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Where the Crawdads Sing

Where the Crawdads Sing

By Delia Owens, advocated by Sydney Austin


 
Introduction

I was first introduced to Della Owens and the novel Where the Crawdads Sing while engaging in my Sunday ritual of watching CBS’s Sunday Morning. This particular morning, they featured an interview with Della Owens and discussed her recent bestseller. My interest was piqued.

The story follows the life of a young girl Kya and crisscross’s her life course. We learn about resiliency and survival, but also alienation. The reader is drawn into her hardships as a young abandoned girl left in the hands of an abusive drunken father in the marshlands of North Carolina.

Kya learns to navigate the world on her own. The story then focuses on her status as an outcast and sense of abandonment as she is forced to fend for herself; she turns to nature and her surrounding habitat. I, as a Nature enthusiast, enjoyed Kya’s love of the natural environment around her and how she found comfort and solace. This is conveyed through detailed descriptions of the plants and animals and her special relationship with the birds. As she heads into her teenage years, the romantic storylines begins with new found emotions, and the real internal struggles begin.

Kya’s story has elements of mystery, romance, unrequited love and even a murder that results in a courtroom thriller. The reader is fully engaged and drawn into the story and silently roots for Kya and a happy ending.

Plot summary

The story begins with an innocent seven-year-old Catherine “Kya” Clark who lives in a shack in the swamp with her mother, father, and siblings. One by one, her mother and siblings abandon Kya and leave her with her drunken and abusive father. She does not understand why her family has left her and Pa. She clings to the hope that one day they will return.

Being alone with her father, Kya learns how to fish and survive in the marshland.

A letter arrives from her mother and in a rage, Pa burns the letter and destroys most of all of her mother’s possessions. Kya’s father begins drinking again and frequently goes missing for days on end. One day, he never returns and Kya is once more alone. Kya is a bright girl and relies on her memories about gardening and digs for fresh mussels and smokes fish and trades them for money and gas at the marina. The owners, Jumpin and Mable, become her surrogate family.

Kya at 14, meets Tate Walker who has her passion for the marshland and swamp. They develop a friendship. Tate, who is four years older, teaches her how to read and write. The bond between the two young adults grows and they fall in love. Tate soon leaves for college, promising to return and Kya, who is left alone. But due to circumstances, Tate doesn’t return. This time, she is abandoned and heart-broken.  

When Kya is 19 years old, she is attracted to a young local boy, Chase Andrews. Chase begins visiting her often. Chase says that he loves her and is eager to have sex with her. Kya refuses at first, but after about a year, she consents to sex.

Tate returns after graduation to Barkley Cove in order to perform scientific research on the marshland. Tate sees that Kya has performed much of her own research on the marshland. He urges Kya to submit her work to publishers. Kya submits her research to publishers, and a book of her research is published under her real name but no one is aware of this. Tate also warns Kya about Chase. Kya discovers that Chase has become engaged to someone else. She is heartbroken and once again abandoned. Kya’s brother, Jodie, reconnects with Kya who encourages her to give Tate another chance.

Chase’s body is found at the bottom of a fire watchtower where Chase and Kya would meet. Kya is now a prime suspect. The sheriff investigates and arrests Kya. However, the evidence is very circumstantial, and Kya is acquitted.

She and Tate live together in the swamp. Kya continues her career as a naturalist, and Tate continues his career as a researcher. Kya dies at age 64, after which Tate finds evidence that seems to prove that Kya killed Chase. He disposes of the evidence so that no one will ever find it.

Character analysis

The book has three main characters that form the basis for the plot and storytelling.

The main character is “Kya” Catherine Danielle Clark. We learn early in the novel that above all else Kya is a survivor. She is intelligent, resilient and creative. Kya is also a keen observer of her beloved marsh and from it she learns that the instinct to survive governs the natural world. She also comes to the realization that the marsh is her home but she needs more as it is not enough to satisfy her physical and emotional needs as she matures. This forces her to observe from a far but eventually to reach out for human contact. This leads to the second main character Tate Walker.

Tate is a friend of Kya’s brother Jodie. He is a kind, caring individual who takes an interest in the young girl. Tate slowly befriends Kya and gains her trust. He realizes that she has a bright mind and mentors her, teaching her to read and also encourages her interest in science and the eco system of the marsh. Their relationship becomes romantic but ends when Tate leaves to go off to college with a promise to return to Kya. Time passes and Tate does not return and Kya is on her own again. She is once again abandoned by the one she loves.  This leads to entrance of the third main character Chase Andrews.

Chase is the son of the owners of one of the main businesses in town and one of its most prominent families.  He is also a celebrity of sorts among the town and his peers having been the star quarterback in High School. Chase is spoiled and is used to getting what he wants. Kya has blossomed in to a beautiful young woman and eventually catches the eye of Chase and a new conquest. He pursues Kya and wins her affection. He talks of marriage but never introduces her to his parents or is seen with her in town. Kya learns that despite his professions of marriage Chase announces his engagement to another woman who keeps his ego and status in tact with the town and friends. Kya breaks off her relationship with Chase.  Being used to having what he wants Chase continues to long for Kya and tries to force himself on her, Kya escapes. Chase is found dead weeks later and Kya becomes the main suspect in his murder.

Theme analysis

Various themes are weaved into the fabric of telling the story of Kya’s life. At an early age Kya deals with abandonment and as she learns the art of survival. This results in her becoming creative and self-sufficient. Kya begins to not only survive but thrives in this new found world.

During this process she also becomes more aware of the environment around her and the prejudice with in it. Seclusion, loneliness and social isolation is the defense mechanism she develops to cope with the circumstances surrounding her and the ostracization she has been exposed to by the town and her peer group.

She becomes fearlessly independent, and leads her to be distrustful of others even if they want to help. This is demonstrated in her distrust of Tate as he tries to help her early in their relationship and offers to teach her how to read and encourages her to continue with her art and the studying and observation of the marsh.

However, as time progresses, Tate’s kindness, encouragement and sincerity win Kya over and she can’t help but develop feelings for him. This shows the reader that no matter how independent human beings become they have emotional needs and a need to belong. Once again the author ensures that Kya is abandoned again as Tate leaves for College and does not keep his promise to return.

The writer once again, is touching on the themes of trust and abandonment. Kya then reverts back to survival mode, seclusion and isolation. The author than revives the emotional need and the need to belong with the introduction of Chase Andrews. In this portion of the story the writer inserts a new theme, of not only trust but betrayal. This leads the story in a new direction which ultimately takes us back to survival and finally to the restoring of trust. Kya finally finds happiness and a sense of belonging.

Relevance

The relevance of Where the Crawdads Sing compared to our current situation today is quite clear.

The main character deals with many key issues in her life. However, the two main ones are abandonment (isolation) and survival. Kya must physically and emotionally overcome both of these to not only continue living but in actuality she thrives. It is an affirmation of the human spirit and our ability to overcome adversity.

We today as a society have been forced to isolate due to the Pandemic. We may feel some abandonment and we all surely miss the many social aspects of our lives. But, just like Kya we have endured, we have adapted, we have thrived and many of us have found solace in our natural environments and have once again embraced nature.

The other subliminal themes in the book that can also be found in our current situation are one of prejudice and ostracization as experienced by the main character and Mabel and Jumpin. The author does not deal with this directly but we bare witness of it in her writing and we see the differences in the way the characters are treated in society. Owen’s gives us some hints on how to overcome this seedy underbelly of our society by having some hero’s step forth to speak out against the injustice and try to right the wrong. The message that is given is that by not taking action you are complicit to the deed and are part of the problem. Overall, we learn that the human spirit can adapt and has a primal desire to survive.

Summary

Previously, I mentioned that I was first introduced to Della Owens and the novel Where the Crawdads Sing while engaging in my Sunday ritual of watching CBS’s Sunday Morning. This particular morning they featured an interview with Della and discussed her recent best seller and my interest was piqued. I don’t think the author had any particular audience or reader in mind when she was writing the book. My belief is that her muse just took her on a journey drawing on her own experiences and she ended up writing a novel that dealt with abandonment, survival, the lushness of nature and the environment around you. The story also covered coming of age, romance, and yes, a murder mystery. While we are at it, let’s have a happy ending, but wait, we will finish with a surprise revelation at the very end. 

I think this book is relevant to any age group and a reader who is looking to go on a journey of discovery. Owen’s covers many themes in her novel. She paints a beautiful picture of the natural habitat that encompasses the heroine’s home. She also deals with many human traits and emotions, but most of all she does not pass judgement. Owens allows the reader to decide for themselves what is right and wrong, what is good or evil, what love is and finally, what is just. I truly enjoyed the novel and would recommend it as a must read. 

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