The hospital symbolizes the fear that often accompanies life’s most transformative and uncontrollable moments. The hospital first becomes an emotional place for Winton when Winton’s father spends considerable time there recovering from a devastating motorbike crash. When Winton’s father returns home from the hospital, five-year-old Winton sees how his father’s stay at the hospital transformed him into a vulnerable, broken man. The experience teaches Winton to see the hospital as a place from which people emerge changed—often for the worse. Whenever Winton’s father returns to the hospital for subsequent procedures, Winton is overcome with dread, not knowing what state his father will be in when he comes home again. When Winton himself is taken to hospital after a car crash as a teenager, feelings of pain and fear dominate his time there. In each of these experiences, the hospital embodies a point in Winton’s life in which the future is uncertain and difficult to see.
Over the course of Winton’s adult life, however, the hospital becomes a more complex symbol for such transitional phases. Though living practically next door to the frenetic chaos of Fremantle Hospital overwhelms him, his proximity to it allows him to reconnect with an estranged friend who is at the end of his life. Winton meets his first grandchild in a hospital, and he later feels gratitude for his father’s new pacemaker, which was installed in a hospital. These experiences allow Winton to appreciate the hospital as a symbol of transformation not only related to fear, but also to hope, new life, and human connection.
The Hospital Quotes in The Boy Behind the Curtain
Sometime during that long convalescence I came upon the helmet Dad had been wearing when he was hit. Made of laminated cork, it was cumbersome, and it felt unstable in my hands. The crazed pattern of cracks dulling its whiteness gave it an unnerving broken-eggshell texture. For a long time—for years, I think—I continued to seek it out, to turn it over in my hands, to sniff the Brylcreem interior, and try to imagine the sudden moment, the awful impact, and the faceless stranger behind all this damage.
It wasn’t just a health facility. At times it was more like a furnace or a power plant. In summer the air around it was thick with screams and sirens and the drone of cooling towers, and in winter its beige mass blocked out the sun. It was a constant, implacable presence.
Afterwards I often looked up at that dreary building as the sun lit its windows and thought of strangers staring out in hope and regret as the rest of us went about our day oblivious. It was sobering to think of all the yearning that spilt down amidst the treetops and roof ridges, a shadow I’d never properly considered before.