The Harvest by Jim Crace

Discussion Questions

What does the frequent use of “we” tell us about Walter? In what parts of the plot does Walter start going by “I” instead of “we”? Why does Walter so badly want to use the “we” pronoun?

On page 2, Walter insists that “We’re not a hurtful people, hereabouts.” Is this true? Does the village bring about the tragedies on themselves or was this all going to happen regardless? Could Walter have changed any of what happened, if he, for example, told on the village boys at the beginning?

The villagers seems to think that seven days on the pillory is not such a bad fate. Why don’t they think of this as a more severe punishment? Is suffering different for the villagers than for readers? What happens when there is no official law, just the ruling of a landholder?

Madam Bedlam is referred to as “fair game” (pg. 27). What makes her so beautiful to the village men? Is it just how she looks? What else might they find attractive about her? Walter assumes every man, including Mr. Quill, wants to catch the woman in order to sleep with her. Do you think he’s right? If so, do you think the men plan on seducing her or raping her?

The word “deserve” is used on the following pages: 5, 14, 19, 22, 63, 73, 77, 87, 96,161 (twice), 208. And that’s not counting how many times the word “earned” is used. What does the frequent use of these words tell us about the narrator Walter? Do you think the other characters care as much about whether something is deserved as Walter? Do people get what they deserve in the story? How does this fit in with the idea of a harvest?

“Lanterns throw out such deep and busy shadows that my neighbors’ faces are hard to place. They are grotesques, but only for a moment.” (pg. 29). This is a good example of the writer’s ability to generate suspense and foreshadowing. Did you highlight any places that use this kind of word choice for effect? (Read them aloud.) How would you describe the writer’s style?

Master Jordan figures out that Walter Thirsk’s name sounds like Water Thirst (pg. 165). What might the thirst for water mean in this story?

On page 42, Walter calls doves “white consciences on wing.” Does this statement connect with the destruction of the dovecote earlier? What might the doves symbolize to the villagers? What might they symbolize to the reader?

Does it mean anything that this village doesn’t have a church? Is there any danger for them to worship at the pillory instead of a cross? Do they need a religion, and if they do, how to they compensate when there’s no formal religion in the life?

After the older man dies on the pillory, on page 132, Walters has these thoughts: “These are not the customary village ways. Our church ground has been desecrated by our surliness. Our usual scriptures are abused. This body on the cross is not the one that’s promised us.” Are any of their problems to blame on the lack of a church? The large oak tree “is so old it must have come from Eden” (pg. 174). Why does Walter connect the land to Christian symbols? Is this book allegorical?

What does the map tell us about the land? What might it mean that the current map of the land has a face which the map of the future land destroys? Walter believes that Mr. Quill’s map doesn’t capture the true nature of the land (pg. 121). What else does Mr. Quill not get about this place?

Why does he continue to forget how small Madame Bedlam is? What does it say about her that she wears a velvet shawl above her station? What might be some guesses as to what happened to her before she enters the story? Does Madame Bedlam bring an actual curse?

Towards the end, when Walter is doing the last planting on page 205, he thinks: “Wheat—like men and women—benefits from being crushed.” Is this true? Does this play out as true for anyone in the story? Why would Walter think this? Does he believe this for everyone or just the peasant class?

The use of fear by Edmund Jordan is quite deliberate. How are fear and superstition used to control the lower classes? How does a lack of education or wealth make people more susceptible to fear? Does Jordan use fear to control Master Kent? Why does the death of Mr. Quill not bother Jordan?

Who would Mistress Bedlam consider to be the villain in her story? Who is the villain in the villagers’ story? What might be reasons why the author decided to tell the story from Walter’s perspective and not someone else’s?

Why does Walter plow and plant a single line of grain? Why does he think this is a grand gesture? Why does he call it a “scar”? (pg. 204)

The fairy cap mushrooms are described “as cold and high and clammy as a week-old corpse” (pg. 218). What does the description tell us about the mushrooms? What role do the mushrooms play in this story? Why does Walter take them at the end when he’s refused them so many times? What do they symbolize to him? While high, he imagines himself as a seed of wheat. What does that say about him?

What is your best guess as to who killed Mr. Earl and why? What might be the reasons why the story has this mystery?


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