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The Secret River and the Book Thief Essay Sample

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The Secret River and the Book Thief Essay Sample

Constructed identities of characters often reflect and or challenge the dominant ideologies circulating at the time of a text setting.

Reading is an active process of making meaning of the world we live in specifically the past; therefore our reading of novels is strongly influenced by the connections we can make to other texts. The construction of identity of a character often reflects or challenges the dominant ideologies circulating at the time of a text setting. The Book Thief explores Nazi Ideology in war-torn Germany in the 1940’s, Hans Hubermann and Rudy Steiford openly and secretively defies and challenges the dominant ideologies of this time era. The Secret River is set in the 18th century and focuses on one man man’s journey through life and is progression to Australia were the audience is introduced to the brutal world of Australia and the separation between cultures. The unrequired hate that many men have for Aboriginal men is contagious and due to the fact that it is different to their own culture and there lack of willingness to understand prevents any progression and results in misery for all.

Paragraph One – The Book Thief

The Book Thief is a book narrated by death in the midst of WW2 and shows a child perspective of Nazi Germany at the time. Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany in 1933 and it did not end until he shot himself at the end of WW2 on 30th April 1945. During his reign it is estimated that 11 million people were killed during the Holocaust. Approximately 6 million Jewish people were murdered, In addition to Jews, the Nazis targeted Gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the disabled for persecution. Anyone who resisted the Nazis was sent to forced labor or murdered. Hans Hubermann understood the danger of not following these rules of Nazi Germany but constantly finds himself defying these rules and then regretting that decisions. Hans secretly relished in the outright refusal to conform to the Nazi party, but was frightened of the danger that would come to himself and his family.

Paragraph 2 – The Secret River

The Secret River is set in 1800’s London and colonial Australia. Grenville sets the conflict for the novel with in the first few pages of the book, between white man and the Aboriginals. With the novel opening is on William Thornhill’s first night in the convict settlement in Sydney. As William sits outside the mud hut, an Aboriginal man materializes out of the darkness. Scared for his family, William yells at the man, “be off!” The man doesn’t move. This symbolic gesture represents the morale of both parties throughout the novel with language and cultural barriers there is a constant tug of war between land and rituals. The first sighting of Australia and contact between White man and Australian Aboriginal man occurred in 1606 by Dutch men and recognized discoverer Willem Janszoon. Through aboriginal oral history, “Janszoon stopped in some places, but was met by hostile natives and some of his men were killed. At the final place, he initially had friendly relations with the natives, but after he forced them to hunt for him and appropriated some of their women, violence broke out and there were many deaths on both sides.”[1] This may as well be the beginning of white supremacy within Australia and does not end for over 400 years. William Thornhill portrays these ideologies throughout the novel the Secret River.

Thornhill begins his trouble with the aboriginals from his first day in Australia, ownership is a large part of William’s identity especially of land but because of cultural differences the aboriginals do not recognize this which causes conflict with in the area, Thornhill’s own identity prevents Thornhill from any understanding of the Aboriginal way of life and blinds him to the palpable situation they may arise from his superiority. Thornhill’s reflection of the dominant ideologies present in the book makes it easy for him to succumb to pressure from outer sources specifically Sagitty and Smasher whom epitomize the negative ideologies in the book. This becomes specifically clear when they are gathered in a bar boosting each other up in their angst. In this moment governor Loveday elucidates the ideology of the time “ the black natives of the colony have manifested a strong and sanguinary spirit of animosity and hostility towards the British inhabitants.”(p.266)

Clearly stating that the British people are the superior race and defining there group as a whole to be scared of the other, the other culture, beliefs and language that is foreign to their own. Loveday continues stating “Put plain, you may shoot the buggers any time you get the chance”.(p.266) This is a clear error in both British history and Australian a like and will haunt both cultures for many years to come, as it becomes a staple of the European culture executed all over the world. William complies to these ideologies by remaining silent through the horrors the Aboriginals are put through including being poisoned even though Thornhill knows this is wrong he can not fathom the thought of ever standing up to it, so he complies and eventually resulting in him participating in the massacre. Not all British migrants were quick to reflect these ideologies including one of Williams’s sons.

The dominant ideologies in Australia culture stayed consistent for many years with aboriginal Australians being recognized as citizens in 1967 [2] but many repented against this idea, which is reflected throughout the Secret River through a minority group. Thomas Blackwood is introduced as an ex convict making a successful life for himself in Australia with a money making business on the river. Blackwood has the greatest appreciation for the Aboriginal culture and respects it well trying to even engage with it. Blackwood understands “A man got to pay a fair price for taking. Matter of give a little, take a little”(p.104) Blackwood becomes accustomed to the aboriginal way of life and it becomes apart of his identity to by learning the language and marrying an Aboriginal woman and having a child.

This is a representation of a perfect world where two opposed culture are able to coexist in a non-discriminative way instead of clashing and causing violence. After the massacre Blackwood is unable to move on from the events that occurred and allows Dick Thornhill to carry on with his business. Dick is Williams second child and he was born on the Journey to Australia. Unlike the rest of his family dick embraces the way of life in Australia and even develop relations with the natives. By going against the dominant ideologies of not only his nation’s but also his family’s Dick is a representation of a future generation uninfluenced by the negative decisions of his family.

Dick is punished in the text for pursuing is curiosity of the so called “savages”, but the intrigue he fells for these foreign people is to strong, “if beating him once did not do the trick, beating him twice would not do any better.”(p.217). After the massacre Dick can not bare to be around his father for what he has done and develops a kinship for Blackwood as they both have an understanding that the aboriginals and the land are one. Both Blackwood and Dick appreciate the skills and experience the aboriginals have to offer and live a life inline with the aboriginal culture. By defying the dominant ideologies of the time Blackwood and Dick are able to live an abundant life, which is revolutionary for their time of living but would be eminent in the slow progression of Australian inter cultural relations.


1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Australia_(1606–1787) [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_referendum,_1967_(Aboriginals)

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