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Andrina, George Mackay Brown

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The short story “Andrina”, by George Mackay Brown introduces the idea of betrayal right from the beginning. The writer successfully uses a number of techniques to convey this idea, examples of these techniques being; characterisation, structure, narration and the writer’s use of language. The reader easily becomes involved with the story, due to Brown’s excellent use of said techniques and portrayal of the characters.

The story focuses on the protagonist, Torvald, as he is visited by the mysterious Andrina who cares for him throughout winter. However, when Andrina fails to appear after several days, Torvald – realising he knows nothing about the girl – goes in search of her, only to find nobody else on the island has any knowledge of her existence. The inner story is then introduced as Torvald starts to think about the past he refused to inform Andrina of. The inner story, narrated in third person, focuses on Torvald’s past and we find out he had a brief summer romance with a woman named Sigrid. Torvald refused to tell Andrina about this romance as he is ashamed of what he did – he left Sigrid after finding out she was pregnant. The outer story is then reintroduced as Torvald reads a letter, sent to him by Sigrid, and discovers that not only is Andrina his granddaughter but she actually passed away before she started visiting him. This leads the reader to believe that Andrina visited Torvald in spirit form.

George Mackay Brown portrays Andrina and Torvald’s relationship to be a very affectionate one. The characterisation of Torvald shows an old man who is in need of companionship to save him from loneliness. Andrina comes across as a very caring person as we see the things she does for Torvald, we assume, everyday. We also get to see how much Torvald needs her:

“She lights…..sets the peat fire….she fusses…..fills a stone hot-water bottle…”

The reader gets the idea that this is Andrina and Torvald’s daily routine during the winter. Through words such as “lights”, “sets” and “fills”, we see how much Andrina does for Torvald, leading us to believe that she cares a great deal for him and shows that they have a caring relationship. This is effective in showing Torvald’s need and disappointment towards Andrina as without her, Torvald probably wouldn’t be able to cope during the winter and would be extremely lonely. He feels letdown by Andrina when she fails to appear as he no longer has anyone to care for him, and feels she has left him in his time of need; he has the flu. The reader again sees how much Torvald needs Andrina when he describes how he would feel if he saw her:

“A few words from her would be like a bell-buoy to a sailor lost in a hopeless fog”

Torvald is being overly dramatic here as he is comparing his situation to one that could mean life or death. The dramatic image suggests that Andrina is saving Torvald, or could save him from being lost and lonely, just as a bell-buoy would save a stranded sailor. He needs her to guide him, like a bell-buoy would a sailor.

This image allows the reader to relate to Torvald’s need of Andrina as he is comparing him not having Andrina to a life or death situation, which gives us the obvious thought that he must desperately need or – or feel like he does. The fact that Torvald feels like he needs Andrina so badly intensifies his feelings of betrayal, as he feels that, without her, he wouldn’t be able to cope. Torvald’s sense of betrayal is heightened by the passing of time. He begins to count down the days, hoping Andrina will appear:

“She did not come again on the third afternoon”

This single paragraph stands alone to mimic and emphasise Torvald’s isolation. The words “she did not come” are repeated several times in the paragraph before this single one. This shows a sense of longing and monotony; he is just sitting around day-by-day waiting on Andrina to come back. This is effective in helping the reader see Torvald’s betrayal as he feels like she no longer cares about him and is desperate to see her again. The reader gets the idea that Torvald’s feels like Andrina can no longer be bothered caring for him and has decided that she doesn’t want anything to do with him – which makes him feel betrayed as she has just left him without any hints or explanations. Torvald’s feelings of betrayal are ironic given the way he treated Sigrid all those years ago.

The writer’s cyclical structure of the short story successfully explores the theme of betrayal; the outer story exploring Andrina’s betrayal of Torvald, the inner story exploring Torvald’s betrayal of Sigrid. Torvald is a man who is quite selfish and very quick to judge. The reader sees this from the outer story and then again from the inner story:

“Love had been killed but many ghosts had been awakened.”

The past is beginning to come back to haunt Torvald at this point in the story. The words “Love had been killed” links to the inner story as it could refer to the killing of the love of Torvald and Sigrid. However, it could also be a metaphor for Torvald’s anger and feelings of betrayal towards Andrina at the fact that she has not been to see him in days. The words “many ghosts had been awakened” relates to the inner story as it suggests that Torvald is beginning to think a lot about his past with Sigrid, and the terrible things he did are coming back to haunt him. The words could also suggest that Andrina is one of the “ghosts” that have been awakened and has come back just so she can see Torvald.

The reader gets the impression that Torvald is feeling quite depressed at this point and that may be why he is beginning to think more about his past. This imagery and use of structure make the reader find it difficult to pity Torvald as he is acting extremely selfish, and the reader feels that Torvald is still being overly dramatic about Andrina as it doesn’t seem like she has betrayed him in any way – she had made no commitments to him so why should she continue going to visit him? Andrina is not the only person Torvald has ever felt betrayed him, Sigrid also betrayed him. Sigrid ended up pregnant with Torvald’s child. Many people would see this as inappropriate as the baby would be born out of wedlock which was seen as socially unacceptable back then. When he finds out, Torvald feel extremely betrayed and no longer wants to be with Sigrid:

“…at once the summertime spell was broken”

What first sounded like a magical, perfect relationship has now been destroyed. The words “spell was broken” suggest that whatever feelings Torvald had at the beginning – and during – he and Sigrid’s relationship are now no longer there. After this line the sentences become short and abrupt as we see Torvald’s reaction to Sigrid’s news. There is also a change in tone – to a much harsher one – as the short sentences, such as “He looked away” and “He thrust her away”, show how disgusted Torvald is. These lines contrast with the long flowing lines that came before the news, when everything was normal and the couple felt like they were the happiest people alive. Torvald’s behaviour disgusts the reader as he begins to act as if it is all Sigrid’s fault and that he played no part in it whatsoever, making him appear even more selfish that he did at first. Having seen Torvald’s sense of betrayal and his actual betrayal of his first love Sigrid the reader also recognises the sense of betrayal that Andrina must have felt as the story comes full circle and the contents of the letter are revealed:

“He must be a good person, that old sailor, ever to have been loved by you.”

Andrina’s statement is ironic as we know Torvald to be completely different from what she expects. Despite the statement being ironic the reader can see how much Andrina loves her Gran. Andrina expects the story of Torvald and Sigrid to end differently than what it does, this leaves her feeling betrayed when she finds out it doesn’t end happily as she expected the man her Gran loved to be someone caring. She is shocked to find out he abandoned her Gran at a time where she would have needed him.

Another way in which the theme of betrayal is further explored is through the writer’s use of narration and language. Brown uses both first person narrative and third person narrative to move between the inner and outer story:

“The boy and girl lived, it seemed, on each other’s heartbeats”

The third person narrative begins just like a fairy tale which leads the reader to believe that Torvald and Sigrid’s love affair will be perfect and end “happily ever after” – just like a fairytale. The fact that Brown describes Torvald and Sigrid to be living on “each other’s heartbeats” shows how deeply the couple feel for about one another. It is a very strong metaphor and suggests that one couldn’t live without the other, and it also ties back in with the idea of a fairytale style relationship making it seem like their could never be anything that could come between them. This is effective in changing the reader’s perception of Torvald as it makes him seem like more a romantic and selfless character, and the reader can see he once cared for someone other than himself. Similarly the use of poetic language in the inner story also reinforces the real act of betrayal by Torvald against his first love Sigrid:

“a tale soaked in the light…”

The poetic language and the symbolism convey the strength a power of their love and suggest to the reader that their relationship is magical. This is effective in making the betrayal of Sigrid all the more cruel as it is hard to imagine how Torvald could ruin the loving relationship he and Sigrid had just because he found out she was pregnant. The reader finds it hard to believe how a couple that cared so strongly for one another could not work together and save their relationship when they find out the news.

The theme of betrayal is introduced right from the beginning of the short story, “Andrina”, by George Mackay Brown. He successfully conveys this theme through a number of techniques and has the reader becoming thoroughly involved in the story. This universal theme has many strands in this short story giving it wide understanding, and is something that many people for generations will be able to relate to.

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