Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Julia Leigh, The Hunter (1999)

Julia Leigh’s novel The Hunter (1999) tells the story of ‘M’, alias Martin David, a mysterious mercenary and hunter who is the agent of an even more mysterious biotech company that seeks biological material from the last Tasmanian tiger (thylacine) to use it to produce biological weapons.  The story allows Leigh to present a pacifist critique of the military industrial complex and the exploitation of biological material for military purposes. 

The story also enables her to depict Tasmanian society as profoundly divided between environmentalists and the supporters of the logging industry.  Here the author presents the environmentalists in positive terms as progressive, supported and led by academics, and scientifically grounded.  She also presents the hippy types who are involved in the environmental movement as friendly, hospitable, peaceful, spiritual, free-spirited and fun.  By contrast, the mainstream rural Australians who support logging are characterised in negative terms as narrow-minded, anti-intellectual, hostile, aggressive, and accepting of industries that upset the ecosystem and destroy the natural environment, including Tasmania’s world-renowned old-growth rainforests. 

In this context, Leigh’s novel is rooted in Tasmanian history, folklore and politics, with this being an ancient land where white settlement has led to the virtual extinction of its Aboriginal inhabitants along with many unique creatures, such as the famed Tasmanian tiger that supposedly died out in 1936.  More recently, Tasmania has been the scene of passionate environmental campaigns to preserve the natural environment from development.   

By telling the story from the perspective of M, Leigh could critically examine the soldierly virtues and hunter’s ethos that shapes his character in ways that the author believes cut him off from experiencing the softer, more sentimental and ultimately more fulfilling dimensions of human nature. 

In addition, Leigh explores how a quest can become an obsession that distorts M’s values so he loses all sense of proportion in his ethical attitudes and choices.  For example, the character M is shown to contemplate killing two innocent park rangers if they happened to accidently interfere with the achievement of his objective. 

In addition, the novel’s focus on M’s thoughts allows Leigh to employ a feminist perspective to critique the misogynist attitudes of a macho male.  The character M treats women as prey and potential conquests, as sex objects that serve as rewards to be savoured after he has completed his mission.  When M feels himself to be experiencing more sentimental or loving feelings towards women, he responds by attempting to control or mitigate these feelings so they do not reach a stage where they can significantly influence his life. 

The focus of the novel on M’s thoughts also allows Leigh to employ Freudian psychoanalytical perspectives to explore his deeper psychological motivations revealed by his childhood fears.  References to M’s childhood dreams serve to suggest that the hunt may be a means for this man to play out his subconscious traumas and fantasies.  For example, the only dream that M remembers is of being chased for hours by an unknown foe.  By hunting, M may be attempting to confront his feelings of vulnerability or fears of being captured. 

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

© Mark Lopez 2021 All RIGHTS RESERVED

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: The Hunter meaning, The Hunter themes, The Hunter analysis, The Hunter notes