I’m the King of the Castle examines different kinds of physical and psychological imprisonment. Warings, the large English manor house to which Charles Kingshaw and Helena Kingshaw move, could be considered a prison: it’s large, bleak, isolated from the rest of the world, and controlled by people who enforce rigid hierarchies. By this logic, Charles Kingshaw can be seen as a prisoner: he’s trapped in a lonely, miserable place, where his only companion is the cruel and sadistic Edmund Hooper, who torments Charles on a daily basis. Overwhelmed, Charles attempts to escape from the house, packing supplies and sneaking away in the early hours of the morning. This is not simply to escape his mistreatment, but it’s also to prove his own power after being told consistently that he is fully dependent on the Hoopers’ generosity. Understood in this way, Edmund isn’t just trying to escape because he’s unhappy; he wants to prove to himself that he can survive on his own, without the Hoopers’ help. But his escape from Warings is a crushing failure. Just as he’s about to leave the house and run into the woods, Charles becomes consumed by anxiety, remembering almost every negative thing that’s ever happened to him. It’s as if the house itself is trying to prevent his escape and pull him back into its clutches. Sure enough, it’s not long before Edmund has tracked down Charles in the wood. And less than a day later, adults have arrived to take them both—prisoner and guard—back to Warings.
Charles’s attempt to escape from Warings suggests a second, arguably more dangerous kind of imprisonment: psychological imprisonment. Throughout the book, Edmund “gets into [Charles’] head,” succeeding in frightening him in various sadistic ways. Eventually, Charles reaches the point where he feels Edmund watching him even when he’s on his own. Charles isn’t physically imprisoned in Warings, but he seems psychologically bound to the oppressive dynamic of the house: he becomes incapable of imagining a world without Warings, Edmund, and the debilitating fear that traps him even more profoundly than the house’s physical isolation. Even while Edmund and Charles are in the wood together, physically removed from Warings and all it represents, Charles finds himself following Edmund’s commands with unthinking obedience. Charles behaves this way in part because, Hill writes, he’s always been an unusually obedient kid, taking other kids up on their orders and dares. But perhaps more importantly, Charles obeys Edmund because he sees Edmund as the only source of truth in his disorienting new life at Waring. This becomes particularly clear when Edmund calmly tells Charles that their parents will be getting married soon—a prophecy that comes true before the novel’s end. Both before and after this incident, Charles dislikes much of what Edmund tells him, but it never occurs to him to question any of it. In other words, Edmund’s power over Charles lies, at least in part, in his seeming to know more than Charles. At one point, Edmund claims that he is a popular, powerful boy at boarding school—a bold claim for which he offers no evidence—but instead of questioning Edmund, Charles believes his tormentor instantly, and begins to grow more frightened both of boarding school and of Edmund in general. The scene captures the essence of the psychological nature of Charles’s imprisonment: too frightened and confused to work out the truth for himself, he remains psychologically dependent on Edmund, in effect seeing the world exactly the way Edmund wants him to see it. Ultimately, because he feels both physically and psychologically “trapped,” Charles stages the only sort of escape he feels is left to him by taking his own life.
Imprisonment and Escape ThemeTracker
Imprisonment and Escape Quotes in I’m the King of the Castle
He stretched out his hand, put his finger under the head of the pin and slid it up, out of the thick, striped body. At once, the whole moth, already years dead, disintegrated, collapsing into a soft, formless heap of dark dust.
He imagined the furry body of the moth against the pads of Hooper's fingers. He was ashamed of being so afraid, and could not help it, he only wanted to get out, to stop having to see the terrible moths. Hooper watched him. There was a moment when they both stood, quite still, waiting. Then, Hooper whipped around and pushed past Kingshaw without warning he was out of the door, turning the key sharply in the lock. After a moment, his footsteps went away down the hall. A door closed somewhere.
Very deliberately, Kingshaw inserted his forefingers under the string, and pulled the satchel off his back. He untied his anorak from it, and spread it out on the ground, and then sat down. Hooper stood above him, his eyes flicking about nervously, his face as pale as his limbs in the dim light.
Hooper sighed. 'Look, when you're breathing, you're alive aren't you? Everything is. And when you stop breathing, your heart stops, and then you're dead.'
Kingshaw hesitated, worried about it, uncertain how to argue.
Hooper's eyes opened very wide. 'I suppose you don't believe all that guff about souls and ghosts and everything, do you?'
‘When you're dead you're dead, you're finished.'
'Look . . . you can see.' Hooper poked his finger at the rabbit' Its head flopped heavily sideways.
'It's dead’ he said.
Kingshaw stared at it miserably. He could not think clearly. What Hooper said must be true, and yet he knew that it was not true.
For a second, he hesitated, part of his mind starting to come awake. And then he thought of everything, of what else would happen, he thought of the things Hooper had done and what he was going to do, of the new school and the wedding of his mother. He began to splash and stumble forwards, into the middle of the stream, where the water was deepest. When it had reached up to his thighs, he lay down slowly and put his face full into it and breathed in a long, careful breath.
When he saw Kingshaw’s body, upside down in the water, Hooper thought suddenly, it was because of me, I did that, it was because of me, and a spurt of triumph went through him.