Sunset Song follows Chris Guthrie from childhood to womanhood, through happiness, heartbreak, and loss. Always at odds between tradition and her own dreams, Chris struggles to decide on a path for herself. Her strength is shown in her perseverance through lifes experiences: her mother’s, then father’s death, her marriage to Ewan Tavendale and the birth of her son, followed by Ewan’s death and her later marriage to the new reverend. Torn between two aspects of her character, ‘English Chris’ and ‘Scottish Chris’, her struggle between choosing an education or working the land represents changes that took place in Scottish life during the early twentieth century.
Chris works both in the house and the fields alongside her brother and father, as many women did at the time. Chris is presented as a modern woman. Rights for women were progressing during this time and women from rural backgrounds were able to be educated and leave home if they wanted. Chris’ struggles with identity and the lack of trust in education from within the community stems from Grassic Gibbon’s own experiences. After the death of her mother, Chris is told, ‘You’ll be leaving the College now, I’ll warrant, education’s dirt and you’re better clear of it’. Chris is driven to make a decision between a future in education or the land. She chooses land, and her Scottish identity, after which her life is altered again by the impact of the Great War on Kinraddie. The loss of her husband, Ewan, requires Chris to run the farm alone again, a challenge she rises to meet.
The character of Chris Guthrie reflects a great deal of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s own experiences. His love of archaeology, the timelessness of the region, and his support of what we today call feminism, are reflected in his strong female protagonist. In every aspect of Chris’ life, Grassic Gibbon reflected the lives of women and their experiences of this time. Through her love of the land and her thoughts on her community, Grassic Gibbon challenges the idyllic nostalgia of the past while seamlessly addressing the move towards the future.
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