As a child, Rooke feels alone and misunderstood--an individual in the worst sense of the word. However, as he begins to amass the language he needs to understand math, science, and music, he begins to shift his attention from his own loneliness to his potential to play a role in the wider world. By thinking of himself as a part of a greater whole, Rooke explores what exactly an individual's role is in a community, and if, or how, an individual can exact change (or is kept from doing so).
In his youth, Rooke develops the idea that individuals don't necessarily matter: individual people (or musical notes, or numbers) are far more compelling and useful when they're a part of something much larger. Rooke first discovers this idea in church. Though he recognizes that his classmates see God as a father or a brother, Rooke sees God in a particularly mathematical light. He reasons that if a rational brain capable of understanding math is God-given, and the mysteries of the earth can subsequently be understood through mathematical means, then the world, and God in it, is inherently connected through mathematics. Following this logic, Rooke reasons that changing or damaging one person changes or damages all people--just as changing one number in an equation changes the entire rest of the equation. All of these ideas converge and allow Rooke to believe that his individuality matters very little. What matters is his part in the whole song, or mathematical equation, of the world.
Though Rooke's beliefs about the interconnectedness of the world don't change, he comes to realize that the system of which he is a part isn't as unwaveringly good as he once thought it was. Seeing slavery firsthand in Antigua, as well as witnessing the whipping of a prisoner caught stealing food in New South Wales, impresses upon Rooke that the greater British community is a violent and cruel one, both to individuals they deem "other" and to individuals technically within the community.
From the relative privacy of his observatory, Rooke has the unique opportunity to learn how the Cadigal people think of community, which changes how he thinks about his place in the world. Cadigal language and grammar in particular show him that a kinder sense of community is inherent to the Cadigal culture. Rooke is struck when Tagaran teaches him the word putuwa, which means to warm one's hands by a fire and then warm another's hands. He believes that the existence of a word that encompasses that kind of caring action is indicative of a culture that cares deeply for the individuals within the community, something he realizes is absent within his own English community. The combination of learning this word, coupled with learning the true purpose of the punitive expedition to capture Carangaray and kill six Cadigal men, causes Rooke to openly assert that he doesn't with to be a part of the English community in New South Wales anymore. When Rooke turns away from the English community, he goes on to dedicate his life to freeing slaves in Antigua: essentially, he uses his power as an individual to attempt to right some of the world's wrongs on a grander scale. In this way, Rooke confirms his old belief that individuals are connected to one another and that a person's actions can affect the world--however, he now believes that it's his moral responsibility to use that power for good.
Individuality vs. Communality ThemeTracker
Individuality vs. Communality Quotes in The Lieutenant
In Euclid's company it was if he had been speaking a foreign language all his life, and had just now heard someone else speaking it too.
To understand any aspect of the cosmos was to look on the face of God: not directly, but by a species of triangulation, because to think mathematically was to feel the action of God in oneself.
He saw others comforted by their ideas of God...what comforted Rooke, on the contrary, was the knowledge that as an individual he did not matter. Whatever he was, he was part of a whole...
That imposed a morality behind the terse handful of commands in the chaplain's book. It was to acknowledge the unity of all things. To injure any was to damage all.
Of course their hair would grow back and they would continue to walk about, and breathe and eat: they were not dead. But they might as well be. They would never again have a place in the world.
A man on this promontory would be part of the settlement, but not in it. Present, but not forgotten. Astronomy would make a convenient screen for a self that he did not choose to share with any of the other souls marooned along with him.
Rooke could see that there was a dangerous ambiguity to the presence of a thousand of His Majesty's subjects in this place. No such understanding was possible without language to convey it, and persons to whom the news could be delivered. And yet it seemed that the silence might continue indefinitely.
Rooke said nothing more. There was a question forming in the back of his mind, which he did not want to hear. It was: What would I have done in the same place?
Language went in both directions. Without the benefit of notebooks or pencils repaired with string, the natives not only knew many words of English, but had already made them part of their own tongue, altering them as their grammar required. Bread was now breado, not simply borrowed but possessed.
What had passed between Tagaran and himself had gone far beyond vocabulary or grammatical forms. It was the heart of talking; not just the words and not just the meaning, but the way in which two people had found common ground and begun to discover the true names of things.
Warungin was not thinking punishment, justice, impartial. All he could see was that the Berewalgal had gathered in their best clothes to inflict pain beyond imagining on one of their own. Seen through his eyes, this ceremony was not an unfortunate but necessary part of the grand machine of civilization. It looked like a choice. When those fine abstractions fell away, all that remained was cruelty.
He had made that choice, because he was a lieutenant in His Majesty's Marine Force.
There it was, in the very words. Force was his job. If he was a soldier, he was as much a part of that cruelty as the man who had wielded the whip.
They all knew what he had turned his face away from: like it or not, he was Berewalgal. He wore the red coat. He carried the musket when he was told to. He stood by while a man was flogged. He would not confront a white man who had beaten his friends.
But to shoot a piece of metal out of it that could penetrate a shield or a human body and expose the shambles within: that was of another order of experience. Another language. What it said was, I can kill you.
He did not want her to learn that language. Certainly not from him.
But written down like that, with its little full stop, the possibility of doubt was erased. The meaning would never be questioned again. What had felt like science was the worst kind of guesswork, the kind that forgets it is a guess.
What he had not learned from Latin or Greek he was learning from the people of New South Wales. It was this: you did not learn a language without entering into a relationship with the people who spoke it with you. His friendship with Tagaran was not a list of objects, or the words for things eaten or not eaten, thrown or not thrown. It was the slow constructing of the map of a relationship.
It was the simplest thing in the world. If an action was wrong, it did not matter whether it succeeded or not, or how many clever steps you took to make sure it failed. If you were part of such an act, you were part of its wrong. You did not have to take up the hatchet or even to walk along with the expedition.