The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea

by Randolph Stow

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 367

The Merry Go-Round in the Sea is a novel that tells the story of the coming-of-age of Rob Coram as he navigates growing up in the Australian countryside during and after World War II. In the story, Randolph Stow uses the idea of a sunken merry-go-round in the sea to represent the inevitability of the passing of the time and the loss of childhood innocence.

When Rick returns from the war, his innocence has been stripped from him and he is incredibly traumatized from the events he has witnessed and experienced. Representing stagnation, Rick is unable to continue moving forward in his life, despite the lives of others close to him continuing to move forward and develop. Rick becomes figuratively stuck in time, represented by the image of a sunken merry-go-round that can no longer endlessly spin round and round.

For Rob, who is but six years old when his twenty-year-old cousin is sent off to war, his innocence, too, begins to fade throughout the next seven years of his life. He must confront the realities of the changes in Rick, and he is faced with expanding his understanding of the world around him. Before the war, Rob could rely on comfort and routine of his sheltered life. When Rob must move with his family further into the Australian countryside to mitigate the effects of the war, he meets other family members, is introduced to new ideas, and begins thinking about the world beyond his small village.

Rob's growth is contrasted with Rick's stagnation as the cousins react to their lives after World War II in drastically different manners. While Rick is completely disillusioned with his life after the war, Rob eventually realizes that he must choose to grow, to learn, and to move on from the comfortable friendship he had with Rick before the war. Rob's imagined merry-go-round in the sea represents an unattainable world in which time has stopped and Rob does not have to face the realities of change.

As Rob grows older, he realizes that choosing not to grow does not keep one's innocence and sense of comfort intact; rather, it leaves one in stagnation while time and life continue to move forward.

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