Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts


The main aim of this research has been to explore the linguistic representation of femininity and female experience in Olga Masters’ stories. Specifically this research examines character depiction through Masters’ choices of transitivity patterns and lexical elements in her stories. The research relates this linguistic representation of femininity to the socio-political view demonstrated in her writing, in opposition to the common view that Masters merely uses a ‘plain’ style of writing to create ‘simple’ stories about ‘humble’ people.

The chosen methodology has been a close textual analysis of Olga Masters’ representation of 1930s Australian femininity in selected pieces of her writing, with the aim of exploring what such a method adds to our understanding of Masters’ approach, topical focus, and significance as a writer.

Using the systemic functional linguistic theory of M.A.K. Halliday and his associates, particularly in relation to transitivity and lexical choice, I have investigated eight of Masters’ stories. These stories come from her short story collections The Home Girls and A Long Time Dying, and her novel Amy’s Children. The stories selected are “The Little Chest”, “The Done Thing”, “The Snake and Bad Tom”, “A Soft and Simple Woman”, “The Lang Women”, Amy’s Children, “A Dog that Squeaked” and “The Teacher’s Wife”. Together with lexical analysis, the analysis deals generally with Process types, Participants, and Circumstances throughout these selected texts.

These eight stories are examined as matched pairs, producing four chapters that address the themes of femininity and domesticity, motherhood, sexual desires, and feminine rebellion. The lexical and grammatical representation of eight female protagonists found within the selected stories is analysed, looking at their actions and behaviour in comparison to what is likely to have been expected of women in the period in which the stories are set. These chapters focus on the transitivity data which was combined with lexical analysis in order to understand how Masters uses linguistic elements to portray the women characters in her stories and how Masters’ attitudes to gender roles are conveyed.

This linguistic investigation reveals that Masters is not an ‘ordinary writer’ of ‘ordinary stories’ about ‘ordinary people’ but rather, an accomplished writer whose fictional craft is used to get the feeling of actual life across while raising important questions about feminine identity and its possibilities. She treats the subjects of her stories with a voice of warmth, compassion, and painful sympathy. She has a keen eye for detail and her realisation of place and time are precise. Masters’ stories can be described as having a feminist articulation, and Masters herself can be described as a feminist in her own way.