The Secret River by Kate Grenville
Explain the way that narrative devices have been employed by an author to construct a representation of people or places in at least one text that you have studied. You must make specific reference to “The Secret River.”
One of Australia’s finest writers Kate Grenville wrote The Secret River which challenges traditional gender roles of women in the early nineteenth century London and Australia. The novel has challenged the female stereotype in a patriarchal society through the strong female character of Sal Thornhill. Sal has been the brains of her family through their tough times in London and their settlement in Sydney. Sal is the wife of William Thornhill, a convict. The memory of how the gentry treated Thornhill pushed him to work himself up into the foreign land of Australia to become like that gentleman he had served once back in London, in the water of Thames–the one with the power and the one who looked down on him who represents the working class. His determination to set off a space for himself in the foreign land eventually placed him and some of the settlers in direct opposition to the Aboriginal people by their desire to finally have control on their own lives. The use of a wide range of narrative devices in The Secret River has vividly taken the readers back to the nineteenth century where power and wealth determines a man’s position in the society.
Sal Thornhill has been constructed in The Secret River as a strong female character who challenges traditional gender roles in the early nineteenth century–mainly when women were biologically, socially and intellectually inferior. Although Sal was raised in a quite comfortable lifestyle, she still has managed to cope with the tragic events in her life as a mother and as a wife. We see through Thornhill’s limited omniscient point of view that Sal would have to “brighten herself up” because they both knew that Sal would have to offer her service in the cold streets of London to support her family’s financial needs, while Thornhill was convicted for theft. Sal’s staggering sacrifices did not just end in London. Her character even became stronger when they settled in a place that nothing Thornhill had ever seen–where “trees were tortured formless things” that looked half dead and when Christmas was during the hot days of summer. Women in that time were normally perceived as housekeepers and child-bearers. However, Sal did not just take care of her family emotionally and physically, but financially as well “At the end of each week Sal would count up the takings, from Thornhill’s work on the water and from her own selling liquor, and hide them away in a box.” which is evident through the descriptive language used. As a migrant myself, I understood Sal’s attitude towards the new environment that she was in. It wasn’t a part of her plan, but she accepted the circumstances and lived with it half-heartedly. Although her heart was always reminding her of ‘Home’, her mind and body still endured the harsh conditions, all for her family. It wasn’t the usual approach of women back in the nineteenth century to stand up for her family instead of the husband. However, Sal’s character was constructed to challenge the representation of women during that time by being the provider and the child-bearer all at once.
Sal, her family, and the other settlers encountered the ‘otherness’ once they arrived in Sydney–which had two different representations as a race in The Secret River. Australia was not an empty land when the Thornhills and the white settlers arrived. They were not expecting people living in that type of place for thousands of years. These people were as strange as the place through the settlers’ perception. There was one who hung about the Thornhills’ hut and entertained them, dressed only with a faded-pink bonnet on his head in trade for food and a sip of rum....
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