The Secret River

by

Kate Grenville

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Guns Symbol Icon

When Thornhill initially decides to purchase a gun, he sees it as an insurance policy that will guarantee his and his family's safety in the wild of New South Wales. When he learns how to fire a gun, however, he learns that although guns do have the potential to do damage and offer protection, they're little more than a symbol of power: in the early 19th century, guns took nearly two minutes to reload, making them ineffective against the Aborigines unless used en masse. This plays out particularly as Thornhill speaks to Sal about "showing the blacks the gun" to send a message: he knows full well that the spears of the Aborigines are far deadlier than his gun, but he plays to Sal's blind trust that the gun will do its job and strike fear in the natives.

Guns Quotes in The Secret River

The The Secret River quotes below all refer to the symbol of Guns. 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:
Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Canongate edition of The Secret River published in 2007.
Part 3: A Clearing in the Forest Quotes

Thornhill could not believe he would be able to send a ball of red-hot metal into another body. But being allowed a gun was one of the privileges of a pardon. It was something he had earned, whether he wanted it or not.

Related Characters: William Thornhill
Related Symbols: Guns
Page Number: 131
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:
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:
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Guns Symbol Timeline in The Secret River

The timeline below shows where the symbol Guns appears in The Secret River. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 3: A Clearing in the Forest
Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class Theme Icon
Language, Literacy, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
...eat them, and Thornhill assures him that he won't let them. He glances at the gun wrapped in canvas. He'd bought it from a man in Sydney and when the man... (full context)
Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class Theme Icon
Home and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
The family huddles close around the fire as night falls. Before sunset, Thornhill loads the gun. He wonders why it doesn't make him feel safe to have it. Thornhill studies the... (full context)
Part 4: A Hundred Acres
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
Language, Literacy, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
...of a dog and a child crying, and Willie tells his father to get the gun. They go to the hut where Sal gives Thornhill a bag of food and tobacco.... (full context)
Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class Theme Icon
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
Language, Literacy, and Storytelling Theme Icon
...like he's hosting these men and greets them loudly, though he wishes he had his gun. The men approach him, and the old man Thornhill once slapped comes right up, touches... (full context)
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
...is proud of having struck a deal and tells Thornhill that there's no need for guns or whips to deal with the natives. (full context)
Part 5: Drawing a Line
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
Home and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Language, Literacy, and Storytelling Theme Icon
...him he's silly and cleans his face. Thornhill goes into the hut and checks the gun. Sal catches him, but he insists there was only a nest of spiders in the... (full context)
Language, Literacy, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
...insists that the natives won't hurt them. Willie tells his father to show them the gun, but Dick gets up and says that the natives truly are just having a get-together.... (full context)
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
Home and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Language, Literacy, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
...Ned squeal that the natives will burn them, and Thornhill finally snaps. He takes the gun down and loads it, though he wonders if he's the only one who knows how... (full context)
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
Language, Literacy, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
...and Thornhill are fearful. Sal stops engaging with the women, and Thornhill buys three more guns and teaches Ned, Dan, and Willie how to shoot. Ned is a natural with the... (full context)
Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
...what happened to Spider: when he returned, the natives were still stealing. He'd tried to shoot them, but at spear-point, the natives stole all their food and all their other belongings... (full context)
Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class Theme Icon
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
Home and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Loveday angrily shouts that the natives are destitute, and Smasher continues the tirade. Smasher mimes shooting a gun and shouts that the natives understand that. Mrs. Herring silences Smasher, and Thornhill... (full context)
Part 6: The Secret River
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
Home and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
...natives are filling bags with their corn. Thornhill feels rage fill him and grabs the gun. He walks to the corn patch. The natives silently and deliberately continue picking corn. He... (full context)
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Thornhill lets go of the woman he'd held and points the gun at Long Jack. He yells that the corn belongs to him, and the natives, except... (full context)
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
At dawn, Smasher whispers to everyone to shoot the men first, then the women. The men wade to shore with their guns, though... (full context)
Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class Theme Icon
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
...the massacre around him. He watches Dan club Black Dick over the head, and Ned shoots a woman carrying a child. Thornhill points his gun at people, but doesn't shoot. He... (full context)
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
Language, Literacy, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Thornhill gets up with his gun and realizes that there are natives in the forest throwing rocks and spears. He realizes... (full context)
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Thornhill's gun finally goes off. Whisker Harry stands stern for a moment and then folds forward and... (full context)
Part 6: Mr. Thornhill's Villa
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
Language, Literacy, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
...been waiting. He told her that they'd spoken to the natives and shown them the guns, and the natives left. He assured her that they were gone for good, and she... (full context)