Throughout the story, Tyler struggles to identify and express her feelings. She sometimes feels intense waves of negative emotion––which she often describes as a feeling of “rocks” in her stomach––but she is unable to articulate or process this feeling, and she does her best to conceal it. She does this partially out of concern for her own safety: she knows that some of her emotions, if she expressed them, would provoke negative reactions from the unstable adults in her life, so she’s learned to bottle up her feelings. Tyler struggles intensely with the gap between the intensity of her feelings and the limits of what she’s able to express, which speaks to the psychologically destructive impact of unnamed, buried pain.
Tyler constantly has to choose her words carefully in order to take care of the emotional needs of the people around her––especially her mother—and pays little attention to her own emotional needs in the process. Reflecting on the time her mother repeatedly insisted that she confirm that her cooking is better than McDonalds, Tyler implies that she felt like a trained animal: “you need to say the same thing over and over until the dog gets it.” This experience teaches Tyler that her own thoughts matter less than her ability to successfully respond to cues in ways that please others. The McDonalds incident forms a pattern with other moments in the story, such as the time Tyler’s mother asked her to stay home from school to help her finish a sewing project, despite the fact that Tyler wanted to go to school. Here, too, Tyler ignores her own desires for the sake of paying attention to her mother’s—she has learned repression as a habit. Life with her mother has therefore taught her the unimportance of her own feelings, leading her to disregard them whenever they come into conflict with the feelings of others.
Tyler’s inability to express her thoughts and opinions in smaller ways––like with the McDonalds incident––leads her to struggle to identify and express her more serious feelings. For instance, when Ellie mentions that she has bad dreams, Tyler considers confessing the same, as she often has a bad dream about a male wolf––a thinly veiled symbol for the predatory Shane––hunting her down. However, instead of saying this, she makes a vague statement about sometimes feeling like she has a “stone” in her stomach. Tyler’s search for metaphorical language shows how difficult she finds it to express her feelings straightforwardly and in her own terms. She is unable to account for why certain experiences trigger certain feelings, but can only disjointedly describe how terrible certain things in her life make her feel. This struggle is, the story implies, is a result of her learned habit of repressing her feelings. By necessity, she has learned to avoid her emotions rather than confront them.
For Tyler, the difference between her feelings and her capacity for expression translates into conflict between the intensity of her emotions and the need to remain externally calm. While watching the Simpsons with Shane, Tyler observes that “things happen [in cartoons] 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.” Tyler’s preoccupation with cartoons indicates an alignment between the impossible way they represent the world and the impossible things Tyler feels inside of herself––for instance, the feeling of having “stones” in her stomach. She has been taught to avoid expressing these intense, frightening feelings in order to keep the peace. This creates an intense gap between what she feels and what she’s able to say aloud. That gap shows the damaging psychological effects of repression. Tyler has been forced to ignore her own feelings for a long time, building them up inside without an expressive outlet. That repression produces a jarring distance between her intense emotional life and the calm surface of her everyday reality, a distance that feels as great as the distance between the world of cartoons and objective reality.
Repression Quotes in Seventy-Two Derwents
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.
I didn’t know Ellie has bad dreams too. Sometimes I dream of a wolf. He’s coming for me and his eyes are on fire and he’s looking everywhere for me but he can’t find me. I don’t tell Ellie about this but I say sometimes I feel like I have a stone inside my stomach. Ellie doesn’t say anything for a while then she says, hey, what are those pencils called that you like? I tell her Derwents and she says we’ll get you those, you wait.
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.
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.