Sunset Song is a masterpiece of social criticism and exposition of social problems. It concerns a generational shift away from farming to modern education and life, the changing face of Scotland, the reactions of socialists (represented by Strachan) and pacifists (Long Rob) to the upcoming war, and numerous other social concerns. It does so symbolically, as though the recurring motif of the death of the agrarian symbol of the horse, and literally through dialogue and analysis. Chris has a yearning to escape the country that she loves best illustrates her generation's struggle in pre-modern Scotland.
Her parents were farmers, and her parents’ parents are, as well. However, Chris got the opportunity of education, and thus a chance to get away from rural, non-intellectual life. Indeed, the story depicts how an individual is caught between the poetry of her past and the revolution that leads her to the future. Is this representation of a dying Scotland reactionary lumpen propaganda? Isn't the change to a non-agrarian lifestyle unambiguously good, the spread of education positive, a sign of the improvement towards the industrial communist state?
This is what a Heartfield might say looking at this book, dismissing it as sentimental pablum. However, a different perspective might be that understanding the past is essential to defending the future. The shift from agrarian Scotland to a modern Scotland is one into the belly of exploitation, not out of it. In order for us to understand the “ poetry” that we seek to establish, it is important to see it in the context of the novel itself. Gibbon in Sunset Song has vividly created an identity in relation to the landscapes of rural Scotland.
In the Prelude and Prologue, the story is set in the home towns of the author himself, in Kinraddie and in the Mearns. The setting is that of a small rural community before the claws of modernization and industrialization that looms over the rest of Europe has reached Scotland. During the course of the story, the landscapes and the setting do not remain unaltered.
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