The Secret River Kate Grenville Analysis

The Secret River by Kate Grenville is set in the 19th century. It tells the story of Australia’s British colonisation through one characters narrative. Grenville presents the opposing concepts of cruelty and compassion to criticize how the British social hierarchy functioned; exploring these notions through the lives of the protagonists as well as the Indigenous people of Australia. William Thornhill interacts with the Indigenous only when needed; mainly to stake and protect the claim on ‘his’ land. This is seen as a lack of compassion as his only concern is to demonstrate a sense of ownership. Blackwood shows compassion and acceptance for the Indigenous; he even creates a family and comes to understand that there is no need to determine who is higher in the social hierarchy. Cruelty is shown through the character Smasher Sullivan, who believes that he is at the top of the social chain.
Grenville uses the notion of social hierarchy to demonstrate the values of the British colony compared to the Indigenous Australians. Thornhill endorses the British idea that to own a piece of land there must be signs; something to determine that ‘a place belonged to [someone]’; ‘fences’ that said
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The settler’s cruelty and willingness to completely dehumanise the aboriginal population is explained by their desperate need to climb the social hierarchy. Grenville explores compassion and cruelty by using the British’s idea of ownership to contrast with the Indigenous idea of ownership. Grenville creates characters which symbolise the juxtaposition of the two contrasting cultures, as well as the conflict of cruelty and compassion amongst the European settlers. Grenville’s overall intent is to criticise the British hierarchy and ultimately the cruelty and lack of compassion felt by those

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