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Workshop 09: Advanced English Module B “Critical study of a text”

The text is Cloudstreet by Tim Winton: “Following the twenty-year saga of two unfortunate families living in the same house – the Pickles and the Lambs – the book is a comment on communities (and modern Australia’s apparent lack of them) and family values, among other things. It also reflects on the important political and social issues of the time, like reconciliation and the development occurring in Perth. The two families, initially hostile to each other, eventually form relationships with each other.”

THE ESSAY

2003 HSC

Compose an argument for or against the topic:

“That every text has its use-by date”

Consider your prescribed text’s ideas, language and form and its reception in different contexts.

Texts were written by composers to get across themes for a particular audience and society in time. Some themes are irrelevant in today’s society and therefore have a use-by date. Cloudstreet however does not have a use-by because it captures and treasures a period of time of which values of the post-world war era are still relevant today. The values such as family, love, luck, spirituality, acceptance are universal topic that does not have a use-by date. They help shape an individual’s meaning and viewpoint however it has been altered by the world we live in. . The novel is also a satire – and often hilarious critique of social behaviour and situations, sometimes deriving from bitterness and resentment (for example, in the working-class perspective of the well-to-do, but more often indulgent of human frailty.

Winton upholds the family as the source of love on earth and as a refuge from the difficulties of life. The Lambs are a team with Oriel as a ‘Sergent-major’ and her determination to defeat and destroy the opposition is nothing short of all-out war. Significantly, Oriel’s ‘price war’ is a metaphor for the Korean War and this disintegrates the Clay family. It is the guilt of causing family breakdown or losing a family member as she lost her half brother Bluey that we are affected enough to value family. Inevitably, war seeks to divide and conquer, and whether the war is personal (like Oriel’s) or global (like the World Wars or the current Iraq War), people are left in pieces, and have to find the most important pieces to put together again to get on with life. Oriel is also the breadwinner of the family with her successful shop and this is ‘the rupturing of the patriarchal structure where traditionally the men were the breadwinner but in this case which is of the minority today, Lester is weak, however he is at the heart of the family.

The Pickles in contrast to the Lambs are individuals and neither Sam nor Dolly perform the roles in the family traditionally expected and despair drives Sam to attempt suicide and his confession highlights the need for family “ You can bear it when you lose your looks, your teeth, your youth. But Jesus Christ when your family goes aft it it’s more than a man can bear.” Quick and Rose are bitter about their family relationships. They both seek identity outside of the family and away from the ‘place’ of Cloudstreet.

Quick ‘goes bush’ while Rose attempts to change her social class. Her eating disorder mirrors her emotional decline as she psychologically and physically withers: “I just begin to disappear.” Quick’s time in the wilderness allows him to ‘see’ in a seemingly biblical type of vision that he needs to be reunited with family and home. Both experience a journey of awakening and redemption.

Winton also ruptures the stereotype of women being the passive recipients of sex. Dolly uses sex as her currency (she gets what she wants through sex), Rose pursues Quick and “love rattles the wallpapers and darkness recedes into itself a fraction when they shout exultant into each other’s mouth.” Oriel wields power by removing herself from the marital bed and moving to the tent.

The belief system of the Pickles family is of luck which runs through the generations from Merv, “He believed in luck the old man, though he was careful never to say the word. He called it the shifty shadow of God to Sam who believed in Lady Luck and lastly” Rose had never felt a shadow like this before.” Sam is a gambler who every week goes and gambles on horse, betting on which horse will win which in itself is based on luck. Sometimes you lose, and sometimes you win “Like I’m winnin. Luck. It’s like a light shining on you. You can feel it”. Gambling is still relevant in society today and each year people go down to the local TAB store to bet on which horse will win. The Lamb family belief system differs from the Pickles “that woman didn’t believe in bad luck the way Dolly did” and they believe in the knife (which never lies) after Fish’s accident “the disappointment has been too much.” Both beliefs are pagan.

The recurring motif of the black man who appears at key moments of the text helps the novelist emphasise the importance of family unity and personal relationship to land and place. He prods their consciousness about what should be recognised as important. Unlike the ghost trapped in the library, the black man moves freely through time and space, sustaining, advising and guiding members of the household as they stray from home into danger. He urges the family to stay together and advises Sam not to sell the house, ‘You shouldn’t break a place. Places are strong, important …Too many places busted.’ He has deep spiritual significance and his depiction is heavy with religious symbolism. He is depicted as a god-like figure appearing as if he is ‘walking on water’ as he guides Quick back to his home. He tells Quick to leave his project home and ‘Go home … This isn’t your home. Go home to your home mate’. He feeds Quick and brings him back home, flies through the air around Fish, and often appears in the places where life and death meet.

.

Fish is able to communicate with the sprits of the house. The strong links that Fish has with spiritual forces are emphasised by duality of his character Two sides of his identity were split asunder by his mother determination that he would not drown. His accident forges the bond he as with water and his other self. The physical Fish is retarded and today there are inadequate facilities for these kind of people. The spiritual fish speak to him and the water symbolises cleansing. Fish is therefore a saviour, whose final release comes after a life of sacrifice to bring the families together. His death is Christ-like in his effect to others-especially that his death opens the way for Oriel to return to the family and the place where she belongs and release Quick’s twenty years of crushing guilt.

Acceptance is a theme which is still relevant today. Rose always hated her mother “You stole from me. My childhood, my innocence, my trust. You were always a hateful bitch. A drunken slut.” However after Dolly told her “You should never trust a woman/It’s the women I hate” because she was a product of incest “My mother was my grandmother,. My father was my grandfather”, Rose only starts to accept her. “Oh mum. You never told me. You never ever said.”. Dolly’s capacity to learn to love Rose also enables Dolly to speak and connect with Oriel, and finally to help Oriel pack up her ten and move back to the house after she loses their faith in the Christian God when Fish drowns and returns incomplete.

Cloudstreet captures the moment of the post-war era and the values which are as family, love, luck, spirituality, acceptance which were relevant in that point in time are still very relevant and relatable in today’s society.

That is the raw essay. Did it manage to synthesise personal and critical responses? Or has it relied on “a superficial grasp of theories or readings, without clear evidence that the information has been internalised or linked to a personal reflection on the text”? Those are typical examiners’ comments.  In criteria terms, does this essay show:

  • a sophisticated critical reflection on the ways in which context shapes interpretation?
  • sophisticated understanding of ideas in the text supported by textual analysis?
  • a sophisticated personal response using language appropriate to audience, purpose and form?

If so, welcome to Band 6 or the top of Band 5 (17-20/20)! If the above are “effective” rather than “sophisticated”, then go down one band at least (13-16/20).  If it is “sound” get 9-12/20. After that you don’t want to know…

Unfortunately this essay starts badly. That first paragraph is a mess. Also it goes on to focus on “the text’s ideas” at the expense of “language and form and its reception in different contexts”, though it does have that in mind. In improving the essay, I can lift it as much as two or three marks, but I can’t address detail in the missing elements as I don’t have a copy of the text to refer to, merely a memory of it some four years old. I will attempt to use the material the student — who has done his homework — gives me to “bend” the essay in the right direction.

WORKING ON THE ESSAY

The introduction

Texts emerge in particular contexts of time, place and culture. When a text is distant from us some issues embodied in it, or its form and language, may seem strange and irrelevant to responders today and therefore may be said to have a use-by date. Tim Winton’s Australian novel Cloudstreet (1991) however does not yet have a use-by because it captures and treasures a period of time whose language and values are still relevant today. Some of these values such as family, love, luck, spirituality, acceptance are universal and do not have a use-by date. They help shape an individual’s meaning and viewpoint however it has been altered by the world we live in. Cloudstreet is also a satire, an often hilarious critique of social behaviour and situations, sometimes deriving from bitterness and resentment but more often indulgent of human frailty.

Because Cloudstreet is Australian and comparatively recent, there have not been so many varying readings as one may find for Shakespeare or Emily Bronte, for example. This makes the student’s task that much harder. However, there are different readings nonetheless along post-colonial, religious, political and feminist lines. This student needs to explore this aspect more, but also when doing that he needs to be careful not to lose sight of his own preferred reading. As a 17-18 year-old of Chinese background from around the Indonesian archipelago in 2007 Australia, what has struck him most about the novel? He needn’t get personal about that in his answer, but it is an interesting perspective nonetheless against which to test these other readings.

The introduction is now better, but the question is does the body of the essay deliver what the introduction promises? If it doesn’t — and to a degree this is the case — the essay has shot itself down.

The body as it is

Winton upholds the family as the source of love on earth and as a refuge from the difficulties of life. The Lambs are a team with Oriel as a ‘Sergent-major’ and her determination to defeat and destroy the opposition is nothing short of all-out war. Significantly, Oriel’s ‘price war’ is a metaphor for the Korean War and this disintegrates the Clay family. It is the guilt of causing family breakdown or losing a family member as she lost her half brother Bluey that we are affected enough to value family. Inevitably, war seeks to divide and conquer, and whether the war is personal (like Oriel’s) or global (like the World Wars or the current Iraq War), people are left in pieces, and have to find the most important pieces to put together again to get on with life. Oriel is also the breadwinner of the family with her successful shop and this is ‘the rupturing of the patriarchal structure where traditionally the men were the breadwinner but in this case which is of the minority today, Lester is weak, however he is at the heart of the family.

The first paragraph was about “family” — an ideas/issues emphasis.

The Pickles in contrast to the Lambs are individuals and neither Sam nor Dolly perform the roles in the family traditionally expected and despair drives Sam to attempt suicide and his confession highlights the need for family “ You can bear it when you lose your looks, your teeth, your youth. But Jesus Christ when your family goes aft it it’s more than a man can bear.” Quick and Rose are bitter about their family relationships. They both seek identity outside of the family and away from the ‘place’ of Cloudstreet.

The second paragraph continues that idea in relation to other characters.

Quick ‘goes bush’ while Rose attempts to change her social class. Her eating disorder mirrors her emotional decline as she psychologically and physically withers: “I just begin to disappear.” Quick’s time in the wilderness allows him to ‘see’ in a seemingly biblical type of vision that he needs to be reunited with family and home. Both experience a journey of awakening and redemption.

The third paragraph raises the idea of social class, but in a somewhat narrative rather than analytical way. Other (irrelevant?) issues are introduced too.

Winton also ruptures the stereotype of women being the passive recipients of sex. Dolly uses sex as her currency (she gets what she wants through sex), Rose pursues Quick and “love rattles the wallpapers and darkness recedes into itself a fraction when they shout exultant into each other’s mouth.” Oriel wields power by removing herself from the marital bed and moving to the tent.

The fourth paragraph is about gender roles, but in a fairly narrow way.

The belief system of the Pickles family is of luck which runs through the generations from Merv, “He believed in luck the old man, though he was careful never to say the word. He called it the shifty shadow of God to Sam who believed in Lady Luck and lastly” Rose had never felt a shadow like this before.” Sam is a gambler who every week goes and gambles on horse, betting on which horse will win which in itself is based on luck. Sometimes you lose, and sometimes you win “Like I’m winnin. Luck. It’s like a light shining on you. You can feel it”. Gambling is still relevant in society today and each year people go down to the local TAB store to bet on which horse will win. The Lamb family belief system differs from the Pickles “that woman didn’t believe in bad luck the way Dolly did” and they believe in the knife (which never lies) after Fish’s accident “the disappointment has been too much.” Both beliefs are pagan.

The fifth paragraph deals with the idea of luck.

The recurring motif of the black man who appears at key moments of the text helps the novelist emphasise the importance of family unity and personal relationship to land and place. He prods their consciousness about what should be recognised as important. Unlike the ghost trapped in the library, the black man moves freely through time and space, sustaining, advising and guiding members of the household as they stray from home into danger. He urges the family to stay together and advises Sam not to sell the house, ‘You shouldn’t break a place. Places are strong, important …Too many places busted.’ He has deep spiritual significance and his depiction is heavy with religious symbolism. He is depicted as a god-like figure appearing as if he is ‘walking on water’ as he guides Quick back to his home. He tells Quick to leave his project home and ‘Go home … This isn’t your home. Go home to your home mate’. He feeds Quick and brings him back home, flies through the air around Fish, and often appears in the places where life and death meet.

The sixth paragraph introduces a textual element at last, the recurring motif. It links this to several issues.

Fish is able to communicate with the sprits of the house. The strong links that Fish has with spiritual forces are emphasised by duality of his character Two sides of his identity were split asunder by his mother determination that he would not drown. His accident forges the bond he as with water and his other self. The physical Fish is retarded and today there are inadequate facilities for these kind of people. The spiritual fish speak to him and the water symbolises cleansing. Fish is therefore a saviour, whose final release comes after a life of sacrifice to bring the families together. His death is Christ-like in his effect to others-especially that his death opens the way for Oriel to return to the family and the place where she belongs and release Quick’s twenty years of crushing guilt.

The seventh paragraph focuses on one character seen as a Christ figure. The Christ figure archetype is also a textual element.

Acceptance is a theme which is still relevant today. Rose always hated her mother “You stole from me. My childhood, my innocence, my trust. You were always a hateful bitch. A drunken slut.” However after Dolly told her “You should never trust a woman/It’s the women I hate” because she was a product of incest “My mother was my grandmother,. My father was my grandfather”, Rose only starts to accept her. “Oh mum. You never told me. You never ever said.”. Dolly’s capacity to learn to love Rose also enables Dolly to speak and connect with Oriel, and finally to help Oriel pack up her ten and move back to the house after she loses their faith in the Christian God when Fish drowns and returns incomplete.

The eighth and final body paragraph returns to a thematic approach, focusing on “acceptance”.

There is quite a reasonable degree of text reference; as I said, this student has done his homework.

On the other hand, there is no particular logic to this sequence of paragraphs, and no clear relation to the introduction. It gives the impression of being a response to almost any question on the novel, rather than this particular question. Using the material the student has given me, for reasons I have mentioned, I will now attempt a rewrite to correct some of these things. I may need to go back after that and rewrite the introduction…

At this stage I am thinking no more than 11 out of 20 for this essay. I suspect 9 or 10 may be probable — perhaps even dropping to 8, depending on how much examiners see it as “less than sound” because of the original introduction and the lack of clear coherence in the body and the lack of clear connection to the question, but I think that would be too pessimistic. I will try to make it get at least 13 – 15… Perhaps more, but I would like more information to work with.

The body rewritten

One of the novel’s themes which may be read as universal is the family as the source of love on earth and as a refuge from the difficulties of life. The Lambs are a team with Oriel as a ‘Sergeant-major’ and her determination to defeat and destroy the opposition as nothing short of all-out war. Even though this is a universal theme, in the novel it is linked specifically to the context of post-war Australia. Oriel’s ‘price war’ becomes  a metaphor for the Korean War. Oriel lost her half brother Bluey in that conflict which disintegrates the Clay family. It is the guilt she suffers because of family breakdown or losing a family member which highlights for the reader the value of family. People are left in pieces, and have to find the most important pieces to put together again to get on with life.  Such issues continue in this age of the War on Terror, so in this respect the novel has not yet reached its use-by date, nor does it seem likely to.

The Pickles in contrast to the Lambs are individuals and neither Sam nor Dolly perform the roles traditionally expected in the family. Despair drives Sam to attempt suicide and his confession highlights the need for family. “You can bear it when you lose your looks, your teeth, your youth. But Jesus Christ when your family goes aft it it’s more than a man can bear.” Quick and Rose are bitter about their family relationships. They both seek identity outside of the family and away from the ‘place’ Cloudstreet. Quick ‘goes bush’ while Rose attempts to change her social class. Her eating disorder mirrors her emotional decline as she psychologically and physically withers: “I just begin to disappear.” Quick’s time in the wilderness allows him to ‘see’ in a seemingly biblical type of vision that he needs to be reunited with family and home. While both experience a journey of awakening and redemption, one can read the novel as a defence of the Christian view of the centrality of the family.

Other issues raised in Cloudstreet support a Christian or religious reading of the novel. Even if these are raised in a particular context, they are issues which have long concerned people and which remain unresolved for many, or are still contended today. The belief system of the Pickles family is of luck which runs through the generations from Merv, “He believed in luck the old man, though he was careful never to say the word. He called it the shifty shadow of God to Sam who believed in Lady Luck and lastly” Rose had never felt a shadow like this before.” Sam is a gambler who every week goes and gambles on horse, betting on which horse will win which in itself is based on luck. Sometimes you lose, and sometimes you win. “Like I’m winning. Luck. It’s like a light shining on you. You can feel it”. Gambling is still relevant in society today and each year people go down to the local TAB store to bet on which horse will win. The Lamb family belief system differs from the Pickles “that woman didn’t believe in bad luck the way Dolly did” and they believe in the knife (which never lies) after Fish’s accident “the disappointment has been too much.” Both beliefs are pagan. We also recognise that these are the actual values by which many Australians live. Winton shows such values are wanting, but

Fish is able to communicate with the spirits of the house. The strong links that Fish has with spiritual forces are emphasised by the duality of his character Two sides of his identity were split asunder by his mother determination that he would not drown. His accident forges the bond he as with water and his other self. The physical Fish is retarded and today there are inadequate facilities for these kind of people. The spiritual fish speak to him and the water symbolises cleansing. Fish is therefore a saviour, whose final release comes after a life of sacrifice to bring the families together. His death is Christ-like in his effect to others-especially that his death opens the way for Oriel to return to the family and the place where she belongs and release Quick’s twenty years of crushing guilt. By drawing on a powerful archetype, the Christ figure, Winton emphasises the universality of this theme, one which never has a use-by date. Even the name “Fish” is an allusion to Christ, as the fish was the earliest Christian symbol. As a writer Winton has been well aware of the power of such allusions and archetypes.

Acceptance is another theme which is still relevant today and which is part of a Christian reading of the novel. Rose always hated her mother “You stole from me. My childhood, my innocence, my trust. You were always a hateful bitch. A drunken slut.” However after Dolly told her “You should never trust a woman/It’s the women I hate” because she was a product of incest “My mother was my grandmother,. My father was my grandfather”, Rose only starts to accept her. “Oh mum. You never told me. You never ever said.”. Dolly’s capacity to learn to love Rose also enables Dolly to speak and connect with Oriel, and finally to help Oriel pack up her ten and move back to the house after she loses their faith in the Christian God when Fish drowns and returns incomplete. Faith is not seen in Cloudstreet in any simplistic or fundamentalist way, and the conflicts and doubts are surely aspects of the human condition that ensure the novel does not have a use-by date.

It is also possible to read Cloudstreet as an exploration of gender. This too is an issue where ongoing argument even in 2007 ensures the novel has not reached its use-by date. Winton ruptures the stereotype of women as passive recipients of sex. Dolly uses sex as her currency (she gets what she wants through sex), Rose pursues Quick and “love rattles the wallpapers and darkness recedes into itself a fraction when they shout exultant into each other’s mouth.” Oriel wields power by removing herself from the marital bed and moving to the tent. Oriel is also the breadwinner of the family with her successful shop and this is the rupturing of the patriarchal structure where traditionally the men were the breadwinner but in this case which is of the minority today, Lester is weak, however he is at the heart of the family.

Some responders point to the recurring motif of the black man who appears at key moments of the text as evidence of the post-colonial nature of Cloudstreet. Australia today lives on the dispossession of its Indigenous inhabitants, and the moral implications and practical consequences of that still perplex Australian life and politics.  I believe this also helps the novelist emphasise the importance of family unity and personal relationship to land and place, because while these issues are central to Indigenous life and culture they matter also to all of us. The black man prods the consciousness of characters who encounter him about what should be recognised as important. Unlike the ghost trapped in the library, the black man moves freely through time and space, sustaining, advising and guiding members of the household as they stray from home into danger. He urges the family to stay together and advises Sam not to sell the house, ‘You shouldn’t break a place. Places are strong, important …Too many places busted.’ He has deep spiritual significance and his depiction is heavy with religious symbolism. He is depicted as a god-like figure appearing as if he is ‘walking on water’ as he guides Quick back to his home. He tells Quick to leave his project home and ‘Go home … This isn’t your home. Go home to your home mate’. He feeds Quick and brings him back home, flies through the air around Fish, and often appears in the places where life and death meet.

You will see I have substantially rearranged the body paragraphs and have attempted to group them around particular topics. I have also highlighted all occasions when the student writer has in fact talked about technique, even when it appears to me he did not know he was! I have improved connection to the question and overall coherence by repeating the tag of the question rather frequently. (That is an old debating trick; debaters often do rather well in essays like this!) I have also suggested as far as I can that what this essay actually shows, again without the writer being totally aware of it, is a number of different readings of the text.

However, the question of satire has not really come up, so I need to rewrite that introduction.

Final version

Texts emerge in particular contexts of time, place and culture. When a text is distant from us some issues embodied in it, or its form and language, may seem strange and irrelevant to responders today and therefore may be said to have a use-by date. Tim Winton’s Australian novel Cloudstreet (1991) however does not yet have a use-by because it captures and treasures a period of time whose language and values are still relevant today. Some of these values such as family, love, luck, spirituality, acceptance are universal and do not have a use-by date. They help shape an individual’s meaning and viewpoint however it has been altered by the world we live in. Cloudstreet is also a satire, an often hilarious critique of social behaviour and situations, sometimes deriving from bitterness and resentment but more often indulgent of human frailty. This essay will deal less with that aspect of the novel, focusing instead on the values different responders have found in it and the question of the continuing relevance of those values.

One of the novel’s themes which may be read as universal is the family as the source of love on earth and as a refuge from the difficulties of life. The Lambs are a team with Oriel as a ‘Sergeant-major’ and her determination to defeat and destroy the opposition as nothing short of all-out war. Even though this is a universal theme, in the novel it is linked specifically to the context of post-war Australia. Oriel’s ‘price war’ becomes  a metaphor for the Korean War. Oriel lost her half brother Bluey in that conflict which disintegrates the Clay family. It is the guilt she suffers because of family breakdown or losing a family member which highlights for the reader the value of family. People are left in pieces, and have to find the most important pieces to put together again to get on with life.  Such issues continue in this age of the War on Terror, so in this respect the novel has not yet reached its use-by date, nor does it seem likely to.

The Pickles in contrast to the Lambs are individuals and neither Sam nor Dolly perform the roles traditionally expected in the family. Despair drives Sam to attempt suicide and his confession highlights the need for family. “You can bear it when you lose your looks, your teeth, your youth. But Jesus Christ when your family goes aft it it’s more than a man can bear.” Quick and Rose are bitter about their family relationships. They both seek identity outside of the family and away from the ‘place’ Cloudstreet. Quick ‘goes bush’ while Rose attempts to change her social class. Her eating disorder mirrors her emotional decline as she psychologically and physically withers: “I just begin to disappear.” Quick’s time in the wilderness allows him to ‘see’ in a seemingly biblical type of vision that he needs to be reunited with family and home. While both experience a journey of awakening and redemption, one can read the novel as a defence of the Christian view of the centrality of the family.

Other issues raised in Cloudstreet support a Christian or religious reading of the novel. Even if these are raised in a particular context, they are issues which have long concerned people and which remain unresolved for many, or are still contended today. The belief system of the Pickles family is of luck which runs through the generations from Merv, “He believed in luck the old man, though he was careful never to say the word. He called it the shifty shadow of God to Sam who believed in Lady Luck and lastly” Rose had never felt a shadow like this before.” Sam is a gambler who every week goes and gambles on horse, betting on which horse will win which in itself is based on luck. Sometimes you lose, and sometimes you win. “Like I’m winning. Luck. It’s like a light shining on you. You can feel it”. Gambling is still relevant in society today and each year people go down to the local TAB store to bet on which horse will win. The Lamb family belief system differs from the Pickles “that woman didn’t believe in bad luck the way Dolly did” and they believe in the knife (which never lies) after Fish’s accident “the disappointment has been too much.” Both beliefs are pagan. We also recognise that these are the actual values by which many Australians live. Winton shows such values are wanting, but

Fish is able to communicate with the spirits of the house. The strong links that Fish has with spiritual forces are emphasised by the duality of his character Two sides of his identity were split asunder by his mother determination that he would not drown. His accident forges the bond he as with water and his other self. The physical Fish is retarded and today there are inadequate facilities for these kind of people. The spiritual fish speak to him and the water symbolises cleansing. Fish is therefore a saviour, whose final release comes after a life of sacrifice to bring the families together. His death is Christ-like in his effect to others-especially that his death opens the way for Oriel to return to the family and the place where she belongs and release Quick’s twenty years of crushing guilt. By drawing on a powerful archetype, the Christ figure, Winton emphasises the universality of this theme, one which never has a use-by date. Even the name “Fish” is an allusion to Christ, as the fish was the earliest Christian symbol. As a writer Winton has been well aware of the power of such allusions and archetypes.

Acceptance is another theme which is still relevant today and which is part of a Christian reading of the novel. Rose always hated her mother “You stole from me. My childhood, my innocence, my trust. You were always a hateful bitch. A drunken slut.” However after Dolly told her “You should never trust a woman/It’s the women I hate” because she was a product of incest “My mother was my grandmother,. My father was my grandfather”, Rose only starts to accept her. “Oh mum. You never told me. You never ever said.”. Dolly’s capacity to learn to love Rose also enables Dolly to speak and connect with Oriel, and finally to help Oriel pack up her ten and move back to the house after she loses their faith in the Christian God when Fish drowns and returns incomplete. Faith is not seen in Cloudstreet in any simplistic or fundamentalist way, and the conflicts and doubts are surely aspects of the human condition that ensure the novel does not have a use-by date.

It is also possible to read Cloudstreet as an exploration of gender. This too is an issue where ongoing argument even in 2007 ensures the novel has not reached its use-by date. Winton ruptures the stereotype of women as passive recipients of sex. Dolly uses sex as her currency (she gets what she wants through sex), Rose pursues Quick and “love rattles the wallpapers and darkness recedes into itself a fraction when they shout exultant into each other’s mouth.” Oriel wields power by removing herself from the marital bed and moving to the tent. Oriel is also the breadwinner of the family with her successful shop and this is the rupturing of the patriarchal structure where traditionally the men were the breadwinner but in this case which is of the minority today, Lester is weak, however he is at the heart of the family.

Some responders point to the recurring motif of the black man who appears at key moments of the text as evidence of the post-colonial nature of Cloudstreet. Australia today lives on the dispossession of its Indigenous inhabitants, and the moral implications and practical consequences of that still perplex Australian life and politics.  I believe this also helps the novelist emphasise the importance of family unity and personal relationship to land and place, because while these issues are central to Indigenous life and culture they matter also to all of us. The black man prods the consciousness of characters who encounter him about what should be recognised as important. Unlike the ghost trapped in the library, the black man moves freely through time and space, sustaining, advising and guiding members of the household as they stray from home into danger. He urges the family to stay together and advises Sam not to sell the house, ‘You shouldn’t break a place. Places are strong, important …Too many places busted.’ He has deep spiritual significance and his depiction is heavy with religious symbolism. He is depicted as a god-like figure appearing as if he is ‘walking on water’ as he guides Quick back to his home. He tells Quick to leave his project home and ‘Go home … This isn’t your home. Go home to your home mate’. He feeds Quick and brings him back home, flies through the air around Fish, and often appears in the places where life and death meet.

Cloudstreet captures the moment of the post-war era in Australia and the values such as family, love, luck, spirituality, and acceptance which were relevant at that point in time but are still very relevant and relatable in today’s society.

It is still not perfect but it does represent the student’s hard work in a way that should be rewarded in the HSC. I may have even tipped it into a low Band 6 (17 or 18?). Any teachers out there want to express an opinion on that?

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2 responses to “Workshop 09: Advanced English Module B “Critical study of a text”

  1. Symone

    August 7, 2007 at 7:53 pm

    Excellent help. Wonderful insight!

     
  2. ninglun

    November 13, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    Thanks, Symone.

    Meanwhile, this page has attracted more than its share of spam. I am closing comment, but readers may still use the contact page or the guest book…

     
 
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