‘Australian literature is about the survival of the spirit.’
According to your reading of your text, what is important to the survival of the spirit?
In The Turning, Winton explores how life inevitably includes painful experiences that threatens the
survival one’s spirit, but it is the individuals’ reaction to those experiences that determines whether they
succeed in renewing their spirit or not. Those characters who simply wait for something to happen, or
seek a physical escape fail in renewing their spirits which are stuck in the past, while the spirits of those
characters who face their past and look within for a solution to their problems survive. The book itself is
a series of non-chronological fragments of people’s lives, and the jagged stop-start nature of these
memories reflect the characters’ broken spirits.
Winton sets up characters whose spirits are broken in The Turning; spirits that are too stuck in past
events. I was led to feel sympathetic towards these characters, while at the same time finding their
infatuation with the past irrational, such as Raelene from ‘The Turning’, who has never gotten over her
father leaving her when she was young, and the subsequent domestic abuse she suffers at hands of her
husband, Max, who she unreasonably feels is necessary to fill that father figure gap in her life, and thus
stays with him. The narrator from ‘Aquifer’, as an adult, relives vivid memories from his childhood after
going back to his hometown after the police discover the remains of a boy that he watched die when he
was little, lamenting that, “the past is in us, and not behind us.” The didactic tone emphasises Winton’s
message about the broken nature about his character’s spirits due to being stuck in the past. Vic Lang is
still laments his father’s disappearance and constantly relives his infatuation with a girl, Strawberry
Allison, from childhood, who passed away, evident from his wife, Gail’s words, about this infatuation
with her in ‘Damaged Goods’: ‘only last week I found him in the workshop weeping over an old
photograph and a poem and it gave me a chill.’ Gail’s external perspective allowed me to sympathise
with her and realise how irrational Vic was being. The photograph symbolises a link between the past
and the present, and his weeping over this emphasises how profound of an effect the past has had on
him, and how broken his spirit is.
Winton then shows these same characters going about renewing their spirit in the wrong way, ending
up not being able to get over and even worsening their infatuation with the past by simply trying to go
somewhere or latching onto an external solution. The narrator from ‘Big World’ and his mate Biggie
flunk their exams, and think they can renew their spirit and get over their failure by simply driving away
with no realistic plan. A mere week they find themselves back home, and the narrator foreshadows the
futility of this escape with this unintentionally ironic comment about the Kombi they...