The Reservoir by Janet Frame
In The Reservoir by Janet Frame we have the theme of innocence, curiosity, fear, connection, freedom and coming of age. Narrated in the first person by a young unnamed girl the reader realises after reading the story that Frame may be exploring the theme of innocence. The narrator and her friends though afraid of the reservoir are somewhat innocent. They imagine the reservoir to be all sorts of things none of which are true. This may be important as Frame may be highlighting the fact that those with a young mind allow for themselves to be scared easily by the unknown. Though it is understandable that the narrator’s parents don’t want the narrator to go to the reservoir due to the potential danger (deeper water). This is lost on the narrator and her friends who overcome any fear that they might have. It is as though their curiosity gets the better of them. One other interesting thing about the reservoir is that it connects all the children. They are like a band of brothers and sisters. Pushing each other to their final destination. If anything all the children come of age after the visit the reservoir. It was the one thing that was forbidden for them to venture to. Yet for the children there is nothing to be afraid of.
How innocent the children actually are is also noticeable by the fact that they get excited at seeing courting couples together and at the same time have stood at the chemist’s counter in Woolworth’s and looked at people buying ‘frenchies’ (condoms). If anything the children live an idyllic life though they themselves may not necessarily know it. They have the freedom to roam wherever they want to roam and in reality can do as they wish. The fact that school is closed is also a godsend to the children as though they like the routine of school after the long summer holidays. They also like the ability to roam free. Which may be the point that Frame is attempting to make. She may be suggesting that children should be free and not held back by adults or the dullness of life. There is plenty of time to be older when the children grow up and lose their innocence. For the time being life should be an adventure for the children and this is very much the case in the story.
What is also interesting about the story is the fact that all the children appear to be in unison. No one suggests that they shouldn’t go to the reservoir and if they do have their doubts they are quickly forgotten about. It is as though the reservoir is the biggest challenge for the children. It is a place that they have been told to fear and not to go to. Something which only intrigues the children more. This could be important as Frame could be using the parents in the story. Particularly the narrator’s parents to instil a sense of fear into the narrator. A fear she may not have overcome had it not been for the fact that she was with a group of children when she decided to go to the reservoir. It is as though by being in a group the shared fear that all the children have disappears. There is a sense of camaraderie between the children. Anything is possible for them. Even going to the reservoir. This too could be important as the children’s spirits have not been broken by their parent’s advice. They still remain free to think for themselves.
The fact that the narrator doesn’t tell her parents that she went to the reservoir is also interesting as she senses that the fear that her parents have about her going to the reservoir is in reality her parent’s own fear. They own it and it is not the narrator’s fear. It is for this reason that the reader suspects that the narrator and her friends have come of age. They have grown up that little bit more by taking the risk of going to the reservoir. Nothing evil or dangerous happened to them and the reader suspects that the narrator and her friends will return to the reservoir at some stage and they will do so in secret because of the fears of their parents. Though some critics might suggest that the narrator is being disobedient (as too are her friends). That is exactly how young children should be. They must venture out in life and take risks in order to grow as a person and there is no doubting that the narrator has grown as a person. Through the benefit of good luck (being off school) she has managed to overcome her fears and realise that there is nothing to be afraid of when it comes to visiting the reservoir.