Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 459

Sir Walter Scott’s best work nearly always treats Scotland’s emergence to nationhood in the eighteenth century, following its union with England in 1707. The contact and struggles between the two allied nations shaped the Scottish identity, as Scotland changed its clannish past for its part in Great Britain. In the cross-cultural contact among the migratory drovers, Scott found a metaphor for the larger assimilation of Scotland into Britain and for the tumult brought on by this process of cultural transition. The friendship of the highland Scot and the English yeoman, like the alliance between the two nations, is a recent and fragile one.

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Robin’s contact with English culture on his journeys across the border has diminished his belief in some Scottish superstitions. He seems to be humoring his aunt, for example, when he responds to her prophetic vision of doom by turning his dirk over to Morrison for safekeeping. For him “second sight” has become Scottish superstition. However, he is still profoundly Scottish in his attitudes. His belief in honor to the point of death and his final act of giving his life for the life he has taken embody the traditional code of the Highlands. Similarly, Harry Wakefield is not so chauvinistically English as his countrymen in the inn. His love of boxing and his bumptious eagerness to settle their differences with a brawl represents the traditional attitude of the English yeoman, but his willingness to settle for a face-saving charade rather than a real fight marks a departure from traditional attitudes. Their occupation has begun the process of cultural assimilation, but neither Robin nor Harry understands the other’s culture well enough to prevent the misunderstanding that leads to their deaths. Their friendship falls victim to the traditional distrust between highland Scots and lowland English produced over centuries by cultural isolation and national prejudice.

Scott adds a historical perspective to this cultural theme. By placing the story about thirty years before the time of its telling, Scott implies that his audience, given the advantages of the later historical point of view, will see some differences that the actors in the story fail to see. Like the English judge, they will recognize that Robin did not act out of cowardice. Unlike the judge, however, later readers may also understand Robin’s unrelenting vengeance as an expression of his culture rather than as premeditation. Human beings are always limited by the perspective of their time and place. As well as showing the power of culture to mold human actions, “The Two Drovers” also suggests that men can see this determining force of culture only with the benefit of historical distance. The thirty-year gap between the story and its telling gives the reader the benefit of this distance.

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