The Toys of Peace by Saki (H.H. Munro)
In The Toys of Peace by Saki we have the theme of control, childhood, freedom, fear, disappointment and independence Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Saki may be exploring the theme of control. Eleanor wishes to control both Eric and Bertie’s environment when it comes to the matter of them playing with toys. She feels as though they should not be playing with soldiers as it may have a negative influence on the lives of both boys. If anything Eleanor is not allowing Eric or Bertie to be children and in many ways she is attempting to take away the freedom that is usually associated with childhood. However this is not how Eleanor (or Harvey) see things. They believe that non-military toys are more productive to children. For them historical figures should be played with but not necessarily those who have fought in wars. Hence Harvey buying so many toys that symbolise a different aspect of history. It is also possible that Eleanor is afraid of how the boys will develop should they continue to confine their playtime to toys with a military background.
If anything Eleanor is being overprotective of both Eric and Bertie. They are still young and there remains a lot of time for them to develop other interests. It is also normal for a young boy to play with soldiers and it does not necessarily mean that by doing so there will be a negative influence on a child’s life. Eleanor’s fears appear to be driven by the fact that both Eric and Bertie are still innocent and may not really be conscious of how detrimental and devastating real war may be. Though playing with their toys is a game for both boys Eleanor has apprehensions about where it may lead to. Apprehensions which in all likelihood are misguided. Again both boys are still young and have plenty of time to change their interests. They are also being influenced by their school work which may be the point that Saki is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that should a child be asked to research a conflict that occurred in history. They will do so and enjoy the adventure or perceived excitement that they think comes with a particular war or conflict.
With conflict comes a victor and a loser. Every child wishes to be on the winning side and the toys that Harvey has bought both boys simply do not provide Eric or Bertie with the same sense of victory. In reality Harvey’s toys though historically important are not as exciting to Eric or Bertie. Something which is understandable. It is also noticeable that the boys are creative when it comes to Harvey’s toys. They use the toys to create a battle scene. Much to the disappointment of Harvey. However Harvey appears to be forgetting that both Eric and Bertie are still children. The ways of the world outside conflict does not really interest them. If anything both boys may find Harvey’s toys and his explanation on how to play with them boring. At least with their soldiers the boys know that there is a battle to be won or lost. There is a conclusion which may or may not be historically accurate. Accuracy is not an issue that should be considered important. What is important is that the boys enjoy playing with their toys and that they are allowed to be children.
The end of the story is also interesting as both Harvey and Eleanor appear to admit defeat when it comes to what type of toys the boys like to play with. Though Harvey considers that it may have been too late to change the boy’s mind this is not a certainty. In all likelihood as the boys grow up and mature they will discard their old toys and play with new toys and soon they will stop playing with toys altogether. There will be other things that will grab the boy’s attention as they grow up. Despite the good intentions of both Harvey and Eleanor the boys have not been persuaded to redefine how they play with their toys nor should they be. They are still young and should be allowed the freedom that comes with childhood and decide for themselves what games they like to play. Rather than attempting to control Eric and Bertie’s activities Eleanor would serve herself better to accept that both boys are just children. She may be disappointed but her disappointment won’t last. Just as Eric and Bertie playing with soldiers won’t last. Like a lot of young boys it is just a period that they are going through. It would be unhealthy to force the boys to change the games that they play as this would only led to the stifling of their independence.