Secret River Summary and Coflicts

Topics: The New Land, Hawkesbury River, Black people Pages: 11 (3471 words) Published: April 30, 2013

The Alexander, a transport ship for convicts has reach New South Wales, Australia after travelling across the world for almost a year. William Thornhill, an Englishman convict is sentence to serve there as a labourer.

During his first night in New South Wales, Thornhill digested the new land with ‘its rich dank smell… restless water… no Pole star’; a place that is very different from England. In his despair, Thornhill describes how being sentence to New South Wales could potentially be worse than dying itself.

Thornhill believes his tears are clouding his vision. However, he then realised that a human, ‘as black as the air itself’ stood before him. The unusual appearance of his human struck Thornhill. Although clothed, Thornhill felt skinless against the other who was completely naked and holding a spear. Thornhill repeatedly demanded that the man ‘be off’, for fear of his family and himself being attacked. His shouting only impelled the man to move closer to him where they almost touched. The ‘black man’ reproduced ‘be off’ in Thornhill’s exact tone. Thornhill glanced back to his wife and children, however, the man disappeared, leaving only the darkness behind. He returned to his hut where he laid back down to rest.

Environmental Conflict
Thornhill spent his lifetime in England, the confrontation of a new environment evokes a powerful sense of unfamiliarity. The unknown land presents him an intrapersonal conflict, one of which is the difference between England and Australian stars.

Cultural Conflict
The conflict between two cultures is shown through the initial encounter between Thornhill and an Indigenous Australian. Without any conversation, the tension between the two is clear, in each other’s presence. Thornhill notes the Aboriginal tattoos as a scars since he is unaware of their culture. Even before this man, Thornhill is still infused with a sense of nakedness because of his unfamiliarity.

Part One: London

As a child growing up in poverty, William Thornhill, one of the 10 members of the Thornhill family, lived in an overcrowded low-browed home. The Thornhill’s did not regularly attended church unlike many other families. Thornhill regarded the church as a place with ‘no kindly shadows anywhere’ due to the ‘merciless light’, streaming in from windows. Thornhill knew only of a life of constant starvation. In order to survive, stealing was a part of life for the Thornhill’s. On rare occasions when food was present, he would always fight his brothers for a piece of bread. He often resulted to eating bedbugs during the night to relieve the pain in his stomach.

When his parents died from health illnesses, Thornhill, being the oldest, was left to care for his siblings. He was shifting between available jobs. Unfortunately, these jobs never saved the Thornhill’s from starvation. It was Mr Middleton, Sal’s father who offered Thornhill to be his apprentice on the river that changed his course in life. The apprenticeship was to be seven years long. Thornhill secretly planned to marry Sal at the end of the apprenticeship and inherit the business because he was son Mr Middleton never had.

At the end of his apprenticeship and in spirit of his plans, he and Sal married. Since William was now a freeman of the river, Mr Middleton offered Thornhill his second-best wherry as a wedding gift. The couple soon welcomed a baby boy also named William Thornhill, but nicknamed Willie. For once, Thornhill experienced great satisfaction and went smiling about nothing.

During the winter of Willie’s second birthday, things turned for the worst. Both Mr and Mrs Middleton died within a week of one another. With the river covered with ice, William had no work to provide his family income. The moved to smaller house they could afford. Sal began to steal foods from stalls. Thornhill had to work for Mr Lucas to pay their debt. After three years of working, he had reverted to his old ways, stealing. One night,...
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