Drovers Wife Critical Analysis Essay

Her surroundings are not favorable to the "womanly" or sentimental side of nature.


The essence of the drover's wife's life is captured in this line, as is the theme of woman's struggle. The drover's wife lives secluded in a harsh environment. She has to take care of four children, 'mere babies', on her own. Her husband has been gone for six months and she has to be strong, not just for herself but also for her children. This includes fighting all kinds of horrors that life throws at her, such as bush fires, floods, mad bullocks and many other struggles. This makes her slightly rugged in nature.

But all her hopes and dreams have been long dead. She finds all the excitement and enjoyment she needs in the 'Young Ladies Journal.'


At first this seems a rather melancholy line. The drover's wife is alone in the bush and has lost all of her girlish hopes and dreams and has nothing but struggle and adversity to contend with. However, readers may be coming at this with their own biases; after all, she is actually content. She knows what her life is and does not rail against it. She says later that at first she did not like the bush but has come to accept it and would feel strange if she left it. It is part of her character not to get bogged down in possibilities but to accept where she is at.

She put on an old pair of her husband's trousers and tried to beat out the fire with a green tree branch.


It is a lovely and symbolic moment in the text when the drover's wife puts on her husband's pants to fight the fire, because she is clearly "wearing the pants" in all respects out here in the bush while he is away. She literally does everything for her family and on their land; all obstacles that come their way are hers to fight. She is stoic, smart, and steadfast; clearly she does not need actual trousers to be the leader of the household.

He plans to move his family into the nearest town when he comes back.


We don't know much about the drover himself. We see him through the eyes of his wife, and although she does not seem like a woman prone to exaggeration or sentimentalism, it's still the case that we never get to judge him for ourselves. We hear that he is "careless" and that he occasionally sleeps with other women when he is away, but that he is a good husband and provides for his family. Perhaps the most salient thing about him, though, and the thing that distinguishes him from his wife, is that he still has hope. He is still optimistic things will turn around. He thinks he will be able to get back on a good financial footing and get a buggy again. His wife does not share the same hopefulness; she has long since abandoned her dreams, and is more or less content with her lot no matter how far from ideal it seems. Her resignation allows her to survive against the odds, which may give the reader pause in terms of whether or not we expect her "careless" and confident husband will come back from his long journey.

She thinks of things in her own life, for there is little else to think about.


One of the interesting things about the story is that while about half of it is actual narrative, the other half takes place within the mind of the drover's wife. The narrator is third-person omniscient, so we have access to the drover's wife's thoughts, but we do not see the events play out in real time. This does several things. First, it emphasizes the loneliness of the place. With little else to stimulate one's mind, one's thoughts are quite prominent. Second, it gives us access not only to the events that shaped her life but also her innermost thoughts about them. Third, it douses the events with a tinge of melancholy, for they are not happening now, but are difficult moments that she, no doubt given the isolation of the place, relives over and over again. Finally, the different layers of reality and the movement in time (her reveries abruptly end and we are plunged back into the present when the snake comes out) help the story to present a rich and compelling imaginative world.

In The Drover’s Wife by Henry Lawson we have the theme of struggle, hardship, identity, resilience, isolation, vulnerability, responsibility, aspirations and unity. 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 struggle and hardship. The Drover’s wife struggles to keep things going. There is one calamity after another and she has no one to help her. In many ways the Drover’s wife is taking on her husband’s role. Which may be important as the Drover’s wife has very little opportunity to express herself in a feminine way. All the tasks she performs would usually be associated with the male. This may be important as Lawson may be highlighting just how difficult and cruel life can be in the bush for a woman. It is as though the Drover’s wife’s identity has been taken by the bush. It is also noticeable that the Drover’s wife lives in isolation from others. This may be important as isolation would often be connected with struggle. There is nobody apart from the Drover’s wife’s brother-in-law to help her when it comes to getting provisions. In fact so isolated is the Drover’s wife that she is almost vulnerable. Something that becomes clear to the reader when the man the Drover’s wife feeds attempts to invite himself into the Drover’s wife’s home so that he can stay for the night.

However with vulnerability comes toughness and there is no doubting that the Drover’s wife is tough. Though she may not wish to be she knows that she has to be because of the environment she finds herself in. The bush is unforgiving to those who do not fight back and the Drover’s wife spends a lot of her time fighting back against not only strangers who arrive at her cabin but fighting against the elements too. If anything the Drover’s wife is a courageous woman. Though she has no option but to be courageous if she wishes for her and her family to survive. There is also a sense of loss through struggle and hardship in the Drover’s wife’s life. She has lost a child due to the fact that she is living so distant from others. This loss may be important as rather than being defeated the Drover’s wife has had no option but to carry on which suggests a resilience within the Drover’s wife. Not only is she tough but she knows that she must keep moving forward no matter how difficult things may be.

Lawson also appears to be exploring the theme of aspirations. Through his use of the Young Ladies Journal the reader suspects that the Drover’s wife aspires to be dressed like some of the women in the journal. She has hopes and dreams which is interesting as it suggests that no matter what the bush might do to her the Drover’s wife again will not be defeated. She knows that due to her environment she can’t be the feminine woman she might like to be. However she still has aspirations and dreams that will not go away. Though the Drover’s wife is doing a man’s job or at least what would be perceived to be a man’s job she still has the ability to aspire to be more womanly. To connect with herself as a woman. The Drover’s wife is also practical. Something that is noticeable by the fact that should her husband forget that he is married the most important thing is that he brings home his salary. It is also interesting that though she may not have the opportunity to express herself as a mother might do be the Drover’s wife doesn’t forget that she is a mother. She is fully aware that she has four children that need to be looked after. If anything the Drover’s wife is not shying away from responsibility no matter how difficult life may be.

Tommy’s character is also interesting as in many ways he appears to be attempting to take on the role of the adult male that one would expect to see in a family. In reality he is attempting to be the father figure in his father’s absence. Though only eleven years old Tommy wants to fill the gap that his father has left. Which in many ways is admirable though not exactly practical when it comes to the needs the family have in the bush. It might also be important that Tommy tells his mother that he will never become a drover. It is as though he is aware of just how difficult things are for his mother. She may not be the typical mother or show the affection one would expect a mother to show but Tommy still appreciates her. He knows just how difficult life is for her in the bush. The fact that the entire family (Drover’s wife and four children) are all in the kitchen for the majority of the story may also have some symbolic significance as it suggests that there is a unity between them. Just as Tommy won’t become a drover (and as a result stay by his mother’s side). The entire family with the exception of the Dover’s wife’s husband are in unison. No matter how difficult life in the bush may be the family are together.

McManus, Dermot. "The Drover's Wife by Henry Lawson." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 8 Sep. 2017. Web.

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