Study Guide

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand Tradition and Customs

By Helen Simonson

Tradition and Customs

"I have produced no children of my own and my husband is dead. […] Thus I am more to be pitied than revered. I am expected to give up the shop to my nephew, who will then be able to afford to bring a very good wife from Pakistan." (1.100)

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand isn't all about stuffy British customs; it's about Middle Eastern society, too. Mrs. Ali has her own customs she is expected to adhere to. How do these customs mesh (or clash)?

"My nephew has recently returned from his studies in Pakistan and is not yet reacquainted with many things here. […] He does not like it when I drive the car." (2.46)

Here is another example of Mrs. Ali's customs. For her family, it isn't customary for women to drive cars. Unexpectedly, the older Mrs. Ali is more modern than her more traditional nephew.

"These guns mean so much to your father," she said at last. "We want you to each have one, to keep his memory." (5.8)

The Major says that he wants to keep the Churchill shotguns out of tradition; they were passed down by his father, after all. Do you agree that the Major is doing this for tradition, or does he have another reason?

[Bertie and Marjorie] immediately began to defy the tradition of the family lunch at Rose Lodge and took to dropping by in the late afternoon instead. (7.2)

It seems that Bertie and Marjorie's slide away from the family started gradually—like by ignoring the family lunch, as we see here. But the tradition pretty much ended when Bertie died and Marjorie decided she wanted to sell the guns. Once tradition is chipped, it quickly cracks open.

He hoped it was not hubris to experience a certain satisfaction that while maharajahs and their kingdoms might fade into oblivion, the Pettigrews soldiered one. (8.12)

The Major is proud of his tradition, but honestly, how long do you think the Pettigrews will actually soldier on? Roger is more bumbling than soldiering on his best days.

"He would have liked this room, my father." He saw Mrs. Ali's gaze taking in the inglenook fireplace, the tall bookcases. […] "I am very honored by your graciousness in inviting me into your home." (8.79)

Mrs. Ali inherited her father's love of traditional literary classics—and the elegant bookshelves that hold them. Hey, the family that reads together stays together, are we right?

"I don't believe the greatest views in the world are great because they are vast or exotic," she said. "I think their power comes from the knowledge that they do not change. You look at them and you know they have been the same for a thousand years." (8.107)

You don't get much more traditional than this: believing in something simply because people have always believed in it. Does Mrs. Ali actually live her life this way, though? To us, she seems much more modern than this statement might lead others to believe.

"My aunt always found the refrigerator perfectly adequate. […] But then young people today will insist on all that convenience food."

"Oh, we're going to shop all the local farm shops," said Roger. "There's nothing quite like fresh vegetables, is there?" (10.39-10.40)

Roger has to convince a potential landlady that he is traditional, when Roger is about as far from traditions as possible. That's why he enlists his more "classic" father to help make the right impression. What's this all about, anyway? Why does the landlady want a "traditional" tenant?

"At the same time, you might want to mention to Roger that we don't allow those newfangled club heads."

"He brought his clubs with him?" asked the Major, unable to hide the dismay in his voice. (11.49)

See what we're talking about regarding Roger bucking tradition? He shows up to a duck hunt wearing brand new clothes and to the golf club with shiny new clubs. Both places prefer a more worn look. Roger wants to be in the in-crowd, but he just doesn't understand the whole culture of the in-crowd yet.

"I thought it was wrong to leave even one small tradition unbroken," she said, smiling. She took his arm and they both watched for a while in silence as the guests gathered. (Epilogue.4)

The Major and Mrs. Ali are breaking tons of traditions by getting married: he's of a different social class than she is, it's an inter-racial marriage, they're of different religions—you name it. So Mrs. Ali sees no reason why they shouldn't see each other before the wedding, smashing that tradition, too.