Themes and Characters
Smack is narrated by ten different voices, but Gemma's and Tar's voices dominate, fitting because they are the central characters of the novel. Burgess's strategy of using multiple first-person narrators demands that readers pay close attention to what the characters say about themselves, and each other, and demands that readers be sensitive to the irony of these statements.
Tar (his real name is David, though Gemma calls him Tar because he smokes cigarettes) runs away from his home because of his alcoholic parents. His father, a schoolteacher, beats him. His mother manipulates him into hiding her own alcoholism by doing the household chores and protecting her against Tar's father who recognizes his wife's alcoholism and manipulative behavior but does not understand how to deal with the problems other than by beating Tar to try to prevent him from helping his mother.
Tar's situation is very difficult, and he has no help to deal with it other than Gemma's emotional support. His decision to run away is accepted as legitimate by Richard and Vonny, the Bristol anarchists who support him, both physically and emotionally when he moves in with them at the new squat. They become Tar's surrogate family.
Tar is very sensitive and passive. He has none of the defenses that would protect him from difficult life experiences. One of the reasons Skolly, the tobacconist, wants to help him is because "he has no front" (33). He is not fragile...
(The entire section is 1606 words.)
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