Novel Dear Mr Kilmer: Synopsis,Setting, Characters, Themes, Moral Values, Point of View, Tone and Mood, Language and Style, Literary Device
The story is about Richard Knight, a farm boy who is passionate about writing poems. He cannot relate well with his brother who appears very interested in hunting animals and sports. He finds himself unable to kill animals as he finds them beautiful. His father understands his pain but tells him that death is a part of life. In school Richard gets a chance to listen to a poem by Joyce Kilmer and is impressed by the thoughts expressed in it. With the support of his teacher, he begins a correspondence with Kilmer and also mentions that he writes poems. This starts a beautiful relationship between Kilmer and Richard.
Kilmer joins the army to fight the enemy. Richard worries about the war as it affects the way people treat foreigners in his own town. A student, Hannah, is shunned by the classmates because of her German background. Richard stands up to support her and is ostracised too. Richard and Hannah become good friends. Some of the townspeople also rally around when they realise that Hannah’s family is patriotic to the country they live in.
Kilmer gets killed in the war. It is most heartbreaking for Richard who is shattered by the news. He writes a beautiful poem about the pain of losing a friend and it appears in the local paper. Richard is most pleasantly surprised and comforted when his father tells him that the poem expresses well the pain he felt when he lost his brother in another war. There is mutual understanding as father and son talk over things that had not been mentioned before. The war too comes to an end and Richard hopes that anti-German sentiments would also fade.
Richard is sensitive and gentle; someone who wishes that society will treat everyone in a just and humane manner. Reality, unfortunately is a different matter.
The importance of family
– Knight, Richard and Gus’ father, is a proud man who takes his sons hunting just like his father did before him. His sons want to earn his respect very much. Gus asks Richard if he doesn’t want his father to be proud of him and therefore encourages him to take up hunting. Both the boys obey the wishes of the father even though they can’t do everything he wants them to do. Gus signs up to join the army despite his father’s protests. Richard writes poems even though his father thinks that it only helps to fill his head with foolish ideas. But Richard is very happy when his father is pleased with the poem that he submits to the newspaper about the death of Kilmer. Richard helps his sister with her chores. He is concerned for her wellbeing.
– The Schermers are close to each other and enjoy the relationship they have. The family is an important unit to them and the fact that they are foreigners in that town has made them closer. They do welcome Richard and shower him with affection. The author thinks that the family unit is a stable platform for a caring society.
Be true to yourself
– Richard does not try to fit in. He is different. He hates hunting and killing animals. He will not fit in for the sake of fitting in. He knows that his father wants him to kill the deer but won’t do it as he thinks animals are beautiful. Gus keeps warning him not to be the odd boy but Richard will not go against what his conscience tells him to do.
– He stands up for Hannah on the same principle of respecting all human beings regardless of race and religion. He is courageous and true to his beliefs.
– By writing poems, he shows his sensitive soul. He becomes brave enough to acknowledge the fact that he is different from others. He stays true to himself and his values.
Racial polarization-respect for human beings
– The war has caused polarization as some people are from different countries. The war in Europe has made people more conscious of their identity and foreigners are frowned upon. The Schermers’s tavern is vandalised and Hannah is subject to ridicule and prejudice. Richard tries his best to respect all human beings as he is a sensitive character who cares about people.
– The students do not like the idea that Hannah is chosen as Lady Liberty because of her German origin. Hannah declines the position and subsequently Richard decides to withdraw from being Doughboy too. Prejudice clouds people’s eyes and causes distress.
Love and friendship
– Richard finds Hannah attractive and likes her. That she is a German does not bother him. He is the only one to sign the teacher’s card and offers to take it to her personally. She is not exactly warm or friendly when he gives her the card but makes up for it later. Hannah invites him to meet her family and slowly they become friends. She reads his poems and there is a sincere warm-hearted friendship between them. At the school picnic, Richard carves her name with his on an old oak tree. Hannah thinks very highly of Richard and he thinks well of her too. She is the one who breaks the news to him about Kilmer’s death. Richard and Hannah have a good relationship which could blossom into a romance.
– Richard’s relationship with a soldier-poet forms the backbone of this story. It is a special warm-hearted relationship of two intensely sensitive souls. When Kilmer is killed, it breaks Richard’s heart. Richard finds strength through writing his poems.
The importance of education
– Education is valued highly. Richard’s father dropped out of fifth grade but he insists that the two boys must finish high school. Gus wants to stop schooling to join the army but his father forbids him from leaving school. He thinks that they must have some basic education before they branch out into other fields.
– In school, there are many aspects which Richard enjoys. Richard enjoys poetry as it draws out the sensitive nature of the students. The classes seem to relate to communal activities around them. The teacher suggests that the students write a card to show their sympathy to the Schermers whose property is vandalized. Richard suggests that students write letters to serving soldiers to cheer them on. The teachers promote the discussion of issues around them and give them a balanced foundation to prepare them for life.
War and its effects
– Gus wishes to join the army to fight in the war but Knight’s brother Roland died in a war and therefore his father is very much against it. Richard knows that the soldiers live in trenches and put up with terrible conditions. The chances of being killed are very high. In addition living through war conditions sometimes made people deaf or crazy. Worse still were the chemical effects which led to slow, painful deaths.
– Hannah’s brother fights the Germans when he joins the American army. Gus too enlists in the army when he finishes high school. Kilmer gets killed in the war, devastating Richard who looked upon him as a friend and mentor.
– In her essay, Hannah says that the enemy in the war is war itself as it leaves hatred and horror behind. What the world needs is kindness and understanding so that people care for one another despite differences in race, religion or nationality. The world needs ‘peace without victory’ as President Wilson says.
– He is 15 years old and the younger son of a farmer in Iowa. Pale and slender, he looks like his mother. He lost his mother at the age of 7.
– Dislikes hunting and killing animals but his father and brother think he should hunt. Richard remembers the first time he had gone hunting with his grandpa and how upset he was when his grandpa killed a beautiful deer.
– Doesn’t want to get into sports, would rather be farming.
– Very considerate, Richard helps his sister with the household chores.
– Writes poems to express his pain but keeps them in a secret place.
– Very sensitive, sees poetry in ordinary experiences. Understands Kilmer’s poems as a kindred soul.
– Brave, stands up for Hannah against classmates, supports her family when vandals attack her father’s tavern
– He suggests that students should write to the soldiers to spur them on.
– Richard is loyal. He gives up being Doughboy out of loyalty towards Hannah who is forced to decline the position of Lady Liberty.
– Feels terrible about Kilmer’s death and finds peace by writing a poem for him
– Wants his father’s approval and is very happy when he gets it finally
– The older brother of Richard, he loves hunting and playing games; popular in school as he always tries to fit in, unlike Richard
– He is proud that he killed his first deer and earned the respect of his father early. Wishes to join the army but cannot until he finishes high school.
– He is always warning Richard to be part of the crowd and not stand alone. He thinks Richard is a sissy to dislike hunting and killing.
– He is quite aware of what is happening to Richard in school and keeps a brotherly eye on him.
– Joins the army after finishing high school but it does not please his father.
– The daughter of the Schermers, who moved to Iowa a few years ago.
– She is upset at being called a Hun, a derogatory term for Germans.
– She is smart and does well in school but even though her essay won her the Lady Liberty award, she declines the position because of her classmates’ prejudice and harassment.
– Warm and good-natured – she invites Richard to her house for dinner and the two become friends.
– She feels strongly that people must learn to care about one another despite differences in race, religion and nationality. She believes that people must learn to wage peace, not war.
– Hannah breaks the news about Kilmer’s death to Richard.
– Hannah and Richard are good friends. They care very much for each other.
– He is Gus and Richard’s father, firm and reserved, doesn’t say much.
– Dropped out of school in grade 5 but wants education for his boys.
– Takes the boys hunting and wants Richard to kill his first deer which he doesn’t.
– Firm and stern – forbids Gus from dropping out of school to join the army. He wants him to complete high school.
– Grieves for his brother Roland who was killed in a war.
– Tries to forbid Richard from writing poems but fails.
– Understand Richard’s poem well when he reads about the pain of losing someone you love greatly. He had loved his brother a great deal.
– He is a good, responsible father.
– Good English teacher, introduces the poetry of Kilmer to the class.
– Encourages Richard to write poems and reads his poems in class.
– Organised the project of writing essays to be chosen as Lady Liberty and Doughboy.
– Puts Abner and Harry in their places.
– A source of inspiration to her students, wishes all the students were like Richard and Hannah.
Abner and Harry
– Very disruptive boys in the class, very opinionated and prejudiced
– They dislike poetry as they think it is sissy stuff.
– Dislike Hannah because of her German origin and make life difficult for her.
– Dislike Richard for standing up for Hannah.
– Shallow and prejudiced, she is against foreigners.
– She does not like Hannah who is a German.
– Richard Knight, Gus, his brother and his father go hunting. Richard’s father wants this to be a special occasion as he wants Richard to kill his first deer. Richard prays that no deer will appear. But it does.
– Richard takes aim but misses the deer to the dismay of Gus. But his father knows that Richard didn’t want to kill the animal. Richard explains that he doesn’t like killing and his father tells him that death is part of life. He had lost his brother a few years ago in a war.
– Gus teases him and also tells him that he should try to fit in by playing games but Richard tells him that fitting in is not his plan. Gus says that Richard should enjoy hunting as only sissies feel sad about killing animals. Gus also wants to join up as a soldier.
– Richard helps his sister, Angie with the chores while Gus and his father discuss sports. Later, Richard remembers the first time he saw a beautiful deer die in the hands of his grandfather. He wrote a poem then to express his sadness.
– In school, Mrs. Hansen, his teacher reads to him a beautiful poem by Joyce Kilmer. Richard feels that perhaps his own poems would be acceptable too. Mrs. Hansen tells the class that poetry is not sissy stuff
and that many poets served as soldiers and were tough people. – Richard sees his classmate, Hannah crying because someone had scrawled the words ‘Dirty Hun’ on her book. His friends feel that it was right as she is a German.
– Richard writes to Kilmer about how he felt his teacher read Kilmer’s to him. He also mentions that he too writes poems.
– Three weeks later, Mrs. Hansen tells the class that Hannah’s father’s tavern had been vandalised and that she wants the class to sign a card to express their sympathies. Everyone refuses except Richard. He also offers to deliver the card to the family.
– Richard gets into a fight with his classmates, Abner and Harry who harass him about Hannah. When he gives the card to Hannah, she is very upset and sullen. He feels disturbed.
– He goes home to find a letter from New York. It is from Kilmer. He is very happy and wishes to tell his family that he too writes poetry. When he does so over a meal, this news is received in a lukewarm manner. Gus warns him that he should not tell others that he writes poems as people will not like a person who is different.
– The next day Mrs. Hansen reads his poems and praises them. Hannah apologizes to him for her behavior and told him that neighbors came and painted over all the awful words on their walls. She also added that her brother Otto had joined the army as a patriotic American. Richard is concerned for all those fighting in the war.
– Three weeks later, Mrs. Hansen persuades Richard to talk about his correspondence with Kilmer and read one of his poems in class. The class is shocked to hear that Kilmer is going to serve the army as a soldier. He receives support from some of his friends while Abner and Harry mock him.
– The students get to know more about the war in their History class. The school holidays gives Richard more time to work on the farm, a job which he likes. He also likes working with his father, even though they do not speak much to each other.
– Richard learns that Kilmer is in France and that puts him in fear. In the meantime school starts again and the students are told that there will be a special programme to sell Liberty bonds. Two students will be chosen to represent Lady Liberty and a lucky guy will accompany her based on essays they write. Richard is chosen as the lucky gentleman while Hannah is selected as Lady Liberty. The students resent Hannah being chosen, thus she declines the role. Richard too decides to step down. Mrs. Hansen is proud of her two students.
– Hannah invites Richard home for dinner. He has a good time there and enjoys the company of Hannah’s parents. When he returns home, his father asks him why he declined the role in the show. His father tells him not to do things to upset the community and says that writing poetry has given him foolish ideas. Richard is very sad.
– Kilmer writes to tell Richard that being in France is tough and that his family is missing him. Hannah and her family send some gifts to cheer Kilmer.
– The war goes on. The school term comes to an end with a picnic when Richard and Hannah spend some time together. Hannah gets hit by a stone thrown by someone.
– Gus announces that he has enlisted in the army, much to his father’s dismay. He scolds him harshly for leaving all the farm work and going off to fight in a meaningless war. Gus leaves the next day. Kilmer writes about the painful effects of war and tells Richard to keep writing his poems. Richard writes a reply that he will never give up writing poems and goes to post the letter.
– On the way, he stops to see Hannah who tells him that Kilmer has been killed in the war. Richard reads how Kilmer died and knows that he was buried under a tree stump. He remembers the letter he had written and not posted. He cries bitterly then. He writes a beautiful poem for Kilmer which was printed in a local newspaper. His father was very impressed with the feelings expressed and father and son have a meaningful conversation.
– The war ends and with it some fears. Peace returns.
It is set in Iowa, the United States of America, during the First World War. The USA had declared war on Germany and was fighting along with the Allies. Young men were drafted and sent to Europe to fight and many died.
The war had polarized the people. People from other countries were looked upon suspiciously. Thus the Schermers were ostracised because they were from Germany even though they were patriotic and their son Otto had joined the army to fight the Germans. In school, Hannah was often harassed by other students. Her parents’ tavern was vandalized by unruly people.
It is set in the early twentieth century, around 1917, right in the middle of World War 1.
Respect and love for family members
– Richard and Gus are different in nature but the father loves them. They try to earn his respect by doing what he wants them to do. But the father understands that each son is different.
– Roland and his brother are different in personality too but Knight loves his brother and still feels the pain of losing his brother in a war. Richard shows his love for his sister by helping her.
– The Schermers love each other. They worry that Otto is in the army and may get killed.
Respect human beings
Everyone should be respected despite racial or religious differences. Vandalising property, judging people by the language they speak or their cultural habits is unfair and ignorant.
– Richard displays compassion for the underdog and the victims of prejudice. He reaches out to Hannah because she is treated badly by their classmates and also the town. He refuses to be part of the meanness that makes Hannah decline the position of Lady Liberty.
– He is kind to his sister as he feels that she looks tired and needs help.
– Mrs. Hansen shows compassion for Hannah and what she goes through in life.
– Hannah believes that hatred and prejudices have no place in this world. She believes that people must care for people without thinking of race, religion or nationality. Compassion plays a big part in making people become better and more caring people.
Kilmer joins the army to show his love for his country. Otto enlists even though he is of German origin out of loyalty to the land he lives in. Gus too joins the army because he thinks it is his duty to fight for the country. Roland who had joined earlier had been killed in the war against the Spanish. Suffering and death are natural results of any war.
Point of View
The novel is written from the perspective of a 15 year-old school boy. We see the events unfold through Richard who loves writing poems and is a gentle, kind-hearted soul.
Tone and Mood
The tone is essentially serious as it deals with war, prejudice and the painful experiences of growing up.
The movements of soldiers and the information of death rates in the war are constant reminders of the effects of the war. There is a dismal air and people live with worries for themselves and for those at the warfront.
Language and Style
The language used is simple with vivid descriptions of the winter scenery. The conversation extracts within the family or in the class are appropriate for the situations. The poems that appear constantly are very readable and are delightful. Some literary devices, like similes, metaphors and vivid imagery [trains coming and going with soldiers] used are effective and sustain interest in the events in the story successfully.