Meaning is gained from a literary text at both a literal and also a symbolic level. Literary devices are the most direct way in which an author reinforces the themes of a novel. Cloudstreet by Tim Winton is a novel where not all meanings are understood at a literal level. In the novel, one of the most significant literary devices used by Winton is symbolism, which plays upon the aesthetic sensibilities harbored by the text's audience and provides insight and deeper understanding to the themes of the novel. The house on Cloudstreet itself, the river, the symbolic representations of the Lambs and Pickles families and the Aboriginal man contribute to meaning as Winton uses symbolism to make a comment on the racial policies of Australia in the 1950s, as well as to endorse love, family, and spirituality in the search for fulfillment in life.
The house in Cloudstreet is deeply symbolic. It is the place where the Lambs and the Pickles share their lives for most of the novel, and thus assumes great symbolic importance in the novel. One of the most important parts of the house in terms of symbolism is the library, and Winton uses this to present his views on the racial policies of Australia in the 1950s. A lady who deemed herself the "Daisy Bates of the city" first owned the house. This lady, filled with "missionary purpose that came upon her like the flu" took in young Aboriginal girls and "aimed to make ladies of them so they could set an example for the rest of their sorry race". The conflict between her colonialist ideologies and those of the Aboriginal girls inflicted anguish upon the girls, and eventually this pain suffered by the girls who were removed from their families and were coerced to take up Christian beliefs alien to them was severe enough for one of the girls to poison herself in the library. This horrific image is communicated to the reader by how the cruel lady made each of the "natives" take a close look at the "twisted death snarl of the poisoned girl", before evicting them.