To Sir, With Love
by E.R. Braithwaite
Published on: October 1st 1990 (first published 1959)
I had never heard of this book until I read an excerpt from it last year. The excerpt was half a chapter of the book which was in our Functional English syllabus for the second terminal exams in Eleventh Standard. I found the excerpt very, very intriguing and that day I decided that I was going to read this book for sure.
When I read the excerpt last year, I had a different idea about the book. I thought that it was a book about a teacher who has been wound up completely by a bunch of crooks and rogues who’re his students. But when I read the book, it was an entirely different story.
Set in the 1940’s, it traces the journey of a black man named Braithwaite who has suffered a lot due to the color of his skin. In London, it is hard for him to earn a living because he is either said to be too qualified for the job or too ‘black’ to be bossing the whites in the offices. Finally Braithwaite meets an old man sitting in St. James Park in London who gives him a piece of advice that as Braithwaite says ‘…changed the whole course of my life’.
I liked the line said by the old man to Braithwaite to raise his spirits and it will be one of my favorite quotes I have ever read.
“A big city cannot have its attention distracted from the important job of being a big city by such a tiny, unimportant item as your happiness or mine…. A great city is a battle field. You need to be a fighter to live in it, not exist, mark you, live. Anybody can exist, dragging his soul behind him like a worn out coat; but living is different. It can be hard, but it can also be fun; there’s so much going on all the time that is new and exciting…”
Reading the book, I could relate to each and every character of the book. Being a student, I related to the students at the Greenslade School. Knowing that I might have to teach at some point of my life, I could very easily relate to Mr. E. R. Braithwaite. It is not just these. All the characters from Gillian to Pamela Dare’s mother seemed so close to me.
Although it is an autobiographical account, you would at no point get bored while reading it, even if you’re just a fiction lover. Braithwaite successfully reaches the heart of his readers writing with the skills of a novelist.
The book is mainly a school drama but the main point of the book, racism, is no where neglected. It clearly shows the plight of the colored people living in the white majority societies. It goes way beyond your history books that tell you the blacks were looked down upon. It makes you live the life of a black man himself.
The language used in the book is absolutely marvelous. But the ones who are not regular readers of modern classics might find it a little difficult to get the hang of it easily. It primarily uses the language in a way that is a British dialect of East End Londoners.
And talking of language, the students at Greenslade live in slums and have a very bad mouth. The way Braithwaite quotes the slang is as if you are yourself sitting in front of them, hearing them swear. A beautiful thing about the book is that Braithwaite has no where used the F word in his entire book although you do come to know when the students say it.
He quotes the sentences like “Bastard. You f__ing bloody Bastard.” And “If I’d had the wood I’d have done the f__er in and no bleeding body would have stopped me.” There are a lot of examples like this in the book.
There’s nothing about the book that I disliked particularly except that at some points it has a lot of narrative summary and no dialogues in two or so pages together. But this being an autobiographical account, we can’t expect dialogues after every paragraph.
A fantastic book meant for the ones who teach or aspire to teach sometime in their life. If you like school dramas, go for To Sir, With Love and you too will fall in love with this Sir.