Private Peaceful


Michael Morpurgo

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Themes and Colors
The Injustice of War Theme Icon
Courage Theme Icon
Cruelty and Power Theme Icon
Grief, Guilt, and Family Theme Icon
Religion and Faith Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Private Peaceful, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Cruelty and Power Theme Icon

From the vicious Grandma Wolf, to the hard-hearted Colonel, to the vindictive Sergeant Hanley, bullies are a constant presence throughout Private Peaceful. The bullies in this novel are spiteful characters who seem incapable of kindness and whose actions—if left unchecked—can have devastating consequences: Hanley’s cruelty for instance, when combined with his position of power, directly leads to Charlie’s death. The novel thus underscores the danger in placing a cruel and manipulative person in a position of power.

Grandma Wolf is the first bully in Tommo’s life. She is always cruel to Mrs. Peaceful’s children, calling them names and making “nasty quip[s]” about their mother. She is especially mean to the innocent Big Joe, killing his beloved mouse and all of his other treasured pets. Even on happy occasions, such as the birth of Molly’s baby, Little Tommo, Grandma Wolf finds a way to make a spiteful comment, in this instance claiming that the baby has pointed ears.

Unfortunately for the Peaceful family, and for the inhabitants of their village, Grandma Wolf continues to gain more and more power throughout the story. When she leaves the Peaceful home, she moves up to the Colonel’s grand estate and becomes the Colonel’s mistress. She ends up in charge of much of the running of the estate, making the Colonel himself seem “gentle as a lamb,” and using her power to make everyone on the estate miserable. Molly, who works at the estate, claims that she “hates it” because of the way the “Wolfwoman” treats everyone. She spends most of her time “ranting and raving” at everyone and punishing them for minor offences such as putting “salt in her tea instead of sugar.”

The Colonel is another bully within the story who is nevertheless afforded a position of power, but the consequences of his authority are worse than those of Grandma Wolf’s. A spiteful man from the beginning of the novel, he calls the children “lousy vermin” and “young ruffians,” and fires Charlie from his job just for rescuing Bertha, an old dog who was going to be killed anyway. Eventually he shoots Bertha purely out of spite, just because he can, because he knows he holds sufficient power over the Peaceful family, in owning their cottage, that there is nothing they can do about it.

Perhaps the worst of his offences, though, is forcing Charlie to go to war, which will ultimately be the cause of Charlie’s death. The Colonel orders Charlie to enlist, claiming that if he doesn’t, he will kick the Peacefuls off the estate and fire them from their jobs working for him. Charlie cannot believe it, saying in shock, “He can’t do it. He just can’t,” to which Molly, his girlfriend, replies, “he can. You know he can. And when the Colonel gets it into his head to do something, and he’s in the mood to do it, he will.”

The reader is aware at this point that the Colonel has a personal vendetta against the Peacefuls and is likely ordering Charlie to war just to hurt the family because he knows that Molly has just fallen pregnant. The malicious Colonel is able to enforce his spiteful will on the slightest of whims, illustrating the danger of awarding such a spiteful man with such apparently untouchable power.

The most serious case of abuse of power, however, comes in the form of Sergeant Hanley, who is horrifically cruel to Charlie and is ultimately personally responsible for Charlie’s execution. Hanley instantly dislikes Charlie because he won’t “jump through hoops” for the Sergeant like everyone else, and he forms a personal vendetta against Charlie that won’t end until Charlie’s death. Hanley is able to personally orchestrate Charlie’s execution because no one questions his authority, and the other men involved in the trial listen only to Hanley’s accusations, taking his word as gospel, instead of considering Charlie’s defense. Through the figure of Hanley, Morpurgo demonstrates the terrible consequences of allowing a bullying, malicious person into a position of utmost and official authority. Army officials were, and indeed remain, responsible for millions of lives. If the wrong person is awarded this power, sometimes the consequences can be fatal.

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Cruelty and Power ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Cruelty and Power appears in each chapter of Private Peaceful. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Cruelty and Power Quotes in Private Peaceful

Below you will find the important quotes in Private Peaceful related to the theme of Cruelty and Power.
Chapter 2 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Thomas “Tommo” Peaceful (speaker), Jimmy Parsons (speaker), Charlie Peaceful , Mr. Munnings
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

“He wouldn’t do that, Moll. It’s just a threat,” Charlie said. “He can’t do it. He just can’t.”

“He would,” Molly replied, “and he can. You know he can. And when the Colonel gets it into his head to do something, and he’s in the mood to do it, he will. Look what he did to Bertha. He means it, Charlie.”

Related Characters: Charlie Peaceful (speaker), Molly (speaker), The Colonel
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

From then on, every waking hour of every day, Hanley was at us. […] By the time we went back up into the line, Hanley snapping at our heels, his voice had become a vicious bark inside each of our heads. Every one of us hated him like poison, a great deal more than we had ever hated Fritz.

Page Number: 156
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

“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.”

Page Number: 188
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Thomas “Tommo” Peaceful (speaker), Charlie Peaceful
Related Symbols: “Oranges and Lemons”
Page Number: 194-195
Explanation and Analysis: