The Gulf by Geraldine McCaughrean
In The Gulf by Geraldine McCaughrean we have the theme of escape, frustration, disappointment, hope, happiness, fear, freedom, gratitude and unselfishness. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises from the beginning of the story that McCaughrean may be exploring the theme of escape. Juan is on the run from his captors. We do not know what he has done which may be significant as it affords the reader to be sympathetic towards Juan. It is also noticeable how dedicated Juan is when it comes to the matter of escape. He does not give up even when he reaches the gulf and realises that he may never get across to the other side. However it is noticeable that he is frustrated even when there is hope. The little girl brings others to the gulf and though it takes Juan time to realise it, they are making a rope. Though he still doesn’t have much faith in the abilities of his rescuers. McCaughrean also uses similes throughout the story to set the tone. In the opening line she compares the cold to being ‘like swallowing swords.’ The benefit of this is that the reader is drawn further into the story and may actually feel like a participant.
There is also no disputing that Juan is disappointed when he reaches the gulf and sees the size of the gulf. It is as though all his running away has been in vain. That is until he sees the little girl who he can’t believe will be able to help him. However through unity with her family and others in the village Juan manages to escape his captors by the ingenuity of the villagers. Where once Juan had lost hope now he has reclaimed it as a free man. Knowing only too well that he no longer has to fear his captors. For they can’t cross the gulf now that the villagers have thrown the rope into the ravine. For the first time in the story Juan feels safe and certain of the position he finds himself in. He has options again He can continue running, though there may be no need to or he can stay with the villagers and thank them. This is most likely what happens. Juan joins the villagers. The reader lead to believe this by way of the fact that Juan has a single twist of grass in his hand when he gets to the other side of the gulf. This single twist of grass mirrors the twists of grass that the villagers are holding or were holding prior to making the rope.
If anything Juan may now have found happiness. As mentioned we do not know why he was running away from his captors but his freedom was obviously at stake. Now on the other side of the gulf Juan can make up his own mind about his future without fear. Juan has been rewarded for all his efforts and struggles he endured when trying to escape. Where once Juan may have felt frustrated and disappointed he now has the luxury of feeling free and it may be sometime before Juan realises that freedom is not a luxury but a right. The reader is also left wondering if the villagers have helped others escape before. They are proficient in their actions which may lead some readers to suspect that they have done this type of thing before. Showing unselfishness towards another human being.
Though McCaughrean ends the story abruptly (twist of grass). There is no doubting that Juan is full of gratitude towards his rescuers. From considering things to be ridiculous, on sight of the single girl, to having his hopes raised when the man fired the arrow across the gulf. Juan has experienced a rollercoaster of emotions. Helped by her use of language McCaughrean has managed to get that point across. Juan started out desperate and in despair however by the end of the story he is relaxed and relieved to be free again. It is doubtful that Juan will forget those from the village who have helped him. A community spirit came together to help a desperate man even though they owed him nothing. Which may be the point that McCaughrean is making. She may be suggesting that in today’s world there are still people who will unselfishly help others.