I’m the King of the Castle

I’m the King of the Castle Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Joseph Hooper announces to Edmund that people are coming to Warings, meaning that Edmund may finally have a friend to play with. The friend, Charles Kingshaw, is eleven years old, just like Edmund. Charles’s mother, Helena Kingshaw, has come to Warings, supposedly, to serve as Joseph’s “informal housekeeper.” She is thirty-seven, and she, too, is widowed.
Right away, the novel suggests that there’s a sexual dimension to the relationship between Helena Kingshaw and Joseph Hooper, since both adults are newly single. Here, Hill is also referencing a rich tradition in English literature, in which working-class women who come to a mysterious manor house end up marrying the taciturn master of the house.
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As Edmund prepares to meet Charles and Helena, he realizes that he remembers nothing about his own mother. He also decides, “nobody should come here,” since Warings belongs to him. That afternoon, when the Kingshaws arrive, Edmund locks his door and refuses to meet them. He molds a strip of dark red plasticine (i.e., clay), which he’s using to make a model.
Edmund is uncomfortable with the idea of another child at Warings, because he sees Warings as his own property. Edmund’s greed and possessiveness precludes him from being friendly to Charles. Notice that Edmund, who previously thought of Warings as an ugly, useless place, has suddenly become possessive of his home, precisely because another boy is now living there.
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When Helena Kingshaw arrives at Warings with her son Charles, her first impression of Joseph is that he’s been alone for too long. Joseph calls for Edmund. Edmund, who can see the Kingshaws from his window, writes something on a piece of paper, attaches it to a piece of plasticine, and drops it from the window. Charles picks it up and sees that it says, “I didn’t want you to come here.” Frightened, Charles stuffs the message into his pocket without showing anyone.
The novel is bookended by two threatening messages that Edmund sends to Charles. Even before Charles meets Edmund, he learns to fear Edmund: instead of thinking of the note as childish (as an adult might be inclined to do), Charles takes it very seriously and begins to become anxious.
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A short while later, Edmund stands alone with Charles in Charles’s new room. He asks Charles, “Why have you come here?” Charles blushes. Edmund starts to realize the importance of owning a house, telling Charles, “We live here, it is ours … Kingshaw has nowhere.” He claims, falsely, that Charles’s room is the room where Edmund’s grandfather died recently. Edmund also boasts that one day, the house will belong to him, and asks Charles where he used to live. Charles explains that he used to live in a flat (i.e., apartment) in London. When Edmund asks Charles why his father didn’t buy a real house, Charles becomes hurt and says, “My father’s dead.”
In this important section, Edmund finally sees the value his father sees in owning a large house and property: it allows him to assert his power over others. Edmund seems uninterested in Warings itself, but he uses Warings as a way of asserting dominance over Charles. Even though both Charles and Edmund have dead parents, Edmund to bullies Charles about his dead parent, but Charles doesn’t respond in kind. From the outset, the boys’ relationship is defined by their different class statuses.
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Edmund asks Charles about his father, and Charles explains that his father was a pilot who fought in the Battle of Britain. Edmund is skeptical. Charles shows him an old photograph of his father, a “bald, cadaverous man.” Somehow, Charles senses that he has “won” his conversation with Edmund, and yet he doesn’t feel like the winner.
This passage establishes a key theme of the novel: Charles quite often gets the better of Edmund (if only in a childish way), but he never knows how to claim his victory. He lacks the confidence and self-assuredness that Edmund seems to enjoy as a result of being heir to Warings. As a result, Charles feels like the loser even when he wins.
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Edmund asks Charles where he went to school, and Charles tells him about his school in Wales. Then, abruptly, Charles says, “You needn’t think I wanted to come, anyway.” He then orders Edmund to shut the window, adding, “it’s my window now.” Edmund raises his fists, and a “brief and wordless” fight breaks out. A moment later, Charles is nursing a bloody nose.
Almost right away, the two boys fight over their ownership of Warings. Edmund sees Charles as a threat to his ownership of the house, and that’s the reason why he attacks Charles.
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A moment later, the fight ends. Edmund orders Charles, who now has a bloody nose, to leave him alone. Charles insists that Edmund’s father told him to spend time with Edmund. Edmund continues to ask Charles about his school, insisting that Charles’s mother could never have afforded to pay for a good boarding school if she couldn’t afford a house. Edmund looks at Charles coldly, sensing that he has won.
This is the only scene in the book in which Charles and Edmund have a physical fight. However, their fight is brief and painless compared with the verbal war that follows. Edmund asks probing questions that allude to Charles’s financial status. It’s only after this second verbal battle that Edmund emerges the victor. This sets the tone for the rest of Hill’s novel, in which the deadliest fights are fought with words, not fists.
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Charles, his heart beating fast, is unsettled: he has never encountered anything like Edmund’s hostility or self-possession before. He wants to communicate to Edmund that he’ll do anything Edmund wants, but he doesn't know how to put this into words.
Charles isn’t a fighter: he doesn’t like Edmund’s bullying or his aggressive tone, and wishes there could be peace between them. But it seems from the outset that peace will not be possible because Edmund wants to punish Charles for coming to Warings.
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Edmund, who has a large bruise on his cheekbone, looks coldly at Charles. He says, “You still needn’t think you’re wanted here” and then walks out. Alone, Charles feels ashamed. He is also frightened by the idea that Edmund’s grandfather died in this room. It never occurs to him that Edmund was lying. Nevertheless, he goes to the window and thinks, “It is my window, now.”
Hill presents the results of the boys’ fistfight in a cleverly disorienting way. She first notes Charles’s injury, only mentioning Edmund’s bruise a few paragraphs later. In this way, she suggests that the fight (both the physical fight and verbal one that followed) left more of an impression on Charles than on Edmund. Edmund doesn’t let anything deter him from chipping away at Charles’s confidence. And yet Charles still believes that he has some right to live at Warings. He’s not ready to surrender yet.
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A few days later, Joseph notices that Edmund is sitting alone in his room. Joseph suggests that Edmund go play with Charles instead. Edmund doesn’t reply. He’s busy making a color-coded diagram of the Battle of Waterloo on a large sheet of paper.
Both children build models and make diagrams throughout the book. This may symbolize their desire to understand the world and assert their power over it. The militaristic nature of Edmund’s diagram (which depicts a famous 19th century battle) also suggests Edmund’s bellicose, aggressive personality.
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Joseph orders Edmund to go play with Charles. Edmund stares at his father and thinks that he looks very old and thin. Joseph privately thinks that he’d have an easier time reasoning with Edmund if Edmund were a few years older. He tells Edmund that he’s being rude to Charles by ignoring him. Joseph also considers striking Edmund for his rudeness, but relents when he realizes that he’s already considered it for a split-second too long. Joseph realizes that his wife was much better at raising a child than he is. He blames his wife for not leaving “a set of rules for him to follow” when she died. He leaves, and Edmund continues working on his map.
In this painful passage, it’s clear that Edmund is stronger, more confident, and in some ways smarter than his father. Joseph is too weak and indecisive to take control over Edmund. And the result, of course, is that Joseph essentially gives Edmund “free reign,” doing nothing to stop his son from treating Charles rudely.
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A short while later, Edmund comes downstairs and orders Charles to follow him. Charles refuses, but then his mother walks in and encourages him to follow Edmund. Edmund leads Charles through the house, showing him different rooms and leading him up the old stone staircase. Charles follows, thinking that he’d prefer to be alone by a stream or in a wood. Suddenly, he stops and sits down on the staircase. Edmund orders him to follow, but Charles ignores him. Frustrated, Edmund begins walking down the staircase, very carefully. It occurs to Charles that it would be very easy for him to push Edmund off the staircase, but this thought terrifies him. He continues sitting on the staircase, alone.
Throughout the chapter, Edmund has been the more aggressive of the two children. And yet the chapter ends by alluding to Charles’s potential for violent behavior. Charles is quieter and humbler than Edmund, and yet Hill suggests that he has the same capacity for destruction. As Hill sees it, children aren’t inherently good: rather, they seem to have the same potential for evil behavior as adults.
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