40sContrast the effect that the cultural influences of Australian society in the 1930s and 1940s had upon the development of both Davy and Jack Meredith.
To grow up during the years when there was war and depression would have been hard, but to have on top of this, all the cultural expectations of the time, and an abusive father, would have been too terrible to tell for most.
George Johnston portrays this time in his novel My Brother Jack, through the eyes of Davy Meredith, a young boy, (who in turn is portrayed unmistakably as a young Johnston), who develops into a young man. The cultural influences of this era shaped the men that both the young boy and his older brother, Jack, developed into.
The Meredith household described just after the war is one of the main influences that would affect the two boys later in their lives. It is a household where war is depicted everywhere; from the memorabilia kept in the bottom drawer of a wardrobe, to the hallway where gas masks, medical supplies and artificial limbs were stored like trophies, and the bodies of the derelict soldiers lying in all the rooms, like some hospital. These memories would play on both boys memories for the rest of their lives.
Having this background told to us, later in the story when the Second World War is at its beginnings, we can see how Davy feels he has betrayed the culture that formed him. Unlike the stereotypical Jack-who follows his fathers footsteps and desires to play war hero, Davy chooses a safer role-that of a war correspondent.
During the era in which the boys grow up there is the gender problem. Womans social standing was still low. Davy and Jacks father treats their mother abusively and this is remembered by both children. Because of this, women always seem to be a mystery to Davy. This is unlike Jack, who until he meets his wife, sees women as something to conquer.
Davy stays with basically three jobs throughout the book, whereas Jack is influenced by the time, and therefore moves from job to job, until he gets a job in the Wimmera district. Davy describes this as an important ratchet in Jack’s destiny, it was that job in the Wimmera that closed the door upon his youth forever and that gave him the woman who was to become his wife.(Pg 107)
During his time at the lithographic studio, Davy learns how to live with people of a respectable nature, who are warm-hearted and easy to work with. As a war correspondent, Davy is providing a service, which he doesnt realise at first that is actually helping the war effort.
When Davy first began writing for the Post, he wrote under a different name, in fear of being caught by his father. When his boss discovered who Davy really was, he explained, It was our impression, that you were a retired sea captain. A sailing man. An old shell back (Pg102), because Davy writes such descriptive pieces, even at the age of sixteen.
When Davy runs away from home, he stays at Sam Burlingtons house. Sam is a fellow artist at the life-painting studio where Davy paints. Sam Burlingtons girl friend, Jess is murdered later in the book and this affects Davy profusely because the police arrest Sam for the crime, and question Davy. At first, Davy cant believe what they are saying about Sam, and when the police turn up to question Davy, he basically denies knowing Sam. To make matters worse, Davys boss at the Post wants him to write an article about the murder. Eventually, Sam Burlington is cleared of the charges, and leaves Australia. But for Davy, the knowledge that he didnt stand by his friend in his utmost time of need will always follow him, and will ultimately influence the man he becomes, because he will always be trying to make up for that mistake, always be trying to stand by his friends.
The Depression in Australia, as described by Davy, came slowly at first, but then hit with all the ferocity of a slide of earth. It was like a great river flooding or changing its course, the way the depression came-the insidious creeping movement of dark, strong, unpredictable forces, the flow of hidden currents, a clod falling and dissolving, a slide of earth, the cave-in of an entire bank, a sudden eddy swirling around a snag, tilting it over, sweeping it off into a black oblivion. (Pg 195)
This was the time when a small river of refugees started arriving from overseas. This turns into a flood and when Davy is writing a piece for The Post, he is interviewing a family when he witnesses another family being broken up and deported. When he asks the interviewees about this, the mother replies, your country doesnt want the Jews, only their money. Will you put that in your Newspaper? (MS) This is Davys first real story, and it is placed on the front page.
Jack meets a Sheila called Sheila (Pg 49), during his time in the Wimmera, and she comes down with a case of double pneumonia, so Jack brings her to ‘Avalon’, the family home to rest a while. Jack wants to marry Sheila, and does eventually, but not before his father has a go at him. Sheila is a Roman Catholic, and Jack is a Protestant. In that time, Catholics and Protestants dont get involved. Jack and Davys father uses this as his main argument to keep Sheila out of the family, but this only makes Jack want to defy him more. The view of the father was culturally influenced, but Jack’s view was mixed. He was culturally influenced, but he wanted to stand up to his father, so he pretended he didnt care about societies standards.
Both boys were culturally influenced or defied cultural influences throughout their adolescence, and this made them the men they were- Jack the tough, honest battler (Blurb), and David, who rises in his successful career as a journalist and War correspondent.(Blurb) Societies standards that guided the two boys into their adult lives would probably determine the way they later treated their children and grandchildren, and would ultimately affect the way those persons would bring up their offspring.
ohnston, J. 1964. My Brother Jack. Victoria: Fontana Paperback.
My Brother Jack Miniseries.