Discuss the themes in Elmet.

Themes in Elmet include gender, capitalism, activism, and family.

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One theme in Fiona Mozley’s 2017 novel Elmet is gender. In the novel, neither Daniel nor his sister, Cathy, conform to traditional gender norms. Daniel is introspective and reserved; Cathy is physical and aggressive. According to Daniel, he has an “inside sort of head.” Cathy, however, is “strong and fit” with an “outside sort of head.”

The theme of gender comes into play many times, like when Cathy tries to play football (soccer, in America) with boys. The boys don’t let her play. In fact, they assault her on the beach. Eventually, Cathy fights them off and saves her brother from further abuse. Here, normative gender dynamics are reversed. It’s not the male rescuing the female: it’s the female coming to save the male. The power of the female gender will appear often in the novel—particularly in the end.

Moving away from gender, another theme to discuss is capitalism and exploitation. Mr. Price arguably symbolizes the apathetic, lecherous aspects of capitalism with his threat to displace Daniel and Cathy if their dad (“Daddy”) doesn’t start working for him again. Later, Mr. Price’s offer to let them stay if their dad boxes the Bear reinforces the exploitive elements of capitalism.

Conversely, one could contend that collectivism and activism is a theme in the novel. The father tries to combat the predatory land owners with unionization and strikes.

Family, too, is an applicable theme in Mozley’s story. Consider discussing how the Smythe family structure is both nurturing and, however unintentional, perilous. Daniel and Cathy’s dad genuinely seems to care for them, which is why he tries to isolate them from the cruelty of the modern world. Alas, this distance creates the violent conclusion and quite a bit of harm.

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