Places: The Tree of Man

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1955

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Parable

Time of work: Twentieth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedBush

Bush. Tree of Man, TheAustralian term for wilderness area that also has connotations that make the bush a fearful place on one hand and a spiritual place on the other. As the novel opens, the central character, Stan Parker, walks into the virgin bushland awed by the “simplicity of true grandeur” where the silence was “immense.” From the novel’s beginning, then, the bush assumes religious dimensions comparable to a cathedral. It continues to be treated in this way throughout the work, and at its end, Stan’s grandson undergoes a similar revelation as he walks through the bush.

A crucial passage of The Tree of Man describes a powerful storm that strikes the area and the flood that follows. Such unpredictable weather characterizes Australia, where bush regions suffer drought for years then heavy rains flood the parched earth. The raging water heightens the drab landscape and figures as a pivotal experience in Parker’s quest for understanding. Like so many elements in the novel, the deluge carries religious significance and brings to mind the biblical flood.

Parker farm

Parker farm. Farm that Stan and his wife, Amy, build for half a century. It begins with Stan’s clearing of a space in the bush and building a simple hut. Soon, he marries Amy, with whom he has two children. Over the years, their farm expands as more of the scrub and trees are cleared away. The crude hut evolves into a rambling house, typical of those in the Australian countryside, and serviceable farm buildings appear. Paths become roads, and more settlers arrive to develop similar properties. As the years pass, the Parkers create a most ordinary settlement, of a type that White himself knew well. On his return to Australia after serving in World War II, he lived in an area called Castle Hill on a farm closely resembling the Parkers’ place.


Glastonbury. Grand country house that a wealthy Sydney family builds on land near the Parker farm. There, they and their society friends from the city spend holidays imitating the ways of British aristocracy. Amy, who works in the kitchen at the great house, finds the place fascinating, a welcome release from her humdrum farming life. However, when a bush fire destroys Glastonbury, Amy realizes that it was all merely a fantasy and no real part of her life. The country estate had violated the sanctity of the bush.

During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries successful Australians developed a fondness for country houses patterned after the stately homes that dot the English countryside. In fact, White, who came from a wealthy family, spent part of his childhood in such a house in the New England region of Australia.


Duralgai. Village that arises near the Parker farm. It consists first of a general store and a post office, but gradually grows into a typical Australian country town, with dusty streets and buildings with verandas to protect people from the torrid sun.


*Sydney. Australia’s most cosmopolitan city, which lies not far from the Parker farm, plays a minor but significant role in the narrative. It represents the spiritual vacuum that White saw in Australian society. To develop this theme, White moves the Parkers’ two children into Sydney. The daughter, Thelma, marries a lawyer and devotes herself to middle-class pretensions, while the son, Ray, turns to gambling and crime. When Stan and Amy venture into the city, they are never comfortable in what they consider an artificial and destructive environment.

BibliographyBliss, Carolyn. “The Tree of Man.” In Patrick White’s Fiction. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986. Provides a clear analysis of the novel. Places this early novel within the White canon, which is seen as concerned with “the paradox of fortunate failure.”Colmer, John. Patrick White. New York: Methuen, 1984. Examines the continuity of vision in White’s fiction. Discusses and places The Tree of Man within that context as an important early work.Hope, A. D. “The Bunyip Stages a Comeback–The Tree of Man.” In Critical Essays on Patrick White. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990. A noted review of the novel, written in 1956 by a leading Australian poet. Praises the way White represents “a sense of the mystery of all living,” but criticizes his prose style, calling it “pretentious and illiterate verbal sludge.”Kramer, Leonie. “The Tree of Man: An Essay in Skepticism.” In Critical Essays on Patrick White, edited by Peter Wolfe. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990. Traces Stan Parker’s “journey towards enlightenment” by analyzing the formal structure of the novel. Argues that Stan’s supposed spiritual illumination has been overestimated by critics, and sees the novel instead as expressing a skeptical “attitude towards metaphysical speculation.”Weigel, John A. Patrick White. Boston: Twayne, 1983. A comprehensive introduction to all aspects of White’s work and life, including a well-defined discussion of The Tree of Man. An excellent starting point for a study of White’s fiction.
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