ELTHAM HIGH SCHOOL ANTHOLOGY
The passage begins with Kate euphemistically describing how the memory of Harriet’s death is “buried down deep” in her mind and yet “it rises to the surface in thin grey strands of memory”. Here, through the use of imagery Mildenhall refers to the memory as breaking through Kate’s repressed subconscious. By referring to the memory as being “thin” and “grey” there’s an implication that the experience has left her feeling decrepit and fragile. Through this description, Mildenhall seeks to evoke a sense of how damaged Kate is as though she has aged beyond her years, primarily due to trauma.
Kate notes that “there are gaps. Great silences”. In this instance - and through the repeated use of short sentences - Mildenhall suggests that Kate is experiencing a state of delayed panic, borne out of reliving the tragedy of her being responsible for her best friend’s death. Mildenhall continues vividly illustrating how Kates memories are “so clouded by time and pain” conveying to the reader how Kate’s mind is “confused” and unsure on how to proceed blindly in a world without her lighthouse, Harriet. Through this language Mildenhall indicates that Kate is in part an unreliable narrator as even she acknowledges that her memories are “disparate” and “could not have happened that way”, potentially causing readers to be doubtful of her other recollections throughout the book.
Kate continues her narration by using imagery to describe the collective emotional experience of “the hush that fell on the cape that night”. Here, a natural self-imposed mark of respect occurs, is part borne out of the damage that this event has caused the community emotionally, but also so the locals can once more honour Harriet’s life by being silent. Imagery and personification are also used when Kate explains how “the wind, the waves, the birds themselves had stopped for the shock of it”, which emphasises the idea that everyone was affected and how the trauma was so overwhelming and ubiquitous that life for Kate might as well not continue.
Mildenhall uses imagery once more to describe how the remembrance of Kate’s trauma brings up “dark thoughts” which “slither through [her] mind”, reinforcing the dread and guilt that infects the text’s protagonist. Additionally, Mildenhall employs the snake motif, which is used to reflect Kate’s feelings of emotional darkness and distress. This analogy of the snake, which first appeared immediately after Harriet’s untimely death is used to symbolise the constrictive nature of Kate’s trauma.
Kate recalls that on the day of Harriet’s death “the horizon seemed to tilt” reflecting the emotional intensity and instability she’s experiencing when not only her personal world shatters, but her physical world begins to seemingly mirror the emotional distress. This highlights how Kate sees the world as an unstable and unpredictable place as “the world around [her] grew dark”, morphing her once “bright and beautiful” home into one that is unfamiliar and dominated by “darkness” and aching.
To distract herself from the chaos on the pier, Kate watches Mrs Walker standing on the veranda holding Juliet’s “red woollen blanket … against her chest”. Mildenhall uses the red blanket to symbolise her Harriet when Mrs Walker “stretched out both arms and flicked her wrist so that the blanket billowed out”. Mrs Walker’s action of releasing the blanket symbolises her desire to let go of the pain that’s consuming her, but as she brings “her arms back” and once again “lifts it to her face” the struggle between her head and her heart becomes apparent. This reveals that although Mrs Walker is seeking closure, and intellectually she knows her daughter is not coming back, her heart still wants to “hold on.”
The passage concludes as Kate’s denial slowly turns into doubt as she admits that “[she] no longer knew what was true” and reveals a begrudging acceptance of her having taken Harriet’s life while “skylarking”.