Good afternoon/morning Mrs McCartan and fellow students,
Today I will be discussing the process of transitioning into new phases of life and the inherent transformation that follows. Transformation and transition, first and foremost, are intrinsic. This does not mean that either will be easy or otherwise provide a happy conclusion, however, an individual will always experience both as a continual process throughout certain events in their lives. Metaphorically speaking, whenever you go through periods of transition it’s a definite close to a chapter of your life; which, unfortunately, can be both strenuous due to innumerable confusions and obstacles in a personage’s journey while, hopefully, also ultimately becoming something beautiful. However, the success of the transition determines the outcome of the transformation.
The social protest ballad, “I was only 19″, written by John Schumann and performed by Redgum, explores the attitudal alteration of ignorant audiences and the subsequent transformation of insight as well as the hindrances of war’s brutal reality on a soldier’s transition back into normal life. Similarly, the Young Adult novel ‘The Story of Tom Brennan’ by J.C. Burke, explores how the limitations perceived by oneself are often the utmost formidable enemy one must overcome, while it can only be through your own volition that you achieve agency and make positive changes to one’s life.
In truth, a contrast in attitude and perspective will cause a burden in the ability of an individual to make any necessary progress of their journey. For instance, the turmoil of war contrasted with the continuity and reliability of ‘normal’ life, often builds an uncrossable bridge for those who wish to integrate back to average society and those who cannot comprehend the true brutality of the battle-front compared with the comforts of home. An example of this is in the last stanza of the song when Schumann writes, ‘Can you tell me what it means? / God help me/ I was only nineteen.” Here, he utilises the blatant irony of the rhetorical question which then shapes a tone of indictment, disparity and confusion; this is then furthered by the plea to ‘God’. Likewise, the high modality of ‘only’ and first person, ‘I’, before stating that the persona was ‘nineteen’ at the time of experience emphasises the loss of innocence and the ineffaceable vulnerability of youth, expanding the sense of dolorous demoralisation suffered.
The young age of the persona accents the atrocities of war and how unethical and vicious it was for such a naïve mind to be confronted by the infernal reality of warfare. This then reasons the audience to sympathise with the character and constitute a greater appreciation of how much an individual torments in war; consequently catalysing the attitudal transition of ignorant acuity that pertains to general society who have not been plagued by militant actuality, to a considerate understanding that accounts the trauma of war and how it affects soldier’s lives; conclusively transforming the reader’s understanding.
However, the persona’s rhetorical question to the audience and then the following desperate appeal to ‘God’ illustrates the gap that the persona feels separates them from regular society. The soldier understands that the mere age of ’19’ is too young for the gruesome certainty of war however, due to the ignorance of humanity, he relies on the ‘hope’ associated with God to aid his labour with transitioning back into ordinary life. Decisively, the soldier’s initial transition from everyday life to the battlefront has emotionally mutilated them and transformed, or otherwise twisted them, so much that they do not have the emotional capacity to overcome the barricades life at war constructs.
Of course, it is only through enlightenment and intellectual evolution that one becomes conscious of the limitations human ignorance and apathy has on the process of transition. The ambiguities of human decision, intention and fate attribute to the vacillation integral with transition and its resulting transformation: whether physical, emotional, physiological or spiritual. Thus the triumphs and vanity of man can overshadow the tragedies of reality can therefore hinder the transformation of an individual as they struggle to uphold, or even gain, a sense of agency or belonging within the corrupted society of humanity. Namely, in the 6th stanza of the song, the persona mourns, ‘and Frankie kicked a mine the day that mankind kicked the moon’.
Much like the rest of the ballad, the vernacular choice of words immediately develop a strong tone of familiarity and identity; while the abstraction and juxtaposition of horrific imagery with a historical event of memorable conquest develop a divergent tone of denunciation.
By including mention of the First Moon Landing in terms of colloquial slang, the persona involves himself with the audience and establishes a sense of Australian identity, however, by comparing that event with the traumatising ordeal of Franklin Hunt, which happened on the same day of July 21st 1969, the audience are jarringly confronted with
Similarly, the interval between the decay of the old and the realization of the new constitutes a period of transition which must always, by imperative fate, be one of insecurity, mistake, blunder, or fierce passion. Yet, unfamiliarity and the psychological weight of obstructive emotions are frequent hindrances to the success of this transition in an individual’s expedition of discovery and belonging. For example, this can be seen on Pg. 13 where Tom is illustrating a metaphorical depiction of his new room ‘the cave, ’cause it was so brown and dark’. This is an example of the persona’s despairing melancholy steeped within their heart and the sense of ongoing emotional paralysis. Moreover, this attitude is furthered by the use of colloquial, ‘shit coloured walls’, which, due to its automatic negative connotations and lack of comfort, develops a crushing sense of isolation.
Here, the audience are presented with Tom’s bitterness and general resentment to this new phase in his life. Furthermore, we are forced to sympathise with Tom as he flounders in this alien setting through the genuine and authentic voice that candidly emphasises his disquiet.
Additionally, Tom’s emotional struggle within himself critically manifests itself as he introspectively tries to escape the outside world of recrimination’s past. ‘The cave’ acts as a metaphorical retreat from his burden of guilt and estranged relationships; which articulates Tom’s privation of emotional capability to fully process the shock of his new reality. This however, also symbolises his self-indicted downfall of the bildungsroman transition which is so essential to his progress of healing and development.
Nevertheless, it is only through oneself that an individual can ultimately attain agency, emotional catharsis and overcome the anguish of loss. For the path to transformation through transition is the conscious awareness of human’s fallibility and the pathological behaviours of instinct and reason, yet discovering a way to overcoming those perpetual agents of limitation by achieving the critical thinking and subjective meditation necessary for transformation. For instance, as the concluding line of the novel, Bourke writes, “that was the morning Tom Brennan came back forever.” Historically, ‘morning’ represents a new beginning and this is fundamentally important because it exemplifies the abreaction of Tom’s previous insecurities and dissensions. Furthermore, the utilisation of illeism accentuates the definitive healing transformation of Tom’s whole person: spiritually, emotionally, physiologically and perhaps even physically; through the rejuvenation of emotional depuration. Together, these develop a tone of transformation and renewal. Moreover, the high modality of ‘forever’ provides finality and self-assertion and assurance.
Ironically, in this moment of disconnection from himself, Tom has procured a deeper sagacity of emotional maturity on his didactic transition and, because of this, Tom has ultimately transitioned away from the belief that he was, in some way, accountable for Daniel’s misfortune and thus arrived at a point of self-acceptance. Likewise, the empowering language of the affirmation enforces the concept that Tom has been through an emotional transformation that has resulted in a renewed perspective of self-sufferance and blissful nirvana.
Concludingly, the process of transition, in any form, is ultimately transformative in nature. The fundamental human nature to fear the unknown and the nescience of society and other social factors are core restrictions to the journey of self-discovery and change, subsequently exacting the audience and persona’s perspectives, values and approach to the greater world. Still, it is how one copes with the transition and the obstacles that are integral to the transformation, whether positive or negative, and the opportunity for growth within.