Just before the end of the play, Jacob's Wake, by Michael Cook, the radio announces that "the Government has resigned." In the context of the play, what is the metaphorical or symbolic significance of this?
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In Michael Cook's Jacob's Wake, the announcement that "the government has resigned" has several implications. First, this happens at the end of the novel. The family, the reader has discovered, is in shambles—and its ruination is forty years in coming.
First, the quote may apply to Skipper's death. While he has been a shadow of the strong leader he once was, he has been aware (surprisingly, from his exile to his bed for thirty years since losing his legs at sea) of the decline of his family. He cannot believe he fathered Mary, as hateful as she is. He is filled with regret that Jacob was killed thirty years before under his command at sea. And he has little respect for Winston...for in Skipper's eyes, no one could measure up to his long-dead Jacob. Skipper is wise; he tells Winston:
A house is a ship. Lights agin the night…This one's adrift…Ye'll check her mooring, son.
What guidance Skipper might have given the family goes to his grave with him. Who has the ability to lead them now? Winston admits to Skipper earlier:
Can't see in front of me own eyelids, Skipper.
When all's said and done, ye sees plainer than I.
The announcement also symbolizes the end of their society, as they have known it. The leaders of this part of Newfoundland have not been voted out: they have abandoned the people, like (as the old cliché notes) rats abandoning a sinking ship. So who will guide the families of this place now?
This also symbolizes the end to the crooked enterprises that Wayne and Alonzo were involved in. Wayne would get contracts and make sure they were awarded to Alonzo and his cronies. Wayne has just received a promotion to Minister of the Environment, which at one point seems to indicate that this crook is going to get away with it—in keeping the contracts from others who might benefit by the work the contracts promise.
Winston, who is ready to shoot Wayne and Alonzo for forging his signature on commitment papers for Skipper (feeling the last piece of him—the unblemished condition of his name—has been stolen), finds poetic justice in this radio announcement: both of his treacherous sons are punished by this news. Winston is delighted.
Rosie...The government has resigned. That takes care of 'em better than me old shotgun.
Wayne, who has been greatly praised for his position and elevated above the others by Mary, is devastated; he continues to beat the radio, hoping to learn more details...if only the radio announcer will come back on the air.
This occurs just prior to the climax of the deadly storm veering down on them—on this coastal village. This is the same level of storm that took Jacob. And it appears that the family has been completely broken. The end of the government reflects Skipper's departure—the loss of their leader; the end to the money the family received monthly from Wayne; the end of the mythology surrounding Wayne's superiority; the end of the government's support Winston's welfare claim; the realization that the government will not come to their aid during the storm. The Blackburn family has been destroyed from every angle. All that is left is their journey into death: and Skipper's ghost returns to provide guidance. Ironically, this is the only time in the play (and we can assume, ever) that the family has been united and admirable.
The end of the government symbolizes and foreshadows not only destruction to the family's world, but also their end.
In the context of the play, this symbolizes the Skipper's death and the end of his attempt to mourn for Jacon's death, a death which was the result of the Skipper's folly and hard-hearted foolishness. When Skipper dies, his ghost, in full uniform, appears to direct a phantom ship through the storm. The radio announces the government has resigned and the ghost and Skipper have "resigned" as well.
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