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Written by Victoria Joss
The trumpet is, interestingly, the most important symbol in Kay’s novel. Despite existing as a written novel, the way that Joss Moody interacts with it with such passion means that sound is also an integral part of the story. When a younger Colman finds his Father’s trumpet, it is shiny and sacred; even at a young age, Colman understands its importance. The trumpet also extends beyond a symbol when Joss plays, and it becomes a part of him. Kay dedicates an entire chapter to not only the sound the trumpet makes, but the emotional and almost out-of-body experience it takes Joss to. During this chapter, he and the trumpet are not distinguished as human and their instrument, but described as one being creating a transcendent moment. Therefore, the trumpet is not only a musical instrument, but a vessel that allows Joss to simultaneously lay forth his entire spectrum of emotion, the story of his heritage, and his naked soul.
As each character discovers that Joss is biologically female, they focus on the lack of penis as the defining feature. When Millie finds out he is transgender yet wants a child, the phallus becomes a symbol for her wretched confusion; she loves Joss, but he does not possess the physical attributes to impregnate her. The next person to class the phallus as wholly representative of masculinity is Albert Holding, the undertaker. As he prepares the body for the funeral, it is the lack of penis that shocks him. He expects to see it as he undresses Joss. It is with this knowledge that Joss’ face also changes, becoming suddenly more feminine to his eye. Finally, the most symbolic significance of the phallus is to Moody’s son, Colman. He fixates on the fact that his Father did not have a penis; for Colman, this proves his Father as a fraud in living his life as a man without the traditional symbolic physicality of a biological male. This also has consequences for Colman, as he then feels he must assert his own phallus as overtly masculine to make up for this loss he feels in his Father.
Similarly to the phallus, the breasts are also symbolic of Moody’s biological sex, rather than gender. However, this time it is a body part that is present, rather than missing. It is the body part that Joss reveals firstly to Millie, so she understands he is transgender. They can therefore be representative of the huge secret that Joss keeps from the world, hidden under a few layers of clothes. Yet, it is a routine that Joss did every day, and is an integral process in his and Millie’s life together. When he dies, she undresses him, re-does his bandages and re-clothes him. This suggests that the bandages not only represent identity, they are now part of him. As Millie continues to mourn Joss, she sleeps with the bandages under her pillow as a reminder of him. Therefore, the bandages that represent a scandal to society simply represent a loved one to this widow.
A series of journeys take place throughout the novel. The novel begins in London, where Millie, Joss and Colman all live. Yet, Millie and Joss’ initial years of courtship occurred in Glasgow. Millie’s journey to their holiday cottage in order to mourn properly is therefore representative of returning to her roots, returning to where her life with Joss began. This journey also means returning to a safer place. In London, Millie is bombarded by the press, whereas in Torr, she only has the gentle condolences of the locals who knew Joss. Colman also makes this journey up to Scotland with Sophie Stones. However, in this instance, the journey is representative more of an emotional journey that leads to forgiveness. On the train, he thinks he sees his Father and chases after him, and his mind is fixed on memories of Joss. A particularly poignant memory is his Father saying ‘My heart starts beating the minute I cross the border’, suggesting that any journey to Scotland always represents more than a move in physical location.
The written word
After Joss’ death, Millie calls Doctor Krishnamurty to examine the body and fill in a death certificate. After discovering Joss’ biological sex, she crosses out ‘male’ on the certificate and writes ‘female’ in large, red, childish block letters. Firstly, the exaggerated process to reiterate Joss as female foreshadows the insensitive and intrusive manner in which the public will now view Joss; they see a scandal, not a broken family. Secondly, it is also wholly representative of the necessity for society to categorize people. They must fit in to the sex of either male, or female, and this Doctor is ignorant to the vocabulary to which would fit a transgender person. This is also reiterated by the ‘childish’ style of writing, with Kay perhaps suggesting a naïve and uneducated view to the transgender community. This act of printing ‘female’ in such a vulgar manner therefore presents the traditional views that sex and gender are the same concept.
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