The Thing in the Forest

by

A.S. Byatt

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Primrose Character Analysis

One of the two main characters, Primrose is a young girl at the beginning of the story who is evacuated from London with a group of children to escape the German bombing of London during World War II. She ventures into the woods with her new friend, Penny, and together the two see the Thing in the forest (i.e., the loathly worm). Like Penny’s father, Primrose’s father is also killed in the war, and her mother remarries, having five more children whom Primrose has to help raise. This robs her of a carefree childhood—something which the evacuation and her encounter with the loathly worm had already jeopardized. Thus, Primrose grows up to lead a carefree adulthood, working odd jobs and living in an austere apartment. Her one talent is storytelling, and she does this for a living, entertaining children at parties and at a local shopping mall. Her life is only carefree on the surface, however, for Primrose was also traumatized by her childhood, and cannot forget her encounter with the loathly worm. When she returns to the forest as an adult and does not find the worm, this bothers her less than it bothers Penny. Unlike Penny, who feels she must come face-to-face with the worm to overcome her trauma, Primrose relies on her imagination, recasting herself as confident and self-reliant, and the forest as a place of “glamour” rather than terror. After revisiting the forest as an adult, Primrose returns to her life with a sense of closure. In the final scene, she tells a group of children a story about “two little girls who saw, or believed they saw, a thing in a forest,” thereby opening herself to the possibility that she had only imagined the worm. Primrose overcomes her trauma by looking inward rather than outward, and by relinquishing her need to find a clear answer to the question of whether or not the worm was real.

Primrose Quotes in The Thing in the Forest

The The Thing in the Forest quotes below are all either spoken by Primrose or refer to Primrose. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of The Thing in the Forest published in 2003.
The Thing in the Forest Quotes

There were once two little girls who saw, or believed they saw, a thing in a forest.

Related Characters: Penny, Primrose
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

They remembered the thing they had seen in the forest, on the contrary, in the way you remember those very few dreams—almost all nightmares—that have the quality of life itself. (Though what are dreams if not life itself?)

Related Characters: Penny, Primrose
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

I think, I think there are things that are real—more real than we are—but mostly we don’t cross their paths, or they don’t cross ours. Maybe at very bad times we get into their world, or notice what they are doing in ours.

Related Characters: Penny (speaker), Primrose
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

“Sometimes I think that thing finished me off,” said Penny to Primrose, a child’s voice rising in a woman’s gullet, arousing a little girl’s scared smile which wasn’t a smile on Primrose’s face.

Related Characters: Penny (speaker), Primrose
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

She believed in Father Christmas, and the discovery that her mother had made the toys, the vanishing of magic, had been a breathtaking blow. She could not be grateful for the skill and the imagination, so uncharacteristic of her flirtatious mother.

Related Characters: Primrose
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

Primrose knew that glamour and the thing they had seen, brilliance and the ashen stink, came from the same place.

Related Characters: Primrose
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

Primrose sat on the edge of the fountain. She had decided what to do. She smiled her best, most comfortable smile, and adjusted her golden locks. Listen to me, she told them, and I’ll tell you something amazing, a story that’s never been told before.

Related Characters: Primrose (speaker)
Page Number: 43-44
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Thing in the Forest LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Thing in the Forest PDF

Primrose Character Timeline in The Thing in the Forest

The timeline below shows where the character Primrose appears in The Thing in the Forest. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Thing in the Forest
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Penny and Primrose are two girls who are evacuated with a group of children to a mansion in... (full context)
Reality vs. Fantasy Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
  Penny is tall, thin, and pale—possibly older than Primrose, who is plump with curly blond hair. They become friends on the train during the... (full context)
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
...has “imposing stairs,” shuttered windows, and “carved griffins and unicorns on its balustrade.” Penny and Primrose are anxious and scared, thinking of themselves as orphans. They go through the motions of... (full context)
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
The next morning, after breakfast, Penny and Primrose go outdoors with the other children, who play ball and other games. Instead of joining... (full context)
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Reality vs. Fantasy Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
Finally, Penny and Primrose catch sight of the source of the smell coming toward them through the woods, and... (full context)
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Reality vs. Fantasy Theme Icon
Penny and Primrose huddle together, shaking as they watch the thing slither away. They exit the forest wordlessly... (full context)
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
After the evacuation, the girls each return to their families, which the war has altered. Primrose’s father is killed on a troop carrier in the Far East, and afterwards her mother... (full context)
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
...good student, becomes a child psychologist, “working with the abused, the displaced, and the disturbed.” Primrose, by contrast, struggles in school due to having to babysit her younger siblings, and holds... (full context)
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
...had housed the evacuees during the war has been turned into a museum. Penny and Primrose, now adults, each turn up for a tour of the museum on the same day... (full context)
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Reality vs. Fantasy Theme Icon
Penny and Primrose recognize each other almost immediately when they find themselves side by side, looking at an... (full context)
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Reality vs. Fantasy Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
...Finally, they discuss the thing they once saw in the forest. “Did you ever wonder,” Primrose asks, “if we really saw it?” Penny replies, “Never for a moment.” They talk about... (full context)
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Reality vs. Fantasy Theme Icon
Penny comments that the thing “finished [her] off,” prompting Primrose to remember Alys, the child who had begged to go with them into the forest.... (full context)
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
Penny and Primrose agree to have dinner together next evening, but neither of them keeps the appointment. They... (full context)
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Reality vs. Fantasy Theme Icon
Standing up, Primrose resumes walking, telling herself a story about “staunch Primrose” (herself) bravely walking through the forest.... (full context)
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Reality vs. Fantasy Theme Icon
...in a different part of the forest, trying to find the spot where she and Primrose had seen the loathly worm as children. She finds evidence of the worm, “odd sausage-shaped... (full context)
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
Penny and Primrose take the train back to the city. They do not sit together. When they get... (full context)
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Reality vs. Fantasy Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
...than herself. So she travels back to the forest. Finding the spot where she and Primrose had encountered the worm 40 years earlier, Penny waits and silently calls the Thing. She... (full context)
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Reality vs. Fantasy Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
Primrose returns to her life, and her job at the shopping mall “like a crystal palace”... (full context)