The themes of the short story “People-Watching” by Julia Gray are those of suppressed grief and the impact of traumatic events. The author’s message is that growing up with a troubled sibling can affect the other sibling as well, and childhood traumas have a strong impact on our adult lives.
The impact of traumatic events
“People-Watching” explores the theme of the effects traumatic events can have on people through the main character, Paul. In the story, Paul is a young man whose life has been deeply influenced by his older sister, Jemima. Though Paul was probably a normal, average child, his sister’s psychological problems manifested through eating disorders and then her accidental death in Thailand, have shaped Paul’s perspective on the world. Because his sister was killed by the collapse of a restaurant roof, Paul decided to study architecture and specialise in making buildings safer.
Julia Gray’s story is also about suppressed grief. The main character, Paul, suppressed his grief from his sister’s death and redirected it towards other aspects of his life, such as becoming an architect to make buildings safer. Not manifesting one’s grief (or other feelings) directly and choosing indirect ways to do so is not always a healthy way of coping with strong, negative feelings or emotions. As the story shows, certain random events such as the questions about English grammar posed by Kajsa can push our repressed feelings and bring them to the surface, forcing us to deal with them.