According to one review, The Secret River invites us to examine flawed human lives and to reflect on a tragedy of mutual incomprehension. Discuss how this theme of incomprehension is explored in the novel. One of the main themes of The Secret River, a historical novel depicting the life of a family of settlers in New South Wales in the early 19th century, is the clash of cultures between White settlers and Aboriginal people. The atmosphere of the book is characterized by a growing tension, which eventually leads to a brutal and violent climax: the massacre of Aboriginal people by a group of settlers. According to one review, this tragedy is due to mutual incomprehension. Through which characters and which behavior is the theme of incomprehension explored in the novel?
[...] There was a dull ache across his forehead and he wanted to be gone, but the thought of getting Dan and Ned into the boat was too difficult.” The decision to attack the Aborigines at Blackwood's is taken in a rush, fuelled by the increasing tensions and rumours about Whites being killed by Aborigines. Thornhill is aware of the disastrous consequences this expedition may have, but he does not manage to express his concerns and joins the group because he knows it is too late to go back. [...]
[...] Attacks on Aboriginal people happen more and more often (the poisoning of the Blacks is a significant example), and at the same time, more and more Whites are being killed, in secret revenge expeditions led by the Blacks. Although the novel describes Thornhill's viewpoint, we can imagine the total incomprehension of the Blacks as to the different events taking place on the river, especially the attacks and dispossession. Thornhill himself is aware of the ambiguous relationships his family has with the Blacks: after having tried to befriend them, he abruptly changes behaviours, and imagines their incomprehension at this reversal. [...]
[...] That is why we can now analyse the theme of incomprehension in its second dimension: the mere refusal to understand others. In the book, this specific incomprehension between the settlers and the Blacks is conveyed by the importance of rumours. Most settlers never try to make any direct contact with the Blacks: the only way they learn about them is through the press (the Gazette periodically describes the plight of a settler speared by a Black) and through rumours, widely spread by conversations with their peers. [...]
[...] He finds out that women wander around naked, that Aborigines eat lizards or roots, that they make fire by rubbing sticks together, that they participate in strange ceremonies, that they periodically burn the ground Paradoxically as it may seem, in most cases, those discoveries make Thornhill aware of the cleverness and the humanity of Aboriginal people: he realizes that Black women are “clothed in their own that burning the ground is actually an agricultural and hunting technique, that lighting a fire with two sticks is a clever and tricky method, and that the corroboree reminds him of “Christmas at St Mary Magdalene”. [...]
[...] the meaningless words poured over him, and in the end they became maddening. He began to feel like an imbecile. To make up for that feeling he spoke loud and jovial across the man's words.” mate, Thornhill said. You can keep your monkey's balls that you like so much. The old man said something, loud and sharp, and Thornhill recognised the same phrase. He longed for words. It seemed that the old man was ready to wait all day for an answer. [...]
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