The relationship between naming and history appears in several contexts in Oscar and Lucinda. Carey complicates notions of history right from the beginning of the story:
I learned long ago to distrust local history. Darkwood, for instance, they will tell you at the Historical Society, is called Darkwood because of the darkness of the foliage, but it was not so long ago you could hear people call it Darkies' Point, and not so long before that when Horace Clarke's grandfather went up there with his mates — all the old families should record this when they are arguing about who controls this shire - and pushed an entire tribe of aboriginal men and women and children off the edge. (2)
In this passage the face of "local history" hides uglier realities, yet the disjunction between the current tame explanation of Darkwood and the brutal act that brought it into existance (in certain ways) is bridged by its very name: the name appropriates the land as a symbol of dominant power, then institutionalizes the brutality and oppression, but it also gives away these very acts that "local history" seeks to conceal. Yet, is the name's ability to reveal all these meanings dependant upon the recollection of its genealogy? And who does the naming? In the chapter titled "False Instruction", Oscar, in the throes of religious and filial doubt, thinks that "his father appropriated everything by naming it, whether he was asked or not....Oscar did not wish [the stone] named. He was angry at his father for what he was about to do....It was named Indian Yellow and was now useless" (28-31). The stone must remain mysterious, exempt from meaning and history in order for it to exist as an instrument of God (or chance), a tool to guide Oscar which is outside of the influences that should affect him (his upbringing, etc.). How does this moment relate to the naming of Darkwood?
Other methods of naming construct meaning and identity, and consequently, history: categorizing (Theophilus, as minister and naturalist), mapping (Mr. Jeffris, a middle-class explorer and successor of Mr. Burrows, though he intends to emulate Mitchell), storytelling (see also a second discussion (Kumbaingari Billy, the narrator's mother), to name (no pun intended) but a few. Focusing especially on Kumbaingiri Billy's appropriation of the narrative at the point where Mr. Jeffris' expedition reaches unknown territory (Ch. 99: "An Old Blackfellow," ch. 100: "Glass Cuts") and when Oscar and Percy Smith construct the glass church on the lighters (Ch. 104: "Mary Magdalene"), how does naming (of landmarks, people) point out the disparity between the imperialist's, or colonizer's, and the aborigine's views of history, identity, meaning? ("He christened her Mary, for Magdalene. It was a damn silly name for a Kumbaingiri and if you want my opinion, Bob, it was ignorant to talk to us Kooris in that way" (413). How is storytelling variously depicted in these chapters? How does meaning imparted through storytelling relate to the novel as a story itself, and to the dual nature of the narrator as the great-grandson of Oscar and an omniscient being that sees into the lives of his ancestors?
Last modified 1 March 2004
Last modified 1998