Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Almost all of Peter Cowan’s short fiction treats a restricted range of thematic material, and most of these themes were introduced in his first volume, Drift: Stories (1944): the close connection of individuals to the land, farmers’ loneliness without the company of sympathetic women, the incompatibility of city and country life, and the uniformity of values of small-town societies. “The Tractor” introduces all of these, although not all are explored at length. Here the despoiling of the natural environment under the pressure to extend housing and the two central characters’ responses to this situation are the principal foci of the story. These, in turn, introduce a number of subsidiary considerations that challenge the thinking of the reader rather than present a set of conclusions. Is there a simple choice between conservation and development? Should the natural environment be preserved at the expense of people who wish to leave the inner cities and have modern housing far from urban blight? Is it wrong for farmers to profit from selling their land to housing developers? Should independent-minded, homeless, or eccentric characters outside the normal social sphere be allowed to wreak their individual vengeance on the representatives of social change, development, or improvement without consequences?

Because it raises so many fundamental social issues, “The Tractor,” according to one critic, is a moral fable for modern times. All of...

(The entire section is 513 words.)