The Lieutenant

by

Kate Grenville

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The Lieutenant: Part 3, Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The natives don't return for a week, and Rooke is almost angry, but when the little boy barrels down the path towards Rooke, his anger leaves him. The women leisurely saunter down with their babies and start a fire, and the boy, Tagaran, and the other shy girl from before come into the hut. The boy shouts at Rooke, as though volume is the thing keeping Rooke from understanding. Rooke points to his ear and asks him for his word for it, but the boy just laughs. The girls talk to each other and Tagaran reaches for Rooke's sextant. Rooke stops her from touching it and she draws back. He tries to tell her what it is, and then mimes peering up to the sky.
For the little boy, a friendship of sorts isn't necessarily contingent on sharing language, hard as he tries. This shows again that friendship is built on experiences and openness as much as it's built on shared language. Further, for the boy, the language barrier isn't frustrating, it's hilarious—being in Rooke's company is something exciting and funny, and sharing language or experiences isn't emotionless or purely rational (like Rooke thinks about learning language).
Themes
Language, Communication, and Friendship Theme Icon
Violence and Rationality Theme Icon
Rooke points to himself and says his name, and then points to Tagaran and says her name. He gestures to the boy and the other girl. The other girl is very shy, and Rooke wonders if he's frightening to her. Finally, the girl murmurs something, and Tagaran slowly repeats it: the girl's name is Worogan. The boy is fearless and says his name too fast. Rooke finally catches that the boy's name is Boneda. Rooke writes down the names and Tagaran watches closely. Rooke offers her the pen, and she draws several marks on the page.
It's worth noting that when Rooke records the Cadigal language in writing, he's divorcing it from inflection, tone, context, and body language—all things that are essential to understanding what's truly being said. With this in mind, it suggests that Rooke's notebooks won't be an entirely truthful account of the language, as it necessarily leaves out much of what makes language work (and also undercuts Rooke’s previous beliefs that only scientific transcription, rather than storytelling, can convey truth).
Themes
Language, Communication, and Friendship Theme Icon
Storytelling and Truth Theme Icon
Rooke points to his head and makes a curious face. Tagaran understands immediately, and begins pointing to different parts of her head and face and offering words. Boneda and Worogan soon become bored, so Rooke picks up a piece of bread and mimes eating. Tagaran immediately throws out a word, and when he hands her the bread and motions for her to eat, she offers a different form of the verb. Rooke realizes the language is conjugated (meaning its verbs have different forms depending on who is performing the action and when). He is thrilled at his discovery. He and Tagaran smile at each other.
For now, learning language is easy. Now that Rooke understands that the language is conjugated, he'll be able to develop a system for recording the other conjugations of the verb. Further, this means that Rooke will be able to predict how other verbs conjugate, as they often follow a predictable pattern. This all means that at this point, when learning the language is simply a matter of learning verbs and how to conjugate them, language easily fits within Rooke's rational system—but that rationality can’t last for long in something as human and mutable as a living language.
Themes
Language, Communication, and Friendship Theme Icon
Violence and Rationality Theme Icon
Rooke begins acting out other verbs, which sends all of them into fits of laughter. Even shy Worogan laughs, and Boneda can barely catch his breath. Rooke thinks it's strange that as an adult, he's finally learning how to be silly. Rooke takes off his jacket to escape the fleas and the heat of the afternoon. The children grab his jacket and pinch one of the fleas. Rooke mimes a flea jumping, and Tagaran gives the word "burudu." She picks up the jacket and seems to ask what it's called. After Rooke answers, she mimes taking off a jacket and seems to ask why he took it off. He says "burudu," and Tagaran exclaims "burudin." Rooke realizes that she said something to the effect of "because of the fleas," and marks it down in his grammatical forms.
Rooke isn't just learning language, he's learning how to be a person. This supports the idea that language is something that creates relationships and ties people together; it doesn’t exist only on paper. In the same vein, Rooke is also learning how to communicate ideas without using speech, which continues to complicate and expand how the novel defines language. Further, it's important that Rooke isn't the only one learning—Tagaran is too. The exchange of culture and language goes both ways, and though in the larger scheme of things Rooke is part of an oppressive society that is antagonizing and invading Tagaran’s society, as individuals they can (for now) seek to escape the wider environment of colonialism and simply experience each other’s cultures person to person.
Themes
Language, Communication, and Friendship Theme Icon
Individuality vs. Communality Theme Icon
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Rooke takes his jacket back, puts it on, and takes it off again. Tagaran copies the motions of shrugging off a jacket and offers a word. She stops Rooke from writing it down and splits the word into two parts as she mimes: the first part refers to putting the jacket on, while the second refers to taking it off. Rooke is thrilled. Tagaran says something slowly, and Rooke recognizes both the word for "mouth" and one of Silk's words, which means "good," and believes that Tagaran praised him. As the sun begins to set, the women gather the children. Rooke gestures at Tagaran and asks her to come the next day. He can't tell if she understands, but they call "goodbye" to each other as the natives head up the path.
When Tagaran stops Rooke from writing things down immediately, it shows that she recognizes that he loses something when he insists on recording things on paper. On paper, the language loses nuance and life; that life can only be conveyed through actions and body language. Greetings (goodbye) seem to be the English words of choice for the Cadigal, which reinforces the idea that language ties people together—greetings are the first thing people say to each other.
Themes
Language, Communication, and Friendship Theme Icon
Violence and Rationality Theme Icon
Individuality vs. Communality Theme Icon
When Rooke takes his shoes off later, he realizes his feet are extremely dirty. He then realizes his feet are dirty because of the shoes, and that the natives' feet, though barefoot, are always clean. As he heats water to wash his feet, he marvels that having shoes requires one to be able to wash one's feet, while the natives' culture doesn't require such things. He wonders what the word for "foot" is.
This is a light bulb moment for Rooke, as he begins to question how and why his culture does certain things and questions norms he has taken for granted all his life. In this way, he begins to understand different cultures through a lens of relativity, not through a lens of superiority or hierarchy. It's simply a matter of a certain practice necessitating another certain activity; he doesn't assign those activities relative value or “rightness.”
Themes
Individuality vs. Communality Theme Icon
Imperialism, Racism, and Morality Theme Icon