Journey by Patricia Grace
In Journey by Patricia Grace we have the theme of change, powerlessness, frustration, responsibility and acceptance. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Grace may be exploring the theme of change. The old man can remember travelling into the city by steam train. Also when he is on the train to the city he notices how much the landscape has changed. The difference that time has brought. This may be important as in many ways it acts as foreshadowing. The old man also wants to change the small piece of land that he owns and build some houses on it for his nephews and nieces. However it becomes clear to the reader that the old man is in reality powerless when it comes to the decision making on the changes that he wishes to make. While in the city talking about his land with the young man (Paul) it becomes clear to the reader that the city planners intend to make car parking spaces out of the old man’s land. Something that frustrates the old man even though he has been promised other housing. The old man’s frustration may be two fold. Firstly he is unhappy that the city planners will not build on his land for him and secondly his emotional attachment to the land gets the better of him. Something that is noticeable by the fact that the old man kicks and damages Paul’s desk.
At no stage of the story is the old man in control of the conversation he is having with Paul. The decision has been made on how the land will be allocated and the old man has to accept this. Something he finds difficulty in doing. Though time has progressed and the world around the old man has changed. The old man himself does not appear to be open to change nor is he open to the city planners reallocating land to him. This may be important as it suggests that the old man has difficulty letting go. There are some things he might be able to accept that need changing. However when it comes to anything which may affect his own life, like the housing problem, he is not comfortable with this. It is as though the old man is unable to adapt to the world around him. Something that is further noticeable by his refusal to use the lavatories in the city. His previous experience having been unpleasant.
It is also self-evident that the old man is under a lot of pressure from his nephews and nieces. Though they do not say anything to the old man. The sense is that they view it as being his responsibility to sort out the issue with the land. They themselves have tried and failed. Their only recourse is to let the old man go into the city to see if he can resolve the issue. Something which as mentioned he fails to do. What he might have thought would have been a simple issue turns out to be a bureaucratic headache for the old man. Others are in control of what will happen and not the old man. Which may be the point that Grace is attempting to make. She may be suggesting that no matter how simple or easy an individual’s desires may be. Bureaucracy will inevitable wear the individual down. Something that has happened the old man. He knows that his battle is lost and there is nothing that he can do about it.
It is also interesting that Grace mentions the old man’s garden as this is the only piece of land mentioned in the story that the old man has control over. Something he himself seems to realise. The fact that the old man looks at the palms of his hands while sitting on his bed could also be important. By looking at his hands he may again realise how physically and symbolically powerless he actually is. Earlier in the story he wanted to hit Paul with his hands but knew that he no longer had the power. The old man’s decision not be buried (or to go into the ground) may also be significant as the old man knows that he has no control over his resting place. His grave can be dug up and he can be moved. Something that the old man recalls happening to other graves while he was on his journey to the city. Overall the old man’s experience of change and bureaucracy has been unpleasant. He has not succeeded in his goal which suggests that he has become powerless to the changes that are and will occur around him. The only thing the old man can do is accept the position he finds himself in. Though this may take him some time. The old man has been beaten by both change and bureaucracy. The drive and determination he had prior to setting out to the city is no longer. If anything the old man is defeated.