Family relationships

Father and son

Gideon had a complicated and unconventional relationship with his father. It is possible that this has an important impact on the type of man that he becomes. As Elsie says to Harry Caithness:

He'd had a terrible upbringing that strangled love at every turn

When James catches Gideon watching Batman on a Sunday, James grips his neck painfully and tells him off with true contempt:

You have betrayed me and betrayed God...The very sight of you makes me sick.

Gideon acknowledges that this incident has haunted him all his life:

The contempt in his voice sounded as though it would last forever. Which it has. Here I am, four decades on, and I can still hear it.

Cold and distant

When Gideon is a child, his father is very strict: He imposed his religious beliefs on his son and he expects him to unquestioningly obey his rules and instructions.

Although he respects his father, Gideon fears and is intimidated by him. There is no father-son bond between them. James Mack is always very cold and distant and never shows any affection. Gideon believes that his father:

loved the idea of a son more than he loved the actuality


Gideon also believes that his father is disappointed in him. Despite his best efforts, he fails to live up to his expectations as a son. Gideon reveals that his father:

wanted a Gideon, but what he got was a Gideon Mack

He thinks that his father would have been depressed that he was more like his mother and that:

the blood of a feeble body like hers should have overmastered his in the product of their union.

Turning point

James Mack’s first stroke is the turning point in their relationship. After this incident, James’s control and influence over his son starts to fade: his rule is diminished and he becomes less strict and controlling and takes less of an interest in Gideon’s life.

His father’s weakened authority changes the dynamic of their relationship. Gideon is no longer afraid to disobey him, stand up to him or even lie to him.

Importantly, at this time Gideon also begins to privately doubt and question his religious upbringing. However, despite having abandoned my faith he deceives his father as at home, I maintained an air of piety in order to please him.

Angry and resentful

As he becomes an adult, Gideon is determined that he will never follow in his father’s footsteps. He vows to never end up with a life like his, and become a grey man in his cavern of slow decay.

He is frustrated, angry and resentful of the fact that his father mistakenly sees him as being a devout Christian and that he is constantly trying to convince him to become a Minister.

Knowing that his father will be disappointed, Gideon decides to study English at university and then become a teacher.

As a final act of defiance, Gideon chooses to become a Minister after all. Gideon sees his decision as a kind of revenge against his father as he will be pretending to:

be so like him on the surface, yet so different beneath it

Even when James is on his death-bed after his second stroke there is no reconciliation or forgiveness from Gideon who states my flesh was his flesh, yet I felt no connection between us.

Despite Gideon's intentions, he does become like his father:

Here I sit in the half-light, in a book-lined study in an empty manse, nearly thirty years on, and I have become him


Despite Gideon's view of his father as strict man of strong religious conviction, he is given a different view by his mother and the Devil.

Both of them describe a man so traumatised by war that he is weak and filled with doubt. They provide explanation of why he could not bring himself to express emotions. And they give Gideon a better understanding of why he was always so cold towards his son. As his mother explains:

He feared for you in case your mind wasn't strong enough, in case it would be blown hither and thither by your feelings.

This raises the possibility that James deliberately withholds affection in an attempt to help his son.