Swallow the Air

by

Tara June Winch

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Swallow the Air: 12. Painted Dreaming Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
For a while, May goes to stay with some of her friends in an abandoned building, which they decorate with graffiti scrawls. However, soon the police arrive to eject them. May says ironically that, “living, making camp, was no right of ours.” Some of her friends spray paint in the policemen’s face and they all get arrested and spend the night in jail.
May’s description of the eviction shows that for Aboriginals and other marginalized communities, the result of government oppression is that there’s no way to live in peace, whether they try to do so within society or at its fringes.
Themes
Displacement Theme Icon
In her cell, May dreams of Windradyne, a 19th-century Wiradjuri resistance leader. In the dream, he is angry and ready to fight for all his people. It seems to May that Windradyne “visited the polished cement freezer box where I lay” and looked out onto the city with her. When she wakes up, she knows she has to find Johnny and get out of this city, where the people are “only faintly dreaming.”
Although Windradyne’s rebellion ultimately failed, he’s still a powerful symbol to May. Her connection to him allows her to feel proud and purposeful, even when she’s at the nadir of her stint on the Block.
Themes
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Related Quotes
In Joyce’s house, May finds Johnny smoking a bong. He laughs when he finds she has been arrested, telling her she’s a “criminal like the rest of us.” When May tells him excitedly that she wants to leave, he seems uninterested. She urges him to join her, but he seems uncertain and tells her he has “stuff to do here,” and that people from the Block “don’t go nowhere.”
May’s faith in her dreams and ability to act on them, even when they’re unsubstantiated, is impressive. It puts her in contrast to Johnny, who is fatalistically unable to act even when someone else is motivating him.
Themes
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Angry, May yells at Johnny that he’s not going to change or move for anyone’s sake, not even his own. In fact, he’s just a “nobody like everyone else.” Johnny yells back that if he’s a nobody he doesn’t need her. He tells her to get out.
In some ways, May and Johnny are having a teenage spat. However, since they’ve both had to take responsibility for their lives at a young age, the stakes are very high. May’s determination means that she might escape a life of urban poverty, while Johnny’s uncertainty means he likely won’t.
Themes
Displacement Theme Icon
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