grandmother and grandfather. He
also has to cope with the strong bond which is lost when his grandfather commits suicide.
The boy is happy until line 89, when his hatred towards Ralph is displayed, due him
destroying the family dynamics and replacing his father and grandfather.…read more

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Chemistry (Graham Swift)
The first section shows the _________ relationship the narrator shares with his Grandfather.
This all _________ after the seemly unsinkable boat (which is a _________ for the _________ between the
grandfather and the boy) they sail sinks representing the death of ________________.
________ is an unpleasant figure to the narrator and is presented as being ___________ and __________. He
seems powerful and large. The view of Ralph is __________ because we are only being given the boys point of
view.…read more

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