Crichton Smith was often very critical of the particular oppressive restrictiveness of some aspects of rural, village life. This story employs many of these motifs.
Murdo represents the individual, whose desire for acceptance within his community eventually conflicts with his own need to live a more fulfilling life. In trying to conform and fit in with this society, Murdo has created a version of himself that, while acceptable to the community, has stifled his own desires and aspirations.
Crichton Smith highlights the dangers of conformity and of an existence founded on a fallacy.
The village is a microcosm of larger society. Murdo’s predicament is one which is universal. All of us must sometimes wrestle with our need to be accepted by our peers while also fulfilling the desires of the self.
Mary represents those of us brave enough to never attempt to conform. While the cost is evident in the way she is marginalised by the villagers, ultimately her way of life is depicted as truthful and empowering.
Crichton Smith grew up in a rural community not dissimilar to the one described in this story. This influenced his writing.
As is demonstrated in The Red Door, he often found life in these Presbyterian communities stifling and oppressive. In Murdo we see the emotional and intellectual isolation of the individual that can be a particular feature of these environments.
This is a theme that recurs in some of the other stories in this collection like Mother and Son, The Telegram and The Painter.