Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Arts and Humanities

First Advisor

Susan Ash

Second Advisor

Marcella Polain


This thesis argues that throughout her fictional work, Carmel Bird interrogates multiple forms of violence against the gendered and racialised other. Using Judith Butler’s theories of gender performativity and the discursive construction of race, the thesis shows how these constructions not only inform or incite violence against the other, but are inherently violent in themselves. To chart these multiple forms of violence, the thesis uses Slavoj Žižek’s delineation of a triumvirate of violence: symbolic, systemic and subjective violence. He describes subjective violence as the most visible, physical violence of an actor or actors against an other. He determines that this subjective violence is only one part of a trinity of violence that includes two forms of more insidious, invisible violence – symbolic and systemic violence. Žižek argues that the symbolic violence of language and discourse and the systemic violence of political, economic and social systems inform, incite and produce subjective violence. With recourse to Butler and Žižek, the thesis demonstrates this argument by examining how Bird uses intertextuality, landscapes of surface and depth, non-traditional narrative strategies, Gothicism and irony in the novels Cherry Ripe (1985), The Bluebird Café (1990), The White Garden (1995), Red Shoes (1998), Cape Grimm (2004), Child of the Twilight (2010) and Family Skeleton (2016) to expose the ways these multiple forms of violence intersect and inform one another.

Chapter One argues that Cherry Ripe uses intertextuality to show how the reiterative power of discourse enacts a symbolic violence by producing normative models of femininity. This symbolic violence, in turn, produces the systemic violence of female shame when women fail to adhere to those normative models. Chapter Two examines the construction of landscape in The Bluebird Café to argue that the novel interrogates the elision of the systemic and subjective violence against the convict and Aboriginal other in historical and cultural discourses. It additionally argues that this elision, alongside Australian discursive myth-making, constitutes an ongoing symbolic violence against the other. Chapter Three returns to the use of intertextuality in The White Garden. The novel’s invocation of an institutional scandal of abuse, hagiography and fairy-tales reveals the ways symbolic violence in these discourses inform the systemic and subjective violence against the female body and sexuality. Chapter Four examines the pre-occupation with narration and narrative strategy in Red Shoes to argue that narration and narrative control dictates who can speak and whose stories can be told. It particularly interrogates the ways narration enacts a symbolic violence by silencing the female voice and female stories. It goes on to demonstrate how these silences allow for systemic and subjective violence against women and children. Chapter Five focusses on the use of Gothic conventions and tropes in Cape Grimm to argue that the novel continues Bird’s concern with the elision of colonial, subjective violence against Aboriginal Australians and how that violence continues to haunt the present in the form of systemic violence against the indigenous population. It also argues that the construction of white belonging in Australia performs a symbolic violence in its attempts to shore up a sense of white indigeneity. Chapter Five explores Bird’s characteristic irony in Child of the Twilight to argue that the novel interrogates notions of origin, authenticity and faith to demonstrate the symbolic violence of human belief systems. The thesis concludes by examining the ways in which the symbolic, systemic and subjective violence invoked in these novels intersect with and inform the violence in Bird’s latest novel Family Skeleton.

Available for download on Tuesday, July 23, 2024