The Golden Age

by

Joan London

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The Golden Age: 2. The Golden Age Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Frank is technically too old to be a patient at the Golden Age but has been admitted because he’s “small and underdeveloped,” and because everyone at the IDB (the main hospital at Perth) agreed that it wasn’t appropriate for him to live among adult patients. Moreover, his parents are New Australians (immigrants) and he has no other family to help take care of him, so the structure and supervision of the children’s hospital will be useful. At twelve and a half, Elsa Briggs is also older than most of the patients, but she has two younger sisters and her mother can’t look after her properly.
Frank and Elsa are both slightly older than patients at the Golden Age should be. This logistical detail emphasizes the fact that both children occupy a liminal space between childhood and adolescence. One of the novel’s key concerns will be the tension between the desire to linger in a comfortable childhood and the inevitability of growing up and becoming mature.
Themes
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
The hospital was originally built as a pub. Situated outside the city center, it has few neighbors and is bordered by roads on all sides, which contributes to its “apartness” and “natural quarantine.” Along one of the roads is the Netting Factory, whose constant rumbling noises sooth the children. In 1949, due to the growing polio epidemic, the government bought the pub and turned it into the Golden Age Children’s Polio Convalescent home.
The hospital’s geographic isolation corresponds to the physical isolation of its patients, who are living away from their families and among strangers for the first time. It also hints at the social isolation of polio patients; since the disease is so terrifying, society seeks to comfort itself by housing its victims far away from the city and pretending they don’t exist.
Themes
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Many people thought the name, inherited from the pub, was “cruelly ironic” given that its current inmates are struggling invalids. However, the hospital is a generally cheerful place, and its patients are no longer ill but learning to function again in the world. The parents (even Ida Gold, who’s very picky and known to the staff as Princess Ida) are happy with the facility, and the children enjoy the clinical attention of the nurses, who know how to help them, rather than the anxious fretting of their parents.
The hospital’s ambivalent name is a frequent reminder that recovering from polio isn’t an unremittingly bad experience; rather, it suggests that this is a memorable and even poignant part of the children’s lives. It also suggests that the hospital staff eschews pessimism and instead focuses on the children’s capacity for survival and recuperation.
Themes
Survival Theme Icon
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Arriving here, Frank once again found himself in a new and unfamiliar place. He’s now determined to behave well so as to avoid “another expulsion.” He likes the hospital because he can hear the distant trains when he’s in bed at night. Most importantly, he wants to be near Elsa. As he makes his way back to the ward, he starts to compose a poem for her. Polio has destroyed his ability to walk, Frank thinks, but it’s also made him into a poet.
Frank intensely desires to avoid isolation and fit in, even while he does things (like smoking) to set himself apart. The prospect of being alone is both frightening and alluring to him. Frank also announces his vocation here, with little fanfare but plenty of confidence. He doesn’t have to make a big deal over his calling because he’s so instinctively sure of it.
Themes
Vocation Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
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