The Drover's Wife

Plot

This story centres around the strength and stoicism demonstrated by a bush woman – the eponymous ‘Drover’s Wife’. Lawson opens his narrative by describing the harshness of the environment in which the woman finds herself – ‘Bush all round – bush with no horizon, for the country is flat.’ The woman and her children are described as having internalised that ruggedness, as seen in ‘Four ragged, dried-up-looking children’ and ‘The gaunt, sun-browned bushwoman.’ The central moment of conflict or tension in the text is the arrival of the snake; it is spotted first by one of the children, and is then attacked by the family dog, Alligator. It disappears, but eventually reveals itself, and is killed by the woman and the dog. The experience serves to unify the mother and her son, as he declares that he ‘won’t never go drovin’. 

Cultural Assumptions

Beauty of Bush Life

Lawson paints a picture of the rugged, hostile landscape of the Australian bush. The woman sees no beauty in it. Rather, for her it is a place of isolation and hardship, qualities that force her to be constantly vigilant about her children’s safety. While she does find a degree of comfort in it all – she is ‘contented with her lot’ – she nonetheless possesses a cynical outlook: ‘Everlasting, maddening sameness of the stunted trees."

Role of Women

Lawson’s story provides a complex examination of the competing factors that shaped identity and gender roles in the bush setting. At first glance it appears to us - and Lawson's contemporary audience - that Lawson is affirming the confinement of women to the domestic sphere due to contextual misogyny and disenfranchisement. However as the title ‘The Drover’s Wife’ suggests he subverts gender expectations by having the character fulfill her motherly duties while simultaneously protecting her family and surviving alone in the bush setting. Indeed, the woman ultimately comes to play the role traditionally reserved for the man. 

quote table

Quote
Technique
Effect
“Bush all around – bush with no horizon, for the country is flat. No ranges in the distance…no undergrowth, rotten native apple-trees. No undergrowth.
Repetition, Biblical allusion
Realities of bush life, Harshness and isolation of the bush
“She rode nineteen miles for assistance, carrying the dead child.”
Visual imagery
Loss, Harshness and isolation of the bush
“yells the eldest boy - a sharp-faced urchin of eleven. ‘Stop there, mother! I’ll have him. Stand back! I’ll have the beggar!’”
Dialogue Repetition
Realities of the bush, Exploration of gender roles
“The trees sighing above an almost waterless creek”
Personification Imagery
Australian landscape, Harshness and isolation of the bush
“But this bushwoman is used to the loneliness of it. As a girl-wife she hated it, but now she would feel strange away from it.”
Juxtaposition
Harshness of the bush, Impact of time
“Her surroundings are not favorable to the ‘womanly’ or sentimental side of nature”
Figurative language, Inverted commas
Harshness of the bush, Exploration of gender
“Snake! Mother, here’s a snake!”
Repetition, Symbolism
Harshness of the bush
“All her hopes and dreams have been long dead.”
Personification
Loss of hopes and dreams
“As a girl she built the usual castles in the air”
Metaphor, Idiom, Juxtaposition
Gendered experience, Loss of hopes and dreams
“She put on an old pair of her husband's trousers and beat out the flames with a green bough”
Symbolism, Metaphor
Harshness of the bush, Exploration of gender

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