On Her Knees by Tim Winton

On Her Knees - Tim WintonIn 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?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      In all likelihood the fact that the narrator shares lunch with his mother suggests that he is connected to his mother. That he understands the difficulties she has to go through for the two of them.

  • The structure of the whole story.

  • Didn’t quite help.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      I’m surprised it didn’t help. The link given provides the information as to what the structure of a story is. Which is what I thought you were looking for. All you need to do is take the information from the link and apply it to the story.

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

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      The narrator feels as though his mother has had to struggle since his father left her. Rather than cleaning houses he would prefer for his mother to be doing something else.

  • What does the earring symbolize in this story?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      I imagine it symbolizes control. After all it is how the narrator’s mother loses her job.

      • Thank you this was so helpful!

      • Earrings may symbolize only money $500 for the employer but for Carol, these symbolize the proof of her moral values and integrity of her character.

        Her employer seens to be a teacher herself as Victor observes students’papers, annotated biography of Martin Luther King that suggest that teaching ‘the safe, right- thinking stuff of
        the time’ is her job. Ironically, she blatantly fails to apply these values of equality, justice n freedom to real ppl like her housekeeper Carol.

        Q. Significance of lemon tree?

        • Dermot (Post Author)

          Thanks for that insight Bushra. I’m not sure about the lemon tree. I’m thinking lemons leave a bitter taste which may mirror how the narrator feels.

    • 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.

  • Hey….figures of speech for this story….reply asap coz I got a presentation on modal.
    Thank you

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Sorry Safiyyah. I have a back log of stories I’m working on at the moment. Can I suggest you follow this link here and read the story. Good luck with your presentation.

  • 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

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      1. The narrator’s mother is reliant on her job to keep her and the narrator together.

      2. The narrator himself feels helpless and would prefer that his mother did not have to clean other people’s homes.

      3. The narrator also despairs at how his mother is treated by some of the people whose homes she cleans.

      4. The narrator wants to take control at the end of the story and help his mother but his mother doesn’t allow him. She remains honest till the end.

  • 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?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      1. She struggles which draws empathy from the reader

      2. He husband left her making life tougher on her and Victor.

      3. She will not let others drag her down (incident with the earrings).

  • 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

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      1. She struggles which draws empathy from the reader

      2. He husband left her making life tougher on her and Victor.

      3. She will not let others drag her down (incident with the earrings).

  • 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.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      I would hope that my mother found a job n which she was appreciated or in in which I could support her. So that she did not have to deal with the problems that come with dealing with people (earrings).

  • 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

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      The mother is hard working and proud. She believes in earning her money. The son is a little bit angry because he believes his mother is being ill-treated. He loves her dearly and does not want to see her taken advantage of.

  • 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?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      The term old man may be colloquial. With Winton using the term to suggest someone’s husband or father.


  • 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’

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      How divisions in class still exist. However despite this those who are deemed to be of a lower class will remain proud of who they are.

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

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      I would need to read the story again to answer your question. Though you could look at the mother’s actions throughout the story. Along with the narrator’s actions.

  • 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.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Victor may be a dynamic character because through his mother’s wisdom he changes. She passes wisdom onto to him.

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

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      By keeping Victor’s focus on his mother and also through the mundane tasks of seeing her cleaning.

  • 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???

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      One way that Winton explores the relationship is by having Victor spend the day with his mother. He sees what she has to do and it displeases him.

  • 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!!

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