Most of the people living on Union Street are poorly educated and not very articulate. Pat Barker’s gift is her ability to bring them vibrantly to life through gusts of earthy dialogue in the authentic vernacular of the region.
The seven protagonists can be seen as representing the seven ages of womanhood—seven dark ages, concentrating on the tragic rather than the joyous. Each of the women has her own strong individuality, but they share a common perception of the inevitability of hardship and a sense of stoical endurance. Because they are woven in and out of one another’s stories, their characters are not one-dimensional but are built up through several different points of view.
Iris is the dominant—and the toughest—woman on the street; she is highly respected and turns up in most of the stories to offer help and advice. She comes from an even poorer area than Union Street, had an excessively hard childhood, and has had to fight every inch of the way to achieve her present status. It is partly because of her determination to hold on to her hard-won respectability that she handles her daughter’s abortion with such ruthlessness and single-mindedness.
Iris’ recollections of her brutalized childhood echo Kelly’s experience. Kelly’s crisis is not only the rape itself but also her loss of confidence in the adult world when she sees first the rapist and then her mother (after her latest lover has abandoned her) break...
(The entire section is 595 words.)