The Simple Gift by Steven Herrick is a novel that is told in verse form from the varied perspectives of three individuals who are separated by contrasting experiences however are connected by similar needs and desires. Their respective experiences are skillfully and credibly interwoven, highlighting their individuality and inter-relationship in which we see dramatic change and growth in each of the characters. All three are driven by the sense to belong. Belonging is a multifaceted and complex concept that closely links with desire to be accepted and understood.
The constant change between the narrators of Billy, Old Bill and Caitlin help give account to all three perspectives where the reader can see each individuals developments in contrast to their old selves and identify the areas in which they have grown and changed with the influences of acceptance, shared experiences, identification of their identity as well as establishing a deeper sense of understanding. Herrick uses Billy’s character to highlight social issues such as family breakdown, alienation and loneliness.
Billy is represented as a homeless, poor and haunted individual who’s past has prohibited his sense of identity and self confidence. Through the novel, Billy’s change and growth is one of significant importance. Through his development we see his positive influence of the other two perspectives, Old Bill and Caitlin. His abusive background has enabled him to quickly perceive suffering in others as well as influenced his sense of growth. Billy copes where most would flounder but this is largely because he is able to see opportunity and freedom where others might see defeat and entrapment.
This is evident in the verse of ‘The Motel Benderat’ where Billy perceives his train carriage as comforting and a privilege. “I Close the door and make a home in Carriage 1864 … My Motel Benderat”. Herrick shows specifically here in this verse, the strength and sense of maturity in his character as he can interpret one place in a way of opportunity and wealth compared to his past. Billy’s individuality allows him to function outside the normal parameters of society as his age seems to be no limitation as in the past he would significantly rely on himself for support, protection and love.
One of the most significant changes in the protagonist Billy, would be his ability to allow not only one but two other people in, in which he learned to trust and rely on. Old Bill is probably one of the most significant and important characters in the novel with the most pronounced growth and change. He is described early in the novel as ‘an old man before his time’ and this is perhaps the reason he and Billy can share the bond that they do, for both have been aged by their experiences.
Old Bill can sometimes be perceived, by the tone in various verses, as the vision of what Billy would become if the right steps are not taken in order to prevent this. Initially, readers see him as the stereotypical face of a ‘Bum’ but as details of his life are revealed throughout the novel, he is better recognised as a social victim. Old Bill has voluntary chosen his way of life, traumatised by the significant and unexpected death of his daughter, he left every sense of belonging amongst society to drown his sorrows with his addiction to alcohol.
We see significant turn around in old Bills character significantly in the verses of ‘Old Bills Long Walk’ and ‘Near’. Through these verses we see the change in old bills way as when he walks past a bar he fights the urge to walk in and drink away his problems. ‘I kept walking.. hand shaking’ shows the significance of the act. As well as in ‘Near’ we see the ability for Old Bill to finally let someone in as well as feel a sense of respect towards someone else “When I saw him I felt something I hadn’t felt in many years. I felt pride”.
The biggest of change and growth would be in the verse of ‘Tremor’ in which represents the significant relationship he has with Billy as “we shake, and my hand in his stops trembling for a moment” this quote signifies the vital role Billy has played in the rehabilitation of Old Bill. Caitlin’s offers a contrast of gender and outlook to the male protagonists in the text. She plays a vital role in representing the ‘other’ society in which Old Bill and Billy are avoiding. Herrick writes in Caitlin’s perspective, using it to juxtapose different social relationships and ways of coping.
Her character is spoiled by her parents, buying her “anything I want” but she is dismissive of their wealth and at times is suggestive that “Dad is too rich for his own good”. The significant growth in Caitlin’s character would be the final change in her attitude towards ‘Bogans’ as she finally realised the importance of character and not material wealth. This is significant through the verse of “Saturday Dinner’ where Caitlin invites Billy and Old Bill over for dinner accepting both and loving with all her heart.