Silence by Tony Ayres
In Silence by Tony Ayres we have the theme of cultural heritage, homophobia, anger, struggle, hope, fear and acceptance. Narrated in the first person by Ayres himself the reader realizes from the beginning of the story that Ayres may be exploring the theme of cultural heritage. Ayres longs to remember and act out his childhood in Australia by dining in Chinese restaurants even though his boyfriend Robert is not as keen as the narrator. If anything there is sense of tolerance from Robert. He knows how important cultural heritage is to the narrator. The theme of homophobia is also evident in the story with the skinhead reacting negatively to the narrator blowing him a kiss. As a gay Asian man the skinhead is not appreciate of Ayres gesture.
It is also possible that Ayres is exploring the theme of anger. Through the introduction of the skinhead to the story. Some critics might suggest that Ayres has brought trouble to his own door by his actions. However the skinhead has overreacted and could have ignored Ayres. It may also be a case that he skinhead is being not only homophobic but racist too. It is obvious that Ayres is of Asian extract. Something that might aggravate the skinhead. The three men from Hong Kong who are in the restaurant along with Ayres and Robert may have some symbolic significance. It is possible that Ayres is suggesting that the men are struggling in life and possibly are illegal aliens in Australia. This might be important as the men may have aspirations to improve their life, just as Ayres may have once had when he was growing up to Australia.
There may be further symbolism in the story which might be important. The Billboard venue can be seen to represent hope for the waitress. Ayres imagines her wanting to leave the restaurant and living her life as an Australian. The skinheads obviously represent a culture clash. While the fact that Ayres cannot speak Chinese and speaks first in the restaurant is possibly due to his embarrassment that he may not be as culturally astute as he would like to be. Robert’s desire to defend Ayres when the skinhead comes into the restaurant could be seen to symbolize loyalty and love. The fact that the waitress takes responsibility for Ayres actions is also significant as it suggests that she has honour even though she is afraid of the skinhead.
The end of the story is interesting as there is a silence between Ayres and Robert due to the Ayres’ insistence that the issue with the skinhead was not one of morality or principles. At no stage in the story, apart from the thanking of the waitress, does Ayres show any regret for his actions. Instead he prefers not to really take responsibility. Though again the skinhead has acted homophobic and racist. It is also interesting that while Ayres feels drawn to his cultural heritage at times it can bring an unease or conflict. Possibly due to some people’s inability to accept Ayres for who he is. A first generation gay Asian-Australian man.