Lucy Christopher

[In this criticism, L.P. analyses how natural images and metaphors define isolation , captivity, and Stockholm Syndrome in the character of Gemma.]

In the novel Stolen by Lucy Christopher, Gemma, a 17 year old British girl, writes a letter to her stalker and captor Ty, who abducted her and brought to the uncivilized Australian desert. Isolated from the any other human contact and surrounded by the dangerous beauty of the desert, Gemma gradually warms to her captor as she learns his story and survives in a dangerous environment. Gemma’s isolation and development of Stockholm Syndrome are reflected in the images and metaphors of her natural environment and the creatures that inhabit it.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Stockholm syndrome is defined as “The psychological tendency of a hostage to bond with, identify with, or sympathize with his or her captor”. In Gemma’s case, her attachment to her captor cummulates into a romantic attachment, despite her original vehement hatred. The syndrome is often described as a survival strategy involuntarily adopted by abuse victims. In the novel Stolen, the setting and environmental imagery contribute the themes of captivity and Gemma’s development of Stockholm Syndrome.

In the remote Australian desert, Gemma is isolated from everything but Ty and endless barren land. This is shown through the many images of the environment Ty has taken her to. When she first gains her strength after being stolen and views her surroundings for the first time, Gemma describes, "As far as I could see, there was nothing. There was only flat, continuous brown land leading out to the horizon. Sand and more sand, with tussocks of small scrubby bushes standing up like surprises and the occasional leaf-less tree. The land was dead and thirsty. I was in nowhere" (18).

Despite this destitute image, Gemma attempts an exhausted escape into the desert. As described, the desert contains nothing but sand and the intermittent plant. She is isolated and trapped. Any attempts to run into the “dead and thirsty” land only ended in Gemma incapacitating herself. The multitude of images such as this one serve to underline the loneliness and desolation of her capture. Gemma’s isolation from any person except Ty could be a contributing factor in her development of feelings for him.

Another natural aspect of the novel that contributes to the captivity themes is the metaphor of the camel. Ty takes Gemma with him when he ventures into the desert from their small house in order to catch a wild camel. Every instance of the camel’s journey can be connected to Gemma’s relationship with Ty. Ty captures the camel, just as he drugged Gemma and captured her. The camel is at first incredibly upset, like Gemma was, “ The camel’s moan had grown in volume and desperation. It sounded too loud to just be coming from her; it sounded like the whole desert was joining in. I wondered if anyone else had heard. The rest of the herd were just dots on the horizon again, almost impossible to see. She was still moving her body towards them” (139). As the camel yearns for its herd, she misses her friends and parents.
Then, the captured camel becomes more submissive and accepting. It resigns to being in a pen, and letting the humans pet it. This reflects how Gemma began to accept her situation and starts following Ty on his daily duties, asking him about his life story. Ty tries to train the camel to allow riders on its back, “You tried holding the rope against her back for longer each time. She evaded it easily. But sometimes she let it sit there, too”(153). Gemma responds in a similar manner to Ty’s endeavors for her attention. Her resolve to stay silent wavers as she remains isolated and learns more about him. For victims of abuse, Stockholm Syndrome can develop because the abused empathizes with the abuser’s life or feels sorry for them. Just as the camel accepts the training with the rope, Gemma begins to accept Ty’s history and conversation.

Finally, after the fatal snake bite and Ty chooses to bring Gemma to civilization and risk arrest in order to save her life, Gemma is finally freed from her captivity. Yet she remains attached to Ty and views him in a positive light. This occurrence is also represented in the camel. It is the camel that carries her dying body to the deserted car, and therefore civilization. The camel is released when they find the car, just as Gemma is released from Ty’s captivity. And as the camel’s mournful braying echoes into the desert as they drive away, Gemma yearns for Ty after he is taken into legal custody. Her emotions are tangled in the aftermath of the rescue, “That’s what I hated the most. The uncertainty of you. You’d kidnapped me, put my life in danger… but I loved you, too. Or I thought I did. None of it made sense” (289). While Gemma’s affection for Ty remains mostly silent, the camel’s sad moaning reveals the truth depth of her sorrow. And this need for her captor Ty can prove that Gemma developed Stockholm Syndrome.

L.P. 2014