Stolen, by Jane Harrison, is written to educate people as to how the Stolen Generation affected Aboriginal’s lives. Harrison uses several methods to portray typical paths through life that Aboriginal children of the Stolen Generation faced. Therefore it is imperative to examine Harrison’s use of characters, style, action and setting description as her vehicle for promoting her ideas about social justice. These are that every person should be treated equally.
The Stolen Generation is a term used to describe children of Aboriginal descent that were forcibly removed from their Indigenous Aboriginal families by Australian governments throughout the late 19th century and the early 20th century. Their removal was part of a plan to integrate half Aboriginal and half European children into European society. Social Justice is the equal division of human rights and opportunities between race, gender and religion. Harrison integrates these two to show the inequalities experienced by families and their children during the Stolen Generation.
Harrison uses setting frequently throughout the play as symbols for the things that Aboriginal children of the Stolen Generation face throughout their lives. During the play, each character carries a suitcase with them as Harrison employs this to emphasise the “baggage” (line 7 Pg x) that the Aboriginal children of the Stolen Generation had to carry with them throughout their lives. The five main characters of the play also sing children’s songs as each of the children come back from their outing on the weekend. This emphasises the children’s age at the beginning of the play and their loss of culture and identity as the play progresses. Harrison uses this to show how the children coped with abuse and she incorporates darker themes within the lyrics as the play progresses, “What did he do to ya? / I promised not to tell” (lines 12 – 13 Pg 15).
This further highlights the children’s loss of innocence. Harrison also uses these songs to highlight Aboriginal culture, emphasising that it is impossible to erase. Furthermore, the ringing of the bell in Stolen underlines how strict, and in some cases brutal, children of the Stolen Generation were treated when adopted or fostered into European homes. Similarly the hospital beds present in the play signified the regimented way in which the children were treated, as each hospital bed does not allow you to move inside of it. The beds were also moved throughout the performance to show each of the children did not have a place to rest; they were always on the move.
The fact that the beds were moved throughout the whole performance was a message to show how Aboriginal’s of the Stolen Generation never had a place that feels like home. Finally, Harrison uses a filing cabinet as an authoritative message to illustrate how the documents controlling the children’s lives were not available to the children. This highlights how most Indigenous Aboriginals were almost always kept in the dark about their biological, Aboriginal families. This shows that even in this day many Aboriginal people still have not been able to regain lost information about family members. This illustrates the beginnings of what the children of the Stolen Generation had to face.
Harrison’s use of characters in Stolen exemplifies several common paths followed by ‘stolen children’ of Aboriginal descent to further highlight their injustice. Firstly, Anne illustrates the purpose of what the European people wanted to happen. However her life is still torn apart by learning that her real family is Aboriginal, “My mother’s dying and she wants to see me. My real mother. I just can’t do it, not right now” (line 18 – 19 Pg 16). This shows that even if what the European society wanted to happen, it still tore people’s live apart realising that they had Aboriginal origins. Sandy illustrates another typical lifestyle of an Aboriginal child stolen from his parents.
Sandy was stolen at an older age and so remembers his Aboriginal past, this makes it hard for him to forget his Indigenous heritage. Sandy’s heritage shows in his willingness to keep the group together. Harrison uses this to demonstrate how Aboriginal heritage can never be lost. Shirley illustrates the continuing cycle of the Stolen Generation; she was taken as a child and lives to see her own children taken away from her. This shows the devastating and everlasting effect that children of the Stolen Generation have to go through throughout their lives; it continues throughout generations and can destroy a life twice. Ruby is one of the horror stories of the Stolen Generation; she was beaten and abused as a child and lives to be a housekeeper that develops a mental illness. This illustrates a common sight with children involved in the Stolen Generation.
Ruby was abused by her foster parents, “What did he do to ya? / I promised not to tell” (lines 12 – 13 Pg 15). This greatly affected the outcome of the rest of her life, highlighting the horrors experienced by children of the Stolen Generation are carried with them throughout their lives. Indifferently, Jimmy showcases the worst case scenario that the children involved in the Stolen Generation were to go through. Jimmy was a rebel and the foster parents did not want or like rebels so Jimmy was beaten and abused.
This grew Jimmy’s hate towards European’s and this drives him to commit crimes and eventually he takes his own life in jail. This highlights the large toll that being involved in the Stolen Generation inflicts on lives. It has affected many Indigenous Aboriginal’s deeply enough that they have had to resort to taking their own lives. Harrison also uses action to show that injuries experienced by children of the Stolen Generation do not necessarily have to be physical.
Action, both physically and psychologically, is used throughout this play to highlight misconceptions and illusions about the Stolen Generation. Firstly, Anne’s realisation of her Aboriginal heritage destroys her world, as her adopted family brought her up to be ‘white’. The purpose of this was to show that even when Aboriginal children of the Stolen Generation were accepted into a good European home’s it still tears their lives apart from finding out about their Aboriginal heritage. This illustrates to people that even though some Aboriginal children were placed into good foster families it still destroyed their lives finally learning that they had Indigenous heritage.
Also, Jimmy’s suicide while in custody highlights modern day events which outrage Aboriginal communities. Harrison integrates this into the play to show misconceptions about the total effect that the Stolen Generation inflicted. Furthermore, Jimmy’s willingness to meet his mother occupies him even in death, “I’m finally going to meet my mother,” (line 7 Pg 36). This illustrates that even in death children of the Stolen Generation were thinking about going home. Additionally, this highlights common Aboriginal beliefs of afterlife. These are that after death Aboriginal’s reunite with lost ancestors.
Harrison uses this to emphasise that Aboriginal heritage can never be lost. Another factor which Harrison uses to show that Aboriginal heritage can never be lost is through song. Aboriginal culture is heavily involved with song; however Harrison uses song in this context to show how Aboriginal children of the Stolen Generation never had the chance to make their own choices. This is apparent through job choices,” And what are you going to be when you grow up? / A nurse! / No,” (lines 21 – 22 Pg17, lines 1 -2 Pg 18). Harrison continues this repeatedly to emphasise how Aboriginal Children were never given a choice. This is further emphasised, “A domestic? / Yes!” (lines 19 – 20 Pg 18). This highlights how Aboriginal children who were put into foster families were forced to work as domestics. Harrison also utilises style to further emphasise how Aboriginals lacked choice.
Harrison’s use of style further emphasises disadvantages experienced by Aboriginal’s of the Stolen Generation. Harrison structures each character’s journey throughout the play differently. This develops individual narratives within the play which highlight constantly changing scenarios which each character has to deal with. This highlights how each character had to cope with their troubles individually.
This forced them to further distance themselves from childish nature, forcing them to become adults. Harrison uses this to highlight the social injustice faced by Aboriginal children of the Stolen Generation. Harrison also distinguishes between each characters meeting of their mother at the end of the play. Harrison uses this to show that each child’s experience throughout the period of the Stolen Generation. However, Harrison integrates the loss of time within all of the characters meetings to highlight things that can never be regained. This is used to show that the social injustice faced by Aboriginal children of the Stolen Generation can never heal.
Harrison uses Stolen to illustrate the social injustice faced by Aboriginal children of the Stole Generation. This is highlighted through her use of characters, style, action and setting description. Harrison interlinks these styles by incorporating a theme of negligence into each aspect of her play. Social justice is the equal division of human rights and opportunities between race, gender and religion, Harrison integrates her ideas that everybody should be treated equally into Stolen.