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Tomorrow when the war began

July 13, 2011

I’m just borrowing part of Marla Harris’s analysis of John Marsden’s Tomorrow When the War Began for future reference (I confess I’ve only seen the movie so far!):

….”The once-familiar town has become alien territory, as the sight of enemy soldiers on patrol reminds her.  In a subversive twist, the invaders, whose ethnicity is left deliberately vague, have evicted the ‘native’ population in order to install their own ‘colonists’ in the houses.

In order to plan a campaign to retake Wirrawee and free their families the teens retreat into the comparative safety of the wildest part of the bush, nicknamed Hell, ‘a wild place’ said to be haunted by the ghost of a hermit who killed his wife and child (p.4).  When Ellie tries to piece together his true history from papers she unearths in the hermit’s hut, she finds that she cannot draw a simple conclusion about his guilt or innocence.  The multiple and conflicting texts left by the hermit anticipate the ambiguities of the guerilla war conducted by Ellie and her friends, who are tempted to demonize the invaders as alien Others, just as legend has done to the hermit and his home.

The teens’ own status as missing, presumed dead, enables them to spy more effectively, as they organize raiding parties into Wirrawee to gather supplies from the deserted houses and commit acts of terrorism.  Like the hermit, they, too, are ghosts as far as the enemy is concerned, and like him, they become coldblooded murderers, igniting a lawnmower-bomb in the faces of three enemy soldiers and turning an oil truck into a massive bomb that blows up the bridge leading into Wirrawee.  While horrified by witnessing the demolition of Corrie’s childhood home, they eventually resort to blowing up houses themselves, trying to save the town by destroying it; in the course of the novel the heroes are forced to rethink the extent to which they are alien or native, guilty murderers or innocent victims.” (p69)

Ref: Marla Harris “Bleak Houses and Secret Cities: Alternative Communities in Young Adult Fiction” Children’s Literature in Education 33(1)2002, pp63-76


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