Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 710
Ann, a city dweller, and her fiancé, Ken, are visiting the home of Ken’s parents in the outer reaches of a new suburban development. Ken reports that one of the two large tractors owned by McKay, the contractor who is clearing away trees and bushes for the expansion of the development, has been sabotaged. Ann, incredulous, cannot believe that anyone would deliberately tamper with clearing or construction equipment, but describes the preparation of marginal farming and grazing land for houses as ruthless. Ken takes pride in his business acumen and entrepreneurship: He is helping to provide people with suburban-style houses and enabling hardscrabble farm owners to realize some income from their land. As Ann acknowledges, he is more perceptive than he chooses to reveal. Ann, however, cannot imagine herself living in a development that has been carved from the bush (the Australian term for the undisturbed countryside).
Ken indicates that he and his friends know who has interfered with the tractors, and also allowed faucets on farm drinking-troughs to run continuously; they are prepared to set fire to the bush in order to flush out the hermit, who has several favorite living-spots in the region. At this, Ann realizes that she can never become one of Ken’s group; she has quite different values with regard to both the environment and the homeless, the eccentrics of society, those who commune with nature rather than destroy it in the name of progress.
The summer heat becomes oppressive, and the police cannot find the hermit, who knows every feature of the bush. Ken describes the hermit as a madman, because of his total identification with nature and rejection of conventional domesticity. Although one of his camps is found, the hermit eludes police and a posse for a week. Assuming that the hermit is armed, the posse searches with rifles.
Ken and Ann acknowledge their differing values, which jeopardize their apparent love. She resorts to painting flowers, bushes, and seeds; he states his belief in making domestic use of the land and chastises Ann for being a dreamer, an impractical conservationist. While Ken is out in search of the hermit, Ann helps Ken’s mother with household chores. She discerns in her an attractive quietness and insightfulness, but suspects that she has never questioned men’s decisions and actions: She epitomizes the wife who accepts male hegemony without demonstration or demur.
At a local birthday party, the conversation inevitably turns to the hermit and the incompetence of the local police in apprehending him. Most people believe that the hermit should be flushed out and killed, if necessary, the way that a nuisance fox or wild dog would be caught. Because Ann’s values are so different from those of the others, they question her qualifications to teach their children in the local elementary school.
On her return to her boardinghouse room after the party, Ann is introspective; her sense of anger gives way to dejection and then to fear as she realizes that the men’s plan to hunt the hermit and shoot him is likely to be carried out.
A week after the sabotage of the tractor, Ann takes advantage of Ken’s absence—he is at a meeting of the posse—and she goes walking, ostensibly to paint wildlife, but in reality to locate the hermit and warn him of the posse’s plans in the hope that he will escape. The summer heat exhausts her; although a lover of the bush, she is not experienced in traversing it and becomes lost. Suddenly she is confronted by the hermit. He is thin, his arms are sticklike, knotted and black, and he has a rifle. Ann tries to prevail on the hermit to leave this part of the bush, but his impassivity unnerves her and she cries out helplessly. She sees that he moves in a fashion that is “liquid, unhuman . . . like an animal or the vibration of the thin sparse trees before the wind.”
Later in the afternoon, Ann hears shots. Ken explains that the hermit tried to get past the line of the posse, then shot at one of them, so they had to shoot him. Ann is unable to respond. She and Ken drive back to the town.
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