Black Swan Green Summary and Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 26-page guide for “Black Swan Green” by David Mitchell includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 13 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 10 important quotes, discussion questions and key themes like innocence to experience and appearance and reality.
Black Swan Green is a coming-of-age story set in Worchestershire, England beginning in January 1982. The title of the book takes its name from the small village that serves as the setting, but the name is ironic, since the lake is noticeably lacking in swans. The book is divided into thirteen chapters, with each chapter representing a month in the life of the protagonist, Jason Taylor. He is twelve years old when the story begins.
Over the course of the novel, Jason’s family life unravels and begins to reform in a new shape. His father, Michael, an executive at the company Greenland, appears to be married to his job, traveling often and spending more and more time away from home. When he is home, the atmosphere is strained and awkward. In the book’s first chapter, Michael’s home office phone rings incessantly; it’s not until later in the book that the caller is revealed as a long ago mistress with whom Michael has reignited an affair. Jason’s mother, who seems to be aware – or at least suspicious – of her husband’s infidelity, first retaliates with a set of increasingly large household demands, including a new kitchen and a rockery complete with Japanese koi. Later, she takes a job managing an interior design gallery and proves to be successful professionally. With his older sister Julia away at university in Edinburgh, Jason finds himself more and more alone to deal with his problems.
The book functions as a bildungsroman (a coming-of-age story), covering a crucial period of Jason’s adolescence. Jason, who sees a speech therapist for a humiliating stammer, desperately wants to fit in with his schoolmates – not because he likes these boys or their often-cruel pranks, but because fitting in would simply spare him the social agony of being alone. Jason is also different in other ways – he is friendly, curious about everything, and secretly writes poetry under the pen name Eliot Bolivar. Over the course of the book, Jason finds himself humiliated because of his stammer, tripped, pushed, and pelted with clods of dirt, extorted a pound per week for “popularity lessons,” and inevitably ostracized and excluded. Although he makes small gains throughout the book, like his courageous attempt to stand up to the bully Ross Wilcox, much of Jason’s year is spent in a sort of social hell. He does manage to find friendship in other places – with Moran (another outcast, nicknamed Moron by the popular boys); with a mysterious Belgian woman named Madame Crommelynck, who encourages Jason’s efforts as a poet; and with Holly Devlin, the new girl at school.
The pressures of Jason’s family life and social life are mirrored in larger world conflicts, specifically in the Falkland Wars between the United Kingdom and Argentina. What England – and Margaret Thatcher’s government – expects to be a slam-dunk conflict is surprisingly bloody, and Tom Yew, one of the local heroes from Black Swan Green, is killed at sea. Also, Jason’s little town becomes involved in a larger racial issue when it takes a stand against a proposed gypsy settlement. Jason, often on the side of the outcasts, becomes aware of and sympathetic to the gypsy population.
The bullying Jason experiences through most of the book comes to a head in two key scenes. First, at the Goose Day Fair, Jason finds Ross Wilcox’s wallet full of money and considers stealing it – a fitting act of revenge for his tormentor. After much deliberation, he returns the wallet, but his action sets off a chain of events that ends with Ross Wilcox losing a leg in a motorcycle accident later that night. Jason carries this guilt with him until the end of the story, when he realizes that Ross was just as responsible for his own actions. Jason stands up for himself a second time when he crushes Neal Brose’s calculator in a vise during his Metalwork class, then tells the headmaster about the bullying ring that has tormented so many boys in his class. Instead of being further ostracized as a snitch, Jason continues to stand up for himself and speak up against the cruelty of his classmates, which earns him the respect of many students and his school faculty.
At the end of the novel, Michael moves to Oxford to be with his mistress, and Jason moves with his mother to Cheltenham. He’ll have to start all over with friends, but by this time, he’s more experienced in general and the reader gets the feeling that no matter what happens, he’s going to come out okay.