The Lieutenant

by

Kate Grenville

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The Lieutenant: Part 3, Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Silk sends Rooke letters from Rose Hill describing how boring and quiet it is. Rooke finds the letters entertaining and wonders if Silk made copies for his narrative. One afternoon after receiving a letter, a messenger summons Rooke to the parade ground in the settlement to witness a flogging. A prisoner was caught stealing potatoes. Rooke understands that theft is wrong, but also knows that everyone in the settlement is starving. He thinks that stealing food is the only correct response to starvation, biologically speaking. Rooke must obey the summons, but he wishes the prisoner hadn't been caught.
Rooke is coming up against two different kinds of truth: food is absolutely necessary, but to the English, so is punishing wrongdoing. By reasoning this out, Rooke demonstrates that he's still not fully finished rationalizing violence—he still finds it helpful—though his wish the prisoner hadn't been caught is an indicator that Rooke's humanity is taking up almost as much space in his mind as the detached, purely rational part.
Themes
Violence and Rationality Theme Icon
Individuality vs. Communality Theme Icon
Imperialism, Racism, and Morality Theme Icon
Storytelling and Truth Theme Icon
All the marines, most of the prisoners, and Warungin attend the flogging. Rooke sees that the thief is already sweating in fearful anticipation. Warungin seems unconcerned, as if he doesn't know what he's about to witness. Rooke cautiously scans the trees, hoping that Tagaran isn't watching. He wonders if he does catch sight of her if he would break ranks and cover her eyes or ears. Rooke begins to sweat.
Rooke's thoughts continue to show that his emotions and humanity are becoming more pronounced, as thoughts like this simply didn't cross his mind when he witnessed the hanging in Antigua. His sweat is a reflex responding to pain and anxiety, underscoring the human (irrational) nature of this event.
Themes
Violence and Rationality Theme Icon
Imperialism, Racism, and Morality Theme Icon
Governor Gilbert explains to Warungin that the man is bad because he stole food. He says simply that if people steal, they must be punished. Rooke can't tell whether Warungin understands. The flogger appears, and Rooke turns his attention to thinking about his spine and gravity to distract him from the horror he's about to see. When the flogger hits the prisoner, both the prisoner and Warungin cry out. Warungin tries to rush forward, but the governor holds him back. He meets Rooke's eyes and shouts, but Rooke looks away. He can only think that everything needs to stop.
Warungin evidently doesn't understand, given his reaction. This shows how the language barrier makes it exceptionally difficult to convey abstract ideas like justice. This is in part because ideas of what constitutes justice vary by culture. The settlers are also less interested in truly sharing culture, and more in simply imposing their own “correct” (in their eyes) culture—a result of assuming themselves to be superior. In this tragic moment, Rooke shows Warungin that he's fundamentally a colonist and a part of the military before he's a friend.
Themes
Language, Communication, and Friendship Theme Icon
Individuality vs. Communality Theme Icon
Imperialism, Racism, and Morality Theme Icon
Gilbert continues to try to explain to Warungin why the prisoner must be punished. Warungin looks away from the prisoner, but flinches with every lash. Rooke thinks that this is supposed to be noble, impartial justice, but realizes it doesn't seem that way in practice. The prisoner endures 74 lashes before Surgeon Weymark declares that the man has endured all he can. At some point in the future, he will receive 126 more.
Now that Rooke has seen how others live without this kind of violence, he sees that it's not actually necessary. Though he already knew that the military was inherently violent, he now sees that it's also cruel and immoral—even “savage,” as the colonizers accuse the natives of being. Gilbert's lack of empathy for Warungin underscores how entrenched he is in the military mindset.
Themes
Violence and Rationality Theme Icon
Individuality vs. Communality Theme Icon
Imperialism, Racism, and Morality Theme Icon
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Rooke looks to Warungin, who looks almost ready to vomit. Gilbert touches Warungin's arm and offers some food, but Warungin jerks away and walks into the woods. Rooke thinks that Warungin didn't witness impartial, necessary justice. Rather, he saw the settlers choose to cruelly torture one of their own. Rooke knows that he's complicit in the violence, and that as a marine, force and violence are part of his job. He feels as guilty as the flogger, even if he only watched.
Rooke starts to see that even if he is just a small part of a whole, he's responsible for the things that the whole does—even if he doesn't actually do the bad things himself. This shows that his belief of how he functions in the world is changing, and he's beginning to understand that he can only escape an association with the cruelty of imperialism by doing something drastic.
Themes
Violence and Rationality Theme Icon
Individuality vs. Communality Theme Icon
Imperialism, Racism, and Morality Theme Icon
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