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Study Guide: Two Wolves: Language & Symbolism

Tristan Bancks has carefully crafted the language of Two Wolves, honing each word and sentence until it is taut with tension and drama, and perfectly conveys emotion, action and movement. Some of the writing techniques he uses include filmic imagery, linear chronology, fractured sentences, clues and mystery, allegory and allusion, and symbolism of colours. 

The following boxes contain content from Random House Australia's Two wolves teacher's guide

Filmic imagery

Tristan is a filmmaker as well as an author, and he thinks very visually. For instance, look at the detail in this description: ‘The floor around him was littered with clothes, shoes, a game console, two controllers, a bike wheel with no tyre, a skateboard deck, school books, soccer boots, a jumbo-size packet of chips and plates from long-forgotten afternoon snacks. Ben’s favourite place. It was dark with the curtains closed, the only light coming from two lamps trained on the stop-motion set on his desk.’ (p. 2)

Click here to learn more about imagery as a literary device.

The symbolism of colours

Green: Green can often signify envy and greed, as well as money – but on the other hand it can signify nature and wilderness. Does the author make use of the symbolism of green in Two Wolves? Consider that: Dad’s car is the Green Machine; there’s a rusted green trunk in the cabin; the cash is all in green $100 notes; Dad carves the rabbit on a green metal plate; there are green vines and green rocks.

Yellow and brightness: Bright colours such as yellow are associated with Nan in the story. Nan’s house is bright and her yellow biscuit barrel is mentioned a couple of times. Nan doesn’t like anyone turning the lights off in her home – perhaps implying that she has her own fears or recalls the dinginess of her husband’s cabin, but also symbolising warmth, comfort, security and openness to Ben and Olive. She keeps Caramello Koalas stashed in the desk. She wears lots of bright, patterned clothes and has orange carpet in the house. What does yellow symbolise to you?

Red: Red comes up in innocuous ways in Two Wolves, but it also plays a role in creating the forceful, graphic imagery that sets the tone of this tense and powerful story. For instance: the red-raw ‘cooked’ rabbit on p. 116; Dad ploughing through the Big Red soup on p. 145; Ben sees blood-red water on p. 183 and p. 191; Dad draws blood when he bites Ben’s arm on p. 268.

Click here to learn more about the literary device symbolism.

Fractured [or truncated] sentences

Short, sharp sentence fragments at climactic moments increase the readers’ sense of urgency and excitement, as well as conveying Ben’s swirling emotions. For example: ‘Rush of water, dark of night, wink of lightning, ominous roar, tremble of body, whirling wind. And fear. Terrible fear.’ (p. 210) As well as conveying tension, the fractured sentences also contribute to the novel’s stream-of-consciousness mode: we are hearing Ben’s thoughts as he has them. Consider, for example, the flow of Ben’s thoughts we are privy to on pp. 172 to 174, as Ben questions what he should do and weighs his options.

Click here to learn more about the technique of truncating sentences.

Allegory & illusion

Allegory and allusion An old man tells his grandson one evening that there is a raging inside him, inside all of us. A terrible battle between two wolves. One wolf is bad – pride, envy, jealousy, greed, guilt, self-pity. The other wolf is good – kindness, hope, love, service, truth, humility. The child asks, ‘Who will win?’ The grandfather answers simply, ‘The one you feed.’

The tale above, quoted as the epigraph, infuses the whole novel with an additional layer of meaning. Ben reads the story and so does the reader. How will the story of two wolves become relevant to Ben? You can find a cartoon depiction of the ‘two wolves’ tale here (note that the story is often attributed as being of Cherokee origin, but this is disputed). Similarly, Ben reads the novel My Side of the Mountain by Jean George – it is a survival story, and Ben soon finds himself in a survival story of his own. 

His reading of My Side of the Mountain also highlights the benefits and value of reading, and how books can help you to escape reality for a while: My Side of the Mountain had given them comfort and light and warmth but when it was done all they had was heavy rain, leaks spattering the floor around them and small, unseen animals making nests in the darkest corners.’ (p. 132)

Click here to learn more about allegory and here to learn more allusion

Linear chronology

Two Wolves makes very little use of literary techniques such as backstory or flashbacks. We don’t know much about Ben’s life before the story began except for a few hints that are given, which tell us what kind of family the Silvers are: we learn that they eat dinner in front of the television; that Ben hates spending time at the wreckers; that his dad always has some new scheme for making money; and about Ben’s nan. But other than a few snippets from their past, the story has an immediacy to it, arising from the stream-of-consciousness mode and straightforward linear chronology: we are thrown into this adventure at this point in time, just as Ben is. The past is almost irrelevant and the present is reduced to a series of life-changing questions, the answers to which will shape Ben’s future: Who am I? Who are my parents? What should I do in this moment?

Click here to learn more about linear chronology.

Clues and mystery

Lists in Ben’s notebook summarise the clues that Ben is writing down. Readers can read between the lines to see what Ben is not yet willing to admit – that his parents have committed a crime. Two Wolves plays on the conventions of the mystery novel: Ben suspects his parents of committing a crime or doing something wrong, and he must find the clues and solve the puzzle. Unlike the usual mystery or detective story, however, Ben is then faced with the moral dilemma of what to do with the information he has gathered.

Click here to learn more about the mystery genre.

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