Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

1 January 2017

The conclusion of Tim Winton’s novel Cloudstreet is the amalgamation of the entire spiritual element of the narrative. Within the final two chapters the key spiritual themes of the story are resolved, which itself is the central theme of the story. I believe that the unexplained spiritual events in the everyday are the most memorable elements of the narrative, due to the consistent nature with which they appear through the text, giving it strong integrity as a unified whole.

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The consistency of the spiritual element is resolved with the final chapters with the reunification of Fish Lamb, and the subtle influence of elements of both Christian and Indigenous belief systems. The reunification of Fish consolidates the spiritual role that he has throughout the entire novel. Fish’s death joins the omniscient narrator and the drowning victim, as described in the closing tetracolon ‘Perfectly. Always. Everyplace. Me.

In his article Go Home said the Fish Michael McGirr states that ‘the reunification of both Fish Lambs is a moment of healing’. With his drowning, Fish returns to the state that he was in prior to being spiritually torn in two, leaving him broken, despite being clinically described with the alliterative tricolon ‘alert, aware, sane’. As both the omniscient narrator, and the mortal character Fish possesses a spiritual nature, almost always aware and present when inexplicable events occur.

These events include the alliteratively described ‘Pentecostal pig’, and when Quick is ‘lit up like a sixty watt globe’. This spiritual presence is central to the reunification of the families at the novel’s conclusion, as symbolically represented by the removal of the fence from the yard. The conclusion of Fish’s part in the novel is the conclusion of a tale of spirituality channelled through a character that would otherwise be considered mentally deficient.

This, to me, is evidence that Cloudstreet is a narrative about the spiritual in the mundane. The presence of the river at the conclusion of the novel carries strong spiritual connotations that are developed throughout the entire narrative. The motif of the river, and less specifically water, is used by Winton to make reference to Christian and Indigenous spirituality. The novel is bookended with the scene at the river, creating a tone of predetermination that is supported by an excerpt from the hymn Shall we Gather at the River?

The water motif threads through many of the key events in the story, including Sam ironically losing his hand to the ‘Hairy hand’, Fish’s drowning, Quick’s mystical fishing trip, and the formation of Quick and Rose’s relationship. The author of Cloudstreet and the field of Australian Literature, Robert Dixon, believes the river’s main role in the novel is to be a ‘switching point between the physical and the spiritual’, which is supported by Fish and Quick’s fishing trip.

During this trip, Quick believes that ‘the river is full of sky as well’, metaphorically bringing the heavens into the water. By using ‘the beautiful, the beautiful, the river’ as an element in concluding and opening the novel, Winton creates a sense that the novel is a complete text of strong integrity. The conclusion of the novel blurs the lines between defined belief systems, leading me to believe that the novel does not endorse the idea of religion so much as it does the idea of the spiritual within the mundane.

As a self described ‘recovering scriptualist, Winton sees God as a ‘The spirit of things that’s rolling through everything’, which is reflected in Cloudstreet by the blending of Indigenous and Christian beliefs. At the novel’s end the families are witnessed by ‘the dark and the light, the forgotten, the fallen, the silent’, the tetracolon expressing the Indigenous belief that the spirits of our ancestors are still present in the landscape.

This Indigenous belief is coupled with the Christian concept of redemption through sacrifice when Fish redeems himself and becomes alliteratively ‘whole and human’. This blending of separate belief systems is consistent through the novel, but most prominent during Quick’s fishing trip. The mystical event is a biblical reference to the gospels, with an Indigenous man walking on water in the manner of Jesus. By locating an Indigenous man in a Christian parable, Winton encourages the resonating idea – which I subscribe to – that no structured religion can explain the world around us.

The final chapters of Cloudstreet resolve many of the conflicts of the novel through the mechanism of Fish’s drowning in the river, yet don’t fully explain the nature of the spiritual world that guided the actions of the narrative to this event. I see this as a reflection of Winton’s belief, as well as my own, that the world contains many aspects that can never be explained by logical or religious means. To my mind, it is this that gives the novel’s conclusion its greatest meaning.

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