Ellie is our narrator, whether she wants to be or not. Out of the small group of teens she's hiding out in the wilderness with, she was tapped for the task of writing down everything she and her friends have gone through in order to leave a historical document behind. We're thinking her friends were onto something when they chose Ellie, too—she doesn't hold anything back, not even personal information or judgments about her friends. Tomorrow, When the War Began, then, is the whole truth and nothing but it from Ellie's perspective.
Ellie's perspective isn't just honest, though; it's super detailed, too. For instance, check out this description she offers up about a tree in Hell:
The gum tree was at the base of a sheet of rock that stretched up to Wombegonoo's summit. It was an unusual tree, because it had multiple trunks, which must have parted form each other in its early days, so that now they grew out like petals on a poppy. (5.40)
Ellie doesn't just say, "The gum tree was kind of odd," or something like that—nope, she explains its quirks, even busting out a simile to drive her point home.
When her detail and honesty come together, though, is when Ellie really shines. For instance, when she's lying in her tent, gossiping about love with Fi, Ellie dumps the following on the page for our reading pleasure:
[I]t was my feelings for Homer that were stopping me from taking the plunge with Lee […] Fi's saying "sexy" made me realize that with Homer it was pretty physical. I didn't want to spend hours with him talking about life; I wanted to spend hours with him making animal noises, like sighs and grunts. (15.27)
It's okay if you feel a little uncomfortable after reading that passage—that just goes to show you how effective Ellie is at communicating her experiences to readers. It shows something else, though, too: bravery. After all, this book is intended as a document for all her friends, so someday they're all going to read it. And Ellie still doesn't hold back, boldly laying herself bare on the page anyway.
(Not So) Smooth Operator
For all of the unflinching clarity Ellie brings to her storytelling style, she's kind of a hot mess when it comes to her feelings for Lee, which are complicated by her secret attraction to Homer. And bummer for Lee, she doesn't exactly keep this entirely to herself—honesty's kind of her thing, after all. So after they spend some quality time together in the hay stack and then Ellie ignore Lee, she offers up the following explanation when he asks her why:
"I don't know. It meant something at the time, and it means something now, but I don't know if it means what you seem to want it to mean. Why don't we just say I was being a slut, and leave it at that." He looked really hurt and I was sorry I'd said that. I hadn't even meant it. (14.34)
It's not a response that's particularly concerned for Lee's feelings—he clearly likes her and she's pretty flippant about the ways in which her words and actions affect him. The downside to her honesty, then, is that Ellie can be pretty brutal with other people's feelings.
The Gutsy Guerilla
You know how we said that Ellie shows bravery in her writing? Well, that's not the only time she busts out come major chutzpah. Even though Ellie is scared of weapons, explosions, and guns, she doesn't shy away from rescuing her friends or fighting for her family's freedom. Heck, Ellie contributes to every major move the group makes against the military, often taking on the most dangerous tasks.
Ellie heads up the big rescue mission to save Lee, and it involves major guts: She has to steal a front loader, learn to drive it right away, and bring it into the most dangerous area possible (a.k.a. town) to pick up Lee, who is wounded, and Robyn. Not only does she pull this mission off, getting shot at as she drives and hurting her own head badly in the process, but Ellie never even tries to get out of doing such a terribly risky thing in the first place. She just rolls up her sleeves and gets going.
The second huge mission the kids endeavor relies on Ellie's excellent driving record and unfaltering moxie. She has to steal a gasoline tanker and sneak it down to the bridge, where she then has to drive it right under the sentries' noses (while they are hopefully distracted), soak a rope, run it far away, light it on fire, and cross her fingers that she doesn't get shot or blown up in the process.
And you know what? She does it—just like she rescues Lee, and just like she writes the whole book. When the going gets tough or there's a task that needs doing, Ellie isn't one to shrink away and hope someone else volunteers. Nope, she does what needs to be done. You go, girl.Ellie's Timeline
Marsden’s "Tomorrow" series has been immensely popular with young adult readers. One of the reasons suggested for this success is that, unlike many teenage characters in fiction, Ellie and her friends are like real teenagers. In other words, Marsden has succeeded in creating convincing characters. You are going to write an essay in which you explain how Marsden has built up his characters. You should use the following essay structure:
- THESIS and Outline of Essay
One of the strengths of John Marsden’s "Tomorrow When the War Began" is that his teenage characters are so convincing: they talk, act, react, interact and develop in the manner of real teenagers. In this essay, I shall [examine/ analyse/demonstrate] the author’s characterisation in terms of initial descriptions, dialogue, relationships and character development.
In any novel, as in real life, first impressions matter: our view of a character is heavily influenced by the author’s first description of them. In the case of "Tomorrow", we meet characters who are as varied and complex as any group of real-life teenagers. For example, our first glimpse of Homer is when Ellie finds him fixing a pump valve on his parents’ farm. He is involved in a physical task (unlike Ellie herself, who is writing when we first meet her). Almost immediately Homer grabs Ellie’s arm and squeezes it, and when she tries to push him into the creek he is "too strong". Thus we become aware of Homer as a very physical character and one who enjoys horseplay. We also discover that he is a comedian, making constant wisecracks. He agrees to go camping but says he would rather they "went to a tropical resort and drank cocktails with umbrellas in them" and he teases his brother about the amount of hair-oil he uses. Finally, we observe that Homer has a rude, unconventional manner; unlike all his friends, he does not ask his parents for permission to go camping, instead he simply tells them he is going.
Perhaps the most authentic aspect of Marsden’s characterisation is his use of dialogue. His characters think and speak in the colloquial language of real young people and their speech is full of Australian slang. From the very first page we know we are listening to a true human voice. Ellie’s narrative is full of short forms (It’s, I’ve, they’ve there’s, we’ll, I’m, that’s) and she tells her friends to "rack off", a typically Australian expression. There is also a reference to "witchetty grubs", an aboriginal name for the grubs of a local beetle. Similarly, ..
In their relationships too, the "Tomorrow" gang are realistically portrayed. These are not the safe, chummy relationships of traditional teenage fiction. Instead, we have characters who get irritated with each other, feel sexual desire, struggle with their emotions and so on. For example, …
- Look at various boy-girl relationships in the novel: Kevin/Corrie; Ellie/Homer/Fi/Lee.
- Also look at disagreements/arguments/tensions.
- Look at the characters’ intense loyalty towards each other, but also the emotional challenges they sometimes face – for example, having to split up in order to ensure the safety of the group.
In real life, people are rarely static; they change as a result of their experiences. In successful fiction, therefore, we expect to find characters who develop in response to the events around them. The "Tomorrow" characters change profoundly as a result of the invasion of their country and the disappearance of their families. For example, …
- Homer: irresponsible joker quick thinking leader
- Kevin: selfish, boastful …
In summary, John Marsden’s characterisation in "Tomorrow When the War Began" is very effective. His teenage heroes and heroines are as complex, varied and changing as people in the real world. Consequently, we identify with them and become just as involved in their dilemmas and crises as if they were our flesh-and-blood friends.