Critical Analysis by Joshua

By Joshua, Year 10

Written as part of Factory Feedback

The basis of a fictional universe is the author’s interpretation of reality, evident in Clare Atkins’ cyclical, multi-narrative novel ‘Between Us’. The story narrates the experiences of an Iranian refugee, an Australian teenager and a detention centre guard. The story is allegorical of the conflicting opinions on topics in Australian society. The potent themes imparted through the meticulous predetermination of the book’s plot, setting and characterisation are the clear manifestations of the social and political context of Atkins’ era. Communicated throughout ‘Between Us’ is the misrepresentation of the refugee story running rampant in society and the downplaying of mental health’s significance by ignorant people. Additionally, the text highlights the ability of strong emotional bonds to bridge gaps between people. Through a thorough examination of ‘Between Us’, it is clear that the book is Atkins’ representation of Australian society and desire to have a positive impact on her audience.

Firstly, Atkins elucidates the full and horrifying extent of Australian politics and media’s role in misrepresenting the plight of refugees to Australian citizens. The Australian Border Force Act was legislation that furthered the façade of protecting Australia by concealing the inhumane treatment of refugees, its influence apparent in the book. The juxtaposition in “They seem so well off, the way the mother holds herself, the makeup, the hair… I didn’t understand why someone like that would come here by boat” displays the deception of Australian politics and media. Kenny’s misconception was that war should be the only reason to seek refuge and thus reflected in appearance, leading to him drawing a false correlation between someone’s appearance and their motives to flee. The cumulative listing in “Defending our borders. National security. Protecting our quality of life.” emphasises the doubt placed on the reasoning for refugee detention. Kenny’s motive to believe the thinly-veiled xenophobia is reinforced by his high placement of family values; representative of many Australians, allowing full exploitation by outside influence. The juxtaposition in “I waited… got here legally” and “Many of them aren’t even real refugees.” contrasts Kenny and Ana’s journeys to Australia. The derogatory tone and juxtaposition used was Kenny’s attempt to consolidate his false internal belief that Ana isn’t “even a real refugee.” Atkins’ characterisation of Ana as a refugee from Iran rather than from a currently warring country reflects Australian society’s inability to comprehend how war’s impacts last generations. Iran’s installed dictatorship from decades prior causes Ana’s want of “democracy… freedom” despite her not living during that period. In contrast, the deliberate portrayal of Kenny as the gullible citizen reveals the power of repeated exposure to misinformation; alternative facts. Thus, Atkins blatantly uncovers the significance of Australian policies and media’s contributions in the severe distortion of the refugee story with her ingenious characterisation of Kenny and Ana.

Expanding o, Atkins explores the notion of the understatement of mental health’s ramifications on wellbeing, especially by older generations. Certain events which drove the plot of ‘Between Us’ stem from Jono and Ana’s trauma; however, nobody around them understands the full impact to their mental health. The anaphora and verse in “carrying/ my heart/ in my hands/Can’t anyone see it,/haemorrhaging/in my palms?/Can’t they see/ the blood/ trailing me/…” emphasises the ignorance of Ana’s mental health. The ‘heart’ and ‘blood’ symbolises Ana’s health and the debilitating loss of Jono, now a vital component of Ana’s identity. The plurality “they” primarily implicates Jono, but also Ana’s mother, whose declining health inhibits her ability to notice Ana’s. The anaphora and colour symbolism in “Stupid to think…/Stupid to hope…/Stupid to say…/I smoke/ until black becomes grey.” accentuates Jono’s attempt to numb his emotional pain. As a single parent, Kenny didn’t understand Jono’s depression, forcing Jono to resort to drugs as temporary alleviation, hence the blackness of Jono’s despair turning to a numb grey. The truncated sentence “I start again” and its repetition at the beginning and end of the novel signified the cyclical nature of ‘Between Us’. Ana lost Jono and was failed by the Australian government once again, being shuttled to another location to await another verdict with no formal acknowledgement of its impact on her mental state. Jono also lost Ana, the only person he truly loved and perceived as capable of providing him with the pure, maternal love he craved. Kenny and Maman’s unenlightenment, of their children’s descent into depression, captures how the disregard and ignorance for mental health often originate from older generations. Atkins employs literary devices to capitalise on both Jono and Ana’s psychologies to convey the trivialisation that transpires, of mental health’s consequences on a person’s capacity to function.

Finally, Atkins uses her novel as a vehicle to expound on the ability of emotional bonds to overcome vast metaphorical boundaries of culture between people. In reality, similar situations are caused by different circumstances, reflected by Jono and Ana’s mutual ostracism, but differentiated by Ana’s transition into Australian school life as a refugee and Jono’s dysfunctional family. However, this is not an impediment to the subsequent breakdown of their wall of separation using music as a shared interest and motif. The metaphor in Jono’s description of “we dive down into our own underwater world each lunchtime” highlights the secure connection shared by Jono and Ana. The ‘dive’ reveals an unmatched level of depth to the relationship, bolstering the metaphor of their ‘underwater world’ combined with the inclusive language ‘our’, indicative of Ana’s reciprocity. The metaphor in Jonathan’s “a thin stream of music/stretched between us,/joining her world to mine” reveals the bond’s exclusivity. ‘Joining her world to mine’ implies the impenetrability of their distinct worlds except for the mutual solace they find in music. The oxymoron in ‘beautiful ugly music’ exemplifies the solidity of their connection. From the surface, the line would be a light-hearted reminder of Ana’s inept grasp of English. However, contextually, a more profound interpretation is present with Jonathan’s comprehension of it, describing the music that founded the basis of their connection. Atkins fabricates this connection between the individual realities of Jono and Ana to oppose the disconnect she observes in reality; such as people of different circumstances. Through a variety of techniques, Atkins utilises the connection as a demonstration of human nature to her audience and how that allows humans literally and figuratively worlds apart, to bond over something as simple as music.

To reiterate, through ‘Between Us’, Atkins has communicated several ideologies relevant to her era, embedding the social and political context of Australia’s broken society.  Atkins conveys, through the multiperspectivity and techniques of ‘Between Us’, the broadly ingrained perspective of the refugee story that continues to be distorted by Australian policies and media and the ignorance of mental health’s impacts on people. Furthermore, it illuminates the ability of emotional bonds to connect people. Atkins has been immensely successful in her endeavour to relay a new perspective of Australian society to her audience, allowing for potential change.

Factory Feedback was created with, and generously supported by, the Dusseldorp Forum.

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