The texts of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll by Ray Lawler and I was only Nineteen by John Schumann with Australian folk music group Redgum, utilise distinctive voices encompassed by Australian identities to demonstrate the experiences of expectation and inevitable reality. The visual representation expands this understanding through intertwining textual impacts of conflict and loss to illustrate the consequences of substituting realism for optimism.The visual representation envisions Lawler’s ambition of the kewpie dolls as a metaphoric conveyor of failed expectation and reality in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll.
This is illustrated through the sixteen dolls hastily strewn around the gum tree, attempting to rescue the split trunk. This sole reliance on the dolls to secure the tree symbolically supports Lawler’s intention to fashion the kewpie dolls as commemorative pieces, signifying each summer of expected connection. However, the thin strand of dolls embracing the divided tree acknowledges Lawler’s subtle allusion to inevitable separation in the play; foreshadowing the fallout between the characters. This reveals the play’s spectrum of symbolic techniques intended to assert character association with conflict and loss. Lawler utilises the symbolic nature of the dolls to progressively nurture audience awareness of the naturalistic and conflicting voices of characters, particularly with Olive. The dolls are a compelling aspect of Olive’s distinct voice as they reflect her euphoric ideals of the lay-off season. The visual representation interconnects Olive’s dissipating innocence when the dolls retrospectively remind her of the hollow and splintered unity painted across the characters.
This struggle is intensified when Pearl cynically objectifies Olive’s efforts and vilifies the attitudes of Barney and Roo with, “That’s what they remind me of, two eagles flyin’ down out of the sun and coming south every year for the mating season”. Lawler extends Olive’s distinctive voice through her self-delusion and sentimentality, until casting the ultimatum of Roo’s marriage proposal, forcing her to ignore overhanging social expectations and confront the illusion of a perpetual relationship with the characters. These concepts are visually communicated in the representation through the suspended ring box and broken clock. The ring box expresses the pressuring marital expectations of 1950s society in contrast to the clock’s imitation of the shattered time and memory Olive expects to remain renewable. Nearing the conclusion of act three, Olive’s use of high modality language in “Give it back to me, give me back what you’ve taken” (p. 95), demonstrates the pinnacle of her desire for Roo to return the past memories she is consumed by. Roo parallels unavoidable reality with his invitation to Olive to share the “dust” (p. 95) with him, to coerce her unrealistic perspectives.
He asserts his motive with “But there’s no more flyin’ down from the sun, no more eagles”; confirming the experiences of loss and failed expectation between characters. Roo’s lasting impact of smashing the seventeenth doll is depicted in the visual representation as the doll rests untied and torn at the base of the tree, gesturing the inevitable conclusion that the fabric of the group must tear.Lawler constructs Olive’s expectant and deluded voice as a singular medium of representing core themes of the play.
This is evident as Olive likens each doll as an instrument of personal solace, consequently, Lawler simultaneously optimises the impact of failed expectation and raw inescapable reality in Olive’s final confrontation with the romanticised mirage of connection she has entertained across sixteen years; read as “She gives a rasping cry, doubling over on herself as though cradling some inner pain; grief stricken, almost an animal in her sense of loss.”(p. 95)