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Exploration of Minor Characters in Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

Choose a novel in which minor characters play a significant role. Outline their role in the novel and discuss their significance to the novel as a whole.Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s “Sunset Song” features a village of minor characters. John Guthrie, the main character Chris’ father and her husband Ewan Tavendale are central in conveying Gibbons ideals and themes. John Guthrie is conflicted between traditional and modern and had many admirable qualities that make him an engaging character. He supports the main charcter in displaying the theme of change. Ewan is only a dominant in the second half of the book but still had a major impact. He is the result of Chris’ development in the first half and replaces John Guthrie as Chris’ male counterpart. They are both advocates of the peasant way of life.Throughout the novel, the character of John Guthrie is tormented by his high sex drive: “she saw a caged beast peep form her father’s eyes”. He is strictly religious and the teachings of the church tell him that sex and sexual desire is sinful. This creates a conflict within John Guthrie and leads to the cruelty and severity of the character in the novel: “The dourness hardened, hard and cold, in the heart of Jean Guthrie’s man.” As sex is sinful, only justified for the purposes of reproduction, John Guthrie must resist the temptation of his wife. This arousal is a cause for guilt and John Guthrie blames his wife. He justifies sex with religion: “We’ll have what God in His mercy may send us, woman.” John Guthrie plays a significant role in illustrating Gibbon’s theme of religion and its corrupting influence.John Guthrie is also central in displaying the theme of change. John Guthrie refuses to accept the process of mechanisation taking place within his community. It creates a conflict between John Guthrie and his son Will. This conflict creates a obvious contrast between traditional and modern farming methods and shows the impact of change on the community. John Guthrie’s refusal to adapt is significant as it is symbolic of the death of the peasant way of life.In the early stages of the novel, John Guthrie is seen through Chris’ eyes as a brutal and cruel character. His sexual torment results in the deaths of his wife and twins. The struggle of working the land gives John Guthrie a cruel nature that causes conflict between himself and Will. However, upon his death Chris’ view of her father changes. After his funeral, she sees that her father was the victim of circumstance, that it was forces beyond his control that destroyed him. “the fleetness of him and his justice, and the fight unwearying he’d fought with the land and its masters to have them all clad and fed and respectable.” The character of John Guthrie allows Gibbon to show us the essentially good nature of the Scot’s folk.John Guthrie can also be seen as the character “fathered between a Kailyard and a bonny brier bush in the lee of a house with green shutters.” He is neither the perfect Kailyard character in an overly sentimental representation of rural life, nor is he an entirely brutal character in a harsh community. He falls in the middle and embodies all aspects of Scottish nature. He is a protest by Gibbon against the one dimensional Scottish characters of the time.Ewan demonstrates Gibbon’s belief that people are tied to the land. Ewan Tavendale is a fragile character. He has a simple nature and is pleasant and content working the land in Blawearie: “Ewan brisk and cheerful with the smoulder gone from his eyes…now he had his own home and wife”. However, the First World War starts, and though it seems distant there are growing pressures to enlist into the army. When Ewan submits to these pressures, he is taken away from his home and his land, and given strict army training. This separation from his home and land and the army training brutalises Ewan: “But it wasn’t Ewan, her Ewan, someone coarse and strange and strong had come back in his body to torment her.” Gibbon effectively shows that Ewan is so closely linked to the land that separation ruins him.Ewan’s marriage to Chris resolves two of the major themes of the novel. Ewan’s love and deep connection to the land allows Chris to solve her childhood conflict between a life working the land and an educated professional lifestyle. In her marriage to Ewan, she is making that commitment to the land, for he “had fair the land in his bones”. The sexual element of her relationship with Ewan shows Chris triumph over Kinraddie’s unhealthy relationship with sex: “she wasn’t afraid, only this could wait for another night’s coming, it was sweet and she wanted it to live and last”. Her marriage to Ewan is the result of Chris’ sexual and emotional development and is a victory over Kinraddie’s corrupted view of sex and relationships.Both Ewan and John Guthrie are symbolic of the peasant way of life. They hold traditional views, are closely linked with the land and are unwilling to allow their way of life to change. In the course of the novel, both Ewan and John Guthrie die: John naturally after a stroke and Ewan in the First World War. Their deaths are symbolic of the end of the peasant way of life.

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