In Cloudstreet, Tim Winton explores the central theme of the meaning of life and how meaning can be reached using characterisation, structure, style and language. He maintains a neutral attitude to which aspect of the above web is preferable, and in fact celebrates all aspects. He fuses the apparently conflicting secular belief systems of luck and hard work into the house of Cloudstreet and shows that both can have success (ie. The success of Oriel??™s shop and the big win had by Sam and Lester playing two-up). He also fuses the religious systems of Christianity and Aboriginal spirituality through the appearances of the Blackfella, which are often coupled with biblical references. He doesn??™t judge the mode in which his characters find meaning in their lives, in a uniquely Australian laid-back manner, and this is especially true for Fish. Fish search for meaning and fulfilment is defined as reuniting his physical half with his spiritual half, so ironically Fish finds meaning by dying. But in ???those seconds it takes to die???, his ecstasy is revealed in the words: ???Fish Lamb. Perfectly. Always. Everyplace. Me.???
Method of narration
Fish narrates the story in ???those seconds it takes to die??? when he ???recognises himself as whole and human???. For the majority of the novel it is narrator Fish who tells us about the happenings at number one Cloudstreet, but at times his spiritual self cuts in. This change in voice is indicated through the abrupt transition from 3rd person perspective to 1st or 2nd person perspective. The spiritual voice of the novel serves 2 purposes: to remind us that Fish has a strong spiritual dimension with which he yearns to be reconciled, and to develop the strong spiritual undertones of the novel. Fish??™s duality is symbolic of Tim Winton??™s fusion of both the physical and spiritual worlds.
Sam??™s father, Merv, was a gambler who died whilst in a drunken state in bed ??“ ???one morning Sam woke to a creeping chill and found the old man dead beside him???. This ???creeping chill??? is what Sam calls the ???hairy hand of God??? or ???lady luck???, and becomes a demon for Sam. After his dreams of becoming a jockey are halted by his mother ???he shot through, leaving his mother without a son, the butcher without an arse to kick, and a footy team without a snapper rover from whom the ball had always fell the right way???. From that point, he began a ???lifelong losing streak???. In a turn of bad luck, Sam loses four fingers in an accident while ???hauling birdshit???. Sam is a compulsive gambler, who loses all of his earnings at the Saturday horse races. This is the demon that haunts him throughout the novel. Ironically, he wins a job at the mint, but still bets all his money away. However, the Mint gives him a sense of belonging. After 20 years of living in Cloudstreet, Sam has the difficult choice of whether or not to sell Cloudstreet. He decides not to.
???I got me ole man??™s blood. Dead unlucky???
???Luck doesn??™t change, love. It moves???
???The shifty shadow???
???I only believe in one thing??¦the Hairy Hand of God, otherwise known as Lady Luck???
???Everything he backed came home hanging its arse like its back legs??™d been sawn off???
???Rose got ready for a full tilt brawl??¦The old man smiled. Thought I was gunna get snotted, for a sec there. Get some clobber on and come to the races with me, eh You can have a bet. I??™ll buy you a bag of chips. Rose shook her head. The old man shrugged. Bag a lettuce leaves???
???Losin??™s nothin new. I graduated with flying colours from that fuckin school???
???He??™d surrendered to the notion that his would be an unlucky life, unlucky in epic proportions, and that any turn of good fortune would be a bolt from the blue. Expect bad luck, was his new creed, and now and then you??™ll be surprised.???
???At the Mint he was??¦old Sam the Stump??¦on the racetrack he was old Sam the Slump???
???You can bear it when you lose money and furniture. You can even grit yer teeth and take it when yer lose yer looks, yer teeth, yer mouth. But Christ Jesus, when yer family goes after it, it??™s more than a man can bear.???
Is a very beautiful woman who often goes to the local pubs, gets drunk and hooks up with strangers. She doesn??™t accept the responsibility of looking after the family and so this responsibility is passed on to Rose. She often visits the train tracks and envies the travellers, showing that she feels trapped and lost in her current life. She resents having a useless man and drowns her sorrows in alcohol. Alcoholism is her demon and is resolved through Sam getting the job at the mint and giving up drinking.
???Anyone can see the woman astride the bed with her dress up. The sweat on her skin. The Catalina pilot with his belt undone and his hat on the table.???
???Dolly Pickles was a damn goodlooking woman???
???At night she lay beside him in bed, sensed his wiry weight spilling her towards him, and she tilted guiltily his way every time to scramble astride him and pull him into her, watching the harbour lights rise and fall through the window as she remembered the girlhood colour of moonlight on a paddock of stubble and the grind of dirt beneath her buttocks.???
???Some nights??¦she gets out of bed and walks down the track to the station where??¦she can watch people getting on and off trains??¦Dolly always gets back in bed cold and angry and more awake than she was before. They??™re poor, dammit, still shitpoor??¦she misses the idea of herself??¦Back in Geraldton people knew her. They all whispered behind their hands, all those tightarsed local bastards, behind their sniggering looks and their guts in their laps, but at least she was somebody, she meant something.???
???Oriel Lamb mouthed off a lot about work and stickability until you felt like sticking a bloody bility right up her drawers. That woman didn??™t believe in bad luck the way Dolly did.???
???I dunno what I??™m doin???
???It was like they were electric with all knowledge, all places, all people??¦She never did get to try those rails. She just got to be goodlooking and cheeky and by sixteen she found herself out on her back under the night sky with a long procession of big hatted men, one of whom, the youngest, the fairest of them, was sleeping up there in that saggy great house with his arms up behind his head, and his fingerless fist on her pillow.???
???She liked to be liked??¦no one wants to be forgotten, have eyes glide past you without even seeing you there???
???Dolly tried not to think how she hated Rose these days??¦Rose was the enemy???
???People can??™t do everything they wanna???
After Dolly and Lester have sex she refers to it as ???a deposit on a hundred quid???
???God was laughin when he made women???
(Rose) ???You stole from me. My childhood, my innocence, my trust. You were always a hateful bitch. A drunken slut. You beat us and shamed us in public. I hate you for all the reasons you hate yourself???
???My mother was my grandmother. My father was my grandfather??¦The second oldest sister, the one who made me feel like rubbish all my life, that one was my mother.???
Feels resentful towards her mother, and hates her for stealing her childhood away. Rose grows ???steel??? inside of her, and hates her mother totally. She is very ambitious and determined and she gets a job ???at the switch???. Most of the money is given to support the family, along with the rent paid by the Lambs which is several years ahead. Her demon is her hate for her mother and consequent rejection of family values. She falls in love with Quick and they start to build a house away from Cloudstreet in the suburbs. But they eventually come back, showing their dual transformation to the embracement of family. Their marriage, return to Cloudstreet, and the birth of Wax Harry unite the two families and end the ???civil war???. The significance of Wax Harry birth is shown in following extract: The spirits on the wall are fading, fading, finally being forced on their way to oblivion, free of the house, leaving a warm, clean sweet space among the living, among the good and hopeful??¦The room sighs, the house breathes its first painless breath in half a century.
???She was a pretty kid, but not as pretty as her mother. Well, that??™s what everyone told her. She wasn??™t vain, but it stuck in her guts???
???the little girl looking prissy and lost. In the middle of the night she??™s there poking her head out of the window as if to get her bearings.???
???Damn her, damn her, damn her to hell and shit and piss and sick! She??™s drunk again and loud and vile with her eyes full of hate and meanness, but I??™ll get her out in the end.???
???Sometimes she hated being alive???
???Her heart felt like a fist???
???Whenever she ate more than a few mouthfuls she vomited it straight back again???
???She didn??™t care if the old girl came to her party or went to hell in a hurry???
???She poured every bottle of liquor she ever found in the house down the sink??¦she did it in glee, out of spite???
???Rose, you look like a corpse these days???
???She loved school??¦she wanted to be a clever woman, to know poetry and mathematics, to go to Africa and discover something.???
???You have to be your luck. There??™s nothing else, there??™s just you.???
???Hating you is the best part of bein alive!???
???Oh Rose, you loved me. How you did. And there you go drifting by with the river, out on an eddy in a black, shiny Morris Oxford with a man that quotes D.H. Lawrence with his tongue in your ear and cheese on his chin.???
???She despised him??? (that is, Toby)
???Your mother??™s on the bed under some stranger and you??™re turning to steel right there.???
???You stole from me. My childhood, my innocence, my trust. You were always a hateful bitch. A drunken slut. You beat us and shamed us in public. I hate you for all the reasons you hate yourself???
???Rose felt things falling within her, a terrible shifting of weights.???
???She found soft parts in herself, soft parts in Dolly as well, and in a way she figured it saved her from herself. It was love really, finding some love left. It was like tonic.???
???It??™s like a village??¦It??™s a bloody tribe, a new tribe.???
???When I want to be independent I retire. I go skinny and puke??¦I just begin to disappear. But I want to live. I want to be with people.???
???Crazy Biblebashers and their fake miracles???
Lester is important because he values family loyalty highly. This is highlighted when Quick asks, ???what dyou live for??? and Lester replies ???The family??¦Take away the family and that??™s it, there??™s no point???. He does feel guilty about Fish??™s near death experience, but realises that he??™s got to keep the family together and look after the shell that is left of Fish ??“ You and me understand about Fish. We were there. We were stupid enough to drown him trying to save him. You remember that. We owe him things, Quick. We got a debt Immediately there is a connection between Lester and Sam: ???Lester sees the pink stumps and reads grief in the man??™s face. He knows what it looks like. He only needs a mirror.???
???Lester and Oriel are Godfearing people???
???Let??™s not be hypocrites and thank God???
???The singin, that??™s what I miss??¦the old church songs, they??™re beautiful???
???I know it??™s not his fault??¦It??™s just what happened???
???We owe him things??¦we got a debt???
???Life was something you didn??™t argue with, because when it came down to it, whether you barracked for God or nothing at all, life was all there was.???
???Vaudeville was something he was good at, something legendary from his past that was actually true???
???Those Bible stories and words weren??™t the kind you forgot. It was like they??™d happened to you all along, that they were your own memories???
???You take the good with the bad???
???I was somebody with kids ??“ they believed in me???
???The bloke whose married to the lady in the tent???
???I keep having this dream??¦It??™s dark and raining and I??™m in a storm and I??™m in the middle of a creek ??“ I can hear it roaring and see the white. There??™s lightning but it doesn??™t show anything up, just blinds me. I??™m absolutely packin myself. And I??™m on my father??™s shoulders and he??™s carryin me across. He??™s steady and big, and we??™re makin it.???
???I??™m happy when I don??™t think about??¦not measurin up??¦[to] your mother???
???I just want to be liked??¦I always wanted to be loved???
???Take away the family and that??™s it, there??™s no point??¦It??™s why I don??™t shoot meself quietly in the head with the old Webley. If I did nothin else in me weak old life, Quick, I know I had a family and I enjoyed every bit of it.???
Her character is explored through military imagery ???she knew the battle was over???. This is because she fights life and is a survivor; she values ???stickability???. She ???barks??? orders to her ???troops??? and so naturally when the she starts the ???Cloudstreet??? corner shop, as it is coined, she is firmly in charge of the ???operation???. Her past experiences consist of men in her life abandoning her (in her view). Her mother and sisters died in a bushfire, her father abandoned her when he remarried, and her brother also abandoned her when he went to fight and was killed in Palestine. Because of these experiences of family, for much of the novel instead of sleeping in the house she retires to a tent in the yard. In the last passage of the novel, her and Dolly pack up the tent, symbolically showing Oriel??™s embracement of family. The Fish incident further perpetuates her anti-family feelings and so she loses her way, and her faith in God. However, there is an element of religion that she maintains, and eventually she returns to Christianity. It??™s all war??¦Everythin. Raisin a family, keeping yer head above water. Life. War is our natural state.
I just wish I knew what to believe in??¦Since Fish??¦I??™ve been losing the war. I??™ve lost me bearins.
The strong are here to look after the weak, son, and the weak are here to teach the strong.
???She??™s prouder than the British Empire???
???People started to call her sergeant-major???
???We blame him??¦And I blame you. And God.???
???Oriel had lost power over him??¦a defeat that you could read in her face???
???There was something wrong with men. They lacked some basic thing???
???She loved Lester, but a lot of loving him was making up for him, compensating???
???Has my life been a waste???
???The Anzacs were what the Lambs believed in??¦the nation, that??™s what kept the Lambs going???
???I believe in my country???
???Oh, how she hated to be a survivor???
???Oriel felt the centripetal pull of the old things and she felt lonely the way she never had in her life??? (her experience in the Church during Hat??™s wedding)
???I just wish I knew what to believe in???
???I??™m not standin for the bad; bad people, bad luck, bad ways, not even bad breath. We make good, Lester. We make war on the bad and don??™t surrender.???
???Oh, if she thinks about everything that??™s been taken from her over the years ??“ Lord, it??™s like the longest subtraction sum invented.???
???It does you good to be tenants. It reminds you of your own true position in the world??¦A house should be a home, a privilege, not a possession???
Quick for much of the novel is deeply guilty about what happened to Fish. He ???picks up sadness like he??™s got a radar for it??? and pastes pictures from newspapers of people suffering up on the walls of his bedroom. He runs away from Cloudstreet, and lives out in the bush for a while, making a living by shooting kangaroos. He experiences a vision in the wheat fields of Fishing rowing a boat over the top of the wheat, and picks up the Blackfella, who leads him back to Cloudstreet. But he??™s not ready to go back to Cloudstreet. Eventually he comes back, glowing, and falls in love with Rose and they move away. He becomes a policeman and gets involved in the Nedland Monster case. Through this experience he lets go of his guilt ??“ ???That??™s my brother. This is my life over again. This will always be happening.???
???Quick knows that his brother is smarter and better looking than him, and that people love him more???
???He knows it should have been him, not Fish???
???He looks up and sees the gallery of the miserable??¦and he knows he deserves their scourging stares.???
???Fair dinkum, Quick Lamb hates himself???
???He missed the old Fish???
???Quick tried to pray, but nothing came???
???He thought he was coping, but he was miserable, lost, drifting, tired and homesick as a dog???
???Thy rod and Thy staff comfort me???
???I hate this family stuff???
???the old business of feelin guilty about being a survivor???
???What??™m like…a bit lost??¦the lost Lamb???
???Quick knew he was missing Cloudstreet???
???it??™s not us and them anymore. It??™s us and us??¦there??™s no monsters, only people like us???
Fish for much of the novel is retarded due to a prawning accident in which he was trapped under the net and almost drowned. This results in ???having his gizzard, his soul torn away???, and when Oriel ???beat the water out of him??? and ???got sounds on him you only got from cold pastry???, ???not all of Fish Lamb had come back???. He is a shell of his former self, a boy in a man??™s body, and plays the piano in the library (badly) frequently. He acts as the connection between the spiritual world and the physical world. As he can feel that the house is ???hurt??? and sees the ghosts of the dead Aboriginal girls that haunt the house. Fish is portrayed as the book??™s saviour, and there are many biblical references suggesting this. He is the central character in the novel that unites the physical with the spiritual, and the Lambs and the Pickles.
???Fish was everyone??™s favourite???
???The water. The water.???
???the sight of your body rolling like that, bursting with voice and doubleness, reminds you that the worlds are still connected???
???Who??™s your Mum ??¦???
???The house hurts???
???thick unending drone of middle C???
???the two women bare teeth at each other, dark and light??¦hating, hurting, hissing???
???The house is clear, the people are coming to things day by day and it??™s all that??™s left. No shadows, no ugly, no hurtings, no falling down angry. Your turn is coming.???
???your gift to them, the man, the woman, the baby, a gift???
???we??™ll be us; you and me???
???The sound of it [water] has been in his ears all his life and he??™s hungry for it???
???I??™m Fish Lamb for those seconds it takes to die, as long as it takes to drink the river, as long as it took to tell you all this, and then my walls are tipping and I burst into the moon, sun and stars of who I am. Being Fish Lamb. Perfectly. Always. Everyplace. Me.???
MAIN IDEA: All characters have dreams/hopes that are not achieved in reality. Therefore their journeys in the novel can be seen as journeys towards reconciliation. This is conveyed in the following imagery: ???House and no money??¦ponds and no fish??¦trees and no fruit??¦arm and no hand???
Used to illustrate the generosity of life, and celebrate life. Eg: There??™s ginger beer, staggerjuice, and hot flasks of tea. There??™s pasties, a ham, chickenlegs and a basket of oranges, potato salad and dried figs. There are things spilling from jars and bags.
Interestingly, dialogue isn??™t indicated using quotation marks. This conveys a sense of unity and integration which corresponds to the theme of reconciliation in the thoughts, actions, issues, ideas and themes presented in the novel. Australian working class vernacular is used ??“ ???up the duff???, ???cop my wallop???, ???raw prawn??? ??“ to help vividly recreate scenes and give it an Australian feel. Swear words in the middle of words is also uniquely Aussie: ???Egyptian flamin plagues???.
Is very Australian and gives it a unique Australian flavour. Laconic humour is dominant (eg. Quick is called Quick because he isn??™t very fast on the uptake. Sam gets a job at the Mint, and he wastes his money away on gambling). Laughing in the face of adversity (black humour) is also prevalent (eg. when Sam gets his fingers ripped off they are described as ???four fingers fell to the deck and danced like half a pound of live prawns.???
Frequent changes in perspective
Winton not only changes from narrator Fish to spiritual Fish, the narration also interchanges with the other major characters. It enables Winton is explore many issues such as alcoholism, anorexia, family unit, racial problems, biblical illusions, gambling, and poverty, and different modes of finding meaning in life by studying each character??™s own perspective. In this way he respects the thoughts and actions of all the major characters, and allows them to have their own voice.
At times the tone of the novel is very hymn-like: ???Shall we gather at the river where bright angels feet have trod??¦???
Fish as the narrator serves as the essence of spirituality. Jesus used the figure of a fish to mean peace, and Fish can talk in tongues to the Pentecostal pig, a direct reference to Pentecost in the bible where the Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples and told them to spread the word of God, giving them the ability to speak in many different tongues. When Quick and Fish are on the boat on the river (p.114), Fish is described as ???standing up in the middle of the boat with his arms out like he??™s gliding???, which can be paralleled to Jesus on the cross. In this way it is suggested that Fish is the saviour of the novel and that he must suffer and not be allowed to reunite with his spiritual half until the other characters have reconciled themselves. Fish??™s time on earth it seems was dictated by his fate to join the two families, culminating the marriage of Quick and Rose and the birth of Cloudstreet??™s son Wax Harry. This can be symbolically paralleled to the birth of Jesus, juxtaposed to Fish??™s fate and the death and resurrection of Jesus (which was to give humankind ???new life???), juxtaposed with the reunion of Fish??™s physical and spiritual selves.
|Event in the novel |Biblical event |
|???only one bathroom and twelve people to be washed??? |Washing of the twelve by Jesus |
|The spread of kangaroos in the outback is referred to as ???the Egyptian flamin|The plagues that God sent that almost destroyed Egypt |
|plagues??? | |
|Quick comes home glowing |Moses coming down from the mountain after receiving the 10 commandments ??“ |
| |Exodus 34:29 ???his face was shining because he had been speaking with the |
| |Lord??? |
|Quick is fishing and ???he got a strike the moment the hooks hit the water, and|Disciples go fishing and they come back ashore with an abundance of fish |
|then another, and when he saw the upward charge of the mob he felt something | |
|was happening he might not be able to explain to a stranger??? | |
The significance of these parallels is they maintain the spiritual dimension of the novel and as stated on p.151: ???those bible stories and words weren??™t the kind you forgot. It was like they??™d happened to you all along, that they were your own memories???. This suggests their relevance to ordinary life and the parallels suggest that miracles can happen, and the allusions impose a sense of hope despite the dramas at Cloudstreet.
Bird imagery used to clarify people??™s characters. Sam is a cockatoo. Oriel is a magpie. Birds are associated with freedom. Fish is compared to a bird.
House is divided into the Lambs and the Pickles; the ghosts of the past (Aboriginal girls) and the current occupants ??“ ???invasion???, ???shadow???, ???emptiness???
House is compared to a ship to suggest it takes them through their journeys ??“ ???he stands in the big house and hears it creak???, ???Cloudstreet looks like a crabby old steamer resting at her moorings in the quiet time before the seas quicken and unsettle her???, ???full sail???
Ambivalent nature of the house is contained with its name: Cloudstreet. Clouds can be stormy and dark, or associated with dreams and hopes. The name Cloudstreet suggests integration of the spiritual and physical world.
Central symbol because important things happen at the river. The novel starts and ends there, Quick and Rose fall in love there, important events in Oriel??™s life occur next to the river, and Fish is obsessed with water. The river symbolises life, cleansing, purification and salvation.
Used to show the joy of life and church songs are connected to spirituality
Food ( nourishment and contrasts with starvation (Rose when she hates her mother starves herself, suggesting that she is neither physically or emotionally nourishing herself)
Miracles, dreams, visions
Used to maintain the spiritual dimension in the novel and helps to gain insights into the characters??™ hopes and what they must do to reconcile.
Is the ???conscience??™ of the novel and connects to the Aboriginal history of the house. Reminds the people of Cloudstreet what is important. Presence causes Aboriginal readers to see Cloudstreet as a novel about reconciliation between whites and blacks in Australia.
Continent of the house
Cloudstreet referred to as ???this great continent of a house???, suggesting that the house symbolically represents the continent of Australia, the suicides of the Aboriginal girls represents the persecution of the Aborigines and the Lambs and Pickles represent the invading colonisers. For this reason Cloudstreet is seen as an advocate for reconciliation as the inhabitants of Cloudstreet, through the birth of Wax Harry, force the ???spirits??? of the house into ???oblivion???.
??? Post WWII Perth, Australia
??? WWII ??“ Australia was a unified nation against a common enemy ( strong personal and community loyalties
??? Urban sprawl ( economic security ( isolation and loss of community values
??? Perth during war: wholesome social context where loyalty was valued and rewarded
??? Perth after war: alienating and welcoming
??? The Nedland Monster changed people??™s community attitudes
??? Winton??™s longing for Perth as it was during WWII manifested in the success of Oriel??™s shop
Search for meaning and fulfilment in life
Religion and spirituality
Secular belief systems ??“
Community, family, sense of belonging
A fragmented, hilarious, crude, mystical soap opera. In a rich Australian idiom, Winton lets his characters rip against an evocation of Perth so intense you can smell it.