Responsibility in Harvest

In Crace’s novel, Harvest, the eventual downfall of the villagers could be attributed to a number of factors. Arguably, Crace may suggest, through his foregrounding of the villagers’ cruelty, prejudice and errors, their responsibility in their own downfall. However, the novel is an allegory for wider changes, which extend beyond the villagers’ personal errors, such as the intrusive forces of capitalism and, what Crace may suggest to be, the inevitable usurpation of civilized society, as symbolized by Mr. Quill, over primitive society. Therefore, to determine whether Crace intends to present the villagers as responsible in, rather than just contributing to, their own downfall, it is necessary to investigate each of these possible factors.

Crace emphasizes both the erred cruelty of the villagers towards the three newcomers and the declining population of the village; thereby, it could be argued, demonstrating the villager’s responsibility in their own downfall (as they reject what is needed: more people). Crace employs violent and animalistic imagery to describe the villagers, for example “the beating could begin” and “the funguses that seek to feed on us”, in which the alliterative plosives emphasize their aggression. Crace also, it could be argued, shifts from pastoral imagery to describe the villagers, which indicates a close relationship to nature, to more animalistic imagery, for example “breeding stock”, “cockfight”, “hunt”. Notably also, the setting of the villagers is more frequently the animalistic “barn”, whilst civilized settings, such as the Church and the Manor House, are only “unbuilt stones” or “damp” with “mouldy laths”. Through both the animalistic language and setting, therefore, Crace may subtly condemn and reduce the villagers, possibly implying their guilt in their own downfall. Further, Crace’s deliberate use of narrative irony, for example “this dove had dark feathers, short bones and a yellow beak” (the reader is aware that the twins and Brooker Higgs really killed the doves), foregrounds the unjust and prejudiced behavior of the villagers, whom the reader know to be attacking innocent people only because “it was easier”. Therefore, it could be argued, through Crace’s language and narrative irony, he condemns the villagers in Harvest for their behavior, possibly implying their responsibility in their own downfall.

Furthermore, Crace establishes the villagers’ behavior as not only morally condemnable, but as errors that have led to consequences and possibly their downfall. Walter Thirsk indulges in alternative realities, which are focused on rectifying the villagers’ behavior towards the newcomers, and highlight both that their behavior was erred, and that direct consequences have arisen from it. For example, Walter states that the newcomers “should be set loose and brought into the feaster’s barn by way of an apology. A cut of veal could be our recompense” and “we only need to bring her to the light”. The meager means, captured by the humble “cut of veal” and use of “only”, by which the villagers could rectify the consequences heightens to what extent they seem responsible, as they reject easy opportunities to save themselves. Interestingly, Crace uses present tense when imagining the dreams, “her hair is long and black again; her men are walking free”, possibly to suggest how close and accessible this alternative reality is, if the villagers were “only minded to be less suspicious of anyone who was not born with local soil under their fingernails”. Thirsk also, himself, attributes the villagers’ moral downfall to their own behavior towards the villagers, imagining that, if the events had not transpired, “our wooden cross is restored to holiness”. The use of pathetic fallacy immediately after the violence towards the newcomers has been committed, “the day had darkened suddenly”, symbolizes, it could be argued, the downfall that the villagers have brought upon themselves. Importantly, Crace explicitly reveals, deliberately prior to the villagers’ violence, their need for extra people: “our numbers have been too reduced of late” and “too many graves”. Crace establishes the clear need for newcomers, highlighting further the error of the villagers in rejecting them, and suggesting the responsibility of the villagers in their own downfall.

Finally, Crace presents a communal guilt of the villagers, as opposed to an individual villager (for example Brooker Higgs or the twins), possibly suggestive of that they are jointly responsible for their own downfall. Walter Thirsk continually uses the plural pronoun to describe the events, “we are all conspirators tonight”, and, crucially, himself is morally compromised in his complicity in the events, “despite what I have seen myself while walking to the barn, it is unjust but sensible, I think, to let the pillory alone”, heightening the sense of communal error and guilt. The Biblical references made by Crace, such as the “penalty of Adam” and Walter’s Edenic description of his first time in the Village as a “genesis”, remind the reader of man’s downfall due to his own error (Genesis). Thus, as Crace deliberately expresses the behaviour of the villagers as an error, particularly through the alternative imaginings, as well as the sense of communal guilt of the villagers, it could be argued that Crace does, indeed, present the villagers as responsible for their own downfall.

However, despite the evident moral injustice committed by the villagers, Crace may actually separate this from their eventual downfall, instead attributing it to the inevitable usurpation of capitalism and civilized society over the subsistent lifestyle. Harvest, it could be argued, is an exploration of the uncontrollable overpowering of macro over micro: the natural world, and the global growth of capitalism and intellectualism, over a village. To begin with, Crace undermines the pastoral idyll, demonstrating the difficulties of living so intimately with nature: they are “fearful for our skinny lives” and “nothing in our fields is guaranteed”. The aggression towards the newcomers, additionally, is revealed to be a direct consequence of the unsustainability and risk of their subsistent life: “we have to ask ourselves, why have these people arrived just as the harvest is brought in.” and “to touch a stranger’s flesh is dangerous”. The world of the village, therefore, is arguably destined to downfall, as a life so close to nature inexorably breeds insecurity. Mr Quill, in juxtaposition to the villagers, comes to represent civilized society and intellectualism, embodied by his admirable diplomacy with the newcomers, “Mr Quill, for such a malformed man, showed the greatest bravery”. Mr Quill easily, almost naturally, usurps the villagers, for example the symbolism of that “he first echoes, then ornaments, then commandeers what the piper tries to play”. The village, it could be argued, undergoes a nature decline under the intellectual knowledge that Mr Quill represents, epitomized by the “warmth of our applause” received by him from the villagers when he plays music, as well as Walter’s blatant preference towards Mr Quill’s way of life: “Mr Quill proposes something much more pleasing”. Additionally, Crace, it could be argued, structurally emphasizes natural and uncontrollable processes of change and progression, as most chapters open with a deliberate reference to time: “first light” (chapter 1), “this morning” (chapter 2), “it is the evening” (chapter 3), “I sleep tonight” (chapter 6), “we wake” (chapter 7), “this afternoon” (chapter 8). The prominent theme of nature in the novel also, such as “our village has been washed and muddied by the storm”, in which the villagers are purposely the passive subject, again portrays the village as a subject of change beyond their control. Therefore, it is possible that Crace, in the novel, establishes the theme of uncontrollable change (the references to nature and time) to suggest that, though the villagers do indeed commit moral errors, their downfall occurs beyond their control, due to an inevitable process of change.

Foregrounded, furthermore, in the novel are the growing forces of capitalism, as well as alternative lifestyles to the villagers. Notably, Crace’s narrative voice is deliberately an outsider, “not a product of these commons, just a visitor who’s stayed”. Therefore, although the world of the village is an immersive one for the reader, the narrative voice, joined with the presence of the three newcomers (who are immensely foreign with their “black hair” and “velvet shawl”), Mr Quill, whose mindfulness juxtaposes the physical lifestyle of the village (their laboring and sexual promiscuity), and Edmund Jordan, create constant reminders of an intruding outside world. From the first chapter, Crace makes reference to the outside, capitalist world: “in the greater world flour, meat and cheese are not divided into shares and potion for the larder, as they are here, but only weighed and sized for selling”, conveying a sense of intruding external forces. Later, Master Kent, under the influence of Edmund Jordan and capitalism, is forced to make plans which “involve the closing and engrossment of our fields with walls and hedges, ditches, gates. He means to throw a halter around our lives.”. Possibly, the double meaning of “engrossment”, which is suggestive of both legal deeds and the verb “engross”, may reference and foreshadow how capitalist economy will overpower and “engross” the village. The divisive imagery of “wall and hedges, ditches, gates” undermine the village lifestyle, which is defined by their communal sharing of goods and lands. Therefore, the intrusion of capitalism, marked by Edmund Jordan’s symbolically intrusive arrival (“six blasts on a saddle horn”), will be, in Harvest, inevitably the downfall of their lifestyle. Furthermore, following the news of the imminent enclosure, capitalist imagery symbolically disturbs the pastoral imagery, for example “a finch commands him Pay Your Rent. A thrush complains of Tax Tax Tax” and “I try to people it but I can only hear the weird and phantom bleats of sheep” (sheep farming, in enclosure, would replace the harvesting). Crace presents the worlds of capitalism and of the village as blatantly conflicting with one another, and, through the imagery and increasing number of outsiders in the village, it is clear that capitalism is an uncontrollable, intrusive force. The presence of capitalism signals the inevitable destruction and downfall of the village, undermining, therefore, to what extent the villagers, themselves, are responsible.

To conclude, therefore, from a close analysis, it has been determined that the villagers do, undoubtedly, commit significant moral errors that result in chaos and destruction. However, Crace presents, both thematically (the themes of nature and time) and through the symbolism of Mr Quill and Edmund Jordan, uncontrollable forces, which are independent of the behavior of the villagers themselves, as the factors primarily responsible for the villagers’ downfall. The errors of the villagers may perpetuate and contribute to their own destruction; however, their downfall is, ultimately, a byproduct of, what Crace suggests to be, the inescapable overpowering of intellectual and capitalist society over uncivilized society.