Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature

Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
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Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Home : Literature : Summer of the Seventeenth Doll Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature




A Chinese student's take on that classic....


 Xu Bin (Ben) Ðì±ò
Australian Poetry and Fiction
Prof. Ken White

May 31, 2003
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll:
Liberation of the Women and Disintegration of the Mate-ship
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll depicts the real life of the
working class people in the 1950s when Australia was experiencing its
heyday of economic and social development that had been accompanied by many changes in the Australian social life.


The changes were sensed by Ray Lawler and recorded by him in this play through which the picture of the liberated women and the disintegration of the mate-ship are unfolding in front of its audience. The end of the 1930s' depression and the end of the Second World War brought more jobs for Australian people so people in 1950s were fairly content.


In the second world war Australia depended much upon the U.S. support; as a result, Australia has witnessed the transference of partnership from the one with Britain to the one with America; in addition the American mass media has been influencing Australia ever since. People's way of life has been accordingly transformed with the blooming national economy and by the imported American influence. Thus 1950s' Australia created such an unstable atmosphere for people to live in.


As Katherine Brisbane comments:
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll is a play about growing up and
growing old and failing to grow up; and the study throws into relief not
only the hopes and failures of a dilapidated Melbourne household, but the
character of a nation. (qtd. in

According to Freudian theory, people's natural instincts could be
classified into two: the instinct for love and the instinct for death. The
instinct for death could be replaced or substituted by the instinct for
keeping of staying in the status quo when the instinct for love is
extremely strong, which represents the strong life force. The status quo
offers people a safe haven to rest just like Olive's house in the play. The
two young canecutters: Barney and Roo are young and energetic. Their love
for their ladies no matter in a physical form or in a spiritual form is
strong indeed just like a gigantic compass directing them to return to the
same place during lay-off period every year for sixteen years.


For them the lay-off seasons are mating seasons during which their loves are fulfilled and their complete personalities are preserved. But suddenly the old love haven vanishes as Nancy leaves the house and gets married. Her marriage is a break in the continuity of the prolonged dream that has a fixed pattern. The play displays women's dependence upon men in those days but it
is at its melting point since Nancy has realized the impossibility of
running such a dangling relationship with Barney and at last Olive has
discarded the fascinating old masculine image of Roo.


From this the audience can have a glimpse of the out-breaking of the women's liberation movement in 1950s. Both Nancy and Pearl have already realized the
importance of being an independent woman and making decisions by
themselves. Pearl does not simply take the vacant place left by Nancy and
become Barney's girlfriend in order to reestablish the long built love nest
for: Olive, Roo and Barney. Although the realization needs a long time but
the accomplishment of it is rather fast.

Nancy's leaving resembles to the leaving of Nora in A Doll's House
written by Ibsen in which Ibsen personally deplored the kind of
emancipation and self-development which brought women out of the domestic
sphere into the larger world; he had a sharp eye and many sharp words for
injustice, and it was the injustice of Torvald's demeaning treatment of
Nora- a deplorably common occurrence in real life, Ibsen conceded that
provided the impetus for the play (qtd. in Magill, 1573). Nora's leaving
form the House aroused the raging debate over her morality in the
mid-nineteen century but other people acknowledge Nancy¡¯s leaving.
Although Nancy and Barney are not married, leaving one's boyfriend and
marrying another guy is considered to be bad at that time when women's
loyalty and faith to their husbands or boyfriends were extremely important.
The similarity of Nancy's leaving and Nora's leaving lies in their courage
to break away from the static and lifeless way of living.


They are constantly subjected to their male partners' dominance like caged bird without the right of decision-making, the inalienable right of human beings
according to Marx's analysis. So if we recognize Nora as a new image woman
in mid-nineteen century's Britain then Nancy could be viewed as a newly cut
woman figure in the mid-twenty century's Australia.

Compared with Nancy, Olive is rather slow in changing. It is she who
arranges everything from the house to the party, from dinners to the coming
of Pearl as a substitute for Nancy. She airs her disagreement on Nancy's
marriage. The dialogue between Olive and Pearl is the best demonstration of
two different opinions belonging to the past and the present respectively,
from which we perceive the 100% faith of Olive towards Roo and then Olive's
vague feeling of self-pity:
Olive: with a slight shudder It's different all right
compared to all the marriages I know, what I got is.... froping for depth
of expression is five months of heaven every year. And it's the same for
them. Seven months they spend up their killin' themselves in the cane
season and then they come down here to live a little. That's what the
lay-off is. To her, the pleasure of an hour is the pleasure for ever and
her enormous understandingness and generousity towards Roo and Barney are
just taken for granted or even made use of by the two larrikin canecutters.

Mate-ship is the emblem of the traditional Australian culture and
for a certain long period of time it has been regarded as a religion-like
principle observed by male Australians, which helps to stabilize the
country and define Australia's unique national identity. But many big
social events can affect either positively or negatively upon society and
change people's attitudes and behaviors, for example: the fast economic and
political development in the Victorian age got their reflections in novels
written by Oscar Wilde and Saki. People especially the writers began to
experiment upon new life styles and new writing styles, in which we find
their challenges to the existing believes and religions.

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll serves almost the same role by mirroring the
transformation of the old Australia, famous for its outback mate-ship in
Paterson's romantic writings to the future Australia gaily heralding a new
age noted for its notorious beach culture and hedonism in Drewe's The Body
Surfers. With these ideas born in mind, we will not blame Roo and Barney
for their irresponsibility and we will not criticize Barney for his
betrayal of Roo. But Barney's betrayal is hard to be accepted by Roo as
Nancy's marriage is unacceptable to Olive just because of their deep
involvement in or addiction to the past echoing their instinct for death in
Freudian's words.

Through the play national self-consciousness has been made possible, on the one hand, by the generic conventions of naturalism, and on the other, by the new social economic conditions produced by rapid
urbanization. The play is based on the reassessment of mate-ship and
ideology of selfhood. The figure of the Outback hero is beginning to be
displaced from its centrality as the national archetype. As Fitzpatrick
puts it: the Doll "was itself the agent and symptom of an
increasingly skeptical attitude to the value and reality of the myth; and
after analyses like Russell Ward's The Australian Legend, the stereotype of
the outback hero, and the rites he evolved to cope with a hostile
environment, could not easily be assented to as representative of a present
Australian reality. ( Cousins, 2)

In A Doll's House the action revolves around Nora, her dawning
self-consciousness and her quest for self-realization, whereas in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll , Roo is also the subject of transformation. To put the difference crudely, it might be said that where Ibsen was attempting to rewrite femininity, Lawler was attempting to rewrite masculinity. Like A Doll's House, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll embodies this process of redefinition in the changing perceptions of its characters. It relentlessly demonstrates the split
between the 'ideal' and the 'real', and forces its characters to confront
under the weight of history, the injunction to create for themselves the
conditions of their own self realization.

Also like A Doll's House, the Doll reveals that it is the burden of its own structural 'inheritance' that finally prevents its characters from achieving this. Nora fails in her quest for self-realization because Ibsen's rejection of the structural imperatives of the intrigue form (which require either the punishment or forgiveness of the heroine who refuses to perform the conventional specula
function of woman) leaves Nora no alternative position or identity.
Similarly, Lawler's refusal of the outback hero's melodramatic victory over
(or defeat by) a hostile environment constructs for Roo an equally
untenable position. No longer able to identify with the outback myth of
masculinity, Roo is also unable to construct a new masculine identity in
the differently hostile world of the city - a world that is both hostile
to, and unable to sustain, the myth of an omnipotent outback masculinity.

The breaking of mate-ship is not completely a bad thing because the
in-stability of the male relationship gives women a chance to have a fresh
breath, after which they will come up with a different idea and change
their obedient manner in front of men. Thus, they are liberating themselves
from the male dominance. In this play, we have witnessed the marriage of
Nancy, the refusal of Olive to Roo's proposal because they know they are
deserting the old dream and seeking their own happiness.

The seventeenth doll is unique because it defines a quality of life that those who have sought to express it have not yet understood. It is a play about the
deprivation of feeling and understanding deriving from the long, unbeaten
struggle for survival in the sun; and how the long-felt admiration for
youthful prowess has left the unequipped Australians to fulfil their age,
or even recognize there is a tomorrow. Years are to pass before Australia
itself begin to learn to grow up, to feel the truth of Lawler's statements
and to lend a sympathetic ear to the rob of the creative artist in showing
the Australians how to express themselves.

Works Cited
DOLL. Australian Film in the 1950s. Ed. Tom O'Regan. The
Australian Journal
of Media & Culture vol. 1 no 1 (1987).
The Doll New Theatre:
Magill, Frank N. Masterplots. New Jersey: Englewood Cliffs, 1976.

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