In the story “The Water was Dark and it went Forever Down”, the main character, who is identified as a fourteen year old girl, has lost her father and has a difficult relationship with her alcoholic, reclusive mother. The “winning is all” mentality is shown through the young girl’s belief in the web of life – “The sick and the weak died and the young and the strong lived and thrived”. The girl is a courageous figure who forms her own principles and lives by them. She is independent and not reliant on anyone else. Her strength is distinguished through her decision that she must leave her mother in order to survive. The story ends with the girl swimming through the channel. The ambiguity of the ending undermines the simplicity of the girl’s sense that being “young and strong and perfect” is all that matters in life.
Rachel Nilsam’s character in “The Strong One” also endorses the idea of surviving and winning. From “Forest Winter” we are told that “having a baby had muted her”. In this story she decides to take charge and to study social work at university. Rachel later loses weight and starts to take charge of her life again – “She had survived something to become Rachel again. No; she knew she was more”.
Rachel is simply not satisfied with living in a “sagging, rented van” but instead she wants more. She’s “had enough of this kind of living” and accuses Jerra of holding her back by his nostalgic nature. For Rachel, winning means asserting one’s own desires. She doesn’t want to be dependent on Jerra so she takes the initiative of going to university to study. Rachel’s determination is a perfect example of surviving and winning – “In her ocean of new feeling she knew she had to be the strong one”. The family is just surviving at this point but she wants more for them, she wants the best and she wants to come out on top.
Queenie Cookson is another character who shows her inner strength and overcomes hurdles, not only live to tell the tale but to win. The story “Laps” starts with her beginning to swim again, after seven years, to “shrug of defeat”. We are told that she “had come from her home town a loser, an outcast” and that she had” left behind a grave and a crusade and a well of bitterness”. Queenie and her husband Cleve had left Angelus, the town she grew up in, after their protests about the whaling had led to them being “screwed”. Queenie feels that the years they have had together have healed old scars and decides she is ready to return. This is a sign of her determination and courage.
Not all of the characters in “Minimum of Two” show signs of inner strength and courage. Jerra is a character who isn’t surviving and certainly isn’t winning. As the male in the family, he should be supporting them but his efforts aren’t enough to keep them afloat. Jerra is trapped in the past and is tentative about the future – “Jerra seemed to bear weight form the past as though they were treasures he had to take with him”. We are shown another side of Jerra through Winton’s sympathetic portrayal of him. The reader sees that although he is not succeeding, he is gutsy, determined and courageous. In “Forest Winter”, there is a sign of hope as Jerra realizes that life must go on and he must keep persisting – “He sharpened the teeth of the chainsaw and prepared to go out into the day”.
Certainly Tim Winton’s most admirable characters are those who “just go”, those who have energy and a love of life; the nameless girl in “The Water Was Dark and it Went Forever Down”, Queenie Cookson and Rachel Nilsam. They have the potential to achieve their aims. However, a drifter and dreamer such as Jerra and the manic Madigan, who can only “win” by enacting brutal revenge, are doomed to failure.