Can you help me understand the short story "On Her Knees" by Tim Winton?

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"On Her Knees" is about dignity: about maintaining dignity and understanding the true meaning of dignity. The narrator supposes his mother's dignity is devalued, perhaps destroyed, because she works on her knees cleaning other people's houses. This is especially true since she used to have specialized employment in a medical office.

The narrator is himself pursuing his dignity at law school, feeling that externals, like employment, provide the basis for dignity. In connection with this feeling, he loathes to see her lower herself and disregard and degrade her own dignity. He equally loathes to lower his dignity to help her.

One day her dignity--and his understanding of dignity--is put to the test when she is accused of stealing a pair of $500 earrings from a householder form whom she cleans.

Metaphorically yelling and screaming all the way, the narrator helps her do an all-out four-hour cleaning job for the angered householder's home. The missing earrings are found when he vacuums under the bed. His mother deduces what must have happened so that the earrings were carelessly tossed to the floor with candy wrappers, and she cries silently when his back is turned: "I heard her blow her nose."

The narrator finally understands true dignity when his mother refuses the money offered by the householder. As proof that he understands that dignity is from one's inner being and not related directly to one's knees, he digs the earrings from the kitty litter box where he has tossed them and leaves them "beside the unstrung key and the thin envelope of money." All these are left behind and rejected by the mother's inner dignity. Further proof the narrator understands true dignity is given in the symbolic closing lines: "It seemed that the very light of day was pouring out through her limbs. I had my breath back."

adilnaseem | Student
maitresses character: She is a very  unforgiving person, mainly because she sacked Carol for a small pair of earrings. Also it was the first time  that such an event had occurred, but she still was not convinced that it was a small mistake which should be forgiven. v She read a lot. Her living room was filled with many books, biographies and anthologies.  v She was probably a teacher or a lecturer in a college as there were many marked assignments on her desk. When Victor read the comments she had made, he understood that she was actually good-natured.

As the character never makes an appearance in the story, there is no direct description given about her. The author uses the conversation between Victor and Carol as well as the description of her house to give us clues about her personality.

adilnaseem | Student

mothers character:

vShe was trying very hard to support her family after her husband died. v She wanted her son to go to university as she felt education was very important. This was thus her motivation to work doubly hard and earn more money for the family. v She felt very helpless as she could not do much to prove her innocence. She said, “these people, they can say anything they like. You can’t fight back.” v She was quite old and thin. Her hands were rough due to all the cleaning and her son even mentions that you could see the veins pop out on her legs.


The author has described her in an indirect manner. The main modes of conveying information used by the author are by mentioning it during the conversation, showing it through her actions and by communicating it through the thoughts and feelings of her son. Also by stating her beliefs, he has highlighted many of her personality traits.

meeeeena | Student

the setting of the story:

1 victor and carol's house

2 their car

3 the mistress house

meeeeena | Student

the story is named on her knees because the mother(CAROL) works on her KNEES