The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows Summary and Analysis April 1946

Summary

In April, several important letters from the islanders give Juliet an even more well-rounded picture of life on Guernsey during the occupation.

Dawsey writes to Juliet about his friendship with Christian Hellman, a German captain and the father of Elizabeth McKenna's child. Dawsey tells of one occasion in which he was carrying heavy buckets of water around the island and Christian offered to help. To Dawsey's surprise, Christian mentioned that he, too, had read Charles Lamb. The men eventually became close friends. Dawsey also observed Christian and Elizabeth's relationship blossom. Christian died in early 1942 when Allied bombers sank his ship and he was drowned.

Juliet continues to correspond with Sidney, who is still injured in Australia, about her research on the island of Guernsey. Isola and Will Thisbee relay several islanders' requests that Juliet come to visit.

A letter from Amelia tells Juliet even more occupation history. In 1942, Hitler sent over 16,000 German slave workers to the Channel Islands, most arriving on Guernsey in 1942. Some had been conscripted, some arrested, and some just picked up off the streets. Upon their arrival, the slave workers were kept in open sheds, tunnels, or pens. Weary and starved, thousands of young men died on the island within the year. Amelia later learned that their inhuman treatment was under Himmler's Death by Exhaustion plan: Work the men to death since new slave workers from Europe's occupied countries could always replace them.

A letter from Eben tells Juliet more about the evacuation of Guernsey's children to England in 1940. Eben's daughter Jane contemplated whether she should send Eli away, but Elizabeth McKenna did not allow her any other choice. The children left on school buses for the pier on June 20, 1940, many thinking that they were going on a school trip. Eben said that Eli, like many older children, knew better. Jane and Eli embraced, and that was the last time Eben saw his grandson for five years. That day near the school buses, Elizabeth McKenna slapped Adelaide Addison for preaching to the children and scaring the wits out of them before they were evacuated.

In her letters, Isola demands a visit from Juliet and a more intimate description of Juliet's personal life. Juliet obliges, telling Isola of the loss of her parents, her tendency to run away, the origin of her friendship with Sidney and Sophie, and how she began writing. She also happily agrees to visit her new friends on Guernsey. Meanwhile, Mark continues to pursue Juliet, but she is hesitant to return his ardor.

Analysis

Dawsey's most notable letter in April tells Juliet of his friendship with the late Christian Hellman, a German captain and father of Elizabeth McKenna's child. Christian's friendly nature and desire to help Dawsey with a daunting physical task highlights a major theme of the novel: the underlying humanity of some of the enemy soldiers. Christian quickly offered his services to Dawsey as though there were no outside stakes. Such a close friendship between a German and an islander was rare, but certainly significant as it placed the Germans in a more humane light for Dawsey and the other islanders. Christian's helpful nature exhibits the inherent goodness within an individual that cannot be quashed by his or her association with a greater evil. In the larger sense, the men's friendship exemplifies the fundamental need for human companionship.

Likewise, Elizabeth McKenna's romantic relationship with Christian Hellman sparked even greater controversy. She allowed herself to fall in love with an enemy soldier and ignored potentially dangerous consequences. As with Dawsey, Elizabeth overlooked Christian's enemy status and saw him as an ordinary man fully capable of loving. Their relationship exemplifies the universal truth that love is not always where one expects or wants to find it. The greatest reward of their unconventional relationship — their daughter Kit — far outweighs the potential consequences. A German and an islander, members of two opposing factions but essentially just human beings, brought a beautiful and innocent child into a war-torn world.

As for Juliet's love life, she admits her uncertainty about ever being able to fall in love with the intriguing, yet largely superficial, Mark Reynolds. However, she is still experiencing an internal struggle between the social benefits of being with him and what she truly feels. She certainly enjoys the perks that come with dating a man of high social standing, but she knows that his demanding personality does not align with her unbending independence and colorful personality. Furthermore, Juliet's growing friendships with the Guernsey islanders silently pull her away from the tawdriness of London life that she thought she loved. Juliet has not yet attained the self-actualization of Elizabeth McKenna, a woman who was willing to break through all societal barriers for what she truly wanted. Juliet's decision to finally visit Guernsey is a significant step toward her own self-fulfillment.

Juliet's education about the German occupation continues with increasing intimacy. However, a letter from Amelia about German slave workers on the Channel Islands stands in definite contrast to the preceding letters. Although the experiences of minor characters Will Thisbee and Clara Saussey are of no lesser importance to the novel, they are far more light-hearted. Whereas an ongoing theme in the novel has been optimism in the face of tragedy, Amelia's poignant letter provides a more dire perspective. In light of her son Ian's death in the war, she states, "Life goes on. What nonsense, I thought, of course it doesn't." An old, although largely unstated, theme has surfaced: the inexplicable pain and hopelessness of war. Though friendships and literature bring solace to the islanders throughout the occupation, the consequences of war still wear them to the core. The same is true, perhaps to an even greater extent, for the Germans on the island. The inhumane treatment of countless young men under Himmler's Death by Exhaustion plan highlights the terrible helplessness experienced by both Germans and islanders during the occupation.

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