"The Sound Of Singing" is a story contrasting the difference between "upright" and "downright" people. The divergent characters in the story are Grandfather Tim and Uncle Dan. They are the equivalent of day and night. While one is like a brick the other is like mud. Grandfather Tim resembles a general in how he runs his household. He wants to protect his family and for everyone in it to respect him: "[m]any other brick structures had existed in Manawaka for as much as half a century, but at the time when my grandfather built his house, part dwelling place and part massive monument, it had the first of its kind."(11) Uncle Dan on the other hand is: "downright worthless or downright lazy"(16). Uncle Dan is absolutely satisfied with taking from his brother and giving nothing back: "[I] never said give, I said lend"(38). He has the audacity to ask for money even though he has no collateral and the reader genuinely receives a sense that Uncle Dan is not going to pay Grandfather back.
Even though these two are very important characters in the story the protagonist is Vanessa. She is a young girl who lives with her grandfather and has had to live under his near military rule while she has a "good for nothing" uncle who does nothing but "cadge". Vanessa is like the "few wild blue violets [that] dared to grow"(11). She is the tulip that dares to be indifferent in the field of cactuses. Even though she has a good role model in grandfather she wants to be like her uncle, only to be difficult.
Vanessa and her grandfather are almost splitting images of each other. They are impatient, controlling, and demanding. Always trying to control the decisions and lives of others around them, even inanimate objects: "You [will] be beautiful whether you like it or not"(22). This shows their lack of confidence and what makes Vanessa more "upright" than she wants to be. She tries to not acknowledge her similarities with her grandfather but they always come back: "I had no patience with his impatience"(16). It is thoughts like this that only solidify her link with her grandfather.
Throughout the story Vanessa tries to keep her distance from her grandfather. Always pulling away when they get to close: "[she] veer[s] sharply away from his touch"(39). This again shows her insecurity and what makes her even more "upright"; a more "downright" person would not show that kind of emotion. Vanessa's insecurity also shows her child-like mentality and her refusal to grow-up. If she wants to be treated like an adult and not be left out of conversations she should act like one. When her grandfather reached out to her for support she should not have pulled back; her action only pushed her grandfather away and made them more distant.
In "The Sound of Singing" it is clear that Vanessa's attitude toward her grandfather has not changed. She seems content with being difficult. Also she doesn't appear to want to mend the differences between herself and her grandfather. Vanessa respects her grandfather but refuses to show because she feels it will show weakness. Since she is an "upright" person she cannot show weakness because she will be acting like her Uncle Dan.