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guide complements the study of the novel Max
by Michael Hyde, for Years 9-12. Max explores
the issue of teenage suicide against a backdrop
of graffiti and kayaking, and considers the themes
of risk taking, family support, role models, spirituality,
love, and adult authority. The guide offers a
selection of activities to help students form
an under-standing of the issues and themes of
the novel. It is divided into ten sections and
concludes with a list of essay topics.
Max's world is thrown
into chaos when he learns that his best friend Lou has committed suicide.
This is reflected in the following quotes:
were mates, Lou. You're supposed to talk to y'mates,
you know. Not pretend that everything's OK - she'll
be jake, mate. Why the hell . . . What the hell were
you doing?! Saying nothing. Did you say anything? Did
you say something I missed?' (p. 22)
However in the last
chapter the image of Max is quite different.
black and red
snakes with white paint daubed along their bodies, heads reared back,
ready to strike into a tangle of words. Along the bottom the Big Dipper
spewed from a decaying head. (p. 19)
stands in his kayak. Legs balanced, arms outstretched, he floats his
way down the river . . .
The critical question
about this novel is:
Max breathes in and feels
Lou all around him. (p. 173-174)
How did Max get
from one point to the other?
How did he change
from the angry, confused, sad and alienated youth at the beginning of
the novel, to the (almost) calm, balanced and focused human being of the
Max unwittingly gets
himself entangled in a number of dramatic and dangerous situations between
the time of Lou's death, and the final image of Max floating peacefully
down the river in his kayak. These include:
was in a whirl.' (p. 85)
These actions seem
to be part of an irresponsible and misguided response to the fact of Lou's
suicide. At the same time, they seem to be necessary for Max's healing.
the final piece and then being chased by the police on the bridge.
through the tunnel, cutting his head and nearly drowning. (Chapter
the graffiti at his school. (Chapters 12-13)
over the falls and being saved by Nick. (Chapters 17-18)
caught in the storm while paddling in the inlet at Browns Beach. (Chapter
will you promise me something?' . . .
'That you'll stop doing this
stuff? I don't understand it. Well I kind of do but not really. All
I know is that it is killing you. It's killing me too, and I bet it's
killing your dad.' - Mai (p. 134)
my young friend, and try to stay away from the life-threatening situations.
They kill you in the end no matter who is keeping an eye out for you.'
- Nick (p. 138)
Sketch each scene (it doesn't matter if
you can't draw very well) and then explain how each contributes
to Max's recovery.
up a pillow and hugged it to his face. He heard his door open again,
knew it was his father and said, 'I'm alright.'
Another very important
factor in Max's life in the weeks and months following Lou's death is
the support he receives from other people.
'OK, mate just checking.' (p.
Describe the support Max receives from people such as Dave (his
father) Woody, Mai, Nick, Janet Turner (his teacher), and Meg
b) Then contrast Max's situation with
Lou's, in particular Lou's family life. (Chapters 5 and 16)
c) Is this significant?
was nearly everything to Max. (p. 35)
Paddling had been
in his veins since birth. Before Max's parents split up, they took him
on short trips, long trips and even a camping trip, once on the Glenelg.
That came close to paddling. The sweeping colours, the arching spray,
tags, and bombing trains gave Max a rush he'd never known. (p. 36)
of Max in canoes spilled out of every album they had. But when Woody
came along, the trips stopped. Nobody was sure why. (p. 36)
Max's love for both
paddling and graffiti is intense, almost spiritual. His passion for both
these things is crucial to him coming to term with Lou's death. Think
of him paddling with Mai, or just going to visit Nick. And think of his
determination to complete the piece he had started with Lou, his piece
at the school, and finally his piece on the wall of Sam's fruit shop in
Brown's Beach. We understand that paddling and graffiti are the things
that Max lives for.
But Max kept
on paddling and Dave gave him his own kayak when he turned thirteen.
Give a talk about an interest you have
that is as important to you
as paddling and graffiti are to Max.
what it is, and where and when you do it.
how it makes you feel.
an important story regarding this interest.
your hopes for the future.
and bring in some photographs (or video footage).
Lou's essay again before you begin - 'Something burns within
me'. (pp. 125-126)
a monk once. He told me that all life was an illusion and that the only
thing that kept him glued together was contemplating his own death.
It was the only definite thing in his whole life . . . Ah, but I don't
know. It is a strange thing to do. To give up your life voluntarily.'
Lou commits suicide.
This action confuses Max. At first Max is angry with Lou for not confiding
in him, then he starts to question the significance of life. His behaviour
becomes erratic and then reckless, as he searches for a reason not to
commit the same act as his friend.
tired of the whirlpool of confusion and anger that beset him. (p. 131)
the claws of death on his back, piercing his flesh. (p. 132)
The confusion in Max's
mind is reflected in the quote from the Ancient Greek playwright Euripides.
'I wish I hadn't
been saved. I wish I was still floating face down.' (p. 136)
knoweth if to die
Some may argue that
this quote romanticises the act of suicide. Max's father, Dave, is certainly
more forthright in his response to this issue.
Be but to live . . .
And that called life
Be but death?
tell you that what Lou did was stupid?' (p. 75)
is not an uncommon act, particularly in this country, and particularly
amongst the young. Peter Ellingsen, 'Don't Call Us a Generation' (The
Age - Saturday Extra; 6/5/00; pp. 1, 4-5) attempts to explain some of
the contributing factors.
be careful, OK? One death around the place is enough for a while.
I don't want my own son's death added to the list.' (p. 92)
they suggest, promote a superficial, materialistic, self-centred lifestyle
that may be more dangerous than violence on TV. It is likely to leave
the young particularly those from broken homes, with a culture of "delusion
and meaninglessness". Social commentator Hugh Mackay talks of a "negative,
even nihilistic" mood. Australia appears to be the only nation in the
world where suicide peaks among under-30s.
This is the dark side of the
youth story. Suicide among 19- to 24-year-olds hit 446 in 1998, the
fifth highest in the world, and an increase of 300 per cent since the
boomer days, 30 years back. The experts blame divorce, high unemployment
and family break-up - all exacerbated by the widening wealth divide.
An estimated 800,000 children
are now reared in homes with no breadwinner. Gavin Duffy, from the Victorian
Council of Social Service, worries that the Federal Government focuses
on "the traditional family", when among the worst off are single-parent
families, which account for some 15 per cent.
Young people are now more likely
to be mentally disturbed and depressed, an Australian Institute of Health
and Welfare report says. It estimates that 22 per cent are overweight
or obese, and that 20 per cent of young men and 10 per cent of young
women are dependent on drugs or alcohol, or use them to harmful levels.
Those without family support are hardest hit. More than half the 17-
to 18-year-olds leaving residential care contemplate suicide. A third
have attempted it. They are more likely to be out of work, and the girls
are more likely to end up teenage mothers.
had the chance to talk to Lou in the days before his death, what
advice would you give him? Write down what you would say to Lou
in this context.
cop was gaining on him again. Max could feel fear pulling at his legs,
weighing his body down. He faltered, turned and flung the rock in Fatman's
direction. (p. 26)
is a particularly ugly character.
open your fuckin' mouth or say anything to anybody or your life won't
be worth living.' (p. 81)
For Max, this character
represents the worst element of the adult world, the cruel and sadistic
'I'll get you,
no matter how many stories you come up with and you know why? Because
I don't give a shit about legalities when it comes to punks like you."
Then he added, "And I don't give a shit about how many weak-as-piss
friends of yours go and neck themselves, either.' (p. 81)
a fair representation of the police? Is it a fair representation
of adult authority in general? Discuss.
the full moon. A few of us always celebrate it.' (p. 149)
There is a curious
scene in Chapter 20 where Max attends a ceremony to celebrate the full
moon. While Max is seemingly condescending of the gather-ing's purpose,
the strange affair seems to have an uplifting effect on him.
Furthermore, there are several
aspects of this scene that relate in some way to Max's internal world:
Bob, the hapless alcoholic; the woman singing opera; the man with a tattoo
of an eagle on his shoulder; the young woman dancing naked; Meg, Heather
and co; and the man shaping auras.
the scene of 'the moon party' in the context of the novel as a
(Max is particularly interested in Bob.
Perhaps Max can see similarities between Bob and Nick, men who
are seemingly alone, and appear to have suffered significant pain
at some point in their lives. Max learns that Bob's situation
deteriorated when Bob's father died, even though he hardly knew
him, and "That before he got like this he was . . . nice." This
reminds us of what Max is going through with the death of Lou.
That Max's reaction to Lou's death could have lasting consequences;
that he could well end up broken and alone like Bob.)
In the novel
there are several places in Max's life where he can escape from
the stress of his life, where he feels more relaxed and content.
These include the Maramingo River, Nick's island, and the beaches,
rivers, and inlets around Brown's Beach. Write a descriptive piece
about a special place in your life.
his can in the air, he was Michelangelo in a grimy Sistine Chapel. (p.
Max and Lou shared
a love for graffiti; and Max clearly thinks that what he is doing is art,
not an act of vandalism. Max receives support for this idea from various
characters in the novel, most notably, Mai, his mother Meg, and Sam the
fruit shop owner.
However, not everyone approves
of the graffiti, clearly, the police don't show a great of respect for
it, neither does Mr Davidson the school principal, and even Max's father
Dave seems to have doubts about the value of Max's graffiti.
the laws in your state that relate graffiti. Then stage a court
drama where youths are on trial for committing acts of graffiti
vandalism. You will need a judge, defendants, lawyers for the
defence, lawyers for the prosecution, and witnesses.
Make a short
documentary film about the issue of graffiti.
A number of things happen in the novel that Max
finds difficult to explain. In literature and film these events are often
referred to as magic realism.
The first is the appearance of
the two lines of graffiti above the last piece that Lou and Max did together.
The police estimate that this graffiti is approximately five metres above
ground level. (Chapter 2)
have talked to me
The second is when
Max writes the graffiti at school, and the Da Vinci figure appears for
the first time. Max explains, "I didn't say I didn't do them. I'm just
saying I don't remember anything very clearly." (Chapter 13)
I'm supposed to be your friend
The third is when
Max is saved by Nick. For Max wonders how Nick knew that he was in trouble
(Chapters 17 and 18). Furthermore, there is something mysterious about
Nick himself, his disappearances, and his connection with the crow.
The tunnel waits for us all
It's me - Max.'
All of this seems
to come together in the last piece of graffiti that Max does in the novel,
the piece on the wall of Sam's fruit shop. (p.163)
A crow let out a single cry
and then all was silent. (p. 40)
He was like fog
that vanished in the first rays of sunshine. (p. 41)
'So the crow
is the spiritual bird for me.' (p. 117)
of cursive golden script coiled down the wall:
He likes to glide
but he knows sometimes
he has to flap
They know things
feet limped a smaller crow, swathed in bandages, and in the corner of
the piece stood Max's tag, the Da Vinci man. (pp. 163-164)
do you make of Max's final piece? Explain.
Make an advertising
poster for the novel, which highlights the important symbols and
images of the text.
men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Max's teacher, Janet
Turner, visits Max in hospital, and gives him a book of poetry by Dylan
Thomas. She specifically marks one poem for Max to read, 'Do not go gentle
into that good night'. This addresses one of the important themes in the
novel, as it implores the reader to fight against death - 'Rage, rage
against the dying of the light.' Later, Max thinks that Lou should have
read that poem.
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
a poem about the novel, or an aspect of the novel.
(For example, retell the basic plot;
focus on one important event; describe a particular character;
focus on an important theme; express something unsaid.)
Thomas' poem 'Do not go gentle into that good night', and draw
parallels between it and the novel.
stands in his kayak. Legs balanced, arms outstretched, he floats his
way down the river. The chill of winter slaps his cheeks, jogging his
memory. He remembers rats in dark tunnels, words on walls, railway bridges,
kisses, waterfalls, and black crows. He remembers being rescued by Nick.
At he end of the novel
we understand that Max is better, not completely, but he has definitely
started to heal, he has started to 'get rid of it'. This is evident in
the final image of Max in the Kayak. Here he is the physical embodiment
of the balanced and centred Da Vinci figure.
Max breathes in and feels Lou
all around him.' (pp. 173-174)
More evidence for this is the
way he fights to save himself when he is caught in the storm while kayaking
in the inlet. The way he keeps battling even when, 'His shoulders screamed
out to stop and give up, his body ached and his spirit began to tire.'
Still there are lots of things
- His relationship
with his father, 'he wonders why he hasn't told his father he loves
him the way he told Meg when she rescued him.' (p. 172)
- Defining his
relationship with Mai.
- Coming to terms
with the spiritual feelings that have emerged as a result of the soul
searching he has had to do.
- Resuming school.
- Predict what
will happen in the next six to twelve months of Max's life.
Max is able to cope with the death of his best friend, because
of the support he receives from family and friends. Discuss.
though Max raises important questions about suicide, in
the end it is a life-affirming novel. Discuss.
is impossible to overestimate the importance of spirituality
in the novel. Discuss.
Max cannot see past his own desperate situation, he is not
the only character in the novel confronted by difficulty. Discuss.