We make a lot of choices in our lives, some are unimportant, some are critical and decides our future. The main character in “School of Life” by Elizabeth Laird is fourteen-year-old Katya. Katya does not like her family and she follows her stepdad’s cousin Andrei, who promised to find her a job in London, but instead sells her. Katya trusts Andrei and makes a series of impulsive choices, which leads to the tragedy of being abused and forced to prostitute. A theme in the story is that the way we make choices are shaped by our family relationships and the experiences, positive and negative, we gain in our lives. This is presented by descriptions of settings, language features and inner thoughts.
Firstly, poor family relationships can cause us to make unreasonable choices. This is suggested by the setting of Katya’s family which Laird presents at the outset of the narrative. In the setting of the story, Katya does not have a good relationship between her and her family, and her family rarely cares about her, “My mum and stepdad drank too much and began fighting”. As a result, Katya is never taught how to make a rational choice and has to learn choice making through her own experiences. In Addition, Katya does not feel being loved. Katya hates her family, “[My] mum shouting at me and my stepdad laying into me with his fists”, and “‘Look at you!’ she screeched. ‘Dressed up like a tart!’”. This shows that Katya’s mother often teaches or talks to Katya in a mean way, which helps support that Katya does not feel being loved by her family as her parents always communicate or educate her in a volatile way. Katya is only fourteen and all she perceived from her family is shouts and fists. She could not feel a sense of belonging. Katya feels that she is not loved by her family at all, but she is not conscious that although her mother does not talk to her respectfully, everything her mother guides her to do the right thing. However, the bad family relationship causes Katya to misunderstand her family. As a result, when a better life in London is introduced to Katya by Andrei, Katya isn’t sure what to do. She is so attracted by the opportunity and due to her lack of experiences in choice making and the hatred towards her family, Katya believes in Andrei without a second thought.This choice is the start of Katya’s tragedy. Poor family relationships can cause us to make unreasonable choices. This is shown by the settings of the story, the use of language features and the description of inner thoughts.
Secondly, when we experience things that make us emotionally positive, we tend to do things that will make us experience that again, and sometimes this makes us impulsive when making choices. This is emphasized by the use of language features. Katya has considered Andrei as her boyfriend, but she is too young to understand what a boyfriend is. Obviously, Katya does not know Andrei for a long time, but she feels warmth and kindness when talking to Andrei. Her family isn’t nice to her, so Katya is eager to stay with someone who is nice to her. Andrei often “[…] listened to [her] and seemed to know how [she] felt.” As a result, Katya relies a lot on Andrei and always wants to get more positive experiences with him. She loves to listen to all kinds of nice words Andrei says. This illustrates that Katya is deeply affected by the positive experiences Andrei gave her. In addition, Katya “[…] trusted him while [she] packed the cheap suitcase he bought [her]. [She] trusted him as [they] rolled west along the motorways of Europe, even though he frowned more than he smiled and spoke to [her] less and less. [She] trusted him all the way to Brussels.” The repetition of the use of “trusted” suggests that no matter what Andrei says, Katya will trust him, as long as she is staying with him. This shows that the positive experiences from Andrei blinded Katya and makes her impulsive when making choices. The use of language features shows that positive experiences cause us to make impulsive choices.
Thirdly, sometimes we have negative experiences with consequences, but they help us to make more rational choices. It is often easier to shape how we make choices due to the negative effects it has on us. This is shown by the description of inner thoughts. After making a series of impulsive choices and mistakes, Katya suffers a lot and has lots of negative experiences. She is sold “like a piece of meat” and is beaten and abused by many men：“His first blow winded me. The second nearly knocked me out”. All these negative experiences give her a life lesson, and as a result, she makes choices more rationally. For example, she regrets how she makes choices before: “Why didn’t I scream then, when I had the chance? Why was I such a little fool? The barman might have helped me. He might have called for help.” Katya asks herself a series of rhetorical questions, which emphasizes that she is changed by her negative experiences. Katya also thinks if she should or should not trust the police woman before she acts: “I stared at her. I’d trusted Maria. I’d trusted Andrei […].” This description of Katya’s inner thought shows that she thinks of all those negative experiences leave scars in Katya’s heart. All of them are coming out as she is about to make another choice and Katya is afraid of the negative experiences. Thinking of avoiding it, she makes more reasonable choices. It is not the most ideal way of gaining experiences as it will leave consequences, however it is very effective on Katya. The description of inner thoughts shows that negative experiences also shape the way we make choices in an effective way.
In conclusion, we always make choices in our lives, some are reasonable, some are impulsive. Elizabeth Laird presents the theme that the way we make choices are shaped by our family relationships and the experiences we gain in our lives by descriptions of settings, language features and inner thoughts. In the story, Katya does not know how to make a rational choice due to her family relationship, but as she gains more experiences, her way to make choices is finally shaped. We feel saddened when Katya steps into traps when she has not experience of choice making. The story tells the importance of family education and the experience of some unfortunate children who need to experience everything by ourselves.