Sunset Song, 1932

(Great Characters in Literature)

Chris Guthrie

Chris Guthrie, a crofter’s (farmer’s) daughter, crofter’s wife, farmer, mother, and minister’s wife, twice a widow, and the principal character of the trilogy. With her high cheekbones, long, finely spun red-brown hair, and bright, piercing brown eyes, Chris is a striking Scotswoman who catches the attention of men and women alike. From childhood, Chris feels like two people: one an English Chris who loves books and genteel culture and the other a Scottish Chris who eschews English bourgeois pretensions and believes only in the immortality of the Scottish land and sky. Chris’s early recognition that nothing human lasts becomes a lifelong conviction and provides comfort to her in the worst times of her life. By the end of the third volume, the thirty-eight-year-old Chris seems herself to be an extension of the Scottish countryside she has lived on and loved.

John Guthrie

John Guthrie, Chris’s father, a crofter. Hardy, firm, red-haired, and red-bearded, John Guthrie strives with the beautiful but harsh farmland of Kincardineshire with undying energy. The incessant struggle finally embitters this fiercely independent man, who dies enraged, paralyzed by a stroke.

Jean Murdoch Guthrie

Jean Murdoch Guthrie, Chris’s mother. By nature blithe and vigorous, Jean is lovely and sensual with her fine, long, golden hair. Worn down by childbearing, a farm wife’s duties, and an unexpected seventh pregnancy, the despondent Jean takes her own life as well as those of her young twins.

Will Guthrie

Will Guthrie, the oldest of the Guthrie children. Resembling his mother in his natural temperament and full head of red-gold hair, Will is the too-frequent recipient of his dour father’s stern, even vicious, discipline. Hating his father and unwilling to endure him any longer, Will runs away to Argentina. Will visits Chris several years later, on his way...

(The entire section is 805 words.)

Cloud Howe, 1933

(Great Characters in Literature)

Robert Colquohoun

Robert Colquohoun (ka-HEWN), Chris’s second husband, a veteran of World War I and minister of the Kirk. He is fair-haired and fair-complexioned, tall, and thin. Although his lungs were injured by mustard gas during combat, he still possesses athletic skills. He attempts to rekindle civic compassion and duty among the complacent middle class of Segget. He becomes involved with local labor leaders and organizers, but his dream of a revivified new world after the upheaval of World War I is shattered by the postnatal death of his and Chris’s newborn son, Michael, and by the horrible suffering of laborers and their families. Robert dies in the pulpit, alienated from Chris, his health broken and his dream shattered.

Young Ewan Tavendale

Young Ewan Tavendale, Chris’s son, who grows from early childhood to adolescence. Ewan bears a startling resemblance to his father: He is dark-haired and dark-complexioned, intense, self-possessed, and mysterious. Intelligent and inquisitive, Ewan distinguishes himself academically and intellectually, immersing himself in the history and archaeology of the ancient Picts and Scots. At times, Chris worries that Ewan is too aloof, disinterested in and disconnected from his fellows. Her concern is warranted: By the end of the third volume of the trilogy, Ewan has become a cold, vindictive, and ruthless Communist labor organizer and agitator.

Else Queen...

(The entire section is 612 words.)

Grey Granite, 1934

(Great Characters in Literature)

Ma Cleghorn

Ma Cleghorn, Chris’s partner and boardinghouse co-owner, a widow. Large, brisk, competent, and plain-spoken, she comforts the recently widowed Chris and earns her affection. When Mrs. Cleghorn dies toward the end of the novel, Chris imagines her declining the passive Heaven of which the ministers speak, choosing instead the Scottish mountaintops.

Neil Quaritch

Neil Quaritch, a boarder in the rooming house, a newspaper copy editor and book reviewer. Although he is small and dominated by red features (beard, hair, eyes, and nose), Quaritch is spunky, skeptical, and urbane. At the end of the novel, after Ake has left Chris, Quaritch makes a halfhearted proposal to Chris, which she rejects.

Meg Watson

Meg Watson, a maid at the boardinghouse, the sister of Alick Watson. Thin, pale, and sly, Meg combines the general unhealthiness of the laborers with their survivors’ cunning. She becomes pregnant out of wedlock by one of the Communist organizers.

Alick Watson

Alick Watson, a foundry worker, initially Ewan’s enemy, then his friend and follower. As with most of the laborers in Duncairn, Alick is pale, sour-looking, and violent, tall but not healthy. Alick becomes Ewan’s friend after the two have a bloody fistfight. After betraying Ewan to the police on false charges, the despondent Alick joins a Highland regiment, whose harsh discipline prompts Alick to lead an uprising of enlisted men. For this act, he is court-martialed and severely disciplined, a final degradation in a brutish life.


(The entire section is 665 words.)


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Campbell, Ian. Lewis Grassic Gibbon, 1985.

Gifford, Douglas. Neil M. Gunn and Lewis Grassic Gibbon, 1983.

Malcom, William K. A Blasphemer and Reformer: A Study of James Leslie Mitchell/Lewis Grassic Gibbon, 1984.

Young, Douglas F. Beyond the Sunset: A Study of James Leslie Mitchell (Lewis Grassic Gibbon), 1973.