Vernon Scannell writes “And then they came, the walking wounded / Straggling the road like convicts loosely chained” in his poem “Walking Wounded”.
This is where William McIllvanney took his inspiration from for his book of short stories- “Walking Wounded.” All of his short stories are abotu people who are metaphorically the ‘walking wounded’, they have been wounded in life, hurt in someway and they feel that life has let them down. The theme of lonliness is very apparent in most of McIllvanney’s stories and looking at the stories “Beached” and “Death of a Spinster” I will explore the theme of lonliness through charecterisation and symbolism.”Beached” is the story of a woman who goes to the beach with her children and thinks about a lot as they get ready to leave. In “Death of a Spinster” we are told the story of a woman whose life is a regimental routine but when she is unhexpectedly killed we find there is a very different side to her.”There was one yacht’s sail out in the bay, sickled with wind stress, a cipher of all the journeys she would never make.
” The author’s use of word choice in this sentence compares the yacht to Marion and her life. The yacht’s sail is “sickled” by the stress of the wind just as Marion is crumbling and breaking down because of the stress of losing her partner. By using the word “cipher” it shows Marion is comparing herself to the boat; “cipher” means to encode something so Marion has encoded this boat into herself. She thinks that life has let her down and that by losing her partner there are things she will never be able to do again; her life is restricted.
“…a cipher of all the journeys she would never make again.
” This shows her lonliness and how she longs to have her partner back with her.The character in “Death of a Spinster” is never given a name; she is the nameless spinster. Everything the spinster talks about indicates that she is alone so the theme of lonliness is very apparent in this story.
“She toasted one slice of bread and buttered it. She poured the hot water into the cup containing instant coffee and one sweetener. She put one egg.
..” She makes a very detailed list of breakfast showing that she knows it off by heart it is the same each and every day. Each detail in breakfast is made for one person only showing how alone she is and how she is aware of how alone she is, the author emphasises this by making everything in the story singular or for one person only.
Although both characters are similar because they are very lonely, there is also a contrast between them. The spinster has a set routine for everyday; her whole life is a ritual whereas Marion’s life has no routine; her life has been turned upside down and she has noidea what the future holds for her. “Each weekday was mapped.” This is how the spinster refers to her life, she has everyday planned to the last detail, it is preordained, almost geographically laid out.
“The day took her to itself like an assembly line.” Here, the day is personified, it seems like the day ‘beckons’ her. Referring to her life like this shows how it is so regulated and monotonous.”The sky predominated, surrounded her in a vivid air that she felt lucid with loss. The clouds offered no certain shapes.” Marion is not really sure where she is; metaphorically and literally.
She is lost in a world of her own thoughts, she just lies back and looks at the clouds and her thoughts take over and lonliness comes into play. The contrast is quite clear as while Marion is lying back on a beach not knowing what to do with herself, the spinster is keeping to her schedule dressing “…in the clothes she laid out the previous night.
“Symbolism plays a big part in both of the stories and adds to the effect of the theme of lonliness. “And she was held again in that moment where near gold of an afternoon converts to lead, the recurrent mood of life’s failed alchemy.” Alchemy is an ancient process of trying to turn lead into gold, but in Marion’s case the alchemt has been reversed and her golden life with her husband and two children has been converted to lead. The symbol of failed alchemy is very effective as it shows the extent to which Marion is feeling lonliness and loss, it shows the impact her husbands death has had on her, she has been left with a big lump of lead in her heart. Symbolism is also used when the author compares the clouds to Marions thoughts.
In Marion’s mind the clouds are all of the things she won’t be doing again now that her husband is gone.When she looks up at the clouds she sees “…
a house, a bridge, a map of a country where she might have gone.” She feels she will never be able to do these things again, this makes her feel like life has let her down. The symbol of the lost city of Atlantis is used in “Death of a Spinster”. “The brassiere and the pants were of pale green, sheer silk, beneath which the dark pubic hair shimmered like Atlantis.” Symbolism is used to show the reader a different side to the spinster. This image gives you an insight into the sort of person the spinster secretly is or wishes she was. It seems like she reflects her own personality through her underwear, her sensuaous underwear is covered by her dull, boring clothes just as her secret, daring personality is covered by her dull ritual of a life.This refers back to the image of Atlantis also, Atlantis was a beautiful city covered by layers of water just as the spinsters personality is covered by her dull routine.
The symbol of her underwear and Atlantis adds to the theme of lonliness because it seems like she is hoping for something exciting to happen, she is waiting for something but it never happens, it shows what her inner desires are. Her repetitive life is symbolised in almost every sentence. “Tomorrow was promised.” This sounds like Marion wishes for tomorrow to come which adds to the theme of lonliness by making it seem like her life is so dull she wants it to be over and for the next day to come.The spinster is unexpectedly killed at the end of “Death of a Spinster” and we see the extent of how lonely she was as no-one is affected by her death, the authur adopts a non-chalent tone when describing her death.
Her death is not described any differently from the other events in her day, it is just another event only this time not “mapped out”. The spinsters death actually symbolises her life – no consequences. When she is killed “Her lightness was loaded into an ambulance.” A mocking tone is conveyed throught the alliteration to create a lack of seriousness as no-one cares about her death, the only consequences of her death are an unpaid gas bill and dirty dishes.As Marion gets ready to leave the beach she is reminded of why she goes on living, she thinks about her children and says “..
.she embarced them both, hoarding the profit of her loss.” This is a paradox as you do not usually gain anything from a loss. She is saying that the only good thing that has come from her tragedy are her shildren, they are what she has gained from the loss of her husband. You could look at it another way though and say that her children are actually a painful reminder of her husband and that why she is upset when she embraces them. This shows that she is very lonely without her husband and her children do not compensate.
“Death of a Spinster” and “Beached” are brilliantly written stories that succeed in realistically conveying the theme of lonliness which is very meaningful in as you can relate and sympathise with the characters. You can see why they feel they have been let down and wounded by life, I think this is what McIllvanney wants the reader to see. The theme of lonliness also adds to the readers enjoyment of the text by writing the story in a very informal format and using discreet literary devices to get the reader to relate to the character because the reader will see the character as a normal person like themselves. Symbolism is the authors greatest technique and really makes the characters seem like real people and builds up a clear mental picture of them.