In the fifth chapter of First Test, Kel faces a disheartening complication when she’s unsure whether or not to face the bullies amongst her fellow pages. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read First Test.
Chapter Five: Kel Backs Away
I have been in Kel’s situation more times than I care to admit. Y’all know I have a very personal relationship with the reality of bullying since I was bullied at school. This chapter touches on something that I don’t see much in conversations about bullying, though: What are you supposed to do about it if you’re prone to being bullied just for standing up for someone who is being mistreated? As easy as it might be to say that Kel should just do the right thing and fight back, the truth is that this situation is a billion times more complicated than that.
You can see that in the letter that Kel writes to her parents. She’s influenced by the time she spent in the Yamani Islands on the one hand, and her desire to seem unemotional and unconcerned plays a part in that. She doesn’t want to come off as being terribly affected by all the negative experiences she’s had. But she also has to choose what to say to ensure that she’s not giving away too much information. Will she sound like she’s whining? Will her parents think she doesn’t have the emotional fortitude to withstand the training? I mean, that’s something ELSE she has to keep in mind, you know? It’s not that she believes her parents are misogynist assholes, or that she’s running feminist theory through her head. But she knows that because she’s a girl, people will frequently assume she’s too “emotional” to handle anything difficult.
It could also be why she’s so resistant to Neal healing her. Well, not the only reason, but it’s been a common theme of Kel’s. She is being treated differently than all the other pages because of her gender, so she knows she has to go above and beyond what is expected of everyone else in order to simply succeed. It’s an unfair system, obviously, and Kel shouldn’t have to feel obligated to suffer through pain just to make it as a knight. At the same time, I love what she says about it’s a way for her to refuse to let pain have any power over her. That is awesome! Finding that sort of empowerment is a big deal.
We also get a lot more time with Neal, who fascinates me. So, does he really want to be a knight just because of tradition and the importance to the people of Queenscove? I really think there’s something else going on with him, and I want to find out more. How he did get to be on speaking terms with Daine? Just through Numair? THERE’S MORE TO HIM, I SWEAR.
I don’t know that I have anything ~*deep and academic*~ to say about Daine’s appearance in this chapter. Seriously! I just want to a million books with her as the central character because I am so attached to her that it kind of frightens me. No shame in adoring a fictional character, right? But it’s not like it’s been years since the last time I read something with her in it. It’s been like THREE WEEKS AT BEST.
Wait, I did come up with something thoughtful aside from emotional screaming:
“And I can’t change his nature for you. Peachblossom is who he is; no one has the right to take that away.”
IS THERE A BETTER EXAMPLE OF DAINE SUMMED UP IN TWO SENTENCES? Because there it is: Daine accepts who and what things are, and she refuses to change their identity. That is her whole journey in The Immortals, especially her relationship with the Stormwings. I love Daine, y’all, and I love her forever. It’s so exciting for me that Kel gets to meet her, and I really hope Kel realizes she can go to Daine if she needs help. DAINE IS A GOOD FRIEND TO HAVE, OKAY?
This leads us right to the heart of this chapter: Kel backing away. When she walks in on Joren and his friends hazing and bullying Merric, she is presented with a terrible predicament: Does she stand up for Merric and risk getting beat up? Does she run away because it’s wise and practical? When she does choose to run back to her room, she struggles internally with the choice she’s made, and it’s one of Tamora Pierce’s best segments in the Tortall books. Not only is it a well-written passage that imitates how an internal argument plays out, but it’s a fascinating method of conveying the terrible complexity of Kel’s life. Deep in her heart, Kel knows that she should have stood up for Merric. At the end of chapter one, she vowed to never let another kitten die if she could help it. It was a hint towards the title of this quartet, that Kel would dedicate her life to protecting those who were “small.” I took that to mean more than just physical size. In terms of social standing, Merric is “small” when compared to Joren and Vinson. So why didn’t she protect him? How can she be sure she’ll stand up to bullies as a knight if she can’t do it while training as a page?
It’s here that reality of the sexist environment Kel is in crashes down around her, proof that she is not treated as an equal of her peers. The amount of scrutiny she is under means that any attempt to stand up for Merric – whether through a fight or through telling someone who is in charge – could easily be used as a justification for kicking her out of page training. That fear is real, and it’s one that isn’t her imagination. I completely believe her when she says that Wyldon would remove her just for “tattling” or fighting back on behalf of someone else. I don’t trust Lord Wyldon at all. Like I said in one of the earlier videos, neither does Kel. She didn’t tell Wyldon that she had a bucket of muddy water thrown on her, making her late. That’s because Wyldon would have said she was making excuses, and he wouldn’t have done anything to stop the bullying. (Seriously, it should be no mystery at this point why I despise every second of Wyldon. Men like him nearly ruined me in junior high and high school.)
So what is she supposed to do? There’s no easy answer to this, and I appreciate that Pierce writes with such complexity. There was never an easy answer for me, either! I never knew when to stand up to bullying when I was younger because I was so terrified of being bullied in return. I got the sense that this was something Kel would have to continue to struggle with in this book. I wonder, then, if Cleon’s admission that he and some of the other boys were surprised that Kel lasted so long is a sign of things to come. She has already exceeded the expectations of nearly everyone who was convinced she would give up within a week. Will the boys come to accept her? And if so, will Lord Wyldon ultimately remain a bigot, or will he come around to admit he was wrong?
Odd’s bobs, I am unprepared.
Mark Links Stuff
– I have been nominated for a Hugo in the Fan Writer category! If you’d like more information or to direct friends/family to vote for me, I have a very informational post about what I do that you can pass along and link folks to!
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