The Golden Age


Joan London

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The Golden Age: 16. The Verandah Summary & Analysis

After Christmas, a heat wave strikes the entire state. The children stay inside the ward, trying to stay cool and throwing spitballs at each other. After tea, they’re allowed to sit on the verandah, and the boys race each other in their wheelchairs. The families living in houses across the road watch them, and the patients feel jealous of the healthy children playing noisily in the street. By comparison, they feel strange and deformed; they know they’ll feel this way constantly once they leave the hospital for good.
The verandah is a liminal space between sickness and health, between life within the hospital and life at home. The children are unusually boisterous here, as they must have been before contracting polio, and by watching the neighbors they remember their former childhoods. However, the healthy children, and the proximity to ordinary families, also reminds them that their lives have changed forever, and that they’re now more comfortable in the hospital than they would be at home.
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Frank sits by himself. After so many years of living with strangers, he’s learned how to be around other people while preserving his own solitude. He watches Elsa, who’s sitting with a younger girl named Ann Lee. Ann Lee lives in the mining town of Wiluna, hundreds of miles away. She tells Elsa about the wild horses, called brumbies, that come to town searching for water on dry nights like this. When Ann Lee was living at home with polio, she saw a troop of brumbies come to her front door, but she couldn’t get up to fill a trough with water. After this incident she knew she had to get therapy, so as not to be so helpless again.
While Frank often feels too crowded or too alone, on the verandah he achieves a contended balance, comforted by the others’ presence without being part of their group. It’s notable that Ann Lee explicitly references independence as her goal in therapy. All the children are adjusting to new lives of limited physical independence, but, paradoxically, they’re also developing a mental independence and strength they didn’t possess before.
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