Throughout the novel, Hill depicts nature in two opposing ways: in its wild forms, and as dead, controlled, or otherwise “tamed.” Hang Wood (the forest that surrounds Warings), is an example of “wild nature,” while the Hooper family’s vast moth collection, which has been carefully preserved, arranged, and classified, is the defining example of “tamed nature.” Charles Kingshaw, the novel’s main character, is strongly associated with nature in its wild and unrestrained forms. Edmund Hooper, the novel’s second main character, is strongly associated with tamed nature.
The oppositional relationship between these two different ways of thinking about nature parallels the antagonistic relationship between Charles Kingshaw and Edmund Hooper, and reveals important things about both characters. Edmund’s fascination with tamed nature is representative of his desire to control everything around him. On his first night at Warings, Edmund studies the family’s moth collection, familiarizing himself with these emblems of tamed nature at the same time that he’s adjusting to his new status as heir to Warings. For Edmund, the moths are a symbol of his family’s power and prestige (the moth collection is one of the world’s greatest), inseparable from his own sense of social superiority to other people. Elsewhere in the book, Edmund is shown to be fascinated with stuffed crows, the circus, and other emblems of nature that has been tamed or controlled, reflecting his own desire to exert control over the world. When he’s exposed to the natural world itself, however, he becomes almost petrified with fear. In the wood, for instance, Edmund has no easy way of asserting his authority or controlling his surroundings. Trees, wild animals, rushing water, and the “boom” of thunder act as constant reminders of his own powerlessness and insignificance. Almost exactly the opposite is true of Charles. The one time in the novel when he’s shown to be completely at ease is when he’s walking through the wood by himself. The surreal sights and overwhelming sounds of the natural world are comforting to him for exactly the reason they’re so unnerving for Edmund: they remind him that he’s far from Warings, and therefore unconstrained by the unacknowledged caste system that dominates his life and his relationship with Edmund. More generally, Charles seems to like nature because he can be alone—far from bullies, his mother, and all the other people who make him feel anxious. Unsurprisingly, Charles is frightened by emblems of nature under control: stuffed birds, animals at the circus, and the moths in the Hoopers’ collection all make him physically ill. These sights seem to remind him of his own feeling of being trapped in a society dominated by an oppressive class structure: at Warings, for instance, he feels as helpless and imprisoned as a bug in a glass case.
In short, Charles’s and Edmund’s comfort and symbolic association with different states of nature mirror the basic difference between them: Charles craves freedom while Edmund craves power. But, like every other relationship in the book (Edmund and Charles, Joseph and Helena), the relationship between wild nature and tamed nature is set off balance or corrupted by Edmund’s influence. Throughout the novel, but particularly toward the end, Edmund ruins Charles’s otherwise positive relationship with the natural world. On several occasions, Charles becomes nauseated with the natural world in its free, live form—for example, when he’s attacked by a crow and when he hears an owl hooting. It’s as if Edmund has poisoned the one happy, fruitful part of Charles’s life: his affinity for nature. As the novel proceeds, and Edmund’s control over Charles’s thoughts and feelings becomes more and more powerful, Charles’s nausea with all nature becomes more pronounced, culminating in the ambiguous manner of his suicide. Consumed, Charles returns to the wood, the only place in the novel where he’s been shown to feel completely comfortable. There, he drowns himself in a stream. It’s important to notice the irony: the wood, a symbol of living nature and wilderness, has become the site of Charles’s death. The suggestion is that Edmund, by indirectly but undeniably causing Charles’s death, has turned Charles himself—once associated with nature in its wild forms—into a symbol of “nature tamed,” just like the collection of dead moths or the stuffed crow. And so Charles’s suicide represents a symbolic victory: Edmund triumphs over Charles, death triumphs over life, and tamed nature triumphs over wild nature.
Nature Quotes in I’m the King of the Castle
Last year, someone had been strangled to death twenty miles away. Hooper had told him that. Twenty miles wasn't far.
He imagined tramps and murderers, and the cowman at Barr Farm, with bad teeth and hands like raw red meat. Anybody might have been hanging about behind the shed, and locked him in. Later, they might come back.
'I'm Head of Dorm for next term.'
Kingshaw went cold. He knew that it was sure to be true, and that it would be the worst of all things that were coming. Hooper had power now, here. He would have power there, too, then.
I am the King, I am the King, there is nothing I can't ask him for, nothing he won't promise me, nothing I can't do to him. Up here, I'm the King.
But he had learned enough, over the past few weeks, to know that any power he acquired would only be temporary. Like the thunderstorm in the wood, and the time when Hooper had fallen into the water and bashed his head, and then when he had had the nightmares. As soon as the situation had changed, everything went back to what Kingshaw had come to think of as normal.
But he did not think it likely that he could ever be believed, nothing could change, because he had meant what he thought and said about Hooper, and still meant it. It was only being afraid of this empty church, and of the white marble warrior lying on his tombstone in the side chapel, that made him kneel down and tell lies. It was no good. He had wanted Hooper to be dead, because then things would have been better. His punishment was that Hooper was not dead, that everything was the same, and the thought of that was worse than anything. He acknowledged that he feared Hooper more than he feared anything in the world.
Kingshaw thought, he knows everybody and they know him. He lives here, and I live here, now, but I don't know anyone or anything, except Mrs Boland and the woman at the post office. Hooper doesn't know anybody, either, we might as well be on the moon. He thought of Warings, surrounded by the high hedge, dark and inaccessible. All the time, this other boy had been watching, aware of him.
From the doorway, watching them, Kingshaw thought, Hooper believes him, he isn't going to make him open the case and put his hand on one, he isn't going to make him prove it, he just believes him. That's the way Fielding is, that's the way you should be, It had been different with him. Hooper had known, from the very first moment he had looked into Fielding’s face, that it would all be easy, that he would always be able to make him afraid. Why, thought Kingshaw, why? His eyes suddenly pricked with tears, at the unfairness of it. WHY?
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.