Swallow the Air

by

Tara June Winch

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Joyce’s grandson and May’s best friend while she lives in Sydney. Initially, Johnny wants May to be his girlfriend, but after she briskly rejects him they become good friends; May even says he reminds her of her beloved brother, Billy. The two teenagers bond over their common interest in their Aboriginal heritage and spend afternoons daydreaming about life in traditional Aboriginal societies, fantasizing that such societies still exist and that one day they’ll be able to escape the Block and return to them. However, it’s May who has the courage to pursue this dream, while Johnny refuses to leave the Block; her determination contrasts with Johnny’s fatalism. At the end of the novel Johnny dies in an altercation with the police. While she mourns the loss of her friend, May is also relieved that he died with his dreams intact, without discovering that the life they always dreamed of doesn’t exist.

Johnny Quotes in Swallow the Air

The Swallow the Air quotes below are all either spoken by Johnny or refer to Johnny. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the University of Queensland Press edition of Swallow the Air published in 2006.
11. Wantok Quotes

He takes my hand like always and we scramble up the palms and hack down coconuts with a machete, we run down to the rocky beaches and cast off our canoe, we fish all day, following the reefs and tides and winds […] We rest in the houses as warm tropical storms light up the bruised sky.

Related Characters: May Gibson (speaker), Johnny
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Swallow the Air LitChart as a printable PDF.
Swallow the Air PDF

Johnny Character Timeline in Swallow the Air

The timeline below shows where the character Johnny appears in Swallow the Air. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
9. The Block
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...her toughened and more mature. She lives with Joyce, Joyce’s daughter Justine, and Justine’s son Johnny. At night, Joyce and other neighborhood women stay up late playing card games and drinking... (full context)
11. Wantok
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Displacement Theme Icon
In the midst of all her worries, when May spends time with Johnny, she can escape to daydreams of beautiful beaches where they can pick fruit and live... (full context)
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
When May first arrived at Joyce’s house, Johnny tried to flirt with her, informing her one day that she was his girlfriend. May... (full context)
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Displacement Theme Icon
Johnny tells May all the stories about the Torres Strait he’s heard from visiting uncles. There,... (full context)
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Displacement Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
When Johnny and May return to Joyce’s house after these long talks, they feel immune to the... (full context)
12. Painted Dreaming
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
...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.” (full context)
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
In Joyce’s house, May finds Johnny smoking a bong. He laughs when he finds she has been arrested, telling her she’s... (full context)
Displacement Theme Icon
Angry, May yells at Johnny that he’s not going to change or move for anyone’s sake, not even his own.... (full context)
18. Country
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Displacement Theme Icon
...the ride. Its brightly lit aisles remind May of the Block. Just then, she sees Johnny’s face on the front of a newspaper, under the headline “BOY, 16, DIES IN POLICE... (full context)
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Displacement Theme Icon
May feels that she can’t really cry for Johnny because of the angry way in which they parted. At least, she thinks, he died... (full context)