Cloudstreet – A Review and Analysis
I suppose this text is deeply influenced by the rather in vogue traditions of Post colonial literature; that body of work finding a voice for those traditionally silenced in the traditional and mainstream body of literature. Cloudstreet provides a voice and in the process romanticizes the ordinary lives of working class, largely uneducated, insular yet genuine and honest people.
Cloudstreet also provides a really vivid and moving, symbolic representation of Aboriginal Australia in the almost magical appearances of the ‘Blackfella’ as a type of moral compass and ‘Gandalf/Dumbledore’ ‘agent of wisdom’ device. The ‘Blackfella’ provides advice to characters, suggesting Quick return home and warning Sam against selling Cloudstreet, ‘Too many places are busted…places are strong…important’. This also reflects Winton’s use of Traditional Aboriginal attitudes towards ‘place’ as part of identity and a broader collective soul and belonging.
The images of totem spirits and the ghosts or spirits living within Cloudstreet also reinforce Aboriginal conceptions of time as a non-linear, polychrome and interactive entity. Imagery of Totem spirits is developed, for example where an aboriginal is perceived as ‘much a bird as a man’, and another spirit who acts as Fish’s guardian angel is described as: ‘A dark man comes flying by a tree, you see the whites of his eyes and tingle with rumours of glory’, and just before Fish’s death and spiritual salvation, ‘a black man leaves the trees like a bird and goes laughing into the sun with a great hot breeze that rolls off the roof of the world.’
Firstly the text was written during the later 1980’s, you will find some similarities between the texts memorable and at times comic subversion of traditional gender roles and archetypes and the ideas promoted as part of third wave Feminism…which rejected any hard and fast, dogmatic notion of female identity. Third Wave feminism differs from other previous feminist movements, intellectually, in its promotion of a diffuse, open and all embracing idea of feminine…This resonates particularly with Winton’s acceptance of his two extreme females who dominate much of the novel…in accepting the sexual and alcoholic excess of Dolly and the authoritarian excess of Oriel.
Secondly, Winton was part of a subversive discourse celebrating ‘Aboriginality’ and the publishing of Cloudstreet coincided with a broad change in Australian attitudes towards aboriginals best signified by the historic Mabo case establishing native title in 1992 and rejecting the legal principle of Terra Nullius.
Another important aspect to Cloudstreet is undoubtedly Winton’s deep although at times unorthodox Christian faith, this is reflected in the continual references to bible stories, and even at times Winton’s language resonates with a succinct yet profound style perhaps mirroring the bible. You, the reader, are given enormous scope to take what you will from these references…for example I have been told Quick’s characterisation mirrors that of the story of the ‘Prodigal Child’ and perhaps his departure from home reflects Christs ‘years in the wilderness’…and then the reader is challenged with the more explicit biblical references, for example the images of holy communion in the car with Quick and the ‘Blackfella’, The ‘Blackfella’s walking on water and Quick’s luck with catching the fish….the list goes on…I suppose for me, forgive me for being blunt, but the central ‘message’ is undoubtedly what the reader will make of this intertwining of Spiritual and real within Cloudstreet…I felt this was the central conflict if you like within the text symbolised with Fish’s struggle with the dichotomy of the Real and the Spiritual…This is further evidenced by the union of the title Cloudstreet symbolising the final resolution/compromise or reconciliation between the ethereal, magical and spiritual with the mundane reality of a life geared around the material.
The Question of Literary Status
You would think this eternal question and apparent subjectivity in answer about whether any text constitutes literature would feature more prominently in any sort of appraisal of any text. For a change I would suggest as the foremost evidence for Cloudstreet’s status as a seminal and profound part of the Australian and indeed English speaking literary cannon is its success spanning over thirty years, proving it was not simply successful as some sort of political manifesto for the changing social attitudes and perceptions during the 80’s and 90’s to do with gender, class, spirituality and Aboriginality…it has captured the soul of Australian life through its unnerving attention to detail and its unique ‘localness’…it has truly established a claim to reflect the universal…
Cloudstreet is one of my favourite books, there is something appealing to its grounded approach to heady questions of spirituality, something comforting in its central juxtaposition of the magical beside the mundane, perhaps there is room for spiritual renewal in all our daily lives…
I’m not sure my whole article/ramble has done much in terms of analysis in its superficial glossing over… of the incredible polysemy within Cloudstreet and even less justice to the idea of a ‘review’ with its implicit expectation of some form of judgment or appraisal… but I feel the best I can do in terms of ‘finding a negative’ in Cloudstreet is identify to you what was not comforting to me… the aspects to the text which were faintly off putting… and I would remind you of the highly subjective and in the end meaningless value of such a sentiment… yet I will persist a little more in trying to convey it to you…
What put me off was the implicit endorsement of social stratification found in the text, very similar to One Day of the Year, in the way Cloudstreet identifies and then valorises the Working Class…but in the end the way Quick and Rose are coerced back into the fold of their family… forced away from dreams of a move up on the rung of the social hierarchy… I take issue with the one sided rejection of middle class values as pretentious in the characterisation of Toby Raven… Of coarse the suggestion here is class is in the end a meaningful and rightful delineation of humans based upon compatibility… Rose can’t connect with Toby…No she can only connect with ‘her own’….her fellow working class… Is this not a little unjust… And then there is this idea of the author taking a slightly patronising position as already part of the hegemony perpetuating stratified class, as a means of maintaining an obedient, uneducated and insular labour force….
I thank you for your attention, if you have managed to subject yourself to the entirety of my meandering, infuriatingly fragmented diatribe…I would only suggest in my defense that I have done exactly that capture fragments of my reaction and reading of Cloudstreet, it being impossible to do much more with such an open, diverse and meaningful text. Cloudstreet will undoubtedly remain a classic in the Australian canon of literature, and Winton’s place among our country’s authors is undoubtedly a unique and deeply respected one…I truly enjoyed reading this ripper of a novel!