Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Hannie Rayson, Inheritance (2003)

Hannie Rayson’s play Inheritance (2003) is critical of the rise of Hansonism in Australian politics during the late 1990s, a movement that was primarily located in rural and regional Australia, hence the setting for Rayson’s play in the agricultural district of north-western Victoria.  At one level, the play deals with the struggles within a family over the inheritance of a valuable farming property.  At another level, the play presents the view that racism, homophobia, sexism and other unsavoury attitudes underlie the politician Pauline Hanson’s crusade against political correctness.  The play therefore expresses a view, which was widespread among the politically correct Left at the time, that to oppose politically correct positions on various issues is to reveal one’s racism or homophobia or sexism or other moral shortcomings.  The play also attempts to reveal how economic rationalism and globalisation generated deprivations and resentments that added significantly to the impetus behind Hanson’s political movement. 

Rayson looks at what the politically correct Left believed were salient issues affecting the character of the Australian nation at that time, notably the historical legacy of the dispossession of the Aborigines from their tribal lands and their subsequent exploitation and relegation to subordinate levels in society.  The play also looks at the injustices inflicted on what have been referred to as the ‘stolen generations’, the half-caste Aboriginal children who were taken from their Aboriginal families by white welfare authorities in the belief that this was for these children’s own benefit.  The play presents the view that the maltreatment of Aborigines by whites constitutes a dark historical legacy that has tainted the image of white mainstream society ever since. 

In addition to attacking racism against Aborigines, Rayson also attacks racist attitudes towards non-British migrants and refugees.  The play pays considerable attention to denouncing the use of politically incorrect language, such as racist nicknames, and, it promotes multiculturalism as both a viable approach to migrant settlement and as an antidote to the racism that Rayson believes plagues Australian society.  Rayson also attacks the homophobia and sexist attitudes that she believes are found in rural societies that lead to discrimination against homosexuals and to limiting women to traditional stereotypical roles, such as homemakers and mothers.  Meanwhile, Rayson also reminds her audience that the sectarian prejudices between Protestants and Catholics that faded from prominence in the cities during the 1960s are still evident in rural Australia. Protestants are depicted as better represented in the wealthier sections of society while Catholics are better represented among the less-well-off and more economically vulnerable sections of society. 

In addition to depicting the impacts of economic rationalism and globalisation as contributing to the rise of Hansonism, Rayson also attacks these political trends as malevolent in their own right.  Taking a Marxist perspective, she blames these trends for creating significant social injustices and hardships in rural communities.  This is because they lead to the prioritisation of pursuing profit over promoting community well-being.  To Rayson, these destructive attitudes are increasingly evident in economically powerful corporations and in the privatised enterprises that were formerly administered by governments. 

Rayson’s play articulates a sharp city-country divide − the division in attitudes between what she regards as the more progressive city-dwellers and the more reactionary country dwellers.  These differences are portrayed as evident in differences over a wide range of issues, from Aboriginal land rights to vegetarianism. 

The play also depicts a family dispute over property and how family members can plot, scheme, and marginalise others in pursuit of a lucrative inheritance.  In this ruthless struggle, family members draw on concepts such as the bond of white farmers to their land, claiming that this is as significant to them as the bond of Aborigines to their tribal lands.  However, the play exposes this claim by white farmers as shallow, since white people treat land as a disposable asset that can be sold to finance other ventures. 

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

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The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: Inheritance meaning, Inheritance themes, Inheritance analysis,  Inheritance notes