The reading of belonging in Cloudstreet is one of the more apparent and dominant readings. We as human beings have an innate need to belong, which makes the reading all the more prominent for the reader. For Winton to put such a focus on belonging in his book, he must have struggled with belonging sometime during his own life. Although we are told that as a child he had a close-knit family where everyone belonged, no matter how strange they were. Initially in Cloudstreet, no one belongs anywhere. The Pickles end up in ‘… this great continent of a house … They’re lost.’ (Page 41) The Lambs, who ‘… can’t stay in a town when everything blows up in your face – especially the only miracle that ever happened to you.’ (Page 47) are just as lost, ‘… at the very end of their choices … Number One…’ (Page 47)
As the book progresses, all the characters struggle to find a place of belonging of their own. They all look in different places, Oriel moves into the tent, Lester seems to realise that he belongs with his family, Quick leaves, Rose becomes anorexic and dreams of escaping, Dolly becomes an alcoholic and has numerous love affairs, and Sam gambles and tries to commit suicide. Fish knows he belongs in the water, with the water, which represents his other half, the half whom he has longed to join since the accident. Fish’s search for the water represents the other members of the Lamb-Pickles family searching for their place of belonging.
By Oriel moving into the tent, she is acknowledging that the house is ‘saying to her: wait, wait.’ (Page 134) The house is telling her to wait for belonging and ‘Oriel wasn’t the sort to argue with a living breathing house.’ (Page 134) Lester knows, or at least realises, where he belongs – with his family. ‘The kids are all we’ve got; they’re what we are.’ (Page 151) He seems to understand though that everyone else has to find his or her place of belonging in this world. He believes in responsibility, paying debts, if you owe something then that’s part of your belonging. ‘We owe him things, Quick. We got a debt … Don’t you forget about Fish, boy. Not as long as you live, or your life won’t have been worth livin.’ (Page 94)
Quick does not feel that he belongs with his family at Cloudstreet and ‘… he wonders if maybe it’s a banishment, his quiet punishment for the Fish thing’ (Page 60). So he leaves, runs away from his life, to try to find his place of belonging. ‘But Quick was gone’ (Oriel – Page 145) He sends a postcard with no commitments, ‘I’m alright, it says, Love Quick … The postmark is smudgy.’ (Page 187)
When Rose becomes anorexic she feels in control of life, she can imagine escaping, and would ‘lie on her bed planning ways of escape’ (Page 141). Rose takes on her mothers role and ‘learnt to cook, wash the laundry and to clean the house’ (Page 141) and when Dolly noticed the anorexia ‘Rose got thinner every day … It pleased her somehow to know that it annoyed the old girl.’ (Page 143) Dolly imagines Rose saying ‘here I am, young and clean and sweet and I’m doing your jobs, old girl, and I’ll die from it and you’ll suffer.’ (Page 154) Nevertheless, in a way, Rose does find a way of escape – her job at Bairds provides her with a whole new world. ‘Rose ploughs through every day with a crazy happiness … She puts on a bit of flesh. She eats. The world looks different.’ (Page 183) Dolly needs love to belong; she needs to feel wanted.
She tries to escape like Rose by becoming and alcoholic ‘… she had the feeling she could just lie down … and the whole world, the complete fucking mess, would just evaporate. She was drunk. She was stinking putrid drunk and she didn’t care…’ (Page 123) Dolly also had an insatiable desire for sex, which made her feel young, beautiful and wanted. ‘Now and then she’d find herself out the back lane against the fence with some sweetmouthed bloke whose name she could almost remember, a cove who wouldn’t mind if she kept talking while he ran his hands about. She’d press his head to her and feel how young she was, how hungry they were for her.’ (Page 153)
Through her affairs, Dolly found ‘she had a happy, dark world to live in.’ (Page 153) Sam is a gambler. When he is winning he feels great – Dolly loves him, which is where he wants to belong, in Dolly’s love. He hates disappointing her, so when he realises that he has disappointed her to the point of her having a proper affair with another man, he tries to commit suicide. ‘But this, this losing hurts. The surprise of it, the absolute shock of it. Not to have her … doing all that, but for it to hurt like this. That’s the nasty part … He loves his wife.’ (Page 168)
Fish, in his search for the water, in his quest to be whole again, represents the other character’s journeys to find their place of belonging. As Fish gets nearer to his belonging, so do all the characters, and when Fish dies and is reunited with his other half everyone in Cloudstreet also finds their place of belonging. ‘Will you look at us by the river! The whole restless mob of us … in a good world in the midst of our living … Twenty years, they all say … a whole group, an earthly vision. Because, look, even the missing are there, the gone and taken are with them in the shade pools of the peppermints by the beautiful, the beautiful the river.’ (Pages 1-2)
The theme of belonging is not just from the text itself; it also comes from our own context as readers and from Winton’s context as the author. Readings are constructed by us, and by Winton. Nothing but our own context can dictate how, or what we read into a book. This must be remembered when looking at the different readings in, or more correctly – of – Cloudstreet.