Major themes

Winton's novel is very much an exploration and celebration of life and what it means, albeit from a very particular point of view. Every character undergoes a personal journey, some longer, harder and more greatly resisted than others, though a feature of all the characters' journeys is the realisation of the importance of family and belonging within it. It illustrates a relationship between family and identity, in which an individual's role within their family is considered to be of paramount importance. Spirituality is also important in Cloudstreet, as an exploration of both community and the search for meaning. There are many occurrences within the novel that would be labelled supernatural or irrational and are not completely explained. Some have read this to imply that we, as people, are not going to understand everything that happens in the world around us.

The novel reflects a sense of nostalgia for a time where Winton feels there was a greater sense of family and home, largely failing to interrogate the more conservative aspects of society (such as the confinement of women to domestic roles) which enabled the existence of this model. Indeed, of the key female characters in the novel, the only one who attempts to challenge her assigned gender role (Rose Pickles) eventually submits to domestic life, subsuming personal aspirations and the desire for culture to her preoccupations as a young housewife and apparent obsession with producing a child. This transformation is represented as being constructive and morally appropriate. All the characters can be considered to search for somewhere that a loving relationship can exist; Winton suggests that this place is with the family, as is demonstrated by the character Quick Lamb's brief time spent away from home, and ultimate return to it at the urging of an apparently mystical Indigenous character.

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