Evans Tries an O-Level


Colin Dexter

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Themes and Colors
Intelligence and Deception Theme Icon
Instinct, Paranoia, and Pride Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Evans Tries an O-Level, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Friendship Theme Icon

In “Evans Tries an O-Level,” “congenital kleptomaniac” James Evans comes up with a creative and ultimately successful plan to break out of Oxford Prison: he takes night classes in German for six months, asks to take the final exam, and then disguises himself as the proctor, Reverend McLeery (who is actually one of Evans’s accomplices disguised as the real proctor) when the day finally comes. Having escaped three times from other prisons in the past, “Evans the Break” has quite the reputation among prison guards. However, as the story unfolds, it’s clear that Evans doesn’t work alone, nor does he proudly assume credit for himself—he’s grateful to have a lot of “friends,” and also has the skillful ability to endear people to him (whether they realize it or not). The value Evans places on friendship, coupled with his ability to make friends (or at least “warm enemies,” as his relationship with the senior prison officer, Jackson, is described) is critical to his eventual escape from prison—and his ability to escape again in the process of being sent back.

Evans forms a playfully irreverent relationship with the prison officers, warmly exchanging insults and cracking crude jokes with them. This behavior endears Evans to the officers, even if they won’t admit it. Although this doesn’t necessarily make his initial escape from prison easier, it does make the aftermath of his escape less severe, ultimately allowing him to escape again. When the Governor carefully pieces together how Evans managed to escape from Oxford Prison, he intercepts Evans at the Golden Lion Hotel in the nearby town of Chipping Norton. After Evans’s initial (apparent) shock upon finding the Governor waiting for him in his hotel room, the two men act like old friends playing a game of chess—not a domineering prison warden tracking down a notoriously slippery criminal. In his typical open, cheerful way, Evans excitedly tells the Governor all about how he managed to escape. After Evans is done recounting his exploits, all the Governor can do is shake his head in “reluctant admiration.” He then says, “Come on, m’lad,” implying that it’s time for them both to head back to the prison. In using the term of endearment “m’lad” to refer to Evans, the Governor betrays just how much Evans has ingratiated himself to the prison officers. The Governor doesn’t yank Evans outside in handcuffs and throw him into a prison van; instead, the two men walk “side by side” as they continue to chat and casually make their way down the hotel stairs. Even when Evans does get handcuffed and loaded into a van, it’s the silent prison officer (later revealed to be one of Evans’s accomplices), and not the Governor, who does it. The Governor just stands back and continues chatting with Evans. Despite being recaptured, Evans happily calls “Cheerio,” and the Governor tells Evans that he’ll see him soon, “as if the Governor were saying farewell to an old friend after a cocktail party.” The complex, high-stakes chase to recapture Evans is conflated with a cocktail party, emphasizing how the aftermath of his escape from prison is much less severe—and far more fun—than it would have been for other criminals.

Evans’ many “friends” from the outside world are also critical to his successful escape from prison (and his escape from the Governor that same day). When the Governor asks Evans how he managed to pull off such a complicated plan, given that the prisoner hasn’t had any visitors or letters, Evans simply replies, “I’ve got lots of friends though […] Me German teacher, for a start.” Dexter breezes past this moment quickly, leaving readers to sort through the implications of this statement. Given that Evans took night classes in German for six months and was the only student in the class all that time, it seems that Evans’s plan to break out of prison was formed over the course of six months of unsupervised “class” time with his supposed German teacher. Evans’s other crucial accomplices include the silent prison officer, the fake McLeery, and the Assistant Secretary—a small handful of what’s implied to be a large pool of loyal friends willing to help Evans however they can. In explaining his ingenious and complicated escape plan to the Governor, Evans frequently uses the collective pronoun “we,” pointing to the value he places in friendship and teamwork. He doesn’t take all the credit for himself, stating that “we” planned a phone call as a diversion at the end of the exam, “we” planted a fake clue, “we” used pig’s blood, and so on. In this way, both Dexter and Evans himself stress that this prison break was not a one-man job. The “congenital kleptomaniac” (which sounds fittingly reminiscent of “congenial kleptomaniac”) is charismatic to his core, earning varying degrees of respect (or “reluctant admiration”), loyalty, and camaraderie from criminals and prison officers alike.

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Friendship Quotes in Evans Tries an O-Level

Below you will find the important quotes in Evans Tries an O-Level related to the theme of Friendship.
Evans Tries an O-Level Quotes

“Me ‘at? Huh!” Evans put his right hand lovingly on top of the filthy woollen, and smiled sadly. “D’you know, Mr Jackson, it’s the only thing that’s ever brought me any sort o’ luck in life. Kind o’ lucky charm, if you know what I mean. And today I thought—well, with me exam and all that…”

Buried somewhere in Jackson was a tiny core of compassion; and Evans knew it.

“Just this once, then, Shirley Temple.” (If there was one thing that Jackson genuinely loathed about Evans it was his long, wavy hair.)

Related Characters: James Evans (speaker), Jackson (speaker)
Related Symbols: Evans’s Hat
Page Number: 73-74
Explanation and Analysis:

Yes, it had been a jolly good idea for “McLeery” to wear two black fronts, two collars. But that top collar! Phew! It had kept on slipping off the back stud; and there’d been that one panicky moment when “McLeery” had only just got his hand up to his neck in time to stop the collars springing apart before Stephens… Ah! They’d got that little problem worked out all right […] But all that fiddling about under the blanket with the black front and the stud at the back of the collar—that had been far more difficult than they’d ever bargained for […].

Related Characters: James Evans (speaker), Reverend Stuart McLeery, Stephens
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

“Tell me, Evans. How did you manage to plan all this business? You’ve had no visitors—I’ve seen to that. You’ve had no letters—”

“I’ve got lots of friends, though.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Me German teacher, for a start.”

“You mean—? But he was from the Technical College.”

Was ‘e?” Evans was almost enjoying it all now. “Ever check up on ‘im, sir?”

“God Almighty! There’s far more going on than I—”

“Always will be, sir.”

Related Characters: The Governor (speaker), James Evans (speaker), Reverend Stuart McLeery
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:

“See you soon, Evans.” It was almost as if the Governor were saying farewell to an old friend after a cocktail party.

“Cheerio, sir. I, er, I was just wonderin’. I know your German’s pretty good, sir, but do you know any more o’ these modern languages?”

“Not very well. Why?”

Evans settled himself comfortably on the back seat, and grinned happily. “Nothin’, really. I just ‘appened to notice that you’ve got some O-level Italian classes comin’ up next September, that’s all.”

“Perhaps you won’t be with us next September, Evans.”

James Roderick Evans appeared to ponder the Governor’s words deeply. “No. P’r’aps I won’t,” he said.

Related Characters: The Governor (speaker), James Evans (speaker), The Silent Prison Officer
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis: