A Child in the Dark, and a Foreign Father

Plot summary

A story by Henry Lawson, was written in 1902 and included in Triangles of Life (1913). The story records the return home to his farm on New Year's Eve of a poor carpenter, who discovers that his three children and the household chores have been neglected by his neurotic and slatternly wife; after cleaning up and attending to his family during the night, the workman returns to his trade next morning. The setting of the story (Pipeclay), the fact that the foreign father's name is Nils, and the tension between the parents, suggest that the story is autobiographical.

The story begins on New Year's Eve, with a father pacing steadily and hopelessly through the smothering darkness. He arrives home to his cold and uninviting hut.

The man's oldest son emerges from the darkness. He had been feeling sick, he says. But he is better now. He would like to help his father with the cooking and cleaning, but has neither the knowledge nor the means to do so.

The man's wife, Emma, calls from her bedroom. She is currently "bad again in the head" and whines constantly about her husband's utter uselessness. Everything is his fault. The following morning, New Years Day, the man rises from his sleep and leaves for the farming town at which he works. But the new year brings neither hope nor relief- it is just the beginning of another bleak, unpromising cycle of life. "And the old year died as many old years had died."

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