“All Summer in a Day” tells the story of a group of children ostracizing and bullying a child who doesn’t fit in. Margot, who moved to Venus from Earth several years before, has real memories of the sun, unlike her classmates who have seen only Venus’ constant rain. As sunlight is the experience that the children on Venus cherish the most, Margot becomes a scapegoat for the children’s frustration and longing. Their jealousy of her experiences leads them to a profound act of cruelty, which suggests that jealousy and deprivation, rather than outright hatred, are the engines of bullying.
The children are jealous of Margot because, while they can only speculate about what sunlight is like, Margot spent her early childhood on Earth. As the classroom prepares for Venus’ short period of sunlight, Margot writes a clever poem about the sun. Because only Margot remembers the sun, her poem and recollections are the most true to life. In order to undercut this advantage, William tries to discredit Margot, saying, “Aw, you didn’t write that!” Similarly, when Margot recalls that the sun is “like a penny,” the other children, led by William, say that she is wrong or lying. They act as if they have more knowledge of the sun than her, when the opposite is true.
Just before the sun is set to come out, the children, again led by William, torment Margot by telling her that the predictions are wrong and the sun won’t appear. Then, they shut her in a closet to keep her from going outside—while the sun appears, she will be trapped in the dark. In this way, they deprive her of experiencing the sun, just as they felt they had been deprived. The nature of these specific acts of bullying shows that the children are motivated by jealousy. Margot has been able to experience what they desired but were denied, and now they have the power to turn the tables. Bullying, therefore, is an expression of the children’s own sense of misfortune, as well as a twisted way attempt to fix a perceived injustice.
Though their cruelty is reprehensible, their jealousy is understandable—not only did Margot live on Earth for years before moving to Venus, but she also may return one day, as her family can afford the “thousands of dollars” it would cost to move back. Therefore, Margot has opportunities that the others don’t, and perhaps her sour attitude towards Venus doubly wounds them in light of her privilege. As the children prepare for the sun to come out, Margot shows off her superior memory of the sun, telling the other children that the sun is “like a penny,” or “a fire…in the stove.” To the other children, this is a reminder that Margot’s experiences have given her special knowledge of the sun, which they can only imagine. In addition, Margot refuses to participate when the other children try to include her in activities like playing tag and singing. In fact, when William begins to bully Margot, she is intentionally standing apart from the other children. Margot makes it clear that she thinks life on Earth is better than life on Venus, and that making friends with the children there is pointless. Margot has a “waiting silence” and a “possible future,” so it is clear to the other children that she does not value life on Venus and, unlike them, she has the option to leave. In both her behavior and her circumstances, Margot shows that she comes from a better world and that she is uninterested in Venus or its inhabitants. In this way, the children are made repeatedly aware that they are suffering from the sun’s absence, and, unlike Margot, can do little about it. In the face of this powerlessness and inequity, the children direct their frustration towards Margot.
Although Margot’s behavior intensifies the children’s animosity towards her, their decision to lock her in the closet is more about the children’s own anxieties and desires than it is a retaliation against Margot’s personality. This is clear because, in the moments leading up to Margot’s relegation to the closet, she is simply standing quietly, looking out the window with the rest of the children. William and the others attempt to taunt her, but she remains unengaged even when physically pushed. Their actions, then, seem broadly cathartic rather than directed at Margot herself. The children who inflict great harm on Margot do so not because they personally hate her, but because of a very real sense of deprivation. Margot is unjustly tormented for having seen the sun, but the children are also intensely aware that she has access to the thing that is most scarce and desirable to them. Ultimately, the story shows that even extremely cruel bullying is driven by more complicated motives than hatred alone.
Jealousy, Bullying, and Isolation ThemeTracker
Jealousy, Bullying, and Isolation Quotes in All Summer in a Day
Sometimes, at night, she heard them stir, in remembrance, and she knew they were dreaming and remembering gold or a yellow crayon or a coin large enough to buy the world with. She knew they thought they remembered a warmness, like a blushing in the face, in the body, in the arms and legs and trembling hands. But then they always awoke to the tatting drum, the endless shaking down of clear bead necklaces upon the roof, the walk, the gardens, the forests, and their dreams were gone.
They edged away from her, they would not look at her. She felt them go away. And this was because she would play no games with them in the echoing tunnels of the underground city. If they tagged her and ran, she stood blinking after them and did not follow. When the class sang songs about happiness and life and games her lips barely moved. Only when they sang about the sun and the summer did her lips move as she watched the drenched windows. And then, of course, the biggest crime of all was that she had come here only five years ago from Earth, and she remembered the sun and the way the sun was and the sky was when she was four in Ohio. And they, they had been on Venus all their lives, and they had been only two years old when last the sun came out and had long since forgotten the color and heat of it and the way it really was.
Then, for the first time, she turned and looked at him. And what she was waiting for was in her eyes. "Well, don’t wait around here!" cried the boy savagely. "You won’t see nothing!" Her lips moved.
"Margot." They stood as if someone had driven them, like so many stakes, into the floor. They looked at each other and then looked away. They glanced out at the world that was raining now and raining and raining steadily. They could not meet each other’s glances. Their faces were solemn and pale. They looked at their hands and feet, their faces down. "Margot."