Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

Often the setting of a prose work takes on an importance beyond that of simply providing the characters with a background against which to act out their lives. In the novel “Sunset Song” by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, the main character, Chris, is divided between her love of the land and the brutal harshness of farming life. Throughout the story the writer has used to good effect setting, characterisation, plot and themes to describe the complex nature of Chris. Firstly the writer shows the importance of setting in the novel through characterisation.

The main character has to chose between the English Chris and the Scottish Chris. The English Chris loves books and wants to go to University to be a teacher whereas the Scottish Chris loves the land; “Two Chrises there were that fought for her heart and tormented her” She found it difficult to chose between the two Chrises and did not know which path to carry on with. I can see that she was fascinated by books when the writer says; “But the Murdoch laughed with a blithe, sweet face. But more and more she turned from that laughter, esolute, loving to hear of the things in the histories and geographies” However she ends up choosing the Scottish Chris, as her mother taught her to love the land and when she dies, Chris is devastated; “And Chris of the books and the dreams died with it” The land was now her priority and she could not leave it.

The writer also uses a great deal of descriptive language to give a clear picture of the harshness of the land. When her mother dies at the end of “Ploughing”, Chris is devastated and her dreams to go off and study at University die too; Chris of the books and the dreams died with it; or you folded them up in their paper tissue and laid them away by the dark, quiet corpse that was your childhood” This shows that Chris’ childhood has died and she becomes the mother of the household. She now has to take on the role her mother had and has to put her love for books aside. She now wants to stay with the land; “But the land was forever. It moved and changed below you, but it was forever” From this quotation I can see that she chose to stay with the land because it was constant.

Chris loves the land because it’s the only thing that endures; “That nothing endures at all, nothing but the land she passed across” She has gone through a lot of changes and the only thing that seems to remain permanent is the land. She realises that she cannot leave it. The writer also gives me a feeling of communal spirit on certain occassions such as at New Year when Chae and Long Rob come to comfort the Guthrie’s as it is their first New Year without Jean; “Covered and Frosted from head to foot in the snow”

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Even though the weather is bad, he still comes to help the Guthrie’s through their difficult time and to have a nice New Year. This shows that the people in the town always look out for their neighbours and try to comfort them through difficult times. At Chris and Ewan’s wedding the whole community come together to help Chris prepare for her special day. They prepared the reception and even brought the music; “Leave it to us, Chris lass, just tell’s what you want” This shows that Chae and the rest of the community are more than willing to help out. This attitude is also shown when Peesie’s Knapp goes on fire.

Everyone runs to help out and the whole community come to try and put out the fire; “Ellison strung out the folk and took charge, pails went swinging from hand to hand” The phrase “hand to hand” gives me the idea that a lot of hands helped out and the whole community worked together to put out the fire. “There was a great throng of folk about by then, the Netherhill folk, and the Upperhill, and the Cuddiestoun” This quotation also shows that the whole community came. When Ewan goes to fight in World War One, Chris is left to raise their child alone.

However she seeks comfort from the land and still remains strong. Ewan, on the other hand, is torn away from that comfort as he does not have the land to rely on anymore and when he comes back to visit Chris, he is horrible and somewhat nasty to her; “Well, damn’t, is that all you have to say to me now I’ve come home? I’d have done better to spend the night with a tart in the town. ” He treats her as though she is of no importance to him. Being away from the place that gives him his strength and dignity has resulted in him becoming a bitter and harsh man.

Deep down people needed the land. They relied on it and lived by it. It drew people back to it because of its permanence. Although it was hard work and sometimes cruel, people were drawn to the land like a child is drawn to its mother for nourishment and comfort. It gives them strength. Chris was strong and she endured like the land no matter what heartbreak or difficulties she encountered. She turned to the land for comfort and strength. Therefore the writer uses this description of the land to help describe the character of Chris.