Student Question

In The Riders by Tim Winton, how do characters' reactions to their environment reveal their identities?

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The Riders was written by Australian author Tim Winton and published in 1994. The novel describes the experiences of an Australian man named Fred Scully and his 7-year-old daughter named Billie. The story reveals near the beginning that Fred and his wife, Jennifer, have planned to move to a cottage in the Irish countryside with their daughter. Before that can happen, Fred waits at the gate of the airport to greet his wife and young daughter. The flight lands, the doors near the gate open, and only Billie is present at the gate. Billie is distraught and unable to tell her father what has occurred or why her mother put her on the plane by herself.

Much of the remainder of the novel is about describing Fred's and Billie's thoughts, feelings, and actions as they attempt to trace their old steps, figure out where Jennifer could be, and investigate what made her abandon or split up from them. In doing so, Fred certainly loses his sanity and sense of calm. He is a man who deeply loves his wife and does not like his family members to be apart from each other, especially without a known explanation. On a more profound level, however, the novel is also about questioning how well we can really know the people we think we have been acquainted with and spent time with for years. So the author explores the human psychological state and its interaction with the outside environment during times of great stress and turmoil.

The gravamen of the novel explores how Fred and Billie react to situations that Fred places them in as they desperately search for Jennifer. Fred and Billie attempt to uncover any clues or answers to their questions. Fred is driven to a state of madness as he tries to figure out why his wife has chosen not to come home. It is a choice that he cannot even imagine someone making in Jennifer's situation, given that their planned new life in Ireland was supposed to be a perfect, fresh beginning for settling down after living in Europe for two years.

Winton also focuses on developing Billie's character as she confronts these challenges. Billie experiences many tumultuous events. As she grows up and experiences the world, we read about Billie's maturity developing in this book. She not only processes and reacts to her father's illogical and emotional behaviors as the story progresses, but she also examines and attempts to understand why her mother left. Most children would be emotionally scarred and even likely to fail to live successfully after experiencing such anguish and pain, but Billie beautifully displays an evolution of her character in coping with it all.

So Winton ensures that his readers can relate to his characters's identities. He tells a story that is understandable because the depictions are realistic in the way of life we have in our families and society in the real world. Almost everyone on the planet has known, heard of, or met someone who has been abandoned or neglected by someone else, and almost every person on the planet has had childhood experiences that they must confront and deal with to grow stronger and evolve. The struggles may not be the same as everyone else's, but the pain level may be equivalent for everyone, which forces people to mature when they react in a way that makes them stronger. The readers can put themselves in the shoes of the characters.

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