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Background

Mitchell's beliefs

Socialism

In common with his character Chae Strachan, Mitchell became a committed socialist while he lived in Glasgow, inspired by the Red Clydesiders' campaigns for social justice. In the novel, the sympathetic characters share Mitchell's desire for social equality and his anti-establishment views. This was the time of the Depression, when the gap between rich and poor was immense, and the deprivation in working-class areas of Glasgow was particularly shocking.

Atheism

Inside a church.

Mitchell despised traditional, institutional religion. In Sunset Song, the sympathetic characters of Chae Strachan and Long Rob are portrayed as sharing these views. The character of James Mitchell, to whom Mitchell jokingly gave his own name, represents the hypocrisy and pomposity which Mitchell so disliked.

Liberal attitudes

Mitchell did not agree with the traditional role of women, or their being viewed as the intellectual inferiors of men, and he chose a woman as the central character in Sunset Song. When the novel was first published, some critics believed it must have been written by a woman as the novel so convincingly presented the concerns of women.

The idea of women enjoying sex was thought disgusting and immoral at the time, something people would only believe of prostitutes. Mitchell disagreed with this puritanical view. He shows his heroine as a woman who relishes her sexuality and is not ashamed of her body.

He also effectively portrays the strains of over-frequent child-bearing. At this time Marie Stopes was pioneering birth control. When in the novel Jean Guthrie expresses her anxiety over further pregnancies, Mitchell shows John Guthrie as "thundering" at his wife: "We'll have what God in his mercy may send to us, woman. See you to that!"

The Golden Age

Egyptian pyramids.

Mitchell was influenced by a group of thinkers called the Diffusionists. They believed human civilisation began in Egypt with a community of peaceful hunter-gatherers, who gradually developed more settled lives based on agriculture. Life became more complex, as people owned property which had to be defended. While he was in the services Mitchell visited Egypt.

He came to believe in the concept of an innocent 'Golden Age'. He believed that civilisation corrupted this innocence, bringing evils such as war and class exploitation. He thought that people were intrinsically good, but could be warped by false values.

In Sunset Song, he portrays Robert Colquhoun's elderly father as preaching a sermon on the Golden Age, and both John Guthrie and Chris are impressed by it, although it goes over the heads of the other villagers.

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