Journey by Shirley Geok-Lin Lim
In Journey by Shirley Geok-Lin Lim we have the theme of responsibility, powerlessness, coming of age, tradition, fear and innocence. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Lim may be exploring the theme of responsibility. The unnamed female protagonist is responsible for getting her mother’s medication. Though she has to go to a place she has never been she still nonetheless follows her mother’s instructions and succeeds in getting the medicine. The journey itself to get the medication is interesting as there is a sense that the protagonist is seeing a world that is very different to her own world. She knows nobody yet she is not afraid. Her mind is focused on getting the medication despite everything or everyone that is around her. If anything the protagonist is driven by the task ahead of her. Something that is also noticeable in the dream that the protagonist has. She is not defeated by the darkness even though she is very much afraid. It is also possible that Lim is using the dream at the start of the story as foreshadowing to when the protagonist sees her mother getting sick. She is afraid but she still nonetheless helps her mother. If anything the protagonist comes of age in the story. No longer does she have the innocence that is associated with childhood. That has been replaced by the fact that the protagonist has a new responsibility. To look after her sick mother.
There is also a sense that the protagonist is powerless when it comes to her mother’s illness. The best she can do is to get the medicine for her mother and clean up her mother’s sickness after she has gotten sick. She can do nothing else for her mother. It is also possible that the protagonist knows that her life is about to change now that her mother is sick. As mentioned the protagonist is coming of age. Leaving innocence behind her and moving towards maturity. Even though she is still a child. This may be important as Lim may be suggesting that for some children due to their circumstances, childhood ends abruptly. Whether the child likes it or not. It is also interesting that the protagonist’s father does very little in the story. He gambles and swears. Apart from that he does nothing else. It is possible that Lim is suggesting that the father though he has responsibilities to his family is not honouring those responsibilities. Leaving matters to the protagonist and her siblings.
What is also interesting about the story is the fact that the protagonist never wavers when it comes to the tasks she has to perform. She could easily forget about what she has to do but so serious are matters she remains focused. Getting the medicine and returning home with it. The fact that the medicine is a herbal remedy may also be important as Lim may be placing a spotlight on tradition. While most people would go to a medical doctor or a hospital if they were ill. This is not the case for the protagonist’s mother. She believes in traditional remedies. However the remedy does not appear to be working for the protagonist’s mother. Something that is obvious to the reader when the mother gets sick in the bathroom. Despite this there is no sense that the mother will see a medical doctor or go to the hospital. Possibly because her beliefs in traditional medicine are so strong. However it may also be a case that the protagonist’s mother cannot afford to see a medical doctor.
The end of the story is also interesting as the protagonist appears to be at a loss when it comes to helping her mother. She does not know what to do. Though she is aware that her mother is very sick. In many ways the paralysis that the protagonist felt in her dream is mirrored by her inability to help her mother. The best that she can do is to clean up after her mother and allow her mother to go back to bed. The fact that the protagonist also switches on the bathroom light when her mother is getting sick may be important. Symbolically the turning on of the light can be seen as a moment of realization for the narrator. She now knows that her life will not be the same anymore. No longer will it be her mother looking after her but instead it will be the protagonist looking after her mother. The narrator has a come of age whether she likes it or not. Her childhood is now over and the task ahead of her is to be her mother’s nurse. Life will not be the same for the protagonist. She swiftly made the transition from childhood to adulthood. Though again she may not have chosen to grow up so quick. However due to the circumstances that the protagonist finds herself in. She has no choice but to grow up quickly.