The Lieutenant

by

Kate Grenville

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The Lieutenant: Part 1, Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
When Rooke is 13, Dr. Adair takes him to meet Dr. Vickery, the Astronomer Royal, in Greenwich. When Dr. Vickery struggles to meet Rooke's eyes, Rooke recognizes that they're very much alike. Similarly, Dr. Vickery isn't bothered that Rooke is awkward. He draws Rooke's attention to a massive instrument on the wall. Over the two weeks of Rooke's visit, Dr. Vickery shows him how to use the instrument, shows him several telescopes, and teaches him to play chess. He gives Rooke free run of the library, where Rooke can barely concentrate on one book before becoming entranced by another. There, he reads Captain Cook's account of New South Wales. When it's time for Rooke to leave, Dr. Vickery gives him a copy of the 1775 Nautical Almanac.
Dr. Vickery represents Rooke's first realization that there are others like him in the world. Essentially, Dr. Vickery is proof that Rooke is capable of finding community and a sense of belonging among living, present people, and won't always be the obnoxiously intelligent misfit. Like music, chess is very mathematical in nature, which certainly would appeal to Rooke's love of the mathematical and the rational. Chess also takes two people to play—it's inherently a communal activity.
Themes
Language, Communication, and Friendship Theme Icon
Violence and Rationality Theme Icon
Individuality vs. Communality Theme Icon
Imperialism, Racism, and Morality Theme Icon
Two years later, when Rooke finishes school, he writes to Dr. Vickery and asks if there are any positions available where he might be able to watch the stars and perform solitary math. Dr. Vickery explains that there are no positions unless some other astronomer dies, so Rooke enlists in the marines. He's just in time to join the war with the American colonies, and is assured that the colonists are barefoot, wield sticks instead of guns, and will surely lose the war soon.
The way the British speak about the American colonists reflects the imperialist belief that the British are superior throughout the world, even to their own colonists. This is also Rooke's first real brush with a story that's constructed to obscure the truth, as the British do lose the war. However, Rooke is still young and naïve and doesn’t know to question the story’s validity.
Themes
Violence and Rationality Theme Icon
Individuality vs. Communality Theme Icon
Imperialism, Racism, and Morality Theme Icon
Storytelling and Truth Theme Icon
Rooke makes a globe for his younger sisters out of wire and paper so he can show them where he'll be going. His youngest sister can't follow, but Anne grasps the concept of time zones quickly. Rooke realizes she's the one person in the world around whom he can be himself.
Rooke's friendship with his sister is borne of their ability to share some of the language of science and navigation. This shows Rooke that friendship is based on sharing language and being able to communicate.
Themes
Language, Communication, and Friendship Theme Icon
Rooke receives his uniform and learns how to load his musket. He thinks the musket is satisfyingly logical in the way it works. Soon, he becomes a lieutenant and is assigned to the ship Resolution. On the ship, Rooke realizes that nobody knows him and he can reinvent himself. He's assigned a hammock next to a small man named Talbot Silk. Their first interaction is somewhat awkward, but Silk declares that they'll be friends.
At this early point, Rooke is fully able to divorce himself from the knowledge that his musket is capable of doing major damage to people. Rationalizing it allows him to ignore this fact. When Rooke decides he doesn't want to be the disliked boy anymore, it shows that Rooke now accepts that he must have some sense of community in order to be happy.
Themes
Violence and Rationality Theme Icon
Imperialism, Racism, and Morality Theme Icon
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Everyone likes Silk, especially since he's a gifted storyteller. His charm has already helped him move up the ranks quickly, and he sees the war as an opportunity to become a captain. Rooke uses Silk's example and creates a version of himself that can exchange pleasantries and make eye contact. When he does reveal his intelligence, nobody teases him for it.
Here storytelling is a good thing, and Rooke isn't yet concerned with questioning the truth of any of the stories. He's simply pleased to be accepted into the community, which underscores just how lonely he was as a child.
Themes
Language, Communication, and Friendship Theme Icon
Individuality vs. Communality Theme Icon
Storytelling and Truth Theme Icon
For the first year of his service, Rooke isn't involved in fighting. Resolution carries supplies, and war seems leisurely. It also gives Rooke the opportunity to make use of his sextant and help navigate. When the ship stops in Antigua, Silk organizes a group outing to a brothel, and Rooke is happy to go. As Silk leads the party through the streets, Rooke stares at the slaves and listens to them speak an entirely foreign language. Rooke begins to think that Lancelot Percival's insistence that the British Empire would collapse without slavery doesn't hold up now that he's actually seen the black slaves, for although the slaves look different and speak a language he doesn't understand, they're little different from any other person. He thinks slaves are not the same as a horse or some other object of value.
Rooke makes several important observations about the slaves, though he misses several others. He understands first that language is something that ties people together, which shows that he's moving away from his solitary studies of Greek and Latin. He also now understands firsthand that people are people, regardless of the color of their skin—essentially, he realizes that white people aren't “superior” to black people. However, this new understanding doesn't force Rooke to take a look at his own involvement in the imperialist military, the force that's currently helping keep the slave trade alive.
Themes
Language, Communication, and Friendship Theme Icon
Violence and Rationality Theme Icon
Individuality vs. Communality Theme Icon
Imperialism, Racism, and Morality Theme Icon
Storytelling and Truth Theme Icon
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