Settings and narrative
Settings and narrative conventions can be used to shape meaning within a story. In Tim Winton's Australian classic Cloudstreeet this obscure thing called love is explored through geographical, physical, chronological and social settings with characters and plot to shape the meaning in this complex, yet insightful story.
The story takes place in the remote state of Western Australia, a place where there is plenty of room for growth.
In the barely dimpled surface of country, the wheat is its own map, neat and dogmatic in its boundaries. You can see the sun in it, the prodigal rain, the magic tons of superphosphate. From ground level, the wheat is the whole world, but in the air, or beyond air and sky, the wheatbelt is just that, a scrap of land surrounded by the rest of the world.
The above quote is spoken by Quick in reference to the Australian landscape in which the story is set and how this relates to the issues experienced by the families on Cloudstreet. According to my interpretation Winton is making a social commentary on human nature. When faced with a problem people think our world is over, the individuals' views narrow and we become more self-centred. People can only see the "wheat" in front of them, leaving us naive to the bigger picture. As time goes on we learn and mature from our suffering and eventually we gain empathy, compassion and understanding of one another. If we continue with this wheat belt metaphor you could say as time goes on we literally grow, thus gaining a wider view of life. The events that took place in Cloudstreet did not change the world, however it changed their lives forever.
Australia has been renown for its harsh landscapes; this is symbolic of the lives of those involved in Cloudstreet. Winton chose the story to be set in Western Australia because of the deceiving looks of the landscape. The terrain looks quite desolate and uninviting. However it is now common knowledge that Western Australia is quite rich in natural resources, the richest in Australia. So basically the physical setting is an example of the deception of looks, and how our appearance does not define us. This is relevant to the characters as we discover later in the book the majority of them are genuinely good people, it just took time for them to discover this. I quote upon a famous Australian poet Dorotha MacKellar in her poem, My Country.
This is a preview of the whole essay
I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of drought and flooding rains,
MacKellar portrays Australia as grotesque country with an enigmatic characteristic that draws us to it. As an Australian I can honestly say I have grown to love this wretched country, similar to the way in which the Pickle's and Lamb's grew to love each other.
Australia is indeed isolated, but not isolated enough to ignore the effects of the war. The main event during the chronological setting was World War Two. After the war people changed, rather, secret aspects of their persona were revealed. As the story progresses into post-war Perth the reader is exposed to those who benefited from the war, and those who lost.
The ANZACS were what the Lamb's believed in, the glorious memories of manhood and courage. The nation, that's what kept the Lamb's going.
The gift of having something to believe in nurtured the Lamb's motivation towards life. Without this time frame there would be no reasonable excuse for a sudden spurt of patriotism amongst the locals. This would've left the Lamb's faithless. For once they were apart of the "winners", but winners do not exist without losers.
Oriel met a widow. You could tell she was a survivor, a left behind, by the far off look in her eyes and the way her tall, gaunt frame bent forward
These two quotes contrast as they create an example of the duality of war. On one side you have the extreme good, the glory of victory that rekindled Australian's faith in the nation. Then at the opposite end of the scale you have the defeat, an example of those who suffered as a consequence of the war. The grief stricken widow, Beryl Lee gave Oriel an opportunity to express her sympathies and practice her compassion. The time frame Winton chose serves more as a direction for the plot line rather than any expression of a hidden meaning.
The social setting largely affects the social class of the protagonists. Winton leaves many hints within the text to suggest the class of the dominant characters.
...shrieked fair dinkum as regular as a time piece
"Time piece" is an old "Aussie" term for a clock. The above quotation is a perfect example of the Australian slag used fluently in the dialogue throughout the book. This assists readers in determining the class of these people. Other factors that influenced who belonged to what class include their social status, wealth, and living conditions. According to the "snobby" people of Perth, those who lived on Cloudstreet would not be considered fashionable, or lower class, merely working class. The amount of wealth largely differed from each end of the house on Cloudstreet, the Lamb's successful enterprise left them well financed however the Pickle's were always "in a pickle" when it came to money. As for living conditions the house on Cloudstreet was physically very large and accommodated its inhabitants comfortably. In conclusion the reader can be justified in saying the Lamb's and Pickles alike are apart of the working class. The "working class" label is not a negative one however in small cities like Perth it seems to work as a caste system. The attitudes of Toby Ravern reflect this.
Look pretty for me, alright? I'll be by at eight.
This suggests that he would not be interested in Rose if she didn't appear to be beautiful.
...you see fellows, I'm working up this grotesquerie about... well there's this shopgirl and a famous writer and..
When forced to improvise he automatically depicts Rose as "this shopgirl" of little importance, and portrays himself as the wonderful, famous writer. This typical egoistic boy believes himself to be superior to all those "below" him, including Rose. He uses this against Rose to try and higher his status in this apparent caste system. By suppressing Rose and by treating her in such a patronising way proves how pathetic Ravern, and those like him, really are. This leads the reader to question what is so great about the "upper class". By making his characters appear to be of the working class Winton exposes the false assumptions people make of lower classes.
Characters are the directors of the plot. The imaginary, yet realistic, beings that Winton creates use symbolism to shape the deeper meanings of the plot. The best example of this is Rose Pickles. The name in itself resembles Rose in many ways. She is a "rose amongst the thorns". The ironic thing about that particular saying is that it uses thorns as a metaphor for all of the bad things in life, and an Australian slag term for a bad person is a "prick". Roses, like most plants, have extensive root systems. And from these many roots comes one beautiful Rose. This phrase has two meanings. The first meaning is that your roots (heritage) do not define you. The second interpretation is a more literal one, from many different roots (Australian slag for sexual intercourse) cums (the way in which this is spelt refers to reproductive fluid that comes from a males aroused genital) one. So basically Rose is the result of a promiscuous mother, whose lifestyle disgusts Rose and she is certain she will never turn out like her mother.
You're the one, he said, getting himself back. You're the one orright. You're a good girl.
Rose's father, Sam, talks to her as if she were a saint. Sam does not say this as a meaningless statement Rose earns every compliment she gets. It's characteristics like these that make Rose represent her name in numerous ways. And thus she is not just a character but also a feature of symbolism that assists in shaping the deeper meanings of the text.
Cloudstreet was not a simple old yarn. Its complex plotline was very open to interpretations of hidden meanings, some more subtle than others. The story follows the dismal account of the lives of typical working class Australians in the 1940-1960's period. The stories plotline becomes increasingly depressing until finally the mood lightens towards the end to form a happy ending filled with glee. The dominant theme of the book is undoubtedly love, and how once it has been discovered and acknowledged its contains the ability to conquer everything. To put it generally the plot is in a constant state of melancholy until the last stages of the novel. This is symbolic of love and how you can love something all your life without acknowledging it. But your love is pointless until you communicate it.
In conclusion; the geographical setting was set in a remote part of the to symbolise the fact that as you mature you realise there's more to life than what's directly in front of you. The rugged physical settings resembled the tough lives the protagonists had had. The chaos of the chronological setting was significant but acted more as a director in the plotline, rather than having any deeper meaning. By making most of his characters belong to the working class Winton created an example of the false assumptions we make because of class. Like many things in Cloudstreet, the characters were each uniquely formed to symbolise different aspects of life and the plotline acted as a symbol of the rocky ride of love. Thus these settings alongside narrative conventions have created more than just scenery for the action; Winton has used these to communicate the deeper meanings of the Cloudstreet to the reader.
Word Count: 1474
Quote Count: 194