In ‘House and Land’ Allen Curnow emphasizes the theme of displacement. Though the settlers displaced from England to New Zealand, they failed to recognize New Zealand as their homeland. Though they live in the adopted land, they have not yet adapted to the circumstances. Miss Wilson, the daughter of one of the settlers, finds herself filled with a void. The historian asks the cowman:
Wasn’t this the site, asked the historian, Of the original homestead?
The phrase “under the bluegums” underlines the feeling of depression. The dog seems to be brooding and wasting itself as it languishes around. It just lazily strolls from privy to fowl house-to privy. It senses the innate stagnation, the state of decay. He sense that it is going to rain. Rain is a symbol of fertility and redemption. The historian learns that the lady lives a luxurious life, her expansive building being equipped with all the basic amenities of life. Nevertheless, their long-tern affair has not brought in it any genuine emotion, they feel detached as though they do not belong or fit into the place.
Miss Wilson is the insignia of settlers that managed to adopt, but failed to adapt. In the new environment Miss Wilson senses a feeling of estrangement. The cowherd tells the historian that he was a worker dating right to her heydays, when her father was alive. Now Miss Wilson has been conquered by age, though she cherishes the undying memories of her girlhood days spent in England. She swells with pride at the photograph of a baronet uncle that is a showpiece; this is emblematic of the fact how she proud she is of her ancestral heritage. She also displays a photograph of the big hall of her ancestral house. The hall is a place where people meet together; it is therefore a symbol of communion.
Miss Wilson and her servants sense the hollowness of life there. They are overcome with the force of exile that dominates them spiritually. The idea that the house might fall exemplifies how fragile their spiritual condition was.
The spirit of exile, wrote the historian
Is strong in the people still
And the last lines read:
Awareness of what great gloom
Stands in a land of settlers
With never a soul at home.
She is obsessed with past, and the future seems to hold no redemption. The cowherd says that he is leaving the house owing its annulled atmosphere. The house lacks joviality or merriment. It is haunted by utter hopelessness, as symbolized by the dog brooding in contemplation. The cowman leaves for the hill with a rabbiter. Though it rains, it does not bring happiness. The dog retires to its barrel, where it remains lost and lame. The word ‘lame’ suggests the handicap of the settlers as they missed their homeland. The settlers always felt themselves to be incomplete.They stayed, but never belonged.
© Rukhaya MK 2012
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