White, Patrick 1912–
The Nobel Laureate in Literature for 1973, White is a British-born Australian author of novels, plays, and short stories. Although the Swedish Academy commended him for "introducing a new continent to literature," he is, as Pearl K. Bell affirms, a modern writer rather than a regional realist, displaying "a characteristically twentieth-century obsession with human loneliness and alienation, and with the tragic perversions of personality." (See also CLC, Vols. 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 81-84.)
Patrick White's chief interest throughout his novels has been on 'burnt ones', emotionally damaged people who lead a lonely existence without a lifeline to other lives. He is reluctant to portray his burnt ones as totally destroyed, but seeks to find for them a compensating value that might give their life some significance. Again and again, he portrays the force that supplements or transforms their blighted personal life as a richer life within the imagination. Those who do not or cannot attain a rewarding dream life, a life of conscious fantasy, White tends to endow with a visionary quality. (p. 152)
I use 'dreams' to designate the process of conscious fantasy…. Dreaming is a universal process, but when one's personal life is especially unsatisfactory, the dreams need to be richer, and they occupy a larger part of one's existence. Some form of dreaming—and mysticism itself can be seen as one form of dreaming—is necessary as an outlet or compensation for stark reality. When in The Aunt's Story Theodora Goodman's life in the ordinary world becomes unbearable, she elects a life completely within fantasy. Stan and Amy Parker, although emotionally undernourished, are not so burnt as Theodora; they do not dream so much as she does because they do not need to and also because they cannot, lacking broad and deep experience. Amy dreams more than Stan, and finds in dreaming some outlet for her frustration. Stan, similarly frustrated, represses his impulse to dream. What then is left in compensation to give significance to his life?
Instead of an indulgence in a dream life like Amy's, Stan is endowed by White with a sense of vision. By 'vision' I mean an experience beyond a human level, something mystical. It is noteworthy that Stan's visionary sense is at its highest when his personal life is particularly empty…. The principle of compensation is evident in White's thinking: he endows Stan with a visionary sense because Stan cannot dream to any large extent. Both the dreams that White shows Amy indulging in and the visionary sense that he endows Stan with appear to spring from his unwillingness to abandon these burnt ones to a wholly wasted life. (pp. 152-53)
In this novel White shows considerable ambivalence towards the value of dreaming in making life bearable. On one hand he is saying that because life is disappointing, dreams are needed to give it significance. On the other hand he is saying that dreams are bound to disappoint in that life will not measure up to them. There is bitterness accompanying this dilemma: if one does not dream one is left empty and hopeless, and if one does dream one will be disappointed with the realities of ordinary life. In Stan and Amy Parker White depicts two people frustrated by life, with only a partial alleviation through dreams. Because of their lack of emotional and educational experiences, they are not equipped to dream richly enough to compensate for the drabness of their lives. Further, the figures that their dreams are built on are unfailingly disappointing. (p. 163)
The Tree of Man is a more depressing book than its predecessor, The Aunt's Story . It shows the bleakness of the lives of people who cannot enter the life of the imagination completely like Theodora Goodman, in order to find an alternative or a supplement...
(The entire section contains 5350 words.)
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- Critical Essays