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Write a critical appreciation of Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Lacuna”

By Gavin-Hetherington Oct 27, 2014 2168 Words

Write a critical appreciation of Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Lacuna”. Barbara Kingsolver’s extract demonstrates a key number of themes relating to the divide between the land and the sea, personifying the fish in the sea and dehumanising the people on land, pushing the boundaries between both worlds. The comparisons between the fish and the humans reflect society as a whole and the problems that plague us. The underlining theme that essentially becomes the most important in the given extract is that of delusion – the mistaken belief or impressions that further requires us to look beneath the surface. From the very beginning, the reader is introduced to the juxtaposing sea life beneath the ocean and that both worlds – human and fish – are essentially the same with deceptive undertones. At the same time, Kingsolver provides a melodic tone to the second complete paragraph to open us up to this whole new world. ‘The rule of fishes is the same as the rule of people’. By comparing and contrasting the two species, Kingsolver both humanises the fishes and dehumanises the people in her extract. The ‘rule’ refers to a way of life that ‘if the shark comes, they will all escape, and leave you to be eaten.’ The ‘shark’ symbolises the turning point in both species and makes the reader aware of the common trait that fails both humans and fishes: it’s every man, or fish, for themselves. By identifying this shared flaw, it completely juxtaposes the idea of togetherness that Kingsolver later tries to cement. ‘One great, bright, brittle altogetherness.’ The harsh-sounding alliteration causes the reader to interpret the words as if they are said out of spite. The repetition of the “b” sound emphasises the harshness of reality, symbolising a hidden deception behind the fishes being in ‘altogetherness’. This helps to end a paragraph that previously sounded melodic with beautiful imagery such as ‘heavenly’ and ‘shining’. The third-person narrative speaks to the reader directly to further help set the scene, transporting you to ‘drift among the purple trees of the coral forest.’ The trochaic tetrameter allows the reader to be lulled by the descriptive imagery that should place a positive picture in our heads, but Kingsolver insistently uses juxtaposition to develop the theme of delusion. ‘Like flaming arrows’ and ‘every fin to flame’ contradict reality as fire cannot survive underwater but the simile of the foreign entity and fins catching flame quickly shifts the positive imagery into a negative picture. The main character in the extract is then introduced much like the juxtaposing foreign entity of the flaming arrows which emphasises that he is in a place where he does not belong physically. His need to be a part of this other world as opposed to his own reveals he is wearing a mask and there is more to him beyond the descriptive that Kingsolver provides. ‘It’s a perfect world down there, except for the one of them who can’t breathe underwater.’ The idea that it is a perfect world under the sea is quickly contradicted as it is shown that it is only perfect for the fish and not the human who has placed himself there. It reveals that it is not such a perfect world and that we cannot believe everything the writer tells us to be true as there is always something to contradict her statements when we look a little deeper. The idea of the underwater world being perfect is again shown to be false when the boy is ‘dangling from the silver ceiling like a great ugly puppet.’ The sibilance that emphasises the ‘silver ceiling’ suggests there is a limit to the world under the sea, that there is only a certain height you can reach before you become trapped and stuck there, reversing the saying ‘the sky is the limit’ to develop the idea of entrapment as this ceiling is the limit. The negative imagery of the boy ‘dangling’ provides an uncomfortable picture which further develops that this person is out of place. The boy, who is desperately searching for a better place, which he concludes to be under the sea as it is ‘a world without people’, layers the idea of the delusion the boy has of this perfect utopia. The boy wants to be in this world without people which suggests further problems with the world that contains people, that he is trying to escape. The sea provides the boy hope but it is just a delusion for the boy as he cannot be the ‘scaled slick silver merman he wants to be.’ The alliteration and sibilance draws attention to his needs and desires to change as a person, developing the boy’s troubled backstory. Looking beneath the surface holds many connotations when it comes to the text. Not only do we have to look beneath the ocean surface to see the wonderful world below but we also have to look beyond the boy’s initial mask to fully understand and relate to his problems. With reference to colloquial language, the connotations to a particular world helps identify the boy as homosexual. The world ‘flutie’ holds many different meanings. The word could relate to a ‘flute’, a musical instrument. A flute is long and thin which helps us visualise the boy as tall and skinny. Flutes are also musical which could suggest the boy is flamboyant and musical. The British-Australian meaning of the word refers to being a gay man. The imagery of the sea connects the idea of the setting being somewhere exotic such as Australia as Leandro ‘took pity on the flutie boy from America’ which reveals the boy has moved somewhere from America to somewhere else such as Australia which is evidenced by the Australian-like scenery. Since ‘flutie’ is Australian slang for someone being homosexual, it conveys the idea that the boy in the extract is indeed homosexual and is wearing a mask to escape to the world beneath the sea that wears its own alluring mask. The boy’s hidden identity and need for escape manifests to a desperate need to survive. The problem the boy faces besides his turbulent home life could relate to homophobia he experiences in the world of the people. Kingsolver cleverly manipulates the homophobia with the use of symbolism. ‘A pack of village boys had come along too… carrying the long knives they used for collecting oysters.’ The word ‘pack’ transforms this group of boys into wolves like they are hunters searching for their next meal. By turning them into animals, the comparisons between humans and fishes becomes more evident as a paradox with the shark at the beginning of the extract forms; there are bad people in the world that disrupt the serenity of life and causes others to run. The boy, like the fishes at the beginning when the shark symbolism appears, escapes and ‘dives into that blue place.’ The reason for the boy running from the village boys could be that they are homophobic bullies who penalise the boy for being gay. ‘Carrying the long knives they used for collecting oysters’ conveys the idea that they are hunting for ‘oysters’ to hurt. The word ‘oyster’ could symbolise those that are hiding something. Oysters contain a hidden pearl that is kept hidden from the outside world but by personifying the oyster, we can understand that this could be intended to symbolise the boy. He is containing a secret within that the village boys are hunting him for. The fact that the boy has to run away to escape his torment solidifies that idea. The pearl inside is feminine which relates to the boy being ‘flutie’. The village boys also has a connection to homosexuality as the popular musical band ‘The Village People’ released ‘Y.M.C.A.’, one of the biggest gay anthems of all-time. The village boys could alternatively be representing the boy trying to run away from his sexuality by diving into the ocean revealing his denial about his hidden sexuality that ties back to the uncomfortable imagery earlier in the extract that featured the boy ‘dangling’ as if in suspended disbelief about his true nature. The delusion the boy has by trying to escape reality and his homosexuality reveals his mistaken belief that being gay is something to be scared of. Kingsolver utilises brilliant colours and bold imagery to further convey the hidden identities of the fishes and what it truly means to live ‘under the water’. The idea that the boy wants to embrace his homosexuality by joining the fishes could reflect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community as he is attracted to it. ‘Fishes mad with colour, striped and dotted, golden bodies, blue heads.’ Prior to that quotation, life above the surface is devoid of colour as Kingsolver omits any colourful imagery to describe the boy’s reality on shore. Once the boy is beneath the water and hiding from plain sight, like being in the closet, he is instantly overwhelmed by the diversity of the fishes. The ‘mad with colour’ symbolises the Rainbow Flag used to identify the LGBT community; a flag that features several different colours to represent diverse individuals that happen to be different from the rest of the world. ‘Striped’ also helps identify the connection to the Rainbow Flag as it is similarly striped with colour. The boy wishes he could ‘dwell in their city with that bright, liquid life flowing all around him.’ The boy longs to be in the world he feels he belongs in. The idea is impossible, much in relation with people who are transgender – men trapped in male bodies but longing to be female, and vice versa. The delusion of the ‘liquid life’ is symbolic of hope, but to the boy it is unattainable. The alliteration also draws attention to the life underwater that the boy cannot possess, returning to the lulling sounds of waves and beautiful imagery the boy is not used to. The boy’s attraction to the representation of the LGBT life is symbolised by the ‘stiffy’ he develops by the climax of the extract. Not only is the boy so overwhelmed with conflicting emotions of being ‘afraid’ and ‘happy’ at the same time causing the slight erection but it symbolises his sexual attraction to homosexuality. It becomes the turning point of the boy’s state of mind. He is finally happy and he knows he is where he belongs. The delusions of mistaken beliefs are stripped away in that moment, coming to terms with the life he hides beneath the mask. The theme of delusion also arrives in the form of a ‘surprise’ with various connotations of the word providing negative feelings from the main character that displays his backstory by again looking behind the mask. ‘The most awful words in any language: You will be surprised.’ Surprise could reflect happy feelings such as joy if the surprise is meant in a positive way. In this extract, the surprise refers to the gorgeous world under the sea that Leandro wants to introduce the main character to. Despite the positive connotations of the word, the writer uses hyperbole to exaggerate the main character’s state of mind that all surprises are bad. The boy holds negative feelings when faced with the word ‘surprise’ as it is followed by snappy, short sentences to provide exposition to explain the reasons behind the boy’s apprehension. He sees it as the moment everything changes but he cannot comprehend that the change he will be faced with will be a positive change. He believes that it will be bad but exclaims ‘oh God there it was, the promise delivered...’ The boy’s actual surprise transforms his state of mind, bookmarking his progression as a character to a more open-minded human being. The diachronic change of the main character’s attributes as the story progresses and he becomes more open to his homosexuality symbolises positive change once his inhibitions become stripped and the theme of delusion starts to slip away. He enters this new world, ready and happy as if he was coming out of the closet, ready to reveal his true identity. Throughout the extract, the theme of delusion is solidified by the progression of the main character by transitioning his unhappiness in the world on shore to happiness in the world under the sea. The underwater world symbolises the main character’s homosexuality as represented by the tropical and colourful fish that symbolise the Rainbow Flag used to identify the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. The divide between land and sea becomes a personal reflection of society, leading the reader to believe that there are problems within all communities when influenced by misconceived delusion. Kingsolver’s effective use of imagery and description provides a stepping stone in the right direction to extinguish delusion. ‘No more believing in an ocean with nothing inside but blue water.’ The message becomes clear; we need to look beyond what we see at face value and delve deeper to truly appreciate and understand the people behind the mask.

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