Our Pipes by Henry Lawson
In Our Pipes by Henry Lawson we have the theme of connection, admiration, persistence, rebellion, respect, identification and loss. Taken from his While the Billy Boils collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Lawson may be exploring the theme of connection. Both the narrator and Mitchell are swagmen and identify with each other. More so than if either man had a different profession. Being swagmen they know the difficulties of living in the outback and are natural companions to one another. There is also a sense that the narrator admires Mitchell for his consistency when it comes to smoking. Mitchell endured many difficulties when he first started to smoke however he was not only persistent but he may have also had a rebellious streak when it came to his mother’s opinion on him smoking. It is also clear that Mitchell’s father respects Mitchell’s decision to smoke for Mitchell’s father himself had been hounded by Mitchell’s mother over the years for his own smoking habits. What is also interesting about the story is that both Mitchell and the narrator’s actions are in tandem. They make sure not to sit down when they are walking and both lie in a similar position in order to protect their calves. This could be important as it further suggests that both men have a connection with one another.
Though very little physically happens in the story. It doesn’t need to as both men are thinking alike. Like swagmen. They know the difficulties or their occupation and are careful in everything that they do. Conserving energy when it needs to be conserved and exerting themselves to just the right limits. It is as though the connection between both men is so strong that they can read one another’s mind. Life also appears to be difficult for both men but they can still enjoy themselves by smoking their pipes at the end of the evening. This too may be significant as it is as though both men are rewarding themselves for the efforts of the day. The walk was long as too is the conversation between both men. Though it is noticeable that the narrator is the one who is guiding the conversation. Which may suggest that the narrator is an inquisitive sort of person. Liking to know as much as he can about his travelling companion.
There is also some symbolism in the story which may be important not only does each man’s pipe symbolise a connection but the fact that Mitchell had so many pipes growing up highlights how persistent he was when it came to the matter of smoking. Regardless of what his mother may think. Mitchell was determined to continue smoking and as such earned the respect of his father who was not as free to smoke as Mitchell was. Though the narrator says very little in the story apart from identifying with Mitchell he plays an important role because he is able to extract information from Mitchell. Mitchell trusts him because he knows that the narrator is like him. Mitchell’s determination to continue smoking is also noticeable by his refusal to tell his mother where the pipe is and when she does find it. He discovers other ingenious ways to ensure that he will be able to continue to smoke. Regardless of the fact that he was only fourteen at the time. Something that might in today’s standards be considered to be too young to start smoking.
The end of the story is also interesting as Lawson appears to be exploring the theme of loss. Mitchell has lost his father and there is a sense that he still misses him. It is as though Mitchell’s father not only respected Mitchell but the respect was mutual. Also Mitchell’s father never told Mitchell’s mother about Mitchell smoking. They had a connection that not even Mitchell’s mother was able to break. Mitchell’s father was supportive of Mitchell. It may also be important that the narrator asks Mitchell ‘softly’ as to whether his father is dead. This suggests that the narrator has the capacity for compassion. Despite swagmen being considered to be tough. The narrator is showing a level of empathy to Mitchell which would further connect both men to one another. Despite the difficulties that they incur due to their profession. One thing that might be significant is that Mitchell may not have yet found a replacement to have a smoke with since his father died. True he is having a smoke with the narrator and they have a bond. But the bond may not be as strong (yet) as the one Mitchell had with his father.