"Winner Takes All" by E. Waugh
The short story "Winner Takes All" about one British family, where the younger son denied rights in favor of older. This book reveals Waugh’s double attitude towards aristocracy: his belief in spiritual elitism and his mockery at some traditional canons.
«Winner Takes All» by E. Waugh
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The story «Winner Takes All» was written by Evelyn Waugh - famous British novelist and short story writer. He is well-known for his novels as «Decline and Fall», «Black Mischief» and so on.
The short story «Winner Takes All» is about one British aristocratic family, where the younger son is deprived of the rights of almost everything in favor of his elder brother, a first-born son. This book reveals Waugh's double attitude towards English aristocracy: his belief in spiritual elitism and his mockery at some traditional canons.
The story begins when the elder son of Mrs. Kent-Cumberland was born. There was the greatest event of Tomb Beacon and Tomb Hill. The child was named Gervase Peregrine Mountjoy St. Eustace and a princess stood his godmother by proxy in the christening. So, after reading only the first part of the text we can understand what kind of family Kent-Cumberlands was.
Two years later the second son was born. And it was not a significant occasion for Mrs Kent-Cumberland; moreover, it was a great disappointment for her. She wanted a girl because she had already planned all Gervase's life and a little sister would be a good addition to him.
The next part of the text under study describes some events on Christmas Eve. Tom, the younger son, was obsessed by desire to have a model motor-car. And when his uncle decided to present this toy to him, Mrs. Kent-Cumberland swapped his gift with Gervase's and changed labels. She could not even imagine that Tom could have a present much more expensive than his brother. In her opinion it was «an obvious error of justice».
When brothers became older, Tom decided to marry a girl named Gladys. But his fears were justified: Mrs Kent- Cumberland did not allowed him to do this. She explained that Gladys was not a propriate candidate for her son and sent Tom away to Australia. Some time later, when Thomas arrived to England with new fiancé, Bessie, who was rich and «teachable», Mrs. Kent-Cumberland tried to do all her best to separate them in order that Gervase and Bessie could get married. She quickly found Gladys and persuaded her to come. Her plan was successful: Tom and Gladys got married. In the end of the book they moved to Australia and Mrs. Kent-Cumberland lived in Tomb Beacon with Gervase, Bessie and their children and horses.
The text under study may be divided into several structural parts: rising actions (second son's birth, Christmas Eve, Thomas' s engagement with Gladys, Thomas's returning from Australia with Bessie), climax (Mrs. Kent-Cumberland's decision to make Gervase marry on Bessie and when she arranged a meeting to Tom and Gladys), falling actions (Tom's and Gervase's weddings). Also, there is an exposition (description of the Kent-Cumberlands).
In the book we meet three members of Kent-Cumberland family: the older brother and heir Gervase, the younger brother Tom and their mother Mrs. Kent-Cumberland. waugh story british
Gervase, the “winner” (how author called him to empathize the contrast between him and a real winner) is a flat character. He was unresponsive, insensitive (he did not know how to feel pity; he never tried to support Tom) and narrow-minded young man, who did not think about anyone except himself. He used to get everything he wanted and he was bored of it. Since childhood, his mother and other people inspired him that he was an heir of Kent-Cumberland family and he stood above others. So, in my opinion, in general, it was not his fault that he grew up such person. It is very interesting that author write about Gervase and Tom “there was little to choose between them except their two years difference in age”; despite the formal resemblance, brothers were completely opposite. The good example to illustrate how brothers' characters differ is a part of narration where they wrote to thank their uncle for his presents. Gervase, who received an expensive motor-car wrote only two lines and basically told about himself and his pony. He even could not imagine that he may be not the main theme of the letter. Tom, who received a book, was really thankful for this present. He tried to include all his love and gratefulness into the letter. And when Gervase gave the car to him (because of boredom) he regarded it as “act of generosity” and his “love and respect to his brother increased a hundredfold”. But Gervase did not love anyone, he was fixated on himself, maybe only horses could take place in his heart; Waugh ironically put them in the same row with Gervase's children in the end of the book. Thorough the story Gervase does not develop. He remained the same insensitive, selfish heir-boy.
As for Tom, he was emotional, loving and soft. He really admired Gervase and “accepted the fact of his importance just as he accepted his superiority of his knowledge and physique”. Any other person would hate his brother and mother for such injustice, but Tom treated with understanding that he was not a first-born son, consequently, everything (including their mother attention) should be got by Gervase. But it is obvious that Thomas was a weak-willed person. Repressed by authoritarian mother he could not say something when she broke off his engagement with Gladys. He was afraid of Mrs. Kent-Cumberland (“in his own heart he knew that there would be trouble”, “he hesitated…”) and without a murmur went to Australia. Also, he was an introverted person. Tom had to spend his childhood mostly alone and he never shared his dreams and secrets with mother or anyone else. The only time when he opened his soul to somebody was a day when he “confided his ambition to an uncle”. Uncle Ted, the “man of limited means and self-indulgent habits” was really impressed. If such person, who was not a close relative, who was a bachelor and childfree, betrayed his habits and bought an expensive toy to support a boy, it means that situation in Kent-Cumberland family was awful. Uncle Ted looked at relations from human side, not side of aristocratic traditions. Tom needed someone to be his friend. So, in the end of the book he got his happiness. He married Gladys, moved to Australia to create his own family far away from his “mother” and “brother”.
Mrs. Kent-Cumberland is drawn like dominant, arrogant, manipulating, energetic and self-confident woman. She is obsessed with old traditions in aristocratic family. In her mind, her sons were not children in the normal sense of the word; they were first-born son, heir and successor of Kent-Cumberlands and the other child. The great difference was in everything: birth (“expensive London nursing home” and “shoddy modern house on East Coast”), name (Gervase Peregrine Mountjoy St. Eustace and Thomas), gifts (a possibility of Tom to get a more expensive present than Gervase was “an obvious error of justice” to her). Mrs. Kent-Cumberland made everything turning towards Gervase: she gave a birth to Tom on East Coast because “Gervase might have benefit of sea air”; she broke Tom's engagement off explaining it like “if anything were happen to Gervase you would be his heir”; and she did not let Tom marry Bessie, because she was rich and “teachable” which means “convenient for her” - a perfect match for heir.
We can understand author's negative attitude to Mrs. Kent-Cumberland. Waugh uses irony (“ Mrs. Kent-Cumberland was a fair-minded woman”, “she was glad to have rectified an obvious error of justice”, “she should think a great deal about Tomb and very little about South Australia”). Mrs. Kent-Cumberland also was an active woman, so, she got everything she wanted. She deftly manipulated Tom and Gladys; and she was successful - they got married and Gervase married Bessie. In the end of the story she lived with Gervase and his wife who was “thoroughly teachable” and who “rarely disagree” with Mrs. Kent-Cumberland who “gets her way”; her other son was far away. So, for her all traditions were respected. We can not call this woman “mother” (Waugh used this word only twice: in the very beginning, when she gave the birth to Gervase, and when Tom referred to her), she was the keeper and head of Kent-Cumberlands.
The title of the book - “The Winner Takes All” - contains an implication. The winner in this story isn't real, isn't a person who wins something, but gets everything because he was the first-born son. He did not even need to be a good man, brother and son; in any case he will take all. In my opinion, the real winner was Tom, who could cope with all injustice and misunderstandings and got his happiness.
The main theme of the book, of course, is family relations. Waugh wanted to impress how they were weaken in England by the rights of first-born sons in families like Kent-Cumberlands. People are getting more aloof, isolated, they have no interest in other people's problems. It is not a problem only of English aristocracy, it is very actual. Many children suffer from lack of love, care and help; childhood and parents' behavior is very important for child's personality and character. Stories like «Winner Takes All» teach us eternal values by ridiculing vices and showing people's behavior from the other side.
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