The Lieutenant

by

Kate Grenville

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The Lieutenant: Part 2, Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
October arrives, which is the earliest possible month that Rooke might see Dr. Vickery's comet. He spends every night peering through his telescope and carefully scanning the sky. He begins sleeping during the day so he can spend his nights watching, but he doesn't see the comet. By Christmas, Rooke is anxious and worried that if the comet doesn't appear, Major Wyatt and Governor Gilbert will force him to leave his observatory and join the other soldiers.
Silk's prying about Gardiner's story was a transformative experience, as now Rooke is even more keen to avoid any involvement with the actively militant aspects of the military. The comet provides a convenient excuse for Rooke to take on the role of astronomer as much as he possibly can and distance himself from his status as a soldier.
Themes
Individuality vs. Communality Theme Icon
Imperialism, Racism, and Morality Theme Icon
Rooke only comes down from his observatory for the Sunday lunch. He barely listens to the officers talk about how prisoners continually rob the gardens, Brugden finds fewer and fewer animals, and the natives are becoming bolder and attacking settlers. A few officers suggest that Gilbert shouldn't have captured the native men, while Lennox and Willstead insist that the governor should make a grander display of his force. Rooke fears that the governor will recall him from the observatory and make him take shifts standing guard with the other marines.
The differing opinions among the officers show that though the military is supposed to be one unified force, the individuals that comprise that force are not yet devoid of opinions or individuality, or indeed, humanity. Though the novel doesn't name names of those who question the governor, the fact that the openly ambitious Willstead advocates violence shows that violence is often linked to promotion in this system.
Themes
Violence and Rationality Theme Icon
Individuality vs. Communality Theme Icon
Imperialism, Racism, and Morality Theme Icon
Rooke considers asking Silk for advice, but finds he doesn't trust him now that he knows how intent Silk is on writing a compelling narrative. Instead, Rook asks Gardiner for help. Gardiner and Rooke recalculate the track that Dr. Vickery predicted for the comet. Theirs differs slightly from the original, but the comet still doesn't appear on either track. One afternoon in January, Gardiner climbs to the observatory as Rooke is preparing his telescope for the night. Gardiner insists that Rooke take a break and come fishing. Rooke agrees.
Recalculating the comet's track shows that Rooke is capable and willing to question both hard science and what truth is, as Dr. Vickery's track isn't truthful if the comet doesn't cooperate. Notably, what brings this questioning on is the threat of returning to the marines, which sets the precedent that Rooke questions things when he feels threatened.
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
Out on the boat, Rooke thinks that he's been looking through his telescope for too long. Gardiner catches a fish and suggests that Rooke write to Dr. Vickery about the comet. When Rooke returns to his observatory later, he cooks his fish and then pulls out paper to write the letter. His writing obscures the truth that the comet isn't appearing, but Rooke folds it anyway and hopes that the comet will arrive so he can tear up the letter. He feels better after writing it. Instead of going up to the telescope, Rooke goes to sleep.
Even if Rooke dislikes Silk's habit of obscuring the truth, his letter shows that he recognizes that writing in that style has its place. The fishing trip reminds Rooke of his own humanity and encourages him to not cling too heavily to science and rationality. The fact that Rooke does indeed feel better afterwards suggests that part of his growth will be to learn to embrace his humanity.
Themes
Language, Communication, and Friendship Theme Icon
Storytelling and Truth Theme Icon
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By April, it's clear that the comet isn't going to appear. To justify staying at the observatory, Rooke decides to pick up where the astronomer Lacaille left off, mapping the stars of the southern hemisphere. Rooke knows that Gilbert doesn't care about stars that can only be seen through a telescope, but he works diligently anyway. He finds it eerie to look at a sky that Dr. Vickery has never seen, and wonders if something unseen truly exists. Rooke wonders in the back of his mind if he could create constellations with his newly discovered stars and name them. He wonders too if in the future someone with a more powerful telescope will find even more stars, and wonders if there's no end to the sky and what can be seen.
The way that Gilbert and Rooke think about the stars and the sky is indicative of how they think about community in terms of scale. Gilbert cares only for what he can see and what's in front of him—he wants control over the known, which, by necessity, means that his community is one of a relatively small scale. Rooke, on the other hand, still believes that he's a very small and insignificant part of a whole. By mapping stars, he brings them more fully into his community, but recognizing that the unseen stars are there acknowledges that there are larger forces that he can't necessarily see or comprehend.
Themes
Violence and Rationality Theme Icon
Individuality vs. Communality Theme Icon