The Secret River


Kate Grenville

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Themes and Colors
Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class Theme Icon
Colonialism and Violence Theme Icon
Home and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Language, Literacy, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Secret River, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Social Order, Hierarchy, and Class

When Thornhill is born in London in 1777, he's born into dire poverty with seemingly no hope or fighting chance of getting ahead. At the end of the novel, however, Thornhill is a member of Australia's early land-owning class: he lives in a large stone villa, can buy Sal whatever she fancies, and even makes sure his children learn to ride horses in the style of the gentry. Thornhill's upward journey situates the relationship between…

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Colonialism and Violence

The Secret River takes place during the British settlement of Australia. From 1778-1823, New South Wales was a penal colony of England, which meant that England primarily sent convicts like William Thornhill to settle its new colony. In the new colony, white settlers came into contact with the Aborigines, the native people of Australia. For Thornhill and his companions on the Hawkesbury River especially, the Aborigines present a number of problems to their efforts to…

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Home and the Immigrant Experience

After Sal and Thornhill arrive in New South Wales, they talk often about going home to London. For them, even though they spend many years living in New South Wales, London is the place that's truly home for them. As the novel progresses, Thornhill finds that his conception of home changes, while Sal struggles to adjust to life in New South Wales and see it as home. This leads Thornhill to question what home actually…

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Language, Literacy, and Storytelling

Even though Thornhill is mostly illiterate, he's entranced at various points in his life by the power of stories and words. Since he himself can't read, the fact that much of the western world depends on written language to function is almost a fantastical thought for him. As Thornhill moves up in the social hierarchy in New South Wales, language becomes a way for him to signify his ascent: through his word choice, he can…

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Justice and Consequences

The action of The Secret River hinges on the relationship between crime and punishment. As a child and a young man, Thornhill steals to try to escape his dire poverty, and is punished for doing so by being forcibly resettled in the penal colony of New South Wales. In New South Wales, Thornhill finds himself outside the English justice system and, along with his companions on the Hawkesbury River, is forced to decide for himself…

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