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Simple gift on belonging

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    In Steven Herrick’s novel ‘the simple gift’ we see various types of belonging. We see that belonging is not about places but it is about people. This is shown when Billy is leaving Longlands Road. He describes the houses using personification saying that they are ‘lonely’ (p4). We also see Billy’s hate for the street when personifies the rocks saying that ’the rocks bounce clatter roll and protest at being left in this damn place’. This gives us the feeling of not wanting to be there.

    When Billy wrights. ‘She didn’t sneer or feel uncomfortable. She sat on the seat and put her feet up as though she belonged’. This also shows that belonging is about the people your with and not the place.

    Emotive language is used to stir emotion and show that Billy did not belong when he lived with his father when billy says that ‘the wind and rain hits you in the face with the force of a father’s punch’. (p10)

    We see Ernie being friendly to Billy when he is talking to Billy and says “get out of there you’ll freeze to death. That’ll teach you to hitch a ride with National Rail. No free rides with this government, son. Just kidding. I hate the bloody government. “ Here Ernie uses the metaphor you’ll freeze to death which show that he is sympathetic. Ernie was using Humour to help lighten the situation for Billy. In this part of the text we also see that even though Ernie belongs to National Rail as a worker, he still doesn’t agree with the Government. I believe that in ‘the simple gift’ Steven Herrick is trying to teach us that belonging is like a gift. People can choose to be friendly, accepting and giving the gifts of friendship and kindness. Or it can be opposed. Caitlin experiences a lot of change after meeting billy.

    She is a rich seventeen year old school girl. Working at McDonald’s is her least favourite thing. She realises how materialistic she can be and even quite judgemental. Below are some examples of her transition to growing up Her first reaction to billy is one of judgement “Put that back” pg.34 Caitlin she is surprised he’s to ashamed of stealing scraps. She is forced to re-think her view. Caitlin is also surprised by how different Billy is from other boys. pg.42 “So well-mannered,/so unlike every boy/ at Bendarat Grammar,/or any schoolboy I’ve ever known.” It is a new experience for her. On page 87 Caitlin asks Billy on a picnic, this is a very big step for her, never asking a boy out anywhere She admits to being spoilt “I am spoilt/ spoilt to boredom.” (pg.88). this is a realisation of her material goods. Caitlin can be herself with Billy; she has someone to live up to, no expectations like those from her parents. Pg.106 “I don’t feel … simply feeling.” “And I stay in the shadows/ watching/” (pg. 115) Here the shadows symbolise ignorance and fear, Caitlin’s fear. Caitlin can’t trust her friends but can trust billy (pg. 131) Made decision to tell parents about Billy (pg.190). This shows that she is ready to grow up and take responsibility.

    The protagonist Billy Luckett sixteen years of age ventures into the world; leaving home on his own decision. Billy reveals himself as a reject, a thief; and a troubled character who rejected a restrictive regimented irrelevant education system. The cause of his alienation appears to be physical and psychological abuse from his father, lack of caring from his school and his run down neglected neighbourhood with its “truck still on blocks” “unmown grass”, “broken windows” and which he derisively refers to as “each deadbeat no hoper sh-thole lonely downtrodden house in Longlands Rd, Nowheresville”. All the symbols pointing to a decaying, decrepit, depressing environment.

    The school also receives a blast from Billy’s poisonous pen. Why 4:30? Most schools would have emptied two hours earlier, however the rest of the stanza rings true as Billy sets the scene on a windy rainy day with the Principal’s run down car blowing smoke, the rubbish strewn oval, Mr Cheetam (Cheater?) notes on Japan to 26 bored students and Billy self described as “one lucky bastard” admitting to have ‘stolen’ the lipstick used for his graffiti. He leaves an elliptical epithet: “Billy Luckett rhymes with…” revealing his frustration through a loss of words

    Another evocative portrait is reminiscences in the poem “sport” in chapter one. The ‘pain and suffering’ of ‘soulless tyranny’ endured by him from ‘the old bastard’ his father. This technique of expletive language is used to depict the poor relationship he shared with his father “he gave me one backhander… I felt the blood” and his attitude toward the world he’s living in.

    Whilst catching a train, uncertain where the train will take him, bad weather, wind and rain recalls the violent significant memory of his father “with the forces of a father’s punch”. The metaphoric terms further reveal Billy’s harsh living environment he is seeking to escape.

    Herrick induces us to feel empathy rather than antagonism to the protagonist. This is accomplished through the intimate use of language, changing perspectives and personal anecdotes.

    Ernie’s train whistle symbolises the beginning of Billy’s new life contrasted favourably by Ernie’s ‘not bossing you around’. His next positive role model is Irene, Bendarat’s Librarian, who welcomes him and encourages him to borrow books. Billy faces many obstacles or challenges in his new environment, such as lack of accommodation and food, because he has no income. An old train carriage becomes the protagonist’s new accommodation while he feeds off scraps of leftover food at McDonalds where he catches the attention of Caitlin.

    Another self imposed exile is, Old Bill, who suffers trauma due to the loss of his daughter Jessie, after an incident of Jessie falling out of a tree. This led Old Bill to ‘homelessness’ as his home reminds him too much of his daughter, which eventually brings him to the streets turning to alcohol to relieve the pain.

    After this loss, Old Bill’s ‘pain and suffering’ that he endured means he doesn’t care much about life. Billy and Old Bill developed ‘a friendship and sense of camaraderie’ as he treats Old Bill as his ‘father figure’. “I like the kid…I like his company” contrasts the lack of love and relationship between Billy and his real father. Old Bill’s emotive language as he explained to Billy “and I fell with her, and I’ve been falling ever since” emphasizes he’s still not over it. The bond of friendship is important, it emphasizes the strength in one’s relationship, yet it doesn’t grieve nor boast but helps one another through rough tough times, which is portrayed as Old Bill becomes less alcoholic, and slowly recovers from the loss of his daughter as “he experiences life that we planned”.

    Growth in maturity is shown as both of the two protagonists show signs of growth as they help each other. Billy’s growth is demonstrated as he becomes a ‘different’ individual from the beginning of the narrative poem showing positive thinking “sure there’s hope in the world…even for hobos like us”. Whilst Old Bill’s relationship with Billy and Caitlin, Old Bill’s view of the world slowly starts to change, as the protagonist reduces his consumption of alcohol and ventures to achieve plans that were made with Jessie. While Old Bill demonstrates the symbolism of ‘A Simple Gift’ when he gave his keys to his old home to Caitlin and Billy.

    Caitlin also feels as a misfit in her affluent society. She feels discomfort in her uniform, her school, and her luxurious home due to a whispering in her heart that it is all false, superficial, affected and pretentious, so she escapes by slumming it, looking for real values to replace the artificial ones in her world. She is attracted to Billy because of his self assurance and his genuine intelligence. It is the interaction between these three characters and the sharing of gifts, coffee and food, that unites them against a cold, callous and uncaring society. As St Francis of Assisi says “For it is in giving that we receive”.

    This narrative novel/poem/drama (?) is very successful and appeals to young people. In a recent poll it was voted the best drama in Australia despite the fact that is generally categorised as a narrative poem. It is fairly realistic and credible though there are parts that stretch the imagination. Caitlin comes across a bit contrived but her portrayal is plausible.

    There are many reasons for individuals to venture into the world as the text “The Simple Gift” shows to achieve self-reliance and independence, even so, many individual’s personality in life may change as they experience parts of life first hand. Many would like to experience their own mistakes, which is dealt with in texts like “Ten Things I Hate about You,” “Looking for Alibrandi” and “the Simple Gift” yet to find eventually that their perspective was completely opposite. Like most clichés “don’t judge a book by its cover”. The Simple Gift illustrates that gain acceptance from others by uncritically accepting them. The dreary nature of Billy’s school environment is established at the beginning of this section through personification of the wind ‘howling’ and the rain falling in sheets ‘blowing potato crisp wrappers / across the oval.’ The composer personifies Billy’s farewell to his home through the ‘rainy afternoon / of my goodbyes.’ This accentuates the possible sadness Billy felt that he could not accept the environment he was forced to grow up in. This depressing feeling probably reflects how Billy felt about his schooling at Wentworth High School. The potato crisp packets all over the oval illustrate what students typically dispose of in the playground. These packets are now picked up by the wind, representing the lack of respect students’ show to their school environment, an attitude that Billy has also adopted.

    Billy’s message to his teacher and peers reflects his contempt for the school system as a place of learning. The insult is final and shows that Billy will not be returning to his school. He has chosen to not belong in this restrictive environment. He loathes the curriculum, the teacher and his classmates as shown through the reference to learning about the ‘geography of Japan’, something Billy considers irrelevant and dull. This is further contrasted with the proceeding section ‘Westfield Creek’ – a place Billy loves as he goes there to read books he sometimes purchases but usually has stolen from the library. Billy calls Westfield Creek his ‘favourite classroom’. Here he is in control of his learning and can read what interests him.

    However Billy’s attitude to life represents his isolation from dominant society and that this isolation is not good for him. Although he has chosen to separate himself from achieving a traditional education at school, his attitude shows he is lost and extremely unhappy. He abuses his fellow students and teacher by telling them to get ‘“well and truly stuffed’”. He wanted his teacher Mr. Cheetam to ‘chew’ on ‘Billy Luckett, / rhymes with …’”. The ellipsis replaces an expletive and represents Billy’s dissatisfaction with the dominant form of education and the way people belong in society, indeed are forced to belong due to compulsory education.

    The name of the teacher Mr. Cheetam is a play on the word ‘cheat’, suggesting that Billy feels that he has been cheated by the form of education he has been given at the school as indicated through the homework of geography of Japan on the board. Billy is not content. He stole the ‘K-Mart Red lipstick’, which symbolises his defiance, opposition to the oppression of the school system most people belong to and passionate nature. The offensive message on the board was obviously a premeditated act as he stole the lipstick in advance, ‘especially for this occasion’. He calls himself a ‘lucky bastard’, who is able to say his farewells to the restrictive environment of his school. Later Billy realises that theft isolates him from belonging meaningfully to a group. He chooses not to steal a piece of jewelry for Caitlin, purchasing it instead, due to the realization that if he were to be caught, he would jeopardize his ability to belong in Bendarat, a place he values and feels comfortable.

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    Simple gift on belonging. (2016, Jun 01). Retrieved from

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    Simple gift on belonging

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    How is belonging shown in The Simple Gift?
    In the book The Simple Gift by Steven Herrick, the main theme is belonging as it follows a boy's journey to find a place where he feels he belongs. In the book Arthur by Amanda Graham, the author shows the feelings displayed by someone when they don't belong and then their feelings when they do belong.
    What are the themes in The Simple Gift?
    Themes: family, friendship, homelessness, coming of age, verse novel.
    What text type is The Simple Gift?
    The verse novel/narrative poetry.
    Why does Billy help old bill in The Simple Gift?
    Billy continues to help Old Bill because of the kindness that Ernie and Irene showed him. Again, he recounts the abuse he suffered through the anecdote of his father chasing him with a strap when he was twelve.

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