Hsc Swallow the Air

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The opening line of Swallow the Air immediately draws us into May’s story with its conversational tone: “I remember the day I found out my mother was head sick.” In the same paragraph strong emotive language positions us as readers to sympathise with May’s mother and her story: “…Mum’s sad emerald eyes bled through her black canvas and tortured willow hair.” In the next chapter the author further uses personal pronouns to position the reader (us) to identify with Aunty and her hilarious battle to win in the Tip Top Grocery Grab at Woolworths: “We saw her start to panic…You could see the dread…” Humour balances the awful reality that Aunty becomes a gambler and alcoholic. Dialogue is used very effectively in Swallow the Air to show character and belonging. May and her family typically speak in broad Australian idiom and slang. Aunty in “Leaving Paradise”, for example, affectionately tells May and her brother “’Garn, get out. Go meet ya mates’” on Billy’s birthday. May is “stoked” to be asked to the movies and Billy playfully teases her: “ya reckon ya can handle that?” The informal, joking language they use with one another shows their belonging as a family. How language is spoken is an important feature of Swallow the Air. Joyce from the Block speaks in a dialect that doesn’t respect the traditional rules of grammar and shows her outsider status. For example, she says “government putting fear on us.” Joyce peppers her conversation with Aboriginal words such as “moguls” that show her belonging to the Block, rather than mainstream white society. Her son Johnny also calls May “his wontok, his black girl ally.” The tension, the drama of the crises May lives through is often heightened with imaginative language. As May drifts into drugs and homelessness with other aimless teenagers, her sentences become fragmented: “One-step forward, two-steps back, no home again.” Vivid imagery shows the tension of living on the streets with similes such as: “Some of us leapt out of...
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