Union Street Essay - Critical Essays

Pat Barker


Union Street explores the implications of the statement that one of the characters makes in an early chapter: “Every older woman becomes an image of the future, a reason for hope or fear.” Each woman in the novel occupies a different stage in human development; thus, the crisis for each woman concerns the pain and anxiety associated with moving from one stage of human development to another. Every woman in the novel shares with all of the other women characteristics that, when examined together, become part of a continuum of experiences which bonds each woman to another across the generations. In some respects, the lives of all the women represent the experience of every woman. Each woman shares with all the other women the task of finding, for her own sake, a balance between the opposing forces that dominate her life: love and hate, courage and fear, hope and despair. On the one hand, women experience each stage of their lives alone; on the other hand, each woman’s overall experience is part of the shared experience of all women. Barker’s internal organization within chapters repeats the tension between opposites: Something is born in each chapter, and something dies in each chapter. Each woman faces the decision of either turning toward a new challenge or yielding to the pain and despair of her lot and thus turning away from further challenges. Each woman’s self-esteem and personal development is hampered by impersonal and abusive relationships, yet each woman has the capacity to affirm herself and others by fostering intimacy and bonding in relationships.

In other words, the individual experiences of each of the seven women are interchangeable, complementary, and communal. All the women speak...

(The entire section is 705 words.)