James Mack

Religion and family

Gideon’s father James Mack is a Church of Scotland Minister and a fiercely religious man. His life revolves around preaching the word of God. He is depicted as hard working and well-educated. He is knowledgeable about and committed to his profession.

James is a grave and forbidding man. He imposes his religious beliefs onto Gideon, immersing him in a Christian upbringing, and he expects his son to be a devout Christian who lives his life according to Biblical values.

James is also a lawmaker: a very strict and disciplinarian father who expected Gideon to obey him unquestioningly. He strives to ensure that Gideon has a traditional and wholesome upbringing that is insulated from the harmful effects of modern culture, particularly American trash.

He is portrayed as an unaffectionate and distant father and husband. After his death, his wife sums up his lack of emotion:

I used to watch his tea getting cold, willing him to drink it, and then when he did his lip curled up as if he didn’t really want it anyway. His feelings had gone cold, like that tea.

James Mack neglects his family but also intimidates and controls them. His moods affected the entire house.

Illness and isolation

He changes after his first stroke, an incident provoked when he discovers that Gideon has defied him by watching television on a Sunday.

After this event, he becomes gentler and more distant. His authority in the household diminishes. He becomes more isolated, spending most of his time in his study which became a refuge for him. This allows Gideon to rebel against his dominance and his religious beliefs.


After his death, Gideon discovers new information which sheds light on the true character of his father.

His mother tells him that James was traumatised by his experiences during the war and that as a result he was afraid of himself, his own feelings. She reveals that James was afraid that Gideon would let his feelings get in the way of succeeding in life. She also tells Gideon that his father was afraid that he would lose everything and return to the poverty he experienced in childhood.

James and the Devil

The Devil tells Gideon that having watched him for years he knew his father well and that he was a sad, frightened man who, like Gideon, pretended he believed in God despite having lost his faith during the war. He tells Gideon that his father was hiding in his study wondering where he’d gone wrong and that he lost the will to convince others that God existed.