In the story, Tyler’s older sister, Ellie, expresses how much she wants to escape their family life, admitting that she’s only stayed as long as she has in order to protect Tyler. While Tyler is less direct, she implies that she, too, longs for a similar sort of escape. This longing is implied by her fixation on two objects. First, Tyler lovingly describes a handmade doll given to her by her aunt Jacinta, whom she seems to see as an idealized alternative to her mother. Tyler’s love for the doll shows her discontent with her mother as caregiver, allowing her to imagine another version of her current life. Second, Tyler fixates on a seventy-two pack of Derwents, a kind of high-quality artist’s pencil, which lend the story its name. She wants these pencils for two reasons: first, as a way to develop her artistic talents; second, because their reliable, durable craftsmanship distinguishes them from the instability of her other material possessions and personal relationships. If Tyler’s love for her aunt’s doll reflects her desire for another version of the present, then her longing for the pencils reflects her desire for a different kind of future, one in which she escapes her current life in order to explore and develop her desires on her own terms.
Ellie repeatedly asserts how desperately she wishes she and Tyler could escape life with their family. When her mother admonishes her to set a good example for Tyler, Ellie responds by saying “I’m setting her the best example I can, which is how to get the fuck out of here.” This outburst shows both the intensity of Ellie’s discontent with life in the house and the depth of her concern for her sister’s well-being. Although Tyler never responds directly to this sentiment, she carefully records it in her journal, which suggests that it might resonate with her.
Although Tyler herself is less outspoken than Ellie about longing for an escape, Tyler’s affection for the doll Aunty Jacinta made for her indicates that Tyler shares Ellie’s desire to escape their home life. Thinking about her aunt allows Tyler to imagine another, better version of their home, and a safer version of her own childhood. Though her mother laughed at the present when Tyler received it for Christmas two years ago, Tyler recounts in her journal how beautiful the doll was, and how nice her aunt smelled when she hugged her afterwards. Although she focuses on her gratitude for the doll rather than directly expressing her love for her aunt, Tyler’s deep gratitude for the gift seems to indirectly imply her desire to be close to Jacinta. Moreover, when Shane becomes violent at the end of the story after he learns that Tyler reported him to the authorities, Tyler’s first thought is of the possibility of calling Jacinta. This indicates that she sees her aunt as a kind of refuge, a safer version of her life at home. Tyler’s mother, in contrast, resents Jacinta: she scornfully accuses her of arrogance and pretension, and suspects her of having reported her to child protective services. The fact that Tyler fixates so positively on her aunt despite her mother stressing the immense differences between Jacinta and herself indicates that she thinks of her aunt as an escape from life with her mother.
The intensity of Tyler’s wish for a set of Derwent pencils reflects her desire for a different life in the future, one which grants her autonomy over her own circumstances and freedom of self-expression. As the pencils Tyler currently uses are “student quality,” the Derwent pencils, which “are for real artists,” would take Tyler’s talent to the next level. In this sense, possessing the pencils would help Tyler develop unique skills and express herself creatively in her own terms. In the midst of her musings about the Derwent pencils, Tyler writes, “I think sometimes about what you would have to do to be an artist, for example how would you make money.” Already it seems that Tyler’s vision for her future––potentially becoming an artist and supporting herself financially through her creative talents––is bound up in the tin of seventy-two Derwents. However, the significance of this wish goes deeper. Tyler dwells at length on the permanence and durability of the pencils, observing that “even when you sharpen them they feel special, the wood is so soft and it peels back to leave the pencil good as new.” These qualities contrast sharply with the instability of Tyler’s life at home, and the satisfaction Tyler finds in watching the sharpened pencil become “good as new” hints at a desire for a new beginning in her own life. In this sense, the pencils help Tyler imagine what a better future might feel like.
Later, Tyler imagines what it would feel like to use the pencils, comparing them to a holiday card she received from Jacinta: “I would feel special and proud to have them, like when Aunty Jacinta wrote in her letter, we think you’re wonderful.” This shows that Tyler thinks of the pencils in connection with the same sort of escape she associates with Aunt Jacinta, imagining them as a tool to help her feel like a different, happier sort of person. Where Aunt Jacinta offers Tyler an idealized escape from her current life, the Derwent pencils help her imagine the unbounded potential of the future.
Escape Quotes in Seventy-Two Derwents
In cartoons time passes really fast and sudden. Also, things happen that aren’t true. Like a cat will be running along and will go through the wall and there will be an exactly cat-shaped hole left behind in the wall. Mum’s old boyfriend Gary threw a bottle at the wall once and it didn’t leave a shape like that it just smashed.
I said I love her, I love her crown, thank you. Aunty Jacinta leaned over and gave me a hug and she smelled so nice, not like perfume but just cups of tea and shampoo, and she said softly she doesn’t have to be Cinderella, Tyler, you can give her a new name if you like. Then my mum jumped up and said are we allowed to have a glass of wine or do we have to say grace first round here.
When she and Mum fight Mum says set your sister a good example, and Ellie says I’m setting her the best example I can, which is how to get the fuck out of here.
I didn’t know Ellie has bad dreams too. Sometimes I dream of a wolf. He’s coming for me and his eyes are on fire and he’s looking everywhere for me but he can’t find me. I don’t tell Ellie about this but I say sometimes I feel like I have a stone inside my stomach. Ellie doesn’t say anything for a while then she says, hey, what are those pencils called that you like? I tell her Derwents and she says we’ll get you those, you wait.
I said if I put my hand into the nest now would the mother bird bite me? And she looked so sad at me and nodded. We fed the birds and then she drove me back to the mall.
My pencils have student quality written on the packet but the Derwent pencils are for real artists and that is why they’re special. I would feel special and proud to have them, like when Aunty Jacinta wrote in her letter, we think you’re wonderful.
If your budgie’s eggs hatch please will you call one of the babies Alicia. One day I will get an aviary and then I will come and get her, Mrs Carlyle. That’s my promise.