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”Killing Lizards” is a short story from 1981 written by William Boyd. The story is about a boy
struggling with his feelings about puberty and his relationship with his family.
The twelve year-old boy, Gavin, is the main character of the story. The boy and his family have
moved to Africa because of his father’s promotion. The setting enhances Gavin’s growing feeling
of alienation that he tries to deny. Analyzing the text, it becomes clear that he is frightened at the
thought of puberty - a subject which is one of the biggest themes in the story.
The first sign of Gavin’s discomfort is his relationship with his sister. The boy remarks that since her
fifteenth birthday she had changed (ll. 10-11). It is clear to him that her and their mother have a
bond which he will never be able to share. Frustrated by this, he wishes for the death of his sister.
For one thing this tells us that he longs for his mother’s affection - which will be examined later on
- and for another it shows us how he wants to get rid of everything associated with puberty. It is
worth noticing that his sister lives in England. She does not feel alienated, but is instead
comfortable and has embraced the changes of puberty.
Gavin is a boy who longs for his mother’s affections. He does not like to share the woman with
anyone else and has dreams about not only his sister, but also his father dying. The story is filled
with such oedipal tendencies. These are also evident when we are informed that the boy is aware
of his mother being a beauty (ll. 51-52). When Gavin goes to see her, we learn that she is distant in
her communication with her son. Gavin then comes across as an insecure boy who needs
acknowledgement, and one has to believe that that is the real reason behind his fantasies of
death. His mother seems more occupied with deciding what to wear for the play she is going to
than to providing her son with the love he needs. Furthermore, she tries to keep him fixated in his
childish state and does not help him to take the first steps toward the adult world. To explain this,
one should look at the lizards and what they symbolize. They represent Gavin’s problems and
suppressed emotions in connection with puberty. By killing them, Gavin battles with and is
adjusted to his growing awareness of the real world. When he is going out, his mother tells him:
“Do try not to touch the lizards, they’re nasty things, there’s a good boy,”