The Knife written by Judah Waten is a short story about a young Italian- Plinio, who has immigrated to Australia from a "poor village in Calabria, in a very desolate part of Southern Italy".
Plinio then starts to reminisce about the life he had back home and the reader learns that he lived in poverty and had a very modest life. It then goes on to describe Plinio walking home from work one night and he sees Mavis Keer- an attractive girl with a group of friends and her boyfriend Tommy Lawler.
Tommy notices Plinio looking at Mavis and is jealous of him, his dislike for Plinio deepens because he is Italian, so Tommy decides to humiliate him. The next time Tommy sees Plinio he knocks his hat into the gutter. The group of friends start to laugh and tease Plinio, which causes Plinios pride to be deeply hurt.
Plinio then decides to avoid the group from fear of being bashed to death. Plinio is then walking home late one night and sees Tommy and his friends. Tommy decides to bash up Plinio so he can look tough infront of Mavis. As Tommy starts to punch Plinio, he pulls out his father's knife, out of anger and frustration Plinio stabs Tommy. Tommy's friends all run away leaving Plinio, Tommy and Mavis in the street. The police and ambulance arrive as people start to crowd around shouting "A knife . . . he's got a knife."
The knife (as in the object) is very symbolic in the story as it shows a difference between the two cultures and what they associate with it. For example Plinio sees the knife as a ?symbol of his coming of age . . . his manhood' and he proudly wore his knife because it is associated with honour and respect. Where as the people in Australia who encounter the knife see it as a weapon and associate it with evilness as shown in then quote ?all their secret images of evil seemed to flow together and take a single shape ?A Knife?' The significance of the title is that it draws the reader's attention to the conflict surrounding the knife.
The exposition of the story quickly introduces the main character Plinio and the situation he is in. The story then develops even more with the use of flashbacks to the death of Plinio's father and his old way of life. The flashback stops when Plinio emigrates to Australia and it moves to the present describing his new life.
This can be see as Juxtaposition between the two lifestyles showing the deep contrast that is present between the two different cultures.
The story then leads into the climax as Plinio is walking home late from work, this lateness foreshadows that he is going to encounter Tommy again. The climax begins when Tommy and Plinio start to fight and Tommy gets stabbed.
The story then quickly anticlimaxes in a state of confusion as Plinio is stood there in a daze staring at his fathers knife very unsure of himself and the actions that just took place.
The conflict between Tommy and Plinio isn't resolved causing the prejudice to continue and it ends in a heightened hysteria. The fact that the story's ending does not end in acceptance it causes the reader to become more aware that if discrimination and racisms does not stop it will keep on going on and spiral out of control.
The story is told in a third person point of view that is omniscient because it is able to tell the thoughts and feeling of all of the characters as well as narrate the events.
DIALOUGE there isn't much dialogue present in the story and most of it occurs at the end of the story where Plinio is confronted by Tommy.
This part of the story makes an impact on the reader because it is the most dramatic part of the story where everyone is so confused and Plinio cannot believe that he just stabbed someone and doesn't know what to do.
This extract shows the conflict between Tommy and Plinio as well as the internal conflict that Plinio experiences when he sees the irony in the fact that it was himself that destroyed his honour and not Tommy, when he drew the knife.
This part of the story also makes a connection between Tommy and Plinio which that is that they both felt as if there dignity was humiliated in front of Mavis and they tried to out do each other but it all got out of hand causing them both to loose all of the respect that they had. For example Tommy's friends all left and Mavis was bewildered at Plinio.
The setting for the story is in both Italy and Australia. The flashback is set in a poor Italian village and is described to be ?a very desolate part of southern Italy'. The setting is significant because it shows the life that Plinio had and contrasts the setting of his new home in Australia. In Australia Plinio lives in a small community with other Italians in North Melbourne. "They were in a single-fronted, two-story apartment house in North Melbourne where at least twenty other young Italian newcomers were crowded".
The time the story is set in is in the 1950's, this can be inferred by the use of terms such as jukebox and milkbar, as well as the slang ?garn, you're keen on that dago.'
Plinio is the main character in the story and is viewed as the protagonist. He is a young man who is described to be a ?A well knit, good looking young fellow of twenty-three'. He is depicted to be very emotional and quiet due to the experiences in his life ?he was A quiet youth'. For example his father dying while he was young, leaving the world he knows to earn money and being unable to adapt to his new lifestyle. Plinio can also be view as the typical stereotype of an immigrant who used to live in poverty.
He is also described to have ?rather sad, black eyes that seemed a heritage of generations of tears and suffering reflected a kind of deep inner sadness'.
Tommy is the antagonist in the story and can be seen as a foil for Plinio as they contrast one other. Tommy depicted as a loud, boisterous, dominant male and is a stereotype of the typical Australian male. He is described to be ?tall, good looking youth of nineteen who wore an open-necked style shirt?'
Tommy sees himself as superior to others and is very conceited as shown by the manner in which he talks in "They've got no guts, those dagos," declared Tommy authoritatively. Tommy is also very aggressive and uses physical strength to intimidate his peers. "An ugly light shone from Tommy's eyes "another crack like that and I'll drop you"
There isn't much to say about Mavis, only that she is the instigator of the conflict because she causes Tommy to become jealous of Plinio. Mavis personality is omitted from the story causing her to be seen as a possession rather then a person as shown by the way Tommy reacts ?he had not considered Mavis his special property, but . . . now he wanted Mavis for himself.
The language that is used is colloquial and uses phrases such as "he went like a rabbit' and represents the times that it was written in with the use of slang for example" Garn', "mug' and Dago". The effect that this has on the reader is that it makes the text easier to understand and easier to identify with because the language is already familiar even though it is set in a different time period.
lonely' ?pining' ?agonizing' ?distress' ?bitter resentment' ?horror' ?dark confusion' and ?heart was oppressed' ?humiliating' ?brooding' ?aggressively' The use of emotive language causes the reader to be empathetic and feel the emotions associated with certain characters and events. From the emotive language we learn that Plinio is a deeply emotional person and this causes him to snap as he does at the end of the story because he was overwhelmed by numerous emotions. The emotive language also sets the tone of the story and in this case, it is very depressing and negative emotions that are being portrayed
Patchily lit', ?slumped to the footpath' The descriptive language helps the reader to vividly imagine what is happening and keeps them interested in the story.
Simile- Dying man's continuous cry like an endless litany of anguish'
Spinning around like tops "they came from other villages and towns and to him, they seemed like foreigners"
The use of similes keep the reader interested and offer an alternative means of describing objects and events so they can be easily understood by the reader
- Many memories . . . danced through Plinio's mind'- the reader is able to picture the memories dancing giving them a ghostly effect, which emphasizes the loss that Plinio feels when he thinks about the family that he left behind.
- Emotions of that leave-taking often swept over Plinio'- The effect that this metaphor has it that it shows the emotions sweeping Plinio away which reinforces the idea of Plinio's strong emotional state.
Attitudes and Values
The Knife reflects the attitudes and values held by the author. Judah Waten is able to express how his own life experiences have shaped the way he feels towards certain issues. Water shows his attitudes towards immigrants and the problems that they face, he himself is an immigrant so The Knife is a way for Water to express the negativity that he feels is associated with immigration, such as racism, loneliness, and being unable to identify with your surrounding. Water himself has had the first-hand experience with this because he himself immigrated to Australia as a child from Russia, so the reader is able to see this in how vividly Judah Waten writes.
We also assume that because Water is a male that he values a patriarchal society as it makes numerous references to the males being dominant and the females submissive. The fact that Plinio inherits the knife from his father, which was passed down from his grandfather, shows how the family is traced back through the male line. Another example of the patriarchal society is how Tommy looks up towards his father and tries to be like him by sharing the same views that he has as supported by this quote "Young Tommy repeated his father's words as if they were holy writ".
This patriarchal society is also evident in how both Plinio and Tommy feel that their manhood and masculinity is insulted by one another and this creates a need for both of them to prove that they are the ones in charge and this causes a conflict between the two of them "compelled to maintain his mastery", "He would not suffer any more indignities".
Themes & Issues
The themes and issues present in the story are racism, honor & pride, and immigration.
Racism is dealt with in the story in the form of Tommy, who dislikes Plinio because of his ethnic background. The story's message is that racism should be stopped because of the distress that it causes for example "his manhood had been outraged and, gentle, passive and resigned as he was, he felt stirring within him bitter resentment.' This shows how a person can be deeply affected and that society should learn to accept these differences instead of displaying hostility and not to be afraid of the unknown. This is because discrimination like this can manifest and become worse over time as shown through Plinio stabbing Tommy because of the unresolved conflict between the two of them.
Honour & Pride
The theme of honour and pride also run throughout the story and is one of the major issues that contribute to the conflict between Plinio and Tommy and it is also an internal struggle suffered by both of them. Plinio's knife symbolizes the honour and pride that is part of his culture back in Italy. ?The knife was not something to be used in defense or offense but it might have been drawn to defend his honour or the honour of his family'.
The story also looks at immigration and the reasons as to why people do immigrate and the effect that it has on them. In Plinio's case he had to go to Australia to earn money for his family. There was "no alternative but emigration if he wanted to eat and feed his family". It also deals with the problems he faced such as the rejection of society and how the "newcomers had to live to themselves". The Knife looks at how depressing it can be to be separated from family in a strange new land and it looks at how "he entered a new life not with hope or enthusiasm but with resignation." The story deals with the trials that immigrants face when trying to start a new life and that we should be more understanding.
Reader responds sympathetically to Plinio because he is constructed to be a character that can easily be identified within a sense of been the "underdog". The reader is made to be more aware of the consequences of racism and discrimination against individuals and how the effect that it can have on an individual as well as society. The reader is compelled to act differently and to accept the view that the author has expressed because if we keep living like this generations and generations will grow up having a negative outlook on different races and types of people.