Analysis of At Hiruharama by Penelope Fitzgerald

About the Author

Analysis of ‘At Hiruharama’ by Penelope Fitzgerald – Penelope Fitzgerald belonged to the illustrious Knox family. Her father and his brothers were intellectuals of their time. She was a late entrant to writing, publishing her first book when she was 58. She has written short stories and historical fiction that received much acclaim. The story At Hiruharama is written with compassion and humour.


Mr. Tanner is narrating the story of how his grandfather arrived in New Zealand and established himself there. He had sailed out to that country expecting to train as an apprentice but he was just a servant. The story is of a couple who set up home in a remote part of New Zealand with no neighbours for miles around.


Mr. Tanner is an unusual character. He sails out to New Zealand hoping to be an apprentice but finds himself a servant. He is ready to make a leap of faith and marry Kitty. Mr. Tanner learns to read and write to please her. He is a pioneer who sets up home in a remote corner of New Zealand. He works hard trying to make a success of the venture. His resourcefulness can be seen in the unusual way in which he plans to summon the doctor.

Themes (major and minor)

The theme is the pioneering life of the settlers in New Zealand. Tanner and his wife both young and inexperienced settle down in Hiruharama, a remote place. When it is time for their first child to be born, they have to be inventive in summoning the doctor. They get homing pigeons which fly to their owner who informs the doctor. But by the time the doctor arrives, the twins are born.


The plot is flimsy. Tanner arrives in New Zealand hoping to be an apprentice but turns out to be a servant. He puts faith in future and marries Kitty who is similarly placed and moves to Hiruharama which is remote. Working hard, they set up a home and a farm. Meanwhile, Kitty is pregnant and Tanner has to be creative in summoning the doctor when her time is ready. He gets a pair of homing pigeons who fly to their owner who summons the doctor.

Summary – Analysis of ‘At Hiruharama’ by Penelope Fitzgerald

Tanner sails out to that country expecting to train as an apprentice but he is just a servant. Shortly, he meets and marries Kitty a similarly placed girl. They move to Hiruharama and settle down there. It is miles away from anywhere. When Kitty falls pregnant, Tanner wants to be ready for the birth of the child. The story is about his unusual ways. They have twins who are born before the doctor arrives. Tanner does not realize that what he considers is waste from the birth to be thrown out, is actually his second child! The doctor saves it and she lives to become a successful lawyer.


At Hiruharama is a story said with compassion and humour. At no time do Tanner or Kitty show despondency. Tanner is illiterate but Kitty coaxes him to learn. Starting from scratch, they set up their home and a farm. Their first born are twins who arrive in the world in unusual fashion. The birth is a normal enough, but Tanner leaves the second born outside thinking it is the afterbirth that has to be discarded! The doctor arrives in time to save it. The couple goes on to have nine more children!


Hiruharama is a symbol of good luck for Tanner and Kitty. Till then they lived unsatisfactory lives working as servants. Once they move to Hiruharama, they find an abandoned homestead and freely flowing water that is worth its weight in gold. Their farm thrives and they become well off. They have twin girls one of which is saved from death at the nick of time. She not only survives but also goes on to become a successful lawyer.

Important vocabulary and expression

There are interesting little cameos sketched by the author. Mr. Brinkman is one of them. An unmarried man he pays the Tanners a six monthly visit. Just as Kitty is in labour, he comes on a visit hoping to be given a meal. Brinkman is unusually happy about the birth of two girls in one shot. He feels with so many girls being born, he will soon find a wife.

Literary devices used with examples

The story is presented in an interesting flashback. The grandson is the one who narrates the story of his grandparents. “That meant he had to something about his grandfather, who had been an orphan from Stamford in Lincolnshire….”

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