A Child in the Dark, and a Foreign Father by Henry Lawson
In A Child in the Dark, and a Foreign Father by Henry Lawson we have the theme of compassion, selfishness, trust, fear and struggle. Taken from his Triangles of Life and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed omniscient narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Lawson may be exploring the theme of compassion. Nils at the start of the story is an aggressive man. Something that the reader understands as the story progresses. However his anger turns to compassion when he finds his sick son lying on the mattress. He immediately looks after him and then attempts to locate his wife. It is here that the real problem lays. Emma is supposed to be sick yet she is fully able to give out to Nils (and the children). She also denies that she has been sleeping even though Nils has seen her doing so. This may be important as it suggests that not only does Emma have the ability to be selfish when it comes to her children but she is also prone to lying and as such cannot be trusted.
If anything everything is left for Nils to do and he himself is struggling after just finishing work. As readers we also know that Nils is trying to keep a small farm going or at least attempting to set a farm up. This too may be significant as it suggests that Nils wishes to be independent of others. Though at the same time look after his family. Emma on the other hand appears to be seeking a selfish kind of independence getting Nils to do everything and ensuring that her son is doing more than he should in the family home. It is his responsibility to cook the dinner and make sure that his younger sister is being looked after. Though he himself is still a child and is sick. He is unable to look after himself never mind his sister but he does show great determination in trying to balance his own illness and look after his sister. It is also interesting that the son does not wish to grow up and become a man. This may suggest that he is afraid of becoming a man because he sees how his father lives his life. Throughout the story Nils is struggling.
The setting of the story also plays an important role. Lawson uses dark colours particularly brown and black when describing the family home. It is as though he is deliberately foreshadowing what occurs in the story. Particularly all the negativity that Emma directs at Nils and her son. There does not appear to be any brightness in Nils and Emma’s life. Leaving the reader to suspect that the marriage may not be a happy one. One in whereby Emma pretends to be poorly in order to avoid any responsibilities she may have. It may also be significant that Emma is in bed throughout the entire story as symbolically Lawson could be suggesting that she is paralysed or stuck. She is not moving forward and remains rooted in the past as though she sees no hope for the future. If anything there appears to be a great mental divide in the marriage. One that Nils through his work is unable to notice or take the time to notice. The title of the story is also significant as in many ways the sick son is left in the dark about his future too.
The end of the story is also interesting as morning has arrived and it is New Year’s Day. Symbolically this would be considered to be a new start for people but this is not the case in the story. The son is again left to do the chores while Emma prefers to stay in bed reading. Which is surprising considering that Emma is supposed to have a headache yet she can manage to read. Also the son is left responsible for his sister again even though he is sick and still only a child himself. Nothing has changed for any of the characters in the story which may leave some critics to suggest that it is not only Emma who is paralysed. All the characters in the story appear to be stuck in the same routine. A routine that none wish to be in. Apart from Nils building the small farm for his family there is very little positivity in the story. However Nils has vision though he may have to drag his family along with him. Something he may or may not achieve depending on a change occurring within Emma.