The Connection of Fire and Family: Warmth and Light to Destruction and Danger

In this essay L.H. analyses the transition from a warm and secure family to one of abuse and neglect in The Hiding Place by Trezza Azzopardi. The novel highlights the truths and lies a family must create to try and stay together.

In today’s society family is defined as a group of people closely related, caring, and supporting each other. In the novel The Hiding Place, this is not the way family is portrayed. Through symbols and misunderstood memories, Trezza Azzopardi shows how a family can go from one of love to one that’s destroyed. The main symbol being fire allows the reader to understand the process of a family being destroyed and its members being separated. The novel is broken up into two parts, one filled with memories by the youngest member of the family, and the other contains the truths and lies that really took place. Flashbacks occur through out the whole novel coming from the thoughts of a five year old, the youngest family member, and the way she views her family.

Part one of the novel introduces the reader to the main symbol of the book: Fire.

“A sudden suck of air and the fire becomes fury” (Azzopardi 31). The Gauci family was once a loving one with five young daughters, a mother, and a father, until the day the sixth child was born. Frank Gauci swore if the sixth child was a girl then bad luck would overcome their family. The sixth child born is a baby girl and he relates her to all the problems the family faces. Fire relates to the baby girl because she was a victim of its flames. She was left in the house when it caught on fire and was severely burnt at only one month of age. She grows up with a deformed left hand and considers it to be her “Bad Hand” but doesn’t understand why everyone is so afraid of it. She learns at the end of the novel that the person who was most afraid of her hand and her was her father. The fire in the beginning of the book is a symbol of the destruction that takes place in the family. When the last daughter is born, Frankie, the father, begins to destroy the family. When he receives the news of the birth he immediately gambles away the family business and much of the family’s savings.

Soon after the fire takes place money starts to disappear from the family. Frank begins to take the money and gambles it away on materialistic items. He gambles off a family heirloom and even his second child Marina. The gambling problem that the father has is another symbol of how the family gets destroyed. Savings for rent on their house, groceries, and many other important things disappears and eventually Frank himself disappears leaving his family to defend for themselves. The gambling problem that Frank possesses is an example of how people in our society will more then likely go for the materialistic items in life rather then the things that are of real important value. A family that was once full of love and strength begins to deteriorate because of a problem the father has.

“She contemplates the sink, the square table strewn with crusts of bread, the gas cooker with its beckoning oven: she could put her head in there.” (Azzopardi 25-26). Just like the fire destroyed the house and all the family’s belongings, the gambling problem Frank possesses cause the family to be destroyed. Mary, the mother of the six children contemplates suicide on many accounts in the novel. This represents the sadness, stress, and horrible emotions she’s always feeling because of her husband’s terrible addictions. She used to love her children and always want to be with them but towards the middle of the book she can hardly stand to be near them. That is one of the reasons Dolores the youngest daughter was burnt and almost killed. The family was going in so many different directions that no one was around to see the fire start and take care of the baby.

Fire is not only mentioned in the beginning of the novel but all through out. The third child of the family, Fran, has a very serious problem just like her father; she is a pyromaniac. She goes around the town setting fires to abandoned house and sees no shame in doing it. She has learned from watching her father that she can get away with anything just like he does by stealing from the family. Dolores, the youngest daughter and the bad luck charm sees hers sisters problem as just fun. In the beginning of the novel she thinks her sister’s problem is nothing more then sneaking behind her parents back and trying not to get caught. By the end of the novel Dolores realizes that Fran’s actions were a way of acting out and need for attention. Fran was taken away at a young age for her problem and the second child to leave the family, Marina being the first. The troubles the young daughter faces never gets recognized because the main attention was on the problems of the father. This resulted in her being the second child to disappear and only four kids remaining together.

A rabbit’s foot is something that symbolizes luck in our society but in The Hiding Place it means quite the opposite. “We loved the rabbits. But then they vanished too. My father killed every single one, for food, for sport, for no reason at all. They were currency, and he spent them all: apart from the ones I managed to destroy.” (Azzopardi 77).

The rabbits were given to the girls from their father; they thought this meant he loved them when really it was to show them how much he disliked them. He received pleasure out of the girls crying over their missing rabbits. The rabbits were a symbol of the constant let downs the young girls received. Something they thought they would take care of and hold on to would be taken away and killed by the man they soon learned to fear. Frank Gauci gives a rabbit’s foot to his daughter on her wedding day as a symbol of good luck, but then he disappears and leaves his family forever. The irony is rabbit’s foot was never intended to be for good luck but to say goodbye to a family and leave them stranded.

The Hiding Place is made up of flashbacks and memories told by Dolores the youngest daughter. Through these memories Dolores realizes the things she believed happened, never did. Once she grows up she learns that she never killed the rabbits with her father but the mother rabbit killed her own young. When she was younger she believed the rabbits must have been bad luck and that is why her father killed them, she eventually learns that he thought she was the bad luck and took his anger out on the rabbits instead. All these misunderstood memories represent the lies the young girls lived through. Dolores grew up living a life of sadness and lies because her older sisters tried to protect her from what was really happening, her family being destroyed. She was the deformed younger sister who they tried to protect and help when really they lead her through a life of complete lies.

Fran had a tattoo and Dolores wanted one as well. Luca takes it upon herself to give her one with a knife from the kitchen drawer when no one is home. Dolores believes the tattoo is just so she can look like her sister; it was really intended so she would never forget her sisters. Luca knew that one day they would all be separated and never find each other again so she permanently scared her baby sister hoping that she would never forget them. Soon enough the sisters were all separated but Dolores was able to recognize her older sister many years down the road by the matching tattoos she had on her arms.

Fire is something that is indented to provide light, warmth, and a sense of survival. A shift in the wind and it can become dangerous, life threatening, and harmful to many. Just like fire the Gauci family went from being happy and full of light to something that fell apart and no longer existed, hurting everyone who was involved. Frank Gauci hurts most of his family members both physically and mentally by never being around and eventually disappearing forever. This novel is a good example of how a family can be destroyed by just one member being greedy.

Trezza Azzopardi’s novel, The Hiding Place, is a gut wrenching novel of the destruction of a family through the eyes of the youngest daughter. It reveals secrets, lies, and information about a family that used to get along and live happily.

(LH 2009)

Trezza Azzopardi: Remember Me

The Search for One’s True Identity

(In this essay L.H. will analyze how a person goes about searching for their true identity through memories, the guidance of loved ones, and through the disapproval of strangers)

“I was just anybody, nobody” (Azzopardi 244).

The search for ones identity is not something that is easily over come. There are many people who believe they are one person and then a few months if not years later they come to realize they are not that person at all. In the novel Remember Me an elderly woman goes through a short period of her life reliving memories from her confusing past. She learns that she does not have a full understanding of the person that she is and or what her real name is. She also questions the memories she has and wonders how her life has slipped away without her caring to stop it. Through a series of flashbacks, Winifred, relives her passed and finally understands who she really is.

“You are Lillian aren’t you?
It’s a trick question, I thought. Then I thought, Maybe I am a Lillian? And ran down to ask my father. I’m always getting stuck with my name, but Lillian at that moment sounded important, and the way he said it, the grey- faced man, made it more familiar than my other name, which my father always calls me by.” (Azzopardi 16). As Winifred looks back on her past the first memory she has is of meeting her grandfather and of him suggesting a different name then the one she is called by her father. Her father was a man who she always believed and loved but now she understands the lies that he often told. Her name was in fact Lillian, she was baptized with this name but because her father did not like her grandfather he called her Pasty instead. The way she remembers her father is by his blue suit; a blue business suit that represents a lying business man that will do anything to anger his father in law. Patsy then gets sent away from her lying father to her grandfather’s house to live with him because her father does not feel fit to raise his daughter any longer.

Things I Must Remember’” has my new name on it, Lillian Price, and my age, and my new address: 9 Chapelfield.” (Azzopardi 48). Once the main character moves to her grandfathers how she begins to understand who she is. She is a young girl who nobody loves and a chore for people to take care of. He sets out a list of rules that she must follow, none of which allow her to act her age. Her grandfather ignores her and allows for his house keeper to take care of her. The question of identity is already rising in Lillian’s head because now she has to live in a new society, leaving the old one forever behind her, and with a brand new name. Years down the road the only way that she can remember her cold grandfather is by the stench of pipe smoke. Lillian’s grandfather led her to believe that nobody wanted her and she was a mistake.

“I have been called Lillian and Patricia and Patsy. Mr. Stadnik called me none of these. He called me Princess” (Azzopardi 112). Mr. Stadnik was Princess’s grandfather’s house keeper. He related to the young girl because he, like her, did not have a family that wanted him or cared for him. He ended up with his job out of luck and that’s how he met Princess. He cared for her and gave her a sense of comfort and security. When she looks back on the memories of Mr. Stadnik she feels safe and wishes she could have stayed with him. When the narrator is forced to dig up her past she realizes that she has let it slip away. Mr. Stadnik was a great man who helped her to feel needed and loved and she allowed herself to forget him as well as many other memories of her life. This leads her to questioning once she is in her mid seventies as to who she is and where her life has gone. By the time she was a teenager she was left feeling alone in the world and already having three different names, none of which defined her as a person.

Looking back on a memory Princess remembers the one person she ever loved. “And how that it doesn’t drive you mad, then the other person you see for years on end turns out to be the most lovely-looking creature you’ve ever set eyes on, and what’s more, he thinks you’re lovely too. He calls you Beauty.” (Azzopardi 146). Joseph was a young man who made Beauty feel special and gave her a reason to want to keep living. There was a point in her life where she wished she did not live because it became clear to her that no one wanted her. Just as people today who feel they are not needed and have no reason to live for, she attempted suicide. All terrible thoughts had left her mind though when she had met Joseph. He loved her and she loved him. They were going to spend their lives together until the day he was forced to leave, as well as Beauty. She again was off to try and find another home. Joseph provided hope for her and her life. Looking back on her memories she realizes that she should not have allowed her self to forget the many things he taught her. The way she remember him is a feather. The feather is a symbol of the hope and freeness he provided for her. He always told her to fly freely like a bird and had she not allowed herself to forget this, her life may have turned out differently.

The final name and identity that the main character remembers is Winifred Foy. This was the last and final time that she would be called something different and attempted living a different life style. After this attempt things would go downhill. “You are a Godsend.” (Azzopardi 135). Like many people in this world Winifred was used. Looking back on her life she remembers a gift she used to have, she could talk to spirits. The Foy Family found Winifred when she was again trying to commit suicide. They helped her overcome the thoughts of taking her own life and helped her to recover into a healthy young girl again. They seemed as if they would help her get her life on track when really they were using her talent to gain money. Once she realized what they were doing she snuck away and tried to start over. Yet another time in her life she was left confused. By this point in her life she had been called Patsy, Patricia, Lillian, Princess, Beauty, and now Winifred.

Winifred was the name she stuck with for the rest of her seemingly long life. Because she allowed herself to forget everything she lived through, when she was forced to remember she was more confused then ever.

One of the main symbols in the novel was the spirits that Winifred saw. They were usually of other peoples lost loved ones and meant nothing to her until the day all her old friends came to her. Looking back and remembering she remembers certain people that caused her pain and some that created love in her life. She sees the ghost of her Aunt whom she does not wish to talk with, and she sees her father who is dancing with her sick mother. There was a smile on her father’s face which gave her the feeling of when she was very young, comfort. She also saw Mr. Stadnik who gave her that comfort of safety once again and the Joseph who allowed her to feel warm and loved. After the constant search for who she was, Winifred realizes that she had people who cared for her and others who just weren’t important.

One of the spirits gave this older woman the strength to keep living he said to her, “We Live in Hope” (Azzopardi 262). This was one of the main lines in the novel because it shows that after a life of not knowing who you are or what purpose you are meant to serve, there is always a chance you will find your way. Winifred did not realize her life that she allowed to slip away was still with her in memory. She thought that she had lost it all but then finds it again many years later. This novel proves that even if there is a constant struggle to learn who you are, a look into the past can help you find your way.

Winifred realizes that she like many other people are on this earth for a reason and after remembering her past she allows herself to keep living. She accepts the fact that there are some people out there who mean only harm and other who can guide your through the rough times. The spirits that come to her allow her to learn who she really is.

The constant struggle of identity can be solved by simply looking back on your life like Winifred did. There is no harm in remembering like she believed there was, and in most cases it will allow you to learn a few things about yourself. Everyone struggles with trying to figure out who they are but in the novel Remember Me it becomes clear that everyone is here for a reason and has a purpose.

(LH 2009)