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“An Open Swimmer” by Tim Winton

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Life is a journey, in which one’s character is shaped by the experiences they encompass, and their life choices are affected according to the nature of these experiences. The environment a person has been exposed to and can relate with, also influences one’s disposition and determines essential qualities a person may bear. Messages of a text are often unclear at first glance, yet through the incorporation of key elements of the Western Australian environment, many messages are reveled to us that shape our understanding and interpretation of a text. In An Open Swimmer by Tim Winton, Winton uses elements of the Western Australian Environment to address key themes and issues present within our lives, and influence our opinion on them through the conveying of important messages.

Winton’s incorporation of the Western Australian environment into the novel aims to relay significant messages that reflect his opinions on life primarily that risks have to be taken at some stage in life to achieve our full potential and in doing so discover who we truly are. Through elements of the Western Australia environment used in the text, many messages are conveyed to educate us on the journey of life.

There are many aspects of the environment that reflect messages and alter perspectives of readers within a text. These particular aspects usually link issues present in the lives of readers to events in the novel and educate us on the text’s meaning. In An Open Swimmer it is made evident through particular aspects of the Western Australian environment that at some stage during our lives, we will discover our true character and achieve greatly if we take risks. It is through these risks that what kind of person we are is defined, and what we value in life is brought to the surface.

“Keep tryin’, boy. You ‘ad the wrong fish. Spear an open swimmer, they’re the ones. Cave fish see nothin’.’ (Pg 160)

The open swimmer is used to represent the life Jerra longs for and the true potential he possesses, along with the pearl inside its head showing Jerra’s true nature, one of beauty and willingness to achieve something more in life, rather than settle for a life of little significance. Jerra’s inability to take risks in life led to him not realizing certain aspects of his own personality and pursuing alternate paths in life that would bring him fulfillment.

“She gasped as he levered her mouth off, flung her aside, groping for the faraway light of the doorway. And no breath…kettle screaming” (Pg 115)

The exemplification of Jerra’s sheltered nature is key to relating spoilt opportunities that arise as a result of this, and promotes individuals to pursue these opportunities so that fulfillment can be realized. The “kettle screaming” further highlights the severe lack of judgment made by Jerra, and by individuals in society, reinforcing this idea that risks must be taken in order to become whole. It is interesting that this idea of taking risks can be relayed through the serenity of the open sea, and the chaotic city to show just how important novels are in conveying messages to readers on different aspects of life.

Within particular novels, many messages are revealed opinionating the relationships surrounding families and how they should be viewed. By means of incorporating various rudiments of the environment, messages can be related to the lives of readers and influence our opinion on the value of family. An Open Swimmer is filled with crucial messages about family, and just how important it is to keep it together rather than allow relationships within it gradually drift apart through carelessness. Winton attempts to accomplish this through using elements of the Western Australian environment and in particular, the beach, which is a common component of Western Australian lifestyle. The sand, which companions the beach, reflects an essential factor contiguous with family relationships.

“When you looked closely at the sand, it was not really white, but a motley of gold and black, after a time, the black became dominant.” (Pg 35)

A representation of a ruined family is evident, as Winton implies the struggle that accompanies a degradation of family tightness and attempts to manipulate us to realize just how important the aspect of family is throughout life. The use of the beach throughout An Open Swimmer is linked very closely with the concept of family in the life of the main character, Jerra, as many events and experiences have taken place in the beach environment, becoming part of who he is and what he hopes to be. The beach acts as a kind of wedge between himself and his family, as he grew apart from many relations because of events taking place in the beach setting. Jerra’s father for instance, forced Jerra into situations that he didn’t want to be in or thought he could sort out himself, and Jerra begrudged his father for it. The death of Auntie Jewel also took place on the beach, racking Jerra with waves of negative emotions and further resenting his actions and the actions of those around him, plunging him into despair and forming a rift between himself and those he cared for.

“…saw the open slit reflecting green on the backs of his hands. Scars of old slashes gathered…she wanted him to say something nice because nobody did anymore. But she wasn’t her…He hated himself…he was no different from others taking advantage, helping to destroy…” (Pg 96)

This further highlights the impact that particular events can have on the rest of lives due to the experience we undertook surrounding such events. Through such events we connect particular elements of the environment to feelings and emotions felt at the time of the event, influencing the actions we take during future decisions in life. It is therefore important to put the past behind us, and step boldly into the future by choosing our own paths so that we become the people we truly want to be.

There are many stages we undertake throughout life, that involve high emotional strain and difficult choices. One of these phases is the transition into adulthood, which we all experience in some way or another. The transition taken into becoming an adult can sometimes be a treacherous and sensitive phase. A text can illustrate this transition by incorporating many elements of the environment to reveal just how much is needed to be accepted as an adult, along with the responsibility of living up to what is expected from you in both society and family. By inserting key facets of the setting into Jerra’s shift into maturity, Winton exposes the complicated side to leaving our youth behind us.

‘…when Jerra was away on the boats, trying to forget and grow up and do and please and forget. It was something he neither needed now, nor wanted to refresh his memory with. He promised to let go. His problems and everyone else’s. Maybe Sean was right. “You gotta live,” he told himself lamely.’ (Pg 84)

Sean and Jerra had relatively similar choices to make when deciding what the future held for them. The choice was to grow up and follow your dreams or to lay back and let life pass you by. Winton uses the boats to represent Jerra’s scapegoat, his escape from the responsibility of growing up and taking the necessary risks needed to pursue his ambitions. Jerra was resilient in forcing all sensibility on this issue out of himself, because he was too afraid to accept the future he longed for. Winton also uses elements such as university and a good job, to ultimately embody a goal, an ambition that everybody should aim to achieve so that they can accomplish the things they want to in life. It is almost as if it is a sanctuary, that once this level is reached the transition into adulthood has been achieved and they gateway to a prosperous future has been opened. This idea is crucial if we are to comprehend the true meaning of the text and understand the messages revealed to us on just how significant it is that we achieve as much as we possibly can in life, and to never settle for anything less than what we desire.

The exploration of the mysteries of the unknown has been a vital aspect of human nature over time. It helps uncover past and present events so that lessons can be learnt and knowledge gained that can be implemented into our modern world, along with exposing truth that can end disputes and curiosity. Through the inclusion of setting such as the shipwreck, Winton explores how each one of us attempts to uncover what we don’t know about ourselves in life, using Jerra as a tool to communicate his opinion. Jerra had not uncovered much about himself at this particular stage in the novel, therefore he searched the shipwreck to find out his true nature, to discover what his really needed to do in his life.

“He pulled at the curious formation. It peeled from the barnacled bed of its own imprint and he held it against his side, uncovering rotten wood as he found a handhold, aghast as well as almost black from exertion. Timber gave way beneath his heels as he rammed up.” (Pg 43)

Jerra’s curiosity is exposed, but it is within us all to discover what we don’t know about ourselves, so that we may be more complete. The shipwreck was the gateway to Jerra’s completion as a person, as it represented different stages throughout Jerra’s life so that he could understand his mistakes. By exploring the shipwreck, Jerra explored the unknown in his life, and upon exploration, Jerra uncovered something that represented a huge aspect of his life; the ringbolt. The ringbolt was a very important symbol as it represents Jerra’s relationships and how they were truly unfolding, and in particular, it showed the fragile nature of the relationship he bared with Sean, his “best mate”.

“It left stains on his hands. Little pieces came away every time he touched.”

Jerra was stained with the faults his past, and his life was falling away right it front of him, as were the relationships he made no effort in preserving. Winton implies to all of us that once we discover the unknown in our lives, we will find it is really something we have known all along, we were just too blind to see it. For Jerra it was too late to resurrect, as shown with the burning of the crushed VW that symbolized his life and relationship with Sean. He walked away from his troubles, away from his very life and all the people in it who cherished and loved him. But it is not too late for us to fix the problems it our own lives before they disappear before us. Winton wrote this novel in an attempt to spare our lives, not from death itself, but from the death of everything we hold dear, whether it be our relationships or our dreams, yet through the reading of this text, and the lessons learnt from the incorporation of elements of the Western Australian land, our lives may be saved.

The reading of novels can better our understanding of the messages it contains. Messages contained in a text can be brought to light through the efficient use of setting, so that upon reflection, essential links can be made interconnecting the messages to the setting. An Open Swimmer, by Tim Winton gave us a distinct insight into many messages throughout the text through the incorporation of many key elements of the Western Australian environment. The main character Jerra, although experiencing a life unlike my own, taught me some very important lessons about life in general through his ordeals, and opened my eyes to the reality that life is not perfect, and we have to take risks in order to reach our full potential and become the person we dream of becoming. The outcome of our lives is ultimately in our hands, and it is up to us to determine what we live for and what we aim to achieve, otherwise our hopes and dreams are dead already.

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