AbstractsLanguage, Literature & Linguistics

The development of the theme of suffering and redemption in the novels of Patrick White

by Ruth Bernard

Institution: University of Tasmania
Year: 1965
Keywords: White; Patrick; 1912-1990
Record ID: 1032290
Full text PDF: http://eprints.utas.edu.au/18829/1/whole_BernardRuth1966_thesis.pdf


There is a remarkable continuity and coherence of thought in the work of Patrick White. In this thesis, an attempt has been made to show the development of the underlying and recurring theme of suffering leading, ultimately, to redemption. It has been possible to trace a clear progression from the nihilism expressed in the first two books to a positive avowal of faith in the later and more mature novels. This seems to reflect a personal development in the author during the years 1939 to 1961, and, for this reason, his work has been treated chronologically. In chapters I and II, dealing with Happy Valley and The Living and the Dead, the suffering of the main characters is shown to reflect a sense of hopelessness and despair at the inevitable loneliness of man and at the futility of life itself. The Aunt's Story, discussed in chapter III, contains a more positive statement that truth is revealed to those who suffer; however, as revelation and peace seem attainable only in madness, the implicit hopefulness of The Aunt's Story remains questionable. There is a decisive change in the next book and this has been noted in chapter IV. In The Tree of Man, there is a very real attempt to see life in broader terms and to transform suffering into a beneficent experience, leading to humility and serenity. Humility is the key-word to Voss and the redemptive theme culminates in Riders in the Chariot. The author's concepts of humility, of good and evil, of revelation and redemption, are examined in chapters V and VI. Throughout, the imagery used by Patrick White, his symbolism, his mysticism, his predilection for the simple and simple-minded, even the mad, his violent reaction against the ugly manifestations of this "plastic" age and its dehumanising effect on people, his use of irony and social satire, are related to his central theme. The theme itself is, fundamentally, religious: Patrick White proclaims his belief that, by striving and suffering, man is redeemable.