The Bush Undertaker by Henry Lawson
In The Bush Undertaker by Henry Lawson we have the theme of isolation, connection, friendship, curiosity, happiness, survival and control. Taken from his While the Billy Boils collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Lawson may be exploring the theme of isolation. The old man lives alone (with the exception of Five Bob) in the Bush. Apart from Brummy’s corpse there are no other individuals in the immediate area. However though the old man is isolated he is not lonely or at least he does not appear to be lonely. He seems to be comfortable with his own company. Which some critics might find unusual considering loneliness is often associated with isolation. It is also clear to the reader that the old man though isolated from others is still able to make a connection with people. If anything the old man would consider Brummy to be his friend. It is probably for this reason that the old man takes so much care with Brummy’s body. Using his own shirt to tie the bark together when he is transporting Brummy back to his hut. It may also be significant that Lawson describes the old man’s home as a hut rather than a cabin. As this would suggest just how frugally the old man lives. Something that is also noticeable by the fact that the old man rather than eating in the hut (lack of space) eats outside the hut.
Though the old man lives very modestly he doesn’t appear to long for anything which suggests that not only is the old man happy but happiness can also be found in the Bush. If anything the old man has everything he needs. There are no frills just hard living. It is this living which might make some critics suggest that the old and is somewhat odd due to the nature of his lifestyle. However the reality may be that the old man likes his own company. Again he may be isolated from others but he is not lonely. The fact that the old man talks to Brummy, Five Bob and himself is also interesting as through his dialogue the reader realises that the old man is far from mentally unstable. He appears if anything to be comfortable within himself. It is also difficult to say for certain as to why the old man dug up the bones from the graveyard. His intentions are not clear as Lawson doesn’t afford the reader an opportunity to reach a conclusion as to the purpose of this endeavour. The bones themselves would be of no use to the old man. However he may have an ulterior motive for digging up the bones and that motive may be curiosity to see if ‘blackfellows’ (aborigines) are different to him.
The theme of friendship is self-evident in the story. The old man’s treatment of Brummy not only suggests kindness but it is though he is helping a friend one last time. It is also noticeable that the old man considers it important to say a few words after burying Brummy. This shows that the old man has the ability to be compassionate and to follow structure or accepted rituals. He is also fully aware that there is nobody else to speak for Brummy and that the onus falls on to him. Which suggests that the old man has the capacity to take responsibility when needed. Though we do not know how long the old man has been in the Bush he does demonstrate an ability to survive. He feeds himself, has his hut, and has a flock of sheep to tend to. Which suggests that the old man keeps himself busy. The Bush is where the old man makes his living which would distinguish him from the majority of people and as such leave him open to allegations of being strange.
However at no stage in the story (except for digging up the bones out of curiosity) does the old man display any sense of mental instability. He knows his environment and he knows how to live in his environment. The old man is in complete control of his life though it may appear as though he is not due to the fact that he is isolated from others and tends to talk to himself. Which may not be considered to be normal though each individual’s definition of normal may differ at times. The old man isn’t hurting anybody. Nobody is taking offence to his existence as nobody (apart from Brummy and the Super) know where he is. If anything the old man has managed to live his life as a non-conformist. Happy enough to be able to look after himself, Five Bob and his sheep. However some critics may not be persuaded and will consider that the old man has spent too long alone in the Bush and it is for this reason that the old man has become an eccentric.