Study Guide

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand Themes

  • Society and Class

    British society is very concerned with keeping up appearances. Just look at programs like Downton Abbey, its predecessor Upstairs Downstairs, or the very appropriately named Keeping Up Appearances. In Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, the residents of Edgecombe St. Mary, where Major Pettigrew lives, are no different. A town this small is still gonna have its class divides—and with fewer people, the lines between them are that much more apparent.

    Questions About Society and Class

    1. How do the characters in the book fit into society and into various economic classes?
    2. Which characters stay within their class, and which form relationships outside of it? How are the characters who venture outside of their class treated by those who don't?
    3. How does Lord Dagenham plan to preserve British society? Does this come at the expense of the village?
    4. Why isn't Roger successful in his climbing of social ladders?

    Chew on This

    The Major wouldn't have found happiness if he had stayed within his social comfort zone. Only by stepping outside it does he realize what he's been missing.

    Roger puts social climbing above everything else, which ends up hurting his relationships more than helping them.

  • Tradition and Customs

    Life in the country is a lot slower than life in a big city. The people walk at a more leisurely pace, there isn't as much traffic or honking, and change… happens… slowly…

    Oops. Sorry, we nodded off there for a second. Maybe because of the fat that there isn't as much to do in the country, when people do do something, they want to do it the same as the last time. Why? Simply because that's how it's always been done. Why rock the boat?

    Not everyone wants to do everything the same all the time, especially people from different cultures with different customs. In Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, Mrs. Ali has different customs from those of the Major, for example, and Mrs. Ali even views tradition differently from the way her nephew views it. Traditions and customs vary wildly among the spiderwebbing lines of class, race, and age.

    Questions About Tradition and Customs

    1. What common traditions and customs do the Major and Mrs. Ali share? Which of their customs are different?
    2. What are some of the traditions of Edgecombe St Mary? Which people are in charge of overseeing them? Are they flexible with tradition? Who challenges their traditions, and how do these people respond?
    3. Does Roger respect his father's traditions?

    Chew on This

    Roger only adheres to tradition when he thinks it can move him forward socially, which is an interesting paradox—looking to the past to take steps into the future.

    The Major uses tradition as an excuse to keep the Churchill hunting guns together, but he's really doing it for himself. Sadly, his family tradition was neglected by his brother long ago.

  • Old Age

    These days, with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, RED, and all their sequels, old people are having the hottest time of their lives since Cocoon in 1985. Most movies, TV shows, and books feature main characters who are young and fresh, or at least Botoxed to look young and fresh. Not so in Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. Its main characters are over the proverbial hill and not embarrassed about it one bit. They don't let old age stop them from living—and loving—life.

    Questions About Old Age

    1. Do the Major and Mrs. Ali have the same view on old age?
    2. Do you think the Major has similar opinions on life now that he did when he was younger? What views have changed as he has aged?
    3. What are the biggest differences between the older characters and the younger characters, like Abdul Wahid or Roger?

    Chew on This

    As she gets older, Mrs. Ali realizes that she needs to live life for herself, not for her family or her culture. She only has the one life, and time is running out.

    The Major is willing to compromise in old age and marry Grace, but she has the same ideals as Mrs. Ali, and she refuses to let him.

  • Principles

    The Major is a man of principles. He has strong beliefs on what is right: standing up for a lady, for example, or having a coordinating tea set. He also has strong beliefs on what is wrong like selling out a village for personal profit or skipping Christmas with family. We're not sure what his military career was like, but the time we spend with him in Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is a daily battle of morals that involves taking a stand for what is right and attempting to strike down—in a gentlemanly fashion, of course—what is wrong.

    Questions About Principles

    1. What are the Major's major principles?
    2. Why do the Major and Mrs. Ali want to convince Abdul Wahid to relax his principles? Does he relax them?
    3. Does Roger have any principles at all? If so, what are they? If not, why is he so different from his father?
    4. How are the principles of the American characters (Sandy, Ferguson) different from those of the British characters?

    Chew on This

    Principles vary wildly in the families depicted in this this book. Both the Major and Roger and Mrs. Ali and Abdul Wahid have extremely different values.

    The Major tells Abdul Wahid to relax his principles, but the Major ends up taking his own advice by the end of the book and focusing on what he truly believes in—Mrs. Ali.

  • Race

    You wouldn't expect a tiny English countryside village to be a hotbed of racism, but in Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, that's pretty much what you're gonna get. Well, okay, Edgecombe St. Mary isn't exactly a hotbed—it's more like a lukewarm bed of racism. But that doesn't mean being the only Pakistani family in town is easy. It's kind of a double whammy, too: in a town this small, it's difficult to tell if the discrimination Mrs. Ali sometimes faces is the result of class differences or racial ones, or both.

    Questions About Race

    1. Do the Major or Mrs. Ali have any racial prejudices they need to overcome?
    2. Is Mrs. Ali discriminated against because of her race or because of her social class? Or is it a combination of both? Alternatively, do you believe that she is not a subject of discrimination?
    3. Are the party-planning ladies truly interested in diversity when it comes to their India-themed party? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Most people in the village probably don't think they're racist, because they don't even notice Mrs. Ali exists. But failing to acknowledge a person isn't the same as "not seeing race."

    We see very few examples of outright racism in the book, like the phrase "Pakis go home!" being shouted by teenagers. The rest of the racism in the book is subtler.

  • Family

    The families in Major Pettigrew's Last Stand are not the Brady Bunch. They're not the Partridge Family. They're not even the Munsters. These families are fractured and divided. Aside from physical similarities, you might not even know the Major and Roger are related. And Mrs. Ali's family (well, her dead husband's family) is just flat-out nuts, stealing her mail and stabbing people with knitting needles. These family values are more in line with the Corleones' from The Godfather. Maybe the best thing for people like the Major and Mrs. Ali is just to start their own new family.

    Questions About Family

    1. Which family is closer—the Major's or Mrs. Ali's? Is either family particularly close?
    2. How is the Major's family (his deceased wife and his son, Roger) different from his brother's family (his widow, Marjorie, and daughter, Jemima)? Why aren't the two sides of the family closer?
    3. Mrs. Ali says that Anglo-Saxons have "broken away from such dependence on family." Do you agree? Is this a good thing?

    Chew on This

    Both the Major and Mrs. Ali face antagonism from within their own family more than from outside their families.

    The Major and Mrs. Ali have both been let down by their own families, so they decide to form a new family, together, at the end.

  • Literature and Writing

    People often bond over their love of books. If they didn't, book clubs wouldn't exist, right? Whether the bonding experience takes place at a book signing, in the classics section of a used bookstore, or in the dusty stacks of a library, lifelong friendships can be made over common passion for a book.

    Speaking of passion, it's more than a friendship that is formed between the Major and Mrs. Ali in Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. What starts as a love for Kipling moves beyond those bare necessities and blooms into romance.

    Questions About Literature and Writing

    1. What does the Major have in common with the authors of and characters in some of his favorite books?
    2. Are you surprised that Mrs. Ali likes Kipling? Do she and the Major have the same opinion on Kipling and his works?
    3. What did Mrs. Ali love the most about her father's library? What does she miss about it?

    Chew on This

    The Major and Mrs. Ali wouldn't be together were it not for their mutual love of the classics.

    Because the Major loves the classics, he is a romantic. Members of the younger generation don't read as much, and they are a little more practical as a result.

  • Marriage

    Lots of books deal with falling in love, planning a wedding, or navigating a tricky first marriage (perhaps ending in a first divorce). But the characters in Major Pettigrew's Last Stand are experts at marriage. Both the Major and Mrs. Ali were married for decades before, sadly, their spouses passed away. Why would they ever want to get married again? The decision to do so seems to come as a surprise to them both. Maybe having done it right once, they know how good it can be?

    Questions About Marriage

    1. The Major and Mrs. Ali say very little about their previous marriages. Why don't they talk about these experiences more? What do they reveal, and what do you learn about their relationships when they do discuss them?
    2. How does each family and culture—the Major's British family and Mrs. Ali's Pakistani family—view marriage? Are these views different?
    3. Why does Amina decide not to marry Abdul Wahid? Why don't Roger and Sandy want to get married? Why do Mrs. Ali and the Major decide to remarry? Is each couple's attitude toward marriage the result of generational differences, or something else?

    Chew on This

    Both the Major and Mrs. Ali had the best relationship of their lives with their spouses, a relationship stronger than the relationship either one had with their own parents or even their own children. No wonder they decide to remarry and try it again.

    The Major and Mrs. Ali marry for love, while the younger generations—Roger and Sandy, or Amina and Abdul Wahid—seem to be motivated to marry only for money. That's why neither younger couple ends up getting hitched in the end; there's no passion there.