Bullies Then and Now: Bullying’s Effect on Everyday Life

I’ve written on the struggles C.S. Lewis had growing up with bullies–it really was a lifelong struggle–and we see from time to time how Lewis captures the victim’s feelings in fiction, like when “Jill Pole was crying behind the gym” in The Silver Chair. As I was going through Surprised by Joy, Lewis’ only full-length memoir, I came across a passage that is almost terrifying when considered that it comes from the experience of a little boy.

The bullying had this negative merit that it was honest bullying; not bullying conscience-salved and authorized in the maison tolérée of the prefectorial system. It was done mainly by gangs; parties of eight or ten boys each who scoured those interminable corridors for prey. Their sorties, though like a whirlwind, were not perceived by the victim till too late; the general, endless confusion and clamor, I suppose, masked them. Sometimes capture involved serious consequences; two boys whom I knew were carried off and flogged in some backwater—flogged in the most disinterested fashion, for their captors had no personal acquaintance with them; art for art’s sake. But on the only occasion when I was caught myself my fate was much milder and perhaps odd enough to be worth recording. When I had come to myself after being dragged at headlong speed through a labyrinth of passages which took me beyond all usual landmarks, I found that I was one of several prisoners in a low, bare room, half-lit (I think) by a single gas jet. After a pause to recover their breath two of the brigands led out the first captive. I now noticed that a horizontal row of pipes ran along the opposite wall, about three feet from the floor. I was alarmed but not surprised when the prisoner was forced into a bending position under the lowest pipe, in the very posture for execution. But I was very much surprised a moment later. You will remember that the room was half dark. The two gangsters gave their victim a shove; and instantly no victim was there. He vanished; without trace, without sound. It appeared to be sheer black magic Another victim was led out; again the posture for a flogging was assumed; again, instead of flogging—dissolution, atomization, annihilation. At last my own turn came. I too received the shove from behind, and found myself falling through a hole or hatch in the wall into what turned out to be a coal cellar. Another small boy came hurtling in after me, the door was slammed and bolted behind us, and our captors with a joyous whoop rushed away for more booty.

This little anecdote, which Lewis relates in an almost jovial way, shows us two things, I think. First, bullying is not a new phenomenon. Bullying has been standard fare in modern education, and has been often more brutal than a mere “boys will be boys” experience. Second, we can see how radically different the form of bullying is today. The elements of fear, intimidation, and violence remains the same, but the real physical brutality took on other forms and structures in Lewis’ day. Chapter 6, “Bloodery,” is a systematic description of school-sanctioned bullying that included public humiliation, physical beatings, constant terrorizing, and what was most likely the rape of younger boys by their elders.

Yet I think one aspect is similar. For private school boys, like Lewis, bullying touched every moment of every day. It dominated his student life, and kept him in constant terror. I think that social network technology has allowed relatively uncreative bullies today to have the same reign of terror. I could go home, leaving a bully behind at school or sports. But bullied kids today go home to a two-dimensional world of terror that defines their three-dimensional lives.

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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12 Responses to Bullies Then and Now: Bullying’s Effect on Everyday Life

  1. robstroud says:

    It feels weird “liking” a post such as this, but you have addressed a terrible truth. It is getting more and more difficult to provide a “safe” place for the vulnerable. The astronomical numbers of victims of human trafficking bear witness to world that cares not for such things. So very, very sad.


    • I also think, Rob, that we are less emotionally able to deal with bullying as a culture. I think digital bullying, though, is just so pervasive.


      • dale says:

        did u read the whole section? Lewis says, “There was bullying too though no serious share came my way.”


        • Yes, I read the whole thing. The point which I’m driving at is the “systematic violence” (as Archbishop Óscar Romero calls it–the violence of bullying is throughout the system, it is invested in at every level, and supported by the active and tacit approval of people who could make a difference.
          Moreover, it did have an effect. Lewis, in Surprised by Joy, spent many pages on the violence of his school experience. But of WWI, he spends a page. One was more formative (in his mind), than the other. And in that letter to the American Lady, he is still struggling, decades later, with his bullying experience.
          Does that make sense?


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