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Why do you think Susan Hill chose, I’m the King of the Castle as the title for the novel?

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  • Category: Novel

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At first glance a book entitled, ‘I’m the King of the Castle,’ might make a potential reader envisage a novel about petty power struggles between two young children, who know nothing of the evil in the world around them. As the reader looks closer and becomes engrossed within its pages, their eyes are widened to a malevolent nature, which can exist and flourish even in the young. At this point the title, ‘I’m the King of the Castle’ becomes much more than an innocent childish rhyme.

One of the possible reasons that the title was chosen is its implications of possession and dominance. Through out the book, as Kingshaw becomes more psychologically withdrawn he has a greater need to find objects and people that are ultimately his. The emphases on, ‘I’m’ in the title stresses that there can be only one leader to rule over their domain, leaving everyone else in the metaphorical role of the little rascal. At first with Fielding Kingshaw is the King and his friendship is unsullied by Hooper’s evil intentions. Kingshaw remarks, “Fielding is my friend, mine,” after deceiving himself into thinking, “It will never have anything to do with Hooper.” Hooper also has a need for possession. The absence of any real love in his life compels him to control and dominate everything around him.

Structurally, at Leydell Castle where Kingshaw scales the walls, the reader is able to see one of the last true glimmers of hope. The book reaches a climax when Kingshaw screams, “I’m the King of the Castle… Fuck to you. I’m not going to fall.” In this episode Kingshaw breaks free from all of his barriers. As he looks down at everyone all of his fears desert him, Hopper is only able to look up, “covetously.” When Hooper tries to impose upon Kingshaw’s freedom, he is stripped of all of his power and his fears are exposed. Ironically at this point Kingshaw feels what it’s like to be a bully, he acknowledges, “There is nothing I can’t ask him for, nothing he won’t promise me, nothing I can’t do to him. Up here I’m King,” Yet while being mesmerised by his own supreme power, he is restrained by the fear of his own actions and stands resigned to the fact that the bullying will continue no matter what.

Metaphorically there are two castles in this novel; Warings, which is Hooper’s territory. The building itself adds atmospherically to the tensions concealed within. It’s “dark red brick,” echoes the evil brewing inside and creates images awash with blood. The second castle is controlled by Kingshaw, like his mind it is dilapidated and in ruins. However, there is an element of freedom, the walls that act as physical barriers between the world inside the castle and the world outside have subsided, anyone can enter his castle, it can be anyone’s haven. Warings is all that the Hoopers have, they bring no warmth to the place and they are unable to feel any compassion in it, this is very different to Kingshaw who despite everything, “reached out his hand” to Hooper who stood terrified on the castle walls. Susan Hill uses the idea of castles from the title to illustrate power relationships, they often show Hoopers superficial superiority to Kingshaw. A literal example of this is when the helter skelter, “shaped like the tower fort,” made by Kingshaw is destroyed by Hooper, while the parents observe blindly.

The position of Kingship is an inherent role, this concept corresponds with the introduction of dynasty early on in the book, with the “three generations” of Hoopers together, with “one upon his death bed.” Evidence of Edmund Hooper’s hereditary power can be seen in many of his threats to Kingshaw, “You’ve got to…my father says so.” Because of his power and status a king often sets himself apart from his people, leaving then isolated in the same way that both Kingshaw and Hooper are. Kings are also portrayed as arrogant and having supreme assurity of confidence. Hooper has all of this, although we are given relatively little insight into Hooper’s mind, his lack of nurture makes him appear devoid of all compassionate emotion. Joseph Hooper recognised this in him but puts it all down to the fault of his dead wife. His isolation from what is considered to be normal emotion is most apparent and disturbing when he says, “I did that, it was because of me,” while feeling a “spurt of triumph” sail through him as he sees Kingshaw’s body drifting face down in the water.

The want for status is also implicit within the title. In the novel Mrs Kingshaw is in search of a greater status. All of her associations with green, “jade green suit,” and the “lime green umbrella” are symbolic of her want for a new life and new beginning. However the artificial nuance of lime and jade reflect how she is forcing her new life to work. Mrs Kingshaw’s want for status often overshadow the care of her son.

The title also possesses an air of irony. Like Kinshaws unfounded fears, there are no Kings or real castles, they are only instruments to lock the reader into the dark world of childhood. In the battle everyone owes there position to someone else. There is no one King. Joseph Hooper owes his, “new found confidence” to Mrs Kingshaw, who in turn owes him for her position in the house, Edmund Hooper because of his age must answer to his father and Kingshaw, the underdog must answer to everyone in Warings.

The title, “I’m the King of the Castle” was chosen by Susan Hill because it highlights the potential power of evil in children. The dire consequences of the book show what can happen when young children begin to miss use power, and play power games. There is something subversive in this novel that breaks down the naïve adult preconceptions that childhood is a time of unhindered happiness plagued only by the evils from the adult world. Ironically the title shows how much can be missed by looking only superficially, in the same way that the parents have made themselves oblivious to all of the wrongs of their children.

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