In 1950, Marguerite deAngeli won the Newbery Award for her classic novel "The Door in the Wall." The story transports readers to England during the Middle Ages through the experiences of Robin, the crippled son of a nobleman off to war. The 11-year-old boy's world comes alive through the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures he encounters. The book is useful for discussing literary imagery with students of many ages.
Definition of Imagery
Authors use words, phrases, long descriptions and comparisons to create sensory experiences for readers connecting them to the times, settings and feelings of characters. Literary comparisons include metaphors and similes, which are tools that help readers consider the similarities between unlike actions, concepts or objects. A metaphor is a direct comparison, such as occurs when Robin must sleep out in the open one night and compares the "brocaded bed curtains" of home to "the dark clouds making a canopy over him." In contrast, similes link the things being compared with words such as "like" and "as." For example, Robin and his companions, who include the monk Brother Luke, "knelt in the woods, as if it had been a cathedral."
Sounds and Smells of Outside World
A crippled friend suggested that DeAngeli write a book about a child dealing with a handicap. The book opens with Robin lying helpless in bed, unable to walk. His disability is a recent problem that occurred shortly after both of his parents were forced to leave for other duties. Household servants are supposed to care for him, but they all become ill from bubonic plague. Robin is alone shivering in bed. He is connected to the outside world only by the sounds of children running in the streets, horse hooves clattering on cobblestones and the smell of "putrid fish" wafting in from a tiny window high in the wall. Then Brother Luke rescues Robin and relocates him to a monastery. Robin learns to identify who is in the hallway outside his monkish cell by the sounds of different footsteps in the "great echoing halls."
Expansion of Skills and Sensations
Brother Luke helps Robin to strengthen mentally as well as physically. He encourages Robin to learn how to whittle, read and write. Robin loves the smoothness and smells of the various woods he carves as well as "the sharp whistle of the plane" sliding over the wood. In time, he makes his own crutches. Water becomes a recurring image of rejuvenation as Brother Luke teaches Robin how to swim in the nearby creek. The brook's rapidly running waters allow "strength and power to flow into his arms."
Transformative Image of Disability
Robin's disability shapes the imagery of the novel from beginning to end. Early on, his sensory life is limited to what he can perceive from the confines of his bedroom at home and then at the monastery. After learning to walk with crutches, Robin learns to be proud of his increasing speed and agility. Brother Luke tells him that crooked legs are better than a "crooked spirit." Robin's image of what the disabled can do changes drastically by the end of the story when he rescues a castle and village from invading Welshmen. For readers, he becomes a picture of bravery, capability, creativity and strength.