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Owl by Jackie Kay

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Owl by Jackie Kay

Growing up can be scary, because you all of a sudden are on your own. If you live in the past you are more likely to be less prepared for what the life as an adult brings. "Owl" (2012) is a short story written by Jackie Kay where the reader experience the story of a middle-aged woman having a mid-life-crisis and recalling memories when times used to be easier.

The title “Owl” and biological meaning primarily symbolizes freedom. However, both Tawny and Barn, as mentioned in the short story, is actual owls that signify different abilities. The Barn leads the way through fears, nightmares and shadows - if you are brave enough to follow. In this short story, our protagonist and first-person-narrative Anita personalizes as the barn owl because she has to go through her mid-life crisis even though what consequences it might bring.
The tawny symbolizes guidance and wisdom. It is Anita's best friend, Marion, who plays this role. The connection and relation to the owl express Anita (Barns) and Marion's (Tawny) friendship.

The reason they recall these memories, is to remember how fun and uncomplicated life was during their childhood. It begins with a flashback where Anita, also known as Barn recalls her childhood with her best friend Marion, also known as Tawny. Marion and Anita were visiting a farmland where their parents used to take them. At this farm, they found a barn Owl, which they admired and this is where Anita got her nickname. This clearly shows their close friendship, which they have held on to for their whole life since they still call each other nicknames instead of their actual names and talk about old memories.

Anita appears to be a confused and insecure woman, having a mid-life crisis and the need to talk about with Marion. She is not happy with the man she is living with, and she is afraid of the consequences it might bring to leave him: "I could not' imagine my nights. I could not think what the nights would be like, locking up downstairs, taking the dog out for the last walk and then locking up, bolting the door." (P4.L106). She does not seem to be ready for what the future holds. Marion tells Anita that she will be okay and that she has no idea how free she is going to feel. This clearly shows the fact that Marion knows what is best for Anita and also their close and intimate relationship values and that she is the "wise owl" to ask for guidance. This makes it easy to identify with both of them.

The story is written in past tense with an explicit first-narrator from Anita’s angle: "I'd already imagined quite a glory and glorious and gut-wrenching scene where our big barn owl gobbles a wild rabbit whole, and it'd hurt me to visualize it so vividly." (P3.L57). This is a narrative technique, which gives the reader a very close relationship and empathy to Anita, as it is her thoughts and feelings the reader experience. Another narrative technique is the language of the short story is easy and understandable and does not seem to change when they grow up: "Once I saw my mum kiss your dad." "Once I saw my dad kiss your mom" (P4.L96). As they talk about their past, the reader gets the expression that it just as well could have been children talking together, due to their casual language. In extension of this, the narrator makes heavy use of dialogue and direct speech, which makes the short story catching for the reader. It also shows that everything is about Marion and Anita, because nothing else really matters. The reader gets a very close relation, as we get to know of their childhood and the current midlife situation, which Anita has. This leads the reader to the use of contrasts in the short story. The most direct contrast is how the present is compared to the past. The flashback is told from Anita's point of view, and it is told early in the beginning, that she is in her forties: "They say that life beings at forty anyhow!" (P4.L78). This contrast shows that Anita is thinking back to easier times without worries when she was a child. Anita is characterized as being frightened by the thought of the future and what is might bring. Also, she is terrified by the fact of being an independent middle-aged woman with responsibilities. Another important contrast is the short story being divided in two. The first part is when Barn and Town are children playing around as 10 and nine-year-olds. The second part is when they are grown up forties having a conversation as middle-aged women.

At the end of the story we experience that Anita finally can be free when both Marion and her sees a heron during a walk. It spreads its wings like a new born bird flying from its nest showing freedom. This relates to Anita, who now is ready to begin a new life by letting the past be the past and on: "Remember you are only ten. And you do still have wings. You're going to need them anytime soon." (P4.L163). This is how the short story ends, and it leads to the message that you should not live in the past but instead focus on the future with positivity.

The conclusion is not to be caught in the past as an attempt to feel secure from your problems. It may be easier said than done, but it is possible at some point in life to change, and age should not prevent people from moving on.

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[ 1 ]. https://wildgratitude.com/barn-owl-symbolism/
[ 2 ]. http://creationwiki.org/Tawny_owl

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