In Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens has carefully crafted a story for the ages. As readers, we bear witness and learn lessons from Kya Clark’s journey through loss, love, and a murder trial.
After being abandoned by her family, Kya Clark is forced to mature immersed within nature in the marshes of North Carolina. Loneliness shapes everything in Owens’ novel, including you as the reader.
With no family or friends, Kya learns her life lessons from the marsh’s wildlife; learning to feed herself by catching mussels and fish whilst hiding from truant officers for not attending school. Owens expresses the inextricable bond between Kya and nature through the protagonist’s various references in her daily life.
Nature ‘in’ love
Mothers always return to their offspring in the animal world. This provides Kya with the naïve solace that one day her mother will return to her. Kya begins to attract the attention of boys from her town, from the kind, humble working-class Tate and to the privileged, arrogant Chase. Kya compares her experiences with them to the sex life of fireflies.
Owens uses her expertise to conceptualise the bond between man and nature – being a zoologist herself – but the final product is far from one-dimensional.
Murder in the ‘natural’ world
From the beginning, the book is clouded in mystery. Not only is there an ever-present love sub-plot, but the first page announces the ominous death of a young man called Chase Andrews. Owens cuts between the murder investigation and flashbacks to Kya’s youth and adulthood; convincing the readers that Kya would inevitably commit the act.
But as we become immersed in Kya’s emotional trauma, loneliness, and her longing to belong, the perpetrator of the murder becomes less clear. Despite the verdict of the trial, Owens reveals more details about the incident decades afterwards making us decide whether Kya is guilty or not.
Where the Crawdads Sing is far more than a soppy love story or one of pity; it takes us on Kya’s journey of self-acceptance and learning. Owen’s words are for us to use, craft, and build upon. Above all, there are lessons for us:
Lesson One | Perseverance
There are countless occasions where Kya has dealt first-hand with betrayal, discrimination, and loneliness; so much, she becomes trapped by these feelings. What I find so uniquely empowering about Kya is that she has no external motivation other than sheer survival.
As a result of her father abandoning her in her early teens, Kya is forced to hunt and survive. While across the town, girls her age are being spoon-fed a comparatively luxurious lifestyle. Kya is driven to live life day by day, and quite literally regard each day as a blessing. Despite her adversity, she seems to hold onto the belief something good will happen one day. Even though Kya believes naïvely that her mother would inevitably return home, her deposit of trust in the world manifests in other ways.
Kya’s life becomes epitomised by perseverance and even putting her success aside, Kya has taught me to appreciate the bare necessities. Even in Kya’s environment – one of betrayal and loneliness –she rarely bemoans her situation. Kya’s resilience and perseverance has taught me that complaining about our shortcomings in life only holds us back from truly evolving.
Lesson Two | Try to embrace our surroundings as often as possible
Kya weds Tate Walker long after her trial, but she has always been figuratively married to the marsh. What interests me particularly about Kya’s relationship with the marsh is that, whilst being beset by betrayal and ostracisation her whole life, her natural surroundings always provide a shoulder to lean on. While I don’t think Owens wholeheartedly advocates trusting nature over humans, Kya learns more about herself through the marsh than from her family or friends.
Despite Kya’s disadvantaged youth she still creates success for herself. By the end of the book, Kya has created her own legacy as a successful wildlife biologist, yet Owens makes only fleeting references to her wealth and fame. Regardless of monetary value, Kya is fundamentally happy because of her connection with nature. Over the years, Kya had created a myriad of meticulously detailed diagrams and analyses of the marsh’s wildlife. Little did she know, however, that those very diagrams would one day elevate her from selling mussels to the local shopkeeper to living a life of financial comfort.
By investing time to learn and admire nature, Kya not only found her true love but her gateway into success. Kya Clark taught me that by dedicating time to one’s surroundings and activities which the heart yearns for, it is possible to not only to create happiness but self-development and even a future career.
With local lockdowns already widespread in the UK, and a national one seemingly inevitable, Kya’s self-development through her isolation is inspiring. Her years of solitude shaped her into a mentally and physically impenetrable young adult; those very conditions, with slight differences, propose themselves for our nation. With one lockdown already completed, I have understood the opportunities I took and the ones I passed on. With Kya’s tale though, I have learnt that isolation is fundamentally useful and necessary – in this environment one can truly revolutionise their life.
Lesson Three | Resourcefulness
The liberal world is debatably characterised by its wide choice of goods, making it commonplace to take necessities for granted. Kya, born and raised in the swamplands of North Carolina, is forced to survive on a diet reminiscent of war rations. In an environment where there is uncertainty about the next meal, Kya’s ability to survive in spite of these circumstances acts as a reminder about our consumerism. Throughout the book, Kya is pushed to her emotional and physical boundaries, but rarely does she bemoan her living conditions.
Meanwhile, we let our minds be swayed by new phones, gaming consoles, clothes – a motivation rooted in our inner-capitalistic desire to improve and have the newest gear, and perhaps subconsciously, to look or be the best. Reading Where the Crawdads Sing didn’t remove my desire to want new things; it made me reconsider whether everything I long for is necessary. Kya’s character and mental willpower pushed me to put up a filter between my wants and needs. While we are entitled to a ‘treat’, Owens’ masterpiece humbled me to reconsider how often we deserve so-called treats.
In the lockdown earlier this year, I gave in to the temptation of buying new clothes and other commodities; out of boredom, or a craving for something new. But now as we potentially face another national lockdown, the lure of newer goods will be ever stronger. If there was ever a time to exhibit such humility and self-control, it is now.
Graphic courtesy of Isabel Armitage