Playing Beatie Bow

by

Ruth Park

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Playing Beatie Bow: Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The day Abigail runs away to go home begins like any other. She is dressed in Dovey’s plain clothes. She has noticed over the last several days that some women, either highborn ladies or “high-steppers”—women unacceptable to polite society—wear finer clothes of lace and silk, while working women always wear drab, modest dresses. Abigail understands now why her mother’s shop never gets any lower-class Victorian clothing in—it would have been worn out by hard conditions and labor.
Abigail’s attention to the clothes she is wearing on the day she plans to leave seems to symbolize her desire to forge a connection between the past and her distant present. Despite her itch to go back to her own time, Abigail is learning more about Victorian New South Wales every day, and becoming more enmeshed in its history in the process.
Themes
Time and the Past Theme Icon
On the day Abigail tries to run away, her ankle has gone down to its normal size, and she is wearing more comfortable shoes. Beatie goes off to school, excited that Judah’s ship is supposed to make port again tonight, and he will be home. Abigail helps Granny make sweets in the shop, and as she does, marvels at how quickly not only the Bows and the Talliskers but the rest of the community, too, were to believe the story that Abigail was an immigrant girl who lost her memory. She has been in the past for two weeks now, and in those two weeks there has been little discussion beyond the first few days of Abigail’s green dress, her being the Stranger, or the family’s Gift.
Abigail holds in her head the fantasy of returning to her own time, but still against all odds finds herself pulled to the kindness she has encountered in this time period. The hospitality of the Bows, and really the whole community in which they live, has surprised Abigail—but still, she is unable to imagine living there any longer, and decides to go through with her plan to return to her own world.
Themes
Time and the Past Theme Icon
Abigail has had to field endless questions from Beatie about the future, however, but Beatie does not always believe the things Abigail tells her. The one thing Beatie is happy to hear is that women can, in the future, become doctors, teachers, and scholars. Every conversation with Beatie comes back to the question of how the children of the future know her name.
Despite her fear of the Gift, Beatie is shown through her interactions with Abigail to have a burning desire to know things about the future, specifically about her own role in it. But even Abigail cannot answer all of Beatie’s questions.
Themes
Time and the Past Theme Icon
The Wisdom and Power of Children  Theme Icon
After Beatie has gone off to school and Granny and Dovey leave Abigail alone in the shop with the absent-minded Mr. Bow, Abigail seizes her chance and leaves the shop. She heads down Argyle Street, planning to navigate back to the spot where she first entered the past, believing that as soon as she is there she will be instantly restored to her own time.
Abigail sneakily abandons the shop, taking advantage of poor Mr. Bow’s consistent state of mental fog. She sees nothing that can go wrong with her plan—a surefire sign that something very terrible is about to.
Themes
Time and the Past Theme Icon
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As Abigail passes the school where Beatie attends classes, she stoops low, hoping the child will not see her, but nonetheless hears Beatie call her name as she goes by. Abigail breaks into a run, and as she looks back realizes that Beatie did not call her from inside the school, but rather was heading her way with Judah, coming up from the wharf. As Beatie and Judah pursue her, Abigail continues running; she dives into an alley to escape them, and watches as they run right past her. In that moment, a hand fastens around Abigail’s ankle.
Abigail runs into Beatie and Judah, neither of whom she was expecting to see. Being caught by them could derail her whole operation, so rather than letting them catch up with her, Abigail runs headlong into something far worse than being brought back to the Bow-Tallisker household.
Themes
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
Time and the Past Theme Icon
Abigail looks down and sees a frightful, legless man with a bulging forehead grinning toothlessly up at her—she kicks at the man’s face, but he dodges her blows, and bites her on the leg. Abigail screams out Beatie and Judah’s names, but then a horrible-smelling sack descends over her head and she cannot see anything more as she is half-carried, half-dragged away. She punches and claws at her captors but is no match for them, and though she succeeds in pulling out some hairs from one of their beards, she cannot stop them from bringing her to a strange, anonymous place.
Abigail has, up until now, been aware of the roughness of the world just outside the shop window, but has largely been shielded from any danger or discord by the love, care, and empathy of the Bows. Having decided that that wasn’t enough for her, Abigail has removed herself from that little bubble, and suddenly gotten in very far over her head.
Themes
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
The Transformative Power of Love Theme Icon
The sack is pulled off Abigail’s head—she is in a dark room that smells horrible, and in front of her is a huge woman holding a bloody hand to her hairy chin. Abigail hears a man’s husky voice telling the bearded woman—Hannah—that Abigail will fetch a “sweet sum.” Abigail realizes she is in greater danger than she had ever even realized was possible, surrounded by many strangers, and that there is no chance of her fighting her way out.
Abigail realizes that she has been forcefully brought to a brothel, or “whorehouse”—a greater danger than she could ever have imagined. She has been rendered completely powerless; whereas at the Bows’ she was just stuck, here she is a true captive.
Themes
The Wisdom and Power of Children  Theme Icon
The people around her openly discuss buying, selling, sampling, and “nibbling” Abigail. The man with the husky voice, Barker, asks Abigail if she’ll be quiet if he takes his hand off of her mouth—Abigail says she will, but as soon as he removes it, she begins screaming Judah’s name. The man stuffs a dirty rag in Abigail’s mouth and pushes her to the ground. He instructs Hannah to keep Abigail close and keep her from becoming “damaged goods.”
Abigail is no longer seen as a valuable human life, as she was by the Bows, but rather as a commodity to be bought and sold. Abigail didn’t realize how good she had it back at the confectionery, and now sees the grave mistake she has made in trying to run away.
Themes
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
Abigail feels something moving beneath her on the ground, and realizes that she has fallen on top of another woman, who resembles a “hobgoblin,” and is in a horrible state of disarray. The woman goes over to a table and begins eating some moldy bread, but one of the other women advises her not to eat it, calling her Doll. Abigail, paralyzed by terror, imagines herself in twenty years’ time as Doll herself, worn out and degraded beyond belief.
Abigail sees the worst possible version of her future (and the brutality of the world she has entered) laid out before her in the pitiful, grotesque spectacle of the poor Doll. It seems very possible that Abigail could end up exactly like this miserable woman, and she laments the foolishness that has brought her to this low point.
Themes
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
A pretty woman approaches Abigail and introduces herself as Emily, but tells Abigail that she goes by Maude, as the name sounds more “posh.” Maude then tells Doll that the lamps have been lit—it’s time to get on the streets. Doll begins to cough horribly, and Maude changes her mind, saying that she won’t bring Doll into the street with her as long as she has her embarrassing cough. One of the other women in the room urges Hannah to throw Doll out, but Hannah says she must be charitable to her own niece. She instructs a man named Chow to take Doll and Abigail up to the attic. Doll begs Hannah to give her some gin before she’s taken away, and Hannah obliges her. Hannah and Chow shut Doll and Abigail in the attic and lock the door.
Doll is seen as a burden by even the other prostitutes, who do not want to be seen with her or socialize with her. Abigail sees her worst fears reflected in Doll’s plight, which seems to worsen by the minute. When Abigail realizes that Doll is only still in the whorehouse—let alone alive—due to the “duty” her apparent relative Hannah feels toward her, she is horrified by the reversal of the idea of familial love and duty she sees laid out before her.
Themes
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
Abigail looks around the room and immediately tries to think of ways she might get herself out, but she is too frightened to devise a plan. She realizes that the only hope she has is that Judah and Beatie heard her cries for help back on the street. Abigail starts to try to get her hands unbound from the kerchief that holds them—after half an hour, she succeeds. As she works, Doll tells Abigail her sad story.
Abigail is so paralyzed by fear that she is unable to find a way to come to her own rescue. She realizes that she is completely in the hands of the Bows—the people whose care she has betrayed by running away from them for this miserable situation.
Themes
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
Time and the Past Theme Icon
Doll was born Dorothea Victoria Brand in an ill-educated but still respectable family. Doll attended school and was a “bookish” child, and though her father wished he could afford a better education for his daughter, he could not. After Doll’s father died suddenly, her mother went to a “slop-shop” to work, where she sewed clothing standing upright in a cramped room with twenty other women, and soon herself succumbed to illness and death. Doll was sent to live with her aunt Hannah in the colonies, and she tells Abigail that Hannah did her the favor of putting her to work so that she wouldn’t starve.
Doll’s story demonstrates to Abigail the dire straits of the Victorian era working class. Abigail sees their pain and suffering all around her, from which she has been shielded by the Bows. She realizes the depths of misery that many people face, and understands at last how lucky she was to have been found and taken in by the Bows when she arrived in the past, seeing now the grisly end she could very well meet.
Themes
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
Time and the Past Theme Icon
Doll is in a stupor or a trance as she tells her story, and Abigail takes the opportunity to get to her feet and go to the window, slowly working an iron bar that blocks the pane from its sockets. Abigail is terrified, and almost all she can think to do is silently beg Granny, who has the Gift, to help her. Abigail finally gets the window open, and sees a frayed rope hanging from above. She tries to pull on the rope, but it is so old that it turns to dust in her hands. Abigail’s eyes fill with tears—her last hope has gone. Just then, she looks up, and sees that someone is lying on the roof above her, looking down at her.
Abigail’s last resort is to hope against hope that the Gift is, after all, real. She works to save herself once her faith in the Gift falters, but her efforts fail. Just as all hope has been lost, though, someone comes to Abigail’s rescue—someone who still, against all odds, feels a sense of duty towards the runaway Stranger.
Themes
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon