The Thorn Birds Essay, Research Paper
The Thorn Birds
The novel, The Thorn Birds, is a very well written story about a family living in a poorer section of New Zealand whose livelihood is shearing sheep. The money for the family depends almost solely on the sheep. In the family, there is Padraic Cleary (Paddy), the father of the clan. He is a likable man who commands respect from his children and from those who know him. His wife, Fiona Cleary (Fee), is a woman with a past who loves her children, respects her husband but is living in a world that she did not want, but accepted it as her only possible way of life. Then there are Fee and Paddy’s children, Frank, Meghann (Meggie), Hughie, Jack, Stuart (Stu), Bob, and the twins, Jims and Patsy, but the story revolves almost entirely around their only girl, Meggie.
When Meggie was about 10 years old, Paddy’s older sister, Mary Carson, beckoned Paddy to come work for her on her very large, very wealthy ranch in New South Wales, Australia, Drogheda. The family fell in love with Drogheda, even though they had to put up with drought, fire, and a climate that they were not used to. The boys in the family lived for Drogheda, and were the main work force of the ranch, herding sheep and cattle from one paddock to another, and working very hard during the most profitable time of the year, the shearing season, and the most hectic, the lambing season.
Paddy was an immigrant from Ireland to New Zealand and was a devout Catholic, along with most Australians. Upon arriving to Drogheda, the Cleary family met Father Ralph, a friend of Mary Carson, a constant visitor to Drogheda, and the local priest of the closest town to Drogheda, Gillabon. The rest of the story rotates around the relationship between Father Ralph who later became Bishop Ralph and finally, Cardinal Ralph, and Meggie.
The Cleary family lived through one of the worst droughts in Australia, and the terrible fire that followed, destroying most of Drogheda’s outer pastures and killing Paddy, and Stuart in the process. They also had to deal with the problem of rabbits. The rabbits were foreigners to Australia, and once introduced, reproduced out of control due to the fact that there were no natural predators in Australia to kill them. The rabbits, along with the kangaroos, were devouring most of Drogheda’s grazing land. Through it all though, Drogheda remained a constant source of pleasure and money for the Cleary family.
Meggie had two children, Justine and Dane. Both very different in personality, and in looks. Meggie marries a shearer turned stockman fo Drogheda, Luke O’Neill, and from their marriage, Justine was born. Dane was from another man, but, the father, nor Dane or Justine knew who it was, only Fee and Meggie knew that secret.
The author of Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough, is a highly talented writer. Throughout the novel, she describes the scenery with much detail. She should be an expert on the topic, since New South Wales, Australia is her home. The detail and description of the people and the places, which she goes deeply into, makes the reader feel as if she is actually experiencing the same things as the characters. She goes explains throughly as to how Drogheda is managed and how it looks. Mrs. McCullough definitely knows what she’s talking about and her writing shows it.
For work with the sheep never, never ended; as one job finished it became time for another. They were mustered and graded, moved from one paddock to another, bred and unbred, shorn and crutched, dipped and drenched, slaughtered and shipped off to be sold. Drogheda carried about a thousand head of prime beef cattle as well as its sheep, but sheep were far more profitable, so in good times Drogheda carried about one sheep for every two acres of its land, or about 125,000 altogether. Being merinos, they were never sold for meat; at the end of a merino’s wool-producing years it was shipped off to become skins, lanolin, tallow and glue, useful only to the tanneries and the knackeries.
Mrs. McCullough’s purpose for writing The Thorn Birds is not entirely clear. She could have written the book to tell about the ways of the Australian people like the outback stockmen. She could have intended to explain what life in Australia is really like, the climate, the animals, etc. Another alternative is that she could have written this novel to talk about the Catholic Church and how man’s desires are no match for an institution like the Church, or try to describe how the Church really works. All of these topics are present in her story and her points for each came across strongly and clearly. The reader learns that Father Ralph becomes a Bishop due to the fact that he helped bring to in large sum of money into the Church, and that Luke, a stockman at heart not just as a profession, lives for his work. He is constantly on the move to find work, never really wanting to settle down yet holding that image of a cozy home in his head as an excuse to work harder. None of these points are lost to the reader. McCullough seems to bring up the same topics, but never she never actually repeats herself, she just offers a new side to the topic for the reader to think about.
This, thought the boys exultantly, was life. Not one of them yearned for New Zealand; when the flies clustered like syrup in the corners of their eyes, up their noses, in their mouths and ears, they learned the Australian trick and hung corks bobbing from the end of strings al around the brims of their hats. To prevent crawlies from getting up inside the legs of their baggy trousers they tied strips of kangaroo hide called bowyangs below their knees, giggling at the silly-sounding name, but awed by the necessity.
Luke looked at the deadly thing he gripped, which was not at all like a West Indian machete. It widened into a large triangle instead of tapering to a point, and had a wicked hook like a rooster’s spur at one of the two blade ends….Then, shrugging, he started work….Bend, hack, straighten, clutch the unwieldy topheavy bunch securely, slide its length through the hands, whack off the leaves, drop it in a tidy heap, go to the next cluster of stems, bend, hack, straighten, hack, add it to the heaps…The cane (sugar cane) was alive with vermin: rats, bandicoots, cockroaches, toads, spiders, snakes, wasps, flies and bees….For that reason the cutters burned the cane first, preferring the filth of working charred crops to the depredations of green, living cane. Even so they were stung, bitten and cut….It took him the predicted week to harden, and attain the eight-ton-a-day minimum…
These two quotes not only show the detail that Mrs. McCullough put into in her novel, but it tells the readers what types of lives the people of Australia live. From the stockmen on the desert-like Outback in New South Wales, to the cane cutters in the tropical forest of Queensland, Mrs. McCullough tries to inform her readers about the real Australia and the real people who live there.
The Thorn Birds, published in 1977 by Harper & Row is a book that I have already recommended to my friends and family. The idea of the book is like that of Gone With The Wind. It revolves around a very strong woman who is after a man that she can not have but wants very strongly, and yet, at the same time, is trying to survive in her world. In Gone With The Wind the heroine is Scarlett O’Hara living in the Southern United States during the Civil War, for The Thorn Birds, it is Meggie Clearly living in New Zealand and Australia around the time of the Second World War. Both women settle for less then what they want, and both women end up getting their man, but lose him due to their surroundings and who they are. In both novels, the women have a strong link to their homes, Tara, and Drogheda. The land is who they are, and they both return to their lands to find peace and happiness.
The writing in both novels is different, and the women too, are different, but the underlying ideas in both are the same.