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”Abbreviation” by Tim Winton and ”Damaged Goods” by Peter Goldsworthy

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Identity is whatever makes one definable and recognizable, in terms of possessing a set of qualities or characteristics, that distinguishes one from others. One’s identity is unique and ever-changing, interpreted dissimilarly from different points of view and influenced subconsciously by a number of exterior factors rather than consciously by oneself. Teachers and fellow students, it is this which makes the concept of “Searching for Identity” so captivating and enthralling.

Tim Winton explores the ideas within the concept of “Searching for Identity” extensively within his collection of short stories, ‘The Turning’. Two of these said short stories have shaped my understanding of the concept of “Searching for Identity” are ‘Abbreviation’ and ‘Damaged Goods’. Both of these stories revolve around Vic Lang, an Australian male, and his journeys through love, life and identity.

Another story which has shaped my understanding of “Searching for Identity” is ‘Maestro’ by Peter Goldsworthy. Goldsworthy takes on the persona of a young boy by the name of Paul Crabbe, who is taught piano by his teacher (or maestro) Eduard Keller. Although Paul initially does not appreciate his teacher, by the end of the novel he grows to value him dearly. ‘Maestro’ is an excellent exploration of the experiences necessary for personal growth and the attainment of self-knowledge through discovery.

‘AbbreviationÂ’ by Tim Winton has shaped my understanding of the concept of “Searching for Identity” through its focus on VicÂ’s first sexual encounters. In this story, Vic is a young boy whose perception of the world is completely altered by his experiences with an older girl, Melanie. Through these experiences, he takes heed to the more risquĂ© world around him as he notices things he never seemed to have noticed before. For example, he notices one of his uncleÂ’s testicles constantly peeking out of his shorts and he is awakened by the sounds of his aunty and uncle making love at night. Vic is no longer the naĂŻve boy he used to be, as he has involuntarily had a sexual awakening of sorts.

Vic’s encounters with Melanie also lead Vic to the discovery of the relationship between pleasure and pain. Melanie inflicts pain upon Vic whilst presenting him with his first kiss in order to ensure that this experience stays with him forever. This is because, as she says “all the big things hurt, the things you remember. If it doesn’t hurt it’s not important.” This point arises as Vic observes Melanie’s missing ring finger, and she proudly proclaims that it is her ‘abbreviation’ and that she can remember everything which happened on that day due to the severity of the pain, which reinforces her statement of the more painful things being the things you remember most. This idea has essentially become part of Vic’s perception of her identity.

At the end of the story, Vic wants to give a hook taken out of his leg to Melanie. This hook could be said to be an objectification of all the pain Vic had suffered through the last few days, making it a most suitable goodbye gift to Melanie in order to ensure she would never forget him. However, since Melanie leaves before Vic is able to give her the hook, it could be said that MelanieÂ’s experiences with Vic are either forgotten, or merely sifted through to the back of her mind with her less notable memories.

These points have further shaped my belief that oneÂ’s identity is influenced by exterior factors, such as oneÂ’s relationships and sexual experiences, rather than by the owner themselves.

Another exterior factor which may affect one’s present identity is one’s past experiences. This concept is explored in Tim Winton’s ‘Damaged Goods’, along with the concept of one’s relationships affecting one’s identity. ‘Damaged Goods’ is the story of an older Vic Lang, where his wife writes in first person of her concern over her husband’s reluctance to visit the town he grew up in, reluctance to speak of his sister and his obsession with Damaged Goods; an abnormality of sorts.

Since this story is written from VicÂ’s wifeÂ’s point of view, it could be said that she is giving a biased account of the events. Thus, it has to be taken into consideration that this is not necessarily how Vic is, but just how VicÂ’s wife perceives him as being. This illustrates the idea of how
oneÂ’s identity is interpreted dissimilarly from different points of view.

Vic’s wife states that Vic’s fear of returning to Angelus and reluctance to speak of his sister is Vic’s attempt of escaping his identity. However, this attempt only helps to identify him to his wife as one who runs away from his problems. Vic’s wife also states that her husband had “frozen over” and “shut down” after the death of his parents, and had also reverted to his thoughts of ‘Strawberry Alison’.

This idea emphasizes how oneÂ’s past experiences, oneÂ’s relationships and oneÂ’s present identity are all correlated, and how oneÂ’s identity is ever-changing.

The novel Maestro has shaped my understanding of the concept of “Searching for Identity” as it describes how identity is not static, but very much alive, and also accumulative. Through the use of contrast, between one part of Paul’s life, to another, the responders of the text can observe this accumulation of happenings which shape the main protagonist’s character.

This idea of oneÂ’s identity being ever-changing is evident through comparing the Paul at the beginning of the novel, with the Paul towards the end. When the novel starts he is 15 years old, arrogant and self-centered at times. Coming from a well-educated family, he feels our of place as Darwin is considered as ‘low-culture’ place, while Paul’s family is ‘high culture’. However, when Paul later visits his hometown of Adelaide, he observed “Now I felt a TerritorianÂ’s contempt for Adelaide and itÂ’s neat rows of suburbs as we circled to landÂ…my contempt was no doubt far greater than any native Territorian would have felt: I was one of the converted, always the most zealous believers.”Maestro also delves into the subject of sexual awakening as one section of the story describes PaulÂ’s experiences with puberty. Paul speaks of how he would wake up “…hard and pulsing below the waist, the bedsheets sticky with a strange pale honey” and how “At the end of the week [his] bedsheets were stiff enough to stand against the wall.” Later in the story, Paul describes his first sexual encounters with Rosie and how this eventually led to a deep romantic relationship, ultimately resulting in the start of a family together.

Paul’s piano teacher, Eduard Keller, also has an ‘Abbreviation’ of sorts. However, he is not proud of this missing little finger as when asked about it, he simply states “It offended me”. It is then later found out that after blaming himself and his love for music for the death of his wife and child, he had vowed that “if he ever felt the desire to play again he would hack off his fingers, one by one.” This demonstrates that one’s past does not only affect one’s present identity figuratively, but also physically. The death of Keller’s wife and child also negatively affected him as Paul states “Perhaps they were not the same man, in a sense.” This is similar to the change observed in Vic in ‘Damaged Goods’ after the death of his parents.

As Tim Winton’s short stories ‘Abbreviation’ and ‘Damaged Goods’ and ‘Maestro’ by Peter Goldsworthy illustrate, one’s identity is unique and ever-changing, interpreted dissimilarly from different points of view and influenced subconsciously by a number of exterior factors rather than consciously by oneself.

At the end of Maestro, Paul states “Once we begin to sense our childhoods, we are no longer children”. It is on this note that I leave you today in hopes that after hearing this, you will become more aware of the many factors involved in one’s “Search for Identity.”

Bibliography:’Abbreviation’ – Tim Winton’Damaged Goods’ – Tim Winton’Maestro’ – Peter Goldsworthy

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