Analysis

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Many young people know that Scott was a famous writer of poetry and historical novels. Some of them may have heard that, in real life, he was as incorruptible as his finest heroes and that, in his later years, he worked himself to exhaustion in order to pay off a business debt for which he could not have been held liable except by his own code of honor. They may not realize, however, that throughout his youth, Scott had to deal with his lameness, which brought him no sympathy in the rough, pitiless society of Edinburgh schoolboys and which could have put him permanently in the ranks of the outsiders. His personal triumph should be a source of inspiration for young adult readers.

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While there are no real villains in Young Walter Scott, it is obvious that Vining’s strongest sympathies lie with her subject. In the first chapter, she shows him as a stranger in his own family. When even his own brothers treat him with contempt, Scott has to make his first difficult decision—to ignore his bad leg and go forth to battle along with them. The author clearly admires his refusal to give in to his physical limitations, but she also admires the strength of purpose shown when he and his friend John Irving evade their quarrelsome peers in order to read and tell stories.

Both of Scott’s parents are treated sympathetically. It is his mother, Anne Rutherford Scott, who wisely encourages Walter with a reminder about another lame Scott. She is also sympathetic to his interest in the past, even tolerating his private collection of ancient weapons. Although Walter’s father, a busy lawyer, has the role of disciplinarian, he proves understanding when Walter and his brother admit skipping school in hopes of seeing John Paul Jones in a sea fight. It is interesting that Vining does not criticize the older Walter’s decision to make his son into a lawyer; as there were only a few occupations available for a gentleman, she sees Scott’s father as simply providing for him.

Often, the author lets her readers come to an understanding of seemingly unsympathetic characters at the same time that Scott himself is doing so. For example, unlike his little sister, Anne Scott, who is kind to Walter from his first appearance in Edinburgh, John Scott appears to be callous and contemptuous. Yet events reveal John’s true character. Like many schoolchildren, he respects his peers only after they have been tested. Once Walter has demonstrated his courage in a fight, John becomes his devoted protector and loyal friend.

Similarly, the poor boy called “Green-Breeks” is first seen as an obnoxious creature who taunts the Scott boys as they walk to church, aware that they dare not retaliate. The new leader of the slum gang from Potterrow, he is a dangerous enemy until, in a particularly violent battle, one of Walter’s brothers lays him low with a weapon from the collection. As it happens, Green-Breeks survives. From that episode, the Scotts learn that their pitched battles, like any human conflict, have the potential for tragedy. They also learn something about the boy they have despised. Green-Breeks not only refuses to tell who hurt him but also refuses the money that the boys send him as a present, interpreting the gift as a bribe to ensure his silence. All he will accept is some snuff for the old woman with whom he is living. Again, Vining permits the reader to participate in Scott’s discovery: In reality, Green-Breeks is not an impudent enemy but a chivalrous knight. Such humbling experiences enable Scott to gain the insights that will help him in his literary career. At the same time, he is building character and courage.

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Critical Context