The book is packed with colorful and vividly drawn characters whose life stories are traced both in retrospect and through the forward narrative. The characters’ behavior is largely determined by their relationship to the land and, in varying degrees, by the conflict between the moral values of the black and white communities in which they move. The author does not make explicit moral judgments on them but leaves the reader to draw inferences through the contradiction between the way they behave and the way they perceive themselves and are perceived by others.
Bessie Watt, who had taken over the farm when her feckless husband, Ted Watt, fell drunkenly to his death, is a tough and determined manager. She has a deep understanding of the aborigines’ customs and is wise enough to refrain from interfering with them, even when her own principles are offended. Although Hugh has inherited her devotion to Wytaliba and something of her grit, he lacks her flexibility and insight. In a moment of crisis, he wonders if he has something of his father’s weakness within him.
Hugh is essentially a lonely man, and his three opportunities for companionship with white women end in failure. Jessica, a pretty, delicate society girl whom he brings to Wytaliba as his fiancee, soon leaves in disillusionment. Mollie, the plump and homely former servant whom he marries while visiting the west coast, is at first delighted to have a household of her own and becomes a good domestic manager. She isolates herself, however, by her grasping nature and her prejudices against blacks, and she uses the knowledge she gleans about Hugh, Coonardoo, and Winni to return to west coast society. The exorbitant allowance she demands from him to bring up their five daughters and to live in the extravagant style of the former lady of Wytaliba contributes to Hugh’s later bankruptcy.
Years afterward, the...
(The entire section is 775 words.)