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Henry Lawson’s Short Stories
Q1 Describe one significant image from one of Henry Lawson’s Short stories. One significant image from ‘The Loaded Dog’ is the creation of the ‘formidable bomb’ that Andy constructs ‘to blow the fish up’. Lawson gives us a detailed description of the making of the cartridge. He uses adjectives, adverbs and exaggeration, to emphasis the danger it represents –‘three times the size of those they use in the rock’ and ‘big enough to blow the bottom out of the river’.
His long-winded description of the construction process also builds suspense- ‘The inner skin was of stout calico. Andy stuck the end of a six foot fuse… bound the bag firmly… dipped the cartridge in melted bees wax… bound a strip of sail canvas… bound the thing with from end to end with stout fishing line’. This builds up suspense and by the end we are certain of the danger that this bomb represents. The descriptive nature of this passage also builds on characterisation.
Dave ‘got an idea’, ‘Andy usually put Dave’s theories into practice’ and Jim sat on the sidelines critiquing both of the above. The idea of mate ship between the key characters is also developed ‘a formidable bomb – but Andy and Dave wanted to be sure’. The detailed description of the materials used and the process of making the bomb, adds credibility and gives the reader a sense of the skills of the miners and an insight into their craft. By the time Lawson is finished we can ‘see’ this cartridge and understand its potential for harm.
When Tommy takes the lit cartridge in his mouth we have a heightened understanding of the gravity of the situation and find ourselves on the edge of our seats.
Q2 Examine how the relationship between context and text shapes meaning in one of Henry Lawson’s short stories. Text Summary: ‘The Drovers Wife’ is a short story by Henry Lawson about a woman who is left alone in the harsh Australian bush to look after the house and children while her husband is away sheep droving. The main complication the snake in the huts floor slab which threatens her families safety. The Context:
* The Times: in the late 1800’s most Australians lived in the cities but the harsh reality of the Australian bush had captured their imagination perhaps due to its’ contrast with British landscapes and life. * Literary History; Lawson was the first Australian born writers to document an unromantic view of the Australian bush and its uniquely Australian culture. As such, his writing represented a challenge to those like banjo Patterson who presented a romantic (unrealistic) view of the bush. * Audience; The drovers wife was published in 1892 in ‘The Bulletin’ which was known as the ‘Bushman’s Bible’ and Lawson’s presentation of the harsh realities of life in the Australian bush appealed to the white male dominated readership. * Lawson’s Life; Lawson was brought up on a poor selection himself and understood the realities of his subjects lives. He lived with his mother after her separation with her father and this perhaps gives him special insight when writing the Drovers Wife. * Cultural Themes: which dominate 19th century bush life and evident in Lawson’s, ‘The Drovers Wife’ include; hardship/resilience, loneliness and isolation, loss and acceptance. How the Text interacts with Context to Add Meaning
Text Style; ‘The Drovers Wife’ is written in the style of a ‘sketch- story’. The writer provides a picture in words by focusing on charecterisation and setting rather than plot. In Lawson’s words, ‘”I thought the short story was a lazy man’s game, second to ‘free’ verse, compared with the sketch. The sketch, to be really good, must be good in every line. But the sketch-story is best of all.” The sketch-story style is serious and uses powerful observations of the life of the drover’s wife for its own sake. Both the original and current reader observe with sadness and respect as Lawson’s ‘painting’ of her tragic and courageous life develops.
Q3 Critically analyse the relationship between language forms and features, and meaning, in TWO of Henry Lawson’s short Stories. The Drovers Wife:- 1 Title; Lawson leaves ‘The Drover’s Wife’ unnamed and in doing so helps her stand for all women in her position. 2 Setting; the use of accumulation (continuous information) in portraying the ‘shanty’/lean-to house and describing ‘the bush all around’ with the repetition of ‘no’ e.g.; “no horizon”, “no ranges” and “no undergrowth” in describing the landscape, establishes the harsh backdrop to the family’s existence. The personification of the ‘sighing’ ‘she oaks’ tells us that even the bush struggles to survive. The setting is painted in more detail in the context of the Sunday walk, ‘you might walk for twenty miles…. Without being able to fix a point in your mind, unless you are a bushman. This is because of ‘the everlasting, maddening sameness of the stunted trees – that monotony which makes a man long to break away’. The landscape Lawson paints is far from attractive. In fact, if we find ourselves in it we will want to ‘sail as far as ships can sail and further.’ This is in stark contrast to how stories by authors such as Bango Patterson using a romanticised style portrayed the bush. 3 Background ; Lawson matter-of-fact statement that “the drover, an ex-squatter, is away with sheep. His wife and children are left here alone.’ emphasises the unavoidable isolation of the wife and children. We are told later the drought of 1818 “ruined him’, ‘he had to sacrifice the remnant of his flock and go droving again’. The drover is depicted as ‘a good enough husband’ –who treated her like a ‘princess’ before he fell on hard times. This communicates to the reader the unavoidable loss that the bush has inflicted on the drover and his family. 4 The Plot; The limited plot of this sketch / story revolves around ‘the snake!’ which is introduced with the use of exclamation ‘ look mother, here’s a snake!’ Action verbs in short sentences of dialogue; ‘snatches her baby’ and ‘yells at the boy’ all give us a sense of urgency.
The snake ‘disappears’ under the timber slab floor, ‘near sunset and a thunderstorm is coming’. The ‘house’ is off limits as ‘the snake ….may at any moment come up through cracks in the rough slab floor’. The children are to be protected and are introduced matter of factly, ‘there are two boys and two girls’ are fed and put to be on the kitchen table which ‘sits down beside to watch all night’. The battle lines are drawn and her weapons are a ‘green sapling cub’ and ‘she has brought the dog into the room’. The plot slows to a stop with only snippets of information between long ‘sketches’ of background and characterisation (the main event). ‘Near midnight’ ‘whenever she hears a noise she reaches for the stick’,. ‘Near one or two o’clock Alligator lies…and watches the wall.’ ‘It must be near daylight.’ ‘Alligator still watches the wall’ nothing has happened plot wise between sunset and daybreak but now he becomes ‘greatly interested’ and urgency returns. Short sentences with repeated action verbs ‘snaps’, ‘pulls’ and the repetition of ‘thud’ help us to see and hear the battle. The resolution of the plot is portrayed as a win of good over evil by the use of the Biblical reference ‘he shakes the snake as though he felt the original curse in common with mankind.’ The plot concludes as the Drovers Wife ‘watches the snake burn’. However the final few sentences are reserved to conclude the main game of this story, the characterisation of the drovers wife. 5 Characterisation; If the plot is the framework of the drovers wife, characterisation is the house that is built around it. (i) Omniscient Third Party Narrator; We feel for the characters in their struggle with themselves when Lawson as the omniscient narrator shifts us back in time to key moments in there past, ‘As a girl she built the usual castles in the air; but all her girlish hopes an aspirations have long been dead.’ Yet she doesn’t completely abandon her femininity as symbolised by the ‘Young ladies Journal’. Later Lawson emphasises her struggle to remain civilised with a powerful background image, of her Sunday walk where, ‘She takes as much care to make herself and the children look smart as she would if she were going to do the block in the city, There is nothing to see however, not a soul to meet’. Lawson ends this section with an authorial insight into the ‘bushwoman’s’ contentedness despite this loss and struggle.
She is ‘used to the loneliness of it’, ‘would feel strange away from it’, ‘She is glad when her husband returns….but does not make a fuss’, ‘she seems contented with her lot.’ (ii) Flashbacks; Lawson builds our admiration for the drovers’ wife through the flashbacks’; bushfire, flood, pleuro-pneumonia and mad bullock. He uses them to show how the harshness of the Australian bush challenges gender roles. In the bushfire she is cast in a masculine role as she wears ‘an old pair of her husbands trousers’, ‘till great drops of sweaty perspiration’ run ‘down her blackened arms’ however in the arrival of ‘four excited bushmen’ we see the woman rescued by the men from the fire that ‘would have mastered her’. This idea is reinforced in the loss of the dam, when Lawson intrudes with an authorial statement, ‘there are some things that a bushwoman cannot do’ emphasising her vulnerability in the absence of her husband. Lawson builds empathy when he permits us a glimpse of emotion in the midst of loss and struggle, ‘she cried then’. Lawson uses these moments of tears to introduce the uniquely Australian habit of laughing at our misfortune as a coping mechanism, ‘she is hurt now, and tears spring to her eyes’ but ‘The handkerchief is full of holes and she..put her thumb through one’ , ‘This makes her laugh.’ The remaining flashbacks see her conquering, a mad bullock, crows and eagles, and a ‘gallowed faced swagman’ leaving us in awe of the basewoman’s resourcefulness and success. (iii) Dialogue; The limited dialogue between the bushwoman and her children builds characteristaion. The eldest son wants to be the man for his mother, ‘Stop there, mother! I’ll have him. Stand back I’ll have the beggar.’ The colloquial and course examples of Tommy’s dialogue like ‘I’d like to screw their blanky necks’ also adds to the authentic Australian bush feel of the story. (iv) The resolution of the story is, appropriately and powerfully, all about the characters. Arguably the most meaningful bit of dialogue in the story is Tommy’s declaration “Mother, I won’t never go drovin’ blast me if I do!” Tommy wants to be his mother’s protector. They connect strongly as “she hugs him to her worn-out breast and kisses him”. The “worn-out breast” symbolises how the toll the bush has taken on her. The kiss is a rare act of affection showing that despite all the hardship, she still has a “womanly” side – life in the bush has not hardened her completely.
THE LOADED DOG:
Style and Purpose: Is a short story, which follows the normal convention of – orientation, structure and resolution. Lawson’s purpose is to entertain using a clever plot and humour. The quirky characters are ‘sketched’ briefly but the reader finds themselves engaging more with, the plot development and the humour, than the details of the setting and characters. Meaning; The meaning of The Loaded Dog is found more in the language, interaction and actions of the characters rather than in their characterisation itself. The setting may belong to a bygone era but the comedic larrikinism of this typically Australian yarn connects with the ‘tell me a good story’ expectation of the 19th century audience. The sardonic humour still rings true with the 21st century Australian today. Analysis;
(i) Narrative: The 3rd person narration makes us an observer of Dave, Jim, Andy and Tommy. (ii) Characterisation: The opening sentence of the story lists the full names of the main characters hinting at their specific roles in the plot. Dave is the ‘ideas’ man, Andy the ‘hands –on’ one who puts ‘Dave’s theory into practice’. And Jim Bently the sensible one who ‘wasn’t interested in their damned silliness’. The fourth main character is Tommy the dog, a lovable ‘overgrown pup’ that ‘seemed to take life, the world, his two-legged mates, and his own instincts as a hug joke.’ Tommy is often humanised ‘he watched Andy with great interest’. In contrast, Lawson characterises the Nasty Yellow Dog as the classic villain. Introduced late in the story, we form no attachment and when we find out he has hurt Tommy in the past, for no good reason, we can celebrate Tommy’s escape and laugh at the yellow dogs demise. (iii) Pace: Lawson makes effective use pace variations to entertain.
The laborious description of the ‘formidable bomb’ leaves us certain of its capacity to harm when it was ‘wedged into his (Tommy’s) broardest silliest grin.’ Lawson immediately quickens the pace of the text through exclaimed dialogue and short sentences, ‘’Run, Andy! Run!’. He slows again to provide a humourous picture of the various running styles and speeds ‘Dave and Jim were good runners-Jim the best – for a short distance; Andy was slow and heavy’. Their panic is contrasted with Tommy’s joy, ‘the dog capered around him….as though he thought, on a frolic.’ The ‘live fuse’ is personified ‘swishing….hissing and spluttering and stinking’. The ‘lark’ takes several more fast paced hilarious turns before Dave enters the bar and Tommy leaves the cartridge with the ’vicious yellow mongrel cattle-dog’. ‘He sniffed at the cartridge twice, and was just taking a third cautious sniff when—-‘. This hanging (unfinished) sentence marks the slowing of the pace of the text to suit the aftermath of the explosion. (iv) Humour; Humour is central to the success of this short story and the understatement of fact following the explosion is a good example of Lawson’s use of typically Australian dark humour. Rather than focus on the fate of the yellow dog he simply states; ‘It was very good blasting powder—and the cartridge had been excellently well made ‘ (v) Hyperbole; Lawson follows this understatement with hyperbole (exaggeration) ‘Bushmen say that that kitchen jumped off its piles and on again.’ (vi) Australian Slang and Jargon; The Loaded Dog is faithful to the Australian bush throughout. The characterization, setting, humour and language are thoroughly Australian. It is entirely appropriate that Lawson finish a mate ribbing a mate in true Australian form with an authentic Australian ‘lazy drawl and with just a hint of the nasal twang–”El-lo, Da-a-ve! How’s the fishin’ getting on, Da-a-ve?” ‘
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