Settling on the Land by Henry Lawson
In Settling on the Land by Henry Lawson we have the theme of hardship, determination, acceptance and regret. Taken from his While the Billy Boils collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Lawson may be exploring the theme of hardship. Tom Hopkins when first venturing out to settle some land loses his bride to be. It is as though she is aware of the difficulties that come with working the land and wants no part of it. Difficulties that Tom himself soon encounters when he tries to grub a tree. He has no experience and one calamity leads to the next. All overseen by the squatter who throughout the story takes full advantage of Tom’s bad luck. The squatter is an important character because he highlights that there is no justice in the outback. Something that is clearer to the reader when Tom assaults the squatter for everything he has done to him and the local justice, who is now the squatter’s father in-law, sentences Tom to six months in prison.
This however does not deter Tom and he remains committed if not dedicated to the land. Where a wise man might have given up or accepted he was beat. Tom doesn’t. He perseveres right till the time he is sent to the asylum. A place where Tom finally finds peace of mind. Though Tom never gave up he never really stood a chance either in succeeding in his goals with the land. He had Jacob’s help but Jacob may have been as naive as Tom and may not have really known what he was doing. The best thing that Jacob was able to do for Tom was to provide him with the cornet and wine. It was only then that Tom was able to let go of everything that had happened to him. With the wine acting as the catalyst for Tom to finally admit defeat.
The fact that Tom considers that he may have been unwell mentally prior to settling his land is also interesting as there is a sense that Tom may be somewhat in denial about the impact the land had on him. For him to believe he was unwell before venturing out suggests that Tom has not fully accepted what has happened to him on the land. Some men are made to be farmers and some men become farmers. Tom was neither type of man. He was out of luck and had every obstacle imaginable (the squatter) to overcome. In reality Tom though good-willed never stood a chance. He may have been a success in the city but farming is something else and requires a different set of skills and a degree of luck. It is also interesting that Tom had the opportunity to marry. However his wife is never given a voice in the story. Leaving the reader to wonder as to why Tom may have married. Was it his way of saying he needs help or was he simply lonely. When he arrives back in the city there is no mention of his wife. So the reader is at a loss as to what may have happened.
If anything all Tom’s efforts and years spent settling the land appear to have been in vain. He was after all farming the wrong land which might have come as a shock to Tom. Though again he remained undefeated, determined and unable to accept he might be beaten. Is it any wonder that Tom spent time in the asylum? Over the years he has endured more than most people would in a life time. It is also somewhat ironic that the squatter ended up in the asylum too. The land had him beat as well. Which may be the moral of the story. It is possible that Lawson is suggesting that some people in the city (people like Tom) may have a great idea about settling land but the reality is that you need to have at least some knowledge when it comes to what you’re doing. There could be two types of people. Those who live in the city and those who work the land. Both types of people live very different lives and Tom was never really able to adapt to his new way of life. As for what happens Tom. He remains a broken man who may never fully understand that should he have stayed in the city his life would have turned out completely different.