Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The two central symbols used in the novel define its major themes. One is the idea of “divining,” practiced by Morag’s friend and mentor, Royland. He is successful at the art of finding underground water using a witching wand, just as Morag seeks to find meaning in life through her writing. As the diviner probes with a stick, so the writer uses memory to delve into the past and discover the significant events of her life. In this way, writing is seen to be not only a means of communication but also a method of discovering hidden truths. Morag recognizes that she cannot hope for confirmation of success as Royland does, but the fact that she has created a novel through her exploration of her own past is evidence in itself that she has succeeded. At the same time, she must recognize, as she grows older, that if her powers desert her, as his powers have left Royland, she must accept that loss in the knowledge that other women and men will become “diviners” of the truths of their own lives.

The other major symbol in The Diviners is the river which flows in front of Morag’s house. The river flows in both directions: The current goes south, but the steady wind out of the south makes the surface ripples flow north. It allows Morag to “look ahead into the past, and back into the future, until the silence.” Because the water is clear near to the shore but opaque farther out, it resembles life in its mystery and also in its inexorable flow. Life, it...

(The entire section is 594 words.)