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Symbolism In Cloudstreet

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Category: Book Reports

Autor: anton 03 December 2010

Words: 1738 | Pages: 7

Contribution to Meaning – Symbolism

Mark: 18/20

The most direct way in which an author reinforces the themes of a novel is through the use of literary devices. In Cloudstreet by Tim Winton, one of the most prominent of these devices is symbolism, which plays upon the aesthetic sensibilities harboured by the text’s audience and provides insight and deeper understanding to the themes of the novel. Indeed, Cloudstreet itself, the river and religious symbolism contribute to meaning and the author’s endorsement of love, family, determination, and spirituality in the search for completeness.

The house Cloudstreet is deeply symbolic in Tim Winton’s novel. It is the place where as the blurb suggests "for twenty years they roister and rankle, laugh and curse until that roof over their heads becomes a home for their hearts." Indeed, each aspect of the house develops its own personified characteristics from the fence "patched together from old signs" and the Lambs’ rooms "like an old stroke survivor paralysed down one side". However, the library is the most significant room in symbolising the author’s values and attitudes.

The library, situated in ‘no-man’s-land’, is the darkest and most foreboding area of the house where Fish Lamb converses with ghosts of the ‘evil’ previous owner and an Aboriginal girl who died of self-administered poisoning. Early in the novel, the reader is taken "back in time" and introduced to the library with imagery such as

"The room soaked her up and the summer heat worked on her body until its surface was as hard and dry as the crust of a pavlova."

(pg. 36)

and Rose decides "no, it wasn’t for books. The books could come in her room, and this room, well it could just stay closed" (pg. 40). The ‘stolen generation’ of Aboriginal children made to conform to the standards of white society are marginalised throughout the book, yet is a recurring issue that develops the library as a centerpoint for what some would name "negative karma". However, with the union of two families through the passion of Rose and Quick in the library, and the birth of Wax Harry months later in the same room, the spirits are exorcised in light, love, and family.

"The spirits on the wall are fading, fading, finally being forced on their way to oblivion, free of the house, freeing the house, leaving a warm, clean sweet space among the living, among the good and hopeful."

(pg. 384)

Thus, the library forms symbolism of the age-old battle between good and evil. The theme of love is endorsed by the author, and the oft-quoted "love conquers all" is defined.

On the topic of library symbolism, it is important to note the significance of middle C. Every time the spirits cause discord, Fish is "up there, banging away" on the piano. The note is where the old lady’s nose hit

"hard enough to darken the room with sound….there was middle C in that library until rigor mortis set in."

(pg. 36)

and the "continuing sound of middle C" is defined on page 134 as being a reason why Oriel moves into her tent. This note is the basis for all harmonic chords, and their relative minors and as such, middle C has the tendency to sound ‘evil’ and dissonant, yet has the ability to become harmonious depending on the context in which it is placed. Therefore, this is deeply symbolic in Winton’s novel. The library and the house have a malevolent identity:

"Lester steps out of Cloudstreet, crosses the road and looks back at it. There’s something horrible about it lately. Something hateful, something loaded with darkness and misery."

(pg. 143)

and although the image of the house begins as a dark, threatening entity, it becomes a symbol of the harmony created by the union of two families.

"I reckon we’ve made our mark on it now, like it’s not the house it was. We’re halfway to belonging here, and . . . I don’t know where I’d go anymore . . . Yer right [said Dolly] She muttered, unable to look Oriel in the eye. The bloody place has got to us."

(pg. 411)

Therefore, like middle C, the house becomes harmonious due to the context in which it is placed – a sphere endorsing the values of love, family, determination, and spirituality in the search for completeness.

The divided backyard is achieved through "old signs patched together," as before mentioned, and thus symbolises the ‘patching together’ of lives. The families of Cloudstreet are very different, one the ‘Lambs of God’ and the other believing in the ‘hairy hand of God’ -- the theme of fatalism contending with determination is brought to light.

"Oriel Lamb mouthed off a lot about work and stickability until you felt like sticking a bloody bilty right up her drawers. That woman didn’t believe in bad luck the way Dolly did."

(pg. 57)

However, the author appears to favour determination, as the ‘fickle finger of fate’ is not always reliable, causing much dysfunction and strife within the Pickles family. Nevertheless, in the poignant epilogue, representatives of the different families work collaboratively in removing both the physical and emotional barriers.

"A square little woman unpegged and folded a tent … another woman stepped forward, tottering a little. She crossed the long gash … where yesterday there’d been a fence, and took a corner of the tent herself."

(pg. 425)

The families are literally brought together by the folding of the tent. Corner to corner, their lives are intertwined in a fashion that shows advancement for society – ‘all is well’ in nature, and ‘all is well’ in Cloudstreet due to the determination of two family representatives overcoming mutual prejudices. However, it is not only the house that forms the main symbolism of the novel.

The river is a recurring symbol throughout Tim Winton’s novel Cloudstreet that reinforces the themes of love, family, determination, and spirituality in the search for completeness. Often through the conventions of magic realism and surrealism, the symbolism forms the main setting where as Quick explains "all the important things that have happened to me, have happened near the river." Rose and Quick decide to get married on the river, the ‘black angel’ walks on the river telling Quick to rejoin his family, phosphorescent fish swarm into Quick’s boat in a scene of magic realism, and Fish and Quick are embraced by the stars on the river in yet another. Furthermore, "even the only miracle that ever happened to you" occurred near the river. However, the character who is most identified with the river is that of the Fish Lamb.

"The river of life" is a biblical reference, for it is where life is renewed and sins are washed away in the act of baptism. However, when Fish drowns, the reader understands that "not all of Fish Lamb had come back" when Oriel returns him to the living by cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Thus, the intelligence of the narrative is trapped on one side of the water, ever wanting its other half to rejoin.

"Right now, while you’re down there on that side of the water … It’s like you’re someone else down there, Fish."

(pg. 92)

In this way, the river represents the spiritual. It becomes the place of revelation, the place of the miraculous, the place of regeneration, "it exists both within and outside of linear time" (Lane, Gerry). Through determination, Fish is brought back and love and family surround him as he is no longer ‘needed’ and returns to

"I burst into the moon, sun and stars of who I really am. Being Fish Lamb. Perfectly. Always. Everyplace. Me."

(pg. 424)

Thus, Fish’s search for completeness is finalised as the themes of love, family, determination, and spirituality surround him, "the whole restless mob of us spread on blankets in the dreamy briny sunshine."

Religious symbolism has a significant role in Cloudstreet. It is impossible to read the novel without some kind of religious sense being foregrounded in the events and characters. Indeed, the Lambs are the "Lambs of God" and "you could see it in the way they set up a light in the darkness." Although the members of the family appear to lose their faith after their ‘miracle’, whenever the situation becomes critical, there is the notion of God. Oriel sits in her tent at night, reading the Bible by lamp, and an Aboriginal man, the ‘black angel’, appears whenever the family, house or unity are threatened – a critical situation. Shadows stream from separate directions as he attempts to point the characters in ‘the right direction.’

"Quick sees the great sagging west wall of Cloudstreet and hits the brakes

Where exactly do you want to be dropped off mate?

The man points … At the corner the blackfella takes up his Gladstone bag and gets out.

Comin?

Quick Lamb laughs fearfully and guns the dodge away."

(pg. 120).

However, again, Fish Lamb is the character most identified with religious symbolism.

The ‘fish’ is an age-old Christian symbol for life, rejuvenation, and ‘fishers of men’. Those that possess this symbol recruit others to their faith by helping them understand current and future events. Indeed, this is the main role of Fish. He narrates the story, and even after the accident, is a main force in uniting the families. However, Fish’s Christian name is also of special significance. Samson in the Old Testament, was a Nazirite who had made a special promise to God never to cut his hair, or his strength would be no more. Alas, he is undone by treachery as Delilah deceives him. Thus, the name symbolises a parallel in Cloudstreet. Fish is drowned ‘by treachery’ as Lester, ‘lest we forget’ Lamb and Quick, ‘as unquick as his father’ accidentally drown Fish with a prawning net.

"You and me understand. We were there. We were stupid enough to drown him tryin to save him."

(pg. 94)

The religious symbolism continues throughout the novel, and embeds a sense of spirituality. Although the Pickles believe, unlike the Lambs, in ‘Lady Luck’, and the ‘shifty shadow,’ this sense of fate is also referred to the ‘hairy hand of God.’ Thus, the novel must be read in a religious sense to gain a full understanding of themes that the author conveys through symbolism.

Therefore, symbolism in Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet reinforces the themes of the novel. Cloudstreet itself, the river and religious symbolism contribute to meaning and provide insight and deeper understanding to the themes. Indeed, foregrounded is the author’s endorsement of love, family, determination, and spirituality in the search for completeness as two families are united by significant events.

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