Conflict of Two Cultures in Kate Grenville´S the Secret River

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Conflict of two cultures in Kate Grenville´s The Secret River

The aim of this essay is to analyze the conflict emerging after the arrival of British convicts to Australia, which is portrayed accurately in Kate Grenville´s The Secret River. “It explores the collision of cultures that occurred between these groups, raising questions of identity and belonging, and writing the violence back into the story of early frontier contact.” (Crawford 236) In this novel the idea of a conflict is observed from the point of view of cultural differences. The author shows that the conflict occurred because of inability and unwillingness of the characters to communicate – both verbally and also in terms of understanding each other´s different world views. The main reason of the disconnection between these two worlds is fear each one has of the other. The heightened emotions that result from this fear lead to behaviour that is impetuous and at the end of the novel even horrific. Through the novel Grenville suggests that it is impossible to judge who caused the conflict; there is not only one side to blame. She attempts to show that there are links and similarities between the characters that are transcending their cultural differences. There are no winners or losers; this conflict has negative consequences for all the participants in these dramatic events.

“The different approaches of the Aboriginal people and the colonists to the land ownership inevitably lead to misunderstanding and conflict, escalating to a massacre in which Thornhill is implicated.” (Crawford 236) The sense of ownership appears in the novel in two dimensions. First there is Thornhill´s personal desire, a sudden urge of a man who owned only a coat during his lifetime, to own at least a small piece of land and when this opportunity comes, he does not let it go. However, his attitude toward the land he wants to own is quite ambiguous. He claims that the land does not belong to anyone while there are no fences, roads or recognised houses; however, the Darug people live on this land for approximately forty thousand years and use the land for living. “There were no signs that the blacks felt the place belonged to them. They had no fences that said this is mine. No house that said, this is our home. There were no fields or flocks that said, we have put the labour of our hands into this place.” (Grenville 96) Thornhill is much aware of the presence of the Aboriginal people while he feels that he is being watched all the time and also according to the “yam daisies”, the indigenous people´s food crop on the Hawkesbury River banks, which is an obvious metonym Grenville uses to claim that this particular land is already owned by Darug people. Thornhill´s longing for the land is so strong that he does not hesitate and he even puts his wife and children in danger while leaving them on the “Thornhill´s Point” for the first time without any protection when he sails for new convicts to help him harvest the land and other things. The theme of the gaining and occupying of this particular place, the estuary of the river, bears more possible connotations. One of them presented by the author is that it should evoke a birth of something new coming to this world. However, there is another point of view referring to a different meaning based on sexual connotations from the text, for instance, when Thornhill mentions that the beauty of the land is “as sweet as woman´s body” (Grenville 125) or later in the book Thornhill in his boat ‘Hope’ makes his way “into the very body of the land.” (Grenville 129) “The conflation of the landscape and land with Indigenous bodies becomes further problematised by Thornhill´s drive for ownership of the land. This desire is consistently conceived in hypersexualised imagery of compulsive possession.” (Kelada 9) In the text, Thornhill´s arrival is described in a rather ambiguous language: “. . . the shadows lying purple in the clefts between the...
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