The Secret River Characters

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The character I have chosen to analyse is William Thornhill. He is the central character in the novel ‘Secret River’. His character is important, in the novel, because he was one of the first Europeans, sent to Australia, to work out their sentence for their crimes. Throughout the novel it shows that Thornhill did things for the right reasons, but his actions contrasted with his essentially good character. To some extent William Thornhill can be portrayed as a bad character due to his lack of responsibility regarding the law. William Thornhill was born in 1777 in London.

He grew up in a poor family which consisted of eight children. He continually stole as a form of survival. His family often lasted for days without eating, and their hunger got to the point where it was unbearable. William then met a man named Mr Middleton, who he worked for, as an Apprentice Waterman. Soon after his Apprenticeship, he married his childhood sweetheart Sal Middleton, with whom he had six children. They were Dick, Bub, Johnny, Mary and Dolly. Thornhill was soon convicted for stealing and was transported to New South Wales, Australia.

William and his family arrived in Australia and Thornhill was put under the care of Sal, to work out his sentence. He worked for Alexander King. Throughout the time he worked for Alexander King, he continued to steal. He soon opened his own bar at his home where he sold Liquor to his fellow comrades. Thornhill realised from the beginning of his life in Australia, that he loved the land. Despite its hardness and isolation, it was a new and different life style to the one he had whilst living in London. When Thornhill’s sentence was completed, he received a pardon.

Thornhill Chooses to stay in Australia, and he receives a hundred acres of land, which he calls after himself, as ‘Thornhill’s Point’. Throughout the novel it shows that William meets different characters such as Smasher Sullivan who he later joins in order to form a massacre against the Aboriginals. Smasher Sullivan is a fellow emancipist settler, who is extremely violent towards the Aboriginal People. William wasn’t necessarily pleased with Smasher’s presence, although he wanted to stay polite and not start any conflicts with the other settlers.

At Thornhill’s first encounter with him, Smasher shows Thornhill and Blackwood the pair of hands, he has cut off, of an Aboriginal man, who stole from him. Smasher’s Philosophy towards the Aboriginal people was that he and the other settlers were much better than the Aboriginals. This explains his actions towards them. Towards the end of the novel, it shows that William joins Smasher in the massacre, after Sal threatens to leave him in order to protect her family. This was one of the main influences that persuaded William to join Smasher in the Massacre.

William was afraid of leaving the land he has become to love and believed that he wasn’t going anywhere just because of a few pests. He also believed that if the Aboriginal’s were around them Sal would continuously remind him about moving back to London. William was also terrified of the fact that he or his family could possibly be speared to death like Sagitty Birtles. An enemy of Smasher is Thomas Blackwood, who is also an ex-convict. He worked with William as a waterman. Unlike Smasher, Blackwood had a positive attitude towards the Aboriginals and believed in ‘give a little, take a little’.

William respected on the suggestion of ‘give a little, take a little’ and he too communicated with the Aboriginals using this concept. Blackwood’s attitude towards the Aboriginals was much different to the other settlers, as he lived with an Aboriginal woman and had a child with her. Thornhill respected Blackwood’s attitude towards the Aboriginals. This helped him to understand the Aboriginal Culture well, and he started learning to communicate with them, by teaching them English.

William’s family have different opinions on the Aboriginal Culture, such as his wife, Sal Thornhill. Sal was afraid of the Aboriginal people at first, but soon after she learnt to communicate with them, by giving them food and clothes, and they gave her bowls made of wood. This sharing of resources, helped Sal to realise that they were different, but that they were not violent or aggressive towards them. Even though she was beginning to get a better understanding of the Aboriginals, this didn’t change her mind about moving back to London.

William did not agree with the thought of moving back to London, where he would never accomplish the things he did at Thornhill’s Point. William Thornhill initially has a caring personality and often wanted the best for his family, although at times he put himself in front of his loved ones this is clearly shown when he frequently lies to Sal by saying the family would return in five years when in actual fact he was considering of just permanently living in Australia. William loves his wife and tried hard to please her, by giving her gifts, like a bracelet and things for the home, ach time he went to Sydney. In the end he prioritised his own land over her happiness, knowing that she would not return to London, without him. Sal Thornhill and William had a confusing relationship with one other, although this it was extremely strong and the two stayed together even through there many conflicts. They also had to cope with the struggle of living in an unfamiliar environment. One of William’s children Dick Thornhill who is the second oldest had a different attitude to the Aboriginals.

He played with the Aboriginal children, even removing his clothes, to identify with them. He didn’t believe in racial conflict and left his family to join with the Aboriginals. As a young boy Dick played with the Aboriginal children and learnt to understand their culture and accept them as people and not as ‘savages’. He was greatly ashamed of his parent’s attitude and it resulted with William and Dick not having a relationship with each other, William lost his father- son bond with Dick who to left the family to join with his new family, the Aboriginals.

The Secret River is a novel about Conflict, and the main character William Thornhill shows the readers how some people would deal with such matters. As we read through the Secret River, we see many changes in William Thornhill’s aspects of life. His desires and his priorities, we also see who he chooses to befriend this shows the reader, William’s personality and behaviour. Done By Rose Handapangodage 11R1.

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