Pretty much everyone in Hokitika is an ex-pat, with the lion's share of the characters hailing originally from the British Isles or China (of course, Te Rau Tauwhare and Charles Frost are the two notable exceptions).
You'd think that the fact that everyone is foreign might make people less conscious of difference and more accepting in general, but that doesn't really seem to be the case. The goldfields throw all kinds of men into close proximity and create close relationships that might not have necessarily existed elsewhere. There is still plenty of tension surrounding cross-cultural relations in The Luminaries, and some of the British characters seem to enjoy exoticizing the Chinese and indigenous residents of the area—you know, by thinking of them as somehow scary or mysterious, as opposed to just dealing with them like any other human being.
Catton's narrative bears out Balfour's claim that the goldfields bring unlikely men into family relationships, with Crosbie Wells and Te Rau Tauwhare being the best example of the kind of "brother" relationships that can blossom in these circumstances.
Although Moody and Balfour initially lead us to believe that Hokitika is some kind of big melting pot, the blatantly obvious separation of the area's Chinese and British inhabitants (and most everyone's indifference to Hokitika's indigenous population, aside from Te Rau) imply that class/social separation is alive and well even here.
Family is kind of a, er, touchy subject for a lot of our characters in The Luminaries. Sure, as we mentioned in "Foreignness," the goldfields present men with the opportunity to make a new family for themselves with their fellow diggers. However, a lot of the characters have some family drama in their past that's hard to escape—or, worse, that's bubbling up into their present in ways they don't like (and/or can't control). Look at Alistair Lauderback, whose half-brother, Crosbie, is being used to blackmail him—that's definitely a case of the sins of the father coming back to bite you in the tushy.
Also, there's a lot of revenge on behalf of dead relatives going on: Sook is going after Carver to avenge his father's death, and Shepard goes after Sook because he (mistakenly) believes Sook killed his brother. In the words of Lorelai Gilmore, "Nothing like a family to ruin a family."
Catton makes family kind of a slippery or fluid concept to highlight the way class and social boundaries are getting fainter in that particular context and at that particular time.
Moody's father shows up at the end to highlight the fact that the past will always come to bite you in the butt—that is, that the desire to reinvent yourself and your family can only go so far.
The Luminaries has several intertwined mysteries, so lies and deceit are kind of its bread and butter. And thank goodness—if the characters weren't so lousy at telling the truth, the mysteries couldn't have dragged on nearly as long as they do. The book actually ends up keeping some secrets from us as readers, too—in the case of certain mysteries (e.g., what happened to Emery Staines for nearly two weeks), we don't actually find out exactly what happened. It's okay that the book keeps a few secrets from us, though, since it drives home the book's persistent message that absolute truth is pretty darn hard to come by (see "Truth" for more on that).
Although it provides us with the solution to some of its mysteries, the novel ultimately keeps quite a few secrets to remind the reader that s/he should be focusing on relationships and interpersonal dynamics, not "truth." Also, because of the supernatural elements, there are just certain things that can't be explained.
If the characters had just told the truth, as they knew it, more often than not things would have worked out better. So, the novel actually suggests that trying to tell the truth—and by that, we mean "what happened" as far as you can explain it— is the way to go.
According to Moody, class isn't really as important in a place like Hokitika as it might be, say, back in the British Isles. The fact is that even a person with extremely "low" birth like Crosbie Wells can raise his status in an instant with a gold strike (and yeah, that happened—before Lydia Wells stole all his cash, that is).
Of course, not everyone in The Luminaries is happy about this particular aspect of the gold frenzy. In a letter to his highborn brother Alistair Lauderback, Crosbie Wells commented that certain people objected to gold as a "scourge," probably because they felt threatened by the class mobility that these chances for insta-wealth were creating.
Pounamu and gold are entirely different to Te Rau because one represents the traditions of a pre-gold rush New Zealand that was undisturbed by western prospecting and capitalism, and the other represents global capitalism, which has now overtaken his native land.
The novel implies that class and other social divisions are still alive and well, regardless of how much money people have; those things are just too deep-seated in the European consciousness to disappear entirely.
"Luck" and "Destiny" are, strangely enough, both pretty important concepts in The Luminaries that coexist more or less peacefully. On the one hand, the novel's cosmic architecture implies that the future is already written (in permanent ink) in the stars. On the other hand, being set in a gold town and all, the novel makes a lot of references to good and bad luck and chance, and suggests that those things, you know, exist. Within the story, there's definitely a tension between the idea of "destiny" and the notion that chance or some other force can intervene at any point to change the future. You'll have to decide which of side of the equation wins out for our characters, though …
There is no such thing as chance or coincidence—or even free will, really—in the novel; destiny rules the roost and can explain everything.
The only way one can interfere with or alter destiny is to talk about it; the minute you become conscious of what's laid out for you, you start altering what's possible. So, really, the related activities of communicating and storytelling are the ultimate ways to intervene in destiny.
As we discussed with "Foreignness," some of the characters in The Luminaries tend to exoticize the non-English people or places. Harald Nilssen, for example, gets really excited thinking about the "primitive" and "unknowable" Maori women—which is pretty weird, since he lives among the Maori and could easily get to know their men and women alike, no? Anyway, despite their penchant for emphasizing the savagery and primitivism of others, the British characters have pretty much cornered the market on savage behavior by the end of the book. After all, Frank Carver is responsible for most of the crimes in this book, and he's the son of an Englishman.
The book flips the British notion of the "primitive" on its head by the end, making the supposedly "primitive" Chinese and Maori characters look mighty civilized compared to the lying, cheating, and murdering English.
By making Te Rau a murderer and presenting him and the Chinese characters as largely silent throughout the book, the novel replicates British stereotypes of non-British/non-Western peoples.
Secrecy and lying are big topics in The Luminaries, but truth also gets a lot of airtime and consideration—and there's a lot of philosophizing about what the whole notion of "truth" actually means. Walter Moody feels like the truth is always subjective, but he's unwilling to admit that something can be "true" or "known" if you can't see it from all sides. However, people like Lydia think that something can be "known" or true even if you can't fully wrap your head or eyes around it—like a spirit, for example. It's unclear how open Walter ultimately is to the spirit world, since it's hard to examine that realm scientifically (and he's pretty analytical)…but anyway, these are the kinds of conversations and debates that go on regarding that whole "truth" subject.
The novel sets us up without a clear protagonist to latch onto and prevents us from hearing the full "truth" behind the novel's events to draw our attention to the way in which truth is always subjective and dependent on one's position/perspective.
You can pretty much figure out what "truly" happened in every single mystery, even if it's technically left open-ended, which undermines any claims the novel might make to complicating traditional ideas of "truth."
After greed, the desire for revenge is probably the largest motivator for Hokitika's residents in The Luminaries (if the characters in the novel are a representative sample of the population, that is). Lots of people seem to be caught up with the idea of getting back at someone: Crosbie Wells wanted (and got) a certain amount of revenge on Frank Carver, and then Frank Carver wanted revenge on him (for cutting up his face), and Sook wants revenge on Carver. Meanwhile, Shepard wants revenge on Sook for a crime Sook didn't even commit against his brother. And then there's the bad blood between Anna and Lydia Wells, whose "kindness" Anna has promised to repay. All in all, this is a vengeful bunch—we haven't even mentioned all of the examples of people who have a settle to score in Hokitika. That would take too much space—why do you think Catton needed over 800 pages for her novel?
Shepard doesn't say it, but the reason he's drinking (and invites Devlin to drink with him) after Sook's death is that he's feeling guilty since he realizes he's a hypocrite for seeking revenge on Sook (which he supposedly doesn't believe in).
Shepard drinks after killing Sook to celebrate. Since he's totally not self-aware, he has no idea what a hypocrite he is (but don't worry, the narrator clues us in).