The Golden Age


Joan London

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Golden Age can help.

The Golden Age: 11. Bellbirds Summary & Analysis

After Sundays with their families, the children enjoy returning to orderly lessons on Mondays. Mrs. Simmons begins the day with cheerful folk songs that even Frank likes to sing. Afterwards, Frank has to study English history and memorize a poem; as a New Australian, he doesn’t know much about the British Empire or its literature. Frank protests that he’s not even from the British Empire, but Mrs. Simmons insists that he lives here now, that the Queen belongs to Australia too, and that the British rule the world.
Precocious and irreverent, Frank’s so eager to avoid schoolwork that he points out what he normally hides–his un-Australian roots. However, Mrs. Simmons’ firmness and quick rebuttals are comforting because they make him feel like an ordinary child again, as well as reminding him that he belongs in Australia now. 
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Day patients also come to have lessons at the hospital. Frank is disgusted by them, because they remind him how deformed he will look once he’s back in the real world. However, looking at Elsa, he stops feeling ashamed of their shared condition. He thinks that Elsa is like a savior; with her, he always feels safe and even superior to those around him.
Although Frank often feels crowded and annoyed at the Golden Age, he’s also anxious about the isolation he’ll face when he leaves. It’s notable that besides providing an atmosphere of calm solitude, Elsa is also the antidote to this isolation.
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Elsa leaves lessons to go to therapy, and Frank applies himself to memorizing the poem “Bellbirds.” He doesn’t like the forced rhyme scheme, and the words seem “false” to him, not like the poetry Sullivan wrote. He informs Mrs. Simmons that “poems don’t have to rhyme anymore” and is frustrated with her for making him write a composition about the poem. He wheels away to find Elsa.
Frank is looking for a replacement mentor, someone to understand and inform his vocation just like Sullivan did. However, it’s increasingly clear that such a mentor will probably not appear, and Frank must develop his skills on his own.
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