The Toys of Peace Characters

Instructor: Erica Schimmel

Erica has taught college English writing and literature courses and has a master's degree in children's literature.

Eleanor and Harvey Bope decide to see what happens when they give Eleanor's two sons nonviolent toys. What do we know about this family? Find out in this lesson about the characters in Saki's 'The Toys of Peace.'

Boy's Toys?

Have you ever walked down the boy's toy aisle? Among others, you probably saw toys that have to do with fighting such as toy guns or soldier action figures. It seems like society expects boys to want to play war or fighting games. But do boys naturally want to play this way? What would happen if they were encouraged to play with toys that were not related to fighting?

These are questions researchers have now, but they are certainly not new questions. In fact, they are the questions at the heart of ''The Toys of Peace,'' a short story written in the early 1900's by Hector Hugo Munro and published under his pen name, Saki. In his story, an experiment puts these questions about boys and their toys to the test when a man gives ''peaceful'' toys to his young nephews. Let's learn more about the members of the family in the story.

Adult Experimenters

We'll start with the responsible adults in the story, siblings Eleanor and Harvey Bope. These siblings are close enough that they visit each other, and they share similar ideas about childrearing. This apparently includes the belief children's play can be influenced by what toys they are given. We may not know much about the Bope siblings upbringing, but we do have some information about their family history: one of their uncles fought ''in the most intolerant fashion at Inkerman,'' and a grandfather ''smashed all his Whig neighbours' hot houses.'' Clearly, though Eleanor and Harvey may not think highly of violence and war, their relatives don't always see things the same way.


Eleanor is the one who gets the ball rolling in the toy experiment when she brings a ''cutting'' from a London newspaper to Harvey's attention. The fact that she keeps up on reading newspapers seems to be a clue she is educated and intelligent, which seems supported by the fact that she has spent time thinking about whether toys can influence how boys play. Eleanor is excited about this particular clipping because it's about the National Peace Council's ideas for changing boys' natural instinct to love fighting and war by giving them ''peace toys.'' This aligns with Eleanor's beliefs, and she wants to try it out with her own two sons. She insists Harvey find toys that depict ''civilian life in its more peaceful aspects.''

Eleanor might sound a little bossy, and that's because she kind of is. She insists Harvey find and buy the toys, but she also says he's the one who is going to have to explain them. And she expects him to succeed in getting them interested - no pressure, right? She's also a bit controlling as a parent. For instance, when she overhears them using what she thinks is ''objectionable language'' while playing with a ''Siege of Adrianople toy,'' she takes the toy away even when the boys claim they were only using ''Bulgarian words of command.''


Harvey is no less pro-peaceful toys, but he is a bit more hesitant about whether the experiment will actually work. We don't know what Harvey does for a living, but whatever it is he makes enough money to always bring plenty of presents to his nephews when he visits. He clearly cares about his nephews, too, as he goes to the trouble of finding ''civilian'' toys including a dumpster, a beehive, and figurines of people - such as John Stuart Mill, who was an ''authority on political economy'', or Robert Raikes, who founded Sunday schools. Harvey is more excited about the idea of a playing with the new ''peaceful'' toys than the boys are.

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