Previously I looked at Jack’s origins and all his clever ideas for running away.
Jack the captain
Being the oldest and most responsible Jack is quickly declared captain of the little group. The children obey him without question and, in good nature but without mockery, salute and say aye aye, sir when he issues orders.
The Arnolds’ father is actually called Captain John Arnold, so it is almost as if Jack (especially with Jack being a common nickname for John) is considered a father figure to the other children.
As above he has lots of clever ideas to help them survive and he instructs the other children in how to build willow house, how to best take care of the hens, how to skin fish and so on.
He chivvies them on when the other children, particularly Nora, are being lazy and can be hard on them when he needs to be. He comes down hard on Nora when she doesn’t check the hen-yard properly and allows the hens to escape, as he knows she just hasn’t done her job properly.
“Nora, what do you mean by doing your job as badly as that? Didn’t I tell you this morning that you were to look carefully round the fence each time the hens were fed to make sure it was safe? And now, the very first time, you let the hens escape! I’m ashamed of you!”
“I shall talk to you how I like. I’m the captain here, and you’ve got to do as you’re told. If one of us is careless we all suffer, and I won’t have that! Stop crying, I tell you, and help to look for the hens.”
Mike suggests that Nora be relieved of that duty if she cannot be trusted but Jack disagrees, and says that Nora will have learnt her lesson now and will be extra conscientious in future. And he is right.
“Had I better see to the hens each day, do you think, instead of Nora?” Mike asked Jack. But Jack shook his head.
“No,” he said. “That’s Nora’s job – and you’ll see, she’ll do it splendidly now.”
Jack is the wisest of the group, I always think. He is a little older than the others of course and has clearly been self-sufficient for a while.
Although it’s quite sad, one of my favourite things Jack says is that the Arnolds have suffered much more than he has as he has never know better but they remember the wonderful life they had with their parents.
“You are much worse off than I am. I have never had anything nice, so I don’t miss it. But you have had everything you wanted, and now it is all taken away from you.”
I always think that Jack is very brave in the end to tell the Arnolds where the children are. Of course it’s the right thing to do, he cares for the other children and knows how much they miss their parents. He also knows that the island life is hard on them in the winter. However, he must also know that by reuniting the Arnold parents with their children that their time on the island will end. He never so much as considers not doing the right thing, though. He never thinks about the consequences for himself, despite not knowing that he will be taken in by the Arnolds.
I don’t know if anything else would happen to him; there are of course people searching for the children but it seems to be mostly the Arnold children. Obviously by the end of the book we know it is because their parents have returned, but before then we and the children assume it is because Aunt Harriet and Uncle Henry have reported them missing. I don’t think anyone is looking for Jack on his own, but because he is with the others or knows where they are. He could reasonably be worried about getting into trouble from the police for running away and evading capture/arrest etc.
Jack in the later books
From The Secret of Spiggy Holes onwards Jack is a part of the Arnold family and attends the same boarding school as Mike. A very short summary of the previous book includes the information that Jack has been taken in by the Arnolds, and having lived with the children for months he fits in perfectly with them. I do wonder how well he does at school, though, as he probably hadn’t been in a very long time!
The Arnold parents are absent of the majority of the remaining four books of the series, necessary for the children to have their adventures, but from what we can see Jack is treated the same as the other children.
He is shown hugging Mrs Arnold twice in The Secret Mountain. Once when they all kiss and hug before the adults fly off at the start of the book, and then when they are reunited in the mountain. His backstory isn’t mentioned at the beginning of the book but it comes up at the time of the second hug.
Mike, Peggy and Nora were Mrs Arnold’s own children, though she counted Jack as hers too, because he had once helped the other when they were in great trouble. Jack stared at Captain and Mrs Arnold in joy. He flung his arms round Mrs Arnold, for he was very fond of her.
Jack remains the children’s captain when embroiled in adventures but he and Mike are on more of an even footing as the boys of the family, and of course both have to listen to Ranni and Pilescu. Jack takes charge a little more than Mike but he’s no longer having to provide for everyone or ensure their survival.
Jack is at his most interesting in the first book, in later books he blends in more. In fact, by The Secret Mountain you could be forgiven for forgetting his origins, though as above they are briefly mentioned and a sentence or two reminds us of this fact at the beginning of both The Secret of Killimooin and The Secret of Moon Castle. Prince Paul is the newest addition to the group in that book and Jack is just a regular member of the Arnold family. Below E.H. Davie’s The Secret of Spiggy Holes illustrations show him dressed in the same clothes as Mike.
And that, in a very large and lengthy nutshell, is Jack Arnold.