I tend to think that characters are reflections of their authors, but in reading interviews with Melina Marchetta, I am led to believe this is not the case for her, at least not with Taylor Markham. However, I do believe that Marchetta chooses her characters very specifically. Throughout the book, Taylor is introduced and developed as a character with remarkable depth and insight, despite her tender years, and I think this has a lot to do with the way that Marchetta views maturity and coming-of-age.
I get the impression that in the Australian culture, adolescence is viewed much more as a passing phase of life, rather than the kind of “holding place” between childhood and adulthood that it is in the United States today. This can be seen quite clearly in the tradition Aboriginal “walkabout”: the time during a young man’s life when he goes into the wilderness to prove himself among the raw forces of nature and find his identity along the way. His safe return to his tribe indicates his successful passage into manhood, and there are many reflections of this kind of transition throughout Jellicoe Road.
For example, the leadership of the Jellicoe School Houses appears to be a reflection on the leader’s maturity and the level of respect others have for him or her. Like the “walkabout”, Marchetta uses this illustration of leadership to demonstrate the passage from youth to adulthood. With this image in mind, I think it is interesting to note that while Taylor is content to act as a leader, in many ways she resents her position, feeling unqualified to deal with her students and often unwilling to do so as well.
Marchetta sums up part of Taylor’s dilemma by explaining the nature of being a teenager: “I think the age of seventeen is a powerful time in a person’s life because it could be the first time you make the really big decisions on your own rather than having to rely on your parents or teachers to make them for you. It’s a fascinating age and comes equipped with conflict. ” (Marchetta) I think Marchetta also consciously chooses to discuss the territory wars, as if material possessions played a significant role in the development of her characters.
At the same time, the objects in question seem to hold little appeal for Taylor, although the territory wars are one of the driving forces of her life. Instead, she places more value on what those objects symbolize. For example, there is a strong sense of vitality in objects like the Prayer Tree and the Club House, as well as the waterways that are so desperately sought in the first half of the book. In these objects, there seems to be a focus on life itself-the tree and the water are good examples of classic symbols of life, and the Club House could symbolize shelter and security.
This security is something that seems to be lacking for all the characters in the book, but especially for Taylor. Even more than life and shelter, however, Marchetta says that Taylor is constantly searching for people she can trust: “Taylor’s trust is shattered when she’s 11 after her mother leaves her on the Jellicoe Road and then later it’s shattered when she’s 14, I think, when Jonah stops her from getting to her mother the first time they run away.
She doesn’t trust Hannah because Hannah doesn’t tell her the whole story and then disappears on her. The people she does trust (Raffy and Ben) she takes for granted. So for most of the story she has to learn to trust again and it does begin with Raffy and Ben. ” (Marchetta) This was a refreshing connection for me to make, because it is uncommon that I see a character who is not in some way materialistic, and Taylor does not talk about her possessions with any real feeling or warmth: she focuses instead on her relationships.
An intriguing connection between Marchetta’s authorship and Taylor’s character could appear in the relationship between Taylor and Jonah. In all of Marchetta’s interviews, she mentions experiences she never had-finishing high school, for instance. Her mention of these experiences makes me wonder if Taylor’s relationship with Jonah is, in some way, vicarious. To my knowledge, Marchetta is unmarried, and her single status may have an influence on her writing.
When I consider Jonah Griggs, he appears to be exactly the type of guy in whom many girls would be interested: tall, strong, handsome, and very smart: “…it’s like he hovers over me, which is strange because I’ve always been at eye-level with the boys around here. ” (Marchetta 186). His physical features alone make him attractive as an individual, and this makes me wonder if Marchetta is a little bit envious of Taylor because she is loved by Jonah. Marchetta says that every time she reads Jellicoe Road, she cries through the ending, so she evidently has a strong connection to the story and her characters.
It is possible that this connection goes further than the reader realizes at first glance. While there are many ways in which Melina Marchetta brings Jellicoe Road to life in powerful ways, I think that there is not much direct connection between Marchetta herself and her characters. While this may be true, however, it is clear that even Marchetta has a strong personal experience when she reads her novel. It only makes sense, for us as the readers, to share in her experiences.