By Jackie Kay
The transitioning from child to adult and figuring out who you are is about the things you reminisce and choose to take with you, the things you let go and the things that needs to be faced. The things you choose to hold onto is what shapes you as a human. But not facing something that had an impact on your early life can create conflict in yourself as an adult. Can leave you wondering who you are even in your late forty’s. this is what Jackie Kay’s protagonist goes through in her story Owl.
In her story Jackie Kay chooses to make use of a first-person narrator, which makes it easier for the reader to identify with our protagonist, Anita, and what she is feeling. The short-story is also characterised by a heavily use of dialogue and direct speech. And the dialogues are almost exclusively between Marion and Anita to represent their relationship – the “us against the world” feeling.
When reading the flashback in the beginning, a reminiscence is sparked in the reader’s mind as well. The narrating also gives us the insight of Anita’s thoughts and therefore pieces of her personality, as especially the flashback gives a more precise idea of Anita as a child and how she has grown as an adult.
As a child Anita, like most children, was selfish and lacking sympathy. This is especially displayed in the way she was treating Sandra after she and Tawny returned to school again. Anita, or Barn, was keen on keeping the owl-related nicknames and close-knit friendship based upon the story behind them. In the same paragraph it is shown by the small comments she leaves how she has developed as a person as she has grown up. As she recollects the memories the reader can see how she still holds some pettiness to Sandra, yet she is able to analyse the feelings she put Sandra through by making her “the crowd” and excluding her. This tells the reader that spite the lack of her own recognition she has still changed a lot.
One of the most visible contrasts in the short-story is how the story is divided in two; the first part focusing on the childhood of Tawny and Barn at the ages of nine and ten. The second part taking place in the forty’s of the same characters. Then there is also the contrast between Barn and Anita, who is the same person, but as in the old Greek myths is her identity tied tightly to her name. Barn is the nickname she was given when she was ten and has stuck all till 50. The name channels the easy childhood with Tawny, while Anita, her given name, is closer to growing up and becoming an adult. She thinks to herself, that if they called each other by their given names all of a sudden it would “sound like we were angry at each other, or suddenly frosty.” Anita is not in a happy place in her life at the moment, going through a split with her husband and starting fresh, and the nicknames are a way of ignoring the grown-up life. Anita is longing for the past where her and Marion lived in their own world together.
On the farmland where they held their summer holiday, the two girls discover the barn owl, that becomes a symbol and tie on their long friendship. Barn is unable to stop thinking about that summer and later it is revealed that the owl is not the only thing tying them so close to each other and making the memories resurface. However, it is the recent split from her husband that is making the memory linger in her mind. The barn owl is used as a distraction from their own parents’ splitting of which they never talked. They keep talking about the owl as they continue their ignorance about what exactly happened and has therefore never talked about their insecurities about love, which they skirt around light-heartedly instead. All these factors are in some kind of way a contributor to Barn’s insecurity about who she is. Even in her late forty’s.
Neither of the two middle-aged women mentions anything about Barn having children to either take or give custody of, which can be interpreted as her never having children. The reasons of why are endless but linked to the memory it can be because of the problems in her relationship with her own parents throughout her adolescence.
In the end of the story the two women go for a walk with no real destination. They end up by the Mersey river where the heron taking flight is a symbol of the burden lifted from their shoulders the night prior. That night they do not talk about what exactly happened, only with a quick “Once I saw my mum kiss your dad.” and “Once I saw my dad kiss your mum.” they acknowledge the event. They had both agreed to let the night of the owl go, never talk about it again and therefore take charge of the meaning of the memory from the farm.