Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The Passage is in many respects a conservationist novel, evoking the strong sense of place and traditional values typical of Vance Palmer’s fiction. Although there is occasional dissension and rancor among the people of the Passage, they understand one another and ultimately care for one another. They recognize that their lives are interconnected, shaped by their community and colored by their environment. The warmth and security offered by this nurturing place are what allow those such as Hughie, Clem, and Marnie to venture forth with confidence. The stability represented by the Passage can withstand the destructive aspects of change represented by Osborne-style “progress”:...when huge machines were flooding the world with more things than it could consume, this year’s model always stood in the way of next year’s till it was scrapped. Progress lay in quick destruction.

The people of the Passage are finally too smart to go along with such nonsense. Lena, Craigie, and Osborne ultimately follow their dreams (or preoccupations) elsewhere, while Hughie, Clem, and Marnie all return, having accepted themselves and the Passage itself: small but not cloying, remote but not insulated, traditional but not stultifying. The Passage, then, is nearly interchangeable with and indistinguishable from those it has nurtured:...since he was a boy, every bay and creek mouth had been known to Lew, and each held some separate memory.... They kept his father and Tony alive for him, kept a sense of continuity in his own life.

Lew’s sensitivity to natural beauty and Palmer’s lengthy, almost poetic descriptions of the sea accord the waters around the Passage a mystical, holy, life-sustaining quality.