A. Hemon's Islands is the narrative of a young boys initiation into the adult world. The boy travels to a place he has never been before, far away from all the comforts of his childhood home. The island is full of secrets about the 'adult world' and the terrible things that can happen within it.
While away, he learns shocking lessons about the world in which he lives, mainly from his Uncle Julius, who tells scary stories that he thinks the boy should know about. The boy is unprotected from everything on the island and everything it contains. Through this unprotected environment, he learns things about the adult world that are not learned anywhere else. In the car on the way to the coast, the boy almost loses his voice by singing " communist songs the entire journey." (129) By his singing songs about "mournful mothers looking through graves for their dead sons" and "the revolution" the boy demonstrates his nativity. He is, after all, just a young boy. His limited life experience is shown in his singing such songs, without understanding the full meanings and connotations that those songs carry.
The boys' innocence is emphasized here, as these are 'adult's songs and it is only, generally, children who sing on car journeys until their voices are gone. Even before boarding the boat, the boy begins to notice how ugly age and adulthood can be. He notices the "gnarled knees, the spreading sweat stains on their shirts and sagging wrinkles of fat on their thighs." (129) At one point, he sees "one of the Germans, an old, bony man" get down on his knees and then vomit over the pier edge. The boy sees this, but still relates it back to something he understands. "The vomit Catherine Henderson hit the surface and then dispersed in different directions, like children running away to hide from the seeker." (130) Again, by relating something so grotesque to something so childlike and innocent, the boy reminds the reader that he is still just a young child, not yet ready to deal with this kind of adult vision.
Once boarded on the boat and sailing to Mljet, the boy loses his hat. It is not just hat though, it is his hat that shielded him from the grown-ups and the adult way of life. If he wanted to look at them properly, he had to raise his head. The hat was a"round straw hat with all the seven dwarfs painted on it." (129) When the gust of waylaying wind snatches the hat off the boys head and tosses it into the sea, the boy is no longer shielded by children's fairy tales of princesses and dwarfs, and is symbolically no longer protected from the adult world.
He cries himself to sleep. When he awakens, he has arrived at Mljet, and is exposed to the Island, and what it contains, including " adult' fairy tales, in the form of scary stories. Upon the island, away from everything familiar to him, the boy is laid bare to not only the reality of a harsh, thicket covered island, but also his Uncle Julius, who seems to enjoy telling the young boy scary stories of the island. The first story Uncle Julius tells the boy is about some crazed mongooses that were brought on to the island to get rid of the snakes.
The snakes were killing chicken and dogs, but then the mongooses killed all the snakes and began to kill the chicken and dogs themselves. Uncle Julius tells the boy that "it's all one pest after another, like revolutions. Life is nothing if not a succession of evils." (131) This story shows the boy how even supposed ley 'good " things can turn 'bad'. People who were once childhood friends to the boy may later become his enemies and of this he must be cautioned. The second story told to the boy is about Uncle Julius's grandfather. His family brought beekeeping to the Bosnia, and were respected.
The story ends with his grandfather dying of dysentery. "People used to die of that all the time. They'd just shit Catherine Henderson themselves to death." (133) This harsh realization that even respected, intelligent people can die in undignified ways is another step into the adult world. As a child, the boy feels like everyone lives forever, but as he is initiated into the adult world, he realizes how life is not endless and in the end, we all end up the same; dead and un-protected from anything that makes us anything more than any other dying animal. Uncle Julius next tells the boy a story of the Arkhangelsk camp, where "if you were repeatedly late or missed several days of school with no excuse, you would get six months to three years in a camp." (134) Uncle Julius continues the story about a boy called Vanya who was sent to one of these camps and tortured and moved from camp to camp, until one day he escaped and killed another escapee, so he would have food. This story of cannibalism intrigues the boy and he shows his interest in the adult world with the question, "So what happened to him?" (136) With this interest in something so hideous and, perhaps, the worst crime a human being could commit, the boy is becoming an adult, or at least envisioning adulthood.
The fourth scary story of adulthood is about Pirates on the island. Uncle Julius tells the boy that the lakes they are boating in "used to be a pirate haven in the sixteenth century." (140) He tells of torture and ghosts and children hung on meat hooks because their parents wouldn't pay the ransom. Uncle Julius tells the boy that the pirate haven, now a hotel, was also a nunnery where they thought the nuns were really with ches, and then a German prison. This effects the boy, in that he is physically in a place, where torture and debauchery happened. It is not just a story to the boy. Things are becoming real to him.
The adult world is becoming real. In Uncle Julius's final story, he talks of "the oldest man in the world" who has been reduced to the behaving like a child again. "And the teacher told us that the old Catherine Henderson man cried all the time, ate only liquid foods, and couldn't bear being separated from his favourite toy." (141) Uncle Julius continues in this and tells the boy that "all is for naught." This tells the boy that life is not worth anything and anything he may accomplish will all be turned to this anyway, so what is the point in any of 'it'. "You might just as well stop, for nothing will change." (141) Perhaps this is the strongest picture of adulthood and is the most severe for the boy so far. When the boy is just that, a young boy of pure childlike qualities, there is hope of what is to come.
Every child thinks about what they want to be when they " regrown up and living their lives as happy adults, but what Uncle Julius is saying is that it is not worth even bothering with and that adulthood brings nothing more to a persons " life than childhood does in the 'end'. The boy is now coming to terms with the realization of adulthood and all that comes with it. Although Uncle Julius tells all these horrific stories to the young boy, he does give the boy one lesson in living. He tells the boy that to survive in this adult, scary, world, he must blend in. He does this through taking the boy to the beehives. Uncle Julius tells the boy not to fidget so the bees won't sting him.
"I'd be frightened by the possibility of being stung, even though he told me that the bees would not attack me if I pretended not to exist." (139) This lesson in non-existing is what Uncle Julius teaches him through the stories. In conclusion, A. Hemons' Islands narrates a young boys initiation into an adult world through a series of events, namely the stories Uncle Julius tells him. These stories teach the bot that the adult world is treacherous, evil and that people within it eat their own kind in order to survive.
At the end of the story, the boy returns home and finds the plants all withered and "the cat, not having been fed for week, was emancipated and nearly mad with hunger." (142) The cat will not come to the boy when he calls to her, and looks at him with "irreversible hatred." Catherine Henderson The boy can never go back to the pureness of being a child again. The irreversible hatred the cat has, is as irreversible as Uncle Julius's stories and the boys 'initiation' into the adult world. Nothing can change what the boy experienced while away on the island of Mljet.