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Jackie Kay ”Owl” Essay

The faint, almost invisible, line between child and adult, carefree and responsible, becomes more and more blurry and grey the closer you get to it. First, it is said that you reach adulthood and step into the real world, when you confirm your faith in God, but thrusting that threshold yourself, you just know you are not yet an adult. So then, you postpone it until the age of 18. By then you should be starting your career, or at least have an idea of where you are going, and more importantly you are now legally an adult, with the right to vote and take care of others, but also with the hard realities of facing up to your mistakes. Coming to terms with who you are as you grow up and as an adult is not always the easiest thing. The short story “Owl” by Jackie Kay treats exactly this subject, of whom you end out to be, and what things you choose to hold on to in life.

Jackie Kay chooses in her story to make use of the first-person narrator, and this makes it easier as a reader to identify yourself with the main character Anita. The reader reminisces to own childhood memories and feel like they are in close contact with Anita’s feelings, almost as if they were the reader’s own. When Anita tells her story, she does so by starting out in a flashback from her childhood, with the memory that started it all. The time she went on holiday with her parents and Marion and hers, and they first discovered the screeching barn owl, which would become the foundation for their lifelong friendship. This use of flashback gives the reader a more precise conception of who Anita was as a child, and what made her Barn. As most children Barn was selfish and unable to sympathize.

She was not held back by leaving out Sandra when it came to who caused the crowd, and keen neither on giving her an owl-related nickname to include her or even changing her own. When it came to telling white lies to uphold the sacredness of her and Tawny’s new best friendship, she did so without the blink of an eye. As Barn retells the stories of their childhood she leaves little comments, which tells the reader that the pettiness and uncompromising attitude she possessed as a child is no longer with her. She has made a development from child to adult, even though she cannot see it herself. She notices and analyzes, as she retells, the feelings she put Sandra through by excluding her. This also indicates the change she has made from her age of ten until her forty’s; in spite her own lack of recognizing it.

It is later on revealed that the same holiday where Barn and Tawny discovered the barn owl, they also found out that their parents had swapped. This collision of two worlds and confusion over splitting parents keeps coming up in Barns mind. She tells Tawny that she cannot stop thinking about that summer, and at first, one might think that this has to do with the owl that tied their friendship together. However, when looking closer you will realize that her own recent split from a man causes her lingering to this memory. It is briefly brought up by her and Tawny but not really spoken of, which is caused by Barn’s conflicting emotions from her parents split. On one hand, their splitting brought her closer to her best friend and gave her something consistent in her life that she knew would never fail her. On the other, she is scared to be alone, and taking over all the responsibility for herself, becoming an adult. Therefore, she leans on Tawny to be the only trusty thing in her life.

The owl in this story seem to have significant meaning to the friendship between Barn and Tawny, and while the owl does symbolize the friendship and the passage between child and grownup, it holds a deeper and more hidden meaning. It symbolizes the burden they have both been carrying on their shoulders ever since that night where they found out about their parents. They have never talked about it and the ignorance of what happened and insecurity about love that followed, all of which yet unexplained, is a contributor to Barns insecurity about who she is even now in her forty’s.

As they talk about it and decide to move on they both wake up feeling like the weight have been lifted of their shoulders. And this sweet release is exactly what the heron by the Mersey river resembles. The burden flying away, soaring up, up, up in the sky releasing them from their agony, and taking them back to the simplicity of childhood. Therefore, it seems to be the owl that catches them, brings them in while it is yet another bird, the heron, that is bound to set them free.

Tawny’s last comment on how Barn will soon need her wings is Jackie Kay’s way of saying that life is not over just because, you are middle-aged, or you split from your partner or your parents get divorced. Life is only just begun, and I believe that this is the message that Jackie Kay wishes to leave the reader with. You cannot, you must not let the bad things bring you down. Cause if you let them do that then how are supposed to fly?


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