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

Summary

Juliet receives a letter from Adelaide Addison, a bad-tempered islander who warns her to avoid such a vile group as the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Her warning also includes a more extensive history of Elizabeth McKenna: Elizabeth, a housekeeper's daughter from London, traveled to Guernsey with her father's master who had a home on the island. She lived happily among the islanders from childhood into adulthood. Even though Elizabeth was not a true islander herself, she roamed freely and treated the other islanders like family.

The personal stories of islanders continue to flow in rapidly for Juliet's article. A letter from Eben Ramsey tells Juliet about his late daughter Jane and his 12-year-old grandson Eli. Jane, mother of Eli, died in childbirth on the day of the German bombing in June 1940. Eli's father had been killed in the war, leaving Eben to raise Eli. Guernsey's children had been evacuated to England for safety in 1940, Eli included. Eli's loved ones had no idea of his whereabouts while he was gone. Fortunately, all of Guernsey's children returned safely home at the war's end five years later.

Eben's letter also provides Juliet with greater detail about the society's first pig roast: During the occupation, German Agriculture Officers had been strict about meat rations, making sure that every pig was accounted for. If a farmer's pig died a natural death, he was to quickly alert the AO. If the farmer's number of living pigs did not match the German tally, the farmer would be sent to a labor camp in Germany. One day, Guernsey farmer Will Thisbee told the AO of his dead pig. Instead of burying it, Thisbee secretly passed the corpse off to Amelia Maugery. She lied to the AO that she, too, had lost a pig and secretly hid a healthy pig for herself. The islanders could then secretly feast upon the pig at Amelia's dinner party.

Juliet's final letter from Guernsey that month is from islander John Booker. In 1940, Booker was a valet for the wealthy Lord Tobias Penn-Piers. The day of the German bombing, Lord Tobias boarded a ship to England for safety. Booker cleverly stayed behind to bask in Lord Tobias' wealth and enjoy his old master's wine and books. Elizabeth McKenna eventually warned Booker of the Germans' suspicions, and the two hatched a plan for Booker to pretend to be Lord Tobias himself. Elizabeth even painted a portrait of him as a 16th-century Penn-Piers to add legitimacy to their case.

Meanwhile, Mark Reynolds has continued to pursue Juliet. She knows little about him, but agrees to spend time with him as a form of diversion in her somewhat repetitive London lifestyle. The two frequent upscale London restaurants and grand parties.

Analysis

The ominous letter from Adelaide Addison also highlights the mirroring characteristics of Juliet and Elizabeth McKenna. Much as Elizabeth had while on the island, Juliet finds Adelaide's extreme accusations of immorality to be ridiculous. This is especially evident through Adelaide Addison's letter to Juliet warning her about the coarse nature of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Her warning is also complete with an abrasive description of Elizabeth McKenna and the evils of her free-spirited ways. However, Juliet certainly does not take Adelaide's word at face value and has no problem admitting that she quite likes Elizabeth's sense of humor and wild nature. Juliet's early correspondence with Sidney shows that her personality can be quite rash, as well — she did guiltlessly slap a journalist across the face a few weeks prior.

Adelaide is also quick to mention that Elizabeth was not even an islander and that her father planted a lack of humility within her at a young age. She grew up on the island as a wild child and an utter disgrace, certainly not the selfless heroine that everyone believed her to be. However, Adelaide's downbeat opinion is singular and ridiculed by other islanders. Perhaps her parting of "Yours in Christian Consternation and Concern" does her comically uptight nature justice.

Adelaide's harsh opinion of Elizabeth mirrors the Fire Warden's criticism of Juliet in her letter of recommendation to Amelia. The Fire Warden freely chastises Juliet's untamed and reckless nature, specifically her stupidity for trying to save books during a bombing. Juliet and Elizabeth encounter such disapproval because they are different — they exhibit great independence and an unbending will for causes they believe in. Ultimately, however, both Adelaide and the Fire Warden do, although grudgingly, assert the commendable nature of both women.

Adelaide's letter, although quite abrasive, also highlights the ongoing theme of love and community on the island of Guernsey. When Elizabeth arrived on Guernsey as an outsider, she was immediately taken in and nurtured by a caring group of islanders. No matter what their personal circumstances, the men and women of Guernsey treat one another as family. This theme resurfaces much later when Juliet herself travels to Guernsey.

Eben's letter to Juliet about the evacuation of Guernsey's children to England in 1940 again demonstrates the strength of the human spirit in times of trial. The novel consistently exposes the horrific experiences of the islanders during the war, but is always bestowed with good spirits. Even so, Eben mentions that he greatly admires Shakespeare's line, "The bright day is done, and we are for the dark." He states that he wishes he had known it when the Germans arrived on Guernsey — his literary references reinforce the innocence of the islanders and their tragic ignorance of the war horrors that were to come.

Eben's inclusion of greater detail in his letter about the society's forbidden pig roast demonstrates the novel's ongoing pattern of multiple accounts of a single event. Each new letter that Juliet receives gives her greater detail of an event, opens her heart to the character's personality, and serves to supply a fresh new perspective. Whereas Dawsey laid the groundwork for Juliet's knowledge of the pig roast, Eben's account more thoroughly conveys both Elizabeth's heroic nature in spontaneously creating the club and the islanders' creativity in passing around a dead pig to trick the Germans.

John Booker's tale of impersonating Lord Tobias attests to the humor that the Guernsey islanders are capable of maintaining even against the harrowing backdrop of World War II. Even in the face of serious consequences from German authorities, Booker playfully chooses to swindle his snobbish master purely for entertainment. The institution of war acts as the ultimate paradigm to highlight such strength of character and propensity for amusement wherever it can be found. The experiences of minor characters like John Booker are especially important because they round out the optimistic nature of the islanders as a collective whole. However, the novel does not purposefully downplay the horrors of war; it merely highlights the strength of the human spirit in such times. The lively anecdotes of the islanders will be counteracted with more tragic letters later in the novel.

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