Cockleshell by Tim Winton

In Cockleshell by Tim Winton we have the theme of innocence, love, change, perception, abandonment and regret. Taken from his The Turning collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realizes that Brakey may be in love with Agnes. He is just fifteen and is spying on her. Though some critics might suggest that Brakey is infatuated with Agnes it is more likely that it is young love and a keen interest on Brakey’s part to endear himself to Agnes. Something he does not manage to do at any stage of the story. Not that this is Brakey‘s fault. If anything Agnes lives with a dysfunctional family. Her mother lives her life preoccupied with religion and praying, believing that prayer will solve all problems. While her father might well be a dry drunk. He has given up alcohol but has made no changes in his life. Change has been forced upon him, with the loss of the meatworks, and he has not accepted it well.

The theme of regret is also evident in the story. Brakey might regret that he did not continue his friendship with Agnes. In reality he knows nothing about her after the age of eleven. Though he, through his questions, wants to make up for lost time, and know everything about her. Which does not end happy for Brakey. His perception of Agnes working on the shore is that she needs the money for her family. However the truth is Agnes cannot stand living with her parents. Particularly her mother. This type or kind of rebellion against her parents is not something that is unique. Margaret, Agnes older sister, abandoned the family when she was sixteen and moved to the city. Abandonment pays an important part in the story as Brakey’s mother feels as though everybody will abandon her. Just like her husband has. There will be no one left in her life and she is not wrong. Eventually when Brakey grows up. He moves to the city.

There may also be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The fish that Agnes kills every night in many ways act as foreshadowing to when (as Brakey suspects) Agnes killed her father by setting fire to the family home. Agnes after all was fully dressed and had her bag packed. While her brothers and mother were in their night clothes. The town of Cockle Shoals is also significant as it is a dead town. Literally. With Mr Benson dead and his body never been found. The fact that Brakey dreams of his father might also be significant as first he thinks it is Mr Benson’s body he sees but then realizes it is his father’s. Subconsciously Brakey might be trying to let go of his father in a manner that he can understand. He does after all see that he has no part or role in his father’s new life.

The end of the story is interesting as Winton appears to be exploring the theme of embarrassment and fear. Despite the passing of time Brakey feels embarrassed about his relationship with Agnes. He fears that he will see her again and question her about her father‘s death.  If anything Brakey is unable to let go of the past. Something that annoys him. He knows that Agnes set the fire and he wants to know why. She has made a success of her life and nobody most likely knows the truth about her but Brakey knows and fears that if he bumps into Agnes he will open old wounds. A teenage crush has developed into something more for Brakey. He thought that Mr Larwood had changed and things were going well for Agnes and her family. However just as Agnes fished on the surface of the water to catch her prey. Likewise Agnes life was superficial. Looking good on the outside but on the inside it was in turmoil. Agnes may have meant for her mother to die but she ended up killing her father. A man who was unable to change with the times. Remaining in the same place, his rocking chair, despite all the changes that occurred in his life.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "Cockleshell by Tim Winton." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 25 Sep. 2022. Web.

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