The Lieutenant

by

Kate Grenville

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The Lieutenant: Part 4, Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Silk, Willstead, Rooke, and Warungin sit together by the fire quietly while the 30 privates throw a party around a bonfire across the clearing. Rooke watches Silk fish in his pack for his journal and tries to help, but accidentally grabs the bottom of the pack instead of the flap. The pack dumps over and spills out a hatchet and several canvas bags. Rooke jokingly asks Silk if he was planning to cut firewood. Silk isn't amused and grabs for the hatchet and bags. Rooke looks to Willstead, who seems to know something about the hatchet.
When Rooke tries to help Silk, it suggests that in his happiness that the expedition failed, he's more willing to forgive Silk his troubling enthusiasm and repair their friendship. Though it's a less loaded symbol than guns, the hatchet functions much like guns do as a symbol of potential violence.
Themes
Language, Communication, and Friendship Theme Icon
Violence and Rationality Theme Icon
Rooke asks Silk if Surgeon Weymark asked him to bring back trophies to paint, or if he's planning on illustrating his narrative. Willstead glances at Warungin and excitedly says that Rooke isn't far off from the truth, but Silk shushes him. As Rooke looks at Silk's dark face, he realizes something sinister is happening. He asks Silk for a private word, and Silk follows Rooke into the darkness.
As was the case with Rooke's notebooks, the fact that the hatchet appears to be a secret makes everything look much darker. The hatchet suggests that the expedition has other violent aims that were planned out, just like the maneuver on the promontory.
Themes
Violence and Rationality Theme Icon
Storytelling and Truth Theme Icon
Rooke asks for an explanation of the hatchet and bags. Silk explains that if capturing the natives proved impossible, the governor ordered him to kill six natives and bring the heads back to the settlement. He says that the governor thinks that they must act harshly in this one instance so they won't have to again. When Rooke asks why Silk didn't share this with him, Silk insists that they were never going to actually capture anyone, and nobody will be killed.
Though what Silk describes is absolutely horrible, it's made much worse by the fact that he kept it a secret from Rooke. Silk's lack of concern shows he trusts that he's right, when Willstead's attitude throughout has shown that he'd gladly shoot a native given the chance, and things could've gone very wrong had he done so.
Themes
Violence and Rationality Theme Icon
Imperialism, Racism, and Morality Theme Icon
Storytelling and Truth Theme Icon
Rooke looks back to Willstead and Warungin at the fire, trying to talk about something. He wonders how you cut off a man's head and thinks through the process in gruesome detail. He thinks that someone would have to carry the bag back to the settlement and fend off flies the entire way. Finally, Rooke wonders if he could carry a bag and not think about the fact that a face and a soul were inside it. Rooke gasps, and Warungin looks at him with concern. Rooke stumbles into the bushes and vomits.
As Rooke puzzles through how this violence might work in practice, he finally reaches something of a breaking point and understands that rationalizing violence like this doesn't work. He's too emotional and too human now to be able to divorce violence from its victims, who are people like any other.
Themes
Violence and Rationality Theme Icon
Individuality vs. Communality Theme Icon
Imperialism, Racism, and Morality Theme Icon
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When Rooke is finished vomiting, he walks down to the beach and watches the waves. Rooke thinks that he never realized that the way people divide up the oceans is arbitrary, since all the oceans are the same body of water. Rooke undresses and wades into the water, feeling as though he can smell his own disgust. He floats for a while and then scrubs himself in the shallows. When he's clean, he walks up onto the beach and sits on the cool sand.
Here the ocean again acts as a symbol for the whole of humanity. Though humans divide up the oceans, they are actually all connected, just as humanity is one global community despite borders and language differences. By bathing in this metaphorical world community, Rooke finds some temporary relief from all the toxic parts of humanity, and undergoes a kind of baptism—after this he will be finally ready to break with the colonial system and take a stand for what is right.
Themes
Individuality vs. Communality Theme Icon
Rooke looks at the sky and sees the constellation Sirius. He thinks that the natives probably have their own name for it, even though the stars themselves are the same. He thinks that the stars are indifferent to his troubles. As Rooke thinks, he realizes that although he accused the governor and Silk of using faulty logic in coming up with this punitive expedition, he himself had used poor logic when he decided that there was no harm in joining the expedition if it was guaranteed to fail. Rooke realizes that if an action is wrong, it doesn't matter whether it succeeds or fails. Being part of it makes a person wrong and guilty, even if that person doesn't actively promote the wrongness.
When Rooke thinks about the stars, he begins to think about science in a new way: it's no longer a way for him to rationalize violence. Rather, because the laws of science are universal and the stars don't change, the different ways that different cultures think about them shows that everyone's roots are essentially the same. Rooke also comes to the final, definitive conclusion that he's partly guilty for every violent thing that's happened in New South Wales, simply by being part of the machine that promotes that violence.
Themes
Violence and Rationality Theme Icon
Individuality vs. Communality Theme Icon
Imperialism, Racism, and Morality Theme Icon
Storytelling and Truth Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Rooke thinks that the man he was when he first arrived on the shore in New South Wales two years ago is gone now. He can no longer think of the natives as strangers. He thinks of Tagaran asleep by a fire somewhere, and thinks that he doesn't know how to describe how he feels for her. He realizes that she showed him who he could be. That man is more than just a lieutenant in the marines. That man knows how to listen and feel, and has nothing to do with muskets and hatchets. Rooke realizes that by remaining with the expedition, he is rejecting the man he has become. 
Now, Rooke understands that he must separate himself from the military and colonialist machine in order to escape being complicit in its violence. With this realization, he shows that he knows now that individuals are powerful, and can make a difference. Further, they have a moral imperative to do so: the version of Rooke who uses muskets and endorses the use of hatchets on humans is not a moral person, and Rooke has now moved beyond that.
Themes
Violence and Rationality Theme Icon
Individuality vs. Communality Theme Icon
Imperialism, Racism, and Morality Theme Icon
Rooke remembers the man who hung in Antigua, and the two others who were humiliated and turned out. As Rooke thinks, he realizes that what he's feeling isn't rational—it's a reflex. He says out loud that he cannot be part of this, and decides that he's ready to take this path.
When Rooke realizes his feelings are a reflex, it recalls his moan during the hanging—it was all the demonstrative reflex he could manage at the time. This shows that caring for humanity as a whole can be natural, fundamentally human thing.
Themes
Violence and Rationality Theme Icon
Individuality vs. Communality Theme Icon
When Rooke returns to the campsite, he rolls himself into his blanket like the others. He waits until he hears Silk's breathing even out and Willstead start snoring, and then gathers his pack. He starts walking towards Sydney. He reaches the settlement at dawn and sees Gilbert and Major Wyatt walking. When they notice Rooke, they run to him and ask about the rest of the party's wellbeing.
The governor and Major Wyatt show here that they primarily care about their own community's wellbeing and maintaining the status quo—though they don't yet recognize that Rooke is no longer a part of their community. Rooke's decision to act independently suggests again that individuals do have power to effect change.
Themes
Violence and Rationality Theme Icon
Individuality vs. Communality Theme Icon
Rooke spent the night rehearsing what he would say to the governor, but now all he can think of is conjugating verbs. The governor asks impatiently if the party captured or killed any natives, and Rooke explains that the natives eluded them. He continues that it was a failure, and remembers how Warungin sat relaxed by the fire while Silk smiled about the hatchet. Rooke says that the mission didn't go well, and the plan was evil. He continues that he's sorry he complied with the order, and he won't again obey orders like that. The governor is astonished, but Rooke feels only relief.
Like his newfound realization that all of humanity is worth protecting, rational thought is still a reflex for Rooke. Both things are intrinsic parts of him and always will be, though now he's not using that rationality to hide or avoid the ugly truth. Remember that speaking to the governor like this and using this kind of language is out of character for Rooke, which shows just how strongly he feels about all the situation. He's finally truly communicating, even if the governor won't have it.
Themes
Language, Communication, and Friendship Theme Icon
Violence and Rationality Theme Icon
Individuality vs. Communality Theme Icon
Imperialism, Racism, and Morality Theme Icon
Wyatt snaps at Rooke to stop talking like that. Rooke realizes that Wyatt is trying to push Rooke back into line to avoid catastrophe, but Rooke only says again that the orders were evil. The governor seems not to hear and asks how many natives the party killed. This makes Rooke suddenly angry. He snaps that no natives died, but that's beside the point: the intention was evil. He says that God will only see the evil, though he feels that mentioning God is a cheap trick.
In calling out the plan for the evil mission it was, Rooke also calls out the governor for being complicit in that evil. Rooke insists that even an untruthful threat to life is still something that causes fear and discomfort (and in this colonialist framework, upholds larger systems of oppression and violence), and is therefore immoral. God functions here almost as one of the nonverbal communication forms of English; the reference isn’t meant literally, but magnifies Rooke's point.
Themes
Language, Communication, and Friendship Theme Icon
Violence and Rationality Theme Icon
Imperialism, Racism, and Morality Theme Icon
The governor reprimands Rooke and asks him to come see him at noon. He and Major Wyatt stride away. Rooke thinks that he'll go to his hut, brew tea, and wait for the ships to arrive from England. He could have weeks or months until the machine of the British military sweeps him away, tries him, and sentences him to a death of some sort. As he walks, the sky gets lighter. Rooke can't see the stars, but he thinks about the fact that they're still there, and that the earth will keep turning forever.
Though Rooke made his righteous stand as an individual in defense of humanity, he still finds comfort in knowing that he's actually a very small part of the universe. In this way, the novel insists that Rooke's rational, scientific mind will never leave him. Now, it just has a more human quality to it, as he goes on to use his mind to help others while also keeping everything in perspective.
Themes
Violence and Rationality Theme Icon
Individuality vs. Communality Theme Icon
Imperialism, Racism, and Morality Theme Icon