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Topic: A very ambiguous character.....
Monica Manzolillo
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A very ambiguous character.....
on: May 7, 2019, 18:07

In our brainstorming section, many of you focused on Mary's personality because this character is indeed very complex and full of contraddictions. What you said is right and now I want you to read again the short-story and quote all the sections related to:


– her physical appearance. What does it tell about her personality? Is there a correspondence between her inner and outer self?

– her relationship with Winny. Don't you think that he humiliates her a lot even though she loves him so much? Why does he do so?

– what the other characters say and think about her. What's her public image?

– how does she perceive herself?

– what a woman is supposed to do in war times. How can she support war even though she must stay away from trenches?


Please be very scrupolous in doing this and be ready to catch all the many suggestions and nouances in the text.


🂠🂠ðŸ‚


Mariagrazia Poppiti
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Re: A very ambiguous character.....
on: May 10, 2019, 21:12

Mary is described as a woman who is not young; with a large nose and a large mouth and with colourless eyes and hair. These details tell a lot about her personality if we consider them in the context in which they are expressed.

In fact the sentence Her speech was as colourless as her eyes or her hair clearly suggests that her personality was dull or boring .

As to her large nose and mouth , they are described when we see her chased round the garden by Wynny who is always humilating her with words and actions in spite of the fact that Mary takes care of him and shows love and affection to him. This indicates how much submissive her personality is.

Mary doesnt react when Wynny calls her Gatepost Postey or Packthread nor when he thumps her between her narrow shoulders or chases her bleating round the garden.

Wynnys behaviour doesnt change even after he joins the Flying Corps : Hullo, Postey, you old beast Mornin, Packthread You look more or less like a human being You must have had a brain at some time in your past. What have you done with it? Where do you keep it? A sheep would know more than

you do, Postey Postey, I believe you think with your noseI know you dont with your mind


Mary appears unimaginative and deeply repressed . She cannot see herself anything but a companion and in fact when Miss Fowler asks her Would you ever been anything except a companion? she answers I dont imagine I ever should. But I have no imagination . This trait of her personality is clear from the very beginning of the story when Lady McCausland recommends Mary to Miss Fowler saying that She was throughly conscientious,tidy,companiable and ladylike.

Her public image is equally influenced by her submissive and docile personality she had no enemies; provoked no jealousy even among the plainest; neither gossip nor slander had ever been traces to her. She was a sort of public aunt to very small children of the village street She served on the village nursing committee


After Wynny joins the Flying Corps Mary does exactly what a woman is supposed to do to support war even though she is away from the trenches : provide soldiers with worm clothes. In fact she makes a waistcot and some stockings for Wynny He must have the waistcoat, said Miss Fowler. So Mary got the proper sized needles and wool Oh, Wynn says he wants another three pairs of stockings


It is only in the end, after Wynnys death and after the collapse of the building which caused the death of the poor little Edna that Mary reveals a very different aspect of her personality: she refuses to accept that the collapse of the building occurred for natural causes, convinced tha the Germans have bombed it. When she returns home and sees the injured pilot in the garden , assuming that he is a German soldier, she refuses to call a doctor and decides to watch him die.

In the end Mary seems to take her personal revenge for the passivity and submission that had characterized her life.


Virginia Vicidomini
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Re: A very ambiguous character.....
on: May 11, 2019, 00:01

In the text, Miss Mary Postgate is described as thoroughly conscientious, tidy, companionable, and ladylike, not young, and though her speech was as colourless as her eyes or her hair, she was never shocked.. By reading this description, I got the feeling that she is like what an educated woman should be, she should know how to behave. We know that she was not young and that her speech was as colourless as her eyes, this maybe mean that she has no personality, she is quite simple and plain as she listened to everyone but she did not have the will to answer with her own opinion. She seems to be someone who would be able to fit in every kind of situation. I think that while her outer self is quite ordinary, her inner self is a little bit different. Maybe she tries to express herself in a better way but she did not succeed because she always said to herself that one mustnt let ones mind dwell on these things which was what had made her what she was.


Moreover, there are some sections that describes the ambiguous relationship between Winny and Mary. When Mary was entrusted with the care of the young Winny, she stood to her share of the business of education as practised in private and public schools, then little by little she became his ambassadress and his interpretress to Miss Fowlerand his sewing-woman, strictly accountable for mislaid boots and garments; always his butt and his slave. On the other hand, Winny repaid her in his holidays by calling her Gatepost, Postey, or Packthread, by thumping her between her narrow shoulders, or by chasing her bleating, round the garden, her large mouth open, her large nose high in air, at a stiff-necked shamble very like a camels. Nevertheless, Mary cared for him and she studied a chart to understand his technical talk when he came back from the training centre. But, when she got something wrong, he insulted her by saying You must have had a brain at some time in your past. What have you done with it? Where dyou keep it? A sheep would know more than you do, Postey. Youre lamentable. You are less use than an empty tin can, you dowey old cassowary or by yelling Youre hopeless! You havent the mental capacity of a white mouse. But Marys heart and her interest were high in the air with Wynn, she always thinks and acts in relation to her idea of Winny. For example when Miss Fowler asked of what Mary ever thinks, Mary answered Oh, Wynn says he wants another three pairs of stockings ” as thick as we can make them, so actually her mind was always focused on Winny. This happens even when Miss Fowler said that Mary was with her for ten years and Mary replied that it were eleven years, and she based her calculation on the years spent by looking after Winny, in fact she stated: Lets see, said Mary. Wynn was eleven when he came. Hes twenty now, and I came two years before that. It must be eleven. In every kind of occasion Mary would have thought of Winny indeed she said How Wynn would have loved this or Wynn would be pleased to see how she was not afraid. Another proof of Marys love was when she knew about Winnys death and The room was whirling round Mary Postgate. However, even though Winny insulted her, I think he cared for her in fact he talked about Mary to his comrades and he stored the letters that Miss Fowler and Mary sent to him. I think that the relationship between Mary and Winny could be like a mother-son relationship. Mary cared and looked after Winny like a son and Winny tried to catch Marys attention by annoying her and in some occasions insulting her like a child. Maybe Winny did not know another way to approach Mary and while he seemed so moody or bad-tempered in front of her, he actually cared for her.

Also, I think that Marys public image is well-described in the following section:

She was, too, a treasure at domestic accounts, for which the village tradesmen, with their weekly books, loved her not. Otherwise she had no enemies; provoked no jealousy even among the plainest; neither gossip nor slander had ever been traced to her; she supplied the odd place at the Rectors or the Doctors table at half an hours notice; she was a sort of public aunt to very many small children of the village street, whose parents, while accepting everything, would have been swift to resent what they called patronage; she served on the Village Nursing Committee as Miss Fowlers nominee when Miss Fowler was crippled by rheumatoid arthritis, and came out of six months fortnightly meetings equally respected by all the cliques.

So, she was good at everything she did, she did not provoke anyone and did not cause any gossip. She is described as a public aunt always ready to take care of the children of the village and always available to others.

However, I think Mary can't see herself in a different way than she is, she can't imagine herself being someone else or doing some other job. She can not think of herself like a conversationalist, in fact, when Miss Fowler stated that she was the most talkative and she answered Im afraid Im not much of a conversationalist. As Wynn says, I havent the mind. Let me take your hat. Also, when she asked to be something else in the following lines Mary, arent you anything except a companion? Would you ever have been anything except a companion? and she answered No I dont imagine I ever should. But Ive no imagination, Im afraid

Even though Miss Fowler and Mary were away from trenches they were influenced by the consequences of the war. When Winny asked for something, Miss Fowler was willing to realize his desires because she thought that he would not have lived long because of the war. This can be seen in the following lines: Wynn demanded an increase in his allowance. Miss Fowler, who always looked facts in the face, said, He must have it. The chances are he wont live long to draw it, and if three hundred makes him happy ”. Also women were supposed to be very strong, cold-blooded and ready even for bad news. This happens when Miss Fowler and Mary received the letter about Winnys death, and Miss Fowler said I never expected anything elsebut Im sorry it happened before he had done anything. Moreover, one of her regrets is that Winny died too early, before he could have proved his own value. Also, by reading the text, I think that another womans duty is to dispose of everything after someones death and give something to other soldier as Miss Fowler said Ah, but keep his Service things. Someone may be glad of them later.


Nunzia Pappacena
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Re: A very ambiguous character.....
on: May 12, 2019, 12:22

Surely the character of Mary is the most emblematic and interesting one from the reading of this short story.

As regards the description of her physical appearance, the most important passages in my opinion are these: Miss Mary Postgate is described as a woman who is not young; with a large nose and a large mouth and with colourless eyes and hair, thoroughly conscientious, tidy, companionable, and ladylike, and though her speech was as colourless as her eyes or her hair, she was never shocked.

It can be said, however, that the whole short story revolves around the relationship between Mary and Winny: she behaves like a true mother to him, providing for all his needs, whether physical or cultural. In a sense, she lives in relation to what Winny says and does.

But Winny has always "insulted" Mary, calling her Gatepost, Postey, or Packthread.

One of the steps that best illustrate this aspect is certainly the following: You must have had a brain at some time in your past … What have you done with it? Where do you keep it? A sheep would know more than you do, Postey. Youre lamentable. You are less use than an empty tin can, you dowey old cassowary or by yelling. You're hopeless!

In the short story, Mary acts like a perfect English woman who contributes to the war, while remaining at home. Indeed she provides Winny with warm clothes, like a waistcot and some stockings.

But the moment she proved to be a perfect English woman during the war was when she and Miss Fowler received the news of Winny's death.

Although Mary suffered from Winny's death, the conventions prevented her from mourning his death; in fact, the only thing she regrets is that he died too soon, without having the chance to prove his worth during the battle.

Even her public image does not differ much from all that is highlighted above. The point that best describes it is this: Otherwise she had no enemies; provoked no jealousy even among the plainest; neither gossip nor slander had ever been traced to her; she was a sort of public aunt to very many small children of the village street.

The ending is the only point that leaves the reader without words. It is quite difficult to believe that the Mary described up to that point let a man die like that. In my opinion, her intent was to take revenge on all German soldiers in general, contributing to the death of that man, letting him die without help.


Francesca Micca
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Re: A very ambiguous character.....
on: May 13, 2019, 18:27

Mary is undoubtedly a very complex and ambiguous character. We can perceive this character from different point of views: from her appearance, from her relationship with Winny, from her public image and from the view she has of herself.

Mary is decribed as "not young", with hair and eyes colourless, with a large nose and a large mouth; these features reflect her submissive personality, her docile and passive nature.


"She was, too, a treasure at domestic accounts, for which the village tradesmen, with their weekly books, loved her not. Otherwise she had no enemies; provoked no jealousy even among the plainest; neither gossip nor slander had ever been traced to her; she supplied the odd place at the Rectors or the Doctors table at half an hours notice; she was a sort of public aunt to very many small children of the village street […]"

The sentences above fully describe her public image, how others perceive her. Mary is a person with a plain personalty and a submissive character who is seen by people like a good woman who assolve her duties like every other woman of her time. Mary has done for all her life only what society wanted her to do, she behaved like society required.


Mary can only see her as a companion. She's a woman but she is not married and doesn't have children; perhaps this is the reason why she loved so deeply and wholeheartedly Winny even though he treats her really bad calling her "postey", "gateposte", "packthread" or saying to her things like "You must have had a brain at some time in your past. What have you done with it? Where dyou keep it? A sheep would know more than you do, Postey. Youre lamentable. You are less use than an empty tin can, you dowey old cassowary"or "You look more or less like a human being".

Mary takes care of Winny since he was a child, from how she talks her all life seems to revolve around him and when Winny dies she can't mourne him as she wants. Even though "The room was whirling round Mary Postgate" when the news of Winny's death arrived at the womens' house, Mary "found herself quite steady in the midst of it": she couldn't cry for his death because Winny is dead accomplishing his duty as an english soldier, the only regret is that he couldn't even do something really valuable before dying.

But women too, in time of war, has to accomplish their duties: they have to provide soldiers with clothes, they have to take care of the house and the children in men's absence and they have to be strong in order to face bad news like the death of their beloved ones and they have to be proud of them because those men gave their lives for England and for protecting women and children.


Only in the end of the novel Mary proves to be a little be different from her usual submissive self: she let a man die because he's german and germans are evil and they took away Winny. Letting a suppose german die, Mary proves herself that she is not useless, that even a woman like her who doesn't have children can be useful too in war, more useful than a man.


Monica Manzolillo
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Re: A very ambiguous character.....
on: May 18, 2019, 18:01

As Virginia says : " I think that while her outer self is quite ordinary, her inner self is a little bit different."

There is really a lot behind the curtain. Can you identify some contraddictory signs in her behaviour as well? Something which cannot be explained rationally for example?


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