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The short story by Fay Weldon is about a small family of three, the mother Shirley and her daughters Gracey and Lisa, their life on the small island Tasmania and it is about their attempt to achieve happiness.
In the beginning of the story we learn, that the girls Gracey and Lisa doesn’t wear shoes or even new clothes, because their mother believes, that their feet will grow better without shoes confining them, and that they shouldn’t spend their money on new clothes, as the well-worn clothes show it of the girls’ pretty bodies.
We learn that Gracey is the prettier and elder one of the two girls.
The family doesn’t have a lot of money, as the girls’ father has left them to start a new life on the mainland. He finally had finally had enough when Shirley cheated on him. He had been the family’s main income, as Shirley doesn’t work.
The father, having started a new family on the mainland, doesn’t visit much nor is he generous in paying alimony.
When the girls don’t have a father figure, it is Shirley’s responsibility to raise the girls. Shirley wants to raise them to be optimistic and she tries to make sure, that they don’t suffer from her mistakes, in regard to their ‘dad’.
Shirley feels that Tasmania is paradise and that it will always protect her and the girls, but Gracey is skeptic; she’s seen how hard and inhumane the pretty island can be.
Gracey’s guitar and dance lessons, is something Shirley can scrape money together for, but the family doesn’t have a freezer or a car, and their house was full of gabs and holes being left unfixed.
As time goes on, Shirley gets older and so does her friends, while they have rich husbands and sophisticated lives, Shirley keeps on being free-spirited and sort of stranded in her glory days, where everyone was free. Shirley is and will always be a hippie.
Money from the girls’ estranged father comes few and far in between, Shirley still doesn’t have a job, so the state steps in. Shirley then tells the girls, that the universe is kind and helpful, she tells them to work hard, so that they can have the opportunity to help others in the future.
So Lisa starts studying hard and Gracey works hard with her dance and guitar, so that time and money isn’t wasted.
Shirley has a one night stand with her best friend’s husband, and is, after all the awkwardness has subsided, shut out of the society. Shirley tells her girls, that they should see life as love, touching and closeness, and that sex is a part of life and nothing to be ashamed of.
Gracey is a good singer and Shirley makes it a point to show her of, to everyone in Hobart, by hosting a simple Sunday brunch, which means vegetable soup, bacon and beans. Gracey suspects a pattern or maybe more of a schedule, which the community seems to have made, so that they know when to show up. And only the wives came, as the men are busy people.
Gracey gets a lot of praise, but her younger sister Lisa doesn’t seem jealous, she just keeps on struggling with piano lessons, so that she will be able to fit in with Shirley’s guitar and Gracey’s voice. The folk song they play fit Gracey’s voice, as they are pure, full of hope, life and love, but with an underlying hint of melancholy.
Gracey is suddenly on the edge between childhood and adolescence, she is in a vulnerable state and Shirley suddenly worries about boys and whether there is anyone good enough for her daughter.
Shirley also feels, that she’s taught her girls to be self-reliant – to go after what they want.
As autumn comes, so does a growth spurt Gracey’s feet and they go from a size 5 to a 7.
Autumns golden leaves are expected to blow around the island, with the force of the Roaring Forties, soon.
There is an end-of-term cabaret on the school, and an official from the mainland is going to there. Shirley sees it as the perfect chance for Gracey to show her talent. The four different costumes wouldn’t be difficult; Shirley can just make them herself. The four different shoes, however is another story entirely because of Gracey’s very new size means new shoes and new shoes mean spending money, which Shirley doesn’t have.
Shirley and Lisa cries, but once again it is Gracey, who is brave and realistic, as she tries to comfort her mother and sister. Shirley gets the idea that they should work for the money, at the Hobart Marked.
Shirley plays her guitar, Gracey sings and Lisa held the sheets. They play the song: “Oh, Mary Don’t You Cry Any More”. Gracey’s young voice doesn’t have any power against the wind; just as charming and miraculous as it was I the family room, just as shrill and noiseless is it on the street. Nobody can hear her, but even if they could they just walk on by, embarrassed or appalled by their weak performance.
The cold hard winter winds arrives and shoots down their already weak performance, but doing so saves Gracey by forcing the words of their sad song back into her mouth, and she finally gets to cry.
Shirley being the optimistic person she is tells the girls, that they could have done it if not for the wind, but Gracey is fully aware of how wrong her mother is.
As we read Shirley was a hippie and her way of looking at things was a bit too optimistic, like she’s being too happy so that she won’t have to face things. And that’s where I think we should find the theme of this story; around Shirley, as she is what this story revolves around – her and her daughters, not her daughters and her. I think the theme is ‘Broken Dreams’ and I think that because of Shirley’s entire view on the world is a dream, a dream she tries to get her daughters to see too. And I think, that maybe what is really important in this story is, that if Shirley had stopped trying to find the ‘perfect’ happiness, then maybe she could have ended the story being happy with her girls.