Harvest

by

Jim Crace

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Harvest: Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The manor house’s smell has changed since Walter spent the night here. Someone has been cooking and it smells homely, as it did when Lucy Kent was alive. Mistress Beldam has been using the manor’s stores to care for her liberated husband.
Although the manor house is abandoned, Mistress Beldam has restored some of its vitality. For the first time, the house represents renewal rather than decay.
Themes
Renewal and Decay Theme Icon
The parlor door is closed, and Walter imagines them sitting inside. In his mind, the young man is naked and wrapped in the shawl while his clothes dry against the fire. Mistress Beldam has made a stew and set the table for three, waiting for Walter to arrive and join them. He believes it’s the Beldams who packed everything for him and interprets it as a gesture of thanks for freeing the husband early. Now he can share a meal with them and perhaps leave the village together.
Walter has no reason to believe the Beldams want to befriend him, but his desire for companionship leads him to imagine this outcome. If he does fall in with the Beldams, he could recreate at least part of the community he’s lost.
Themes
Renewal and Decay Theme Icon
Individuals and the Community Theme Icon
However, Walter finds that whatever food was cooked has already been eaten. There are no clothes drying and the fire is dead. In fact, the young man and Mistress Beldam have ransacked the parlor and stolen everything of value. Walter walks into the scullery, which is in a similar state of disarray.
Instead of restoring order and peace to the house, the Beldams have actually intensified the chaos that defines it.
Themes
Renewal and Decay Theme Icon
Throughout the house, Walter finds damage. All the furniture is toppled, and objects have been slashed or broken. Walter knows they have stolen many things, probably to sell in a nearby town, and the damage they’ve inflicted on furniture left behind shows enthusiastic spite. On one hand, this is justified since the young man and Mistress Beldam suffered much in the village; however, Walter feels betrayed by Mistress Beldam’s “keenness to punish everyone and everything,” when he’s tried to be kind to her. On the mantel, he even discovers the bloody stone she used to murder Willowjack. Now, the manor house seems like a monument to disaster.
The Beldams don’t share Walter’s loyalty to the village, and this is completely understandabl—the villagers imprisoned them and directly caused the death of the old man. The Beldams’ retributive behavior shows how easily a sense of injustice can translate into anger and anarchy. While Walter has sown the fields in revenge against Jordan, the Beldams have wrecked the house to avenge themselves against the villagers’ hostility.
Themes
Renewal and Decay Theme Icon
Outsiders and Blame Theme Icon
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Upstairs, the walls have been stripped and all the mattresses slashed. Walter imagines that the destruction of “trimmings and trappings” must be a woman’s work, since men are more likely to take out anger on people. Normally, the village men struck their wives in anger, while the women destroyed their husbands’ possessions.
To Walter, the man is fairly unimportant. It’s Mistress Beldam’s violence that interests him the most, possibly because in his world women are supposed to be emblems of regeneration, not destruction.
Themes
Renewal and Decay Theme Icon
Religion and Ritual Theme Icon
Walter finds himself at the bottom of the staircase that leads into the attic, where he lived when he first arrived in the village. Now, the timbers are rotting and almost collapsed. It looks like someone has climbed them recently, leaving smudges on the bannister. He wonders if the young man and Mistress Beldam are hiding from him and calls out, but they don’t respond. Carefully, Walter climbs up the stairs; at one point he almost falls, but quickly recovers himself.
Walter is encountering a space that used to be his, but he’s now entering it as a cautious outsider. This moment reflects his new relationship with the village, which he used to know intimately but is now unknown and full of new danger.
Themes
Renewal and Decay Theme Icon
Progress and Dispossession Theme Icon
The attic is filled with junk and broken furniture, including the trunk where Walter once stored his clothes. He climbs the ladder into the turret and looks out the window to see a plume of smoke from the tool-barn and the cottages; soon the whole row, even his own house, is engulfed. He knows Mistress Beldam has set the fire and sees the couple loading a cart with possessions from the manor and animals from the village. The young man marches to the pillory, and with some effort, chops it down with an axe while his wife torches the last cottages.
The man’s destruction of the pillory is a powerful gesture. Because this is the site of so many important village functions, this moment is a reminder of the community’s tragic downfall. However, the man’s evident bitterness is a reminder of the village’s failings and an indictment of its inability to accept outsiders.
Themes
Individuals and the Community Theme Icon
Progress and Dispossession Theme Icon
Religion and Ritual Theme Icon
Outsiders and Blame Theme Icon
Walter knows he needs to leave the manor before Mistress Beldam sets it on fire as well. If he’s caught in the wooden turret, he won’t be able to get out; he wonders if she somehow planned to lure him here and kill him. In the attic room, he pauses and notices that blood is seeping from his old trunk. Investigating, he finds Mr. Quill’s corpse lying face-down. He’s still wearing the outfit in which Walter last saw him.
The death of Mr. Quill is one of the novel’s most profound tragedies. He’s one of the only characters who has never demonstrated violence or unkindness to anyone. Although Walter constantly tries to find order in the world around him, this moment shows its unavoidable tendency toward entropy and destruction.
Themes
Renewal and Decay Theme Icon
Walter examines Mr. Quill’s body briefly, seeing that he was killed by a sword, run through several times and piercing his main organs. However, he can’t tell when he was killed; it could have been a night ago, or earlier, when the imprisoned women named him. He wonders if Jordan’s men or the young man and Mistress Beldam are responsible. He feels that he’s failed Mr. Quill, both because he’s allowed him to die and because he doesn’t even have time to carry his body outside and build a monument. He has to flee before Mistress Beldam arrives.
While the need to apprehend perpetrators of previous crime consumed all the village’s energy, Walter doesn’t even have time to ponder who did this to Mr. Quill. However, for Walter mourning his friend’s death doesn’t require finding someone to blame or exacting revenge. In fact, the haste with which he has to leave saves him from entering the cycle of scapegoating that has been so detrimental to the village.
Themes
Outsiders and Blame Theme Icon
However, Mistress Beldam doesn’t arrive with her torch. Perhaps she’s in a hurry to leave before someone returns to the village and apprehends them, or perhaps she’s exhausted her supply of anger. After all, there’s no real point in burning the manor house. When Walter reaches the courtyard, he sees her and the young man hurrying away. Now, Walter will accompany the young man and Mistress Beldam “only in dreams.” He imagines himself following them and waiting until Mistress Beldam invites him to join them.
Walter finally knows that friendship with the Beldams is not a possibility. Their disregard, if not hostility, towards him underlines their sense of injustice at the hands of the villagers. Finding himself alone forces Walter to acknowledge his complicity in the village’s mistreatment of the strangers.
Themes
Individuals and the Community Theme Icon
Outsiders and Blame Theme Icon
Walter wants to give Mr. Quill “an honorable cremation,” and to prove the courage that he’s found himself lacking recently. The fire has put an end to the village, so he wants to see it destroy the manor house as well. With scattered documents from the parlor floor, Walter kindles a fire and leaves the house as it burns.
This is a much bolder act of revenge than Walter’s plowing of the fields. He finally understands that his strong loyalty to the village is pointless now. In fact, it’s better to hasten the village’s collapse than to preserve it for Master Jordan’s use.
Themes
Renewal and Decay Theme Icon
Progress and Dispossession Theme Icon