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The Land Endures: Bringing Sunset Song to Life

Jean and John Guthrie

John/Jean panel image

Man ploughing field with oxen. George Washington Wilson collection, University of Aberdeen.

John/Jean case John/Jean panel

Jean Guthrie

Chris Guthrie's parents, Jean and John Guthrie, reflect a realistic marriage during the late nineteenth century. Their stormy relationship shows the complicated and often painful nature of family. Jean attempts to ensure a good life for her children. She plays a traditional woman's role in a farming family, and is responsible for the children and home. Suffering from fear of another pregnancy, Jean kills her new-born twins and commits suicide in a desparate attempts to escape.


John Guthrie

Strongly religious, John justifies his harsh behaviour as his right as a man through God's will. This leads to his domineering attitude towards his eldest son, his sexual exploitation of his wife, and late attempted rapes of his daughter. John does work hard to make the best of his land. His independence and determination to create the best life for his family stands in contrast to how he personally treats them. Jean's suicide leaves him feeling betrayed, and he suffers a stroke that leaves him crippled. He then relies on Chris for everything and she becomes the sole target of his verbal and attempted sexual abuses until his death.

Jean and John represent the dying of older ideals for modernity. Their relationship with the land is particularly important, as it gives an example of how farm life was carried through genertaions, and ensured the continuation of farming in the later twentieth century. These traditions would help carry on the enduring lifestyles of North East Scotland, although in a new capacity. 

Similar to many in the ficitional community of Kinraddie, Lewis Grassic Gibbon married locally, and each partner took the traditional gender role. Jean and John's psychological attachment to the Scottish landscape is a reflection of the author's sentimental feeling for Aberdeenshire and the Mearns, which he never lost after leaving. It is possible that he chose to represent John as brutal in an attempt to counter the nostalgic view of rural families as idyllix and without trouble. This representation of a brutal father and husband was a possibility Grassic Gibbon wanted to present as a statement that brutality can be found in unassuming places.


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Jean and John Guthrie