Symbolism in Cloudstreet

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  • Topic: Cloudstreet, Symbol, Family
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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....
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