Away: A Commentary on 1960s Australia

Oftentimes, the best representation of a nation can be found within literature. Such is through for Michael Gow’s 1986 play Away, which offers a distinct depiction of Australian society in 1968, a time when crises such as the Great Depression and World War II were decades in the past but still fresh in mind. Through Gow’s expert characterisation of Gwen and Roy, this didactic text reveals the preoccupation with social status, materialism and ignorance of mental illness that define this period of Australian culture.

Gow is able to make a strong comment on the excessive concern with social status possessed by Australian citizens of this time. This ideology is exemplified by the characters of Gwen and Ron, who represent the typical attitudes of Australian society, as seen when Gwen mentions she “got a new caravan. Everything in it you could want.” Here, the bragging within Gwen’s dialogue and the symbolism of the expensive vehicle is used to demonstrate that her family holiday revolves around status and is an opportunity to display their social position, rather than to bond with loved ones. It is through these devices that Gow is able to illustrate the intense value placed on societal standing by Australian society, an idea that is continued within Roy’s dialogue, “One. My position at school. I can’t go turning up at school functions with you if you’re going to behave like a ghost.” Here, the prioritisation of his ‘position’ over the needs of his wife highlights the importance of social status within the culture of Australia. As these characters repeatedly value their societal positions above even their loved ones, the play is able to emphasise the preoccupation with social status found within Australia’s nationhood.

The play also serves to underline Australia’s materialism within this time period through its characters. As the nation recovers from earlier historical traumas, the effect this has had on its citizens are clearly demonstrated within Gwen’s values, as seen within her reaction to the massive storm, “Take the stove! … Where’s my purse?” Here, her dialogue within this dangerous scenario reveals that she is most concerned with the safety of her material belongings, even over that of her family. Her obsession with her property reflects the extreme materialism that plagued Australian culture at this time, an idea which is further supported in her attitude towards the poorer characters of Vic and Harry, who are staying in a “lean-to” and who Gwen believes are “living like pigs” and “shouldn’t be going on a holiday if they can’t afford one.” Here, her dialogue demonstrates her condescending opinion of due to their inferior accommodation, suggesting that she measures one’s success by their material possessions, whilst her commentary on their decisions reveals that she expects others to do the same. Through the character of Gwen, Gow is able to illustrate the excessive materialism seen within Australian society following the Great Depression.

Additionally, Gow’s expert employment of characterisation has allowed him to illustrate the harsh ignorance towards mental illness demonstrated by the majority of Australian society during this time. This is obvious within Roy, who represents the nation’s dominant ideologies, and his unforgiving attitude towards Coral’s depression. This is seen in his dialogue with her, such as in the lines, “I don’t care how you justify it, you behave in a way that’s too…weird for my liking.” Here, his use of the phrase ‘too weird for my liking’ reveals that he expects her to adhere to his expectations for her behaviour and his disregard for her mental struggles. As he represents the common ideas of Australian culture, this highlights the nation’s unforgiving and ignorant attitudes towards depression and other mental illnesses. This idea is further developed as Roy continues to threaten her in hopes of altering her behaviour, “Do you want me to arrange shock treatment? …I’ll lock you up if that’s what it takes…But you won’t behave like this.” His reaction to her depression and his adamant belief that she has control over its effect on her behaviour reveal the complete lack of understanding in Australian society regarding this issue. It is through this strong characterisation of Roy that Gow is able to highlight the ignorance towards mental illness that was ubiquitous within Australian culture at the time.

Thus, Michael Gow’s expert use of characterisation, dialogue and symbolism enables his 1986 play Away to form a strong depiction of Australian society during the 1960s. Through his portrayal of Gwen and Roy, who represent the dominant ideologies of Australia, he is able to reveal the nation’s preoccupation with social status, as well as the materialism of its citizens and the ignorance towards mental illness present within its culture.

Discovery in Away and The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Discoveries envelop the process of individuals making profound changes from previous walks of life to new unearthed possibilities. This process occurs at the convergeance of introspection and examination and its impacts can be transformative and emancipatory. This process and the idea discoveries lead individuals to new worlds, stimulating ideas can clearly be reflected through Micheal Gow’s drama Away and the film The Perks of Being a Wallflower (TPOBW) directed by Stephen Chbosky. These texts encompass surpassing limitations and changing interpretations through procuring relationships with others. In Away, the mother figures Coral a Gwen, symbolically move away from old ways of thinking whereas TPBOW follows Charlie, a young boy on his path to maturity. These characters all undergo significant self-discoveries to retrieve fresh outlooks.The necessity of discovery as a means of stimulation and new world and values can be reflected through the inceptive behaviours and attitudes that require change. In Away Coral is introduced as an emotionally disconnected woman following the death of her son in the Vietnam war. Coral’s necessity for discovery can be seen in the performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ where the stage directions state she is “sitting in the dark wiping away tears”. Coral feelings sorrowful during a humorous play emulates how trapped in grief she is and her inability to interpret the emotional depth that Shakespeare represents. In turn, following her upbringing in the Great Depression Gwen consequently has a materialistic attitude and places false value on possessions and status. This is seen through the use of ellipsis “Have a lovely time in your…. Tent”. This is indicative of her sarcastic and derogatory nature towards others of lower status and the world. These initial behaviours represent their necessity for change and the beginning of this process is introduced by their catalyst Tom, as Puck, where he states “Think but this and all is mended”. This quote from the play within a play effectively introduces interpretations will be changed to achieve….. . Similarly, in TPOBW, Charlie also has a negative outlook on the world, highlighting his necessity for discovery. Individuals who experience limitations such as personal loss and emotional disconnection will often undergo the process of discovery to retrieve new outlooks. In the poignant coming of age story TPOBW, Charlie experiences these limitations in the form of highschool, death, relationships and sexuality. Chbosky uses an aerial shot to reflect Charlies intial necessity for discovery. This is shown looking down on Charlie following his departure from a party, effectively reflecting his sense of isolation and segregation. This higlights Charlies need to undergo discovery to acquire a sense of joy and emotional connection to others. This is reinforced through low modality dialogue “I am both happy and sad…. Still trying to figure out how that could be”. This is indicative of the confusion and disconnection that arises prior to undergoing discovery and the necessity of these changes to stimulate new ideas and solidify new worlds and values. Subsequently , Coral and Gwen are able to begin this transformative process with the assistance of the character Tom. For the process of discovery to present new worlds and values to occur, an individual will often require the assistance of profound catalysts to enlighten and stimulate their discoveries their discoveries. In Away, these catalytic discoveries can be accredited to the terminally ill child Tom. With the help of Tom, Coral is able to realise she can no longer remain shrouded tot the world. This is reflected in the performance of “Strangers on the Shore: where Tom helps Coral find her legs in both a symbolic and literal way. This is shown through the repetition of “Im Walking, Im walking”. This is symbolic of Coral’s discovery and overcoming the death of her son, attaining a new positive outlook on the world. Gwen’s stimulating moment also occurs due to Tom, as she discovers about his illness while on a walk with his mother Vic. Through the attainment of this knowledge, she has a moment of anagnorisis, realising that relationships with others are more important than placing false value on status and material objects. Her transformation is evident following Tom and Coral’s performance where the stage directions state “The applause is led thunderously by Gwen”. This is reflective of her newly procured redemptive outlook on the world, as opposed to her previous acquisitive attitudes. These resulting attitudes of the women clearly reflect that upon self-examination, discoveries can in turn stimulate new ideas and lead individuals to new worlds and ideas. Similarly, Charlie also undergoes discoveries following the development of relationships with others. In order to surpass limitations to acquire new perspectives and outlooks an individual will often seek out relationships with others to support them. In TPOBW, Charlie befriends the mentor figure of his English teacher, as well as two teenagers, Patrick and Sam, who assist his discovery by allowing him to see the immediacy of life. His new attitude and adapted perspective can be seen through the dialogue “It was me.. in that tunnel… I was really there. This tunnel is symbolic of his passage from adolescence to adulthood and the high modality language reflects his new found surety brought forth by discovery, as opposed to his previous outlooks. Toward the end of the film, there is a recurring placement of the word “infinite”. The repetition of this effectively represents the unbounded possibilities that have arisen due to his discovery and relationships. For Charlie, personal transformation reflects new positive values and ideas, and neglect of his previous sense of isolation and segregation to the world. Hence, discoveries effectively lead individuals to procuring new outlooks as well as perceptions of emotions and life. This process and the effects of discovery are clearly explored and reflected through Micheal Gows drama Away and The Perks of Being a Wallflower directed by Stephen Chbosky. Gwen, Coral and Charlie all undergo this process with others acting as catalysts for their self discoveries, which allows them to procure new profound positive attitudes.