Swallow the Air

by

Tara June Winch

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Swallow the Air: 15. Cocoon Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In a flashback, May remembers sitting by the fire pit in her backyard and watching Mum pull up in her bike, carrying food. May always loved nights around the fire pit, which she and Billy built themselves. While Mum told stories, she carved small animals and flowers in the rocks they used as stools. Billy sat by the fire and kept it going; he’s very adept with the fire. Billy and May distract Mum with requests for stories so that she forgets it’s a school night. These are the best memories May has about her family, even though they never talked about the sadness that pervaded Mum’s life. In retrospect, May thinks she probably wasn’t aware of that sadness then.
Perhaps this memory is so powerful to May because it’s the closest her real life has come to approximating the traditional lifestyle that she and Johnny daydreamed about. In this sense, May is seeking out this lifestyle not just because she wants to embrace her Aboriginal identity but because she wants to hold on to her memories of her broken family.
Themes
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
While he was normally quiet, Billy talked volubly, telling them about finding a canoe in the garden and bringing it home to fix up, promising he would catch red snapper for dinner. When he finally brought home a big fish one day, Mum was incredibly proud and cooked the fish on the fire pit. Billy said he was happy on the ocean, and May felt that they shared his happiness.
This scene is an interesting contrast to Aunty’s lottery win at the supermarket. She tries to create a veneer of middle-class prosperity, but this attempt actually ends up fracturing the family further. On the other hand, when Billy brings home dinner in the same way his ancestors did, the family feels unified among themselves and at peace with the world around them.
Themes
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon