‘O Caledonia’ by Elspeth Barker

“How successful is Elspeth Barker in creating sympathy for Janet in ‘O Caledonia’” you may wish to refer to theme, presentation of character, setting, narrative viewpoint and language in your analysis.‘O Caledonia’ by Elspeth Barker is a murder-mystery story set in 1950’s Aberdeenshire. It tells the story of a young girl called janet, as she grows up into adulthood. The story begins with a prologue where janet is murdered, and we are then told the story of her childhood. The Author makes the reader feel sympathy for janet, and a sense of loss at her death. In this essay, I am going to examine how

Elspeth Barker achieves this. The character of Janet is portrayed with sympathy in the book. Throughout her childhood and adolescence, she is alienated for being different, and refusing to conform to stereophonics.

It is clear from the start of the book, that Janet’s father has no interest in her, when she is born, her father comes home on leave from the army. His only remark is
‘It’s about the size of a cat”
When a her brother Francis is born, he gets a much more favourable reception
“In the manufacture of human pride, there is no ingredient so potent as the production of a son” remarks her mother Vera’s friend Constance.
“The blue wicker basket had found it’s rightful occupant”
This shows that boys are favoured more than girls in Janet’s family.

Janet has a very romantic outlook in life, and this is illustrated by the colourful language she uses to describe things;

There is a ‘bird motif’ running throughout the story, this is where janet is symbolised by bird.
The first instance of this is janet’s grandad’s parrot

Perhaps the most poingnant of these is in the prologue; In the castle of Auchnasaugh, there is a statuette of a white cockatoo “his breast transfixed by an arrow”, underneath this is a plaque saying “Moriens Sed Invictus”, which means “dying but unconquered”. This image has many parallels with janet, as she too is dying, stabbed through the chest. The “dying but unconquered” statement, too applies to janet. She is dying yes, but she hasn’t given in to society, she has not let them change her.

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