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Tree of Man by Patrick White

Tree of Man (original 1955; edition 1994)

by Patrick White

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525819,248 (4.1)1 / 99
Title:Tree of Man
Authors:Patrick White
Info:Vintage (1994), Paperback, 304 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Tree of Man by Patrick White (1955)



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Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
The Nobel committee said that [author: Patrick White] had 'introduced a new continent into literature'. White has taken my grandmother and my grandfather and written them with a clear and unflinching love, with a distant warmth and a wit as dry and subtle as gum leaves.

I've fully bent three people's ears about this book and can't wait to talk to the friend who swore I'd hate it, that White was tedious and dry.

I turned right back the beginning to read it again.

This links to a picture of the beautiful Sidney Nolan cover
I don't want this cover image. I want my cover image, the Sidney Nolan drawing on the Penguin Modern Classics edition. Goodreads librarians are awesome! ( )
  veracite | Apr 5, 2013 |
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. ( )
  jwhenderson | Aug 24, 2012 |
This is a life enhancing novel. Patrick White has brought his undoubted talents as a writer to bear to create a story that is both human and metaphysical. A novel of power and conviction, beautifully focused on the lives of his two central characters; Amy and Stan Parker

At the turn of the 20th century; the young Stan Parker inherits a plot of land in the Australian outback. He is a practical slow thinking, hard working man who decides to clear the land and build himself a house. He finds a wife in a local frontier town with whom he will share his life. They make a farm together and watch other people move into the land around them, they survive floods and fire and Stan comes back from the war. They have children a boy and a girl who both in their way reject their parents honest simple life, but Amy and Stan endure; through their love for each other and the natural world around them, which cannot be expressed in words and remains a mystery to them, but speaks of some higher omnipotence, of which Stan is dimly aware.

There was a seven year gap since the publication of White’s previous novel The Aunts Story and during that time he had moved back to Australia with his partner Manoly Lascaris. The cultured, artistic life style of pre war London had been exchanged for the rough, tough life on a farm deep in the Australian hinterland. The two men worked hard to scratch a living and there was little time for writing, however when the need to write came upon White again he had a whole new experience on which to draw upon. David Marr’s excellent biography of Patrick White links episodes from the life of Patrick and Manoly directly to passages in Tree of Man and I am tempted to think that Stan Parker; perhaps Whites first good character is based on Manoly.

The dazzling prose and post modernist style of much of The Aunts Story has been stripped back for Tree of Man. White seems to have undergone a process of re-invention and certainly his more direct style suits the subject matter. His move back to Australia has allowed him to pick up the speech idioms of the country people and to present to us their less sophisticated views and emotions in sentences that seem perfectly natural. The cleverness has gone out of his style and he seems no longer to have to prove to his readers that he can write. There are still plenty of purple patches in his prose style, but they no longer distance the reader from the subject matter. White is a master of the stream of conscious technique, but it is reigned back here and used more sparingly. He uses it particularly well when there is music or art present. A concert or theatre going experience will lead his characters to muse about their own lives as they listen to a performance, stimulated by what they hear their mind will wander in all sorts of directions, allowing White to introduce new thoughts and ideas.

Stan and Amy Parker are indeed a fine creation. It is through their thoughts that much of the story is told although there are excursions into the lives of their disappointing children. Ray is a particular problem who seems in revolt against his father’s goodness. He shy’s away from his mother’s love as though he is not worthy in comparison with his father and when he leaves home it is no surprise that he get’s involved in criminal activities that will have harmful effects on those around him. His father on hearing about one of his escapades feels obliged to do something and White writes poignantly about Stan:

“But Stan Parker came.
He could not have avoided coming. In the beginning, as a young man, when he was clearing his land, he had hewn at trees with no exact plan in his head, but he got them down, even at the expense of his hands, though these in time became hard, and there were boulders to be moved, that he strained against with his horse, till the soft bellies of man and horse grew hard and stony too, and the stone of will prevailed over rock. It was in this frame of mind that Stan Parker, the father, blundered into town. He had no plan. He was bewildered by much of what he had been told. But he would if given a chance, harness his will to the situation and move it by strength and determination. He supposed. In the end he had hewn a shape and order out of the chaos he had found. He was also an improviser of honest objects of wood and iron, which, if crude in design, had survived to that day. His only guide in all of this had been his simplicity.”

Love is of course a central theme in the novel and White seems to explore similar ideas in this respect to D H Lawrence. Amy and Stan have an undying love that Stan accepts as given, but this is not enough for Amy. She worries that she does not show or does not in fact love Stan enough. She craves to get closer to her husband and finds it difficult to accept that in many respects each of them are inviolable. This is in contrast to the O’Dowds who live on a neighbouring farm, their lives seem completely at odds to the Parkers, O’Dowd is an alcoholic, their farm is a ramshackle affair they appear on the edge of chaos and yet they love each other unconditionally and demonstratively.

At the time of writing Tree of Man White was looking towards religion as a possible salvation from the human condition and some of this is explored in the novel, but it is left inconclusive. It is practical experience that will play the biggest part in the life of the Parkers. Stan experiences an epiphany at the end of his life, but it is his simplicity and his wisdom that leads him to it. For Amy there is not quite the same thing as she desperately tries to share in her husband’s vision.

In previous novels Patrick White has kept his characters at arms length from his readers, but this changes with Tree of Man. He makes us care about the characters. Their humanity is there for us all to see, their faults their failings, but also their love and their kindnesses. He gets us right in close and it is painful sometimes, but the rewards are great and the emotional impact of Stan’s death will live long in my memory. Patrick White has found his voice with Tree of Man. Highly recommended and a 5 star read.. ( )
5 vote baswood | Apr 24, 2012 |
I loved this book. Yes, it bogs down in the middle when the focus moves to the children, but the beginning and end are beautiful.
As soon as I finished, I immediately started the book again.
  FKarr | Dec 15, 2011 |
The prose in this book is impossible to read fast. It constantly pulls you up and makes you look at a particular word or image – or, if you don’t stop, leaves you with an uneasy feeling that you’ve missed something. The point of view frequently moves around within a single short sentence, or rather within a grouping of words between consecutive full stops, since White is a great user of syntactical fragments. Even the very first sentence, innocuous enough at first glance (‘A cart drove between the two big stringybarks and stopped’), has the reader slightly wrong-footed with its abrupt rhythm, its lack of a human or even animal subject, its slightly skewed use of articles (‘the cart drove between two big stringybarks’ be more natural, but would mean something quite different).

I came close to genuflecting at the first four chapters, which tell of the primal encounter of ‘the man’, ‘the woman’ and the bush. I wondered if I would be able to keep up with prose of such intensity for the whole 480 pages. But once the narrative emerged into something resembling a social world – the man and the woman become Stan Parker and Amy Parker nee Figgins, the bush becomes a small farm and eventually a suburb – I was less enthralled. I just don’t believe in the nastiness of most of the characters. I can’t stand the snobbishness of the narrative voice. The drunken Irish shenanigans (read domestic violence, despair, wretched poverty and, towards the end, dubious religion) of the O’Dowds fail to amuse me. The pretentions of the nouveaux riches Armstrongs are awkwardly unconvincing, as is almost everything about the younger Parkers. The book seems to assume that some people, inarticulate or otherwise, have a capacity for rich inner lives, while others (most?) don’t, and must settle at best for synthetic souls with occasional glimpses of higher possibilties.

Perhaps the most striking disappointment is the vast, gaping silence about Aboriginal Australians. When Stan’s cart stops between the stringy barks in that first sentence, it’s definitely in terra nullius. ‘Blacks’ are mentioned twice, once when young Ray refers to their arcane knowledge of how to survive in the desert, and again in the closing pages when the missionary mentions sex with black women as a sign of his youthful depravity. The phrase ‘dream time’ occurs twice. The first time, Stan and Amy have come to an ‘uneasy dream-time’. Since that probably signifies that neither of them was fully awake in relation to the other, the Aboriginal reference may be coincidental, but in the second, near the beginning of the fourth and final part, Stan looks back on his first days at the farm as ‘the dream time’. Here the phrase does refer to a time of creation, of beginnings, and it disturbingly invokes this continent’s history of genocide, dispossession and cultural appropriation. It invokes that history without acknowledging it. Aboriginal people have been erased and over-written.

Then, there’s a passage where Stan remembers a stretch of land as it was when he first cleared it, 'on it the white chips lying that his axe had carved out of the trees, and some trees and young saplings still standing and glistening there, waiting for the axe', and he goes away 'disturbed, and thinking'. In a book that makes much of ‘things that are too terrible and wonderful to speak of’ is it too much to imagine that in this moment the thing Stan does not wish to see is the silenced Aboriginal history? That that history is almost forcing its way into the narrative? There may well be hundreds of learned articles about this disturbed silence, but that’s my two bob’s worth. ( )
1 vote shawjonathan | Jul 20, 2010 |
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Golüke, GuidoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Book description
The Tree of Man is the fourth published novel by the Australian novelist and 1973 Nobel Prize-winner, Patrick White. It is a domestic drama chronicling the lives of the Parker family and their changing fortunes over many decades. It is steeped in Australian folklore and cultural myth, and is recognised as the author's attempt to infuse the idiosyncratic way of life in the remote Australian bush with some sense of the cultural traditions and ideologies that the epic history of Western civilisation has bequeathed to Australian society in general.[1] "When we came to live [in Castle Hill, Sydney]", White wrote, in an attempt to explain the novel, "I felt the life was, on the surface, so dreary, ugly, monotonous, there must be a poetry hidden in it to give it a purpose, and so I set out to discover that secret core, and The Tree of Man emerged."[2]. The title comes from A. E. Housman's poetry cycle A Shropshire Lad, lines of which are quoted in the text.

The man returned to his chair on the edge of the room, and looked at the blank book, and tried to think what he would write in it. The blank pages were in themselves simple and complete. But there must be some simple words, within his reach, with which to throw further light. He would have liked to write some poem or prayer in the empty book, and for some time did consider that idea, remembering the plays of Shakespeare that he had read lying on his stomach as a boy, but any words that came to him were the stiff words of a half-forgotten literature that had no relationship with himself.
—Patrick White, The Tree of Man
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Awarded Australian Literary Society Gold Medal Donated by Miss H.E. Archdale, Headmistress 1958-1970 - 1991(ABB45582)

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