The Darkness Out There – Telling Tales Analysis – AQA Anthology

Penelope Lively is a British author who writes for both children and adults. ‘The Darkness Out There’ was first published in 1984 as part of her short story collection Pack of Cards.

Plot summary

Sandra, a teenager, visits an older woman called Mrs Rutter as part of the “Good Neighbours’ Club” at school. She walks through Packer’s End, a small area well-known as where a German plane had once crashed during World War 2.

Sandra encounters a boy called Kerry, who has also been sent to help Mrs Rutter. She does not like him and wishes she had been paired with one of her friends.

Mrs Rutter gives the teenagers tasks and chats with Sandra. Mrs Rutter offers them chocolate biscuits and is complimentary about Sandra’s appearance. Sandra feels sympathy for her when hearing that her husband died in the war, but Kerry is less taken with her.

Kerry asks Mrs Rutter about the German plane that crashed in Packer’s End. In response, Mrs Rutter confirms that this story is true. She speaks of how she and her sister went out to see the aircraft and were happy when they saw it was German rather than British. They realised one of the soldiers was still alive, but they left him dying for two nights. Only once he had died did they fetch help.

In shock at this story, Sandra and Kerry leave immediately. Kerry is furious at the inhumane actions of the sisters. Sandra gains a new respect for him. She also realises that people are often mistaken in their judgements and fears. To her, the actions of the British civilians are a scarier thought than that of the German soldiers who were once in Packer’s End.

Characters

Sandra

A teenage girl who has joined the “Good Neighbours’ Club” because it is what all “her set” have done. She is judgemental, especially about people’s appearances. She distastefully notes Kerry’s acne and Pat’s “funny eye.” Her shallowness is also demonstrated when she wonders whether those who help others are “always not very nice-looking.” However, she is kind to Mrs Rutter and feels sympathy when hearing about her dead husband.

She gains maturity at the end of the story when she realises that appearances can be deceiving. She sees Kerry as “older and larger”, and his personality becomes more important to her than his appearance.

Kerry

The first time we see Kerry is when he jumps out at Sandra, who is scared about being in Packer’s End. Sandra describes his appearance unflatteringly, with “black licked-down hair and slitty eyes.” Kerry will soon leave school to do an apprenticeship as a car mechanic.

He dislikes Mrs Rutter at a point when she seems kind, and so the reader’s dislike for him grows. However, he is appalled by the story Mrs Rutter tells them, showing strong moral values in leaving immediately. Sandra is impressed with him, which makes her realise, “You could get people all wrong.”

Mrs Rutter

At first, Mrs Rutter is presented as a kind and friendly woman. Though Sandra notes her overweight body, she also thinks she has “a creamy smiling pool of a face.” But, in telling the story of leaving a German soldier to die over a period of two nights, we see a much more menacing and disturbing side to Mrs Rutter. She justifies it as payback for the death of her husband. However, her actions and lack of regret are heartless.

Language, Form and Structure

  • Lively narrates the story in the third person, primarily from Sandra’s viewpoint. This allows the reader to see her changed perspective on the world and her altered opinions of Kerry and Mrs Rutter.
  • The setting of Packer’s End holds great significance in the story. It is a place associated with fear, especially in the darkness.

Themes

Growing Up

Sandra is more childlike at the beginning of the story. She wants to have a “good giggle” while visiting older people rather than helping them. She fantasises about a perfect future, seeing “places like on travel brochures…fall in love…get a good job.” Also, she looks down on Kerry. When he has a different opinion than her, she reasons that this is because “boys matured later.”

However, Kerry shows more maturity in his open disgust of Mrs Rutter’s story. Sandra follows him in leaving the house, and Kerry becomes “older” in her mind. She has an epiphany that her views on people are not always correct. This is disturbing for her, as she has to reconsider her perspective on the world.

As she notes at the end of the story:

“One moment you were walking in long grass with the sun on your hair and birds singing and the next you glimpsed darkness, an inescapable darkness.”

Growing up, for Sandra, is about understanding some of the true horrors of the world. She knows that she will never regain her childish naivety and innocence.

Fear

We see Sandra’s fears about Packer’s End changing as she grows up. As a small child, she fears “witches and wolves and tigers.” Then she hears the story of the German plane and how the dead soldiers supposedly haunt the area. As she gets older, she learns about sexual predators and rumours of a girl being assaulted in Packer’s End.

But, by the end of the story, these fears are replaced by the image of British civilians ripping the German plane apart, taking pieces of it for souvenirs. The Germans were the enemy of Britain in World War 2, so hearing about the British behaving in such a way makes her question all notions of good and evil.

You’ve used 0 of your 10 free revision notes for the month

Sign up to get unlimited access to revision notes, quizzes, audio lessons and more

Sign up