Cloudstreet: Religion and Spirituality |
A Novel by Tim Winton|
“From separate catastrophes, two rural families flee to the city and find themselves sharing a great, breathing, shuddering joint called Cloudstreet, where they begin their lives again from scratch. For twenty years they roister and rankle, laugh and curse until the roof over their heads becomes a home for their hearts.” (Winton, 1991) Tim Winton’s critically acclaimed novel, Cloudstreet is a masterful tale of love, meaning and heartbreaking tragedy that speaks strongly of a post war Australian society that was essentially rebuilding itself after years of political upheaval and financial struggle. Good Morning/Afternoon Ladies and Gentleman. I am a representative of the National English Curriculum board and today I am here to demonstrate to you how Cloudstreet is authentic and believable, and as Marieke Hardy suggests: “It is Australian.
Reading it felt like coming home.” Throughout Cloudstreet, there are numerous concepts that portray the Australian cultural identity; and the theme of religion and spirituality is especially prominent and appealing. The concept of luck, Aboriginal spirituality, and the search for the meaning of life, are all Australian ideas that Winton expertly portrays. Spirituality can be defined as “a concern for that which is unseen or intangible; as opposed to physical or mundane.” (Greenberg, 2008) It encourages a sense of peace and purpose within an individual and promotes a feeling of belonging. Additionally, religion can be defined as “the belief in, and worship of a superhuman controlling power.” (Religion) Both concepts are widely integrated into the core of the novel and are depicted through the Australian notion of luck. Luck, which some would argue has long been etched into the Australian consciousness as a common working class superstition, is, whether they are conscious of it or not, a form of religion for both families. The Pickles family, most notably Sam, rely on the “shifty shadow of God” (p 12) to warn them about future events, while the Lamb’s simple game of “spinning the knife” (p 53) acts as their metaphorical life compass. “The Lucky Country” (Horne, 1964) is a phrase that originated from a book of the same name written in the 1960’s, and since then, has gained widespread popularity and thus, been attached to the Australian culture for a long time. Winton has cleverly examined this historical background to incorporate an accurate facet of the Australian identity into the novel and its characters.
Also related to the concept of luck, is the fact that after Fish drowns, Oriel, once a devoted and “god fearing” Christian, begins to question her faith and the reliability of believing in God. When Fish is resuscitated, but only “some of him comes back”, (p 32) both she and Lester are emotionally forced to abandon God and Christianity and instead, turn to luck, hard work and the idea that “life and death, was all there was,” (p 65) in order to endure their circumstances. This draws on the common “Aussie battler” tradition, of which a working class person overcame challenging situations through perseverance, faith and steadfast determination. In terms of the Australian cultural identity, Winton has again taken an important and recognized historical Australian idea and shaped it to evoke feelings of familiarity and intimacy between the readers and the characters of Cloudstreet.
The frequent appearance of the “Blackfella” is yet another example of how the Australian cultural identity is portrayed through examination of Aboriginal Spirituality. However, in many scenes throughout the novel, the blackfella signifies both Christian and Aboriginal spirituality through allusion and comparison. For example, he is likened to Jesus by walking on water and again when he produces a never ending supply of wine and bread in Quick’s car. This comparison is particularly effective as it symbolises the “coming together” of Christianity and Aboriginality, which was a particularly delicate Australian issue during the time period of the novel, due to Aboriginal marginalisation and the rise of Christian ideals. Essentially, the Blackfella acts as a reminder of the original religion inherent to Australia and its development, during a time when social and political change was overtaking that of its native beliefs. The “Blackfella” also acts as the conscience of the characters when they have lost their way or their family unit is threatened.
This can ultimately be seen when he leads Quick back to Cloudstreet after he runs away to the country, knowing that Quick feels secretly lost without his family, and needs them to feel fully alive. He also persuades Sam not the sell the house and states that “you shouldn’t break a place. Places are strong and important,” (p 406) referring to not only the house and its tragic Aboriginal history, but also to the fragile families who live inside it. In doing so, he ensures that the families stay whole and together, which is an important and dominating religious value for Aboriginality and Christianity, both during the time period of the novel and in our modern Australian society. Consequently, the “Blackfella’s” role in Cloudstreet is a significant contribution to the novel’s relevancy to the Australian cultural identity. The Australian cultural identity is also illustrated in Cloudstreet through the spiritual symbolism and personification of the river, and its connection to the character’s search for the meaning of life. This is particularly significant for Quick Lamb, who, is spiritually linked to the river in a number of ways. The river acts as a place of peace, purpose and belonging for Quick. Connecting with his mother when they go prawning, glowing after fishing in the country, and most importantly, falling in love with Rose Pickles, are the most significant spiritually defining events that Quick experiences while on the river. Through realising just how symbolically important the river is to him, Quick finally understands the true meaning of his life, and gains a feeling of belonging that allows him to finally shed his self-degrading title of “the lost lamb.” (p 310) Australia is a country that values the water. Geographically, we are surrounded by it, with most of our population residing close to the shores.
As a result of this, the water is seen as a common gathering place, from which one cannot easily escape nor regard as irrelevant to the Australian way of life. Winton has taken this idea and incorporated it into Cloudstreet, to emphasise and promote a relevant part of Australian culture. Finally, the river’s spiritual and religious connection to Fish Lamb is perhaps the most important concept of the novel. After Fish drowns and has his soul ripped into two separate pieces (spiritual fish and physical fish), the river that he so desperately longs for, essentially becomes his gateway to the spiritual world; to the place where he belongs. It is not until the end of the novel when Fish is finally free to reunite with the water that he is truly whole again. “I burst into the moon, sun and stars of who I really am. Being Fish Lamb. Perfectly. Always. Everyplace. Me.”(p 424) For many, water in Australia is culturally considered to be the blood of the country; a place of cleansing and rejuvenation. Likewise, for Fish, the river embodies the epitome of the spirit of Australia in the form of life giving water. Although his life was initially taken by the water, it is eventually returned to him when his physical self re-joins his spiritual self.
In conclusion, Winton flawlessly encapsulates the cultural identity and spirit of Australia in Cloudstreet through symbolic representations of luck, Aboriginal spirituality and the search for the meaning of life. The characters’ connection with religion and spirituality resonates strongly with the reader and successfully evokes feelings of belonging and familiarity that confirms Cloudstreet is indeed a classic Australian novel.
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