Thursday, March 22, 2012

Joan Makes History by Kate Grenville - Gender, Class and Racial Issues

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The book Joan Makes History by Kate Grenville uses many techniques throughout to convey meaning and a clearer understanding about issues such a gender, race and class. Symbolism is employed to draw the reader into the events that circulate around the main character and absorb the reader, giving a deeper understanding of these three social issues that are featured in the novel.

The issue of gender in Joans society is perhaps the most prominent issue being explored by Grenville through the character Joan. The use of symbolism enhances the meaning and helps expose the various aspects of gender roles in Joans society.

...father and daughter had the look of prisoner and warder...

Page 105

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This passage implies the dominance of men over women. The term prisoner signifies how the daughter could not escape from her father, and the term warder conveys how he would not release her except to give her to another warder - in this case, her husband. This was most often the relationship between males and females in Joans time. A woman was the possesion of her father until she was married, and then she became the possession of her husband, and never escaped from her prison.

Husbands! Well, even I, Joan, would need one, I supposed, to give countenance to my salon, and pay the bills of my genius of a dressmaker...

Page 147

This statement of Joans conveys the message that Joan was completely reliant upon her husband. Her reliance upon her husbands paying of her bills meant she could not bring in any income on her own, and was dependant upon him to look after her needs. The fact that Joan needed a husband to ...give countenance to my salon... shows that Joan could not make her own way in the world without her husband. Either she would not be taken seriously without a male figure in her life, or she lacked the willpower to seek success without a husband for moral and financial support. This expresses, using symbolism, how, as well as being dominated by males, females were completely dependant upon their husbands to provide them with everything they needed to live.

As most of Joans history-making takes place in an Australia that is currently being colonised, the Aboriginal race features occasionally thoroughout the novel. Thus, race is an issue often illuminated, and symbolism is regularly used to accentuate and expose the undercurrent issue.

He was a man from an unknown world, where living men looked the colour of the dead...

Page 55

This statement is made by Joan during one of her many history-making escapades, and at the time, she is an Aborigine. The reaction of the Aborigines to the white stranger they meet is expressed in this extract by Joans comparison of the white man to a dead person. The only place Joan had ever seen that colour on a human being before was a deceased human. This is somewhat of a role-reversal of white people and Aborigines; instead of white people commenting on the different colour of Aborigines skins, the Aborigines are the ones expressing surprise at the strange colour of white mans skin.

...that woman and her tribe... were in agony, with their bellies full of damper poisoned with our hatred and fear.

Page 11

Joan expresses this after returning from helping an Aborigine give birth to a stillborn child. She finds out that her employers had poisoned flour that a tribe of Aborigines had subsequently stolen, and the cause of the womans painful birth was obviously the result of eating the poisoned food. Symbolism is used in this passage to convey the cause and result of the poisoning of the tribe. Fear and hatred towards the Aborigines led Joans employers to poison the food, resultant in pain and anguish for the tribe. This symbolism accentuates the meaning of the passage, alerting the readers attention to racial issues such as ignorance and conflict, and makes a bigger impact with the reader.

The society that most of Joans history-making took place in was very class-oriented. Symbolism is used to enhance the distinctions between the classes and exposes this issue more meaningfully to the reader.

I could see that the Captain felt no great love for this hummingbird of a man, with his quick eyes and brilliant waistcoat of silver brocade that shimmered in the sun, when good honest broadcloth, and a smile that was as rare as gold, were good enough for my plain Captain.

Page 1

This statement conveys the Captains acceptance of lower classes, and perhaps even preference of lower class to upper class. Hummingbird of a man signifies that the upper class man in question was perhaps flighty and fickle, as opposed to the description of a man lower in society; the statement good honest broadcloth expresses that lower class men were perhaps more honest, dependable and without pretentions, as broadcloth was usually worn by those of lesser social standing. This is also conveyed by a smile that was as rare as gold, implying that such men are perhaps more sincere than the prestigious men that could be clothed in a brilliant waistcoat of silver brocade that shimmered in the sun. This use of symbolism is very effective in expressing the meaning of the passage to the reader.

I, Joan, was there, but not in silk; I was one of those who had hopes of better things in the future, but in the meantime I had to bend over washtubs and kitchen fires, and pluck fowl which others would eat, because I did not have much choice.

Page 1

It is stated clearly, through the symbolism in this passage, that in this particular adventure of Joans, she was of the lower class. Not in silk, hopes of better things, washtubs and kitchen fires and pluck fowl which others would eat all take part in expressing this. Joans hopes of better things in the future conveys that she longs to get out of the life that she is leading and have a better existance elsewhere, and to do so, she needs to rise to become a member of the upper class. The difference between upper and lower class is destinctly defined, and the lower class peoples lives of drudgery and hopes of a brighter future are outlined through Grenvilles use of symbolism.

Employed frequently throughout the novel, symbolism has enhanced meaning when dealing with the issues of race, class and gender in Joans day. Kate Grenville uses this technique to create a clear picture in the readers mind of what life was like in Joans time and how these issues affected Joans life and the lives of those around her. Symbolism is subtly woven in with her stories to assist the reader in accessing more accurate meanings from within the text, and understanding the issues that affected Joan as she effortlessly made history.

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