"When the Wasps Drowned" - Clare Wigfall

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During the long summer break, while their mother works, Eveline has to loo after her younger brother and sister. In early August the younger brother and sister start to dig a hole to get to "Australia" under the wall adjacent to the next door neighbour (Mr Mordecai)'s house. Eveline notices a ring on her younger sisters hand and she is eventually led to the dead body. The children fill the hole in but Eveline keeps the ring, and starts to wear it while her mother is at work. Eventually, police officers come knocking on their house, and Eveline says nothing about the dead body. The story ends on a disturbing enigmatic note.

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Impression on the reader that she is in her early teens or even slightly younger, just on the edge of adolescence - certainly old enough to look after the other children. Starting to show signs of growing older - making herself a bikini and being interested in boys, but still goes to bed early (while it is still daylight). Acts as a maternal figure to the children. Despite being the narrator she reveals very little about her emotions at the time of the events or now - as an adult looking back on them. The neutrality of emotions forces us as readers to take an active role in the story and decided for ourselves what the tone, mood, and meaning of the story is.

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CHARACTERS - Therese and Tyler

Therese - Clearly younger than Eveline. Displays an ambivalent attitude to the wasps: frightened of them while they are alive and a potential threat and deeply fascinanted by them when they are dead. Perhaps more adventurous than other children (digging the tunnel). Has terrible dreams about the dead body, but shows no emotion when it is first discovered.

Tyler - Youngest and very dependent on Eveline for protection and guidance. Observes the others and generally does what they do. Wigfall does not make it clear or not about whether he saw the body, but he clings to Eveline when the police arrive.

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CHARACTERS - Mum and Mr Mordecai

Mum - Absence of the mother is important. Because of her absence, the children have the freedom to pursue their curiosity and the action of the story is able to take place.

Mr Mordecai - Remains a mystery. Never seen and only spoken about. Is there any significance to the fact there is a body in his garden? Was he somehow implicated in the murder? We never know and Wigfall keeps us as readers guessing.

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Language & Structure

Story is told in the 1st person by Eveline looking back on her childhood as an adult: creates a special effect because her vocabulary and style are those of an adult even though she is describing a childhood experience. Knows what is going to happen, but chooses not to reveal all that she knows, immediately creating tension in the story. E.g. "That was the summer they dug up Mr Mordecai's garden." We have to read till the end of the story to discover exactly why his garden had to be dug up.

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In the Christian tradition the Garden of Eden and Eve's acceptance of the apple from Satan, disguised as a serpent, brings death, decay and suffering in the world. In the Bible, Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden, Paradise, and have to leave their innocence behind to enter the potentially evil and dangerous world of experience. Clearly relevant to the beginning of the story, children go barefoot but after incident with wasps they have to wear flip flops. Wasps do not signify anything specific, just the dangers from the real world. Surely significant that Eveline is a modern variant of Eve. Like Eve who is tempted to eat the apple, Eveline looks over the garden wall, (tall enough), but also curious about what is going on in the rest of the world - outside their garden ("It was the first time the walls had seemed confining"). Although she does not state it explicitly, Eveline appears to be yearning for more contact with the adult world, passing beyond childhood. "tinny music of distant transistor radios" beguiling - they represent the adult world she is desperate to move into. Her appropriation of the description of the ring - "a thin gold ring - studded with small diamonds" suggests that it was an engagement ring and Eveline's wearing it on her finger to suggest a desire to be older, embrace the world of love and relationships represented by the ring and the boys in the park. Wears ring to play being a grown up.

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Symbolism 2

Although Eveline looks after her younger siblings, she does not really engage with them. While they obliterate the corpses of the wasps, Eveline tells us "I'd watch them idly, lift an arm perhaps to point out another dead wasp lodged between blades of grass". Eveline sunbathes wearing an improvised bikini (an old vest and knickers) which both shows her desire to grow up and growing awareness of her own body. Eveline "would lie awake under the sheets, listening to the street and muffle of mum's radio" - it is as though Eveline is anxious to find out everything about the world beyond the garden and privacy (under the sheets), the world she is so soon to join, yet she still enjoys her younger comforts in bed. At the same time she is wary: one night Therese has a bad dream and is comforted by their mother and Eveline shows that she is torn between childhood and adolescence "I wanted Mum's gentle shush in my own ear". Eveline imagines "arm growing up through the soil" - the discovery of the corpse has shaken her and adolescence reaching for her, not her going to it.

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Themes - Crimes Concealed

Whoever has buried the young girl is concealing a murder. Eveline does nothing of her knowledge and tells no-one, and only gets her younger siblings to fill the hole in and then they forget about it, it's like she is trying to block growing up even though it's still there. When the police arrive, she holds her hand behind her back so the police do not notice she has taken the ring from the girl. Wigfall intends us to blame Eveline for covering it up; in the final sentence of the story "back out into the sunlight of the garden" it is almost as if Eveline has to lie to the police in order to satisfy a psychological need to deny that the worlld is the dangerous place it so obviously is. Almost as if Eveline does not feel guilt about concealing the discovery of the corpse and on balance it is far better to stay in the garden where the only danger comes from wasps that can easily be killed by a hose pipe.

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Spoken and Unspoken danger

We all know dangers of wasps: they sting and it hurts. What lies beneath the wall between their house and Mr Mordecai's represents the dangers of the adult world - which are also hinted at in the boys lolling and smoking in the park, and in the untold story of the children's parents' marriage. Perhaps even the ring and the commitment it shows to another person hints at the mysterious and bewildering complications of the adult world in which girls and women are especially vulnerable. Perhaps the most important thing in the story which dies is Eveline's innocent curiousity about the adult world.

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Dark Undercurrents

Many dark undercurrents which arguable lead the end of the story to be disturbing and ambivalent. Where is the childrens father? And what sadness and emotional trauma does his absence suggest? What experiences does Eveline have as she goes through adolescence and starts to get involved in relationships with boys like the ones she has seen in the park? What terrible chain of events has led to the murder of the teenage girl buried beneath the wall? Do the police catch the murderer? Who was the real murderer? Who was the victim?

Strong importance in the story is the sense of barefoot, innocent days of childhood being replaced, in Eveline's conciousness, by an awareness of the dangers and potential for hurt and pain of the adult world. Leaving the innocence of childhood is something with attendant dangers, summed up by the ring, which, although made of gold and covered in diamonds, still has "dirt lodge between the stones" - a hint that is all not perfect in the adult world that Eveline is so keen to be a part of.

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