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The Secret River Summary
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| Words: 21510 | Submitted: 14-Apr-2012
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DescriptionThe Secret River Summary
The Secret River Summary
Kate Grenville's The Secret River is a sweeping tale of the founding of Australia and the moral choices that created a nation. The Secret River tells the story of William Thornhill, a poor waterman from London who is deported, along with this family, to New South Wales in 1806. The novel opens on William's first night in the convict settlement in Sydney. As William sits outside the mud hut, an Aborigine materializes out of the darkness. Scared for his family, William yells at the man, Be off! The man doesn't move. Instead, he angrily repeats William's words, Be off! In this scene, Grenville sets the stage for the conflict at the centre of the novel: the battle for control of the land between the white settlers and the Aborigines. Neither people want anything to do with other. They each wish the other would go away. However, the white settlers are trapped by their status as convicts and cannot leave, and the Aborigines feel a spiritual connection to the land and will not voluntarily abandon it.
The novel then jumps back in time to William's childhood in London. Born into poverty in Southwark, William works as an apprentice to Mr. Middleton, a waterman on the Thames. Williams spends seven years rowing up and down the river, transporting the gentry from one side to the other. He develops a hatred of the gentry and their superior ways. He keenly feels the unjustness of his inferior social position and strains against the limitations of his class. He works himself into the ground in an effort to gain the security that Mr. Middleton and his house on Swan Lane represent.
William falls in love with Mr. Middleton's daughter, Sal. They get married the day that William becomes a free man. William continues to work as a waterman, building a life for his family. As master of his own boat, a wedding present from Mr. Middleton, William feels that he has left the dire poverty of his childhood behind. However, tragedy soon strikes. A month long cold snap freezes the Thames. William cannot work, and the couple quickly go through their savings. Mrs. Middleton falls ill, and Mr. Middleton spends all of their money trying to cure her. Mr. Middleton then succumbs to a fever, and Mrs. Middleton dies soon after. William and Sal are left destitute. The bailiffs confiscate the house on Swan Lane and the boats.
William must go to work as a waterman for another master. He does not earn enough to support his family and is forced to steal. Without the goods that William skims off the top, his family would starve. William is caught trying to steal a consignment of Brazil wood and sentenced to death. ...
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