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The Drover's Wife

In the short story "The Drover's Wife," Henry Lawson acknowledges the hardships of Australian women whose bravery and perseverance is unfairly overlooked. It is often the men who receive all the glory while the women suffer silently in the background. In this story, Lawson sheds light on the life of one of these heroic women as she struggles to keep her children safe in the Australian bush.

The vivid imagery of the environment creates feelings of isolation and monotony that the main character experiences in her day to day life. Instead of focusing on the contents of the bush, Lawson focuses primarily on what is lacking. The bush has "no horizon", "[n]o ranges in the distance" and "no undergrowth"(456). The scarcity of scenery shows the reader a glimpse of the bleakness and emptiness in the bushwoman's life. There is more of this dreary imagery in the description of the house where the wife and her children live. It is crudely made out of slabs of "stringybark" and "round timber". The kitchen, which is "larger than the house itself", has a dirt floor and "[t]here is a large, roughly-made table in the centre of the place". The rugged house reveals the poor conditions that the drover's wife must endure every day. Even the weather is dismal as a "thunderstorm comes on, and the wind, rushing through the cracks in the slab wall, threatens to blow out her candle". She protects the fragile flame of the candle, like her life, against the harshness of her environment. By visualizing the bushwoman's surroundings, the reader can connect with her frame of mind. One is left with an overwhelming sense of loneliness and hardship.

Lawson's admiration of women is evident in the portrayal of a strong and independent female protagonist. The drover's wife fights many battles without her husband, and each struggle makes her stronger. She thinks about some of the difficulties she has faced in her life while she keeps watch for a snake that has slithered under the house. She remembers when one of her children died and "[s]he rode nineteen miles for assistance, carrying the dead child". This must have been a traumatic experience for her, but the bushwoman was able to move on and deal with other obstacles. The drover's wife recalls the fire that almost destroyed her home. She took on the role of her husband, wearing his trousers while she snuffed out the flames with a bough. She has sacrificed her femininity because "[h]er surroundings are not favourable to the development of the 'womanly' or sentimental side of nature". The only thing to feed her womanhood is the Young Ladies' Journal. It is a reminder of the dreams she had as a girl that never came to be.

Amazingly, the drover's wife is able to confront challenges single-handedly. Every difficult experience that she can remember has taken place in her husband's absence. She has raised their children on her own and constantly protects them from dangers like snake bites and fires. Many people would not be able to handle the incredible loneliness of life in the bush, but the drover's wife says she "is used to being left alone. She once lived like this for eighteen months". She must miss her husband terribly, but she explains that "[t]hey are used to being apart, or at least she is". She speaks of the "maddening sameness of the stunted trees--that monotony which makes a man long to break away and travel as far as trains can go, and sail as far as ships can sail--and further". She is stronger than these men, and perhaps stronger than her husband who has also broken away from this dull life. She stresses that the monotony is not a problem for her, and that "she would feel strange away from it". By repeating the fact that she is used to loneliness, she is able to cope with being alone for so long.

Beneath her tough exterior, the drover's wife is a sensitive and expressive person. When a flood breaks the dam that the woman's husband made, "her heart [is] nearly broken too, for she [thinks] how her husband would feel when he [comes] home and [sees] the result of years of labour swept away. She crie[s] then" It is not for herself that she cries, but for her husband. She cries again at the collapse of a woodpile that was stacked by a native man. The bushwoman trusted the man and praised him for his fine work only to discover that "he had built that woodheap hollow". She is genuinely hurt by this breach of trust and "tears spring to her eyes". The drover's wife is overcome by emotion once more at the end of the story, after the snake has been killed. The battles of her life have worn her out, and in her exhaustion, she begins to weep. Her eldest son notices her tears and comforts her, saying, "[m]other, I won't never go drovin'; blast me if I do". This perceptive child realizes that his father's absence is the cause of his mother's suffering. Like the boy, the reader is drawn closer to the drover's wife by seeing her pain and understanding the reasons for this pain.

Lawson is successful in creating a bond between the reader and the protagonist through his powerful scenery and the highly developed characterization. This bond enables the reader to truly appreciate the accomplishments of this young woman and other women like her. "The Drover's Wife" is a tribute to these women and gives them the recognition that they rightfully deserve.

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