Motherhood and war are two complex themes and issues that have been represented in texts studied this year, both in and out of class. Stedmen’s novel Light Between Oceans explores themes, which are common to much literature set in the historical context of the 1920s, and Australia’s emergence from the horror of world war 1. Two most apparent of these is Stedmen’s exploration of war, its impact society and reflections on motherhood. War, as a theme in this novel, presents and explores issues of guilt, as well as the changing values and attitudes that society had towards war itself through employing well-crafted metaphors, symbolism, structure of plot and dialogue. When exploring motherhood, Stedmen represents this issue as a physiological need as well as a tight bond either mother and daughter or both feel towards each other.
A contrasting representation of motherhood is Gwen Hardwoods poem The Mother Who Gave Me Life. It suggests themes that although similar to those in Light Between Oceans, provide a complementary view of the subject. She highlights the importance of motherhood and the bond that mother and daughter share, but rather presents it all in a much larger perspective and relates it to a bigger world. Through metaphors and selection of detail, this perspective is brought successfully to the attention of the reader.
Dulce Et Decorum Est, by Wilfred Owen, proposes a contrasting representation of war when compared to The Light Between Oceans. Owen depicts war as grotesque and challenges society’s contextual view of war as the opposite of noble, as well as communicating the changing views of war at the time, he employs imagery and similies to successfully position the audience to see these themes with horrifying clarity.
Firstly, The Light Between Oceans’ main protagonist, Tom, is a survivor of a horrible set of experiences in war; he understands that the reality of war is much different from the glorification of war. Tom’s character reveals the emotional damage he has suffered, as he quests to overcome his irrational and recurring guilt of his survival, as well as make his life meaningful in a way that justifies why he lived and so many others didn’t. The theme of war is also frequently prevalent in Isabelle’s family, as she lost both her brothers in battle, as well as adding context to the disappearance of Lucy as her father’s persecution of racial background gives reason to him running away with her.
While the novel is set many years after world war 1, the psychological, emotional and cultural impact of the war resonates as a central motivation and issue in each of the characters. These central motivations are communicated through issues associated with war, such as the guilt. Although Tom has survived his war experience and is recognised as a potentially heroic character, his very survival haunts him. This issue is represented by Stedmen as she reminds us of Tom’s guilt by using selection of detail and commenting, “Sometimes when he wakes up next to Isabel he’s still amazed, and relieved, that he isn’t dead.” She also selectively highlights the strict routine that Tom forms, as by nature he seems to adjust to the periodic “by the book” approach that working for the lighthouse requires and takes it on quite naturally similarly to his military upbringing.
Stedmen’s use of structure reveals to us the sense of guilt that her protagonist, Tom, carries around with him constantly. The structure also serves to remind the reader of Tom’s own conscience; his guilty thoughts are like a slow hum that echoes inside him constantly, jumping around in time as if reflecting his own thought precesses. After arriving on Janus and taking in the view, he thinks he could “blow away like a balloon without ballast”. He seems apprehensive of his new surroundings and the silence it brings, and at this thought we jump backwards “Know exactly where your gun is when you doze for ten minutes in…