Capricornia : Seasonal, Diurnal and Colour Patterns

It has been generally accepted that the theme of Capricornia is racial conflict. The book's virtues are most often described in terms of that conflict, rather than in terms of any attempt to analyse, explain or investigate it. Thus breadth and detail, scope and sweep arc admired by critics, who imply thereby that analysis and explanation are not Herbert's strong points in this novel. Direct analysis is certainly rare, but in the interplay between the main plot development and contextual background there are certain consistencies seldom noted which imply, if not exactly explanation, then at least subtle and illuminating commentary by Herbert. The commentary is indirect and disguised.

It resides in related patterns of imagery and circumstance found not very often in the main dramatic scenes themselves, but in the scene-settings and the contexts or the backdrops against which they occur. Consistently throughout the novel certain kinds of event are associated with certain kinds of imagery or circumstance, so that a pattern can be found running through the tale. Indeed there is more than one such pattern, although each pattern becomes increasingly related to the others.

This patterning offers, if not an alternative to the straightforward theme of racial conflict so widely noted by most critics, then at least a significant extension of that interpretation. In either case it seems there is reason for another look at Capricornia'$ much-maligned structure. It may prove neither to be so 'sprawling, rambling, episodic' as Buckley or Murray-Smith have suggested, nor so 'shapeless' as Brian Kiernan thinks.

Perhaps the best starting point for a discussion like this is the first paragraph of the book. Here the necessary exposition is presented in a tone reminiscent of a secondary school textbook of Australian history, with clear overtones of irony.

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Published 1 October 1979 in Volume 9 No. 2. Subjects: Imagery, Literary techniques, structures & modes.

Cite as: Mudge, Neil. ‘Capricornia : Seasonal, Diurnal and Colour Patterns.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 9, no. 2, 1979, doi: 10.20314/als.68d10bcddf.