The Secret River

by

Kate Grenville

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Sal Thornhill Character Analysis

Sal is Thornhill's wife. They meet as children through Thornhill's sister Lizzie. Sal's parents spoil her because she's an only child, though she's haunted by her brothers and sisters that died not long after their birth. She marries Thornhill the day he becomes a freeman, and the two have six children together over the course of their marriage. When Thornhill's luck begins to take a turn for the worse, Sal sets out to make the best of it: she begins stealing and finds her family cheaper and cheaper places to live. She constructs Thornhill's story of innocence for his trial, and accompanies him when he's sent to New South Wales as part of his sentence. Sal desperately wants to go home to London and keeps a roof tile from London to remind her of home. She sings songs and tells stories to her children about London, and Thornhill realizes that she does so to prepare them for their return to London. In New South Wales, Sal and Thornhill begin keeping secrets from each other. Thornhill doesn't want to tell Sal that they'll never go home and doesn't tell her the truth about the Aborigines that live over the hill on the Hawkesbury River. On the Hawkesbury, Sal develops good relationships with the native women and trades with them for bowls and digging sticks. She doesn't like how Smasher talks about teaching the natives “lessons” using guns and whips. She makes Thornhill promise to not behave violently. When she finally finds out about the natives' camp over the ridge, she insists that the family leave the Hawkesbury at once. Hoping to convince Sal to stay, Thornhill attempts to get rid of the natives by participating in a brutal attack on them, though he never tells Sal what happened. She names their stone villa Cobham Hall after a place her mother worked, and tries to make it as English as possible in appearance. Although she never stops talking about London as home, she does come to realize that for her children's sake, home is in New South Wales.

Sal Thornhill Quotes in The Secret River

The The Secret River quotes below are all either spoken by Sal Thornhill or refer to Sal Thornhill. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Canongate edition of The Secret River published in 2007.
Part 1: London Quotes

Winter wore away, and there it was at last, his whole name: William Thornhill, slow and steady. As long as no one was watching, no one would know how long it took, and how many times the tongue had to be drawn back in.
William Thornhill.
He was still only sixteen, and no one in his family had ever gone so far.

Related Characters: William Thornhill, Sal Thornhill
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2: Sydney Quotes

There were no signs that the blacks felt the place belonged to them. They had no fences that said "this is mine." No house that said, "this is our home." There were no fields or flocks that said, "we have put the labor of our hands into this place."

Related Characters: William Thornhill, Sal Thornhill
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

King George owned this whole place of New South Wales, the extent of which nobody yet knew, but what was the point of King George owning it, if it was still wild, trodden only by black men? The more civilized folk set themselves up on their pieces of land, the more those other ones could be squeezed out.

Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3: A Clearing in the Forest Quotes

Thornhill saw that although this voyage, from Sydney to Thornhill's Point, had taken only a day, and the other voyage, from London to Sydney, had taken the best part of the year, this was the greater distance. From the perspective of this unpeopled riverbank...Sydney seemed a metropolis, different only in degree from London.

Related Characters: William Thornhill, Sal Thornhill, Willie
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:

He had thought that having a gun would make him feel safe. Why did it not?

Related Characters: William Thornhill, Sal Thornhill
Related Symbols: Guns
Page Number: 138
Explanation and Analysis:

The unspoken between them was that she was a prisoner here, marking off the days in her little round of beaten earth, and it was unspoken because she did not want him to feel a jailer.

Related Characters: William Thornhill, Sal Thornhill
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:

And between the words, unspoken, Thornhill heard the real reason: Sal was only the wife of an emancipist.

Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 5: Drawing a Line Quotes

He knew, as perhaps they did not, how pointless a thing it was. He could go through the rigmarole of loading it up and squinting along its barrel and firing. But after that, what?

Related Symbols: Guns
Page Number: 246
Explanation and Analysis:

They were too cunning to have anything as vulnerable as an army, for they knew what the Governor and Captain McCallum did not: that an army clumping along was as exposed and vulnerable as a beetle trundling over a tabletop.

Page Number: 164
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 6: The Secret River Quotes

He was no longer the person who thought that a little house in Swan Lane and a wherry of his own was all a man might desire. It seemed that he had become another man altogether. Eating the food of this country...had remade him, particle by particle...This was where he was: not just in body, but in soul as well.
A man's heart was a deep pocket he might turn out and be surprised at what he found there.

Related Characters: William Thornhill, Sal Thornhill
Page Number: 289
Explanation and Analysis:

"They got no rights to any of this place. No more than a sparrow." He heard the echo of Smasher's phrases in his own words. They sat there smiling and plausible.

Related Characters: William Thornhill, Sal Thornhill, Smasher
Page Number: 290
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Secret River LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Secret River PDF

Sal Thornhill Character Timeline in The Secret River

The timeline below shows where the character Sal Thornhill appears in The Secret River. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Strangers
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The Alexander, the ship that brought William Thornhill, his wife, Sal, and his two children to New South Wales, had been at sea for nearly a... (full context)
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During the months Thornhill spent on the Alexander, he tried to listen for Sal's voice from the women's quarters and spent his time mentally paddling along the Thames River.... (full context)
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...He thinks that he already died once and can die again, but looks back towards Sal and the children. When he turns back to face the black man, the man is... (full context)
Part 1: London
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When Ma has more babies, William begins spending time with Lizzie's friend Sal since Lizzie's attention is elsewhere. Sal is an only child: though her parents had more... (full context)
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William and Sal find common ground through their siblings: he has too many, she has too few. They... (full context)
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...the river as long as he stays healthy. He thinks he'll be able to marry Sal and inherit Mr. Middleton's business. Mr. Middleton pulls William into a grand room. Robed men... (full context)
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William spends his Sundays with Sal since he doesn't have to work. The first winter she decides to teach him to... (full context)
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As the years go by, William realizes that he's in love with Sal. He thinks about her while he's on the river and the thought warms him. They... (full context)
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William and Sal marry on the day William is freed from his apprenticeship. Mr. Middleton gifts William a... (full context)
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Sal gives birth to a boy a year later. Though they christen him William, they call... (full context)
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Sal and Thornhill visit often. One day they meet Mr. Middleton on his way to an... (full context)
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...not owned, and he begins to think of it as cheerless and unsafe. He and Sal sell the furniture to pay rent, but the bailiffs seize Mr. Middleton's boats, including the... (full context)
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Sal fights this turn of fate. When Mrs. Middleton dies, Sal purchases red velvet for her... (full context)
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One day, Sal develops a plan to steal a chicken from their landlord. Thornhill successfully abducts the chicken... (full context)
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...chokes and tosses on his rope the next morning. Rob vomits, and later Thornhill tells Sal that it was a clean, quick hanging. She sighs and turns back to her darning. (full context)
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...wood, along with other timber, to a wharf upriver. Thornhill is ready and thinks of Sal as he sleeps in his boat. She's pregnant again, and doesn't ask too many questions... (full context)
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Sal, Lizzie, and Mary visit Thornhill in the Newgate prison. Sal brings Willie, who's four, but... (full context)
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...are the public galleries. As he stands in the courtroom, Thornhill tries to pick out Sal in the gallery. He can't quite find her, but knows she's there. His hands are... (full context)
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When Thornhill is allowed to speak, Sal's story disappears from his mind. He insists he's innocent, but the judge seems to not... (full context)
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Sal visits him later and tells him that the way out of his death sentence is... (full context)
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...has the power to pardon Thornhill. Watson also sends a copy of his letter to Sal. She has to pay the man who wrote the initial letter to read Watson's letter... (full context)
Part 2: Sydney
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...eyes after so long below deck, and he vomits standing on still ground. He hears Sal cry out for him, but a guard pushes her back. Minutes later, Thornhill hears his... (full context)
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The government issues Sal a week's worth of food, some blankets, and a hut. Thornhill is, essentially, a slave,... (full context)
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...London. He thinks of his journey to this strange place and how he thought of Sal for all those months at sea. The family finally goes into the hut, and Willie... (full context)
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...This allows them to work and support themselves, but not to leave New South Wales. Sal and Thornhill joke for the first year that she's the mistress. They soon move into... (full context)
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Sal is consistently astonished at the lightning and thunder, as well as the crawling creatures. She... (full context)
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...called Scabby Bill lives in the settlement. He sleeps outside the hut and Thornhill and Sal give him bread sometimes. He has scars on his chest and can sometimes be convinced... (full context)
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...is granted his ticket of leave. When the baby, Dick, is able to feed himself, Sal becomes pregnant again. James is born in March of 1808 and is a sickly baby.... (full context)
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When he returns to Sydney, Thornhill tells Sal about the river and the people that live there. He doesn't mention his dream of... (full context)
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...term of Thornhill's natural life had been four years, five months. At home, Thornhill and Sal toast to his good fortune. (full context)
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...that will allow him to do well enough to not have to steal. He and Sal get out their cash box and count out 35 pounds, enough to buy one of... (full context)
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...115 pounds from Mr. King, who shakes hands with Thornhill as though they're equals. When Sal comes to admire the boat, pregnant again, she suggests they rename the boat after her... (full context)
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...Dick is introspective and solemn; and the new baby, Johnny, loves to tinker with things. Sal is exceptionally happy. By early 1812, Thornhill has paid back a quarter of his loan... (full context)
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Sal becomes pregnant again, and on New Year's Eve 1813, Thornhill tells her again about the... (full context)
Part 3: A Clearing in the Forest
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...of 1813, the Thornhills board the Hope and begin their journey to the Hawkesbury River. Sal sits with the new baby, Mary, held tightly to her chest. She looks back towards... (full context)
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...to do so just before nightfall. When Thornhill goes back to the Hope to fetch Sal, he realizes that, although the journey from London to Sydney was certainly a longer one,... (full context)
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When they all reach the tent, Thornhill realizes how flimsy it must look to Sal, and realizes that she'll be on her own for a week at a time while... (full context)
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...run down the hill with the corn seeds. They stop when they see the natives. Sal comes out of the tent and stops Bub and Johnny from following their brothers. She... (full context)
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...younger man lifts his spear. Thornhill hears others in the woods lifting their own spears. Sal cries out and then everyone falls silent. The old man grunts, drops the spade, and... (full context)
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Bub asks why the natives didn't spear them, and Sal insists that the natives left once they gave them food. Thornhill thinks that Sal likely... (full context)
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Sal soon creates a yard of sorts for the family where she cooks and mends clothes,... (full context)
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Within two weeks, the corn sprouts. Willie and Dick water the plants while Sal tethers Bub and Johnny in the yard to keep them from danger. Though she agrees... (full context)
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...for a flat rock at the base of the ridge. From there, he can see Sal washing clothes and Willie standing still instead of hoeing. Thornhill yells to Willie, but the... (full context)
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...seem empty, the drawings are proof that this place is populated. He turns to watch Sal again and thinks that he'll tell her about the fish someday, but not yet. He... (full context)
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...lime, and oranges from his tree. His dog follows him up to the half-finished hut. Sal greets Smasher as though they're old friends and offers him all the hospitality she can,... (full context)
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When Dick gets tired of holding Mary, Sal takes her and sends Dick to play. With the children gone, Smasher begins talking about... (full context)
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Later that night, when the lamp goes out, Sal forces herself to laugh and asks Thornhill if Smasher is just exaggerating. Thornhill insists that... (full context)
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...crawls out of Willie and Dick's mattress. They all watch it go silently, and then Sal tells Willie and Dick to patch the gaps in the walls after breakfast. Sal insists... (full context)
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...change the subject, but Smasher dreamily says that killing the natives is like killing flies. Sal stops in her tracks. Smasher notices and insists he doesn't actually kill the natives, but... (full context)
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...hip and even shows them the scar. Thornhill laughs with the others, but hopes that Sal will think that these are stories and not factual. The widow Mrs. Herring arrives. She... (full context)
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...assigned two. Thornhill worries about leaving his family alone for a week, but he and Sal know he has to go. As he leaves, he waves to Sal and thinks of... (full context)
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When Thornhill returns to the river with Dan and Ned, Sal insists that Dan call her Mrs. Thornhill. She uses fancy language she heard rich people... (full context)
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That night, Dan and Ned crawl into the lean-to, and Thornhill notices that Sal is smiling. He tells her that they'll fix up the hut and she won't want... (full context)
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When the hot weather starts, Sal's breasts become painful and baby Mary frets. Sal wakes one morning with hard breasts and... (full context)
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Their neighbors on the river bring gifts of food and alcohol, but Sal doesn't begin to look better until Blackwood arrives with jellied eels. The day after, Sal... (full context)
Part 4: A Hundred Acres
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...of the river, so Thornhill doesn't have to go as far to trade. He buys Sal gifts when he's in Sydney and buys himself his first pair of boots. They make... (full context)
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...and Willie tells his father to get the gun. They go to the hut where Sal gives Thornhill a bag of food and tobacco. She tells him to take it to... (full context)
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...stands, and Thornhill can barely look at her. He's never seen a woman naked, even Sal, and he's embarrassed. One of the women begins to speak without fear, and Thornhill replies... (full context)
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When Thornhill returns to the hut, he tells Sal that the natives will leave soon, but as Christmas passes, they don't leave. Eventually, Thornhill... (full context)
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...all of this, entranced by the bare breasts of the younger girls. They watch as Sal barters with the older women for one of their wooden dishes and trades sugar and... (full context)
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...day working. Ned and Dan scorn the natives and think of them as animals, and Sal halfheartedly suggests they put them to work in the field. (full context)
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One day, Sal tells Thornhill that the natives have been around for three weeks. She says that she... (full context)
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...that Thornhill won't say anything. He insists that the natives are peaceful. When Thornhill tells Sal what he saw at Blackwood's, she declares that they'll have to figure out what to... (full context)
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...playing with native children in the river, naked like his companions. Thornhill says nothing to Sal, but Bub tattles on his brother one day. Sal tells Thornhill to go fetch Dick... (full context)
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That night, Sal tries to explain to Dick that he needs to act like a civilized person. Thornhill... (full context)
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...laughs and tells Dick to have Long Jack show him again, but not to tell Sal. (full context)
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...only child who knows anything of London. To the others, London is just a word. Sal sings songs about London to the children at night and Thornhill listens, but he realizes... (full context)
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...his family watch as the natives seem to conduct a controlled burn on the hill. Sal calls out to Polly, who kills a lizard. Polly ignores her. Sal says uncertainly that... (full context)
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...set on a buck, but when he tries to pull the trigger, the buck flees. Sal is disappointed, as is Thornhill. At dinner that night, the Thornhills can smell kangaroo meat... (full context)
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Now that he's successfully traded with the natives, Thornhill is less anxious leaving Sal and the children. He trades regularly with Smasher, as his lime is in high demand... (full context)
Part 5: Drawing a Line
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...later, things begin to change. The natives arrive en masse and don't seem to leave. Sal keeps the children close and Thornhill puts off taking the Hope down the river to... (full context)
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Sal tells Thornhill to stay at the house that afternoon rather than going back to the... (full context)
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When Thornhill returns to the hut, Sal has the children dressed. Thornhill tells Sal, Dan, and Ned that there are only a... (full context)
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...natives dance and sing. They never approach the Thornhill hut, but even after they disappear Sal and Thornhill are fearful. Sal stops engaging with the women, and Thornhill buys three more... (full context)
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...want the dogs and gets in his boat to leave. He decides not to tell Sal what he saw, and feels ashamed and evil that he'd been momentarily tempted to accept... (full context)
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...weeks, Thornhill trades up and down the river, though he stops trading with Smasher. When Sal talks about going back to London he agrees with her, but he privately thinks that... (full context)
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...Captain McCallum stages his army there, though he's openly rude to Thornhill. As Thornhill and Sal watch McCallum spread out his map, he thinks that McCallum won't be able to do... (full context)
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...those farms are allowed to "drive them away by force of arms." Mrs. Herring and Sal grab the paper and pore over it in case Loveday made a mistake in his... (full context)
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...something from his pocket and says he doesn't need the Governor's permission to use force. Sal reaches for what he pulled out and then recoils when she realizes it's a pair... (full context)
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After the group leaves, Sal suggests that the Thornhills go home to London. Thornhill insists they don't have enough money... (full context)
Part 6: The Secret River
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...back to the Hope and pushes it away. He decides not to tell anyone, including Sal, and knows that this was Sagitty's doing. (full context)
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Sal yells for Thornhill to let the boy go and steps forward to let him free... (full context)
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The entire family works to harvest corn that afternoon. Thornhill tries to work next to Sal, but Sal works hard to avoid him. He says twice that the natives would've taken... (full context)
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...had just been waiting for him to feel secure before pulling a trick on him. Sal comes out of the hut and stands for a moment before walking silently along the... (full context)
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The camp looks like it usually does, but deserted. Thornhill tries to tell Sal to come back, but she inspects the entire camp. She picks up a broom and... (full context)
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Thornhill asks where the natives are if they live here, and Sal insists that they're watching them now and will never leave. Thornhill says he has a... (full context)
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Sal says they can be packed in an hour. Thornhill feels angry and says that the... (full context)
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...time but knows there's no escaping this life. He begins to try to talk to Sal, but Dan, breathless, interrupts them and says that the natives are burning Sagitty's place. Sal... (full context)
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As they travel down the river, Thornhill thinks he'll have to tell Sal. He knows that Sagitty's fate will make it very clear to Sal that they do... (full context)
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...old lives. Dan approaches Thornhill and says that if they get rid of the natives, Sal will agree to stay. Thornhill already knew this, but hates Dan for saying it. He... (full context)
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...men, and realizes that now they're all going to do horrible things. He thinks that Sal will be putting the children to bed now, and he knows that Sal is surely... (full context)
Part 6: Mr. Thornhill's Villa
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...and Thornhill is treated like a king. He watches the river with his telescope, and Sal is famous for her Christmas parties. (full context)
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An Irishman named Devine built a stone villa for Mr. Thornhill. Thornhill and Sal call it Cobham Hall after the place where Sal's mother worked before she married. It's... (full context)
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...to go on the gateposts look domestic instead of grotesque. Thornhill called them perfect, but Sal caught his eye and knew he was disappointed. Thornhill had the lions put higher than... (full context)
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Sal's tally marks are eventually covered by new tree bark. She keeps the roof tile from... (full context)
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Thornhill agrees to build Sal a stone wall around the garden, with only one gate. The wall pleases Sal, and... (full context)
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...It didn't mention the dying natives that Mr. Thornhill remembers. When he'd returned home to Sal, she'd been waiting. He told her that they'd spoken to the natives and shown them... (full context)
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Thornhill wished that Sal would say something, but she never did. She unpacked their things and continued with her... (full context)
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...Blackwood's rum up and down the river and sometimes stops at Thornhill's Point to see Sal, but he avoids his father. Thornhill thinks that Dick became an okay waterman after all.... (full context)
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...pain. He lives where he once did when Thornhill first came to the river, and Sal takes him clothes and insists on building him a hut. (full context)
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
Language, Literacy, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Long Jack refuses Sal's offerings. He never wears the clothes and doesn't eat her bread. He occasionally begs food... (full context)
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
Home and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...until he looks beyond his estate to the cliffs and the woods. It looks untouched. Sal comes to join Thornhill and asks if he's still watching. She tells him that she... (full context)