In The Sound of One Hand Clapping, what are the themes?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The novel focuses on the struggles of the Buloh family as they seek to build a new life for themselves in Australia after emmigrating from war-torn Europe and having experienced significant and terrifying hardships there. Clearly, the themes explored in this novel in some ways are common to the struggles facing any new immigrant to a country: issues of identity, home, belonging and trying to fashion a life for oneself dominate this text. One key way in which these themes are explored is through the use of powerful symbols that the author employs. For example, one of these symbols is the tiny tea set that Sonja plays with when she is young. After her mother disappears, she systematicaly breaks each piece of this tea set, yet through the rest of her life she keeps the shards, representing the shattered and disjointed lives she and her father, Bojan, will live. It is highly symbolic that at various point in her adult life, Sonja removes those broken pieces from her purse and tries to piece them back together. Flanagan here suggests that the rupture created by the act of immigration and the broken relationships that develop as a result are never able to be repaired. However, more optimistically, Bojan, during the time of Sonja's convalescence after giving birth, works to repair them:

Finally together in one piece, once more complete. She saw that his work was, as ever, true and careful, the few fractures that remained apparent only as hairlines.

Symbolically, this represents the hope of redemption and of piecing together an identity that will allow both Sonja and Bojan to live lives that are not entirely disjointed, even though the cracks remain visible. Interestingly, Bojan mends this tea set when he makes the decision to quit his old life and live with his daughter, symbolising the piecing together of this family. The experience faced by immigrants is therefore the key theme of this text, and this theme is explored through the use of some key symbols.


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