theme of religion in the chosen vessel by barbara baynton

The short story, “The Chosen Vessel”, which is written by Barbara Baynton, deals with topics like superstition and religion, and is showing the deadly consequences of these. The young woman, which name throughout the story remain unknown, spend most of her time alone with her baby. Her husband works as a shearer and stays most of the time in a shed 15 miles away. She spends her days taking care of the cow and calf. The family lives in a house near a creek and a track run by the front of the house. The woman is a town girl and is not truly familiar with the life in the bush. She is not afraid of the horsemen passing by the house, but she is afraid of the swagmen. She does not like the way, the swagmen look at her, and she often considers joining her husband at the shed. But the husband will hear nothing of it and says, “Needn’t flatter yerself”, “nobody’ud want ter run away with yew”(P 183, 2. Para).

Therefore she stays home alone with the baby in the house. At nightfall she especially gets scared. Before the nightfall she does several measures to keeping the baby and herself safe. In the kitchen she puts out a plate of food and next to it, she lays her only valuable item, a brooch that had belonged to the woman’s mother. While the swagman is lurking around the house the woman keeps praying, “Little baby, don’t wake, don’t cry!”(P 184, 1. Par.) . The woman is very worried that the swagman will harm her baby, if he hears it. Peter Hennessey is a really religious and superstitious man. He lives with his mother 30 miles outside of the township. It is almost time to vote for the upcoming election, and the priest has as usual recommended a candidate. But this time Peter Hennessey will defy the priest’s recommendation. Peter’s mother worries that Peter will not vote for the priest candidate, and Peter wakes often at night because of the mother’s praying, “Mary, mother of Christ! Save my son!”(P 185, 2. Par.). Peter wants to avoid the confrontation with his mother, so he sneaks out at night, and ride to town to register his vote. When he sees the young woman and baby running towards him, he thinks it is a sign from god. Because of his superstition and religious beliefs, he thinks the woman and baby is the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus. He believes that his mother’s prayers have been answered, and it is a sign, that he shall vote for the priest’s candidate. In the short story there are two stories happening (almost) simultaneously.

The stories interfere when the woman runs screaming towards the man on the horse, and when Peter Hennessey thinks he sees the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus. The story is written in a way that keeps the reader unknowing of that fact until the end. This way the author gives the reader an late epiphany of the connection between the stories. This is a way of storytelling1 that draws parallels to movies like “Fight Club” and “The Usual Suspect”, and make the story suitable for being performed as a play.

The title of the short story, “The Chosen Vessel”, can be interpreted in different ways. “The Chosen Vessel” means ‘the chosen one’, but in the religious field ‘vessel’ can be interpreted as a synonym for the word; grail. According to some of the legends, is ‘the Holy Grail’, the grail Jesus drank his wine out of at the last supper. Other legends says that ‘the Holy Grail’ is a descendant of Jesus Christ. The woman sees Peter Hennessey as a holy object (like the grail from the last supper), and Peter Hennessey sees the woman as a sign from god, making him ‘the chosen one’. The main themes of the text are religion, superstition and the consequences of these. When Peter Hennessey sees the scared praying woman and baby moving towards him, he does not consider helping them. The only thing on his mind is that god has given him a sign. If he had stopped he could possibly had saved her. I think the author, Barbara Baynton, is trying to provoke the many religious people in the society. She is trying to remind the Christians that religion isn’t meant to be a way to promote your life. The author is trying to say that Christians should remember that acting the way Peter Hennessey did, will end up harming people.

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