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‘Same Time, Same Place’ by Mervyn Peake

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In literature, all stories are written so that they convey to readers a central idea or theme. Writers compose their works so that the theme they are writing about is brought out in a story in such a manner that the various elements of the story work together in communicating the theme. The better a writer is at their work, the more literary elements there will be in their stories that complement each other and seem to work together. In the story ‘Same Time, Same Place’ by Mervyn Peake, the main theme that is evident is that things are not always as they seem. Peake uses the literary elements of characters, setting, contrast, and many others in a way that they all lead the reader to the same main point. These literary elements and how they work together in communicating Peake’s theme will be the focus of this essay.

The literary element of setting is used in ‘Same Time, Same Place’ so that it plays an integral role in the formation of the theme. Peake sets his story in a town circus. He describes this circus as ‘the center of the world…where anything might happen'(p.264). Circuses are generally known as places where the unusual and odd aspects of humanity and the world congregate. They are places where the impossible is said to be possible. The reason that this type of setting helps create Peake’s theme of things not always being as they seem is that this is precisely what circuses are all about. When one thinks of a circus, images of the two-faced man and the fire-eater are conjured up along with many other images of things not always being as they seem.

Peake also uses the element of characters in his story to convey his main point. Although not presented in the story until the climax, the friends of the bride that make up her wedding party are an excellent example. The wedding party is described to include a huge bearded lady, a man with a neck the ‘length of a walking stick'(p.268), and a man with a tattooed face and golden teeth. The last member of the party is described in a way that Peake is almost stating his theme. He says that the last of the party ‘was a well-dressed young man and seemed normal enough until, as he came for a moment closer to the window I saw that instead of a hand, the cloven hoof of a goat protruded from the sleeve'(p.268). The reason that this is a prime example is that the man with the hoof hand seems normal to the narrator at first, and he did not notice that he had a hoof hand until he looked at him more closely. In other words, the man was not really physically normal, although he seemed to be.

Another literary element that is used in this story is the element of contrast. Peake uses contrast by writing about the narrator’s home life and then writing about the circus environment. When the parents and the home of the narrator are described, it is done so in a way that the reader is left with an image of exactly what is present. They are presented so that the reader gets a sense that the parents, the home, and the lifestyle of the family are exactly what they seem to be. That they are described by Peake in a complete literal sense. It is the narrator’s realization of his homelife being totally without excitement and mystery that compels him to flee to the exotic circus environment. However, when the circus is described, Peake gives the reader a feeling of suspense and wonder as the surroundings are described.

When the narrator arrives at the circus, he says ‘I stared out the window, and there before me was the Circus, The lights were like a challenge'(p.264). The narrator finds himself in a totally new environment, one that requires him to explore and to discover new things and new people. A place that requires him to make an effort at life. By using the element of contrast to first describe the normal, unexciting homelife of the narrator, and then bringing the reader into the circus, where things are not always as they seem to be, Peake is alluding to the reader that this concept will have something to do with the main idea of the story.

Repetition is another element that is used in ‘Same Time, Same Place’ to portray the point that things are not always what they seem to be. Peake uses repetition when he describes the meetings of the narrator and his love. The narrator meets the woman to whom he would eventually become engaged on eight different occasions. Each of these meetings transpires in the exact same manner as the previous meeting. First, the two always meet at the ‘same time, same place’, and they always meet with the narrator leaving before the woman, and the woman always being seated at their table before the narrator arrives. This unique manner in which the two meet, and the many times that they repeat the procedure lead the reader to a feeling that a drastic change of events is going to occur.

As the number of times that the two meet increases, and the reader begins to expect that they will again repeat the procedure, one realizes that Peake is setting the reader up for a change in the story, and that although it seems that simply a normal meeting between a man and a woman is going to again occur, in reality something totally unexpected will come about in the story. This is how repetition is used in the story to show that things are not always as they appear to be.

In conclusion, the literary elements of setting, characters, contrast, and repetition are just a few of many techniques used by Peake in his story ‘Same Time, Same Place’ to convey the theme that things are not always as they seem to be, and that often one must look at things in life from more than one angle or perspective in order to learn about all of that certain thing’s true characteristics. Peake uses these techniques along with others in a manner that they complement each other and work together to form a distinct literary pattern, so that by the end of the story, the reader has a clear idea of what Peake is trying to say in his story. Mervyn Peake is telling his readers that if they look at life from all sides, they will live a more compelling and meaningful existence.

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