The prologue of Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet transcends one family’s tragic loss into the realms of the metaphysical, commenting on his views of life and death. Readers can contrast these views to our more modern ideologies. Through the use of poetic language Winton adds a spiritual dimension to the lives of people living in a secular society. Through imagery he also offers a construction of Australian cultural identity. Using techniques like point of view, repetition, juxtaposition, symbolism, as well as tapping into Australian vernacular and language that appeals to the senses, he manages to convey these ideas to readers.
I think that the change of point of view is one of the more effective techniques Winton uses in this extract. From the beginning where he clearly uses an inclusive pronoun to describe the gathering, “Will you look at us” to the ending where the pronoun has switched to exclusive, “And you can’t help but worry for them…” This technique draws attention to the exclusion both of Fish, the reason this event took place, and of the reader. We are forced to the sidelines, watching the physical description of the families meld into a spiritual description of life and death.
This extract proposes ideas about living and dying that are quite opposite to our modern ideologies. Winton suggests that the world of the living is a closed, narrow one, material and “foetid. ” This contrasts to his views on death which is portrayed as a dimension of freedom and “broad vaults and spaces” that “you can see it all” from. He makes this evident through emotive language that appeal to the senses. The olfactory** word “foetid” immediately gives the idea of living a negative connotation where “silver-skinned river” is presented with such a positive, beautiful image that even the suggestion of death feels beautiful.
In fact, Winton discusses water, not only in this extract, but throughout the whole novel in highly symbolic terms. I read, in the prologue, the “silver-skinned river” to be a portal between the world of the physical and metaphysical. As Fish peers into it he sees “all the wonders inside it. ” I believe Winton is conveying the idea that spirituality is a necessary aspect of life. Also the metaphor “the sound of it (the water) has been in his ears all his life” intensifies the description of Fish’s desire for the metaphysical.
The quote “One of the here is leaving” can be seen as very symbolic in the fact that it describes literally Fish’s leaving the group and, in the end, leaving this life. But it also could be read to mean how figuratively Fish is transcending from the material world to the physical one through means of the river. Certain phrases are used to enhance this metaphysical portrayal of the world. Images like “earthly vision” juxtapose to highlight the idea behind the image, togetherness of the two families. “Burst of consciousness” is another spiritual, metaphorical phrase which contributes to the sense of Fish’s mind right before death.
Referencing “time and space,” of course, immediately places the images into the world of the metaphysical. I think swapping so easily from materialistic images to spiritual is a clever way of expressing the themes and main ideas of Cloudstreet. As well as a spiritual reading, I see Winton making efforts to allude to a representation of Australian cultural identity. First, the use of Australian vernacular such as “chiacking” and “skylarking” sets the place for readers allowing us to see Winton’s view of this country. Throughout the novel, and even in this extract, there is a tone of longing for an Australia of the past.
An Australia that was never really existant, historically. The entirety of the book is a construction of Australian life, a representation of the cultural identity. The cumulating of picnic foods leads to an image of celebration in Australian summer. An image that continues throughout the episodic narrative of the rest of the book. Australia can be seen as presented through an idealistic lens. For example “in a good worlds in the midst of our living” conveys an ideal Australia of community that anyone who has lived here for more than a day knows is not always an accurate perception.
Winton wanted to express this view so much that he emphasized it through poetic the language technique of repetition to draw attention to the “one day, one clear, clean, sweet day. ” The syntax is meandering in parts as well as abrupt and sharp in others to bring emphasis to ideas and images. For example where readers gain some insight into Fish’s mind the sentences become far more simple and short. “All. ” “He sits. ”etc in order to express the simplicity of Fish’s thoughts. Repetition too portray the thoughts of a more simply minded person. Teeth teeth teeth” are the focus of Fish’s mind therefore this will be the focus of Winton’s description. In reading Tim Winton’s flowing, emotive language I found myself understanding this view of life and death more clearly. This extract allows readers to open their minds to ideas that are quite contrary to our ideologies today. The construction of Australian culture is one infused with a sense of longing and love, something those who also love Australia today can identify with. For that reason, I believe this book has a strong essence of cultural identity despite the fact that it’s not necessarily a correct representation.