Materialism

Chose any one of the Patrick White texts mentioned above and say how you think it illustrates what White was saying in his essay “The Prodigal Son”.

In “The Prodigal Son”, White discusses the warped aspects of society that people tend to value and the “march of material ugliness” that is pursued. The character of Mrs Hogben in Down at the Dumps reflects this mindset through both the things that she values or rejects respectively. At her own sister’s funeral, Mrs Hogben is concerned about whether Ossie, Daise’s lover, will be there as he is a Roman Catholic and she disapproved of their relationship. Rather than reflecting on her sister’s life, before the funeral Mrs Hogben had “woken in the night, and lain there cold and stiff, as her mind’s eye focused on Ossie’s runny nose.” Due to wanting to uphold a certain reputation within society, she believed her family members actions would reflect upon her and cheapen her image.

Furthermore, her interaction with Meg and the contrast between their actions further highlights the materialism spoken about in White’s essay. Mrs Hogben is highly concerned about her daughters appearance, her pressed school uniform and polished shoes. This is once again due to the image she wants to be upheld and is a symbol for the materialism that she values so much. In contrast to this, Meg thinks about the memories and experiences she had with Daise over the course of her life hence, valuing a very different part of life.

Through the various characters in “Down at the Dumps” and the way they are compared and interact with each other, White’s statements about materialistic values in “The Prodigal Son” are reinforced. As a result, the short story becomes a social commentary of the way that we live our lives in a world based on material wealth rather than human experience.

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