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2004-7 HSC English

Standard and Advanced courses

Area of Study: The Journey
Focus: Physical Journeys
Away by Michael Gow
This is a teaching idea for 2004-5 HSC English contributed by NSW English
Teachers Association member, Jenny Holland from Kingsgrove High School. This
teaching idea is designed to supplement the teachers own unit of work on this
module and elective.
This text is listed in the Physical Journeys focus section. By examining the rubric in
the English Stage 6 Prescriptions 2004-5 (pp9-10) you will find some key ideas that
will help you to focus your own study of Michael Gows play Away.
Here are some of those key ideas:
A study of the play Away fits the rubric in a number of ways
(the italicised words below are derived from the language of the rubric)
Through structure, language and theme, the play explores the impact of the physical
journey on all the travellers (ie. the characters).
The physical journey of going away on annual holidays involves both obstacles (ie
the storm and its destructive elements, Corals psychological despair, Roys
separation from Coral) as well as movement to new places (ie the beach as a new
place of renewal and recovery).
The play demonstrates the way these travellers/characters extend themselves
physically the storm is the physical change-agent. It destroys all of Gwens
representations of self-worth (her possessions). It acts as the catalyst for her
emotional reconciliation with her self and her family. By the plays end she has
extended herself way beyond the stereotyped parody of a suburban housewife
intellectually the play-within-the-play acts as an intellectual/symbolic metaphor.
Tom is able to demonstrate to his parents Vic and Harry (as well as to other
characters) that he knows about his imminent death and that he accepts his fate
emotionally Corals journey is about emotional recovery. She learns to
symbolically walk again. This enables her to reconnect with the living world and
with Roy. She too accepts that there is life in death and hence recovers.
Finally, the consequence of this physical journey is for all the travellers/characters to
learn more about themselves and the world around them. Michael Gows play
focuses on some of the universal issues concerning the human condition. He
explores ideas about the fragility of life, mortality, human nobility and human folly.
These ideas can be expressed in other ways:
the play shows the power of nature to repair and restore people who have lost
their way in a materialistic world
NSW Department of Education and Training
Curriculum K-12 Directorate

November 2004
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through characters like Gwen, Gow highlights the dangers of self-delusion and
adherence to false values
the reality of Toms death and the loss suffered by Coral and Roy points to the
need to value the present while at the same time knowing where we come from
and where we are heading
also the story of Vic and Harry reminds us about the ever presence of death in
life. This, coupled with Corals grief, emphasises the need to accept fate and draw
comfort from each other rather than from things.
Suggested activities
1. To examine the impact of the physical journey, begin by examining the plays
structure. This structure moves all the characters/families from their current
situations of conflict, secrecy and denial (Acts 1, 2 and 3) to their changed and
transformed states of reconciliation and acceptance (Acts 4 and 5).
Summarise the physical journey each family makes by completing the following


Acts 1, 2 and 3
Secrets and

Acts 4 and 5
Transformation, Reconciliation and

Meg and

Tom, Vic and


Coral and

2. The physical journey involves overcoming obstacles. The storm can be seen as
an obstacle both in a real and metaphoric sense. Examine the symbolic function
of the storm as it destroys, disturbs, breaks up and washes away things.

NSW Department of Education and Training

Curriculum K-12 Directorate

November 2004
Page 2 of 4

The physical journey involves movement to new places. The beach is the setting for
the transformations and healing to take place. What qualities does it have that might
help the characters discover truths about themselves and others?
The travellers/characters who engage in the physical journey are extended in
physical, intellectual and emotional ways.
Gwen her transformation comes in physical ways. A woman plagued by severe
headaches and reliance on Bex powders to help her physically cope is transformed
after the storm.
Tom his link with Shakespearean characters such as Puck and Lear are important
intellectual signposts. He acts as an agent of change or transformation. His own
physical journey is towards a fast approaching death and his acceptance of his fate
enables others to be healed.
Coral her emotional recovery is profound. She symbolically and emotionally
returns from the dead. She has been away from herself since the death of her son
and has been unable to deal in the real world effectively. The physical journey she
undertakes to the beach is a metaphor for her emotional journey to recovery of self
and ability to walk in the world of the living.
Draw up the chart below and find suitable quotes to map the
transformations/acceptance in these characters.
Significant characters




The physical journey enables characters to learn about themselves and the world
around them.
Act five, scene one this scene is a symbolic representation of reconciliation. It
highlights Gows perceptions about journeying to self discovery and recovery and
about the necessity of coming home.

NSW Department of Education and Training

Curriculum K-12 Directorate

November 2004
Page 3 of 4

Why is this moment expressed in mime, without dialogue?

How is the notion of reconciliation shown?
Act five, scene two this scene is about acceptance. Through the culturally
common experience of going away on a holiday, Gow shows how people need to
unburden themselves of those things that constrain or restrict the
inexorable/inevitable journey we all make towards death.
How does the extract from Shakespeares King Lear reflect ideas about the
significance of the ultimate physical journey we all make?

NSW Department of Education and Training

Curriculum K-12 Directorate

November 2004
Page 4 of 4