Swallow the Air

by

Tara June Winch

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Swallow the Air: 2. Grab Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Aunty believes that she is fundamentally unlucky. She’s lived in the same poor suburb her whole life and now her sister, the one person who always held her up, has died. Her mind finally changes when she wins the Tip Top Bread Grocery Grab, after which she feels that luck is always possible.
Even though Aunty is often an unreliable caretaker, it’s clear from her descriptions of her sister that family is of the utmost importance to her. The novel often points out that love and empathy can exist even when family circumstances and behavior are less than ideal.
Themes
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Every time she goes to Woolies (the supermarket), Aunty enters the Tip Top lottery, in which the winners have an allotted amount of time to stuff anything they can into their shopping carts. One day she comes home elated, having won the contest. She promises May and Billy that this year they’ll have a real Christmas turkey.
While Aunty’s faith in the lottery demonstrates her optimism, it’s also a reflection of the lack of opportunities in her life. She’s fixates on improbable methods of providing for her family because there are so few realistic ways to do so.
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At the Grocery Grab, Billy and May watch and cheer while Aunty runs down the aisles frantically throwing food into her cart. They yell out the names of all the candies they want. At the very last second, she makes it to the frozen food aisle and grabs several turkeys and chickens.
Aunty’s expensive chicken and the children’s brand name sweets both reflect their longing to be part of the middle class in which such things are taken for granted. While they’ve succeeded for the day, Aunty’s frantic rush shows that this is only a temporary gain, essentially a mockery of the true stability they crave.
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After the contest is over, Aunty laughs when she realizes they don’t even own a freezer to store all the food. After counting all the money in her purse, Aunty takes a taxi to a secondhand store and buys an enormous freezer, smiling the entire time. She finally feels lucky.
The family can mimic prosperity by buying a fridge, but their inability to restock it indicates the lack of opportunities their society provides them to improve their lives.
Themes
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This feeling lasts through Christmas, until the food runs out and they have nothing to put in the freezer. Aunty’s feeling of luck is like a “scrounging leech,” driving her to buy scratch lottery cards in droves and eventually to become addicted to poker. Aunty often lies to the children about visiting the casino or losing money. May imagines that the bright machines at the casino represent her desperate wish to pay their mounting grocery and electricity bills. Even when she loses money, the game—and the drinking that comes with it—is a distraction from their pressing circumstances.
At first, Aunty’s optimism is something that cheers the children up, but now it’s a threat to the entire family. Aunty is one of the novel’s first characters who succumbs to substance abuse, but it’s important that this occurs not as a result of her weakness but because of her desire to improve things for her family and her inability to do so in a meaningful way.
Themes
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Substance Abuse Theme Icon