Summary • In the story ‘The Great Barrier Reef’, the female protagonist (whose name is unknown) sets sail on a cruise to the Great Barrier Reef. In this cruise, she is accompanied by a male named J., whom she admires, and a bunch of American and Australian tourist whom she despises. The cruise gives her a sense of escape from all the hardships she has faced in the previous week. She was left to deal with a custody battle and a divorce in a courtroom full of judgemental individuals. • This phase changed her perception of the world, making her judgemental of everything. It altered her personality, leading the reader’s to perceive her as a bitter-natured individual. However, despite her circumstances, she learns not to have such a negative view on everything and lets herself feel joy, even from minor things in life.
Personal Reflections • I identified with the narrator’s indignation at the other tourists aboard the cruise and empathised with her inability to let her guard down. I understood the feelings of elation she gained from being out on the reef surrounded by raw beauty, as I am similarly affected by being on the beach. I followed every nagging doubt in her mind and perceived the reasons behind her bitter remarks.
Personally, I enjoyed reading this story. The transition of the protagonist’s personality astounds me. I like the fact that it was in first person perspective as it provided insight on the true emotions of the protagonist. Overall, this story for me suggests that you shouldn’t let a bad phase in your life ruin your whole life, and I support that.
Views • Johnson is critiquing the tendency of tourists to be content only with a shallow appreciation of nature rather than taking an interest in unspoiled beauty. The narrator of the story is incensed at the emphasis her fellow shipmates place on buying souvenirs (pg 317), and hesitating to continue their voyage to the Great Barrier Reef when conditions become unfavourable (pg 327-8). She perceives this as a weakness that she must not succumb to and resents the other tourists for possessing it. • Johnson also criticizes parents in today’s society and their neglect for their children. The narrator has recently been through a divorce which puts her under intense emotional pressure. She has several flashbacks of the court case and custody battle; in one her lack of parental care is brought to the fore by the judge, who confronts her about leaving her kids to go on business trips (pg 324-5). This fact, along with her inability to cope and subsequent time away, shows that she is not fulfilling her role as a parent.
Johnson endorses exploring nature and allowing it to affect you. When the narrator finds herself amongst the beautiful ecological world of the reef, her soul is refreshed and she begins to vent her bitterness and feels free (pg 334). This causes her attitude to soften towards the crew and fellow tourists on the cruise, and she eventually comes to appreciate the significance of this voyage (pg 339). • The writer encourages us to be pushed out of our comfort zone. The woman travelling with J. hates the environment she is put in when she has to travel with the others aboard the Dolphin. Eventually, she overcomes her rigid prejudices and embraces the journey this cruise has given her. She develops as a person from being in this situation.
“As is so often the traveller’s fate, nothing on the cruise was as promised or has we had expected” The author supports that nothing in life is as promised or as expected. • “Life was like this, getting tossed around, and then, right before the real goal is reached, something, someone, impedes you” The author suggests that in life we should expect the unexpected. • “We had lived through storms and reached our destination” The author endorses that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.
Values • Since the narrator is so adamant about seeing the Great Barrier Reef and not settling for tourist trivialities (i.e. souvenirs) as her fellow travellers are, the need for a deep appreciation of nature is evident. • The value of being close to our loved ones is also promoted as J. and the ship’s crew and guests are compassionate and soften the hard heart of the narrator.
“…Mysterious power of distant places to dissolve the problems the traveller has brought along” The author values time and space to heal from pain and agony. • “As if responding to the desire of the crew to return to port without seeing the great sight” The author values moving forward in life to witness better things.
Context(s): • The story follows a couple who take a cruise to the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland. It mainly takes place on the ship (Dolphin), with some time spent on the actual reef itself.
Literary Techniques • Simile ‘He was as dazzled as if we had walked on stars…’ (pg. 334) • Imagery- “the sky once more changed colour, now to metallic gray, lighter at the horizon, as if it were dawn.’ (pg. 331) • Symbolism/Symbols- ‘As is so often the traveller’s (a person) fate, nothing on the cruise (life) was as promised or as we had expected.’ (pg. 316)- ‘…we had lived through storms (hardships in life) and reached a destination’ (happy ending). (pg. 335)
Overall Interpretation • In ‘Great Barrier Reef’ Johnson critiques the lack of appreciation for nature and its raw beauty and encourages the need for a deeper interest in it. She also endorses the idea that life is a journey; that like a voyage on a rough sea, we need to expect the unexpected and go along with the current.