Themes in Fiction #20 – Displacement

“The fish, even in the fisherman’s net, still carries the smell of the sea.” ~ Mourid Barghouti


For the final ‘Themes in Fiction’ post, we’re looking at the theme of displacement. A character taken out of their natural habitat, and placed somewhere they need their wits and talents about them in order to survive. It’s a common theme, as it instantly creates conflict. A character out of place is a character struggling to adjust in one way or another. It’s a character forced to show adaptability. And adaptability is a positive and likeable trait.


Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martina-game-of-thrones

Plenty of characters are fish out of water in Game of Thrones, but Arya is the one that comes to mind. Taken away from her beloved Winterfell, to a land where she’s expected to behave like a lady, Arya is resistant and struggling from the first few chapters. It’s one of the reasons she resonates so well as a character – we can’t help but like this feisty girl who’s so uncomfortable with the role society would prescribe her.

Later on in the series, Arya’s even further afield. She has to prove even more adaptable and cunning to survive Westeros (and beyond) once her family are taken away from her (in one way or another.) Valiantly trying to avoid spoilers here.

CopperPromise_visualThe Copper Promise by Jen Williams

The initial chapter of this novel introduces us to Lord Aaron Frith, who’s in the process of being tortured for the location of his family’s vault. The story proper starts some time later with Frith trying to get back at those who’ve displaced him from his home, killing his family and taking his lands. He’s consumed by the need to get back what is rightfully his.

But like many displaced characters, Frith eventually comes to learn that the adventure is as enjoyable as the end result, and actually he might like it here outside of his castle a little bit more than he liked it inside. Displacement forces a character to grow, and sometimes they are changed so much by the time they arrive back at the place they left, or were forced from, that they no longer fit into the gap waiting for them.

Pyjamas_060103092851541_wideweb__300x439Displacement in Common

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

One of the (many) clever things about The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is the fact that Bruno and Shmuel are both displaced from their regular settings. Bruno has it infinitely better than Shmuel, but still, we can’t help but empathise with this poor boy who’s been ripped from his beloved family home and taken into the middle of nowhere. It’s a childhood feeling that many of us remember, and remember disliking. He’s on the least empathy-inducing side in any war ever, but he’s just a kid, and he misses his friends. The fact that he bonds with Shmuel over this serves to highlight exactly how desperate things are for Shmuel. Bruno, in his own innocence and narrow worldview, can’t see that Shmuel is suffering. He sees someone who’s been treated badly, just as Bruno perceives that he has been, and therefore a potential ally. It’s a heartbreaking and brilliant book, and if you haven’t read it, you really, really should.

And that’s it for Themes in Fiction. Stay tuned for a brand new series (when I’ve thought of something to write about) that may or may not be book related!



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