How is your personal interpretation of Cloudstreet governed by its treatment of enduring values? Cloudstreet, a sprawling saga composed by Tim Winton, explores the enduring values of reconciliation, hope and the inevitable unity of family that forms the basis for our existence. Through the overarching techniques of context and the use of the Australian vernacular, Winton presents his nostalgia for the traditional Australian life, as well as encouraging the responder to consider universal issues which lie at the core of human experience, such as the need to treat others equally.
By passing the Pickles and the Lambs through a series of trials and tribulations, in accordance with the strength of sagaic novels, Winton examines important ideas and philosophies about humankind. Through the examination of pivotal moments within the text, such as Fish’s near drowning in the river, the responder is able to gain their interpretation of the book and its treatment of the universal values of reconciliation, hope and family unity.
Cloudstreet’s treatment of the theme of reconciliation highlights the need for people to find reconciliation within their existences, hence showing individual reconciliation with the forces of existence to be a central thematic concern. In Cloudstreet, this idea is expressed through Sam’s meeting with the blackfella after he returns from voting. While Sam implements classic Australian colloquialisms in his complaints about “some rich bastard”, he simultaneously plots to “sell the house for some real money”.
This use of irony highlights Sam’s (symbolising the typical white man) ignorance of the fortune which he holds and which he considers to be mainstream. As a result, Sam is portrayed as a representative of white ignorance, and while he seems to be an average Australian, Winton portrays him to be a symptom of what is wrong with Australia as, while Sam is able to sense the “otherworldliness” of the blackfella, he perseveres with his callous plans to exploit home and to be disconnected from his spiritual existence.
This idea is further exemplified through Sam’s gesture of offering a cigarette to the blackfella. The symbolism in this image presents Sam as the epitome of all that the class that he represents is able to provide. Reconciliation provides the basis for the emergent and disturbing spirituality of the house. The origins of the horror and ominous spirituality that exudes from the house lies in the misguided and ignorant need to socialise Aboriginals, evidenced in the horrendous treatment of the
Aboriginal girls in the house that emerges from this ignorant misunderstanding. Hence, through the metaphor of Sam, Winton comments upon contemporary social and political problems and particularly the culture of denial within Australian culture at the time. This idea of the need for reconciliation is also expressed through the idea of family. The importance of family is another consistent theme throughout the novel. In Debts, Winton explores the instinctive force that drives members of a family to protect one another, despite all previous conflict.
This is evidenced through Lester and Quick’s feelings of responsibility for Fish, which, particularly in the case of Quick, is driven by the guilt of Fish’s near drowning. As Lester says, “ We owe him things…don’t forget Fish…don’t pretend to Fish. ” The desperate, beseeching tone represents his instinctive desire to help Fish, in order to find reconciliation within himself. This idea is further expressed in “Ghostly sensations”, where Rose supports Sam during his desperate attempt at suicide.
Despite Rose’s feelings towards her father’s burden on the family, which Sam himself recongises, “I’m a weak stupid bastard. ” Rose assumes responsibility and protects her father. This is expressed through the motherly image of “She grabbed his head and pulled it to her breast. ” The characters demonstrate the almost primeval urge that drives family members to protect one another, effectively communicated through Winton’s use of language.
Thus, Winton shows his nostalgia for earlier times, when these values were at the core of Australian society. The theme of hope in Cloudstreet is expressed primarily through the Pickles’ stringent belief in the presence of the “shifty shadow”. The motif of the shifty shadow runs throughout the novel, presenting itself as a satirisation of the ideas of conventional religion and its affiliated dogma, and establishes a means by which characters such as Sam and Rose justify the unfathomable forces which govern their lives.
The imagery of the “spinning knife”, which is used to decide whether the Lambs will start a shop or who is washing up, presents the idea that, for these characters, religion is more significant as a social context than as any element of a resolution of faith. The dislocation that the Pickles and the Lambs feel from the idea of God echoes Winton’s view that the contemporary working class could not relate to Christian ideals because of their own lack of fortune.
Sam’s own nterpretation of the shifty shadow reflects pagan views of the world, in that he maintains a respect for rituals that is fundamental to all societies. “You stay right there till the shadow’s fallen across whoever’s lucky or unlucky enough, and then when it’s all over, you go out and get on with your business. ” The colloquial tone of this sentence emphasises to the responder that, despite his working class background, there are ritualistic ideas bred into him and which he will not contravene.
As such, Cloudstreet’s treatment of the theme of the shifty shadow examines spirituality as well as the unknowable. Cloudstreet’s treatment of the values of individual reconciliation, the importance of family and hope reflects its contextual situation, that of late 20th century Australia. Moreover, it reflects Winton’s desperate longing for an era of post war Australia. Through a close examination of the text, the responder gains insight into the central and enduring values of Winton’s society.
Courtney from Study Moose
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