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Baxter Hayes 2021

Skylarking Passage Analysis Oral Presentation

This excerpt of Skylarking describes the complex relationship experienced by Kate and Harriet during the Christmas dinner through the use of narrative perspective, adjectives and word choice.

Mildenhall employs the narrative perspective of Kate to expose her dissatisfaction at the prospect of leading a traditional lifestyle in what she envisions as entrapment through the role of a mother. As she is determined to resist this obligation, Kate often comes across as sarcastic or cynical in her remarks. However, Kate is conflicted by whether she should feel this. Understanding that traits and behaviours such as ‘etiquette,’ toleration and femininity are valued in society she attempts to conform, but is never able to reach the same level as her friend Harriet.

Mildenhall explores these gender expectations during the dinner through Kate’s observation of Harriet’s ‘unladylike’ actions while eating. Kate states that Harriet would often ‘chastise’ her for her ‘slovenly ways’ at the table, however, when her friend acts unacceptably she is not disciplined for it as she is already ‘well-versed in table manners.’ This demonstrates the way Kate feels that she is always inferior to Harriet who has become a respected member of the Cape through her adoption of the society’s values, something that Kate is constantly struggling with. Largely contributing to Kate’s concerns is her disapproved attraction towards Harriet. Kate watches as Harriet’s eats the ‘sticky mess’ of honeycomb describing the way her ‘lips and teeth [rested] softly on her skin.’ By focusing on parts like Harriet’s ‘hair,’ ‘lips,’ and ‘tongue’ as well as building on other senses such as sound and touch Mildenhall’s word choice and atmosphere is able to illuminate Kate’s true feelings for her childhood friend that have developed beyond fraternity. These emotions that Kate is experiencing were heavily frowned upon at the time and only add to the struggle she has with her identity.

Though Harriet imagines herself as the more mature and sophisticated of the two, someone who is fit to go to Melbourne, in Kate’s perspective she is portrayed as an ingénue who simply flaunts beauty without realising the distressing effect she causes for her friend. Further complicating this relationship is McPhail. Mildenhall utilises the fisherman’s characterisation as a way to emphasise the clear differences between the two girls. Despite continuously attempting to make McPhail recognise her feelings towards him, Kate is unable to interfere with the spell Harriet has over him. During the meal, Mildenhall establishes their connection through the description of McPhail ‘talking in earnest’ with Jackson, highlighting the way he is easily distracted by Harriet’s laugh. Kate repeatedly finds herself envious of McPhail’s position as he acts as a symbol for the things she cannot possess.

Mildenhall also examines coming of age through a change in tempo. After the intensity of Harriet’s immodest behaviour, McPhail ‘took a long swig of ale.’ This sentence, while not only bringing an end to the frantic pace of the text created by Harriet’s display also brings out that during this time, Kate is acutely aware of Harriet and McPhail’s attraction and the ale while not only displaying the clear differences in age and maturity between Kate and McPhail also demonstrates Harriet’s effect over him, reinforcing the concern Kate has with her emotions.

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