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Shahla Paynter 2020

Skylarking Passage Analysis

Kate Mildenhall’s 2016 novella Skylarking, portrays an inspiring story of friendships and “all its complexities”. The passage begins as Kate says she can “smell the fishy stink” of Blackwell, and finishes when McPhail’s interrupts without the acknowledgement of Kate’s presence. In this passage, Mildenhall implements an array of literary devices to explore social context, the power of relationships, and the many ongoing themes; love, friendship, isolation, envy and regret.

Mildenhall demonstrates women’s roles in society, through Kate’s “not very ladylike” qualities, proving Kate as a misfit. Harriet and Kate seek mussels from the bay when Harriet injures her ankle. Kate continues out to collect mussels when she slips and falls into the sea exposing an indecent amount of skin and her “bare legs”. Mildenhall begins to hint at Kate’s unrefined behaviour and Blackwell’s persona, through vivid imagery of the environment throughout the passage. The “rocky” and “slippery” description of the beach, reveals Kate’s anxiety and imprisonment of her escalating situation. The description “rocky” indicates danger, and “slippery” creates a sensation of helplessness. Kate’s environment is also representative of herself as a character, a young lady like herself is not usually found climbing and “zigzagg[ing]” on rocks. In addition, Kate alludes that it is “difficult to see” referring to the sun disadvantaging her, however this is also symbolic to her disadvantaged role in society, and her physicality in comparison with Blackwell.

The key concept of this passage focuses on the relationships between Harriet, Kate, McPhail and Blackwell. Harriet symbolises a guardian angel type figure in Kate’s life, who “watch[es]” over Kate emphasising the love and friendship between the two girls. This representation also foreshadows Harriet’s death, linking angels to a place beyond life. Furthermore, McPhail’s intimate relationship with Harriet, ultimately leads to his portrayed heroism and intervention between Blackwell and Kate. Kate perceives McPhail as her knight in shining armour who “quicken[s] her blood”. Kate feels great envy of Harriet, and this is shown as a reoccurring theme throughout the novel.  Moreover, it is through the character of Blackwell that Kate’s fear is manifested in the passage. The name Blackwell indicates darkness and shadows, however deeper than that, the name originally came from a family that used dark magic. The Blackwells’ were supposedly all eradicated by witch hunters. This gives the impression of distrust and evil associated with the character. Mildenhall paints a grotesque image of Blackwell’s appearance in detail, highlighting words such as “greasy [skull]” and “rotten teeth” illustrating a repulsive man. Kate refers to Blackwell’s large “meaty” hands to show the significance of his much larger figure compared to her own. Kate uses a metaphor to allude Blackwell’s scent as “fishy”. Whilst Blackwell’s smell is of fish, Kate is suggesting he has duplicitous intentions. Mildenhall juxtaposes the bright sun with the “dark shape” of Blackwell to illuminate Kate’s idea of him being dark and foreboding. This is again illustrated in the applied technique of personification before the passage begins: the sun “glance[s]” away, similar to how a person rid with guilt and nerves looks away.

Mildenhall implements strong themes throughout the story bringing depth and complexity to every aspect. The theme of isolation is introduced as Harriet and Kate are separated after Harriet’s injury. Kate is isolated multiple times in the book, and this event is like a glimpse into the Kate’s future without Harriet. Similarly, regret and indignance are themes Kate experiences foreshadowing her future anguish. The narration of the passage is from Kate’s perspective who grows more alarmed, worried and trapped as Blackwell begins to close in on her, further emphasising her isolation and fear. The combination of present tense and repetition of “help”, highlights the desperation and urgency of Kate’s position. As previously mentioned, Kate’s envy and jealousy is demonstrated shortly after the passage as McPhail assists Harriet onto horseback despite Kate’s protests. It is evident through the way that Kate thinks and talks of Harriet, that there may be romantic feelings towards her explaining Kate’s jealousy of both McPhail and Harriet. This is demonstrated through Mildenhall’s use of inclusive language and observation in relation to Harriet.


Mildenhall highlights the dynamics of the different relationships throughout this passage, putting a focus on the pressures that the relationships bear. Through advanced literary techniques, Mildenhall portrays the social contexts in which the characters must attempt to adhered, and show how the novel’s themes interlink relationships, and events both past, present and future.

The Matrix CAT

The Wachowski sibling’s 1999 film ‘The Matrix’, explores deep philosophical concepts testing the great philosopher’s theories. The film questions the notion of reality, truth and fate as the “virtual reality” condemns viewers to reflect upon everything they know and believe, providing no conclusions, except certainty of uncertainty.

The Matrix is a virtual reality “pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth” Discuss.

Socrates was a great influential thinker of the 5th century, known for challenging the very concept of existence and every aspect of life as we know it. Morpheus describes the matrix as a world “pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth”, but what is truth? Socrates believed that truth is a statement that cannot be proved wrong, and would challenge everything to find ‘real truth’. He believed that the true version of oneself came from the soul and our life’s purpose is to find happiness in virtue. The Wachowski sibling’s play with this idea as they challenge the ethics around virtue and happiness by placing humans in a world where their purpose is to become the supply of energy for machines, (similar to a battery). This begs the question if there is any truth in the virtual reality? If a person in the matrix helps another through a rough patch in their life, and thus feels satisfaction by aiding to others, are they fulfilling their life’s purpose to feel happy and virtuous, or did it not actually happen? Is their true life’s purpose to be a human battery fuelling another world? If their life’s purpose is to fuel another world, is this virtuous? Is essentially living a lie, morally correct for those living inside and outside of this reality? Is it staying truthful to life’s purpose?

On the topic of purpose, the Wachowski’s encourage us to rethink the purpose of the matrix and our own lives. What is the purpose of the matrix? What Is the purpose of life? Why must machines survive at the expense of other life? Mr Smith says “without purpose we would not exist”, referring to humans serving a purpose to machines and machines having a superior purpose to all of life. He says that it is purpose that “drives us”, “binds us”, “defines us”, and “guides us”, under the belief that purpose is the meaning of life. I believe this is false because without love, happiness or truth there is no “purpose” to life. So can machines love? What is their purpose? Love is usually regarded as a “human emotion”, but actually refers to the strong connection between two things. Later in the film sequence, when machines “go rogue”, they begin to exhibit humanlike emotions such as love and hatred that are highly frowned upon by other machines. This suggests that love is not life’s purpose. But if truth, love or happiness isn’t life’s purpose, what is?  

The concept of the virtual reality is similar to Plato’s cave analogy. Plato uses the example of three men chained facing the wall in a cave all their life. The men have never seen anything else but the wall of this cave. There is a constant flickering flame of fire behind them that projects light and shadows on the wall when someone walks behind them. For the three men who have seen nothing else but this, the shadows become their concept of reality. Plato explains that this is what life is like for Philosopher’s trying to expand the minds and perspectives of those with small minds. Similarly, the Wachowski siblings too demonstrate this with the use of the Matrix. Morpheus is the representation of Plato himself, proving people’s lives to be a lie. The matrix is the equivalent of the shadows. In the cave analogy, one man escapes and discovers the ‘real world’. Awoken from his misconception he runs back to free the other two men in the cave. When he tells them of this news, the two men consumed with this newfound anger and hatred, kill him. The Wachowski sibling’s use this same idea demonstrated through the character of Cypher. Cypher does not want his contented world spoilt by Morpheus’s “truth”, and therefore plots to have them killed so he can forget what he has learned.

 Cypher feels that his life has no meaning with this newfound ‘truth’ and would prefer to live a contented life of happiness rather than one of truth. Is living a lie virtuous? Is choosing one value over another value, the secret to the meaning of life. No, I believe that in order to fulfil life’s purpose you must live with both truth and happiness. The two are linked and cannot be chosen over the other.


The matrix raises questions about themes of reality, appearance, dreams and other matters and prompts us to reflect not of them but on the nature of reality itself. Discuss.

“What is real? How do you define real? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain”, but is that then all real is? If reality is only electrical signals, then the matrix and the land controlled by machines, are both ‘real’. This theory does not only apply to the film, but things such as dreams and déjà vu, are they what we consider to be ‘real’? How does one differ reality from imagination? In the film, Neo comes across a black cat walking from the same direction twice and he refers to it as “déjà vu” in which Morpheus says there is no such thing as déjà vu. This elucidates the impression that déjà vu is not what we define as real. The dictionary definition refers to real as being factual and not artificial. In which case, the matrix is not real as it is simply artificial. But then what is artificial? Artificial is something that has been made by humans. Machines are artificial, cupboards are artificial, houses are artificial. Are these things not considered real even though we can see and touch them?

Another theory of reality comes from social constructs. Social constructs are almost everything around us. Our perception of who we are and who we want to be is all formed through social constructs. Sociologists understand that reality is socially constructed, meaning that people shape their experiences and identity through social constructs. But similarly to the matrix and our own concept of human existence, we cannot touch or see social constructs, so are they what we define as real or are they artificial? The social construct of money and currency is an example, we can see and touch money, but the system has been socially constructed therefore is it actually a significance to reality? In modern day society, many people commit suicide due to debt and poverty, arguably speaking, why is it that a social construct is the death of life? Why is the social construct of money and finance, here to stay yet life is not? Why cannot we print more money? Why are some people superior then others due to their wealth in a construct that is not what we define as ‘real’. Social constructs are artificial just like the matrix. 

Plato’s theory of forms is a different perspective of reality. He argues that real is something in a constant state of change. With this theory, we must never know what somethings ‘true’ form is. Plato argued that this is not the case, we do know the true ‘ideal’ form of something. He believed when we are born, we have this idea of what everything should look like in our minds. He also argued that there was an alternate world; “the world of being” where everything existed in perfection. This concept is similar to the idea of the matrix. The matrix is almost as though it is the world of being, created to keep humans under control. However, outside of this “dream world”, lies a world where humans would find it vastly unsatisfying. Agent Smith proves this, by stating that the original attempt of the matrix was created as a ‘perfect’ world, but this was unsuccessful as people did not believe the concept and found it ‘unrealistic’. This alludes that ‘real’ is not the same as perfect, or Plato’s world of being is not what we define as real.

This further emphasises the theory that ‘real’ is not electro signals our brain interprets, nor anything artificial, nor perfection. Real must be truth. Something that cannot be proved wrong, cannot be proved false. For example, my identity may be proved wrong, but my existence cannot be proved false until my death. Reality, is something that we cannot prove incorrect. Reality is truth.

What is the connection between freewill and fate in the matrix? 

The Wachowski siblings elucidate that fate and free will are both the same. What is fate? What is free will? Fate is defined as an occurrence out of one’s control, free will on the other hand, is described as the ability to act at one’s own discretion. A pair of opposing words that are undeniably linked. Does fate or free will exist without the other? I argue no. Through the character of the Oracle, Neo’s fate and own personal choices are explored. Morpheus believes Neo is ‘the one’ to save them all, However the Oracle tells Neo that his fate is not what Morpheus wishes. Later, Neo acts upon his freewill and defies the odds of failing at his mission. This in turn, becomes the fate of ‘the one’. So the question stands, if the Oracle had told Neo that he was ‘the one’, would Neo have been ‘the one’? Was it his own choices that explained the success of his impossible mission? Or was it fate that guided him there? I believe that without the Oracle, Neo would never have attempted his mission. Therefore, it was fate that the Oracle told him he was not ‘the one’. Morpheus later describes this as “being told exactly what [he] needed to hear” proving this point to be true. Furthermore, it was Neo’s own choices inside the matrix and whether he should pick the red or blue pill, that had gotten him to this point. Thereby not entirely up to the decision of fate.

If fate existed on its own, then wouldn’t things be more ideal? If fate existed without the impact of choices, then what is the reason for war? What is the reason for cruel injustices that defy ethics? Why is it that we would not live in an easier world without violence and conflict? A common theory explains destiny as a series of cause and effects determined by the karma of our deeds, or in other words our freewill. I believe that each action has an effect or result, I do not believe that it is fate that causes the initial action. Fate is the product of your choice. Fate is the effect determined by your freewill. This is proven in Neo’s final decision of whether he should save Morpheus or leave him to die. Morpheus again emphasis this as he says “there is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path”, reinforcing the idea that it was Neo’s choices that allowed him to ‘walk the path’.

So what if fate doesn’t exist? If fate doesn’t exist, then Trinity has fallen in love with Neo because of his choices and actions that form his identity. If fate doesn’t exist, Neo accidentally smashes the vase because the Oracle warns him about it, causing him to step backwards and smash the vase. This all seems within reason, but if fate didn’t exist, then Neo would not have been able to save Morpheus. If the Oracle had not have told Neo that he was not ‘the one’, then Neo wouldn’t have gone to save Morpheus because his life is too valuable in comparison. Once again, this proves that fate and freewill are tied. It is Neo’s impulsive acts of free will that contribute to his fate.

If fate existed without the impacts of choice, we would not have any control over our lives. Our identity, our direction and life would be laid in front of us with a predicted effect. Was it fate that made Trinity fall in love with Neo? Was it the prediction the Oracle made by telling Trinity that she would fall in love with Neo, thus causing the effect of Trinity falling for Neo? Or was it Neo’s identity that Trinity fell in love with? Neo’s choices in life come together to form his identity, it is this that Trinity fell in love with. The effect was that Trinity fell in love, therefore, it was the link between fate and Neo’s freewill that she would fall in love with the ‘chosen one’.


The Wachowski siblings deliver a series of deeply complex films that implore us to reflect upon the nature of reality, truth and freewill in our own lives. The film ‘The Matrix’ delves into detailed concepts of Plato and Socrates theories leaving viewers hanging with unanswered questions. How do we define reality? Is reality truth? What is the purpose of life? Are we destined to live virtuously? Are we even destined to live? Despite the uncertainties the Wachowski siblings wash up, the connection between fate and freewill, truth and reality, purpose, truth and happiness are demonstrated. The unrelenting question of the matrix, makes each and every one of us ```reflect upon how we live our lives.  

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