Themes

The harsh reality of island life

By focusing on this tiny, rural environment, the writer reveals the difficulties of living in such close-knit communities.

Crichton Smith depicts a society seething with underlying tensions and petty rivalries where people treat each other with suspicion and contempt. Until the moment of the fat woman’s epiphany, we see traces of compassion or kindness in the islanders. Although they attend church their attitude completely contradicts the basic principles of Christianity.

Chrichton Smith reminds us that certain strands of organised religion can have a negative impact on individuals and communities.

The fat woman epitomises these backward, insular attitudes in the way she delights in spreading gossip about the misfortunes of others.

This theme recurs in Crichton Smith’s work and we can see similar criticisms of these communities in The Red Door, The Painter and Mother and Son.

The destructiveness of war

The physical separation and isolation of the community reminds us that no one is exempt from the devastation and destructiveness of war.

A black and white photograph of the British warship HMS Ajax
British warship HMS Ajax

The writer empathises that while the islanders feel somewhat removed and separated from the conflict physically, geographical distance offers no protection for their sons. The effects of the war still manage to permeate many aspects of their daily life.

Similarly, the elder’s attempt to shield himself from such tragedy by maintaining a distance from the others in the village while accepting the responsibility of delivering the telegrams reminds us again that anyone could be affected.

Sacrifice

The theme of sacrifice runs through the story from the outset, primarily through the hardship endured by the thin woman to secure a better life and prospects for her son. This foreshadows the greater sacrifice and loss of life that occurs in war time.

Ultimately, the message conveyed by the writer is of the pointlessness and futility of this sacrifice.

The thin woman’s effort could all ultimately be in vain. Her son could well be killed in conflict. Even if he survives, she acknowledges that he may settle in England and never return to the island.

Move on to Test
next