Searching for Summer by Joan Aiken, is a tale about a newlywed couple’s quest for sunshine in a dark and gloomy world. The story explores the themes of hope, fear, kindness, positivity, and the quest for goodness amid a world that is nudged by a nuclear disaster.
Searching for Summer | Summary
‘Searching for Summer’ by Joan Aiken is a dystopian, futuristic story about a newlywed couple’s quest for sunshine. The times they live in are extremely dull, dark, and ugly. It is in the aftermath of bomb droppings that sunshine is rare to find. Tom and Lily get married and decide to embark on a journey to find sunshine. The countryside is cold, grey, and lifeless, yet they are hopeful. After hours of driving, they reach a village, where their bike stops as the engine dies on them. Frustrated, the couple decides to spend the night at a nearby pub while leaving their bike at the garage for repair.
They head towards a bus station, where they meet two old people, Mrs. Hatching and her son, William. Along with them, they meet the “repulsive-looking” Mr. Noakes, the owner of the pub, who agrees to let the young couple in for a night. He mocks them when they confide in him that they are here searching for sunshine. He tells them that there isn’t a singular chance of finding sunshine in that part of the country, or else he would have bought yards and yards of land already.
Ignoring him, Lily tells Tom that she would like to go for a walk. She shows Tom an old bag that she picked up from the bus station. The old lady had forgotten it on the pavement, and Lily wanted to return it to her. Mr. Noakes warns them against going into the wood where Mrs. Hatching lives. He tells them that he’s never been on that path. However, Lily is adamant, and they soon depart and enter the woods. Lily was wearing her yellow wedding gown and her wedding sandals, which blistered her feet. They walk endlessly with no sight of the cottage. Lily is almost going to give up when they spot the cottage garden. In hopes of finding some first aid and rest, they knock on the cottage door.
Mrs. Hatching is pleasantly surprised at her new company and runs down a continuous commentary for her blind son, William. Mrs. Hatching carefully binds Lily’s foot and offers them tea. She casually mentions how today is a hot day. Perplexed, Tom and Lily look around, and Lo and Behold! The sun! They can’t believe their eyes. Mrs. Hatching chuckles and responds with a ‘matter-of-fact’ tone. She offers them hot tea and asks them about their journey. Lily looks around the room and then up. The sky is blue! Just as Lily desired, Mrs. Hatching asked them if they would like to stay in the spare room. Tom and Lily end up staying for three full days.
They must now go and collect their scooter from the village. Tom and Lily have been helping William pick a basket of beans. Even though they had stayed for three days in the sunshine, they would still stop at intervals and marvel at the blue sky. Finally, they have to leave. They bid goodbye to the wonderful, frail, and indomitable Mrs. Hatching and start walking back to the village. As they walk farther from the cottage, they realize that the clouds are greying over. They come to the conclusion that the sun shines only at one spot and that Mrs. Hatching and William haven’t even realized that the sun doesn’t shine in other places.
Back in the village, they get their scooter back. Mr. Noakes starts interrogating them about their whereabouts. Quickly making up a story, Tom lies and says that they have been miles from there. Quickly leaving the village, they drive off to the north. Lily realizes that her wedding dress is still on her bed. Comforting her, Tom says that they have no use for it now. He is satisfied with the fact that they left the golden place undisturbed as Mr. Noakes never goes into the woods. They also attained what they intended to; the sun!
Searching for Summer | Analysis
‘Searching for Summer’ by Joan Aiken is presented from a third-person point of view, allowing the readers to experience the character’s emotions from an external perspective. The story uses different settings to convey distinct moods. The initial setting of a dark, gloomy atmosphere represents negativity, fear, and a lack of hope. The persistent fear is a result of the nuclear threats:
“It was years since the bombs had been banned, but still the cloud never lifted”.
It suggests the enduring impact of past events on the world. The scarcity of sunlight and a clear sky heighten the somber mood of the story. People long for the sun and its warmth and light, resulting in a crowd gathering whenever there is a radio announcement of a blink of sunshine in an area. Therefore, the symbol of buses and trucks suggests a collective longing and desire for the sun.
The characters in the story are vividly portrayed; for instance, Mr. Noakes is described as a “repulsive looking individual“. The author uses imagery to describe the appearance of Mr. Noakes:
“He was a big, red-faced man with wet, full lips, bulging pale-gray bloodshot eyes, and a crop of stiff greasy black hair. He wore tennis shoes. Mr Noakes’s laughter is compared to “a thick oil coming out of a bottle“.
In comparison to the other passengers in the bus, Mr. Noakes had an unkind and unsympathetic response towards Mrs. Hatching and her son William. Notably, Aiken attaches colloquial language and an informal dialect to the characters of Mr. Noakes, Mrs. Hatching, and William.
The juxtaposition of settings is also significant in the narrative. Mrs. Hatching’s cottages serve as a contrasting setting that symbolizes warmth, light, and cheer for Lily and Tom. It contrasts with the dark and gloomy atmosphere of the surrounding areas. Therefore, it evokes a sense of surprise and wonder for Lily and Tom, who haven’t witnessed the sun since their journey began. However, for Mrs. Hatching, the sun is not a rare occurrence, suggesting that it serves as a beacon of hope for the couple.
Searching for Summer | Themes
The story explores the themes of hope, positivity, and kindness, with the principal theme being the quest for goodness. Lily and Tom’s quest for sunshine symbolizes their search for goodness, light, and positivity in their gloomy world. Their quest for sunshine serves as a metaphor for their longing for goodness and a better world. For Instance- the contrasting response of Mr. Noakes towards Mrs. Hatching and her blind son, William. Mr. Noakes exhibits unkindness and lacks sympathy toward the elderly pair, indicating a lack of goodness in his character. In contrast, Lily and Tom notice Mrs. Hatching’s abandoned bag on the pavement and decide to return it to her. This act of kindness not only showcases the characters’ inherent goodness but also propels their journey toward the sunshine they seek.
Through their act of returning Mrs. Hatching’s bag, Lily and Tom unintentionally notice the sunshine. This signifies the indirect quest for goodness, suggesting that by performing acts of kindness, individuals can experience personal growth and discover the goodness they seek. It emphasizes a greater idea that good things come to those who do good.
Searching for Summer | Title
The title ‘Searching for Summer’ is indicative of Lily and Tom’s search for sunshine in a gloomy atmosphere. The sun in the story is a very scarce resource with limited occurrences. The title conveys the character’s longing for summer, which represents happiness and cheerfulness. The search for summer can be interpreted metaphorically as the character’s quest for goodness in the world overshadowed by the constant threat of nuclear and atomic destruction. Thus, Lily and Tom are searching for something beyond physical warmth, they are seeking hope, positivity and kindness in a dark and uncertain world. Lily and Tom’s determination and resilience to find summer reflects the human desire to find positivity and goodness, even in the face of overwhelming challenges and chaos.
Searching for Summer | Character Sketch
Lily and Tom are the central characters in ‘Searching for Summer’. They are a young newlywed couple who embark on a journey to find the perfect place with sunshine to spend their honeymoon.
Lily believes in omens, which led her to wear yellow on her wedding day. She is a caring and kind-hearted woman, which is suggested by her returning Mrs. Hatching’s bag. She appears tired and discouraged in her pursuit of finding sunshine. However, her decision to help others reflects the warmth and goodness within Lily.
Tom is hopeful about finding the sunshine. He seems to be an optimistic and resilient individual with an adventurous spirit. Thus, he encourages Lily that they will surely find the light that they are seeking. Both characters serve as beacons of hope and light in a world devoid of kindness.
Searching for Summer | Literary devices
The author incorporates various literary devices, including foreshadowing, imagery, and metaphor to enhance the story’s depth and engage the readers.
Throughout the story, Aiken employs foreshadowing., to allude to future events, creating a sense of anticipation among the readers. For instance, the constant absence of the sun and the continuous gloomy atmosphere foreshadows the characters’ ongoing struggle to find warmth and light. It adds suspense to the narrative and keeps the reader hooked onto the narrative as they await the result of Lily and Tom’s quest
Aiken uses imagery to paint vivid and descriptive scenes, allowing readers to visualize the narrative. A notable example of imagery is the description of the atmosphere:
“Whitish gray, day after day, sometimes darkening to a weeping slate color or, at the end of an evening, turning to smoky copper, the sky endlessly, secretively brooded.”
Further, Aiken employs metaphor to compare, the character’s quest for summer to their search for goodness and hope in a world, nudged by nuclear and atomic threats.