Cate Kennedy’s “Seventy-Two Derwents” stresses the difficulties that the narrator and main character, a young girl named Tyler, encounters in maintaining intimate relationships with the people in her life. In different ways, nearly every character in the story tries to become close to her. However, while some try to build these relationships out of genuine care and concern for Tyler, others attempt to take advantage of her. In this sense, the story shows explores both healthy and dangerous forms of intimacy, and highlights the difficulty of telling them apart from one another. The story consistently characterizes healthy intimacy as based in selfless concern for each other’s well-being; unhealthy intimacy, on the other hand, is based on one person’s desire to exploit the other to selfish ends.
Throughout the story, Tyler’s older sister, Ellie, tries to be close to her in order to protect her from their mother’s predatory boyfriend, Shane. Because Ellie’s interventions are rooted in selflessness, it’s clear that the girls’ relationship is one of Tyler’s few healthy attachments. Ellie repeatedly goes out of her way to encourage Tyler to feel close to her in order to protect her from Shane, as it’s implied that Ellie suspects him of being sexually abusive. At one point, she wakes Tyler up, offers her part of her sandwich, and offers her the chance to sleep in her bed. When Tyler turns her down, Ellie asks to sleep Tyler’s bed instead. As Tyler has previously caught Shane sneaking into her bedroom at night, it seems that Ellie’s persistence reveals a desire to protect her sister through safety in numbers. Plus, because so many people with mixed intentions try to control Tyler, Ellie recognizes that she has to make Tyler feel close to her rather than taking their relationship for granted, and commits to doing this work on Tyler’s terms––like sleeping in Tyler’s bed––rather than her own. When the two girls are tucked into Tyler’s bed, Ellie asks, “hey, did Shane do or say anything weird today? [...] does he get you to sit in his lap? If he does anything like that you come and tell me straight away.” Through this conversation, Ellie attempts to remind Tyler that she can come to her confidentially if she needs help. Furthermore, it’s clear that Ellie has little to gain from her relationship with Tyler. For that reason, the effort she puts into becoming close to Tyler can only be attributed to genuine concern for her well-being. This demonstrates how healthy intimacy, in the story, is characterized by the willingness to sacrifice for others from whom one has nothing to gain in return.
On the other hand, Shane also commits significant effort to making Tyler feel close to him. However, his intentions, unlike Ellie’s, are clearly predatory: he wants to trick Tyler into considering him her friend in order to hurt her, thereby exploiting her to his own advantage. In this sense, he exemplifies a dangerous kind of intimacy, showing how the appearance of closeness can disguise an unhealthy dynamic of control. Like Ellie, Shane tries to create a sense of confidentiality between himself and Tyler, promising to leave her “surprises,” like chocolate in her bed, as long as she promises never to tell anyone. And even though Tyler doesn’t seem to trust Shane, she “can’t help” but smile when he speaks to her in a voice that “is all soft and like you’re best friends.” That Tyler is on some level swayed by Shane’s charm speaks to how difficult it can be to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy intimacy.
Ultimately, Shane tries to exploit this confidentiality by asking Tyler to give him her urine so that he can submit it to his parole officer for a drug test. He frames the request as an innocent prank: “[i]t’s just a surprise trick I’m playing. […] it’s just for a surprise. You can’t tell anyone.” When Tyler attempts to object, Shane says, “I thought you were my friend, I thought you would be a good person to ask, because you can keep a secret.” In trying to woo Tyler with “secret[s],” Shane attempts to isolate Tyler from others in her family––and thus make her vulnerable, rather than keep her safe. Furthermore, when Tyler reports that Shane asked her for her urine, he attacks her, confirming that his previous friendliness was merely an attempt at self-serving manipulation.
Finally, Tyler’s relationship with her mother is a particularly confusing attachment which shows the difficulty of cleanly separating healthy intimacy from its unhealthy, dangerous counterpart. Tyler’s mother displays genuine care for her, but also exploits her, fails to listen to her, and forces Tyler to support her in her insecurities. For example, early in the story, Tyler recalls asking her mother for money to get a hamburger from McDonalds (called “Macca’s” in Australia). Tyler’s mother responds by insisting that Tyler wait for her to prepare a burger from scratch, later demanding that Tyler agree that her cooking is better than fast food. In her journal, Tyler notes that she simply wanted something to eat quickly. This moment, though seemingly minor, shows the ambivalence of her relationship with her mother: on the one hand, cooking Tyler a burger was a way for her mother to take care of her; on the other, it also meant turning the simple fact of Tyler’s hunger into a selfish referendum on her ability as a mother, demanding that Tyler affirm her self-image rather than listening to her and attending to her immediate needs. Because of this ambivalence, Tyler is unsure that she can rely on her mother. When Shane turns violent, Tyler is immediately convinced that her mother won’t help her, and she even confides in her journal that she hated her mother at that moment. Although her mother eventually gathers the courage to defend her, Tyler’s lack of faith in her shows the strained, unpredictable quality of her relationship with her primary caretaker. Ultimately, the entangled presence of these three types of relationship in Tyler’s life––one caring, one exploitative, one somewhere in between––shows the difficulty of determining who is safe to be close to.
Relationships and Intimacy ThemeTracker
Relationships and Intimacy Quotes in Seventy-Two Derwents
Mrs Carlyle has two budgies, a boy and a girl, and they have built a nest. If they have baby budgies and if I’m allowed she will give me one. You have to wait until they’re old enough to leave the nest before you can take them away from their parents because they need special looking after. In my mind I can picture this ... after she says this, when I walk back into class and down to my desk, I feel my skin buzzing like someone stroked it.
Mrs Carlyle told us that when you are training your dog you need to say the same thing over and over until the dog gets it. He wants to do the right thing, he just doesn’t know it at first. She says it’s the same with training a bird to talk, you have to say the same thing again and again so they learn. That’s true and maybe it’s true for people too.
In cartoons time passes really fast and sudden. Also, things happen that aren’t true. Like a cat will be running along and will go through the wall and there will be an exactly cat-shaped hole left behind in the wall. Mum’s old boyfriend Gary threw a bottle at the wall once and it didn’t leave a shape like that it just smashed.
I said I love her, I love her crown, thank you. Aunty Jacinta leaned over and gave me a hug and she smelled so nice, not like perfume but just cups of tea and shampoo, and she said softly she doesn’t have to be Cinderella, Tyler, you can give her a new name if you like. Then my mum jumped up and said are we allowed to have a glass of wine or do we have to say grace first round here.
When she and Mum fight Mum says set your sister a good example, and Ellie says I’m setting her the best example I can, which is how to get the fuck out of here.
Just before when I was going to bed Mum said let’s have a secret, you don’t have to go to school tomorrow, Tyler. I will ring up and tell them you are sick and you can stay here and help me finish the Plushies. It is the same as when Shane leans down and whispers, grown-ups can make their voices go all soft and excited like it’s a big special secret to share just with you, they know just how to make kids feel happy but it’s never what you think. I felt the stones in my stomach because I remembered that tomorrow is the first orientation day for Grade 6s to go over to the senior campus to visit but I just said yes.
I said if I put my hand into the nest now would the mother bird bite me? And she looked so sad at me and nodded. We fed the birds and then she drove me back to the mall.
My pencils have student quality written on the packet but the Derwent pencils are for real artists and that is why they’re special. I would feel special and proud to have them, like when Aunty Jacinta wrote in her letter, we think you’re wonderful.
If your budgie’s eggs hatch please will you call one of the babies Alicia. One day I will get an aviary and then I will come and get her, Mrs Carlyle. That’s my promise.