In Voss, White has two distinct styles. A poetic, elliptical, allusive, and somewhat cryptic style is associated with the expedition, the landscape, and Voss and Laura’s relationship. The style in which White portrays Sydney society is more conventional, though with a similar accuracy and originality of description and a sardonic and illuminating wit, both mirroring and satirizing the limited perspectives, worldliness, lack of imagination, and conventionality of that society. In his treatment of the many minor characters, White has been compared to both Charles Dickens and Fyodor Dostoevski.
In depicting Voss and Laura, White uses this range of style to great effect. Voss is first shown as Sydney society perceives him: an ugly, ill-mannered, ungainly foreigner who does not fit in at all. Language is part of the barrier between Voss and others. Demonstrating this lack of communication, White gives him some dialogue in German, even at key points. The blacks’ incomprehension of any of the white man’s languages is emphasized when Voss speaks to them in German.
Voss’s arrogance extends to God; a Moravian missionary at Moreton Bay has told him, “You have a contempt for God, because He is not in your own image.” Though aware of his egoism and the way it has estranged him from people and from worldly comfort, Voss sees religion as “an occupation for women” and finds Laura’s condition for accepting him difficult. He knows that he must have humility for salvation. As the party ventures deeper into the desert, into the aborigines’ territory, discovering burial places and cave paintings, Voss’s God-defying assurance weakens, as he senses a spiritual force of which he has previously been unaware. In the end,...
(The entire section is 715 words.)