On Her Knees by Tim Winton

In On Her Knees by Tim Winton we have the theme of pride, dignity, honesty, struggle, independence and class. Narrated in the first person by man called Victor the reader realises after reading the story that Winton may be exploring the theme of pride and dignity. Victor’s mother is a proud and dignified woman. Despite the fact that she is forced to clean other people’s houses in order to make a living she never allows this to get the better of her. There is a sense that Victor’s mother is honourable despite the obstacles she has had to face. If anything Victor’s mother though she is struggling through life remains undefeated. Something that is noticeable by the fact that she cleans the house one more time for the woman who has accused her of stealing a pair of earrings. It is also noticeable that Victor’s mother is able to put Victor through university despite the fact that her husband has abandoned her. This could be important as it suggests that Victor’s mother is independent of others. The fact that Victor’s mother is also her own boss would also further suggest that she is independent of others. Victor might be unhappy that his mother is a cleaner but she does have her own independence.

It is also possible that Winton is exploring the theme of class. Both Victor and his mother are working class though the people who have their houses cleaned by Victor’s mother are middle or upper class. The fact that they haggle with Victor’s mother over the rate she should be paid may also be important as it is possible that Winton is placing a spotlight on those who belong to the middle and upper classes. If anything Winton could be suggesting that those who are wealthy and of a class higher than Victor’s mother may be mean and blinded by self-importance. Viewing Victor’s mother as being beneath them. Something that annoys Victor because he knows how much his mother struggles. How annoyed Victor actually is noticeable by the fact that he puts the earrings in the catbox. Though Victor would like to see his mother do something else rather than cleaning houses he still nonetheless takes great pride in his mother’s ability to persevere. Which may be important as Winton could be highlighting just how strong a woman can be. Not only is Victor’s mother independent of others but she is also resilient. Despite the accusation of stealing that have been made against her. Victor’s mother keeps looking forward.

She and Victor are on their own and she knows that she has to be there for Victor (and for herself). Neither Victor nor his mother have anybody else to cushion the blows that life might throw at them. Unlike those who own the houses that Victor’s mother cleans. Not only is Winton giving the reader a strong female character but he also manages to highlight the plight of those who are working class. Particularly the obstacles they can face when engaging with the middle or upper classes. Individuals who appear to be driven by a belief that they are better than others. A cleaners role is often unappreciated something that Victor is only too well aware of. Despite this Victor’s mother does everything to the best of her ability. Regardless of what an employer may think of her. Victor on the other hand is half-hearted when it comes to cleaning. He knows that his (or his mother’s) work is not appreciated by those who he is cleaning for and as such he limits the effort he puts in while cleaning. This could be important as symbolically it suggests that Victor is aware of the class divide that exists in society. With those who are working class being under-valued.

The end of the story is also interesting as Winton appears to be highlighting to the reader just how severe the obstacles are for those who are working class. Despite the earrings being found and despite Victor’s wishes to report the matter to the police. Victor’s mother knows that she will not be believed by either the police or the woman whose flat she is cleaning. This may be important as it suggests that there are two laws in operation. One for working class people and one for those of a higher class. Which may be the point that Winton is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that an individual should not be judged solely by their occupation (Victor’s mother) or class. That everybody should be treated equally. It is also interesting that Victor removes the earrings from the catbox and places them beside the money that his mother refuses to take. It is as though both Victor and his mother know that they are better than the woman who owns the flat. As they leave the flat the reader is only too well aware that both Victor and his mother are leaving with their heads held high and their dignity intact.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "On Her Knees by Tim Winton." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 3 Feb. 2018. Web.


  • Good analysis but try to analyze critically.

  • What does the eating symbolize in the story?

  • The structure of the whole story.

  • Didn’t quite help.

  • How does the theme “struggle” fit into this story?

  • What does the earring symbolize in this story?

    • At the climax of the story when the earrings appear it says “wads of lint and hair and dirt came an earring”.The earrings may symbolize the high class and the lint,the hairs and the dirt may represent how the working class was seen at those times.

  • Can you give me a summary of all the characters please? I need it for my story review

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Mother – Hard working and is honest and wants to do the right thing regardless of how lowly paid she is.

      Son – Doesn’t like the fact that his mother has to clean other people’s homes and knows he can trust his mother.

      Woman with earrings – Too quick to judge the narrator’s mother because of her perceived class and the supposed value of the earrings.

  • How does the author create a sense of despair and helplessness in his story ?? Please give me 4-5 reason for the same

  • What is the relationship between mother and son at the end of the story?

  • Very helpful.

  • Helped me to understand the story better. Thank you so much for spending your time on this.

  • how does winton make the audience feel empathy for victors mother?

  • Really helpfull, thanks. Can you help me with an essay? I have to give three points on why we (as readers) should feel empathy for Victor´s mother. Can you please help me, thanks

  • If you were victor what would be your hopes for the future..after your mother has served her week’s notice? Please also express to me your feelings and thoughts on how your mother would have been treated.

  • Can u please tell me why the theme of the story is Pride? Please. By the way it is very helpful. Thanks

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Victor’s mother despite her circumstances takes great pride in everything that she does. She doesn’t allow for her or Victor’s circumstances to get her down nor does she allow the people whose houses she cleans get the better of her.

  • Nice, I would like you not to be so narrative. You explained it well and also elaborated so well done.

  • Hey. I need help with the charter sketch of both the mother and the son. Could u help me

  • Very helpful for my exams.

  • Thank you so much. Your analysis helped me understand the story more vividly.

  • This is very helpful! Thank you. I will now use this for my English class.

  • How does Winton make Carol Lang a pitiful yet a heroic character. I need at least two points

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      She is a single mother with no husband (I think Carol may be divorced or at least separated) who is putting her son through college. Also she cleans other people’s homes with dignity. Both positions she finds herself in may be seen as pitiful by society.

  • I find it poignant that at the end, Victor sees the silhouette of his mother with the light shining behind her. It gives the impression of a saint or an angel. I think it is significant because it highlights the theme of class which does not depend on wealth but a person’s character.

  • Damn this helped so much for my exam tomorrow.

  • How can we know that the old man was in fact the husband of Carol?


  • How does Winton show helplessness in the story?

  • Could Carol be a black as there’s a ref to her damp poodle curls. Her words “Love We laugh and we bear” may point to her awareness of the heritage of suppression and exploitation of the black race.

  • What commentary do you think Tim Winton Is making about society in his short story ‘on her knees’

  • What are the ways that Winton portrays the relationship between the narrator and his mother?

  • I’m doing a comparison between ‘on her knees’ and ‘commission’ how do you think they relate in term of family dynamics and personal growth?

  • can u further explain the view of wealthy people in the view of the son

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Vic doesn’t think that wealthy people understand what it’s like to be poor or care to understand what it’s like to be poor. It is for this reason that Vic has no respect for wealthy people.

  • thank you for this! have a nice day!

  • How does the author show the understanding relationship between the mother and the son? I need an urgent reply for my essay and I need quite some points to be able to elaborate on!!

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      1. The son knows how hard his mother works and how she is treated by others (class issues)
      2. The mother wants to instill discipline into her son. Hence telling him to finish the cleaning of the woman’s house who accused the mother of stealing the jewelry (honesty).
      3. The fact that the son helps the mother shows that he understands how difficult things are for her (single mother).
      4. The son doesn’t want to clean the house where the jewelry was found as he feels it belittles his mother. However she is dedicated and honest and is committed to finishing the job. A lesson that the son learns.
      5. There is an unspoken bond between both the mother and son. Most likely derived from the hardships the mother encounters.

  • Can you explain the setting of the house? Thank you, is for an essay

  • Anonymous again

    Can you explain detailed why Victor is a dynamic character and wise.

  • How does the writer vividly portray the character of the mother?

  • how does winston´s writing make this conversation such a satisfying ending to the story?

  • how does the story explore the relationship between mother and son???

  • can you please describe all the themes in detail. i have my exam tomorrow so i need it as quick as possibly!!!!!

  • Your essay as well as the comment section were really helpful and highlighted your depth of understanding for the text. Extremely helpful for exam prep. Thank you!

  • Hi, does anyone have a link of the full story? I lost my copy and I cant find it on the web. Thanks in advance!!

  • Thanks huge help man

  • El narrador llega a provocar simpatia por victor?

  • what is the narrator opinion of the other characters?

  • How deos the author portay the idea of dignity?

  • Hey, its Osama again, from a year ago. I am still having issues with this story. What do you think is the overall meaning of it?

  • Why did the owner of the house react the way she reacted?

  • What is the relevance of the title to the rest of the story? thanks

  • Carol was unable to tell the owner of the house where the earrings were since she could simply say that “she made me guilty enough to give them back”. Well, the narrator, by leaving the earrings next to the envelope of money… isn’t taking that risk, the risk of being accused by the owner of the house? She can still think the same, that she made Carol guilty. I see no solution in leaving them there, shouldn’t he have left them in the floor, or with a note next to them?

  • How are dignity and pride explored in the story?

  • What is the purpose of the story?

  • Why does Victor remove the earrings from the catbox and put it next to the envelope?

  • good analysis

  • i need help, Do the characters change or develop by the end of the story? How? *

  • How does the ending makes you feel? Thanks!

  • What are three adjectives to describe Victor? thanks!

  • Can you describe me Victor with three adjectives please?

  • the setting?

  • How do the different settings in the story contribute to our empathy of the characters and how do we know if this narrator reliable or unreliable?

  • hey!
    What does the mother do at the end with the money?

    and What does the protagonist leave in the kitchen at the end of the short story?

  • Literal meaning of the title “on her knees” plz reply asap…

  • HI ! Your post was extremely helpful and it gave a good understanding of the story. However, I need to write a short paragraph on: What is the relationship between the mother and son at the end of the story.

    Thank you so much !

  • What do you think the mood and tone of the story is and why? Thanks in advance for replying back.

  • Can you plzzz analyse what she meant when she said that ” there was more honor in scrubbing other people’s floors than having strangers scrub your own.”

  • They asked me to an essay using this: reflect upon the ending of the story and how the finding of the earrings change everything and changes nothing

  • i have been trying to find the literary devices used in the story could youplease help

  • What is the narrators attitude to his father

  • How do you think the writer has used language to convey intended message of the story?

  • I have two questions: How did you reply to every single person on this page? What do those books sitting on the shelf represent? Thanks for the analysis of this story. I really appreciate it.

  • How do the lady with earrings and Victor’s Fit in both lower and middle class? How do they fit in the stereotypes and how do they not?

  • thank you so much, you dont get enuf compliments the work you did
    helped me understand the story so well for my exam tomorrow thanks!

  • I’m confused who is carol?

  • At the end of the story “I chucked them into the CAT TRAY” What does this means ? Did victor as a kind of revenge put the earring into the cat tray and then left it on the table for the high class lady
    I hope to have an answer quickly i got exams thank you

  • I need help with my exam tomorrow!! Could you please elaborate more on the themes displayed in the story? And could you explain the main message that Winton wants to convey?

  • At the end what suggests that victor was proud of his mother?

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