Secret River Kate Grenville
‘The Secret River’ by Kate Grenville is a historical narrative which utilizes conventions that expose the potential challenges and values of early Australian settlers and their relationship with the Indigenous Australians. The conventions Grenville utilizes include characterization, themes, and figurative language, which assist in positioning the reader to consider these challenges. Grenville uses characterization as a convention to expose the potential challenges and values of the fictional colonists and their relationship with the Indigenous Australians.
The events of the narrative deliver a great insight into the potential distressed mind of the main character, William Thornhill. Throughout the narrative, Grenville effectively positions the reader into feeling compassion towards Thornhill, as he was forced to move from the poverty-stricken London to a foreign land. In the orientation, Grenville epitomizes a colonist’s experience, and the tension becomes clear between Thornhill and the Indigenous Australians.
The initial tension is highlighted by Thornhill, “It took a moment to understand that the stirring was a human, as black as the air itself” (Grenville, K. , ‘The Secret River’, 2005, page 5). The settlers’ values are presented efficiently by Grenville throughout the narrative. For example, Thornhill believed the settlers immediately had, on their settlement, a cultural dominance and therefore had no respect for the way the Indigenous Australians had initially lived. This positions the reader into feeling sympathetic towards the Indigenous Australians, as they are harshly mistreated.
Throughout the narrative, the reader is able to see the good and evil in Thornhill, and whilst he’s sitting at the river before the battle, he reflects on his morality. Grenville, in an interview stated; “The most puzzling aspect of human behaviour, of course, is bad behaviour – so there’s a dimension of moral enquiry to the stories” (Grenville, K. , Interview, 2009). Thornhill reflecting on his morality subsequently positions the reader into thinking about bad behaviour and therefore makes them feel empathy towards the Indigenous Australians. Characterization is also incorporated into the narrative through the character of Smasher Sullivan, who is one of the settlers along the Hawkesbury who has a deep hatred for the Indigenous Australians, who is juxtaposed with Thomas Blackwood, who has a great appreciation for the Indigenous Australian culture. These two characters expose the potential challenges these Indigenous Australians were forced to deal with after the settlement of the early Australians.
Smasher Sullivan is a character who represents the path of the racial, social and physical domination that the early Australian settlers had over the Indigenous Australians, and in contrast to Smasher Sullivan, Thomas Blackwood symbolizes the choice of peaceful co-existence that would have occurred. Grenville successfully utilizes the convention of themes in order to position the reader to consider the dominant themes of social hierarchy, clash of civilizations and aboriginal culture.
Through these themes, Grenville has been able to articulate the social structure of Colonial Australia, and how this hierarchy has influenced where Australians are today. Social hierarchy is a prevalent theme explored throughout this narrative, where Grenville is able to distinguish the ways in which the early Australian settlers perceive the legitimate power and control over the indigenous Australians. This idea of claiming status and discarding the stigma of a convict comes from a lifetime of living in the poverty-stricken South end of London where many Londoners had been humiliated for the majority of their early lives.
The values of the early Australian settlers becomes clear through the way they mistreat and unfairly judge the indigenous Australians, “clothes as he was, Thornhill felt as skinless as a maggot” (Grenville, K. , ‘The Secret River’, 2005, page 5). The conflict between the two civilizations was first established in the opening encounter between William Thornhill and an Indigenous Australian. Without a word being said, the tension between them is foreshadowed.
Thornhill takes note of the Indigenous Australians’ tattoos, referring to them as ‘scars’, where Grenville reveals their lack of knowledge for the Aboriginal culture. This lack of knowledge of Aboriginal culture is another theme which Grenville has carefully expressed throughout this novel. Grenville has stated in an interview that it ‘wasn’t her place to tell from the Aborigines point of view’. In this theme, Grenville clearly and with consideration of cultural sensitivity expresses the Indigenous Australians deep attachment to the land.
Grenville also suggests that the colonists could learn a lot from the Indigenous Australians, and effectively conveys the richness of their culture. Figurative language is another common convention which has been used by Grenville in order to distinguish the relationship between the two civilizations. Imagery is a device which is incorporated into the narrative efficiently portraying a picture in the mind of the reader and subsequently positions the reader into feeling a particular kind of emotion or tone.
For example, the harsh Australian land is presented through the use of imagery, such as ‘dirt chill’, ‘sharp stab’ and ‘under these alien stars’ (Grenville, K. , ‘The Secret River’, 2005, page 4), which displays the fact that the Australian land is considered a foreign monster, and is unwelcoming to new inhabitants. Descriptive language is also utilized by Grenville, for example in a scene where the Indigenous Australians are throwing rocks from the shelter of the bush.
Thornhill narrates this tension as the ‘forest spitting parts of itself out at them’ (Grenville, K. , ‘The Secret River’, 2005, page 306). Following this, Thornhill also narrates the spear as ‘a shadow cutting through the light and piercing the ground beside his boot’ (Grenville, K. , ‘The Secret River’, 2005, page 306). The figurative language used in this instance contributes effectively to the developing impact and tone that this violent scene delivers to the reader, effectively evoking emotion and exposing the potential challenges between these two civilizations.
In conclusion, Kate Grenville has used these conventions of fiction, such as characterization, themes, and figurative language thoroughly in order to expose the potential challenges and values of the early Australian settlers and their relationship with the Indigenous Australians, and has effectively delivered her purpose for this narrative; “What I hope will happen is that I can create an experience for readers in which they’re drawn into the same puzzle and exploration-without-destination as I experienced in the writing” (Grenville, K., Interview, 2009). Grenville allows the reader to obtain more knowledge on the sensitive subject of Indigenous Australian culture and their attachment to the land.