Kate Grenville describes the characters in The Secret River as ‘not heroes and not devils, but just human beings, stumbling from one small decision to the next and in so doing, without really planning it, creating the shape of their lives. ’ The character of Will Thornhill in the novel makes several decisions some of which come from a place of circumstance and others that do not. Kate Grenville’s statement about the characters describes them to an extent as there is nothing extraordinary about them, they do not stand up for what is right as heroes do, they do not commit evil deeds as devils do..
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Will makes several decisions that spring from his family’s history and circumstance and some that are out of his own desire for something more for his life and family. Will comes from a lower class family who feel the need to steal to survive ‘all the Thornhills stole turnips from time to time, pg 9 They where all thieves, any time they got the chance. The dainty person could shrill all he liked about sin, but there could be no sin in thieving if it meant a full belly. ’ Pg16 Will’s dad was the primary caregiver and was the most skilled at stealing to provide for the family.
By comparison Sal comes from a middle class family; her father has money to buy her things that Will’s family could not afford. In Will’s eyes Sal was never short on food, especially indulgences such as oranges, sweetbread and soft white bread. Pg 17 Will comes from a long line of William Thornhills ‘Your name is common as dirt’ pg 11was a curse that his sister Mary had professed over him at a young age, his response to this was ‘William Thornhills will fill up the world’ pg 11 From this happening at a early age he made the decision to make himself stand out from the crowd, It’s through this that every other decision in his life is affected.
Will has various jobs while he is growing up in London, after his parents passed away he feels it is his responsibility to take care of those remaining in the household. In every job he makes the decision to steal not based on circumstances but out of a desire for excess. ‘No-one would miss a little as there is so many’ pg21 this is the first instance that Will is caught stealing, He tries to lie his way out of the situation and is whipped by Crocker on the docks as a public display.
Will learns ‘not to get caught’ pg21 instead of not stealing at all,
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