Themes

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Last Updated on January 18, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 642

Kazuo Ishiguro's novel The Buried Giant is set in Britain shortly after the reign of King Arthur and contains two primary plotlines: Axl and Beatrice's search for their son and Wistan's quest to slay the she-dragon, Querig. From the beginning, Ishiguro makes it clear that this is no simple quest...

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Kazuo Ishiguro's novel The Buried Giant is set in Britain shortly after the reign of King Arthur and contains two primary plotlines: Axl and Beatrice's search for their son and Wistan's quest to slay the she-dragon, Querig. From the beginning, Ishiguro makes it clear that this is no simple quest narrative by introducing an all-encompassing obstacle: an amnesia-inducing mist that covers the land.

The mist transform the quest narrative into an exploration of memory and guilt, love and war, as the characters' respective quests are influenced by remembrance. This makes the power of memory and the act of forgetting into important motifs within the story, which are explored in the following examples:

  • As they journey, Axl and Beatrice begin remembering parts of their lives that have long been forgotten. For Axl, the recovered memories reveal that he is connected to Arthur, the war between the Britons and the Saxons, and the mist. These memories cause him to feel guilty, as if he somehow failed in his earlier life. For Beatrice, memories of Axl and their son give rise to a fear that they drove their son away. These memories cause her worry, but she is resolute in her desire to remember, believing that she and Axl share a bond stronger than any painful memories they might share.
  • Axl and Beatrice also experience fond, mutual memories, which they share to reaffirm their commitment to one another. Late in the novel, when Beatrice shares a particularly unpleasant memory while unwell, Axl is distant for a time but ultimately able to recover through reflection and forgiveness.
  • In contrast to Axl and Beatrice, Gawain and Wistan are immune to the mist's effects. This power of memory grants them the willpower and clarity to stay true to their respective tasks, opposite though they might be.
  • Gawain offers more insight into the novel's themes. His reveries reveal that he is plagued with guilt for his role in Arthur and Merlin's decision to use Querig to spread the mist. The presence of the dark widows suggest that this guilt is well-founded, but Gawain refuses to accept any guilt. Although part of him agreed with Axl's condemnation of the act, Gawain finds solace and peace of mind in performing his duties to his king. His unflagging commitment suggests that placing responsibility and trust in authority allows him to avoid any moral responsibility for his actions.
  • In another small but potent example, the Christian monks leverage the act of forgetting in order to atone for the sins they have committed. After Gawain reveals Father Brian's treachery, he suggests that the monks cast people to the beast in the tunnels because they know the mist will help them forget the sin. They know the tunnel is there, and they know of the beast; but they never have to confront their sins directly since they don't remember the act of sending people to their deaths.
  • In the novel's penultimate scene, Wistan conveys a vision bloody future in the wake of the death of Querig. He says that the buried giant, a metaphor for the forgotten violence done by Arthur's soldiers upon innocent Saxons, will rise and that past injustices will face a reckoning. However, Axl and Beatrice observe that Britons and Saxons have lived alongside one another for a long time. They trust that this shared experience will stem the bloodshed Wistan has predicted.

Throughout the novel, Axl's and Beatrice's choices convey a theme related to memory: that a strong, loving bond endures and grows through remembering painful and pleasant memories alike. However, Axl acknowledges that perhaps without the amnesia-inducing mist, he and Beatrice may never have grown as close after his cruelty, her infidelity, and the death of their son. In this respect, the novel suggests that forgetting, or allowing oneself to forgive and forget, may ultimately forge stronger connections and relationships.

Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 319

The themes of The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro include love, loss, grief, memory, collective and individual trauma, the affects of war, and coping with trauma.

In The Buried Giant, the characters living in the British countryside—set in the Dark Ages of Britain—are affected by collective amnesia. This amnesia is caused by something they call "the mist". This mist represents the collective trauma experienced by residents of several villages that have endured decades of wars between the Saxons and the Britons. When an elderly couple, Axl and Beatrice, embark on a journey to find the son that they barely remember having, they must face their individual and the larger collective trauma of the characters in the novel. There are many fantastical elements in the novel, such as ogres, witches, and a dragon. These elements reflect the superstitious and suspicious atmosphere that the mist has brought upon the characters.

The themes of love and loss are addressed, as Axl and Beatrice worry that the mist that envelopes the entire countryside will cause them to forget their love for each other or that it will cause them to become separated. Trauma and grief, especially when chronic, can certainly affect relationships people have with each other. As such, these themes are explored within Axl and Beatrice's relationship and their search for their lost son.

When the dragon is finally slain, even though a monastery of monks and Sir Gawain attempt to protect the dragon, the mist is lifted and memories are restored to the characters. The monks and Sir Gawain seek to protect the dragon because even though the dragon causes the great forgetting, the amnesia leads to a peace between the Saxons and the Britons due to the forgetting of the wars of the past. However, Wistan slays the dragon because he knows people must be able to access their memories and deal with their individual and collective trauma.

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