Characters In Cloudstreet

Cloudstreet Characters: #

We must remember that character creation is a construct; an artefact and central ones do not necessarily represent the author. Characters are either portrayed sympathetically or unsympathetically. The former are called protagonists, heroes or good guys while the latter are antagonists, villains or bad guys. Sometimes main characters are picaresque – likeable but harmless rogues, larrikins or scoundrels –“loveable rogues”.

Martin Amis points out that over two millennia humans first told stories of Gods, then Kings, then Epic Heroes, then ordinary people , then anti-heroes, then villains, then demons and finally themselves.

Winton claims to write about the ordinary people. He writes that his characters are not as powerful as some people. They are little people, battlers, losers, trying to find meaning and hope in their lives. They are individual, distinctive; not homogenised or conformist.

Winton on Characters:

“People read a lot more into the fiction that’s probably not there, and it’s more perilous. You know, the number of people who think they’re in one of my books, or think they’ve been introduced in one of my books, who I’ve never met, or don’t know, or never even heard of! “So the power of fiction to drag people in and pull the rug from under their feet and convince them of things that aren’t real — that’s kind of inspiring and awesome in a way. It’s a bit intimidating when you realise it.’’

Winton’s art lies in his ability to put us into the minds and hearts of the wide range of his main characters giving us a wide range of perspectives to identify with.

The Lamb Family #

Lester Lamb – #

“These are farm people, though Lester Lamb has taken to being a policeman because the farm is on its last legs. Lester Lamb polices like he farms always a little behind the moment. He’d quit the force if only his wife would let him. Around town he’s known as ’lest we forget’ and if he knew, it would break his and take heart. “

Not totally reliable but he is a good father.

Oriel Lamb – #

based on Winton’s paternal grandmother who “was a powerful matriarch who ran the family, a shop and most of the suburb and lived in a tent in the backyard…” (interview Good Weekend 1991)

On New Year’s day, 1949, people gathered to watch Oriel Lamb move her things out to the white tent beneath the Mulberry tree at Cloudstreet. Page 133

Mason Lamb #

Mason is eleven. They call him Quick because he is as unquick as his father.

Winton’ s enduring characterisation of Quick shapes personal responses to the text, however the reason for this is the way that Winton’s characterisation is incorporated and successfully integrated with his other textual concerns. Therefore, the characterisation of Quick is powerful in shaping the reader’s response, but only when considered in context. Analysis from the perspective of integration of the spiritual, the way Winton responds to gender concerns and the concept of “enduring” characterisation reflect how Winton’ s characterisation maintains integrity with his key concerns. It is Winton’s purpose for the novel that it not only provide an historical perspective, but offer a way forward for humans in their dealings with the spiritual. Winton has stated that he believes that a good book should “entertain and teach”, and Cloudstreet does this in the way Winton suggests a combination of western and Aboriginal spiritual values as the way forward. The device he uses to achieve this is characterisation, combined with the language and forms of storytelling. Quick is presented as the character who — like the rest of the Lamb family — has to fundamentally come to deal with the presence of the spiritual in everyday life and to value that integrated form of spirituality above organised religion in which he and the Lambs have lost faith.

The incident in which Quick and Fish row the boat back from Fremantle is evidence for this. For Fish, the acceptance of the spiritual in everyday life comes naturally because of his duality and “other worldliness” from which he narrates the novel with the omniscient insight of the initiate into the world of the spirit. Quick, on the other hand, has difficulty believing in his experience, and likens their experience in the water to a dream. The implication of what is occurring — that the boat has left the river, which is “full of sky” and entered a world in which — as Winton would support

— heaven and earth are not separate.

It is significant that Quick is the means by which Winton tests this — his body is the “litmus test of wakefulness”. When Quick realises that he is awake, Winton is using his characterisation to convey that we, like Quick, should come to accept the spiritual life as we would do if it were a dream. To complement this characterisation, Winton uses the quasi-religious language in the extract, and returns to the image of “the stars” of which the water becomes full. Thus, this episode is powerful because Winton uses Quick to introduce his own perspective on the role of the spiritual. The power of this characterisation however, comes from the unity it has with Winton’ s thematic concerns and narrative devices.

From a different perspective, Quick’s characterisation is powerful and enduring for the statement Winton makes about gender roles, actively challenges stereotypes. Whereas women, such as Polly, are depicted as ties to the realm of the material and earthy, the characterisation of the men (including Quick) is made powerful because Winton grants them insights into the world of the spiritual, as well as into emotions and relationships. Here, Quick is often characterised as a foil to his mother — she with her “parade ground bark” running the shop with qualities which might normally be considered masculine and he with a deeper sense of intuition. Quick is described as picking up sadness “like he’s got a radar for it” and this is made more powerful when applied to other men, such as Sam who values “family above all”. By giving characters such as these the redeeming qualities of insight, Winton’ s style of non judgemental valuing of every perspective is demonstrated.

Through the characterisation of Quick he inverts these gender roles and creates a powerful statement about the value of the human perspective. An example of an episode in which this is exemplified is the opening and closing of the novel, in which the context and reality of Fish’s situation is explained and then concluded, reaching a new equilibrium. In this context, Winton integrates the spiritual and the earthy seamlessly, describing how “even the missing are here, among the shade poois of the peppermints”. It is in this context that Fish can finally make the transition back to wholeness, as shown through the unifying change in pronouns, when “you’ll be a man” becomes “when I feel my manhood”. For Quick, this is a moment of great significance, as he has to actively hold himself back, stopping himself “rescuing” Fish once again. He is described as having tears streaming down his face, and therefore the extract is given significance, especially when put in the context of Fish and Quick’s relationship.

Quick exhibits a uniquely maternal nature towards Fish, perhaps born of his survivor guilt. He certainly feels that being given his own room at Cloudstreet is a “banishment” and he loses himself in the stories of other peoples — such as Holocaust victims’ — sufferings. Yet he tends to Fish, and nurtures him even as a grown man unable to perform simple tasks, such as when Quick attends to Fish’s toilet needs on the camping trip.

When Quick us searching for meaning and has a “prodigal-son-like” experience in the wheatfields, Quick and Fish’s relationship is described in Winton’s poetic prose,

which uses the continuous tense and repetition to imbue the words “can’t you hear the boy in the box-boat calling? I’m calling brother-boy, and you won’t come” with a sense of power and timelessness, valuing emotional connection as part of a relationship — even between males. Thus the characterisation of Quick is powerful because of the way Winton integrates his nature with his other concerns, and consciously constructs him as a device by which insight can be conveyed to readers.

Winton’ s novel is also often valued for the historical perspective it gives, providing a look back at a time when values about family and work were the antithesis of today. Winton consciously presents “this great continent of a house” at number once, Cloudstreet as a microcosm of Australian society, albeit it one with a distinctly working class vernacular and idiomatic expressions, including putting expletives in the middle of sentences, such as “Egyptian flamin’ plagues”). Within this house Winton uses Quick to deal with a significant issue facing Australians — that of reconciliation and apology for the wrongs inflicted in the past, as happened to the girl spirit by the old woman of the house. Winton proposes healing and reconciliation, and does so by presenting Quick and Rose’s union in the library and later the birth of Cloudstreet’s son Wax Harry as healing arid cathartic. During the birth, Winton uses alliteration and the soft sound to convey the fluidity of the healing process, in which the spirits are “fading, fading”, and using his sensory words to describe the “good, clean, sweet” place this leaves. This is inherently due to Quick’s involvement. The fact that Quick values the perspective of the Aboriginal man (the “black angel” or “novel’s conscience”) also shows Winton’s desire for this perspective to be given weight — it is after all, at the behest of the black man that Quick returns to Cloudstreet and the healing begins.

Therefore, Quick’s characterisation is resonant and powerful for the insight it gives into Winton’ s key concerns. Yet this is so mainly because of the unity with which these concerns, the language and other characters are integrated to convey Winton’ s ultimate purpose for the novel.

Samson Lamb (Fish) #

Samson is two years younger and the others call him Sam sonfish, or just plain Fish, for his wit and alertness. Everyone loves Fish. Just by dunking a girl’s braids in an inkwell he can make her love him. He endears teachers to him by giving them lip. And in town, he’ll wait till dark and crap in a paper bag and set fire to it on someone’s doorstep so they come out screaming and stamping and get poofooted, only to melt into jolliness when they see it’s just Fish Lamb and his fun. Page 27.


that night, that long, horrid night by the estuary at Margaret River, when her men had walked on water and a lamp had gone out, that’s what had brought them here to this life with one son gone and one missing and a feeling in your chest that you didn’t know yourself anymore. Page 176


I’m behind the water, fish, I’m in the tree. I feel your pulse and I see you dreaming of Quick but out there in the wheat, and I see you coming. Your time will come, fish, you will have a second of knowing, a man for a moment, and it won’t matter because you’ll be me, free to come, and go, free to do puzzle and long and love, free of the net of time. p. 178

They’re eating, Fish. And Quick is shooting, and back home, tingling himself at the black man passing overhead like an owl, the pig is singing. page 179

Hattie – Hat, married Geoff Birch of Pemberton.

Elaine - twin of Hat

Red - youngest girl

The Pickle Family #

Sam - #

Son of a water diviner, loses his right hand in an accident at work, inherits £2000 and a rambling house in Perth from his cousin, Joel, publican of the Eurythmic Hotel in Geralton, bought from the earnings of horse racing in that name. Sam is a habitual gambler and improvident father. This is how his children see their parents:

I reckon it’s a frigging House of cards I do said Ted and the old girls the wild card and the old man’s the bloody joker. Page 41

Dolly - #

An extremely attractive woman, totally unsuited to be a wife or mother, when she is not at the pub, lolls around the house. Dolly is only valued by men for her sexual attraction until it fades:

“Men looked at her the way they looked at horses” page 19

Ted #

– one year older than Rose. Eventually leaves home and goes to Adelaide and dies in a sauna trying to lose weight.

Rose – Rosemary – #

Is the mainstay of the house and family. Because of the heavy burden she takes on early in life she comes to resent her whole family, but especially her indolent mother. She suffers from anorexia nervosa several times but eventually overcomes it to produce a baby, Wax Harry.

Chubb - #

The youngest rather lazy, eventually apprenticed to a butcher.

Toby Raven - Rose’s first boyfriend – a journalist and pretentious writer. It takes a while for Rose to see through him, but she rejects him and the false pompous society he aspires to gain acceptance.