Showing the Flag by Jane Gardam
In Showing the Flag by Jane Gardam we have the theme of abandonment, resilience, love, insecurity and trust. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Gardam may be exploring the theme of abandonment. Philip feels as though he has been abandoned by his mother. Something that is triggered when Philip loses the Union Jack flag from its tin. It is as though Philip’s mind begins to race and he thinks about incidents in his life when his mother was not there. However the reality is very much different. Philip’s mother (and Miss Pym) have always been there for Philip. Something that is noticeable by the way that Philip’s mother packs his case for school. She makes sure that he has everything he could possibly need. Which may leave some readers to suggest that Philip’s mother not only cares for Philip but loves him very much. If anything she is putting Philip before herself. As one would expect a mother to do with a child. It is also noticeable that Philip will not be beaten by others. The two porters, one who Philip considers to be a thief, cannot deflect Philip from his intentions. If anything Philip is showing resilience.
As well as being resilient Philip shows an enormous amount of determination and drive. At no stage in the story does he give up. He may incorrectly assume that his mother and Miss Pym’s are wicked. Something he has no foundation to assume. However he continues on with his journey in a relatively good spirit. Even going as far as deciding that should he not be greeted by Major Foster he will work as a kitchen boy. Knowing that there will be food available to him. There is also an element of shyness about Philip. He feels embarrassed to open the packed sandwiches his mother has made for him as they look too perfect. This could be important as it further highlights to the reader just how loved Philip is by his mother. She has taken the care that every step of Philip’s journey to Paris will not be affected by anything unforeseen, like Philip going hungry. Though at the same time Philip still feels as though he has been abandoned by his mother and Miss Pym. It as though he feels that he has become an obstacle to his mother and as such she wants to get rid of him. Though the reader after reading the story is left fully aware that this is not the case.
If anything Philip may feel insecure within himself. He is travelling alone and reliant on his mother. Someone who he may not necessarily trust because of the fact that she did not attend Philip’s father’s burial. Though in reality she was too poorly to do so. Most likely stricken by grief. If anything Philip after losing the Union Jack lets his mind wander into the negative and as such has negative and unflattering thoughts about his mother. Considering her to want to live her life without Philip in it. This may be important as Philip is blind to the realities of what is happening. Should he have heard his mother’s conversation with Miss Pym at the dock side. He would know that his mother is upset about letting him go to Paris. It is also interesting that Philip doesn’t consider the trip to France to be an adventure as many children his age would. He is exceptionally reserved and if anything the trip in Philip’s eyes is just an excuse for his mother to be rid of him. Though Philip needs the Union Jack for Major Foster to identify him. It is also noticeable that Philip despite having the opportunity does not make a replacement Union Jack. Which may leave some readers to suspect that Philip is head-strong.
The end of the story is also interesting as the reader (and Philip) gets a deeper and more exact example of just how much Philip’s mother loves him. She has placed a spare Union Jack in the packaging of his sandwiches. It is as though Philip’s mother knows that Philip might have been curious about the original Union Jack and lost it. If anything Gardam may be suggesting that mother knows best. Something which is very true when Philip discovers the second Union Jack flag. The reader is also left feeling that all the abandonment issues that Philip had allowed himself to be preoccupied with have disappeared. He knows his mother loves him and the reader senses that things will be okay for Philip. He will meet Major Foster and be taken to his home. It is also as though Philip has learnt a valuable lesson about trust. He now knows that he can trust his mother and that she has his best interests at heart. Whereas previously Philip did not necessarily think this was the case.