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Gibbon, Lewis Grassic. Sunset Song.

"Prelude: The Unfurrowed Field"


-  the rise and fall, due to historical political conflicts, of the Kinraddie land from middle ages to 1911

- the individual idiosyncratic tenants of the nine estates of the Kinraddie land

- the quality of the tenants' soil, their crop, their cattle, and their way of farming in general


- Scots dialect: abundance of regional vocabulary, strongly marked syntax

- direct speech: marked not by inverted commas but by italics, omits relative clauses normally introducing direct speech

- historical characters: treated as if they were members of the family, stripped of dignity, with irreverent insight in their motives

- historical events: described at the same time from the points of view of an amused detached observer and of one who is acutely involved in and painfully affected by what is happening

- the history of the land is the history of its folk

"The Song: Ploughing"


- the protagonist: Chris Guthrie, from a formally uneducated countrymen family of modest means, herself thirsting for education

- the family: parents John Guthrie and Jean Murdoch, older brother Will, younger siblings Dod, Alec, and the twins

- after the birth of the twins, the family moves to the Blawearie place in the Kinraddie land

- Chris, now 15, attends the college and excels in Latin, French and Greek and history

- father supports her education in so far as it does not conflict with her duties at the farm

- she makes a friend, Margaret, who instructs the innocent Chris in man and woman relationships; their friendship soon finishes when Margaret leaves to be educated in Aberdeen

- Andy from the Cuddiestoun place, a mentally impaired young man adopted by a childless couple, assaults Chris with the probable intention to rape her but she manages to run away and hide from him; the asylum officials come next day and take Andy away from the family back to the mental asylum again

- a new young minister comes to the local parish and he promises Chris to lend her some books

- the chapter ends with rain finally coming after hot and dry June, and with Chris passing her exams and looking forward to her studies in Aberdeen


- Chris: what she calls her Scottish self loves the country life despite the physical and mental poverty and toil, her more refined English self loves the world of books

- the siblings: preys to their tyrannous, despotic father with his swearing and his leathering

- father: hard-working but coarse, a lusty creature who would not respect his wife's wish to have no more children when they already had four

- mother: bears her situation with stoic face

- ploughing: the literary preparing of the soil but also Chris's girlhood, the first phase of her spiritual development

- evokes D.H. Lawrence's "blood intimacy": Chris is by birth and heresy tied to the soil, at the same time aspires for education and the teaching career for which she is obviously gifted



- mother poisons herself and the twins out of fear when she finds out she is pregnant again, Chris overtakes her duties

- Dod and Alec cannot bear being laughed at because of their mother and are adopted by an aunt

- Will secretly marries Mollie Douglas from a neighbouring village and runs away to Argentina

- Peesie's Knapp burns down, the owners get their insurance and start rebuilding the place

- father has an accident and lies paralysed in bed for a month before he dies


- Chris and Will: exemplify the purest innocent love in the book so far

- father: the proud and cruel figure is loathed by Will and feared by Chris

- village relationships: based on ever present gossip, envy, and spite

- corruption: Kinraddie is as corrupt as corrupting; the new minister, after a year's service, becomes a subject of indecent rumour, though a decent family man in the beginning

- education: considered a bad thing by the villagers

- brutal sexuality: father's uncontrolled lust leads mother to murder and suicide

- Chris and Ewan Tavendale: she half loves and half hates him when she meets him, he violently kisses her and would have taken possession of her if she did not manage to run away

- the decaying Standing Stones: may symbolize a heritage by one lost folk to another folk that replaced them and is obviously doomed to the same fate



- on his deathbed, father asks Chris to lie with him, she does not obey

- at the funeral, Chris realizes that the toil on the land hardened both her and father so that she forgot to love him

- to the sore disappointment of aunt and uncle, Chris, now 18, becomes her father's sole heir

- though first intoxicated about her new won freedom, she gives up her plans for the teaching career and chooses to stay at the land

- Christ and Ewan fall in love with each other and arrange an opulent wedding, aunt and uncle refuse to come and forbid Chris's brothers to go too

- gossip about the minister proves to be true, Chris sees him with a woman other than his wife

- after a period of honeymooning, Chris becomes pregnant and unable to come to terms with it, she starts hating Ewan for causing her condition

- in emotion, she hits him in his face with all her strength, he hits her back


- the Standing Stones: serve Chris as a haven which she seeks in crisis

- the value of the land: Chris now sees the land as everlasting, unlike the value of education, and finds herself unable to part from it

- social needs: Chris seeks company, when losing her family, she finds herself wanting a husband, unable to accept the life of a spinster which she would remain if she were to become a teacher

- personal freedom: her desire for sharing intimacy with a fellow being conflicts with her desire to belong to herself only

- seed-time: may figuratively refer to the seed that Ewan planted in Chris when they begot a child, Chris herself thinks about her pregnancy in farming terms

- English versus Scottish: the former implies refinement and town life, the latter naturalness and simple country life

- pathetic fallacy

- the quality of land determines the quality of its folk: harsh soil makes harsh people



- Chris and Ewan make the incident up

- Chris gives birth to little Ewan and finds contentment and happiness in her family farming life

- 1916, the War impacts the Kinraddie life: some neighbours enlist, some are wounded or killed, Kinraddie forests are cleared for the need of wood in the War

- 1917, Chris plans another child, but Ewan, not telling her or taking leave from her, enlists himself

- Will, also enlisted, visits Chris: they have some pleasant reminiscence but Will does not intent to return to Scotland, not understanding Chris's love for the country

- Long Rob of the Mill refused to serve in the war and was imprisoned: comes back an old wretched man and Chris helps him

- Ewan comes home for leave before going to France: coarse, brutal, and vulgar, coming home drunk each night, telling Chris about the women he slept with, having lost interest in the land

- Long Rob helps Chris in the harvest time, when the harvest is finished, she seduces him and so comes to terms with Ewan's infidelity

- next day Long Rob voluntarily enlists

- a telegram comes saying Ewan was killed in action

- Chae, a neighbour who served not far away from where Ewan was, tells Chris the truth: Ewan was shot as coward when he tried to desert, he recalled Chris and Blawearie in the trenches and thought he owed her this attempt to return and make it up with her, though he knew he would not reach her

- Chris understands Ewan and is proud of his eventual giving in and admitting to himself the existence of natural impulses drawing him to his home and his land


- Chris's strength: despite her love for the old Ewan, she rebels against the changed Ewan when he treats her as his slave, she does not even take leave from him when his leave is over

- humanity: preceding chapter manifests the failure of humane behaviour on the side of most Kinraddie people, this chapter shows compassion and readiness to help in some others

- need for mutual communion, relationships created out of necessity: Chris's mutually comforting relationships with the old woman who lived with her before she married, with the old man who lived with her after Ewan's enlisting, and finally with Long Rob

- Chris's infidelity: the necessary result of two people working close together and of Chris's need for support which she finds in the older man and which she probably lacks in her young husband

- the effects of war on people, both soldiers and non-combatants, and on land

- men's motives for enlistment: anxiousness not to look cowardly, hatred for the enemy, and only then the idea of defending one's beliefs and one's country

- inborn ties to the land: prevented Chris from following her teaching career, caused Ewan to desert

"Epilude: The Unfurrowed Field"


- the post-war fates of the Kinraddie people

- a new minister, reverend Robert Colquohoun, comes to the parish

- reverend is to marry Chris: her first self belongs to Ewan forever, but she finds inner peace

- reverend reveals a memorial to the Kinraddie men killed in the War, their names are inscribed on one of the Standing Stones

- in his sermon, reverend bids goodbye to the old Scotland which died together with the Kinraddie men in the War

- the book concludes with the revelation of the memorial and a piper's song


- Chris's men: Ewan stands for irrational love, Long Rob for Chris's need of physical support, and reverend for her need for spiritual support

- the Standing Stones memorial: symbolizes the Scotland past which dies with the War

- Chris survives the coming changes, but her first self, the old Scotland self, rests with dead Ewan

- the novel's title: literally refers to the concluding piper's song played while the evening is coming, figuratively may also refer to the "sunset" (end) of small farmers with their way of life


General Notes on Content

- an amazing insight into woman's mind

- deep understanding of the complexity of human behaviour

- compassion with and respect for the human being

- far from pastoral ideal, realistic portrayal of farming life

- passages of intense lyric beauty x naturalistic descriptions (e.g. childbirth)

- extremely moving, emotional, but not over-sentimental or pathetic

General Notes on Form

- believable dialogues, realistic descriptions, non-opulent, simple presentation of simple facts

- Scots dialect throughout the novel

- natural incorporation of Scottish folk songs

- the author includes a Glossary of less known Scottish or old English words


  • Author

    Gibbon, Lewis Grassic. (1901 - 1935).
  • Full Title

    Sunset Song.
  • First Published

    Norwich: Jarrolds, 1932.
  • Form


Works Cited

Gibbon, Lewis Grassic. Sunset Song. (1932). In: A Scots Quair. Edinburgh: Polygon, 2007.


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