Answer structure – Theme and issue

Theme and Issues

The texts I have studied for my comparative course are “How Many Miles to Babylon” (HMMB) by Jennifer Johnston, “Billy Elliot” (BE) by Stephen Daldry and “Lies of Silence” (LOS) by Brian Moore. One theme that is common to the three texts that I have studied is the theme of relationships. Keys moments from the texts help to heighten the importance and develop our awareness of those themes. In (HMMB) we witness the destructive nature of the parent- child relationship between Alec and his mother, Alicia. In (BE), in contrast, we see a very realistic portrayal of a father-son relationship who love each other dearly but struggle to make it work. In (LOS) we move to a couple who from the very introduction of the text are in a loveless marriage with Michael’s infidelity only heightening this issue. The authors of these texts use key moments to explore these relationships in all their complexities.


In (HMMB) we see that, the protagonist and narrator has a vindictive mother who rules the household through manipulation and bullying.

Points to note:

  • Discuss the mother/father relationship.
  • Use a key moment where Alicia shows her negative views towards the family.
  • Isolation
  • Show how this key moment sets the tone of the text.


Alec and Alicia’s relationship is the most troubling and disturbing relationship of the three comparative texts.

Points to note:

  • Discuss the continued isolation of Alec
  • Discuss the dark insights we get into the parent/child relationship.
  • Discuss the continued development of the tone.

It is in the end of the text that we see the true destructive power of the relationship between Alec and his mother.

Points to note:

  • Is Alec’s death a first and final victory over his mother?

44 thoughts on “Answer structure – Theme and issue

    • The role of men and women in the text is a stereotypical role for Ireland at the time. While it is quiet sexist, men did the work and women looked pretty and had children. It affects the cultural context as it was Alicia’s job to educate Alec on the proper etiquette of the time. As a result she forbids Alec from seeing Jerry, this is something that would be socially acceptable and she is even backed up by Fredrick on this issue. While we see what Alicia does as harsh, culturally this is what would have been expected of her. Alicia raises Alec on how he should behave while when he reaches a certain age Fredrick takes some control in showing him how to run the family business. For Alicia, Alec’s relationship with Jerry brings shame on the family status and she must stop it. While the idea of sending Alec to war can be seen as an attempt to remove him from Jerry, it is also an attempt in improving their social status in the eyes of society. If you take Alicia as a symbol of society here she is quiet positive in her praise of another family for having a son as an officer. Alicia desires the same recognition for her family.

      Sorry about the huge delay. Very busy at the moment. If this is not enough information just message again

    • The theme of isolation is vast. It all depends if you are using it for comparative or single text.

      Isolation works on a number of factors:
      1. Isolation imposed upon Alec
      2. Self-imposed isolation

      1. Isolation imposed on Alec:
      This is created by Alicia. As she states Alec is not to go to school but remain home schooled as she does not want to be alone in the house with Fredrick. As a result of this Alec is isolated from his peers. The result of this is he becomes socially inept.
      When Alec does manage to find a friend in Jerry, Alicia tries to isolate them by first telling Alec he must stay away from Jerry, secondly taking Alec to Europe and thirdly sending him off to war.
      While Fredrick does not have much say in what is going on he does agree with Alicia when it comes to Alec having to stay away from Jerry. This means imposed isolation of Alec from both parents.
      Also while Alec has no love for his mother he does show awkward affection for his father. Alicia creates isolation between the two of them when she tells Alec that Fredrick is not really his father. We see the effect it has on Alec when he struggles to communicate with his father after this.

      2. Self imposed Isolation
      When Alec goes to war there is one remark that shows Alec is isolating himself from others. Major Glendinning remarks that Alec is not mixing with the other officers and orders him to do so. This is something Alec is unable to do and shows no desire to do so.

      It is arguable that Alec’s isolation is related to his sheltered upbringing and his social awkwardness. As a result with Jerry sentenced to death Alec has no one left and is in a sense isolated. He sees his only option as following Jerry in death.

      Can you message if you get this. I never know if people get these replies

  1. Hi! Well I have to talk about Heroes and Cowards in How Many Miles to Babylon and I really don’t know what to say! Help me please it’s for tomorrow. It has to last five minutes.

    • Heroes I would argue are limited within the text. When it comes to cowards we have 1. Fredrick and 2. Alec

      1. Fredrick
      Backs away from all arguments with Alicia. He backs down when she fights for Alec to remain home schooled so she does not have to remain alone in the house with her husband and when he strongly disagree’s that Alec should go to war he also folds. He allows it to happen even though it is not what he wants.

      2. Alec
      Alec is arguably both. Coward – He leaves for war even though he does not want to. He does this for two reasons. He is afraid to spend too much time with Fredrick after Alicia explains that he is not his biological father. Also he leaves for war rather thang face his mother and speak up for himself. Se has manipulate him from the beginning for her own means and he has allowed this to happen. Again there are issues around Alec’s killing of Jerry. Alec knows he will spare Jerry the humiliation of being shot by a firing squad however he also knows it will result in his own death. This is essentially suicide. He is escaping from a world where he is unhappy rather than facing his demons. This is a sensitive subject so be careful with that last point as people have very strong opinions on suicide and you don’t want to insult.

      1. Alec 2. Jerry

      1. Alec makes it very clear that Jerry is his friend and heroically stands up to his mother, father and Major Glendinning. You can find many instances of that. He focuses on his ideals of friendship and never backs down. Also he sacrifices himself so that his friend will not be humiliated by being shot at a firing squad. This completely contrasts with the cowards part it just depends on how you want to spin it.

      2. Jerry knows the danger of deserting the army but does this anyway to find his father or at least knowledge of his death. It is brave that he does this for his mother, a woman whom he earlier showed no respect for( argued her only reason for sending him to war was for money)

      Major Glendinning
      Both a hero and a coward. He is a hero as he fights in a war and clearly shows his bravery when he goes over the trenches to look for soldiers. He is a coward in the sense of how he treats Alec. He clearly sees Alec as a weak link and spends his time bullying him. Bullying in itself is a cowardly act regardless of the circumstances. It is also questionable as to whether Jerry’s fate was a result of Glendinning trying to get at Alec.

  2. Hiii , i dont really know how to write comparative( theme or issue) on hmmtb , the lonesome west.and.Im not.scared . any hints ? pleasee help. or just say what should i write in it . ;))

    • I do not know lonesome west.

      For the other two you could look at relationships. Alec’s negative relationship with his family in hmmb versus mich and his families good relationship. Alec has no influence on his family but Mich helps his father realize his wrong doing and learn from his mistakes.

      You could also look at social class and its effect on your central character. Alec’s class conflict results in his death while Mich overs comes his class conflict (again father learning and Fil escaping ). For I’m not scared look at the two boys reaching out for each other at the end with their hands as a link to class division being eroded.

  3. You are amazing! And I just have one question. How would you write about the theme of man’s inhumanity to man in relation to this novel?

    • Man’s inhumanity to man takes the same form as relationships.
      1. Alicia’s harsh attitude towards Fredrick shows a complete lack of compassion.
      2. Her desire for Alec to go to war to separate him from his father and increase her social status shows her inhuman qualities.
      3. Glendinning’s singling out of Alec is his lack of compassion
      4. The Majors refusal to let Jerry near the horses because of his social status shows he is looking down on elements of society.
      5. The war itself and the condition of the soldiers is inhuman.

  4. Hi i was just wondering how I would go about writing about the theme of self realization for this text? I know it is not fully achieved but I have to do a comparative essay about the extent to which it is achieved. thanks

    • I would argue that self realization is when Alec sees he does not fit in or belong at home So he goes to war. Here he finds out he also does not fit in. In realizing he does not fit in in this world that refuses to break down social barriers, he kills Jerry essentially killing himself.
      When answering a question like this I would suggest focusing on the elements that go against him throughout the text. Alicia is the barrier that prevents him from developing emotionally and socially. Glendinning represents the other force that tries to prevent Alec from developing his individualism. Both characters want Alec to become a conformist and he can not do this. These barriers are so strong Alec feels in a world where he can not be himself or develop he must escape – death. In his death Alec never becomes the beacon for social reform that he could have been.

  5. Your notes are very helpful, thank you! I have a question about religion as a social setting of HMMB. Are the characters religious?

  6. Hi, your website is very helpful! Just wondering, do you have any idea how to approach a comparative question in terms of class division in HMMB? How and Why Jerry and Alec are always divided by their class? 🙂

    • Alec and Jerry are always divided by class because that is the way society ran. If you look at the day Jerry wins the horse race it is described as Alecs element of society inside the ring and Jerry’s class outside. There is no aggression as a result of this because it was an accept element of society. Alec finds trouble because he can not understand this type of society

      • Could you help me with this question as I’ve ran out of things to write? the question we were given was
        Choose a key moment or major decisions from two of the texts you have studied and compare the way these moments/decisions express the same theme or issue.

        How Many Miles to Babylon and I’m Not Scared are my two that I’m discussing.

      • For these two texts I think the theme of identity is important. In both texts each character is trying to be a certain individual. Both characters have an attitude where class systems are irrelevant to them and wish to assert that personality trait on the world that they live in.

        Alec’s world is one that suppresses this trait. Alicia in all her actions is a barrier to Alec’s friendship with Jerry : forbids him to see Jerry; takes him to Europe; calls him a criminal; sends Alec to war.

        Glendinning continues this in forbidding Alec from mixing with Jerry; sentencing Jerry to death and putting Alec in charge of the firing squad.

        In Alec’s desire to assert his own personality in the world that he lives in the world does not allow it and Alec sees his only option is escapism and placing himself infornt of his own firing squad as the world he lives in is too confrontational and unable to change.

        Michelle on the other hand continues to fight for the marginalised until the end. He stands up for Barbra in the beginning placing him in a dangerous forfeit. He defends his mother from attack regardless of the obvious danger to himself in facing an adult. He then freely puts himself in danger to help his friend in the end knowing he could be in serious trouble from his father and the others. While Michelle does get shot he survives and the end shot when the hands coming closer together shows that while social divide may take a long time for the gap to close and become irrelevant, unlike Alec’s world it is still a possibility

  7. Hey I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the simularities between Alicia (HMMTB) and Anna from im not scared in the regards of power , we were asked to write some differences and simularities between them for questions on the comparitive but ive drawn a blank!

    • Differences:
      Anna cares for Michelle. Desires safety and comfort for him. Always wants to know where he is, asks him to leave for his own personal development when he is older, fights when he is harmed and shows affection

      Alicia: follows Alec to make sure he is not with Jerry, makes him leave to keep him away from Fredrick and Jerry, sends him to war towards harm for a higher social standing and shows no love or affection.

      Both in an unequal and possibly unhappy marriage although for different reasons related maybe more to the stereotypical role of women.

  8. Hello ! Thank you for your amazing work, it’s very helpful and interesting 🙂 I have a question about freedom and what do the swans represent in the novel ? And also, about the main point of the novel which is the initiation novel ; Alex growing as a man, how is it shown during the story ?

    Thanks a lot 🙂

    • The swans represent Alec and Jerry. At the time it was believed that swans mated in pairs and stayed together for life. While there is not necessarily a sexual context to this the swans are a symbol of Alec and Jerry being friends for life and also a symbol of their innocence. Shooting them is a precursor to the destruction of their relationship. A symbol and pessimistic outlook for the destruction of innocence that will come at the end.

      Alec growing as a man is probably best shown by his acceptance of Alicia’s cruelty but his change as a man in his attempts at standing up to Glendinning. Alec’s parents and Glendinning put pressure on Alec to conform to societies conventions. Alec’s actions at the end show his growth as he takes control of his destiny. It may be a negative outcome but he knew and understood the consequences and finally took control of his own life

  9. I don’t know if you’ll see this but I was wondering if you had any notes on the theme of violence and key moments showing this in How many miles to Babylon, Juno and the Paycock and I’m not scared? Thanks for this site!

    • Theme of violence is difficult without the context as there are many ways to go with it.

      Glendinning killing the dying soldier
      Glendinning striking Alec
      Killing of the swans
      Jerry’s fathers death
      Jerry’s death
      Alec’s death

      The arm wrestling
      Condition of The boy in the hole
      Filece striking Michelle
      Anna fighting Filece
      Pino shooting Michele

      All IRA context in relation to Juno’s son

      As I say context of question decides format

  10. Hi I was just wondering if you could help me. I have to write a comparative essay regarding the theme of filial relationships in How Many Miles to Babylon, I’m Not Scared and All My Sons. I’m unsure as to what the main focus of my individual central paragraphs should be. What aspects of this theme would be most important to focus on in these three texts?

    • What is the actual question. Filial relationships are lacking in HMMB and INS when you look at the fact that Alicia and Pino fail there kids and are therefore owed nothing. You could look at the idea that Fredrick and Anna try to protect their children and there are some positive elements but not many. Anna’s case is stronger as she shows a clear desire to protect her son and encourages him to be different from his father; fights for him etc.

      Never did All My Sons

  11. Hi I’m just wondering how you could go about writing about the theme of friendship in how many miles to Babylon, I’m not scared and Juno and the Paycock. If you could just even give good key moments to include and how you would go about your personal response,
    Thank you

    • Friendship is dealt with here for HMMB

      Follow the same format for INS. Pick three key moments where Michele fights against or goes against what society demands to help his friend I.e. Feeding him; bringing him out of the hole to play knowing the danger just to make him happy; risking his life to save his friend in the end. First two points are similar in the two texts but the last is different where the act of friendship is helping to bridge the gap in the social divide. This is symbolised by the hands reaching out to each other but not actually touching. Unlike HMMB, INS friendship overcomes the odds.

      Juno is different. This looks at the failure of friendship. Captain Boyle has friends when they can use him and he is left alone in the end. Also his son failed in friendship resulting in a death and he is haunted by this throughout

  12. what do write for thems in hmmb, im not scared and also juno and the paycock. can you tell me comparison and contrast between them texts. please. as soon as possibe because i will need it for tommorrow

      • Alec is in conflict with Alicia and tries to escape but ends up in conflict with Glendinning and it destroys him. Michelle is in conflict with the people of Aqua Traverse and he defies them saving his friend. Juno is in conflict with her husband and ends up escaping. Take the idea that they are all in conflict with their world. Juno and Michele are similar because having been restricted by their world they fight back and decide to make changes. Alec is different because even though he makes change he just comes into conflict with Glendinning and the world he lives in destroyed him. Pick three key moments from each text that shows this, beginning, middle and end so you can show the progression or lack of progression in the characters fight against the conflict in the world they live in. The key for this question is the use of comparative words. Make sure you have synonyms for similar and different because you will be penalised for repetition

      • Pick two key moments where Alicia tries to prevent Alec from being friends with Jerry to show how she is forcing him to stick with his own class in society. Then take the one where Glendinning puts Alec in charge of the firing squad. That would be three key moments then where Alec is in conflict with his world because his world does not want a classless society. Alec does not win this conflict because his friend has to die and the classes remain seperate.

        Take two key moments where Michele is told stay away from Filipe(forgot how to spell his name). You could pick where Felice catches Michele by the pit and hurts him and when Pino is in his room and says Filipo will die if he goes near him again. Then take the ending where Michele saves him as Michele fighting against class division/conflict.

        For Juno just take two scenes where Captain Boyle won’t listen to her or where he is just being a crap husband( don’t use the word crap). Then take the end where she leaves him with the idea that she decides to make a change escaping the conflict in her life. That would be similar to Michele being proactive in his world at the end

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