Swallow the Air

by

Tara June Winch

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Joyce / The Old Woman Character Analysis

An elderly woman who finds May living on the street in Sydney and gives her a home. Joyce lives in a crowded urban neighborhood, nicknamed the Block, and populated mostly by people of Aboriginal descent. While the neighborhood is impoverished and substance abuse is rampant, there’s also a strong sense of community, of which Joyce is the center; the old women of the Block frequently gather in her house to drink wine and tell stories. While she faces many of the same hardships, Joyce is a much more capable caregiver than May’s own parents and Aunty, and her example shows May that one can live amid poverty and oppression while maintaining a strong character and a devotion to one’s family.

Joyce / The Old Woman Quotes in Swallow the Air

The Swallow the Air quotes below are all either spoken by Joyce / The Old Woman or refer to Joyce / The Old Woman. 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.
9. The Block Quotes

She told me about the history of Redfern, about the housing corporation stealing everyone’s money and homes, about how it used to be a real strong community. “And now,” she says shaking her head, “it’s the young fellas taking our money as well and the drugs stealing our community.”

Related Characters: May Gibson (speaker), Joyce / The Old Woman (speaker)
Related Symbols: Housing Projects
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:

“May, you got people that you gotta find, things you gotta learn. You will learn them ere, but I don’t want you to. Luck at Justine, smack the only thing teachin her now!”

Related Characters: Joyce / The Old Woman (speaker), May Gibson, Justine
Related Symbols: Housing Projects
Page Number: 104
Explanation and Analysis:
18. Country Quotes

This land is belonging, all of it for all of us. This river is that ocean, these clouds are that lake, these tears are not only my own. They belong to the whales, to Joyce […] they belong to the spirits. To people I will never even know. I give them to my mother.

Related Characters: May Gibson (speaker), Mum, Joyce / The Old Woman
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:
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Swallow the Air PDF

Joyce / The Old Woman Character Timeline in Swallow the Air

The timeline below shows where the character Joyce / The Old Woman 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
Displacement Theme Icon
One day, an old woman walking through the park sees May and coaxes her out of the gazebo. She tells... (full context)
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
...the train station, May washes her face and looks at herself in the mirror. The old woman ’s kindly reassurance that “you got family in the city too girl” makes her think... (full context)
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Displacement Theme Icon
May and the old woman, who introduces herself as Joyce, take the train to a crowded suburb lined with narrow buildings. Lots of people call... (full context)
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...her stint on the Block, which makes 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... (full context)
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Displacement Theme Icon
Substance Abuse Theme Icon
During the day, Joyce tells May about growing up on the Block and working in a nearby factory. She... (full context)
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Substance Abuse Theme Icon
Joyce takes care of May, making sure she doesn’t stay out late and has enough food,... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
May feels that Joyce doesn’t want her in the house anymore and is ashamed. She stands in silence until... (full context)
10. Chocolate
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Displacement Theme Icon
...grabs Charlie’s thumb piano and runs to the Block. She sees a police car outside Joyce’s house and waits for it to leave before sneaking inside and begging Joyce to believe... (full context)
11. Wantok
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... (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 grim poverty of the Block... (full context)
12. Painted Dreaming
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
In Joyce’s house, May finds Johnny smoking a bong. He laughs when he finds she has been... (full context)