Subject Material

Poor Koko

Published: 28.04.2011, Updated: 04.03.2017
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Pre-reading discussion

  • What connotations does the word "thief" bring up?
  • Are there any good thieves or are they all bad?


Read John Fowles's short story about an author's encounter with a burglar. Discuss afterwards whether this is a typical thief or not in your opinion.

John Fowles (1926 - 2005) was an English writer who never ceased to stir and surprise his readers and whose novels have attracted much attention. Among the general public, he was  known for his novels, The French Lieutenant's Woman and The Collector. Both novels have been turned into awardwinning films. The French Lieutenant's Woman is a love story set in Victorian England, whereas The Collector portrays a lonely young man who is so madly obsessed by a girl that he kidnaps her.

WantedWanted In the following short story, a writer, a man of letters with an intellectual approach to life, finds himself powerless and helpless when confronted with an intruder. To start with the burglar's behaviour is incomprehensible and irrational to the protagonist. Gradually, though, this incident makes the writer aware of a crisis in his contemporary society. He acknowledges the traditional gaps between "them and us", between the "haves" and "have-nots", between the capitalists and those who feel exploited by the system. It dawns upon him that modern society with its radical technological and social changes have created alienation and frustration. This, in turn, may lead to blind anger and irrational violence on the part of the under-educated and underpriviliged as demonstrated by the pain and damage inflicted by the young intruder.

Difficult words
  • abominable= forferdelig/forferdeleg
  • semi-illiterate= halvt analfabet
  • get bashed in = bli jult opp
  • poker= ildrake
  • chest-of-drawers=kommode
  • way-way-way=lang veg
  • mits=never/nevar
  • with his thumb cocked high=med tommelen i været/veret
  • labour the agonies=utbrodere lidelsene/lidinga
  • over-dog=den sterkeste/den sterkaste
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Poor Koko (26:40)  

 

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Comprehension

  

Literary analysis

  1. Examine the opening paragraph of the short story. How does John Fowles "warn" his readers about what is going to happen? Discuss which effect that has on the story. Does he manage to capture the attention of the reader?
  2. Study the first paragraphs describing the writer and the first portraying the burglar. If the writer and the burglar were going to make  profiles on a social media site, how would their profiles look? What kind of qualities and interest would they list? Are there indications about  age and looks? Try to look for pictures of the two characters, e.g. on google pictures that you think fit the description and how you interpret them.
  3. Explain the protagonist's reasons for being relieved that the cottage does not belong to him. Do you think he is a coward?
  4. Analyse the language used to characterise the burglar and the writer. Why do you think Fowles chooses to describe the burglar and the writer by means of their speech? What kind of impression do you get of the two characters from this? And how does this reveal prejudice on both sides? Judging from their speech, whom of the two characters would be most respected by the society do you think?
  5. According to the blurb (above) John Fowles often surprises his readers. How does he do this in this story, and which effect does it have?
  6. On a deeper level this story contains criticism of our modern society. Try to formulate the criticism with your own words. If you look at the title of the story and the epigraph, in what way does Fowles convey this criticism?

Discuss

  1. What reasons does the young man give for the break-in? Judging from this and what he reveals about his background, do you think his crime is justifiable?
  2. How is Karl Marx and his theory about the class struggle relevant in this context?
  3. Is the burglar a modern version of Robin Hood?
  4. Who is at first glance the over-dog and the under-dog? How are the roles reversed?
  5. Discuss these statements:
    • "This story is about the power to oppress by means of language."
    • "The burglar got his story anyway"
    • "This incident was a real eye-opener for the author"
    • "The author is guilty of deafness"
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