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Essay Domination: Cloudstreet

Cloudstreet Essay: The Use of Minor Characters to create Social Context

The social context is the roles and positions that as a whole influence the individuals of a group. The social context of an individual is the culture that they were educated in and live in, and the people who they interact with. A person’s social environment is likely to create a feeling of solidarity amongst it’s members who are most likely to keep together, trust and help one another and members of the same social context will often think in similar styles and patterns even when their conclusions differ. The minor characters of Cloudstreet, by Tim Winton, help to construct the social context of the story by both highlighting and juxtaposing certain elements of the society in which the story is set, and how the main characters and the story reflect this. Elements of the social context that they contribute to can be seen in race, gender and class.

Toby Raven is probably the most significant of all the minor characters developed within Cloudstreet, as he is given the biggest section. Toby, after becoming involved with Rose, helps to show the social constructions and context involving the different social classes. Rose comes from a working class background and is largely uneducated in comparison to Toby who is a writer at University and from a middle class background. The juxtaposition of those two classes is shown through their relationship and helps to impress on the reader the working class culture, which is glorified. Rose realizes through their relationship that she identifies and feels better with it, and trusts the people of the working class more.

When Toby introduces her to his friends who are also highly educated and part of the bourgeois, she feels uncomfortable. Winton describes them as ‘[speaking] with their heads back and their eyes closed and their accents were Englishy’. The grammar of that statement alone allows the reader to realise that they are being described from a working class perspective because that is what Rose comes to identify herself with. Rose describes one of Toby’s friends as a ‘poonce from the University’ to which Toby replies ‘show some taste, some decorum’. This response to Rose’s working class slang shows his snobby and bourgeois views. When they go to one of his parties together with its ‘slick lawns’, ‘gleaming cars’ and ‘heavy panelled living rooms’, Rose feels out of place and ‘wanted to go’. When Toby further embarrasses her in order to impress his snobby friends with a tale of her lifestyle which is considered lowly to them, she ‘[shakes] in sick surprise’. This shows Rose in a situation and social context that she isn’t comfortable within, and this in turn helps to emphasise that she does feel comfortable within her own class which is previously developed for the reader through other characters and their actions or values as well as her social environment. In these previous descriptions of the working class it is glorified, and set up as being the better class that’s neither snobby nor conceited as Toby shows the reader that the middle class is.

Other characters that help to develop the social classing of Cloudstreet’s social context are Beryl Lee, Wogga McBride, his brother and the Clays. All o these minor characters feature in small sections of the story and help to show the strains on the classes both during and after the wars. This defines what the other main characters are going through and illustrates the society that they have to live in as a result of war. Beryl Lee is an example of what happens to someone when they loose everything – ‘her hubby had gone down in the Perth’ and she lost the house as a result. However she shows that it’s not the end of the world, because she is a ‘hard worker and kind’ and gives a positive representation of the working class. She becomes a form of conscience for Lester and Oriel similar to how the Aboriginal man act’s as one for Quick, and at the end also for Sam.

The Clays, on the other hand, how the competitive nature which becomes necessary and natural for those less fortunate after a war. Winton uses the Clays, coinciding with the Vietnam War, to emphasise both Oriels competitive ways, which she uses to deal with her grief over losing Quick, and Dolly’s promiscuous behaviour. Oriel goes to war with the Clays over their two shops and wins. However her victory comes at a price: in the process of her beating them, she destroys their family (along with the actions of Dolly). Mrs. Clays response teaches Oriel that she can’t always control everything around her and forces her to think about the implications that has for her own beliefs about support, sacrifice and family within her own social context. The Clays also help to demonstrate, along with Beryl Lee, the importance to their society of serving one’s country. There is a lot of proud behaviour displayed about military service from both the major and minor characters such as Oriel saying, “I believe in my county”, and stating that her husband was “Cavalry. The 10th light Horse. At Gallipoli” with ‘a hint of breathless pride.’

The McBride boys in comparison illustrate what war can do to people during the depression in what is now considered extremes, but was in their society considered quite common then. In comparison to the McBride’s Quick realises ‘[they’re] lucky’. He sees kids at school who are poor, yet he always has food. When he realises that Wogga McBride and his brother ‘aren’t eating anything at all; just pretending’ out of pride, he then ‘resolves to take food to [them] every day, but most days he forgets’. This highlights the comparison of Rose starving herself and going anorexic, which proves an interesting twist in their society – while there are some who actually have no choice but to starve, others more privileged shun their favour and choose not to eat. Sam really emphasises this selfish behavior when he tells Rose, “I didn’t go through a fuckin depression and a war to see my children turn their nose up at food.” The McBride boys highlight this point in society and the selfish acts, which are common to those in classes of even the slightest privilege, even when in times of devastation.

Along with these selfish acts, which can be present in the society that forms the two families social context, is the expectation formed around gender. Lucy Wentworth, Lon Lamb and Ted Pickles all help to show, as minor characters, the expectations of society in relation to sex, pregnancy, marriage and gender roles. These points are reflected in both Rose and Quick’s lives and becomes particularly significant when they share a relationship. Lucy Wentworth teaches Quick about sex which he then later admits that he just ‘got used to’ and continued only because ‘she was around, he was around’. When their relationship of sorts is discovered ‘Mrs. Wentworth wept’ and ‘wondered how she could ever go into town again’, which clearly signifies the social stigma surrounding casual sex and the issue of relationships in their society.  Lon Lamb also highlights this social issue when he gets Pansy Mullet pregnant and is ‘married inside a fortnight’. Along with these issues of gender, the minor characters is their society seem to conform to the gender role stereotypes expected of them – the male is strong and dominant while the woman is weaker and domestic. This creates an interesting contrast to the main characters, Rose and Quick, as well as the more central minor characters, the parents, which in turn creates an interesting twist in the characters social context because they don’t conform to what their society would consider normal.

The only other minor characters of note in Cloudstreet are the very few aborigines present in the novel. An issue raised by Winton in the novel is that of reconciliation between White society and Aborigines. Through using this topic Winton creates a social context, which both sympathises with the Australian Aboriginal population over the mistreatment of the stolen generation and in general, as well as comments on the naivety of the White Anglo Saxon Protestant (WASP) societies. By using the background story of the house that becomes the main setting for the novel in chapter three, the reader learns about the history of the Aboriginal girls that had been ‘taken from their familes’ and ‘were not happy’ because they were stolen to be shown how to be ‘ladies’ so they could ‘set a standard for the rest of their sorry race’. The two ghosts – the old house owner and the Aboriginal girl that committed suicide – remain in the house and continue to fight and bicker each other after more than twenty years later when the pickles inherit the house. This is representational of the fighting that also continued in their society many years later. The ghosts finally come to peace and fade away another twenty years later at the birth of wax Harry. This birth of new life and the peace that it creates for the ghosts, signifies the reconciliation that can be gained eventually and in time through the new generations. The ghosts help to show the changing of society and the social context of the book – from inheriting the fighting bickering society of two cultures to the beginning of reconciliation – and this can be seen mirrored in the two families morphing into one joint one with the joining of Rose and Quick and then the birth of Wax Harry.

The other Aborigine represented in the novel is a nameless man that seems to act as Quick’s conscience. This can be seen when he brings Quick back to Cloudstreet and his family after he abandoned them. This anonymous man assists in demonstrating the gap between two cultures once again. The observation made by Quick is that ‘he’s never seen an aborigine in a pinstriped suit before’ like its an extremely out of the ordinary occurrence. This demonstrates that in this social context, Aborigines were still not as privileged as white Anglo Saxon protestant societies and were still mistreated without equal rights. This is further clarified at the end of Cloudstreet when Sam asks the aboriginal man if he had voted in the political elections and just receives a laugh and a shake of the head in reply to his ignorance. These ideas surrounding these characters form the basis of the racial aspects of the social context of Cloudstreet.

Throughout Cloudstreet, minor characters play an essential role in helping to shape the social context by both highlighting and comparing issues within society and how the main characters identify with them. The minor characters that demonstrate this in carrying parts of the novel include Beryl Lee, Toby Raven, The Clays, The McBride brothers, Lucy Wentworth, Pansy Mullet, the ghosts, the anonymous aboriginal man and even the brothers and sisters of both Rose and Quick. They all highlight the culture that the Quick and Rose were educated in, lived in and who they interacted with. Winton creates views and critiques on class values, gender roles and expectations, and the racial views concerned with reconciliation and the stolen generation, by reflecting them all in the social construct as a result of the actions and appearances of the minor characters.


November 7, 2008 Posted by | Cloudstreet, Help for slack Lit Students, homework, school | Leave a comment