Analysing (what is essentially) the Social Commentary of Cate Kennedy’s “Dark Roots”

Life, as portrayed in the episodic vignettes of Cate Kennedy’s collection Dark Roots, can be a perpetual power struggle. In even the most menial of the mundane, Kennedy’s characters are made vulnerable by the figurative hands of various external forces. Not always without a fight, however, as said characters often make persistent attempts to win control over their lives. Although, despite this, Kennedy seems to propose that their efforts are in vain, as, in most of the stories, the characters that fight ultimately either remain as they are, or lose more power than they had to begin with. In contrast, the characters that don’t seek out control are depicted as being more content with their lives, and thus attain more desirable outcomes.

In the short story Dark Roots, from which the first passage is taken, what begins as protagonist Mel’s “weak moment” of “succumb[ing] to vanity” soon spirals into a fully psychological problem, as her want to possess power over the process of ageing births within her an age complex. She “cover[s] up those roots,” desperate to control the gradual grey “growth” of her hair, which she believes to be, in no lesser terms, “nasty”. Yet, evidently this is not enough to reassure Mel that she has regained power over her state. An offhand comment she makes in her narration, mentioning the source of her facial hairs to be “another side-effect…just as the contraceptive packet predicted,” hints towards the want for a more drastic outcome. So craving is she for control, that she forcibly skips her period and, later, makes the decision to wax her genital regions – as though she intends to return her body to its pre-pubescent state – thus, virtually undoing the effects of ageing. Though she recounts to the reader that “you tell yourself you haven’t noticed before,” Mel, towards the end of the passage, acknowledges the “slippery slope” nature of her descent, using the metaphor of “dazedly gripping the wheel” to heavily imply that, in a moment of introspection, she admits that her struggles have ironically left her inescapably powerless.

On the contrary, there is no concern with fighting for any sense of control within the short story The Light of Coincidence. Unlike Mel, the protagonist of this short story follows along with the natural order of events as they happen. It could be said that he wilfully surrenders his power, in fact, as depicted through the symbolism inherent in the bow – a device used to wield (and thus, control) a violin – and the fact that he then sells it, effectively ‘giving up’ any means of control. Similarly, his concise act of flushing the heroin down the toilet further represents, yet again through symbolism, his compliance with the world around him. Heroin is a drug which literally alters one’s perception of reality (even if only for a short amount of time), ergo his blatant refusal to take it, let alone possess it, proves that he sees no need whatsoever to alter his reality. The very last dichotomy between Dark Roots and The Light of Coincidence is drawn in the languid epilogue, wherein the protagonist plainly eats a crumpet whilst “looking down at the city of Venice”. Despite said city being nothing more than an image printed onto cardboard puzzle pieces – and even though one of the said pieces is absent from the image – it derives in the protagonist a sense of contented satisfaction. Where Mel, for example, would agonise over the fact that the jigsaw is incomplete, he does not mind that a piece is missing. Rather, he resolves to “giv[ing] a smile for the hidden camera,” simply accepting his life for the practically televised novelty it seems to be.


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