Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

A Scots Quair is a work of themes and can rather easily be read on three levels: personal, social, and mythical. The principal theme overriding all others is that of civilization versus the natural world. As the three books of the trilogy progress, civilization gains more and more control, and the mood of the novels grows increasingly dark. Moving from a rural setting in Sunset Song, where innocence and ties with the land are expressed in sunshine and contentment, the story in Grey Granite is one of fog, mists, smoke, and obliterated sunlight in the civilized city. The cloud motif is very important, from the clouds that accompany World War I in Sunset Song, through the continually darkening cloud chapters of Cloud Howe, to the virtually continual darkened sky of Grey Granite.

As religion is seen by Gibbon as a product of civilization, it receives harsh treatment. Members of the clergy are depicted as incompetent and/or immoral, with the exception of Robert, who is well intentioned but ineffectual. Chris, symbolic of the natural world, remains aloof from religion even while attending church services, first with her father and later with Robert. The blackest depiction of religion’s effect on human nature is in John Guthrie, whose Calvinist faith contributes to the evil in his character. His religious insistence on the sinfulness of birth control ultimately kills the wife he loves, and his warped sexual urgings, formed at least in part by his strict religious views, bring him to the brink of incest with Chris.

Thus, sexuality is also a theme for Gibbon. Jeanne Guthrie passes on to Chris a physical naturalness and a delight in her sexuality which Chris brings to her marriage with Ewan. Her one surviving child is born of this natural sexuality. In her marriage to Robert, however, this part of her nature is slowly stifled until, after the birth and immediate death of their only child, Robert altogether rejects a sexual relationship with Chris. Chris’s...

(The entire section is 828 words.)