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“Playing Beatie Bow, ” by Ruth Park

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    The journey undertaken by the characters in Playing Beatie Bow brings them home to the same old world but with a renewed sense of reality. “Playing Beatie Bow,” by the Australian author, Ruth Park, is not only set in 1973, but also 1873, a century earlier. The main character, Miss Abigail Kirk, finds herself travelling back in time through a bizarre incident that ties her family to the Orkney Islands. Abigail finds herself in the emerging Colony of New South Wales. Abigail lives with the Bow family and her and Beatie face obstacles in their lives as they get to know one another better.

    By the closure of the novel they have developed a renewed sense of reality of who they are and the possibilities for their own lives as they return to their own worlds. Abigail experiences the true meaning of love, she finds a new confidence in her appearance, she learns how girls of the 1800s received no formal education and she gets to experience the harsh realities of being a woman at this time. Playing Beatie Bow is a novel which recognises how time and experiences can turn teenage girls into wonderful adults.

    One of the most striking constrasts between 1973 and 1873 is the lack of education for women. Abigail Kirk quickly learns that Beatie wants to gain an education. In the year 1873 it was uncommon for girls, especially poor girls to gain any formal education. Beatie’s thirst for knowledge encourages her to seek tuition from her brother Judah. She doesn’t enjoy the routine classes for girls at the Ragged School and wishes she could learn subjects just like the boys. Beatie is fascinated by the fact that children in Abigail’s time know her name.

    She wants to find out how this has come about. Abigail tells her that she believes it is because she has become famous, or at least well known. “Abigail tells Beatie that if she wants to gain anything in her time she should “…look out for yourself…How will you ever get anything if you don’t march in and bullyrag people into giving it to you? ”(P. 52) Beatie learns from Abigail that being educated allows you to have opportunities in life. This information gives Beatie the courage to think about changing her own situation in her own world.

    Ruth Park weaves a graphic tale that quickly exposes Abigail to the harsh realities of the 1800s. During her stay with the Bow family, Abigail is captured and taken to what she believes is a warehouse or bond store, but is in fact a house of disrepute. “A person will do many things rather than starve…the parsons don’t understand…empty bellies speak louder than the Ten Commandments. ” (P. 95) Having the knowledge of things from her own time, Abigail is stronger and more able to take care of herself in this situation. She thinks through her options of escape and looks for possible methods to do so. There was no one to help her, no one at all. But she could not give up without a battle. Whatever she could do to escape, she had to try to do. ” (P. 93) Having found a possible escape route, and with Judah and the boys help, Abigail bravely escapes from the terrifying situation. The boys comment on how brave she is, ‘Why, she’s as good as a lad!… ” (p. 98) Abigail has learned to be independent in her own time and to look out for herself, just as she told Beatie to do. This quality helped her to have the courage to try and escape.

    Abigail also finds the courage within herself to question some of her beliefs and expectations in her own world. Abigail’s time with the Bows forced her to re-examine her own life. In her own world she’d be harsh, ungrateful and downright cruel to her parents. Her transportation back to Old Sydney Towne leads her to cross paths with Judah. Her love for this young man was never reciprocated, breaking her heart immensely. But with the guidance of the wise Granny Talisker, Abigail soon learns that there is no greater love than to set your loved one free to be happy.

    It doesn’t change how she feels about Judah, but it does allow her to accept the facts. Abigail quickly realizes that her childish behaviour proved her lack of knowledge of all things related to the heart. When it came to her parent’s relationship she’d been heartless. Adult life is not black and white at all. Abigails returns from the past a completely transformed human being with a completely new way of viewing the world. The novel, “Playing Beatie Bow,” cleverly reveals the intricacies of lif, regardless of the time period or even the social class.

    In fact, the main character, Abigail Kirk, was brought crashing down to earth after being forced to face life in the late 1800s in a working class family. Removed from the distractions of the twentieth century, she quickly learns that relationships with the people around you far outweigh material wealth. It is how we deal with people that reflect our true riches. Abigail learns that when it comes to love, the heart knows what the heart wants. Wether the year is 1873 or 1973, love is love.

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    “Playing Beatie Bow, ” by Ruth Park. (2016, Oct 27). Retrieved from

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