During World War II, women did not play any significant role in the allies’ efforts or victory. This statement could not be further from the truth, as in the novel Jackdaws written by Ken Follett, the story starts with Major Felicity, the protagonist, also known as Flick fails to break into the German-occupied Grand Chateau in France with the goal of letting the captured French resistance members free.
After which, she had no other choice than to form an all-women team named the Jackdaws, as only women were allowed inside the Chateau for cleaning purposes. Even though there is a German intelligence officer, Colonel Dieter Franck, on Flick’s tail, she and her team will sneak into the Chateau as maids and successfully resist the German powers in France, eventually driving them out of the Chateau and releasing all French resistance prisoners from custody in the process.
Ken Follett is very effective in showing an accurate representation of the events during the World War II and the French Resistance, by showing a realistic way of life for all characters, with the realistic passing of time in the novel, and by showing an accurate morale and behavior of main characters which helps in showing the reader a more detailed setting.
During World War II, the ambitions among front-line soldiers and officers were usually very strong. Most, if not all of the characters portrayed in the novel were not displayed as cowards. Flick was one of the bravest women in her country, so much so that her bravery would put men to shame. When asked to potentially put her life on the line for the British “[Flick] had said yes without thinking much.
There was a war on, and all the boys she had been at Oxford with were risking their lives every day, so why shouldn’t she do the same?” (Follett 5). By joining the SOE (Special Operations Executive), she proves how the ambitions of a woman, often overlooked in society, can match and even surpass the ones of a man. Outside of the book, in real life, many women had similar ambitions to Flick during World War II.
A great example of such an ambitious personality would be Lucie Aubrac, one of the founders of the French Resistance, was brave enough to put her life on the line for the better of her entire country:
Lucie became one of the earliest members of the French Resistance. Even as she lived a dutiful life as wife, mother, and teacher, Lucie was also an underground freedom fighter, helping to publish the journal Libération, delivering packages, distributing propaganda, and helping imprisoned resisters escape. (Pruitt)
Lucie’s ambitions, traits of bravery, and unselfishness show how she and Flick have very much in common as they are both doing this for their respective countries, not just for themselves. German intelligence officer Colonel Dieter Frank is also shown as a very ambitious character as he is very determined to take down Flick and her team. Dieter’s job on the front lines was:
To identify key communications targets and assess the ability of the Resistance to attack them. In the last few months, from his base in Paris, he had ranged all over northern France, barking at sleepy sentries and putting the fear of God into lazy captains, tightening up security at railway signal boxes, train sheds, vehicle parks, and airfield control towers. (Follett 12)
Dieter Franck’s ambitions are to do anything possible for any French resistance members to not get any messages back from France via groups like the M15 and the SOE. Flick and Franck are both different characters but will do anything to have their side win. The ambitions of a front-line officer are always as strong as can be, and it shows how the dire surroundings and setting can affect the attitude of people in them. In this way, Ken Follett effectively conveys an accurate representation of a realistic environment.
On top of the grand ambitions and behaviors of the officers, time was also very precious; Flick had minimal time to execute her plan to take back the German-occupied Chateau. The majority of the book takes place between May 28, 1944, and June 6, 1944. The number of events that took place between those dates is very realistic. From the initial bombing of the Chateau to the taking over of the Chateau by the Jackdaws. Follet effectively portrays how time passes through the novel, using dates after certain events to inform the reader.
“THE FIRST DAY Sunday, May 28, 1944” and “THE SIXTH DAY Friday, June 2, 1944” are just some examples throughout the book where Follett uses dates to show the passing of time (Follett 2, 251). It may seem like a lot of events took place during such a short amount of time, but in real life, during the World War II, operations such as the Second Battle of Kharkov, Operation Torch, the Battle of Berlin, and the Battle of Dunkirk are just some examples of short battles and operations that made a huge impact on the war as a whole (“World War”).
Moreover, throughout the novel, Follett also emphasizes the time of day of any specific event. For example, “Hispano-Suiza pulled up at midday outside the Hotel Frankfort”, “‘meeting a plane at a quarter to midnight.'”, and “DIETER’S MIGRAINE BEGAN shortly after midnight” (Follett 71; 44; 394). Follett emphasizes the time of day as time is very important and precious to all characters throughout the book. The realistic passing of time shows how effective Ken Follet is at displaying an accurate representation of World War II.
The morale and behavior shown among all main characters are very similar to the officers and soldiers who had partaken in World War II. The British had a powerful but secretive approach to things, creating multiple secret organizations such as the M15 and the SOE to intercept German messages using radio devices (“M15”; “The Secret British”).
Flick’s morale among all other officers was the greatest, “This was not the first time [Flick] had felt close to death. She had learned to live with the threat and manage her fear”, not being afraid of death and being part of the SOE makes her very similar to people like Noor Inayat Khan and Vera Atkins of the SOE. They were appointed as officers due to their secretive and silent approach to operations.
Officers like Vera Atkins were a very big reason the British ended up winning the war, just like how Flick was a very big reason the Germans fled the Grand Chateau. On the other side of things, the Germans had a more ravenous and impulsive way of thinking as the main reason for Adolf Hitler to start World War II was to take revenge for their loss of the first World War (“Revenge”). Dieter Franck’s behavior was much like Hitler’s as well. When Diana–a member of the Jackdaws–fires a gun at Dieter’s soldiers, he instantly:
Seizes Diana’s right forearm with both his hands and bangs her wrist on the edge of the table. She screams with pain…He yanks her out of her chair, throws her face down on the carpet, and falls on her with both knees in the small of her back. He pulls her hands behind her back and handcuffs her, ignoring the screams of pain she gives as he jerks her injured wrist (Follett 336; 337).
The setting displayed in a book can severely impact its effect on the reader. While Dieter may be doing the right thing by arresting Diana, the impulsive and ravenous behavior of German officers shows the realistic behavior of a German. The novel does a very effective job of accurately portraying the behaviors and morals of characters to their real-life counterparts, which also aids in representing an accurate setting.
Upon bringing together the demonstration of realistic ambitions for all characters, the realistic passing of time in the novel, and by showing the realistic morals and behaviors of the characters, the author Ken Follet does a great job in demonstrating an accurate and well-observed representation of World War II and the French Resistance. The setting portrayed in the novel relates very well to the authentic French Resistance during World War II, which makes very effective and knowledgeable use of the setting by Ken Follet.