Crime, punishment, and death: Reading finitude and the self in David Malouf’s ‘The Conversations at Curlow Creek’

Chinmaya Thakur


The present paper reads David Malouf’s 1996 novel The Conversations at Curlow Creek as portraying a vivid and realistic picture of events relating to crime and punishment in colonial Australia in the early nineteenth century. The depiction of death penalty accorded to the bushranger Daniel Carney under the supervision of the Irish sheriff Michael Adair in New South Wales thus resonates with numerous historical accounts of incidents that actually happened. The novel, however, does more than only provide accurate historical representation as it also presents Adair as having undergone a rather dramatic transformation in the process of conversing with Carney before the latter’s execution. The paper, drawing on the views of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, argues that a realization of inevitable mortality, of facing certain death characterizes this change in Adair’s nature and worldview. It concludes by suggesting that Adair’s acceptance of his finitude intimates of a way of being in the world that not only subverts procedures of administering punishment to convicts in colonial Australia but also indicates the limits of polarized identity politics that shapes the country in the present times.


realism; transformation; finitude; subversion

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