The Tree Of Man
“She had begun to read in the beginning as a protection from the frightening and unpleasant things. She continued because, apart from the story, literature brought with it a kind of gentility for which she craved.” ― Patrick White, The Tree Of Man
A poetic tribute to man and nature. The Tree of Man succeeds in capturing the opening of the frontier in Australia. It is reminiscent of O. E. Rolvaag or Conrad Richter who did the same for the American frontier. The story is a universal one, even so White succeeds in creating individual characters, particularly Stan Parker, for whom you develop feeling. He succeeds in demonstrating basic human values and the inherent drama of life in the raw. That combined with the poetic descriptions of nature gave the characters life. In the case of Stan Parker, who throughout his life span was inarticulate, awkward, and sensitive, his stoicism was impressive. Amy, the orphan girl he took as his wife, was a frustrated lusty woman he has made her, yet I found something appealing in her despite her yearnings and ultimate fall; the neighbors, except for the dissolute Irish O'Dowds, and the Quigleys,- Bub who was a child all his life, and his protective sister Doll, who killed him to save him the danger of being left, alone,- provide a convincing background -- a sort of Greek chorus.
The events move slowly across the stage, against flood and fire and drought, against poverty, relative security and disintegration. The outside world intrudes with war, but the center of the community is underscored by the strength of nature. Here is an example of the author's poetic limning of nature's rainstorm:
"The lightning, which could have struck open basalt, had, it seemed, the power to open souls. . . As the rain sluiced his lands, and the fork of the lightning entered the crests of his trees. The darkness was full of wonder. . . Soon a new gentleness had crept into the rain, because the storm was passing. Sound become indistinguishable from sound. The drops were separate on the iron roof, the last cold gusts rubbed leaf on leaf." (p 151)
With the next generation growing up, the focus is on the Parker children who emerge as individuals:- Thelma, who marries above her station, and returns at intervals, to hover over her parents, but never really to share; Ray, whose story is not one of success. It is a beautiful saga of man and nature. A man, redeemed by compassion, living in the stark simplicity of the world around him, the only world that he knows. But, in the end the book returns again to nature, to the trees.
"In the end there are the trees. They still stand in the gully behind the house, on a piece of poor land that nobody wants to use. . . On still mornings after frost these stand streaming with light and moisture, the white and the ashen, and some the colour of flesh." (p 479)
It is a poem of life and people and their lives that remains in your memory after you close the last page.
The Tree of Man by Patrick White. Vintage Classics, 1994 (1955)