Why we should never forget Mr Twit and his windowless home

Recently, I was thinking about Mr Twit — one of Road Dahl’s most brilliantly repulsive creations. Amongst other, ahem, unique characteristics, Mr Twit had no appreciation for windows when it came to home design. He took what you might call the glazing equivalent of a glass-half-empty perspective. Mr Twit could only think about windows as a device for “every Tom, Dick or Harry peeping in to see what you’re doing”; he didn’t see them as an opportunity for himself — a way to look out at the world.

Roald Dahl’s description of Mr Twit’s mean attitude and meaner glazing budget has always stuck with me. And I think that when children’s authors write those immortal lines that stay with you well into adulthood, they’re probably worth remembering and reviewing again from time to time. In this case, I’d always taken Mr Twit’s hatred for windows to demonstrate that some people wilfully see only the bad in things, even if the rest of us can see infinite, positive possibilities.

It strikes me that Dahl’s window analogy might have some pretty potent parallels with what’s going on in the world in a whole lot of bits of the world currently. That is, that having spent decades opening up the world, many places and people are now becoming more protectionist and nationalist than they have been for decades — focusing in on number one, looking for scapegoats for their social ills, eschewing outsiders, digging further into the trenches of their own beliefs, and closing down their borders.

I get it — it’s a scary world out there. But it makes me sad to think that our reaction to the huge and awful tragedies reverberating throughout humanity is to turn in on ourselves. And it makes me wonder whether Mr Twit might be an excellent cautionary tale for us all.

Let’s look further at Mr Twit’s unorthodox approach to architecture: windows are large panes of transparent glass that enable scallywags to see into his home. He doesn’t want that. So he doesn’t want windows. Not only does Mr Twit have a somewhat one-sided view of fenestration, he also assumes that all of the people outside his house are scallywags — nosey nuisances trying to peer into his home for their entertainment and his derision. As is so often the case in life, this becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophesy for Mr Twit; treat everyone like they’re out to get you and it might just turn out that way.

Of course, we readers know better than Mr Twit. Not only is he wrong in thinking every other human being is up to no good, he’s also not got the hang of this window thing at all. He doesn’t appreciate that those large panes of transparent glass let light into his home to brighten it up; they could let in natural sunlight to cheer his mood; they could enable Mr Twit to see what’s going on outside; they would fundamentally bring about a connection with the rest of the world — allowing Mr Twit to see everything that’s good and bad and fascinating and downright mundane about it. For that reason, we readers can’t believe that Mr Twit could ever be more than a work of fiction. We can’t imagine that anyone would be that ridiculous. It doesn’t make sense to not want all those things that windows allow — it just doesn’t seem human.

Sometimes, though, I’m afraid we’re all prone to a bit of Mr-Twit-ery. We focus too much on the disadvantages in being open to the rest of the world, in mentally and physically interacting with anything beyond our immediate surrounds. Like Mr Twit, we assume too often that anyone beyond our own walls is our instant enemy. Like Mr Twit, we assume that volunteering a way into our world will lead to instant abuse of that trust by other human beings. And, like Mr Twit, we are prone to thinking that our selflessly volunteering to open ourselves up to the world benefits only others. We cannot see what could possibly be in it for us — just exactly like Mr Twit.

So — when Boris is Brexiting, when Trump’s building walls, when we’re shoring up our borders and exacerbating the distance created by the bit of water between us and our continental neighbours — let’s not forget Mr Twit and his dingy, windowless home. The EU is our gateway to Europe as much as it’s Europe’s gateway to us; the human beings from other parts of the world just quite possibly might not have the ulterior motives The Twits like to imagine; and that bit of water has long been our lifeblood — the channel we’ve worked so hard to traverse we spent years building train tracks under a stormy sea.

As an eight year old reading Roald Dahl, I knew this: most people aren’t Twits. I hope I’m not proved wrong.

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