Saturday, 21 January 2012

“The Drover’s Wife” by Henry Lawson: An analysis

Drover :
•    a person who drives cattle or sheep.
•    moves cattle into new lands and out of markets
•    walk the vast herds across, or up and down the continent
•    maybe months on the road
•    mode of transportation: motorbikes and horses

Note: Droving is carried out along well-established stock routes on which camps, watering places and grass for grazing are available. Cattle are often driven for over 3000km.


Australia, late 19th century,
Hot, dry season.
Location: bush, two-roomed house

Theme: Women vs. Nature

- the struggle of a lone woman against what nature has thrown at her.

The Plot

1.        Prelude – a bushwoman with her 4 children and a dog living in a wooden house while her husband is away.

2.        Appearance of the snake.

3.        Disappearance of the snake into the cracks in the floor.

4.        Thunderstorm and darkness appears, and she takes the children inside. She stayed up the night to wait for the snake to reappear.

5.        Reappearance of the snake as dawn approaches.

6.        The dog captures the snake.

7.        The bushwoman kills the snake.

Character Analysis

The drover’s wife
-         “gaunt and sun-browned”, due to her hard life in the bush.

-         Brave, “not a coward” as she has to take care of her 4 children alone for months when her husband is out droving.

-         But lately her nerves had been shattered because her nephew died of a snake bite.

-         Her circumstances make her resilient, self-reliant, hardy and patient.

Alligator, the snake dog

-         the name of their Mongrel dog.

-         “big, black, yellow eyed dog-of-all breeds”

-         “shows numerous old wounds where the hair will not grow” – the scars he got when fighting with snakes.

-         “big, heavy dog but quick as terrier”

-         “not a very beautiful dog to look at”

-         he is a snake dog and ever ready to kill snakes – hates snakes.

-         he hates other dogs except kangaroo-dog.

-         has a dislike for the people connected to the family but sometimes make friends with strangers.

-         he is afraid of nothing.

Tommy, the eldest boy

-         “ragged, dried-up looking children”, just like the environment.

-         he is active, brave, protective and loves his mother for he understands her sufferings.


1.    Snake

    “…black brute, five feet long…”
    It represents evil and a threat to the family

2.    She-oak

    This is a tree that can survive in the harsh environment just like the woman.
    She-oak is hard timber tree and makes good fuel. In terms of texture and colour it is inferior to the he-oak. The use of the feminine gender indicates the prejudice against women at that time.

3.   Bush

    its wide uncultivated expanse represents lifeless solitude but it provides a certain freedom. It is a dumb witness to all that is happening to her.

4.   Alligator

    An alligator is a dangerous animal to other animals and human. This name is given to their pet dog. It represents a “talisman” for the family against dangers.

Note:  All symbolisms are associated with nature: all symbols are part of the Australian environment that has adapted to the harsh and dry climate.

Language and style

The language is simple and casual as Henry Lawson represents the common man. The story is written in the present tense to hint that the drover’s wife is not going to be relieved of her sufferings and hardships. They are a continuous cycle in her life. A name is not given to her too, to suggest that she has no standing in the society and she represents all bushwomen.


1 comment:

  1. The Drover’s Wife also is a metaphor as a whole. It’s beginning is ‘the fall of mankind’, in particular the curse on the land and the curse on womankind as depicted in the Bible. The Woman in Lawson’s narrative is the hero. The Drover’s Wife is the Every woman of the Australian bush. It was the stamina and courage of pioneer women who enabled the colonies to grow and mature and eventually reach nationhood. The Drover, himself, is more of a set piece- not a character as such, but although frequently absent, is not demonised by the author as such. However he is missing in action throughout hers and and her children’s lives, so typical of the Gold Rush, when men abandoned their families to seek their fortunes on the gold fields throughout Australia. It was generally left to the woman to tend the farms, maintain the towns and look after the children. medalfront

    This woman is gaunt and worn down. However, she is not to be beaten. With the help of her guardian angel, the dog, Alligator, she is determined to overcome her adversary. The Wife reminds herself (during flashbacks) of all the terrible times she has had, and yet come out victorious. In the end, after a series of flashbacks which give us explicit and inferred information about her and her life, she is ready to do battle with the snake. A metamorphosis has taken place. At the start she was Eve, fallen from Grace. Now she is Mary, the new Eve, protector of her family and symbol of mercy and hope. With her dog’s help she captures and clubs the serpent which has invaded her house (shack), picks it up and tosses the carcass into the fire. This is another Biblical Allusion. The book opens with allusion to the Book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible and ends with an allusion to the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible. The Catholic symbolism of Mary (perfect super woman as depicted on a miraculous medal, statues and paintings) standing on the head of the snake – enemy of womanhood, and then by consequence all of humanity- is quite obvious.

    This story at a deep level is a metaphor of the transformation of nature through the courage and bravery of the Every Woman- life force and nurture is primarily driven by the woman’s tenacity and determination (a reversal of the curse?).