The Golden Age


Joan London

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The Golden Age: 17. The Sea Summary & Analysis

To cheer the children up after the heat wave, all the nurses except Sister Penny take them on an excursion to the shore. They set up camp in an old farmhouse on the beach, where the children can keep their crutches and rest when they’re tired. Even though they can’t stand in the water by themselves, all the children are invigorated by their proximity to the ocean and the excitement of eating outside. Only Elsa is sad, because she’s always lived by the sea and visiting now reminds her of all the things she’ll never be able to do again. She thinks about Sally riding the bike that was her pride and joy before polio.
Elsa’s sadness is a reminder that even though she’s survived polio, its mental consequences linger. This episode mirrors Meyer’s recollection of walking by the sea with Ida and Frank; although the family has survived the war and is finally safe in Australia, he feels uneasy and sad thinking about the life they’ve left behind.
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Sitting by the farmhouse, Frank feels that he wants to write a poem. The shabby farmhouse reminds him of the migrant camp where the Golds stayed when they arrived in Australia. From his parents’ stories, he knows they used to vacation on an enormous lake in Hungary surrounded by large summer houses and forests, but he can’t remember any of this. He can’t even remember how to speak Hungarian anymore, but he doesn’t care because he’s excited to learn and write in English.
It’s notable that Frank knows the house “should” remind him of his family’s old estate, but it actually brings to mind a migrant camp. All the Golds are struggling to adapt to Australian society, but because Frank completely lacks his parents’ rich memories of Hungary, it’s easier for him to commit to assimilating and shed the remnants of their old life, like his native language.
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After dinner, the children watch the sunset. Knowing that Elsa is sad, Frank seeks her out, and when he finally sees her, the poem he’s been searching for occurs to him. He marvels that Elsa inspires all of his poems now. He still can’t finish “On My Last Day on Earth,” but now he wants to write a new collection about Elsa, called “On My First Day on Earth.”
Frank’s vocation is now oriented around Elsa, rather than Sullivan. His new title shows that while he’s still influenced by his old friend, he’s more interested in exploring his new life than in elegizing his old one.
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Frank tells Elsa that if they were animals she would be a golden palomino, and he’d be a fox following her. This makes Elsa laugh, although he’s being serious. Elsa thinks that there’s something “hungry” about Frank; he’s always seizing what he wants, as if otherwise someone will take it away. She wonders if this was because he lived through the war. She wonders if the things he writes can really be poetry, because they don’t rhyme. Elsa’s less certain about her feelings than Frank is, but she misses him when he’s not there, and she always listens for his voice when she wakes up. As they walk back to the group, they surreptitiously hold hands.
Although Frank is supposedly the cleverer one, and Elsa has only a vague idea of what his childhood was like, she has an acute intuition for his impulses. It’s notable that the instincts Frank developed to survive during the war still dominate his character and his approach to relationships, explaining his brash and insistent attitude towards his developing friendship with Elsa.
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