Growing up can be scary, because you all of a sudden are on your own. You ought to be able to reminisce at times to seek comfort and fall back on when times were easier. Therefore the transition from being a child to becoming a grown-up can be rather difficult and confusing, and some people have a hard time letting go of the past. The short story Owl by Jackie Kay written in 2012 is about these aspects of a midlife crisis.
After recently divorcing her husband, the protagonist of the story, Anita, finds herself in a dreary mood with only her best friend, Marion, to comfort her. The two have known each other since they were children and they are still very close. They commemorate when they were just 9 and 10 years old, when they were on a yearly holiday together, which was arranged by the girls’ families. During that particular holiday, an Owl fascinated Anita and Marion, and since then, they have called each other Barn and Tawny, respectively. The story starts with an extensive flashback to the holiday, and is then launched into the story’s present through the word “rat”. During the flashback, the rat is mentioned when Anita and Marion tell a classmate about the owl and what they fed it. This leads to the conversation between Anita and Marion 40 years later: “”If you’d known that he was such a rat, would you have wasted these years?” That was the question Tawn was asking me now. ”This is what old friends do at our age,” Tawn said wryly. “They start going back over their years.””
The story is told from Anita’s point of view and you only hear Anita’s thoughts and feelings, which therefore makes the narrator of the story a limited 1st person narrator: ”I’d already imagined quite a glory and glorious and gut-wrenching scene where our big barn owl gobbles a wild rabbit whole, and it’d hurt me to visualize it so vividly.” This point of view also contributes to sympathizing with Anita, as the reader then is forced to base his opinions on Anita’s conception of her and Marion’s outlook on life.
In Anita’s retrospect of her and Marion’s yearly holidays, she refers to themselves as sounding like Starsky and Hutch or Eric and Ernie. The two first mentioned are a pair of fictional detectives from a TV show of the same name, which was on air in the 1970’s. The latter two is a reference to Morecambe and Wise, who were British comedians that appeared in radio, television and films between the 1940’s and the 1980’s. Mentioning these two famous pairs is an example of intertextuality; a commonly used device within the postmodern genre. In this instance, referring to these two well-known duos helps create a better understanding of the two protagonists’ relationship. This of course requires the reader to have some knowledge regarding popular culture, as he is to be aware of whom the ones referred to are.
As earlier mentioned, Anita and Marion finds an owl, which the short story is also named after, and the symbolic meaning of an owl is freedom and transition. This refers to the fact that Anita and Merion call themselves owls, and their difficult transition from being children to being grown-ups. “Because I’m an owl. You are too.”
Obviously there is a large contrast between the two time periods in the story, and a recurring contrast throughout Owl is the one between childhood and adulthood. This contrast is evident in the situation, where Anita is reminiscing about the more manageable times without worries, forty years from when the story actually takes place. At this point of time, both Anita and Marion are unsatisfied with their current situation in life and just want to start over, which they jokingly talk about: ”They say that life begins at forty anyhow!” I said gamely. ”Well, that makes you only ten,” Tawn said laughing. ”And it makes me nine,” she said. ”And there was me waiting to feel grown-up, middle-aged. I still feel like a girl.”
From there, the two talk about wanting to go back and redefine their lives, as they – especially Anita – regret having ended up where they are now. Times are quite difficult and confusing, because Anita is leaving her husband and she is moving out of her house as well, and by leaving her husband and home, she loses two very important fixture points in life. Besides that the two women have reached an age, where a lot of women in general experience a midlife crisis. Therefore Anita feels the need to go back to feel secure again, which she did, when she was 9 years old with her friend Marion. This can be seen in the quotation above where Anita says that she still feels like a girl, which can be interpreted as she is frightened by the thought of being a middle-aged independent woman with responsibilities. Furthermore, Anita and Marion consequently call each other by their nicknames and this is also a sign of them being stuck in the past: “We must face what we saw and what we did about what we saw. And maybe after that we could go back to our names. To calling ourselves our real names.”
What they saw was their parents kissing each other, which must be a confusing and traumatizing thing to see at that age: “”Once I saw my mum kiss your dad.” ”Once I saw my dad kiss your mum.”” (95) Yet, in the end of the story, they are able to liberate themselves from their childhood and begin their new lives by letting be the past be the past and moving on: “”We don’t need to. We don’t need to do it. If we don’t want to talk about it, we don’t have to. Our life has just begun. This is the new one we’re in.””
This is substantiated by the situation with the heron, which they see during a walk. It spreads its wings and flies; just like Anita and Marion are going to spread their wings and begin their new lives: ““Remember you’re only ten. And you do still have wings. You’re going to need them any time soon.””
This leads to the message of the story, which is to let go of the past and not letting your age be an obstacle, but instead be positive minded and embrace your opportunities.
To conclude this essay it can be said that fixture points are very important to have in your life, but at the same time you should not get completely caught in the past as an attempt to feel secure rather than facing your problems and moving on. This is possible to do at any point in your life and age should therefore not drag you back.
 Kay, Jackie. (2012). Page 2, line 63-66.
 Kay, Jackie. (2012). Page 2, line 55-57.
 Kay, Jackie. (2012). Page 3, line 111.
 Meaning of the Owl. (2005). I: What’s your sign.
 Kay, Jackie. (2012). Page 3, line 78-81.
 Kay, Jackie. (2012). Page 5, line 134-136.
 Kay, Jackie. (2012). Page 3, line 96-97.
 Kay, Jackie. (2012). Page 5, line 147-149.
 Kay, Jackie. (2012). Page 6, line 163-164.