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“Chemistry” by Graham Swift

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The short story entitled “Chemistry”, written by Graham Swift, is filled with rivalry between family members and the difficulties that come from trying to maintain a healthy relationship when everyday life is riddled with deception and insecurity. On a basic level the story is built around general human nature and as well as a Childs reaction to his ever changing environment.

One of the biggest themes in the piece is undoubtedly the rivalry between the mother the grandfather and Ralph, and the tension that is created as a result of it. As early as the third paragraph swift shows the reader the uneasy relationship between the grandfather and Ralph, when he shouts `’why don’t u leave her alone’. Ralphs outburst is brought on by grandfather yelling at the mother. This shows that both men are attempting to exercise their own relationships with the mother, Ralph is trying to gain her favour by protecting her whilst the grandfather is merely talking to her as a father would. He does however bring up the short squabble to spite Ralph and it is already clear that he does not like him. The grandfather is offended and resentful that his daughter is neglecting him however the child notices that she is not necessarily treating the grandfather worse, but is rather trying to prove her allegiance to Ralph.

This situation could be referred to as a dysfunctional family and ‘delicate equilibrium’ that she has set up with her father and son is now replaced with an unstable and phony toleration of one another, ‘I suppose the question was how far Ralph could tolerate not getting go with grandfather so as to keep mother, or how far mother was prepared to turn against grandfather so as not to lose Ralph’. Although his opinion seems to matter least Graham Swift makes it clear to the reader that the boy does not like Ralph for when he attempts to buy him a boat he enjoys turning Ralph down. He does this for the reason that he does not want him replacing his father and he wishes for things to remain the same between his nuclear family, as a child would.

This however is not the only reason why the boy wants Ralph to distance himself from his mother, he says that his mother called him her ‘little man’. Graham here implies that the boy is very mature and that he feels that he has to protect her due to the loss of his father. When the mother is brought to tears and weeps in front of the child she does not realize that he not only understands why she is upset, but decides to place the blame on Ralph. He therefore cannot understand why the mother proceeds to yell at grandfather instead of facing him and telling him how he believes that she really feels. Another big element of the boy that gives the reader insight into his world his how he repeatedly relates every situation to the time before Ralph moved into his house.

Some examples of this is when he is in the kitchen and reminisces about the ‘old impregnable domain which Ralph had not yet penetrated’, and when he enters the shed he remarks that it feels safe, unlike ‘The house where Ralph now lorded it, tucking into bigger and bigger meals, was a menacing place’. Ultimately, the boy makes a decision to permanently maim Ralph using his grandfathers chemicals so that his mother would no longer be interested in him. This shows the materialistic and ‘black and white’ thought processes of a child as well as showing the extent of brutality a child is capable of in order to save his family.

Graham Swifts Chemistry, is a short story concerning the dark aspects of human family life and how a Childs perspectives can often be more accurate than those of a an adult person. Swift additionally revealing the childish side of grownups for he frequently creates scenes were in the family is bickering, often needlessly, with one another until it ends in a rift between the individuals concerned. The child 10 year boy however, although subjective is not plagued with the need to prove himself and is therefore more sensible than his adult family members.

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