Lawson Narrative Technique

Lawson’s Technique: #

Lawson represents a complete break from the romantic glamorised depiction of landscape and environment.  The Australian landscape is depicted realistically rather than in a derivative English style. 

Romantic Art flourished following the French Revolution, when all things seemed possible and life was on a trajectory of unlimited improvement heading towards perfectibility and the ultimate triumph of good.  It believed that Nature was good and therefore the ideal of goodness was a natural state achievable by man. 

Lawson represents Post Colonialism in Australia.  Other early composers were imitative and derivative.  This means they depicted Australia in British terms.  Painters portrayed Australian scenes as they were in England while writers modelled their descriptions of the landscape using the styles and language of English Writers. 

In Literature, Henry Lawson was one of the first to write about Australia using the Australian vernacular (language, idioms, slang…) and to describe the bush in realistic, rather than romantic terms.

As in most areas of thinking, a dialectic emerges where each dominant ideology (the thesis - Romanticism) is challenged by a reaction (The antithesis) resulting in a conflict resolved by a compromise (the synthesis) which eventually achieves domination to become the new thesis.  Then the whole process begins again with a conflict of opposites.

Among many things, it was the Industrial Revolution and later the ferocity and wanton destruction of WWI that rocked the sensibilities of the Romantics forcing them to re-evaluate their fanciful assumptions, creating doubt and disillusionment on a massive scale.  

Lawson followed Edgar Allan Poe’s definition of a Short Story; with an economy of expression,  a direct laconic homespun style and little embellishment - more sketches than full coloured portraits.  

He uses short sentences – few complex or compound ones.

He uses simple Plot with the emphasis on character portrayal, more a sketch than a full portrait, with very little action or plot

There is little authorial voice or intrusion, though generally a first person narrator.

Lawson is a master of the understatement – nothing is exaggerated or overstated.

His stories portray a realistic transcript of life; he believed literature should be a reflection of  the experiences of the writer.

He has no heroes or villains

His plots are connected to experience – the stories are written in the present tense giving them an immediacy yet uses flashbacks in the past tense to fill us in on the past.

The language is generally Australian  vernacular colloquialisms with some mild vulgate.  Any outright vulgarisms are generally blanks.

“Mother, I won’t never go drovin’; blast me if I do”

Lawson’s tone is heavy and doleful but never defeatist, sentimental or fatalistic.


Narrative Technique

There is a balance between objectivity and imaginative evocation (subjectivity).  Whenever the danger of self-revelation might become indulgent or too personal, there is a shift to the detached generalization (a more impersonal tone is adopted).


The full realization of a personality and experiences is done by impressionist technique.

  • Impression is created by position in memory

  • memory is selective in reflective process narrator also interprets

  • includes glimpses of the present in relation to the past

  • not merely flashbacks- closer to superimposition  found in film.

  • Narrator interprets the present in relationship to the past.


The stories are effective because they echo, they resonate with the responder long after they have put them down.