THE SOUND OF ONE HAND CLAPPING


Richard Flanagan combines a variety of features to present to the readers the hardships endured by victims of war. Authenticity is given to his account through using real places and real events. Butler`s Gorge, the Hydro camp in Tasmania, is the harsh environment in which the refugees were placed to perform the menial work allocated to the `wog` labour force. The reader is also taken back to view some of the atrocities suffered during World War 2. Maria Buloh witnesses the shooting of her father as well as the rape of her mother and sister. Finally she too is raped. All of the people who survived were robbed of their youth, as is pointed out by Ivo Andric in the epigraph which states: `Nothing could speak more clearly to future generations about our times than those youthful grey heads, from which the nonchalance of youth has been stolen.`


Chapter headings in the form of dates juxtapose the past with the present and make the tale very real. They suggest a real story set in real time. Presenting the story in many chapters, from the point of view of Sonja and her father, gives the impression of personal experience and as a result, maintains the readers` interest and authenticates the account. The non chronological nature of the structure reinforces the main idea of the impact of the past on the present.


This however, is not a history book. The language, structure and symbolism place it firmly in non-fiction mode. The opening chapter, however, establishes it as a tale of importance and a direct address is made to the readers: `All this you will come to understand.` The language is often evocative rather than informative. Flanagan`s emphasis is on mystery, time past, loss and obliteration. `Long, long ago in a world that long since perished into peat…..` Strong use is made of pathos. We see the child`s vulnerability, `small girl`, `whimper`. The novel contains elements of a number of genre, such as epic fantasy and fairy tale, as well as implying an element of non-fiction. The effect of this mixture is to create a story which reads as true and personal but also holds greater significance. This is not just the story of one family but also represents the stories of many similar people whose lives are irrevocably changed by circumstances beyond their control.


Flanagan offers the reader a very limited view of the different groups in society. The readers` responses are heavily guided. Flanagan allocates his characters to the camps of good and bad, which tends to limit the readers` insights and clouds their judgments. The refugees are the underdogs and the white Australians are shown in a very poor light. This is particularly evident in the description of the naturalisation ceremony and the arrogant attitude of the engineers` wives When speaking of Maria, one of the women remarks,`She kept the house surprisingly clean, I`ll say that for her. Not what you`d expect.


Symbolism is a significant feature of this text and is used to position the reader to understand the complexities of the characters` relationships and the impact of events on their relationship. (Add your own paragraph on the appropriate symbols\symbolic events-examine the symbols of your choice.)


The Sound of One Hand Clapping takes the readers on the journey to witness the healing powers of love. Flanagan has shown the tragedy of disconnection, `The Sound of One Hand Clapping and that, as he says in his interview, love matters. He has given voice to a group of people unable to tell their story, and hopefully fostered tolerance for those who are marginalised within any society.