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Secret River Essay

The importance of a person’s relationship with the ‘world’ in shaping their sense of ‘identity’, is explored through an individual’s conflicting familial relationship, which plays a significant role in shaping their sense of identity. The idea of a conflicting familial relationship is shown in both Kate Grenville’s novel ‘The Secret River’ and in Robert Lowell’s poem, ‘The Dolphin.’ These texts, conveys in detail the hostility between familial relationships. These texts also express similar id3eas but in different ways: in ‘the secret river’, a convict struggles to enforce his authority, at the cost of the relationship with his wife, whereas in ‘the dolphin’ a manic depressive poet feels inferior in his conflicting relationship with his former wife, Elizabeth Hardwick.

In ‘The Secret River,’ the physical and verbal separation between William Thornhill and his wife Sal creates a conflicting familial relationship. ‘The lack of communication between Thornhill & Sal, generates further division between each other as Sal ‘gave no sign that she had heard’ him spoke. The use of symbolism “Thornhill worked beside her but she seemed to be making sure there were always a few plants between them,” indicates the distinction between Thornhill & Sal, as well as highlighting a lack of intimacy and communication between each other. This lack of intimacy shows the importance of a person’s physical relationship with the world around them in shaping their sense of identity.

Unlike Thornhill’s lack of intimacy which causes a conflicting familial relationship. Lowell’s poem shows the individual’s conflicting familial relationship as a result from the annulment of his relationship with Elizabeth Hardwick. This is evident in the metaphorical depiction of “a captive as Racine.” This metaphorical comparison to Racine, who’s an eighteenth century playwright, highlights the many similarities between Lowell and Racine. Racine, famously known for his ‘concept of love’ centralises, how his tragic characters are aware of the ‘conflict’, complications yet they do nothing to resolve it.

This is also similar to ‘The Secret River’ where Thornhill is aware of his choices, but decides to ignore Sal’s proposal of going back ‘Home’ in England, thus creating further tension and division between his family, in-particular with Sal. Furthermore Lowell feels confined and conflicted which is caused by his wife. This therefore shows the importance of a person’s psychological relationship with the world around them in shaping their sense of identity.

Grenville effectively conveys an individual’s conflicting familial relationship, which portrays a significant role in shaping their sense of identity in the moment where Thornhill is about to strike Sal. The use of accumulation, “He saw that she did not recognise him. Some violent man was pulling at her, shouting at her, the stranger within the heart of her husband,” effectively highlights the change of his identity. Thornhill’s belligerent desire to attack Sal physically affects the relationship with Sal, which forms a deeper rift in their conflicting relationship. Thornhill also questions himself, “What curse had come down on his life, that he was full of rage at his own Sal?” This effective use of rhetorical questioning displays Thornhill reasserting his subconsciousness of this destructive and contentious identity. As a result, the compelling use of these literary devices highlights the importance of a person’s physical and psychological relationship with the world around them in shaping their sense of identity.

Similar to Grenville, Lowell also conveys the conflictive and destructive sense of self with his familial relationship, which plays a significant role in shaping his sense of identity. Lowell utilises the use of repetition, “not avoiding injury to others, not avoiding injury to myself–” effectively shows the bellicosity and volatility Lowell expresses to himself and to his former spouse. This use of repetition also signifies the subordinative status he feels in this relationship. The quote, ‘caught in its hangman’s-knot and sinking lines,‘ is a visual example of how Lowell feels, being trapped and inferior, which results in physical force to assert his conflicted identity. Furthermore, this shows the importance of a person’s psychological relationship with the world around them in shaping his sense of identity.

Additionally, Grenville communicates the idea of an individual’s conflicting familial relationship through social interaction. Grenville effectively uses the literary device of dialogue, “Get rid of the blacks and she’ll stay, Will,” as well as “Nobody won’t never know, I swear, he said. “Not our wives even. Not anyone other than us. And we ain’t telling,” to articulate the pending pinnacle decision made by Thornhill to ignore Sal’s pleads which consequently increases the conflict between Thornhill and Sal. The metaphor “But it seemed there was no way to speak into that silent place. Their lives had slowly grown around it, the way roots of a river-fig grew around a rock,” further indicates the lack of intimacy and communication between Thornhill and Sal as they’re unable to speak into that silent place, hence highlighting the importance of a person’s relationship with the world around them in shaping his sense of identity.

Synonymous to Grenville, Lowell also highlights the idea of an individual’s conflicting familial relationship through social interaction. Lowell uses figurative language, “I have sat and listened to too many words of the collaborating muse, and plotted perhaps too freely with my life,” to effectively show the conflicting familial relationship. The use of figurative language highlights that Lowell has taken advice from family and friends which has subsequently lead Lowell’s life of misdirection and indecision. This therefore highlights the importance of a person’s relationship with the world around them in shaping his sense of identity.

In conclusion, it is evident for both Grenville and Lowell that the composers have employed a variety of literary devices to highlight the importance of a person’s relationship with the world around them in shaping their sense of identity.

Bibliography

http://xserve.allsaintscasula.catholic.edu.au/groups/mrsdeli_yr11advancedenglish/weblog/8b4ee/Part_Six_The_Secret_River.html http://listverse.com/2007/08/28/top-10-american-poems-of-the-20th-century/ http://www.poemhunter.com/robert-lowell/biography/


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