Private Peaceful is a book that celebrates bravery and standing up for one’s beliefs. While it may seem that the courageous characters in the book, in particular Charlie, Tommo, and their mother, Mrs. Peaceful, are not always explicitly rewarded for their bravery (in fact Charlie is executed for his), it does always earn them with the respect and admiration of those around them. Morpurgo thus implies the inherent value of courage and suggests that people must always strive for bravery even in the face of potential consequences.
Mrs. Peaceful is one of the first characters in the book to exemplify bravery and integrity, and she undoubtedly inspires Charlie and Tommo to be courageous in their own lives. There are two primary moments of Mrs. Peaceful’s bravery in the narrative, the first occurring when Charlie and Tommo are caught poaching on the Colonel’s land. Though Mrs. Peaceful admits that the boys have done wrong, she knows that they only did so in order to help provide food for the family. As such, she cannot abide the Colonel’s promise to physically beat the boys as punishment. She instead tells the Charlie and Tommo that she “won’t let that man lay a finger on you, not one finger, no matter what” and proves true to her word, convincing the Colonel that cleaning the stables will be sufficient punishment. Even though the Colonel could take her house and livelihood from her if he wanted to, Mrs. Peaceful’s loyalty to her family is stronger than her fear of any threat. The boys, in turn, feel a great deal of appreciation and respect for their mother after this.
A similar episode occurs later, when Charlie “steals” the elderly dog that the Colonel is about to kill anyway. Even though the Colonel has the power to evict her from her home, Mrs. Peaceful stands up for her son, coolly paying the Colonel for the dog, claiming that if it’s been paid for, it’s not stolen. Her bravery pays off as the Colonel eventually leaves, and her family are once again “overwhelmed with gratitude and admiration” for their mother. She is again rewarded for her courage with the respect of her family.
Charlie, too, is an unequivocally courageous character who earns the respect of those around him. As a child, he defends Tommo from Jimmy Parsons, the school bully, even though both he and Jimmy get the cane for it. Tommo is “so proud” and thinks to himself that he has “the bravest brother in the world,” especially when everyone hears Jimmy “crying out” as he receives his punishment whereas Charlie is silent—a sign of his stoic bravery and willingness to accept the consequences of his actions when he believes he is in the right.
Charlie will continue to exemplify these characteristics throughout the novel. Later in life, for example, Charlie is happy to lose his job to save Bertha the dog from being shot by the Colonel, claiming, “I won’t tell [the Colonel] where she is. I don’t care what he does, I won’t tell him.” In the army, Charlie again sticks up for Tommo against Sergeant Hanley, telling the overbearing Sergeant “exactly what he thought of him” when he causes Tommo to faint from exhaustion. Charlie is punished again, this time by “Field Punishment Number One,” yet again accepts his fate with quiet dignity, even smiling. Everyone in the company respects Charlie for this. They cheer as he stands up to Hanley, and it’s clear that “there isn’t a man in the company who doesn’t look up to him.” Later on, Charlie refuses to leave his captain, Wilkie, when he is injured, and carries him “on his back the whole way” to their trench. Wilkie leaves him his precious watch out of respect for Charlie’s bravery.
The greatest instance of Charlie’s bravery, of course, comes at the end of the novel, when he refuses to obey Hanley’s suicidal order and abandon Tommo, who is gravely injured. Charlie is executed for his disobedience, but again faces his punishment with immense courage. He walks to his execution “with a smile on his face,” refuses to wear the hood, and even sings as he dies. In admiration for his bravery, all of the men in camp stand to attention in respect.
Charlie also inspires Tommo to take courage. He learns on the day that Charlie protects him from Jimmy Parsons that “sometimes you’ve got to stand up for yourself and fight for what’s right, even when you don’t want to.” When Charlie later signs up for the army, Tommo is inspired to join him. In a later attack, Tommo stays strong and “[does] not run, only because of Charlie.” Eventually, as he awaits Charlie’s execution, Tommo bravely sits through the night, refusing company or comfort, and standing by his brother in solidarity. He wills himself to survive the rest of the war so that he can keep his promise to Charlie to look after his wife Molly and their baby. Tommo therefore comes out of the story a braver man because of Charlie’s influence. Courage, according to Morpurgo, is not only admirable, but a force that inspires invaluable bravery, dignity, and strength in those who bear witness to it.
Courage Quotes in Private Peaceful
Big Jimmy gets it first, and he keeps crying out: “Ow, sir! Ow, sir! Ow, sir!” But when it’s Charlie’s turn, all we hear are the whacks, and then the silences in between. I am so proud of him for that. I have the bravest brother in the world.
Suddenly someone prodded me hard in the small of my back. It was a toothless old lady pointing at me with her crooked finger. “Go on, son,” she croaked. “You go and fight. It’s every man’s duty to fight when his country calls, that’s what I say. Go on. Y’aint a coward, are you?”
I feel a surge of triumph welling inside me, not because we have won, but because I have stood with the others. I have not run.
“Y’aint a coward, are you?”
No, old woman, I am not. I am not.
“The whole court martial took less than an hour, Tommo. That’s all they gave me. An hour for a man’s life. Not a lot, is it? And do you know what the brigadier said, Tommo? He said I was a worthless man. Worthless. I’ve been called a lot of things in my life, Tommo, but none of them ever upset me, except that one. I didn’t show it, mind. I wouldn’t have given them the satisfaction.”
It is the moment. I have to do it now. It is my last chance. I tell him about how Father had died, about how it had happened, what I had done, how I should have told him years ago, but had never dared to. He smiles. “I always knew that, Tommo. So did Mother. You’d talk in your sleep. Always having nightmares, always keeping me awake about it, you were. All nonsense. Not your fault. It was the tree that killed Father, Tommo, not you.”
They tell me he walked out with a smile on his face as if he were going for an early-morning stroll. They tell me that he refused the hood, and that they thought he was singing when he died.