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Characterization of Edward in on Chesil Beach, Ian Mc Ewan

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Edward Mayhews, aged 22, is born into a less than affluent family home in the Chiltern Hills in 1940. He lives together with his father Lionel Mayhews, a schoolmaster, and his brain-damaged mother Marjorie Mayhews. His two younger twin sisters are born in 1945. They live in fairly low living conditions due to lack of money, a handicapped mother and a hard-working father who cares for his children to the point of self-sacrifice. Housework is almost never achieved – “The beds were never made, the sheets rarely changed, the handbasin in the cramped, icy bathroom was never cleaned”1, so he is not at all spoilt since he had to help with housekeeping if he had any time left. The lack of money not only deprives him of knowledge on various kinds of food, but also of any experience in travelling. Although he is not used to wealthy circumstances, he does appreciate the costly luxury of the Pontings. He goes to the village school in Northend at the age of six, then Henley grammar school. Edward’s life changes when he is fourteen; he has always known indirectly that his mother is different from other parents, but “he grew up into the unremarkable fact of her derangement.”

2 He is told about his mother’s condition and terrible fate in a conversation with his father, when Lionel calls her “brain-damaged”3. Edward considers these words an insult and “a sudden space began to open up”3, and he notices that “one day he would leave, and would return only as a visitor”3 indicating a life-changing experience, or even a process of initiation. His teachers tell him that he would be a candidate to apply to University, and indeed he started studying history at University College in London in 1958 for three years to earn a degree in history, which he mastered easily. This emphasises his intelligence and his interest in history. His activities 1 McEwan, Ian; On Chesil Beach, 2007, Vintage, p. 63 2 McEwan, Ian; On Chesil Beach, 2007, Vintage, p. 65 3 McEwan, Ian; On Chesil Beach, 2007, Vintage, p. 72 5 during his studies typically included working, playing football and spending his evenings in pubs and clubs where he drinks beer with his friends, especially listening to rock ‘n’ roll. In addition, “he had a taste for the occasional brawl outside a pub”4 to demonstrate his strength and masculinity along with an apparent aggressive trait, but also a sign of instability and some inner restlessness.

He attacks a man to avenge his friend, who has gratuitously been beaten up; this aggressive behaviour ends the friendship, and he finally decides to stay out of fights. Nevertheless, Edward shows behaviour patterns that indicate unusual traits of character; always taking a book to read since he might have to wait somewhere illustrates his literacy, while his frequent walks into the countryside and his capability of naming many plants, birds and butterflies suggest an intelligent, sensitive and independent side. Edward is determined to write a series of books about some important but already forgotten personalities of past history; he actually never achieves this, so he is not too ambitious but always motivated to work as shown in the heavy housework and gardening he performs for the Pontings, as well as the busy job he accepts from Florence’s father Geoffrey.

Due to his actual disinterest, one can see that he always behaves in a polite way but that he has also a lack of self-confidence.5 All in all, Edward Mayhews is an intelligent, generous, affectionate character. Considering his way of dressing and his outward appearance dominated by never-fitting socks, long hair and loose shirts, he also appears haphazard, easy-going and, of course, not superficial, so that one can characterise him as a round character. 4 McEwan, Ian; On Chesil Beach, 2007, Vintage, p. 38 5 McEwan, Ian; On Chesil Beach, 2007, Vintage, p. 21

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