Rite Wail (1).The novel is about writing, about rites, about whaling- especially right whaling-and about wailing. Explore the ways in which these two words at the start of the novel encapsulate the world of the novel as a whole. Try to focus your answer on the language of three or four key passages in the novel.
“That Deadman dance” by Kim Scott is a powerful yet delicate interpretation of words. The reader is presented with two distinct and memorable words in the prologue ‘rite’ and ‘wail’ (Scott 1) that resonate throughout the text to encapsulate the novel as a whole. Bobby Wabalanginy is introduced as the protagonist; he demonstrates an ability to understand the complicated ‘new’ language and culture of the English, juxtaposed to that of his native Noongar heritage. Kim Scott masterfully plays with the language of the text, cavorting between English, the Noongar language and Noongar-English. This essay will discuss Scott’s use of the dynamic yet versatile words ‘rite’ and ‘wail’ by exploring them in their entirety; writing, rites, whaling, right whales and wailing.
The act of ‘writing’ plays a pivotal role within the novel, in particular for the character Bobby. Writing is seen as a skill and trait carried from the British. As a result, characters such as Dr Cross and Mrs Chaine taught Bobby his letters (Sheahan-Bright 3) in attempt to provide civility, as it is their ‘moral duty’ to do so. (Scott 165) The novel highlights Bobby’s dexterity to tackle the newly found English language intertwined with his Native Noongar language. This at times proves difficult for the reader to follow due to Scott’s intentional lack of grammatical syntax and spelling.
Kim Scott cleverly groups words to further their contextual and spiritual meaning. For instance, the words ‘Rite Wail’ can be read as ‘rite’ which is identified as; ceremonies, dance rituals and kinship. Dissimilarly, ‘wail’ refers to the use of ‘crier’ language (Griffith) as the Noongar eventually lose everything to the British who take over their way of life and land. Further into the novel, the reader grasps the concept that Bobby’s “Rite wail” is in fact a species of whale, the “Right whale.” Whereas ‘wail’ also refers to the act of whaling, as it was “Right whales they sought.” (Scott 309)
“Roze a wail… Bobby Wabalanginy wrote with damp chalk, brittle as weak bone. Bobby wrote on a thin piece of slate. Moving between languages, Bobby wrote on stone.” (Scott 1) The language in this passage demonstrates Bobby’s use of phonetics to determine spelling through sound. The way “Roze a wail” has been written, by using sound in reality means “Rose a whale”. Scott’s use of italics and ellipsis allows the reader to identify that Bobby is physically marking out his memories. As the novel progresses, the reader is faced with the consequences of whaling with the Europeans and Americans. The magnitude of greed from the value of whale products eventually leads the species of “Right Whales” near extinction. The damp chalk that Bobby is writing with is a simile, for it is “brittle as weak bone”. The passage also symbolizes the fate of the Noongar that is yet to come. The brittle, weak bone signifies the Noongar losing their land and way of life. Juxtaposed with the hardness of the slate and stone, representing the strength of the English language; their dominating power that eventually conquers and colonises the Noongar population. Furthermore, “moving between languages” also symbolizes the mobility of Bobby living and working within the two cultures.
The word ‘rite’ arises numerously in the novel and is premise to the title; “That Deadman Dance”. The term ‘rite’ as denotation, refers to any form of ceremonial act and the custom, habit, or practice of a people (“Rite”). In relation to “That Deadman Dance”, ‘Rite’ refers to several Noongar dances that are part of their ritual in which Bobby...
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